Monday, 30 January 2012

It's all in the packaging.

Ever notice how two people who have nearly identical taste in entertainment can go watch a movie together, and one will think it was great while the other one will HATE it?  Often, once you press them a little further, you discover that one (the one who hated it) had been told that the movie was great by a friend, and the other (the one who liked it) had been told that it stank, and not to waste their money.  What's the difference?

In a word: expectations.  In two words: uh, expectations.

I had an encounter recently with a customer who had an installation done by one of our best flooring crews.  Not only does this crew never get callbacks, but we also regularly get calls from their customers commenting on their remarkable customer service.  This particular customer had a couple small issues - things that we were happy to deal with, but I could tell that they wouldn't have been issues if we had nailed the communication before the installation had taken place.  A couple simple preparatory questions and comments by us and then the crew could easily have eased all of the concerns about misplaced baseboards and unlocked doors.  But we didn't do it, and as a result, a customer was left with a less-than-great taste in her mouth, despite getting a great installation from a great crew.  And it wasn't her fault.  It was ours.

I had another call today - a site supervisor who was expecting a crew today.  What he didn't know is that the crew (another of our A-list crews) had a half day's work to do at a previous job before they would be at his job.  Fortunately, the site supervisor called me, and I had the chance to explain, as well as tell him that I was bringing them home early tomorrow for a safety meeting.  If it'd happened 2 days in a row, he would've thought my A-list crew was a bunch of deadbeats who can't make it to a job for a full day's work.

I won't say I'm the greatest listener, or the greatest speaker.  I'm pretty average at both.  However, I've been blessed with an ability to perceive the nuances of communication better than many others.  What a lot of people don't realize is that you could say the same identical statement to 12 different people, and you will have said 12 different things.

I'll say that again: You could say the same identical statement to 12 different people, and you will have said 12 different things.  That's because you are only 50% of the message.  You are a brain and a mouth, and the listener is the ears and another brain.  This is why you can tell a joke to your friends and they'll howl, but you can tell the same joke to your spouse, and they'll look at you like an idiot!

There's a hard way and an easy way to get people to see things your way, and I watch poor communicators choose the hard way over and over again.  Because they don't understand that communication is like Judo.  Use the listeners own perceptions to direct their momentum the way you want it to go.

This works for customers (clients, students, consumers) too.  You have an opportunity to tell them exactly what to expect.  At the beginning.  You can tell them what the standards are, and set the bar in such a way that you can clear it with flying colours.  If you don't take the opportunity, and something goes differently than their expectations, guess what?  IT'S TOO LATE. Because their perception (not yours) is their reality.  And even if it's not true, it's still going to be the story they tell their friends, whether good or bad.

I find myself noticing a few times a day that two people in 'communication' are getting totally different impressions from the same exchange.  It makes me want to beat my head against a wall.

Some old stalwarts feel that it's a sign of weakness of character to speak differently to different people.  I disagree.  I think it's a sign of intuition and savvy.  And it sure makes your life easier!

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Quick, Unoriginal Thought

This is taken from Harvey Mackay's book, "The Mackay MBA of Selling in the Real World".  It's a great book.  If you do any sort of sales, you should buy it, read it, and then give it to a friend or prospect.

A Native American grandfather was talking about how he felt to his grandson.  "I feel as if I have two wolves fighting in my heart," he said.  "One wolf is the vengeful, angry, violent one.  The other wolf is the loving, compassionate one."

The grandson asked him, "Which wolf will win the fight in your heart?"
The grandfather answered, "The one I feed."

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Dinner with the Mayor

I live in Red Deer.  Population >100,000.  But it has a very deeply invested community who really love this place and carry it on our shoulders.  Red Deer is our little secret - the 7th most entrepreneurial city in Canada, 8th best quality of life in North AND South America in cities under 100,000, has the 2nd busiest regional airport in Canada, and is... well, awesome.

As President of the Canadian Home Builders' Association, Central Alberta Chapter, I had the chance to sit and listen to an Economist from CMHC (Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation), Regine Durand, and the Mayor of Red Deer, Morris Flewwelling, give an economic forecast on our fine city this evening.

