The Peanut Principle

In the neighborhood where I grew up, there were dozens of kids.  We never had any difficulty finding 15 or 16 guys to play baseball in the summer; I have wonderful memories about my childhood and all my friends. 

There was one kid in our neighborhood that pretty much everyone considered as “cool,” his name was Peanut.  Peanut was the embodiment of cool and everyone wanted to be his friend.  My brother and I were part of Peanut’s “inner circle” for a long time.  My brother was even honored to spend the night at his house, well, he tried to but called home and asked my dad to pick him up because “Mr. Peanut got mad and was yelling at Peanut,” and my brother said he was “a scared.”

But then one summer something happened.  A rumor had begun to circulate that we were no longer considered one of Peanut’s friends.  We knew this was a mistake; Peanut was a good friend and so we called him and said, “Meet us on the hill, behind Kenny’s garage so we can ask you something.”  My brother and I made our way over to the designated rendezvous location and found Peanut and Kenny standing there waiting for us.  Peanut had a long piece of straw in his mouth, and was looking his typical cool self.  We asked him point blank, “Are we still your friends?”  Without hesitation, he said, “I say-a nay.”  What?!  I say-a nay?!   My brother and I just looked at each other astonished.  Peanut just turned and walked away, Kenny looked at us in disgust and walked away too.

We had no idea what happened, we had done nothing that was uncool that would cause Peanut to boot us out of the exclusive friendship.  We could do wheelies on our bikes, we spit a lot, and we were both considered two of the fastest kids in the neighborhood…it just didn’t make sense.  Over the next several weeks, we would meet Peanut in the same location and ask the same question, again and again he would say the same thing, “I say-a nay.”  Then one day we were standing on the hill behind Kenny’s garage and we asked the question and Peanut said, “I say-a yea.”  Oh, joy of joys, the words we had waited for so long.  My brother and I were so happy, we went home grabbed our coffee can of marbles and proceeded to spend the next several hours playing marbles in Peanut’s front yard.

Recalling this memory, I realized that my brother and I applied some good business principles to the situation.  When we heard the rumor, we didn’t lollygag, we called for a meeting with the top nut.  We didn’t beat around the bush either; we asked him just exactly what was on our mind.  While it wasn’t the answer we were hoping for, we knew where we stood.  We didn’t get into name calling when things didn’t go our way either (okay that was probably because Peanut could kick our butt).  The point is we didn’t burn any bridges with the neighborhood king.  Finally, we understood the importance of persistence, but more importantly, persistence with the decision maker.  We could have focused our attention on his lackey, Kenny who may or may not have transferred the correct information to Peanut. 

We all get bad news in business, but how it is handled is important.  You can let the rumors continue to circulate and take on a life of their own or you can go directly to the source immediately and break bread.  Many times people will get angry when they get bad news from their client or prospect and say something stupid to them like, “oh yea” or something equally profound, but angry outbursts will sabotage your long-term objectives.  A cool head must prevail, understand both the perception and facts regarding the situation, and then deal with it professionally.  Never burn your bridges in business because you never know when you will get a new and perhaps better opportunity with that prospect.

We never did find out why Peanut gave us the cold shoulder that summer, it may have been an unfounded rumor.  What he saw in us perhaps dispelled those rumors when he saw two brothers that were committed to the neighborhood and continued to show genuine interest in the friendship we once enjoyed.

Have you fallen out of favor with a client?  Did you not get a project that you thought you were going to get?  It is important to stay in front of them and ask them how you can improve so when the next project opportunity comes along you will be able to again work together.

Whose Advice?

You’ve heard it said, and may have said it yourself, “Two heads (or more) are better than one.”

…but…it depends on the heads involved.  If you inner circle consists of Larry, Moe, and Curly, you may want to expand your circles.

Seriously, choose your counsel wisely.  And don’t surround yourself with people who simply agree with everything you say or will “cave” to see things your way. 

Intelligent discussions and healthy debate might lead to new and more refined ideas and plans.

 

A Plan for Mediocrity

Okay, so here’s the plan. I would like you to stay on the road to mediocrity, or perhaps if I tweak my management skills I can help you achieve general incompetence. My plan also includes a steady decline in your morale and the morale of the other employees.  If all goes as planned, you will look back in ten or twenty years and say, “I never found my true passion and purpose in my career and all these years have been wasted.”

It is never easy to fire someone. But if you are a good manager and you have done everything you can possibly do to help someone, and despite your best efforts an employee is not open to correction, advice, and change,  it is the best thing you can do for them, and the others in your company.   

If you are a manager and you are committed to helping your employees grow, then you have to be willing to let them go so they can grow.

What is Your Betamax?

Founder and Chairman of ePrize, Josh Linkner’s favorite saying is “Someday, a company is going to come along and put us out of business. It might as well be us.”

