Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Opinions, in general, are a good thing, but. . .

One thing I have learned over the past couple of decades is that I have the right to complain--pretty much anytime, anywhere. I've also learned that my complaints have no value, nor credibility unless I present them in a certain fashion. If you're not careful, you just sound like you're whining, you'll get a reputation as a "negative" person, and just come across as annoying. I see this all the time. As a supervisor in my profession, I've extended this right to my employees, but there are some limitations to this. I cautioned them that, you can complain all you want, as long as: 1. You keep working while you complain, and 2. you offer some constructive alternatives to whatever it is you don't like. I also believe my employees have the right to disagree with me, again with some limitations: 1. Try to stay positive, respectful, 2. Never yell, stay professional, 3. Never lose site of the fact that I'm still the boss, and my decision will be final. I try to objectively consider opposing points of view, but as the boss, I will ultimately be accountable for the decision--

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Too radical? Too far to the right?

I don't think that anyone who knows me would describe me as conservative (in the political sense). Yet, I've started some posts lately that even Rush Limbaugh might find too far to the right. Writing is cathartic for me--some times I just ramble and the results are not fit to publish. Other times, I'm startled by how intense my feelings are about some things. For example, I wrote a couple of pages recently in favor of the death penalty. The gist of it was that I think we should just "fry them all," clean out our prisons, stop wasting billions of dollars on people who serve no purpose. I equated them to lottery winners--many don't earn their own way before they go to jail, so a twenty year sentence is like winning a jackpot and going off to a resort--when the judge announces the sentence, this is what the criminal hears, "For the next twenty years you will not have a care in the world. We will provide food, shelter, clothing, health care, entertainment, education--and it won't cost you a dime. It will be paid for by the honest, hard-working people who do have a purpose." This is wrong on every level. There's no way to justify the waste of energy, money, resources.

My original post was more detailed and more graphic, so I've deleted it. I think I've made my point.

I also drafted a message about the recent oil spill and decided it was too harsh. There is one irrefutable fact about the disaster--it could have been prevented. I worked on deep sea rigs in the early '70's, just after I got out of the service. I worked on jack-ups and semi-submersibles in the Gulf, and on a drill ship off the coast of Brazil, and I saw the same careless behavior all those many years ago. It's very simple--safe drilling is slower and thus costs more. So, they speed up the process to save money--and put lives and the environment at risk. It's all in the mud.

Another draft, in my 'customer service' series, was about Brand Advantage. Since I work for a big brand, I figured it would be smarter for me to be a little more judicious in expressing my opinion. Again, there's at least one irrefutable truth--when times are tough, or when prices are rising, brands are worth less. People are looking for value and will often, as they are now, settle for lower cost alternatives. They still want to fly like Mike, but for now will forgo the Air Jordans for the look-alike version at the discount shoe store. Catchy phrases, sexy ads, won't make the difference.

I deleted one other draft today, but the topic is another about which I have a strong opinion, so I'll probably go back to it. The topic is "isolationism." I got the idea doing history home work with my son. He was learning about the Monroe Doctrine and it just came to me--this is the answer to all of our problems. And, I mean ALL of our problems.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

How to succeed in retail--beat my leftover pork chop casserole

If you ask a manager, or just about any employee at any level, "What's your number 1 priority?" you'll get lots of good answers. Depending on the latest communication from their boss, the common answers might be, "Quality," or "Safety" or "Customer Service" or "cut expenses" or "build sales." But, those are all wrong. The number one priority of every employee, in every business, is to generate PROFITS. We, business managers, have learned that in order to make the most profits, over the long term, we have to do certain things right. The top three things that we must do right are the simple elements of success in retail, and they are:
  1. We must offer quality products at competitive prices (not necessarily cheap or cheapest, but fair)
  2. We must maintain a clean, safe, inviting facility
  3. We must provide respectful customer service
Some people think they have some unique product offering that will allow them to bend or even ignore the other rules--I can't think of an example--can you? "Unique" is often mis-used to mean "a little different" and that's not accurate. They, the business owners and operators, even try to convince themselves--so, in their minds, at least, they eliminate some of the competition. But, along the route I take across town each day there are at least 100 places to buy Winston Lights, Snickers, or a six-pack of Budweiser.  Food is the same--I'll bet, for example, that if you asked McDonald's leaders to list their top five competitors, the list would not include the left-over pork chop casserole in my refrigerator. And, they would be wrong. This may sound familiar: I called my wife, mid-afternoon yesterday, and part of the the conversation went like this, "What do you want to do for dinner?" "I don't know, what do you want to do?" "You feel like cooking?" "Not really. We do have some left-over pork chops, though." "Or, we could go out. What about Chinese?" "No, we had Chinese a couple of days ago. What about Italian?" "No, too heavy. I had a big lunch. What about that place close to the house--they have good salads?" "I have some errands to run. I could pick up fast-food, how about a taco salad?" "You know, I wanted to look at that thing at that store, why don't we meet at the mall and we'll just grab something in the food court?" We have this conversation every day, in some form or fashion, so the off-shoot is that every food outlet in town is competing with every other food joint in town, and with the left-overs in my 'frig' whether they want to admit it or not. So, element #1 of "success in retail" is fairly common. Price didn't enter our conversation, specifically, but they're all "competitive." Some are higher, some are lower, but fair.

That brings us to element #2, the facility. Now you might be thinking that this doesn't count with on-line shopping, but you'd be wrong about that, too. The key words are "safe" and "inviting." We have to feel safe on a web-site before we key in a credit card number or before we give out any personal info--and, though not exactly the same as our physical safety, it's certainly an issue that retailers must address. But, once again, is a McDonald's restaurant safer than my kitchen? Can you think of any food place "unique" in it's safety? The newest place is often a little more inviting, but the newness eventually wears off. Then what? The facility will not consistently offer a competitive advantage. But, element #3 will.

Rotten service is pervasive. And, it's always the fault of the senior managers of a company. Good service is rare, but where it exists, it's the fault of senior management, as well. In other words, the boss determines the level of respect that trickles down to customers. If he/she treats employees with respect, a 'culture' of respect will grow and make its way to the 'customer facing' employees. Sounds simple doesn't it? It is simple, but it's not easy. That "culture of respect" is nearly non-existent. Most businesses operate in what I call a "protectionist" culture. They have "progressive discipline" programs, but no corresponding rewards programs. They don't do a good job documenting good performance because those documents might make it harder to fire somebody if the need ever arises. I've been told "don't confuse effort with results," which stifles initiative, discourages creativity, and creates a fear of risk taking--all bad for businesses, but reduces risk and protects managers. To really foster a culture of respect, we have to reward risk taking, encourage creativity, and offer support when effort doesn't quite get the desired results. That type of behavior is infectious--and translates to respect for our customers. I think most people believe that they work hard for their money, and I know that when it comes time to part with some of our hard-earning money, we have lots of choices. So, when I choose your place over all the others, I should get some respect. Your CSR's won't deliver that respect unless you consistently, fervently, display respect for them.
There you have it, the secrets to success in retail. Next, I'll talk about "Brand Advantage" and the value of a brand.