…because I’m the customer…

I was inspired recently by someone I met, via his great post at TRecs to talk about customer service, again. For those of you who know me, it is something I go on about and one of my passions.

I have always failed to understand why one of the most basic abilities as people; human interaction, is so difficult for some people. I am fully aware that we’re all different, some are extrovert, some are introverts, some are wild nutters like me – and some are very shy and retiring. I get that. It is what makes the world such an entertaining and interesting place. But a little tip for the retailers and service providers of the world; don’t hire the ones who are introverted and shy, regardless of their skill set.

You see most humans, like me (although some would argue I am not quite like most!) like to walk into a shop and be recognised. Or go anywhere and be recognised. I actually don’t care if it is a raised eyebrow, a grin, smirk or a wink. Just do something. Acknowledge that your door has been opened or someone walked past you on the retail floor. Yesterday I had some time to kill on the way to an appointment so I cruised around a few shops. Sales are on, things are cheaper. Doesn’t that mean that more people can afford to buy things? Ergo – more people go shopping? I know consumers buy more things in the sales, but things aren’t always about the money. No I don’t have loads of it, but I have strong principals and I also want an experience when I shop.

Most of the stores I walked into yesterday afternoon didn’t quite see it my way.

You know, I get that it is the end of the day; it’s dark cold and miserable outside (but usually not inside, so what the…?), and it is close to the end of the week or the start of another week and or whatever other thousand reasons you want to create. But when I walk into your shop – you know the one you created to make money? I expect a little recognition. Obviously I also realise that the owner mostly doesn’t sit behind the counter. Maybe that is the problem!

I do know that of the three shops I walked into yesterday, two of the owners were there. I know I have to resign myself to the fact that I will never get understand the why of this. It is probably like reading fantasy science fiction, or playing golf or wrestling or changing your name when you get married – I don’t get those things either!

The most amazing thing to me about customer service is that is free! Yep, that’s right, one of the very few things that you get for free in this world. There aren’t too many! One of my favourite quotes is “there are no traffic jams in the extra mile” (the customer service guru Zig Ziglar). It is one of the truisms of my life. It costs me no more to smile or nod or ask someone if they need help. And I don’t work on the high street!

It is true, and as most of my readers will know, I am Australian. By definition that makes us think we can talk to and smile at anyone on the street. I am also aware that it has the uncanny and unpleasant affect of making me seem simple. That is OK too. Yes, I am the nutter who smiles at people and makes eye contact on the road. Why? Because I get a massive intrinsic kick out of the feeling that that little smile or nod or wink could have just made someone feel special. I know, it could also make them think that I am a stalker…your choice!

My HR training and people management experiences has taught me that the best person for the job is not always the one with the most qualifications, nor the one who can put that book on the shelf in eight different ways or make the gold sequined dress go really well with those pink tights. Recruiting people for jobs where they are responsible for the promotion of your business needs to be based on personality, the ability to interact, a feeling for intuition and a strong sense of understanding customers – empathy.

You wouldn’t read about it, but, customers also have bad days, hate the weather and have just lost their jobs broken up with their partner or had a bad haircut. We all have stuff going on, deal with it and get on with your job. It’s right up there with one of the things I wish I could change in the world, along with the correct distribution of food between the obese and the starving, the ignorance about climate change and the economy, and the treatment of less fortunate souls in our world, but don’t get me started. I do truly believe that one little action or reaction from a shop assistant might just change the way a person’s day goes. I just don’t get why it is so hard. I also don’t get why a good feeling is so undersold.

As Mervyn says – do we have the guts to find out what our customers really think and want? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect to be treated like a long lost friend; I don’t even expect to be remembered (my ego isn’t that big!) but I do expect to be treated with respect and a bit of happiness.  I am the customer; the one who is buying something to attribute to the success of the store and the money you earn. This is a very simple equation. Be grateful, let your face know if you’re happy about it – better still, let other people know. It’s quite contagious.

Funny isn’t it, that films like Falling Down is seen as one man losing his mind, rather than an understandable build up of the kind of frustrations we get in everyday life. Yes, there are different ways to provide feedback. One of them is to vote with your feet and never return. But in a city like London, do retailers and service providers really care? I am one of a potential twelve million people (at least) who will come into the store. Move aside love, there are more people trying to get in!

For the record, the real service providers are not the ones who talk to clients on social media and say “we’re sorry to hear about your experience, here try this number”. They are the ones who resolve your issues for you. Who make an effort. I know there are millions of stories of people who do go that extra mile and they are to be rewarded.

I know the use of social media as a communications tool is now de rigueur in business now. But let’s not make it like the media and report only the bad stuff. We can start to make an effort by reporting great customer service, not moaning in the hope that someone listens (guilty I know!). Business who have a significant edge over their competitors are the ones who go back to the source of the original bad customer experience and resolve the issue; not merely tweet about it.

Is this awful customer service experience also the reason we shop online? So I don’t have to put up with the whining from the shop assistants about their date last night, or the unfairness of having a job where they make you work or wear a uniform or talk to customers heaven forbid (or is that just Top Shop?). Be grateful for a few things:

  • You have the ABILITY to work
  • You have a job
  • You have the ABILITY to smile and improve someone’s day
  • You will live longer (there’s research on this!)

