Saturday, March 29, 2008

Challenging Idea

I liked this sentiment and thought it important to post:

We can change the world by changing how we choose to look at the world.

Enough said.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Auto Manufacturers and Dealers -- Will They Ever Learn?

Every few years, I subject myself to one of the most frustrating experiences a consumer can ever go through, I buy a new car. I've been buying cars for too many years, and the experience is always terrible. After every dealer visit, I feel like I have to take a shower to clean the slime away.

As a side note, before I get into my rant, a number of years ago, I wrote an article on the same topic. it was called "The Ultimate Buying Experience," a tongue in cheek take off on the advertising theme of a large German car manufacturer and my experience in buying one of their cars. I actually wrote that 10 years and about 6 cars ago (sorry, I'll admit to a vice about nice cars.). Each time I buy a car, I hope the experience has changed. Each time, I an inevitably disappointed.

The Internet has provided consumers a huge amount of data about purchasing cars, dealer invoices, promotions, etc. The car manufacturers' sites also give interesting insight. I try to be as informed as possible as a consumer.

Yet the moment, I walk into a dealership, virtually any dealership, I am treated like an idiot. Sales people present pricing that is way off the mark. When I start to challenge them, they come up with the most ludicrous responses. When I indicate I have done my homework, they start to waffle a little, then they resort to lies. Today, I asked someone about a dealer rebate program and when it terminated, he told me the end of the month (this being the 28th, it served his purpose). When I showed him a print out from the manufacturer's website saying it the end date was much later than the dealer stated, he said the website was wrong. I suggested we revisit the website to confirm this, or that we call the manufacturer. Then he started his dance, trying to come up with illogical reasons to support his claims.

Another dealer gave me two prices in two visits. The first visit, I dealt with the first salesperson that greeted me. He gave me the "best possible price," after a lot of back and forth. A couple days later, I visited the dealership again. The salesperson wasn't in, so I asked for the fleet manager (I had been coached to do so.). I explained what I was looking for, he gave me the fleet price which was several $1000 below the "best price" I had been quoted by their sales people a couple days earlier. When I challenged him about the difference. all he could say was fleet pricing was different. (As a side note to the readers, if you don't know, it seems that everyone qualifies for fleet pricing, you just have to ask for it. Does it make sense? No, it's just another demonstration of the low esteem that car dealers and the manufacturers hold their customers.)

The automotive industry is in serious trouble. Everyday, we read of layoffs, reductions, challenges that manufacturers and dealers face. Yet they persist with this ridiculous behavior and demeaning treatment of its customers. Consumer surveys constantly cite dissatisfaction with the "buying experience."

Dealer and manufacturers apparently have no desire to learn. In years of buying cars, many very high end luxury and performance cars, I rarely see a dealer that respects the knowledge of their customers and treats them with genuine respect.

I believe car dealers and manufacturers deserve to get a fair profit on their products. I don't want to screw the dealer, but I don't want to be screwed either. It seems to be part of the business -- manufacturers set policy and train dealers. Dealers execute these practices. All of it is based on taking as much advantage of the consumer as possible.

I wish they would learn, imagine, looking forward to buying a new car and going through a buying process that is satisfying and fair. It's a win for consumers, dealers, and manufacturers.
As a final note, with a lot of diligence, you occasionally do find a good salesperson. I find a fair deal and will buy a new car. This sales person's first quote was fair---based on my research and what a good target price would be. I suppose I could haggle and get a few dollars off, but I won't. I'm happy with the deal, I think it is a fair price, it is not worth my time to try and extract the last cent from the deal.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

What You Stop Is Important

Everyone I encounter, professionally and personally, has more on their plates than they could possibly accomplish. In virtually every business, organizations are trying to do more, with fewer resources and people, in shorter periods of time. That seems to leak over into our personal lives, with each of us over committing to each other.

