Monday, October 10, 2016

"Just Do It" is Often Bad Business Advice

Very often the advice used by Nike promotions is great: Just Do It!

But there's a right time and place for everything.

Perhaps the biggest problem businesses face on a regular basis is communication. Ironically, as the means for communication has exploded, the effectiveness of communication has gone downhill. In addition to internal messaging, telephone, written, and spoken word, we now have social media, text messaging, video conferencing, and more.

Communication is critical both inside your company and between your company and your clients. In both cases, we have a tendency to look at human behavior and say, "I wish people would just do their jobs." Or perhaps, "Just do what you've agreed to do." All that amounts to the advice Just Do It.

Unfortunately, that's not always good advice.

With clients, it's tempting to say, "Just live up to your contract." But the best contract in the world is only as good as your relationship with a client. If you take the Just Do It attitude, the client is likely to do the same. And since perspective matters a lot, your client relationship can go downhill very fast if it becomes adversarial.

I know someone who bought a very successful managed service business but refused to work on the client relationships. He was given the advice to meet with each client, promise them good support, and ask for their continued business. Instead, he said no: "Those people all have signed contracts. This is business and they need to fulfill their contracts."

Welcome to the real world. In small business, you can't get away with an attitude like that. He slowly lost all of those clients and eventually closed the business. I'm sure there were other problems, but the Just Do It attitude was a huge factor.

Internally, you have a lot more control. And sometimes you're more willing to express your frustration within your company than with clients. This can lead to short tempers and a different version of the Just Do It attitude. It can be hard to be patient with some employees, but you have to remember that employees are complex beings.

Employees are individuals and they have a life outside work. In addition, they are part of your team and may be part of a sub-set of a larger team. Employees need good, affirmative communication.

I'm a big fan of setting goals and targets. They don't have to be grand or even "stretch" goals. Every employee quarterly goal sheet starts out with the same goal in my company: Create positive relationships within our team and between our team and our clients. That's a written goal every quarter for as long as you work here.

Other goals include a simple re-wording of the job description. For example, Provide excellent customer service. And of course there are more specific goals that individuals need to work on such as getting their time cards in on time, learning the new remote monitoring system, getting a Cisco certification, and so on.

These goals matter because we also evaluate them all the time. No matter how mundane, they become a framework for a never-ending conversation about quality work and quality relationships. The more you work on communication, the better you'll get.

Giving constant feedback does not have to be a formal process. HP's classic Management by Walking Around allows you to have a regular feedback look with your employees. It also works with clients. Drop by occasionally and say hello!

Some level of formality is also useful. Written instructions, policies, and procedures can go a long way to clarifying communication both internally and externally. And the more you use written communication, the more you build a strong culture of interaction.

So while "Just Do It" is motivating and appropriate in some settings, remember that all business is personal. Remember to take care of the personal side of communications as well.



  1. Excellent advice, Karl. Back when I had my company, communication was key. The clients I met with on a regular basis were the happiest and most certain to renew their contracts. Those that I was too busy to communicate with, well, they usually found someone else. I remember one client in particular where communication was a problem. They were afraid to talk to me, thinking that I charged every time I met with them or called them. Therefore, they avoided me. Even to talk with them to explain that they were paying me good money for preventive services and to answer routine (i.e., could be resolved with a short phone call). They just never understood, and I couldn't get the point across. It is no wonder then that they opted out of renewing their contract. The whole situation completely baffled me, but I agreed that it would be better for them not to renew. They were literally throwing their money away simply because of failure to communicate. I've got to admit, it was the easiest money I ever earned, but also the most frustrating.

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