Thoughts & Observations

Don’t Let Them See You Cry

Reprinted from Jessica’s “The Practical Business Radical” column in The Business Press.

I had told myself I was going to hold it in. Thirty minutes earlier, as I put the finishing touches on what I was going to say, I felt sad, but not quite on the verge of tears. Then, as I stood in front of our organization’s 60 staff, box of tissues close at hand, I opened my mouth to speak. Only a couple of words made it out before I became barely audible through my tears. I looked around the room and my teary eyes were met with 60 other pairs of wet eyes staring back at me. I had just announced an almost 20% reduction in force, and there was no way any of us were going to get through something that difficult without crying.

I had sought advice from colleagues at other organizations before making the announcement and almost all of them had either implied that I should hold back my tears or had flat out told me not to cry. Had I just broken a major rule of business? Had I just proven why many people say women should not be business leaders – because we are “weak” and can not get through important business dealings without crying?

On the Martha Stewart version of the television show “The Apprentice”, Stewart told a female contestant “Cry and you are out of here. Women in business don’t cry, my dear.” And in a recent promotional ad for the new show “Kell on Earth”, tough-as-nails fashion show producer Kelly Cutrone tells her staff to go outside if they need to cry. The world has conditioned women and men to believe that crying in business is bad.

I, however, think that the perceived weakness of crying at work is one of the strengths that women bring to the table. It brings humanity back into business, when business is so often against letting people feel normal, human emotions. If you have to do something like a reduction in force, you and everyone around you is going to be sad, even the people who get to keep their jobs. Avoiding any show of emotion in the process makes you seem inhumane and heartless, even if you are not.

Part of the problem with most discussions of crying in business is that everyone seems to lump all crying into the category of being a career hazard. Crying at work is all bad. Period. I do not think the answer is that simple. There are times when crying in business is a bad thing, but there are also times when letting the tears flow when they want to is the right thing to do.

In the “ok in business” category I would put the crying that occurs when something truly sad is happening – people are losing their jobs or something awful has happened to an employee or their family. Also in the “ok in business” category would be crying out of pure love and adoration or in a truly moving situation – I almost always get teary eyed when I talk about how amazing our staff are or when I have to say good-bye to someone at a retirement party.

On the other hand, there are times when crying in business is not such a good idea. In general, I would recommend against crying in front of people who report to you (unless the crying falls into the “ok in business” category previously mentioned). Part of anyone being successful in business is being able to keep it together under immense stress. As the leader of our organization, it would start to make employees nervous if I went to the people who report to me and started crying because I could not handle the stress. That is why they say that CEOs and human resources professionals have lonely jobs – the people in those positions do not have as many people to turn to within the organization when they need to let their emotions hang out.

To me, crying should not be used as technique to get people to react a certain way, or to rack up the sympathy points. It should come naturally and be done openly when showing that you are human is the right thing to do. Thinking back to the day I announced our reduction in force, I would not change anything about how I reacted. So what if 60 people saw me cry? At least they know that I have a heart. Now, where are those tissues?

Thoughts & Observations

Why Your Customers Break Up with You

Reprinted from Jessica’s “The Practical Business Radical” column in The Business Press

No matter business you are in, over the past year, you have probably had at least a few of your customers break up with you. Maybe it was more than a few. Each of those lost customers has cost your company money. You do not need anyone telling you that it is almost always bad to lose customers. You get that part. The bigger question is: what are you doing to find out why? Fortunately for you, unlike in real dating relationships, the answer is probably not as incurable as “he is just not that into you.”  So, why do your customers leave?

You can keep your customers for a while by trying to offer superior product. Studies show, however, that only 14% of customers leave because they are dissatisfied with your product.  You can also try winning the battle for customers through price, although continually lowering your price isn’t necessarily the best option. The same study also shows that only 9% of your customers leave because they are lured away by a competitor. Why then do customers leave? Studies show that 68% of customers leave due to the indifferent attitude of a company employee.

If you have heard that statistic before, then what are you doing about it? I had heard it before too, but an ah-ha moment the other day made the statistic finally come alive for me. I was having an interesting conversation with a employee when we got on the subject of volunteer retention. For Girl Scouts, and many other organizations who rely on volunteers, volunteer retention and customer retention are one in the same. As I talked to him about what we do to retain our customers, I realized something incredibly important: when we really look at why our volunteers leave the organization it is not because they stopped caring about girls or that they stopped caring about our mission (our product). They leave because the costs start outweighing the benefits. They have to complete too much paperwork or they do not get a response to their question in a timely manner or they do not feel supported enough.