I also got to have dinner with our Mayor.  Something that not every 29 year-old flooring scheduler has the opportunity to do - definitely not something I could do if I had moved to Edmonton or Calgary, or stayed in Langley, BC.  So that was neat.  We swapped stories about cross-border shopping, and he and my wife talked shop (she's a city employee).  If you're wondering what to expect for 2012, I'll try to synthesize the 2 messages I heard this evening.  I hope I get it right.  I was scribbling pretty fast to get the details down...

Home construction will probably increase because there are less homes for sale on MLS (by, like, 45%).  Prices aren't expected to increase much in the next year, but more jobs are being created ($3.5 BILLION of projects in the pipe for Central Alberta) and there is a 'decent' supply of lots in town (as long as they're ready in time) - about 600 lots over the next year, if CMHC is right.

MLS resale home sales are expected to increase due to an increase in average income, lower holding costs (meaning, lower mortgage rates), and a decreased gap between cost-to-rent and cost-to-buy (it costs about $600 more/month to own a house in Red Deer than to rent one - down 13% from last year alone).  And it's still pretty dang affordable to buy a house: average house price in Canada is 7 times your annual income.  In Red Deer, it's only 4 times your annual income.

So, as Mayor Flewwelling said, Canada is very likely the best place in the world to live right now.  If you live in Canada, you want to live in Alberta; and if you live in Alberta, Red Deer is the place to be.

Red Deer is working on branding itself.  It's focusing on a few key issues: Movement (not just cars, but bikes, feet, scooters, roller blades, and cross country skis); Design (downtown and new subdivisions), Economic Development; Dialogue (open houses and 'Town Halls' don't work like they used to - so how do new citizens engage?); Identity (what is Red Deer's Brand? Trails, being a business hub for a big service area?  our community planning?); and Safety - (fighting the Macleans Magazine 4th most dangerous city rating).

Want to have a say in what goes on here?  Call your councillor.  Find your way into the conversation.  I know I have some things that need to get heard.

Are you a non-Red Deerian reading this?  Well the secret's out.  We might have cold weather, but guess what?  We're pretty awesome here.  And there's really nowhere in Canada where the weather isn't a 'con' in the decision to move there.  So come get a job.  And stay, because you'll love it.  Like I did.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Your Greatest Strength is Your Greatest Weakness

Has anyone done the DISC personality test?  It's a typology that splits people into four quadrants.  One axis is people vs task orientation, and the other is introversion vs. extroversion.  When I did the test, I was strongly people oriented, and right on the line between introversion and extroversion (SI, if you're a DISC test wonk).

That said, my personality displays itself in a very "I" sort of way (extroverted, people oriented).  To the point where, when my co-worker (boss is also appropriate, but a little formal for our workplace) describes "I" personalities, he identifies me as the archetype.  As he was describing this to someone today, I hollered across to his office, "HE DOESN'T NECESSARILY MEAN THAT AS A COMPLIMENT!"

As soon as I did it, I realized I had played right into his hands. Only an extroverted, people oriented person would consider it worthwhile to interrupt the task at hand (at which I had quietly been working) in order to interject in a conversation of which they had neither been a part of nor been invited to.  For the rest of the day I became very aware of the "I"-like things I caught myself doing - like talking about work and feeling like things were getting accomplished, or taking a little extra time to crack a joke with a co-worker.

Now, I'm not a great fan of personality tests like these.  I believe it was Wayne Campbell, from Wayne's World, who said (in Cantonese) "Was it Kierkegaard or was it Dick Van Patten who said, 'If you label me, you negate me'?"  (no, I'm not going to fool you into thinking I'm very clever by just using the quote itself.  I'll take my wisdom from wherever I can get it).  My fear with these tests is that they can be used to let us off the hook for deficiencies in our personality.  "Oh, could you really have expected me to succeed at that task?  My personality quiz says I'm not wired for that sort of thing."

But, here's where I find it gets really interesting: if you were to describe my greatest strengths, what would they be?  Big picture thinker, great with people, life of the party, or something like that.  And if you were to describe my weaknesses?  Head in the clouds, spends too much time socializing, has trouble focusing on tasks, particularly administrative details.

Notice any similarities?

I guess you could say I keep beating myself at my own game.

