Friday, January 12, 2007

Emergency in California

How is it possible that this is not the lead story on the national news?

It is going to be VERY cold in Sacramento. It could actually . . . I don't know the word. But water apparently gets a hard, clear coating on the surface.

You think I'm exaggerating? Read this urgent press release from the CA Office of Emergency Services:

on this page:

Please note:

“Exposure to extreme cold can be dangerous to your health,” said Dr. Mark Horton, State Public Health Officer. “To protect yourself in extremely cold weather remember to wear several layers of clothing, travel with caution and be alert for the symptoms of exposure.

. . .

Apparently, when it gets cold you have to wear more clothes.

Recommended actions include:
  • Review and update your family emergency plan.
  • Replenish your emergency supply kits including battery-operated radio and flashlights.
  • Have extra blankets on hand.
  • Maintain a sufficient supply of heating fuel.
  • Cover your mouth with a scarf to protect your lungs.
  • Let others know of your route and your estimated time of arrival.

Thirty-two degrees is very scary stuff.

People in the rest of the country are very nonchalant. I've lived in Washington and North Dakota and Michigan. Those people have NO emergency plans for families. They drive around in weather way below 30 degrees with no planned routes and don't give each other estimated arrival times.

I'm blessed to live in a place where the possibility of 20 degree temps is the worst weather we get.

But it will be a bit chilly scampering out to the hot tub in the morning!

If I survive the weekend, I'll be back.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Psychotherapy of Sales

The other day I was discussing a client frustration with someone. She happens to be a psychotherapist.

The frustration is this: Some clients drive me crazy. They're successful. Their business is everything. It is literally their sole source of income and wealth.

On top of that, the essence of their business is encased in technology -- in servers, databases, and LOBs. Their entire business, whether its worth $10 million, $20 million, or $50 million, is all embodied in a few thousand dollars worth of technology.

So I make a recommendation on how to secure, safeguard, or improve their system. There is universal agreement that this is the right thing to do.

Then the client comes back and says
- Yeah. I saw a thing at Computer Mart that does the same thing for $200.
- There's an online store that has a piece of junk that claims to do the same thing, and we don't *really* need technical support anyway.
- Here's the exact same model on Ebay, only it's second hand, beat to hell from being crow-barred out of a rack, and there's no warranty.




Do I care more about my clients' data than they do? Do I care more about their business than they do?

The worst case scenario is after a disaster recovery. We've recovered their machine from the ashes.

We've done a miracle. We propose to spend a few thousand dollars to make the next disaster recovery last 1/10th the time. And they're trying to cheap-ass the solution!

Do they really want their entire business to rely on some second-hand, cheap piece of garbage because they save $1,500?

Are they insane?


long pause


At last my friend points out: "You understand that this is a control issue, right?"

uhhh . . .

"You have a vision of what's right and what's true. But your customer also has a vision about how to operate, and what's true, and what works. And, ultimately, the customer gets to decide what they'll do.

"You can control your recommendations, but not their decisions."

"You need to let go of the things you can't control."

I protested. I'm right and they're wrong. My solution is the right solution. Even if they asked another consultant and took his advice, I'd be happy. But the client buys whatever junk he finds on the first page of a Google search. Why does he have a consultant?

"Control." She says. "You don't get to control your customer's business. You need to make good recommendations, explain your reasoning, and then let go of it."

Okay. At some point I no longer control the buying process. My frustration comes from believing I should control more than I do. It's not a money issue, really. It's more . . . fear.

When this pile of second-hand junk breaks down, the client will call me. Then it's *my* problem and *I* have to answer the questions about why we weren't doing our job: taking care of their systems.

It's very hard not to want to control the entire process.

My first reaction is to put punitive measures in place. If you don't buy what we recommend, we'll double the cost of tech support and nothing's covered by managed services. That'll show them.

Or they'll just go somewhere else.

I still don't control the whole process!

What a painful sales lesson. Some people will agree and buy. Some won't.

I need to let go.

I don't control the universe.

I need to accept the limits of my control.

The customer is not a fool, building his entire business on a cheap piece of junk.

I need to let go.

I need to accept the limits of my control.

I need to let go.

Must control fist of destruction.

I need to let go.

I need to let go.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Reward Construction Kit

One of the odd little challenges you take on when you take on employees is the constant need to reward them. There are two sides to this story: What behavior do you reward? and What do you give as a reward?

Rewards don't always have to money. In fact, money gets boring for you and boring for your employees.

Some financial rewards make sense. For example, we give out profit-based bonuses based on the company's quarterly performance. And we give a $1/hour raise for every Microsoft exam passed.

But the rest of the time, we try to come up with something more original.
On the question of what to reward, here's a pretty simple exercise.
What do you value? What bahavior do you want to encourage?

If you value teamwork, reward teamwork.

If you value technical prowess, reward technical prowess.

If you value good client relations, reward good client relations.

The rewards don't have to be particularly big. The real reward is the recognition.

We recently decided to put LCD monitors on everyone's desk. But rather than just plop them on the desks, we decided to take the opportunity to do a little rewarding.

One of our never-ending battles is to get technicians to turn in their time cards on time. (Side note: Why do we have to motivate people to do the simple, most important thing that will put money in their pocket?) So the boxed LCDs sat on a pile. On Monday, each technician who had turned in his time card on time was given a monitor.

One technician took a month to turn in his timecard on time! It took so long that we actually ended up selling the monitor to a client and ordering a new one for the tech.

But it gave us a month to focus on the behavior and have a little fun.
Generally speaking, it's best to "catch" people doing the right thing and publicly recognize them as quickly as possible. This is better than a series of employee of the week/month/year awards. Plus, if you only have two or three or four employees, it's a bit absurd to cycle through employee of the month awards.

In fact, small companies like this are the best demonstration you'll find of the absurdity of employee of the month awards. You have to give out the award. You can't give it to the same employee every month. Or the same department. At some point you have to give it to the one person who deserves it the least, just so you can "be fair" and keep peace.

Here's an example from just this week in our own little company. All last week I found myself reviewing the month of December. Reviewing work done, work undone, effective use of time, billable hours, and so forth. One topic after another. Again and again I found myself saying "We're really lucky to have Thomas on board." Whereever we needed him, he was right on target.

So over the weekend I went and bought an electric dartboard for Thomas. I presented it at the company meeting on Monday. Perhaps a meaningless gift. But heartfelt, public, and intended to reward someone to let him know that we appreciate his contributions.

Rewarding employees is a never-ending task. The important thing is to make sure you focus on behavior that's important to the company and reward it.

Come up with fun, interesting, and stupid rewards.

No matter how small you are, sincere rewards will be appreciated.