Any retail experience is not just about what things cost. I am saddened that in a world of over consumerism more people don’t vote with their feet. That we mostly still search for the bargain of a lifetime and then moan about the service we get whilst doing it. Are those two things related? Maybe. Or maybe it is just putting out there what we want to get back, either way we have a long way to go!

Growing up an Aussie kid

The things you learn when you don’t realise that you are. As a kid, I learned so many things, like we all do. I thought I would share a few, because it is a unique environment and this time of year, I get a bit homesick.

I learned that most Aussie days are sunny. If you’re anywhere north of the NSW border, any time from around 4am in the summer, it’s daylight. Winter is a little more kind, closer to 6am.  Imagine teaching that to your kids – “yes, it is daylight now darling, but you can’t get out and play, it’s 5am”. Daylight and sunshine, two of the most taken for granted things when you grow up there and the things I am missing the most right now!

I learned that we are the land of the “big” things – Big Banana, Big Lobster, Big Ram, the list goes on. I am not sure why, all I know is that the drive from Sydney to the Gold Coast every year meant we stopped at the Big Banana. Very exciting as a small child. Going back as an adult however, left a little to be desired. There is very little excitement surrounding a large fibreglass banana.

I learned to take sport and exercise for granted, and although it doesn’t seem that way now with so many obese people wandering the streets, as kids we were in that daylight and sunshine as much as we could get, swimming, running, riding our bikes – could never get enough. I have some English friends who shudder at the thought of daily exercise. I do think there was nothing like computer games when we were kids, except for that thing where two lines moved on the screen stopping a square ball – and we were amazed!

I learned to take friendliness, happiness and smiling for granted. So much so, that I am sure I am considered simple here and throughout Europe! All that heat and sunshine makes you feel different, makes you want to be alive and happy. We talk to people on the street, say hello, pat their dog, help with their bags – weird stuff like that!

I learned that fruit was sometimes out of season! That Christmas meant stone fruit and mangos and that as much as my Dad tried to tell us they were awful, we learned not to believe him! I learned that you only ever bought Australian made! My father even stipulated in his will that the funeral directors had to be Australian. Now that was a tough call!

I soon acquired the taste for prawns, crab and most seafood, except for oysters. Once my Dad told me they tasted like snot. Just once….and I never ate another one. He was right. He was also greedy; that meant more for him.

We watched shows like Skippy and thought Sonny was the luckiest kid in the world. Not only did he get to live with all those grown ups (what was going on there??) but he got to ride in a helicopter and he owned a talking kangaroo. No one owned kangaroos in Australia, especially not talking ones. It took me a while to learn that not everyone could afford a helicopter – and that roos didn’t actually talk, or tsk like that.

I grew up knowing bush fires were part of life, that if you lived in the bush, you had to have a fire trail around the house, and you had to make sure you had an escape plan. I knew that we would get sunburned on every holiday – even every second day when we went to the beach. I know that vinegar is what you put on a blue bottle sting and you learn to dodge real quick when there is wind in the air, ‘cause they blow around in the water a bit.

You don’t get out, that’s just ridiculous.

I learned that Huntsman spiders come in pairs usually, and they jump. They also like the water, which means they will catch you in the shower, naked and frightened, not a good place to be!

I learned that you can run really fast on the hard wet sand but it takes you ages to run up all that soft stuff. I knew that mossies got you if you stayed out just after dusk and that if you put a cross where they bit you, with your fingernail, they didn’t sting as much. Later I learned that you rub Vicks on them to make the sting go away. The lump stays but the sting goes. I also knew that my sister was allergic to them and they made her have big rashes all over her body. She passed that onto her kids! I know that I got hives when I ate too many tomatoes; just like they were apples.  I also learned that if you rubbed tomatoes on your sunburn, it would hurt less. Unless of course the sunburn was on the top of your head, where your part was from your pontyails, that really hurt and nothing makes that better!

I always thought I would keep my permanent tan mark from my thongs (the ones you wear on your feet, the only kind!) but I actually grew out of it. A good summer meant you went through more than one pair. You live in shorts and singlets and when you grow up; you just add jewellery and lipstick.

Sunday nights were all about roast chook, peas, mashed potatoes and then choc chip ice-cream. I learned to deal with getting picked on at school because my European mother would make us food none of the kids had ever heard of. But I learned to fend for myself – usually by swearing at them in Maltese, they couldn’t help but be impressed then. At least we weren’t like Gerard Said, he had cockroach sandwiches. OK – they were dates, but they looked like cockroaches!

Speaking of cockroaches, you learn really young that they can fly, usually at you when your mouth is open! And when you go outside at Christmas time, the Christmas beetles fly around and get stuck in your hair! Between those and the cane toads, the back yard could be pretty treacherous, but always big fun!

I learned that Christmas was all about rushing to open the presents then heading outside for the rest of the day to play with your toys, occasionally coming in to eat the hot dinner that mum cooked because that was tradition, even though some of those days were almost 40 degrees.