Today I had to confront a sub-contractor about a task they hadn't been doing.  Needless to say, I'm more likely to be referred to as the mom around our company than the dad.  I don't find those confrontations comfortable or enjoyable.  But I found myself thinking, "if you want to improve - in business, or personally - you have to find your way through situations like this."  If I constantly leave those challenges for other people, I will never 'progress'.  It doesn't matter how inspiring you are as a leader if you can't also hold someone's feet to the fire.

The value of a personality test like that is that you can get closer to what it is you're really good at, and improve it so that you have something even better to offer the world.  And that you can get closer to finding out your weaknesses, so you can find ways to minimize them, improve on them, or make them irrelevant.

So, while I grow my big picture thinking and my ability to connect with people, I'll also remind myself that my proving grounds are disciplinary actions and administrative duties.  The challenges are the true test of my mettle, not the easy parts.

It's wise for any person to get to know themselves.  Strengthen your strengths, and weaken your weaknesses (as in, improve them).  You'll usually find that they're the opposite side of the same coin.

Sunday, 22 January 2012


I went to a small high school - about 600 students.  In my senior year, there were 2 suicides - one of whom was a friend of mine.  There had never been a suicide at that school before.

In the last 2 years at my workplace, 3 of my co-workers (from the same department, of about 9 people) have had divorces or separations.

In 1954, for the first time in recorded human history, Roger Bannister ran one mile in less than four minutes.  Two months later, he did it again, as did his competitor, John Landry.  It's immortalized in this statue at the fairgrounds in Vancouver where it happened.

What's with all these things happening in clusters?  It's like watching an ice mountain thaw and crash into the ocean (c'mon, you all watched An Inconvenient Truth, didn't you? Those poor polar bears...).  One small action is the trigger for the whole avalanche that follows.

So, when the precedent is that someone trains hard and breaks the invisible ceiling on running a mile, that's great.  But when the precedent is that the first plain old Hutu civilian picks up a blunt object and beats his Tutsi neighbour to death, it's a whole different story (too extreme?  well... it's true.  Deal with it).

Precedent is an empowering thing.  In itself, it isn't good or bad.  But it can be a virus that infects people's brains.  The fact that someone 'did that', compels us to want to try it too.  Like a kid who wants a toy just because another kid (usually MY kid) is playing with it.  It can motivate or free us to do things we otherwise wouldn't have imagined doing. Or it can make us want to do things we never really wanted to do.

It doesn't hurt to be aware of the power of the precedent.  "If she can do it, so can I" is a very different statement than, "If she can do it, so SHOULD I".

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Engineering Experiences

She walks in the door at the end of the day, and the first thing she notices is that the house smells like home cooked dinner and vanilla candles.  Bubbling with excitement and romance, she steps over the threshold and hears strains of her favourite romantic CD wafting in with the rich gravy smell of roast from the kitchen.  As she kicks off her shoes she notices in the dim light a path of rose petals that starts at the front door and ends at a chair in the dining room, surrounded by candles.  Beside the chair, on his knee, is the engineer of the experience, heart beating in his throat, with a ring in his trembling hand, hoping that her reaction will be in kind with the atmosphere he painstakingly created.

How enchanting!  How could someone say no?  

When people think of the word design, some things come to mind: Architecture, interior design, car models etched out of clay (which really seems like a waste of time – can you really not envision it from the pictures?)  Typically design happens in three dimensions, on a computer program or on posterboards perched on easels in public places.  But can you design an experience? 

Sure you can.  Go to Disneyland.  Think anything they do there happens by accident?  Make a scene and watch how quickly you get whisked away to a dark room by the Mickey-hat gestapo – then I’ll ask you again.  Ever walked into Best Buy and noticed that it smells like Pine Sol?  They paid someone a lot of money to figure out that that smell’s gonna make you want to buy the 52 inch instead of the 48.

At my store the walls are painted green.  Not because it makes your complexion look good – believe me.  A highly paid firm told us that people will want to buy more flooring if our walls are green.  Fortunately we don’t have to place Pine Sol diffusers everywhere.

When I smell popcorn, I think of the local hardware store.  When I smell a hot dog stand, I think of the OTHER local hardware store.  Is that intentional?  In your place of business, in your home, is what people experience intentional?