That should make you think…and change…or you can keep making the buggy and the buggy whip and maybe that silly automobile fade will run its course.  Maybe the Betamax will take hold and eight track tapes will still find their way back into the consumer’s heart…

Seriously, what is it about your business that needs some minor tweaks or major overhauls?  What are you going to do about it?  Your competitor is hoping you will bet on the Betamax and eight track tape.

 

 

How to Extinguish a Fire

The fire started small enough, in fact there were three employees standing there when the match hit the floor.  Management did a quick poll when the lit match fell, and two of three employees believed that the fire would quickly extinguish.  But that was not the case; in fact the match stayed lit as others came in the room to watch.

There was a fair bit of discussion about the match and its ability to maintain enough energy to catch the carpet fibers on fire.  A formal meeting was called in haste and it was the consensus that it would require ideal conditions for the fire to continue on the carpet. Conditions were indeed ideal as the match’s small flame found a way to light the carpet fibers.

The fire continued to attract more attention now as there was a crowd gathering to observe the fire. “It certainly seems to be growing now,” was the remark of one of the employees that had arrived on the scene early. Head’s nodded around the room in agreement with the astute observation.  Someone in management then said, “This could pose a problem to us if it continues to grow.” “Oh, how so?” one of the new employees wanted to know.  The seasoned manager proceeded to draw an impressive graph that showed that as time increased, the amount of office that would be consumed by the fire would also increase.  Therefore, the fire would leave the office uninhabitable and each employee would be unemployed.  The young worker was quite impressed with the explanation.  “You just don’t learn these things in school young man,” said the manager, “it takes on-the-job experience.”

The fire was now causing many employees to back away as the heat was becoming a little too much to stand so close.  “I’m thinking something here” said one of the mid-level managers, “maybe we could do something to stop the fire.”  Several people looked at him for a moment and gave him a perplexed look.  “What do you mean?”  “Well the way I see it is, based on the graph, we’ll all be out of work at 3:57 pm today, but if we do something perhaps we can change the outcome. We can put the fire out with this extinguisher on the wall.”  “Brilliant!” was the remark from several around the room. “It’s settled then, we’ll do something.”   And at this, everyone felt at ease as they resumed their positions to watch the fire.

Needless to say, the fire continued to grow and grow and it wasn’t long before the fire that started with a small match had turned into a full blaze.  The employees began filing out of the building one-by-one and with a bit more haste in their step.  As they stood in the parking lot, they watched as the entire building burned down to the ground and soon there was nothing left but a smoldering ash heap.

The company president stood there in shock and said, “I don’t understand what happened, we said we should do something, we even knew what to do, why did the building continue to burn?” “Well,” said a young man from the mailroom, “Everyone knew what to do, you even had a good plan to stop the fire, but like everything else in this company, no one wanted to do anything but come up with ideas and a plan.  You can’t just plan you must do, and you can’t just have ideas, you must have action.”  The young man walked away, while the managers stood there trying their best to assimilate what he had just said.

Everyday businesses begin to slowly burn from the heat of competition or changing market dynamics.  The fires start slowly and are right there in plain site for everyone to see.  Astute management will look for ideas to counter the changes in the market and to out think and out work their competition. And there are some truly brilliant ideas that come out of these meetings.  But plans and ideas are nothing more than potential energy and will remain potential energy until you do and act upon these ideas.

If you identify one of your key markets simply won’t be there in 10 years that is a small fire.  As you put your energies into diversification you begin to extinguish the fire before it becomes overwhelming. You uncover a problem with quality or service, but do nothing other than identify it and watch it; the fire continues to grow. 

Convert your ideas into action – clear measurable action.

Do You Need More Work?

Staring at the phone? Has it rung yet? Maybe a prospect will knock on your front door and just give you the project of a lifetime…

Or maybe you need to make a call, get out of your office, really do that seminar you’ve been talking about, write that article…

Nah, the phone will ring – right?

 

Thoughts for Job Seekers and Those already Employed

Recently, I had an opportunity to attend a job fair at a university on behalf of my company.  We along with dozens of other potential employers set up our exhibit and watched as the young wannabe employees approached us.  Their goal: sell us on their talents. 

Most of the job seekers were well groomed and very polite however; some were less than prepared to approach perspective employers.  It occurred to me that there is a parallel between interviewing for a job and selling.  Of course, we are all in the business of selling.  So, from my job fair adventure, here are some tips for young job candidates and not-so-young employees who are selling.

Be prepared. If you are going on an interview, have more than enough resumes and by all means make sure you have a professional resume. Nothing sends a negative message to a perspective employer quicker than a resume that is poorly written or one that is full of errors.  Likewise, when we are meeting with prospects or clients we must be prepared to present our self and our company in the best possible manner.