I lived in a land of either machismo or just plain stupidity when people had ceiling fans and not air conditioners. The land of above ground pools with a bucket next to the ladder that you put your feet in so that the grass didn’t get into the pool. Heaven forbid you had to go around with the scoop before you were allowed to swim – that took an eternity! I learned how to stay underwater and hold my breath, just so I could beat my brother and sister. I learned to hold it even better when Mum told us it was time to come in…..!! Heard perfectly well of course when Dad called! I used to love going out shopping, fresh from the pool, straight into a pair of shorts and singlet, stopping sometimes if we were really good to get a slush puppie or a slurpee. Raspberry of course, oh unless they were the coca cola ones. Then make those disgusting noises, get into trouble, apologise and do it all over again.

I knew that we could never ask to go in the pool until an hour had passed so that our lunch would go down and we wouldn’t drown. I also knew that we could go in, but had to make sure our little sister had her floaties on if she wanted to go in. I knew that if we were at our grandparents place in their pool, we couldn’t wet Grandpa’s hair – I mean toupee. I also knew that there was no way you could wee in there, they had that purple dye that followed you and so everyone knew that you had done a wee in the pool.  (Mean, mean, just mean – until now of course when I tell my nieces and nephews the same thing!). I learned that if you had swimming for PE then you had to make sure you wrapped your cosies up in your towel afterwards and then put it in your bag, or Mum would get really annoyed!

I learned the slow and hard way never to leave fruit in your school bag, especially not hidden in your glasses case….’cause then you forget about it, and bananas go brown really quickly! They also smell just before they have been in there long enough to disintegrate.

I knew that you never opened your eyes in the pool after Dad had put that floating chlorinator thing in there, or if it got in your way, you picked it straight up and threw it at your brother. I learned just how to wet the tennis ball playing brandings and throw it hard, and fast, usually at the head.

I learned all these things and so many more and I am sure that any kid, anywhere in the world can tell stories like this. We weren’t poor, but we weren’t rich, and we certainly didn’t’ have any spare money. We had hand-me-down clothes (great as the middle child whose older sibling is a boy!) we ate home cooked breakfast, lunch and dinner. We barely ever got money to spend at the tuck shop and if we did, it usually came from Grandpa (with Mum clicking her tongue!). We always ate fruit, lots of it, and all the time. We barely ever ate junk food and soft drink was a Christmas treat. We never asked for anything, if you asked you never got, plus we always knew Mum and Dad never had any money.

Holidays were at places like Burrunjuck Dam or Hastings Point, or on the Gold Coast before we moved there. We used to drive there every Christmas, 1000km of fairly treacherous roads, in the back of the station wagon, sleeping side by side in the back. (God – our parents will never live that down – especially when we remind them, which of course was often!)

We used to stop off at the side of the road to have breakfast, usually in our pyjamas, eating coco pops or weetbix or rice bubbles in those cute little Kelloggs packs – the only time of year we ever got to eat them – what a treat! Mum and Dad had instant coffee in the thermos and we got to eat cereal in our pyjamas by the side of the road, with all the cars and trucks going past. And you want to know something? They were some of the best times of our lives. Some of the richest memories I own.

So when people ask me what it’s like in Australia, I don’t usually tell them these things. I tell them it is way too hot to be comfortable most of the year, that fabulous weather doesn’t always make up for bad politics, racism or expensive groceries or having to drive everywhere or having your TV viewing censored up the yin yang, and your media controlled by one megalomaniac.

But I’m always glad I was raised an Aussie kid (we’re Weetibx kids you know). I am glad that I eat Vegemite and not Marmite and glad that I know what Twisties and Tim Tams are. I still know all the words to the Aeroplane Jelly song, would murder for a pack of Jaffa’s or a Violet Crumble or a Redskin and as a grown up, know that I can order a long black or a flat white and not get looked at strangely! This isn’t about what is great about growing up an Aussie, it is about celebrating the fact that I got to this age and can remember it (my siblings will be surprised!), feeling a long way from home at Christmas and appreciating that I can remember, that I got to live to the ripe old age of 43 and I can think that I am rich and privileged in the smallest possible way, to have lived a life made up of the simple, wonderful things that families and different experiences can bring. How blessed!

Social Media and HR: Worthy Partners or Evil Enemies?

I was recently at an HR Professionals networking function and asked who there was using Social Media in their business. The majority told me that they don’t let their staff have access to any Social Media platforms because “they’d just be on Facebook all day”. I wasn’t all that shocked. Disappointed yes, but I had been hearing that quite a lot. I do get it; there are thousands of reasons why we should keep ignoring it and hoping it might go away. Some of them are even valid.

The biggest impact Social Media can have on any organisation is the ability to change it. If you are not involved in a decision about the introduction of Social Media into your business, then you may be put in a reactive position. Social Media creates open, honest and transparent engagement with customers, suppliers, peers and staff, whether it is used as a PR campaign or a whole of business strategy. It means listening to what people have to say, hopefully responding, and learning to adapt. What does that mean for your staff, policies and business? It could very well drive change in the entire business, so we need to be prepared. Here are some fables, tips and benefits:

Fable: It will make our staff less productive.