At some point, you start seeing very dis functional behaviors: Stress levels high, tempers short, people unhappy, people frustrated, fingers pointing, blame being passed and so forth.

I'm working with one large organization that has undergone a series of severe resource cutbacks over the past 2 years. They have cut the resources, but they haven't reworked the work. I encounter a lot of "thrashing." This is characterized by a lot of start and stop, immense levels of activity, but nothing is ever completed and results aren't being produced.

Too much of the time, I see people focused on improving the productivity and effectiveness---sometimes translated into, "How do I accomplish more in less time." People never consider stopping things, they look at how they can change to do more. This breaks at some point. Organizations literally break, they fail to perform, management and shareholders find new people to do the job. Personally, we break down. Illness is up, bills to analysts/shrinks/pharmacists/our local barkeeper are up, the quality of our relationships is down.

Something has to stop! Actually that's the answer--perhaps figuring out how to do more is really about what we need to be stopping. We can't continue to do thing in the same way or faster, perhaps we should be focusing on what we stop.

Recently, in working with a client in a major restructuring, we spent most of our time focusing on what we had to stop. There was a significant reduction in resources (read people were gone). Rather assuming we would just accomplish the same thing with fewer people, the management team had the wisdom to sit down and focus on what they had to stop. This approach freed the team up, enabling them to redesign the work, finding better ways to execute their strategies and achieve the goals they hadn't been achieving before. They are on a good path, only time will tell, but I suspect they will be successful. Prior to this, even with more resources, they were trapped they could do more. That wasn't working, but they never took the time to look at stopping things. It took a painful restructure to get them to consider the question.

Professionally and personally, for those who aren't achieving the results they expected, for those that are frustrated or can't find the time to do what they "need to do." Perhaps it's time to stop---take the time to figure out what should be stopped and get back to basics and essentials.

Perhaps doing this will also enable us to take some time to stop and smell the roses------sorry, I couldn't resist.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

"Completed Staff Work"

I was having a conversation with a client, the CEO of a Fortune 100 organization, and he cited something I hear from many leaders and executives, "My people come to me with problems, they don't come to me with solutions."

There was more to it, but the comment reminded my of something a manager/mentor in IBM gave me many years ago. It was a short document called, "The Doctrine Of Completed Staff Work." I've traced it to two sources, Brigadier General G.E.R. Smith, of the Canadeian Army (08/09/1943) and Brigadier General George A. Rehm, US Army, 1942-1943.

Some may be put off by the military rigidity of this paper, I find it a useful tool to remind professionals and leaders about the importance of "doing your homework." In today's world, where speed seems to overcome quality of thinking, the article is a provocative reminder.

It is reprinted below:

The Doctrine Of Completed Staff Work

Completed staff work is the study of a problem, and presentation of a solution, by a staff member, in such form that all that remains to be done on the part of the commander is to indicate approval or disapproval of the completed action. The words "completed action" are emphasized because the more difficult the problem is, the more the tendency is to present the problem to the commander in a piecemeal fashion.

It is your duty as a staff member to work out the details. You should not consult your commander in the determination of those details, no matter how perplexing they may be. You may and should consult other staff members. The product, whether it involves the pronouncement of a new policy or affects an established one, when presented to the commander for approval or disapproval, must be worked out in a finished form.

The impulse, which often comes to the inexperienced staff member, to ask the commander what to do, recurs more often when the problem is difficult. It is accompanied by a feeling of mental frustration. It is easy to ask the commander what to do, and it appears too easy for the commander to answer. Resist the impulse. You will succumb to it only if you do not know your job.

It is your job to advise your commander what she or he ought to do, not to ask what you ought to do. The commander needs answers, not questions. Your job is to study, write, restudy, and rewrite until you have evolved a single proposed action--the best one of all you have considered. Your commander merely approves or disapproves.