Be well groomed. There were a few young people walking around at the trade show that I thought might have been going to a local skateboard convention rather than interviewing for a professional job.  You make an impression within a matter of seconds; make sure it’s a good one!

Make good eye contact.  When you are talking with someone look at them, not at the ground, not at someone passing by – look at them.  They, whoever they are, deserve your courtesy and attention.  Personally, I find nothing ruder than someone not looking at me when we are in conversation.  Also, if you are talking with more than one person, don’t lock your gaze on one individual. If you are addressing two or three people, make sure you shift your attention so you make eye contact with each person.

Be polite.  I was impressed by most of the candidates who politely waited while we spoke with other people and when appropriate, stepped up, extended their hand and introduced themselves.  Equally important is not lingering in conversation, and with the same politeness, excusing yourself to allow others the opportunity to be interviewed.  This same thought extends to us as we speak with prospects to simply be polite and to take care of business and when we are done, thank our prospect/client for their time and allow them to get back to work. 

Be confident.  Be confident in who you are and what you can bring to your perspective employer. Confidence is displayed in a firm hand shake, good eye contact, and clear (not mumbling) communication.  By the way, confidence is not found in a college degree.  Whether you are a high school graduate or a graduate of Harvard Law School, be confident!  As I once heard someone say, “You know what you know,” that is, don’t pretend to know about something you don’t know. “I don’t know” is better answer than a long rambling answer that in the end means, “I don’t know.” 

Bring a good attitude.  The world owes you nothing!  And those who believe that their very existence entitles them to the best job, the best pay, the best benefits, the best…is not the attitude any employer wants!  So, despite what you might have been told in the class room, the best attribute you can bring to your employer is a good attitude.  If you have a daily attitude that is appreciative of your job, whatever your job is, and your attitude is “Today I’ll prove my worth to my employer,” you will succeed. 

Listen rather than talk. One of the oldest axioms in sales is “if you’re talking, you’re not selling.” Whether you are talking to a perspective employer or perspective client, ask questions, and get them to talk.  You will learn nothing if you are talking.  It is important to have your questions prepared in advance so you come in knowing what you want to know.

Make sure you understand what you must do next if anything. You’ve had a stimulating conversation and you feel like you connected and you are now wrapping up your conversation and getting ready to excuse yourself, but wait!  Do you know what’s next?  Are they going to call you?  Are you supposed to call them?  Do they need something else from you?  Make it crystal clear what is going to happen next with a statement like, “So it’s my understanding that…is that a fair statement.”

My experience at the job fair also reminded me of the enthusiasm that we should all bring to our jobs every day.  Almost to a person, you could sense the deep desire the candidates had to show you why they were the best choice to join your firm if you would just give them a chance.  Maybe we could all use a little injection of that type of attitude that is far too quickly replaced with complacency.

Instant Credibility!

Do you want to gain instant credibility? 

Do you want to impress your friends, family members, members of the opposite sex…and even a prospect?

Are you ready for the magic words?

“I don’t know.”  No really, those are the magic words.  Nobody wants to talk to a know-it-all, besides there is no such thing besides there’s no such thing as a know-it-all;  there are just “I want you to think I know it all.”

When you master that – try these advance phrases, “You’re right” and “I’m sorry.”

Humble yourself! Be human.

Meetings With A Point

The meeting just wrapped up.  You have two or three pages of notes, including a few doodles when that certain someone kept going on and on…

Finally, you are back in your office and can get to work.  As you pause, you think was there something I was supposed to do as a result of this meeting? You look over your notes…nothing…huh – what was the point of this meeting anyway?

We’ve all been there; meetings that suck the life out of you and the only thing you can say for certain is I now have two and a half hours less in my life.   

Meetings should have a point – preferably an agenda that is time bound. Leave the “tangents” to the mathematicians. If there are actions items, make sure they are clear, specific, and understood by all.  No one leaves without understanding exactly what they should do next.

A well-run meeting is valuable.  A poorly run meeting is a drain on the company and disrespectful to the attendees.

The “Eyes” Have It

Several years ago, I was in a meeting with my immediate manager and the division manager.  It was no secret they didn’t like each other too much. The division manager began speaking and he focused on me…alone. I was sitting right next to my manager and she never even received a glance. I was very uncomfortable. My manager was not comfortable either because about 5 minutes into the conversation she got up and said, “I’m not involved in this conversation!” I felt horrible.

They later came to an agreement that she would be employed elsewhere.

Most group conversations are not this hostile.  But when you find yourself in a conversation with more than one person, do everyone a favor, make eye contact with the group.  Good group eye contact can be accomplished with glances and momentarily pausing to make direct eye contact with individuals. 

If “the eyes are the window to the soul,” then the way to make a “soulful” connection is to make respectful eye contact in conversation.