I wrote recently about this. Using Social Media in the workplace is no different to using the phone on your desk for personal calls, or using email to contact friends, or going out for a coffee. If you have unproductive staff, they will find any excuse to be unproductive. Monitor the behaviour, not the tool that is causing it.

Fable: Our only online presence is our website.

Are you sure? How often do you Google your company name, managers, Directors, Board members?  I don’t mean typing in your company website address, I mean putting those names into Google or Yahoo or even Bing? Each one of those search engines will get you different results. So it probably pays to check them all. Do the same search on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. That is real time search; what is happening right now. Hopefully you won’t be surprised by what you find.

Fable: All voices are equal.

Are staff sharing praise or complaints about your organisation? Are they telling their innermost thoughts and secrets about the company, co-workers or their boss? Generation Y love Social Media platforms and they love to share; a lot and loudly, to anyone who will listen. It could be bad if they are a staff member. A supervisor or manager could have far greater impact. Are they on the board…..well you would hope not, but stranger things have happened! Usually if they are not saying it to you, they are saying it about you.

Fable: Ignorance is bliss!

OK, so you have been brave enough to Google, Bing and Yahoo yourself silly. Did you find comments or a whole conversation? You may be more visible than you would like. Assess the risk and decide on what to do. Do companies even want to know what their staff are saying? They could be either supporter or detractor.  What about ex-staff members, what are they saying? Surely this can’t be any different to what was said at dinner with friends? Unfortunately it is; times a few hundred, thousand, or million. The old way of being social meant we had a few wines then forgot the whole conversation; it was just having a moan. The new way means it all stays for eternity. The old adage that “Four things come not back: the spoken word; the spent arrow; time past; the neglected opportunity” is so true.  The rest you can find on Google.

Um, HR – we need your help…

So why does all this matter? We never did it before, why start now? All this public discussion can impact on your brand, your reputation or your competition; let alone your retention of staff, attraction of new staff and your own credibility as a contributor to the business. Are you a “values based organisation”, are you on any lists as an “employer of choice”? Does it matter what someone once may have said about you? It does if you have principals and values and you use them to attract talent. There are countless examples all over the internet about one person’s perspective, how it was picked up, misconstrued and shared with millions of people.

As HR Professionals we all know what happens the minute something in the business gets too hard to handle. Our phone rings or there is a knock on the door. If someone came to you with an issue like this, are you prepared? Would you know what to do? I have many colleagues and friends in HR all over the world, unfortunately most of them think I have lost my marbles and gone to “the dark side”. It’s true. I have and the message is: be prepared, don’t be scared, and embrace it! These tips may help you start:

Understand the tools. (the most relevant)

  • Twitter is very powerful for business, short, sharp relevant messages and real time search. (It’s also cool to be on it if you are human!)
  • Facebook is becoming powerful for business. Look for business pages. Probably the best area for direct communication with staff.
  • LinkedIn is the most professional platform. Used predominantly as a recruitment tool, it also has some wonderful moderated groups and forums for discussion across industry and profession.
  • YouTube is of course the most popular of the video sites. Anyone can post content…on anything. Nothing moderated here.
  • Blogs are a great business tool if done well. Used for sharing industry and business information, and learning before you actually have to experience it! Excellent marketing and communications tool.
  • Google and Google alerts. You can set up an alert for your company name so that anytime it is mentioned on the internet; you will be sent an email.

Learn and Research. Set up a personal account on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. If you are not sure, then create an alias. Once in, go and see what all the fuss is about!

Standards. Create a non-disclosure agreement or a confidentiality agreement, or remind your staff  of what they signed in their employment contract. Find or create a policy, framework or guidelines around what you can and can’t do and say on these platforms.  The quick fix is to add them to your IT, email and web standards.

Finally…..The Benefits

Like anything else, Social Media can be managed and controlled if you think you need to. Remember the introduction of fax machines (how many jokes did you or your staff used to fax around?), computers, the internet, mobile phones…the list goes on.  Think about the core of our profession: our people. Use these tools to engage with them, to understand them, to listen and then respond and to get to the truth of who you are, who they are and who the business is.

Be in control, be aware and start something. You are bound to have a more grateful team who want to connect with you, who want to know they are heard and who want to know they are trusted. If you are blocking access, does that engender a culture of trust? Ensure that this one little act doesn’t go against the culture you have worked hard to create.

Social Media is just another tool. Imagine you are new to a country and you don’t know which newspaper to read. You might buy a paper a day for the next fortnight, scan the headlines, or look at the pictures. However you do it, you will seek out information that is relevant to you. This is no different. You don’t have to be in any of it, you don’t have to know it all back to front, but you do need to be aware of it, of what is happening and how you would act in any situation. Be responsible for being a trend-setter in your industry, create an inviting place to work, and have your people engage with you; for good, not evil.

Have you got the guts to have the tough conversations?

It has been a year now since I had any staff to manage. If you listen closely, you can hear the angels sing. Whilst I did enjoy it and all the challenges it threw my way, it was nothing short of the most difficult thing I ever did. I chose not to have children, so I managed people instead. God works in mysterious ways.

It is true that I will have stories to dine out on for the rest of my days.