The customer of a business gets benefits from being a customer: a product they like, a price they can afford, a tool that make their life easier. The problem is that those benefits can be easily overtaken by the costs. If the customer has to wait in a long line or receives unfriendly service or waits too long to get a call back, the benefits start to shrink in comparison to the costs. Despite the customer still liking your product or your price, they are no longer willing to be your customer because the costs now outweigh the benefits.

This is why it is so important to understand why your customers leave. When we started asking our customers about what they were most frustrated with, an overabundance of required forms and paperwork was at the top of the list. As we continue to ask questions, we are able to work specifically on fixing the things that most often tip the cost benefit scale in the direction of the customer leaving. This level of listening is incredibly important.

An article by Anna Thibodeaux in CRM Weekly summarized a recent study: “According to a 2006 survey released by a group within the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, a typical business only hears from 4 percent of its dissatisfied customers; the other 96 percent leave quietly. Of that 96 percent, 68 percent never reveal their dissatisfaction because they perceive an attitude of indifference in the owner, manager or employee. But a typical dissatisfied customer will tell eight to 10 people about their experience. One in five will tell 20.” You want your customers to tell you about why they are unhappy, not 10 of their friends.

If someone were to break up with you in the dating world, you would want to know why. You should be asking your customers why as well. You could even go one step further and start asking questions and listening before the relationship turns sour. Which is a good practice no matter what type of relationship we are talking about.

Policy & Practice

Entitled Millennials and their Expectations

Reprinted from my “The Practical Business Radical Column” in The Business Press

I’m a Millennial. Born between 1978 and 2000, we grew up in the midst of rapid change, fueled by technological innovation. Some people say that we act entitled and that we have high expectations of our employers. It seems, however, that earlier generations had bigger expectations of their employers than we do. Here are the things I do not expect: I do not expect anything to be permanent. I do not expect to work for the same place for the next 25 years. I do not expect the company I work for to take care of me in my old age. I do not expect to ever be able to truly retire. There used to be expectations of pensions and “permanent” jobs, and Millennials do not have those expectations.

That being said, there are things that I do expect. I expect to be paid fairly based on the value I add to the company I work for, no matter what my age is. I expect that the length of the ladder I have to climb to get to the top will get shorter and shorter based on my performance and will have nothing to do with how many years I work at the company. Given the fact that I have no expectation that I will ever be able to retire, I expect to have a job that I love doing every day, to the point that if I became a millionaire and no longer needed to work, I would still want to keep doing my job.

I expect that judgment of my performance will be based on measures that matter and not on arbitrary and empty measures like how many hours I spend at the office or what time I arrive in the morning. I expect that the company I work for will give my ideas equal consideration alongside the ideas of someone with longer tenure. I expect that I will be given the freedom to manage my own time and my own performance. I expect the company that I work for to trust me, respect me, and build a team of talented, passionate people for me to work with.

This may seem like a long list. But the difference between the Millennial’s list of expectations and previous generations’ list of expectations is the price tag. Other than the expectation of fair pay for my contributions, most of the things I expect from the company I work for do not require any money. I am not asking for a pension or a fancy retirement plan. Trust and respect do not cost anything. Giving me the opportunity to have my ideas heard or take on leadership roles actually have the potential of helping the company I work for improve its financial performance. Giving me control of my time can improve company productivity and innovation.

In addition to having expectations of the company that they work for, Millennials often have high expectations of themselves, and of how the work they do will contribute to society in some way. They are willing to do what it takes – including rewriting the rules – in order to have an impact. This willingness to do things differently and to be unconventional can create significant tension because traditional business is more about following a standard set of rules and processes. Sometimes it is hard for Millennials to understand why their perspectives might not make sense to everyone. When I speak about our Results-Only Work Environment, I am often surprised that not everyone in the audience jumps on board with the concept right away. It makes so much logical and business sense to me, that it is hard to understand why other people would not see it the same way. When Millennials face these types of hurdles we just keep working until we amass the evidence and support to change the game.

As the number of Millennials in the workforce continues to increase, companies that do not pay attention to their expectations (and the strengths they bring to the table) will fall further and further behind. The expectations of Millennials can result in changes to the work environment that benefit all of the generations in the workplace and the company itself. We might have a long list of expectations, but it is our expectations that will help raise the bar of performance for your company.

Thoughts & Observations

The One Guy Theory…and Squirrels

What started as an icky feeling towards the generally coveted “best practice” is now a full on theory of distrust towards anything that includes the words “best practice”.

I’ve always referred to it as the “I know this one guy theory” (I know this one guy who started a business on Tuesday and by Friday he had made, like, 2 million dollars!).

Seth Godin calls likens this same issue to “A Million Blind Squirrels”

Further evidence that I’m not crazy to think that best practices are, well…crazy.