Here’s the thing: we cannot control what a person is going to experience.  Their perception is entirely up to them.  But what we can do is control as many variables as we can, to pave the way for that perfect experience to happen. Just like the perfect proposal scenario – we can tailor it so that all the arrows point to the yes button.

So, have you ever walked through your customer’s process and seen it through their eyes? How much of what they experience is intentional, and how much is accidental?  Is it a consistent message (are you selling BMWs to the smell of theatre popcorn)?  The multi-million dollar firm might be able to get you to 90% of variables controlled, but if you took a walk in your customers’ shoes, I bet you could get to 80% by yourself.  And I bet that’s a LOT further than most of your competitors have gone (do you think the hardware store intended for me to think of them every time I smell a soggy hot dog?)

The Pros Tell Me I Have to Blog.

The pros tell me I have to Blog.

Read a sales magazine.  Read a business magazine.  Google a successful businessperson.  Guess what?  They have a blog.  Seth Godin, writer of what is very possibly the most followed blog in the world, says, if you want to take the first step toward success, blog every day.  Don’t worry if anyone ever reads it.  Just put useful information into the world, and your service will be rewarded.

So, I say to myself, (and I knew it was me, because I recognized my voice) (did I really just say that?) (am I really leaving this in?) “I also should have a blog! If other people find me HALF as interesting as I find myself, they’ll love it!”

So, in this, the year that I click over 3 decades, I have decided to start blogging.  And not without much debate and apprehension.  I have a number of decidedly-less-social-than-me friends who view my infatuation with all things social media as a sign of lack of self-confidence.  As though it’s some sort of co-dependent need for affirmation.  Okay, maybe I’ve projected this straw-man perspective on some of my more stoic friends, but the point stands.

So, do I do this for affirmation?  I’ll have to get back to you on that one.  But if you find that I stop posting for a long period of time, it will likely be because I’ve decided that I do this for affirmation.  Here’s why I think I should have a blog.

I haven’t given up on myself.

At one time I saw myself as a college dropout working as a ‘clerk’ at a flooring store.  Some job whose highest purpose is that ‘someone has to do it – it may as well be you’.  But here’s the thing.  You can pay a LOT of money to learn stuff in college, and at the end of it have a degree that may or may not get you a job and/or a raise.  Or you can pay a bit in library fines, podcast orders and magazine subscriptions, and you can continue to learn forever, and get better and better at whatever it is you find important.  And there are no pre-requisite hoops to jump through!  I don’t have to prove I can do long division before they teach me what subtle techniques influence people to take my side in a discussion.

So, I listen to audio-CD’s on leadership, marketing, and self-improvement – yeah, that’s right!  I do! (my first time disclosing this publicly).  And I get a lot of really good information.  And I read a lot of books (for a guy with a 3 year old, a full time job and an extra-curricular commitment that involves being the president of something).  But that still doesn’t answer the question of why to blog…

So, here’s why:

It’s not for you (directly).  Because I don’t know who YOU are.  Except my wife.  I’m assuming that she will read this.  Hi honey.  It’s for me.  I digest a LOT of rich information, and it’s hard for me to process it.  And I live a busy life.  It’s easy to read an article, listen to an interview, or finish a chapter, and then move on to the next one before processing the first one.  But I’m selling myself short if I do that, because I have a hard time reading a book twice.  And it’s really hard for me to internalize that kind of information when life is as busy and distracting as it is.  So, if I write a blog for a bunch of imaginary people who hang on my every word (that’s you), then I have a really good reason to process the information I take in, assimilate it, and regurgitate it in my own words.  So you (whether you exist or not in real life) are my accountability.  My way of internalizing and crystallizing the information I take in, so that it doesn’t just pass through me without making any difference in my life.

And believe me – I really love learning the stuff I learn!  So if you ARE a real person, and you ARE reading this in the real world, I hope you get some value from it too. Because the sense I get is that Seth Godin got ‘big’ not by dwelling on his numbers, but by learning cool stuff and then sharing it for free.  He makes me smarter, and I appreciate him for it (and read his blog every day).  Here’s hoping that, while I clarify my own thoughts, I might be able to do the same thing for you!

So, imaginary readers – enjoy!  And I welcome you to step out of the inter-web anonymity to make comments – because it doesn’t take much to make me smarter too!