Anyone who knows me lived this example of managing poor performance, painstakingly! One of my staff used to take the company car to drive to the shop to get coffee for everyone (of course he walked around the building and took orders before he left). He returned, delivered said coffees, chatting to all along the way, then took time to drink his own coffee and eventually got back to work. He thought this took 15 minutes; his tea break. In fact it took 40 minutes, on a good day. He conveniently forgot that he traded off that tea break when he signed the last Enterprise Agreement giving him a 13% pay increase over three years. Not entirely his fault, no one had the guts to tell him that he couldn’t do that anymore.

If you are let get away with something for long enough, it can become the norm.

This very same guy did a less than sterling performance for 27 years. He was an absolute under-achiever of the highest order. When challenged on his work ethic, his work contribution and his general performance, he quite rightly produced his HR file and showed me that no one had ever challenged him on this before. That meant it must be me, the new Bossy Bitch who had a problem with him and the way he worked.

Well hidden potential

That was without doubt one of the toughest challenges of my career. It took me a year of setting targets, measuring performance, reviewing targets, adjusting targets, sending him on more learning and development than was good for him and basically devising every strategy I could find to get him to reach his potential. He had the most well hidden potential of anyone I had ever met.

Lots of very tough conversations and nine months later, he was dismissed for his consistent abysmal performance, including mistakes costing the company thousands of dollars, ruining our reputation and creating ill will amongst his colleagues (unlike anything I have ever seen.) Dismissing someone in a Government run institution was a tough gig, I give you the drum!

Your staff may just thank you for it.

There are thousands of employees out there just like him. It is tough having to have conversations with people about the way they work, or rather the way they don’t work. I doubt to this day that he thanks me for it, but I have had other staff who have. I have had people return to thank me after I have made them redundant, cancel their contract or just plain old tell them off for bad behaviour. Some of them gloat, and that is OK. Some realise it is the best thing they could have done, or could have had happen to them. To leave an environment that doesn’t stretch you or your creativity and is a lovely deep, well grooved rut can be a liberating experience, regardless of how it happens.

It is never a pleasant job to have to tell someone that they are going to lose theirs. People are human at the core of all that shockingly poor performance. They have lives to lead and children to feed, husbands, wives and parents to entertain and ignore just like the rest of us. Pity they don’t think of them when taking their employer for granted.

I have had to have tough conversations, not just about performance, but about stealing, bullying, racism, sexism and inappropriate swearing. I have had to tell someone it is not appropriate to call the company you work for a euphemism for a female body part. I have had direct and uncomfortable chats with people about bad body odour, inappropriate clothing, smoking in a non-smoking flammable confined space; coming in late, leaving early, excessive private phone calls – you name it. Were any of them nice, NO! Not for me and especially not for the staff concerned.

However, every single one of them knew exactly where they stood after those conversations.

To refuse to tell a person that they are under-performing, is not only poor management practice, it is poor leadership. It’s unfair and in fact, it’s just plain old bad human skills. Most of us just want to do a good job. Some of us think we do, and some of us know it, even though we aren’t always told (when will people get that? Can you just say “thank you for your work”, or “You’re doing a good job”. Is it really that hard!!?). I digress…..and OK, yes I was channelling a few of my previous bosses just then, sorry.

If you don’t provide feedback to people, good or bad, they will keep doing what they have always done, whether it is right or wrong. Having the tough conversations can drive you mad if you are not prepared and if you don’t have the skills to do it well and to protect yourself in the process.

Six tips for having the tough conversation

  1. If you witness the bad behaviour, ask the person into your office. Nicely, quietly and privately.
  2. If you don’t see it for yourself, then ask them to come and see you. Ask them for their version of the story. Perhaps: “I heard something unpleasant about xyz….can you tell me what happened?”
  3. Whatever the situation, start the discussion immediately. Do not make small talk or make them feel like they are going to be having a friendly chat with you. This is business and it is serious.
  4. Address the issue. “I just noticed {or I heard} that you did……(insert appropriate disaster here). I wonder why that happened, can you tell me about it please?”
  5. Give them enough time to provide you with an answer. Let’s be honest here, no excuse is acceptable when someone has used bad behaviour in an office, so the next tip is not negotiable!
  6. Say this, clearly, precisely and succinctly. “I just want to make it clear to you that that type of behaviour is not acceptable here in this office, nor in this business. Do you understand?”

Then stop talking.

My experience is that people listen, tell the truth and respond. They are usually embarrassed to be called on bad behaviour and who isn’t? Ask them if they are clear on it. Never underestimate the power of repeating your point, over and over again if you have to. If they start to give an excuse, remind them in the nicest possible way that they are adults; that they have a responsibility to work well with others and to just do their job.

If there are serious reasons why their job can’t be done, they can be discussed later. Make a note of them, then make another time to review workload, or do whatever you have to do to support them (yep, crap behaviour still requires support…much like parenting!). But make those two meetings separate so they are clear on the performance message, and that they are also clear on who is the leader.

The “…how dare you?” tantrum

Seriously, if ever anyone says those words to me, I walk away. They may as well ask me if I know who they are. As a manager I recover from my shock and then take the person in question for a very strict, very sotto voce conversation (strange phenomenon that, the angrier I get the softer my voice!)  I have had staff attempt to throw a tantrum after they have left my office. I followed them and suggested that they go for a walk, or take a break or go work the guillotine (OK, that was a dream, I was in printing!). Keep your resolve and make sure they are aware that you will not accept that behaviour under any circumstances.

