Monday, January 28, 2013

Going for it

In baseball, there's a saying, "You can't hit a five run homer."  It's an admonition to players that a deficit has to be overcome one batter at a time, and to focus in the moment, rather than project forward.  Contribute your part; let the next guy do his.  Some call it "small ball." Or deride it as incrementalism. One of the most memorable moments in American sports was built on such small steps. (Relax, Red Sox Nation, you had your moment.)

The debate over "big play" versus "march down the field" has raged for and out of sporting arenas.  Think tortoise v. hare, a fable from Aesop and ancient Greece.

It's true that sluggers are traditionally more revered by fans and big-armed quarterbacks capture more imagination than a great cover corner back.  We have home run derbies at the All Star game, not doubles up the gap contests.

But do the bombers win more?  Do they contribute more to success than well-rounded excellence?  Not according to some.  The book and film Moneyball, which is about management as much as it is about baseball, is a recent contributor to this debate.  In the world of big business, the go-for-broke and grind-it-out camps each have visible success stories.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Is grease the word?

"I hate to be a kicker,
I always long for peace,
But the wheel that does the squeaking,
Is the one that gets the grease."
 -- Josh Billings, "The Kicker," ca. 1870

I'm sure that most of you are familiar with the "squeaky wheel" adage, the origin of which is credited to the poem above. Josh Billings was a 19th century American humorist, second in popularity in his time only to Mark Twain.

For business owners, the Squeaky Wheel syndrome is no laughing matter.  You want happy customers, not disgruntled ones. Organizations go great lengths and invest great sums to ensure that their organizations not only understand best practices but execute them flawlessly.  Some succeed, some don't: There are both customer service Halls of Fame and Halls of Shame

In a recent discussion about the book Raving Fans, a bestseller about how to make great service a competitive advantage, business owners discussed how they instilled and practiced the "customer first" mentality in their companies.

One retailer described how he sends notes and small gifts to customers who have had issues, whether real or imagined.  Asked if she did this for all unhappy customers, she replied "no," but more often than not.  Then she was asked what she sends her "best" customers...the ones who buy most frequently, spend the most, are most active on the company's social media pages.  After some uncomfortable, but thoughtful silence, the answer was, "nothing, but that will now change." 

Squeaky wheels surely need attention.  But make sure that the silent wheels, the ones carrying the load for your business without issue or complaint, are well cared for and properly maintained.  You may not always hear them, but you'll notice them when they are gone.  And you'll save on grease, which is literally and metaphorically both messy and expensive.

Monday, January 14, 2013

On the edge

I attended a terrific seminar last week, hosted by a local professional association about which I had heard many good things.  As with many first-of-the-year meetings, the topic was planning for business generation.  The room was overflowing.

The presenter did an excellent job of building participation and conversation:  she didn't talk at the audience, but rather made a few points that led to interaction among the participants...sharing of information...making of connections, etc.  Attendees left the meeting animated and motivated.  Who could ask for more for on a January Friday afternoon?

There was one statement that the presenter made as she exhorted the crowd to develop personal marketing plans that was a lone discordant note in a otherwise resonant and well-orchestrated presentation:
"Your mother and grandmother were wrong: Humble does not work."
Is that true?  The antonyms of humble include arrogant, chesty, self-important, beaming, swelled, vainglorious, big-headed, persnickety, snooty, snot-nosed, stuck-up, too big for one's breeches, boastful and braggart.  I don't think those qualities are what the presenter would recommend as keys to winning friends and influencing people.  Unless you're running for Congress.

Business professionals today face a conundrum.  There is no question that while the ability to connect is growing exponentially, it is also harder to gain visibility and capture attention.  So we're resorting to stunts, gimmicks, the outsized and the outlandish and labeling it "edgy" to rationalize our actions.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Grappling and growing

My oldest son was not an athletic child.  Growing up in Manhattan, he was an urban street kid and possessed a dexterous rather than physical prowess.  This manifested itself in highly individualist forms: yo-yoing, card tricks and magic.  Brains over brawn stuff.

When we moved to "the country," these unique skills gained him instant visibility with his new peers and helped him to forge new connections.  They didn't alter the reality, however, that his new friends were much more interested in sports than sleight-of-hand.  He had a decision to make.

So he chose to wrestle.  Not an easy sport to jump into, given that many of his teammates (and competitors) had been in programs (who knew?) since grade school. He spent his first year getting beaten pretty badly, which for him was a singular and disorienting experience; he had no prior experience on which to mitigate the helplessness he felt.  It was not just the losing, he said, but more so being unable to figure out how to stop losing. He couldn't just think his way out of it and was frustrated about not being able to apply what he was learning in actual competition.

Fast forward a year:  he has as many wins as losses; placed 2nd in a 12-team tournament over the holiday, and last week pinned a more experienced opponent in less than a minute on what his coach called, "a beautifully executed move."