Do you treat your colleagues as your customers?

Everything you do in your work will probably have a knock-on effect on someone else in the business. If you do your job perfectly, it will help others do their job and in the end, the customer benefits from great service.

If you are well removed from the customer, operating in one of the vital back-office roles, it is really easy to think that what you do doesn’t really matter to the customer. There may be no direct effect, but if what you do runs really smoothly your colleagues in the next department don’t have to spend time and effort dealing with your output – they can just get on with the job.

This is something you can picture really well if you think of a production line. If the previous operation has put all the holes in the right place and they are the right size, completing your operation is really easy. If the hole is in the wrong place or is the wrong size, that requires you to take extra time to fix before you can carry on with your “real” job.

The same principles apply in an environment that isn’t a production line.

In one company, the customer services team handled order administration and were responsible for quoting the customer order number on our invoices. They would archive the customer orders without a copy of the invoice, and with no reference to the invoice number.

The credit control team, trying to get payment for these invoices, found that some of them had incorrect purchase order numbers. The customer would not (could not) pay us.

Finding the right order number and re-issuing the invoice with the correct details was a laborious time-consuming job.

We changed the system so that the cross-referencing was captured. The customer service team didn’t treat credit control as a customer, yet credit control were reliant upon the output from customer services.

When you look at your department, who are your customers and are you meeting their needs?

Make happy those who are near and those who are far will come

That’s a Chinese proverb that you can apply to many aspects of your business.

It’s pretty obvious in its application to customer service. If you can’t make your existing customers happy, they are not going to refer new clients or customers to you – and a “satisfied” customer is only ever one step away from becoming a past customer.

You can equally apply it to the team in the business. If you can make them happy, there’s good chance they will make the extra effort to ensure the customer is happy.  That may sound a bit simplistic, but it is one of the foundations of success for SouthWest airlines in the USA.

It’s also the case that the team will help you with recruitment. They think they are working in a great place, so they will tell their friends and family. When you have a vacancy they will recommend someone. Suddenly you’ve not only saved a recruitment fee, you’ve got a new member of the team who is really delighted and enthusiastic to join and you’ve got an existing team member who is going to go all out to make sure the newbie succeeds.

If you wanted to raise more money for the business, just imagine how much harder that is if your existing investors (or your bank) have lost interest or been disappointed.  It will be a lot easier to get that overdraft extended or the credit arranged for that new piece of kit if the bank manager is on your side, but even more crucial if you wanted to raise additional equity one of the first questions from any new investor would concern what role your existing investors will play. If they are not risking their money (and they know you) why should I take that risk?

You can apply this to your supply chain. If you’ve looked after them and you have a problem, your suppliers will try to help you. If you’ve always been a pain to deal with that’s less likely to be true.

When you come to sell the business, good due diligence will uncover your reputation, not just with your customers.

Are you working below your pay grade?

In the world of independent business people, there’s a phenomenon known as the “busy fool” where instead of selling, marketing or delivering their services the speaker/coach/trainer/consultant is taking on duties that are not within their skill set. A frequently cited example is where time is spent on record keeping or accounting when that is one of the easiest to outsource.

For me, there a direct comparison to an observation I make in larger businesses.

I often find clients are really busy and don’t have time to think about, let alone implement, some of the improvements we have identified for the business. Sometimes that’s why the business hasn’t moved on in the past few years – the team have reached capacity (or at least the managing director/owner has) and new initiatives are few and far between.

I’m a great believer in analysing the workload that crosses your desk. How much of that are things that you should not be doing – how much of it is things that are “below your pay grade” or if you are an independent, not in your core skill set?

As I have written before, many of these things can be delegated out outsourced, but you have to make the decision to “let go” and I know that many people find that hard.

I don’t – in fact, I once delegated responsibility to someone who didn’t work for me or even work in the same organisation

Another way to think about the tasks that consume your time is to rank them by potential consequences. For each task, ask the question

“What’s the consequence if this doesn’t get done – or done on time?”

You may just find there are some tasks or responsibilities that are making you a busy fool!


Red or Blue?


John held up the ball in his hand and asked his Chris “What colour is this ball?” to which the angry young man replied, “it’s red, of course – what that got to do with it?” John replied “Actually, from where I am sitting, it is blue”

John rotated the ball, and Chris could now see that it was red on one side, but blue on the other.

A simple story but one that illustrates the saying “There are two sides to every story”

Most of the time there are many different versions of the truth. People see things from their own perspective and often will embellish a story or an event. Sometimes that’s just to make the story more entertaining, and sometimes because their version makes them look better.

Often that is harmless but it can lead to real problems, especially if there is competition or conflict in the team. That’s when the different perspectives can become misleading and may cause you to make poor decisions.

Good decisions are based on sufficient accurate information – or blind luck. Poor quality information, including that seen from one perspective, should be eliminated or counterbalanced.

If you have doubts about something you have been told, gather more evidence!

Transparency and honesty from the leadership team will help eliminate the tendency to only tell the story from one side. If you know you are going to get found out, you won’t cross the line!

This approach works outside the company as well as within. If a supplier has let you down, and you are given an excuse that doesn’t quite ring true, check it out. Often, the supplier’s sales manager or account manager is giving you the positive story but you can get closer to the truth by asking higher up in the organisation.

The same applies to your customers – be careful what messages your team a delivering. If they are trying to keep the customer happy by embellishing the truth, they (and you) will probably get caught out. Honesty and transparency will go a long way.


You hear the words but do they mean it?


Have you ever had a conversation where it just didn’t feel right? You know there’s something wrong, but it is not in the words – or even in the tone of the conversation – but there is still something not quite right.

There’s a good chance that you are picking up on non-verbal cues – body language – without even realising that’s what you are doing. You may think “I don’t know anything about body language” but actually we all do – we just don’t pay attention to it. Think of a mime artist – can they convey a story or an emotion? You are reading body language.

When you are interviewing someone you will have a good feel for the outcome of the interview within a few seconds. First impressions include the way the interviewee moves and talks as well as their external appearance, and we are really good at picking up those signals.

You can use this inbuilt ability in the office. Take a look at the team, see if you can picture an individual’s emotional state. If you see someone who is having a bad day – whether that’s because there are problems at work, or something is going on at home – have a conversation with them.

How would you feel if, when you are having a bad day but you haven’t told anyone, the boss came over and offered support? You’d be more motivated and there’s a good chance you will relax & start doing an even better job.

Now I am not saying you should walk up to someone and say “You look as if you are having a bad day.” Perhaps they are, but perhaps it is entirely personal and private and they have no wish to share.

You might try something as simple as “How is it going?” but that can lead to just the facile “fine, thanks” response. More effective is an offer of assistance “How can I/we help today?”