Livestock in your living room?
Livestock in your living room?

Feedback is a wonderful thing and I have been known as the Feedback Queen all my life. I love it. I have learned to accept it and I give both positive and negative feedback graciously. It is difficult to manage people because they are people. Some will hate your guts till the cows come home (but what are you doing with livestock in your living room?) and some will adore you for it.

I know some of you reading this will be wondering if I worked in a prison, or even dealt with small children and farm animals. Not so, just an environment where staff had been let do what they wanted; one with no authority, no leadership and certainly no one there who had the guts to have tough conversations.

Social Media will make you review your website. Oh and your business. Ready?

In my short experience in this game, one thing I know is true – so true in fact that it may just be basic and awfully boring to some of you! If that is you, it’s OK to leave now, this is meant for all the newbies.

When I spend some time with a client, learning about their business, their customers and their values, we then get onto their website. I deal with small business, they are mostly concerned about their own little place, not what the rest of the whole world thinks!

The Little Place
"..just concerned about our own little place"

They watch me have the same experience their customers have when they go to the website. Sometimes they stand back, arms folded and gloat over their wonderful work. Most times they look on, cringing ever so slightly. Mostly, I find that the website could be a little prettier. Actually, never mind just pretty, some of them could be a little more user friendly, possibly designed in this decade and with a bit more of a welcoming spirit about them.

What happens when your customers land on your web page? Do you give them an experience, or do you give them information? This is 2009 we want the experience thanks.

If I want contact information about your business, I can go to the Yellow Pages (but please don’t send me there!) It might be that your information is not up to date, that your website doesn’t reflect what you are telling your Social Media person, or that it doesn’t really reflect who you are anymore. I tend to find when submitting proposals to clients, that the lead time for consulting is quite long. Usually long enough for them to fix their website, so they can work on getting people there.

When you start engaging and conversing with customers, suppliers or anyone that hasn’t previously heard of you,what they find on your site is static. So static it is so far out of date that you would be embarrassed if someone came up to you at a party and said that they saw your website and “I didn’t think you did that anymore”, or didn’t I see on your website that you had won that big account for ..(insert out of date and large company name here)”. Unfortunately, it happens all too often. I think part of the reason is that websites used to be really expensive to create. People think that they still are. Of course some of them if they were created long ago, will take either thousands of pounds to rectify, or thousands to make something new.

Let’s face it, you can no longer just hope to go with the website you created when your business was starting out, or the website you just had to have that was created with no money and just looks plain ugly, is completely dysfunctional and sends your customers screaming to your competitors. Sorry to share the news folks, but if your website looks like crap, Social Media won’t help you! As part of your “we had better have a social media consultant” budget, you may need to consider these other things:

  1. Is there money in that budget for a revamp, upgrade or total demolition and rebuild of your current website?
  2. What do you actually want your website and your social media campaign/strategy to do?
  3. Does it reflect your business, branding, customers, members, suppliers etc? Do you want it to?
  4. Are you doing SEO and link building? Do you need to – do you want to?
  5. What other online marketing strategies are you engaging in and do each one of your consultants know what the other one is doing?

Be prepared for change.

Yes, your website probably will change, unless it is already great and you are into this whole SEO/SEM digital marketing space. Well done you. You are the minority I can assure you. It is interesting when I go to industry events that are run and include mostly industry people, they don’t really realise that industries like hairdressers, dry cleaners, child care centres and stationers are not into any of these SEO/SEM antics!

I digress…I was talking about being prepared for change. I’m not just talking about changes to your website, but changes to your whole business. Once you start engaging with your customers (that is “listening and talking” to them by the way), they will start providing solutions or suggestions to your customer service problems, your structural or strategic issues. Nothing is off limits with social media. To be honest, I love that I can now have an input to any organisation on what MY opinion is. Personally, I never really needed Social Media for that. Of course they listen to me……….

Your business may well change. That was…your business may well change.

The way you deal with your staff, your customers, your suppliers could change. That will mean that people feel empowered to contribute to your business. This is not like telling someone how to parent their own children (boy, isn’t that a tough lesson to learn!?). As a consumer, you have the right to contribute your thoughts to your suppliers, partners and the businesses you frequent daily. They of course have the right to ignore you and do more often than not; at their peril. We all have the right to choose who we do business with, who our customers are and to say no sometimes to clients.

It is like getting a job. Don’t just be grateful that you got one, no matter how long it took you and how desperate you were. Think about what you can contribute, by all means, and make it a damn good contribution too, none of this turn up and be absent thank you! Contribute as if you were a valued member of staff. Then you can discuss with your employer just what they are bringing to the table. Your employment contract, like the contracts you have with your clients should be about relationships and should be about values – yours and theirs. If they don’t match, don’t go there. The stress mis-matched values costs you is far too great, even for the holy dollar, pound or yen.

That was me digressing again. Sorry!