Do not worry your commander with long explanations and memos. Writing a memo to your commander does not constitute completed staff work. But writing a memo for your commander to send to someone else does. Your views should be placed before the commander in finished form so that the commander can make them his or her views simply by signing the document. In most instances, completed staff work results in a single document prepared for the signature of the commander without accompanying comment. If the proper result is reached, the commander will usually recognize it at once. If the commander wants comment or explanation, she or he will ask for it.

The theory of completed staff work does not preclude a rough draft, but the rough draft must not be a half-baked idea. It must be complete in every respect except that it lacks the requisite number of copies and need not be neat. But a rough draft must not be an excuse for shifting to the commander the burden of formulating the action.

The completed staff work theory may result in more work for the staff member but it results in more freedom for the commander. This is as it should be. Further, it accomplishes two things:
  • The commander is protected from half-baked ideas, voluminous memos, and immature oral presentations.
  • The staff member who has a real idea to sell is enabled more readily to find a market.

When you have finished your completed staff work the final test is this:

If you were the commander would you be willing to sign the paper you have prepared, and stake your professional reputation on its being right?

If the answer is no, take it back and work it over, because it is not yet completed staff work.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Guidelines For Giving And Receiving Feedback

Feedback is critical in developing powerful relationships and in effective communication. My experience is that most of us are poor at giving and receiving feedback. An incident with one of our clients in just the past few days---one which both the client and we handled poorly caused me to think about how to be more effective both in giving and receiving feedback.

A close friend and colleague, Dr. George Lehner, developed these guidelines a number of years ago. They hold up, they are tough to execute consistently, but doing so makes each of us better. I'll share just a short summary of George's guidelines. If you want more detail, feel free to contact me.

  • Focus feedback on behavior rather than the person.
  • Focus feedback on observations rather than inferences.
  • Focus feedback on description rather than judgment.
  • Focus feedback on descriptions of behavior which are in terms of "more or less" rather than in terms of "either-or."
  • Focus feedback on behavior related to a specific situation, preferably to the "here and now," rather than to behavior in the abstract, which places it in the "there and then."
  • Focus feedback on the sharing of ideas and information, rather than on giving advice.
  • Focus feedback on the exploration of alternatives, rather than answers or solutions.
  • Focus feedback on the value it may provide for the recipient, rather than the value or "release" it provides the person giving the feedback.
  • Focus feedback in the amount of information that the person receiving it can user, rather than on the amount that you have which you might like to give.
  • Focus feedback in time and place, so that personal data can be shared at appropriate times.
  • Focus feedback on what is said rather than why it is said.
Giving and receiving feedback requires courage, skill, understanding, and respect for self and others.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Visible Leadership Every Day

Wally Bock had a great posting in his Three Star Leadership Blog yesterday. Incorporating habits into what you do everyday is critical to developing the organization. Some highlights:
  • Everyday, you need to make your expectations clear.
  • Everyday, you need to check for understanding.
  • Everyday, you need to use every contact and an opportunity to improve team performance and morale.
  • Coach team members.
  • Encourage good behavior and honest effort.
  • Correct what needs correcting.
  • Counsel those who need it.
  • Everyday, you need to do the hard work of weeding out the unfit and the unwilling.
Great thoughts, tough to practice, but they make the difference between managing and leading.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

10 Step Program To Becoming A Better Listener

Listening--seems easy, we take it for granted, yet spend more time talking than really listening. I just read a nice blog that offered a good reminder of critical listening skills. This posting cam from "Dumb Little Man-Tips For Life," it is worthwhile reading. Here is the summary, but read the post:
  1. Be legitimately interested.
  2. Avoid planning counterarguments.
  3. Be honest about your time.
  4. Accept the speaker's point of view.
  5. Use body language, eye contact and repetition.
  6. Go beyond words.
  7. Get rid of distractions.
  8. Be aware of your history with the speaker.
  9. Ask questions.
  10. Watch and learn from the "good listener."
Listening---it's important, we all need to do it better and more actively!