I tell my customers and my prospects that one of the goals of Social Media is to drive integration with customers and share information. In this day and age, whilst we think it doesn’t always mean that, it means we will be driving traffic to your website. Are you ready to expose yourself like that?

I don’t do website modifications btw. I know some people I would refer you to, but part of my remit is not making people spend more money if they don’t have to. I don’t work like that.

It may sound to some that I am working on doing myself out of a job! This is about sharing information with people who are thinking about jumping head first into a Social Media campaign or strategy. I talk about whole of business strategy, not just a campaign. That means that you need to think about what your whole of business is saying, who you are saying it to, and how you are saying it.

Social media is not the panacea of all ills. It will create change for you, your business and your website. Are you ready for that?

Conflict….it’s just a difference of opinion. Really.

I grew up with a family who love a great debate. There was always some kind of debate going on in our house that we were encouraged to stick our oar into. My Dad would drop little one liners about things to see what our reaction was. He almost always got a rise out of me!

I have never been one to shy away from conflict. In fact growing up in my family it was expected. I have very direct extroverted parents who were always making it clear, usually loudly, how they felt about a certain …..anything. I am sure the phrase argument for arguments sake was invented by my parents, although their own personal arguments were few, they never hid them from us believing that we would learn to deal with that as we would any other experience.

In our house, conflict was one of those things we just did really well. We still do.

One of my earliest memories is of my mother making a very pointed comment to a friend of my father’s. Dad came in late one night after work, a little drunk and with this friend in tow. The poor guy in question happened to have a pencil thin moustache. My mother was not a fan. So, she told him in a very pointed way that “she hates men with moustaches”. True story.

She felt it was important for him to know as the cause of my father’s overt “friendliness” just how she felt. After she made her point, he offered to leave, but in my true family style, he was welcomed, warmly, with laughter, food and made feel like a member of the family. One of the best lessons I ever learned from my mother was to say your piece and move on! She always moved on quite quickly, something we couldn’t understand as kids, because we never got to hold a grudge!

I was probably about seven at the time and remember it vividly. Not least because my mortified father liked to drag that story out every opportunity he got! In the later years of course it was a great joke, but I am more than sure he felt the sting of it then. Of course my mother still doesn’t think she did anything wrong, he deserved it!

Maybe she didn’t, and maybe he did. Maybe he was just one of those poor souls who is too sensitive (as my family like to think!). I am sure it is about sensitivity and as I get older, I also know that we need to apply some filters. As I tell my nieces and nephews, just because it is in your head doesn’t mean it has to come out of your mouth. Mum was a bit of a slow learner at times.

As they say, it is all in the delivery.

I am brutally aware that my way of dealing with conflict is unique, which has tended to make communication difficult at times. I am also aware that when I am not on my game, it is the one thing that deserts me. When I am not confident, or I am tired from too much struggle, I have chosen not to challenge when I should have. I know then I am not being my authentic self.

I think that poor old conflict gets a bit of a rough deal. Conflict doesn’t always have to be bad and I am quite serious when I say that I truly believe it is just a difference of opinion.

The conflict part comes from emotion, judgement, defensiveness and self-righteousness.

Thankfully life is all about growing and learning. I used to think there was something wrong with someone else if they didn’t like what I said, I truly didn’t think it reflected on me at all. Sounds pretty horrid – and I would agree. I was not always the evolved soul who writes now (she says smirking into her wine…).

So why am I revealing all this horrid stuff about myself, and why would you care (other than to use me as an example in your psychotherapy classes!)? Because the way we deal with conflict is one of those lessons we inherit from our family. It shapes who we are, what we believe, the way we form relationships and even the way we do business. I wrote recently about the importance of relationships in business. The way we deal with conflict affects honesty and trust in all of our relationships.

One of the best lessons we can teach our children is that conflict doesn’t have to be difficult. It also doesn’t have to be avoided. If we can make it clear that listening to a difference of opinion creates an open mind and greater respect for people and their differences, we can encourage them to debunk the myth too.

What happens to you when you disagree with your boss – what do you do? More poignantly, what do you say? Are you encouraged to say anything? Saying nothing implies that you agree, or even worse, support their ideas. Some of the most important coaching and mentoring I have done is on how to handle this kind of conflict – or this difference of opinion. It is called managing up. It is important certainly to not respond in anger, but to collect your thoughts calmly and then have a conversation.

We all know people who have different beliefs to us on important issues. My particular favourites are things like racism, sexism and homophobia. It is always far easier to agree with them isn’t it? I mean who wants to be the one who publicly disapproves rather than going along with the joke, or the thought or the intent. Some would argue that we could stop racism, sexism and homophobia right there, if we only all just learned to say: “Oh, really, how interesting, I don’t necessarily see it like that”. Then just engage in conversation without being self righteous, without emotion, without judgement and without being defensive. (Thanks go to the wonderful Susan De Campo who taught me this insight and saved my sanity just recently!)

I do believe if we start to de-mystify this whole topic and treat conflict like a difference of opinion, problems would be resolved, issues would cease to be and we would all feel stronger and more confident rather than walking away disheartened wishing we had the courage to say what we thought.

I have had many friends and family on Facebook vehemently disagree with the comments I have put up there, or pictures I have taken – and I welcome it, openly! I want to know what people think, I want to incite discussion and debate. In a world where it sometimes feels like we are free to write what we like, that isn’t always the case. I recently read two very different blogs on the value of SEO and it appeared that there were more comments on the blog in support of the argument than not. One particular blog was almost nasty in content and was a little vitriolic. I would have thought that would create some fairly sharp responses. There were a few on there, but not many. Very few people actually wrote that they disagreed with the content. Are we continuing this move away from conflict in these forums too? All this user generated content surely will incite some great debate and discussion, but I am not really seeing it, I wonder why?

I so often hear “I like to keep the peace” and my all time favourite, “I don’t want to rock the boat”. Well, as the un-husband says: Real boats rock.

The key to learning how to deal with conflict is practice. Practice using the phrase, “I don’t necessarily see it like that”. Practice it without emotion, without judgement, without being defensive and without being self-righteous. It is quite amazing what happens when you re-frame it.

After all, it is only a matter of opinion.

Building Relationships in Business

I was recently invited to attend a Business Networking function. I wasn’t completely in love with the idea of trekking to North London, but thought – you know, I’m starting my own business, I can meet people, rhubarb, rhubarb….

I was just managing to successfully talk myself out of being cross about the long trek, when I learned that the “interesting” workshop I had signed up for, wasn’t going to be a workshop at all, it was now the Keynote speech, starting at 7.40pm. Watch check: 3.30pm, this could be a long evening!

They did give me two drinks vouchers and as I am only human, I stayed.

I signed up for the first workshop (or rather man standing at front of room sprouting death by PowerPoint). It didn’t start all that well; firstly the presenter was late, then the audio didn’t work. The PowerPoint slides had been set up for another version so they jumped all over the screen. Very professional so far. I couldn’t actually see the screen, because the sunshine was coming in through the windows……. apart from that, I was impressed that I was about to learn all about “Winning Business in a Recession, Sales and Networking” from a presenter who looked roughly 12 years old.  At this point I am feeling quite self-righteous and congratulating myself for staying!

The wine was helping.

Once ‘Youthful Presenter’ (YP) managed to get the audio working, I was kind of looking forward to something promising. The workshop was going to teach me how to build my business, how to create a USP (unique selling proposition) and ultimately make me a mega-successful business woman.  I was all ears!

Then I felt the strangest urge, almost physical. I was thrust back into 1984! I know I put that wine down somewhere…

Then YP started sharing information that not only had I heard a few hundred times before, but it annoyed me all those years ago, when I heard it first and was actually working in sales. I should have spotted it straight away when he asked the question “Who here is in sales?”  Of course the answer should have been everyone….so lost points to those who thought they were in business!

I won’t bore you with the details, because it got more and more corny; people buy benefits not products or services, turn to the next person and in 5 words or less tell them what it is you do……

Oh, where did I put that glass???

I’m still working really hard not to be negative or get annoyed. I got out of sales because of this. You see, I don’t really fit in flogging stuff to people who don’t need it. I have these pesky things called values and oddly, I believe in sustainable business relationships.

I just don’t get the hard sell. I never have, and I hope I never will. Most people are smarter than that. I have no desire to participate in “Speed Networking” or “Time for Action” sessions where I have to tell the next person all about my business in two minutes.

Oh…was that me snoring, sorry!

I thought I would pass.  I answered all the questions the right way; yes I have a business, yes I want it to be successful, yes I would like to roam the world with no financial worries and buy small children like Madonna (OK, maybe not the last one).

I just believe there are other ways to do it.

In sales for some very large multi-national organisations, people bought stuff from me. Me. Yes, the big company names helped and some would argue made it very easy, but it was me. I left organisations and people moved with me.

As a Manager and HR Manager, I was always thrilled when I got the opportunity to make a difference to people’s lives. I was responsible for having a positive affect on another human being – WOW!! That is still one of the best natural highs I can get! I used to get that feeling when I sold something to a customer I knew needed it.

So, I guess I failed this course.

My USP was me. Yes, it was the fact that I provide a “whole of business social media strategy for my clients”. But anyone can do that. It’s all over the internet. Google it and see what you find. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to plagiarise anything and pretend you know what you are talking about, then pretend you mean it.

Social Media is no different to real communication with real people. Say what you think, what you mean. Do it politely, do it with grace and share information that makes people trust that you know what you are talking about. It can be hard to build relationships with people in business, so make sure you learn how to be good at it. Yes, some of that is innate. Personality is innate, as a grumpy beautician told me the other day when she was tearing the hairs and skin right off me, grumbling all the time that the new young girls just don’t seem to have the ability to engage with their clients. Clearly not as much as she did, wax, hairs and bad attitude in hand.

Everything we do is about relationships. Even the daily transaction in your local shop. Be the person that smiles, says hello, makes their day. You never know what your sharing can bring. Get to know your customers and their business. What makes them work? What are their objectives for the business? How can Social Media help? Remember it is just another tool in your arsenal for communication. Open communication builds relationships. Relationships build strong customer bases and more sales.

Nothing else could possibly matter when you are in a business based on your reputation. Isn’t that all of us??

Incremental Change, in life, HR and Social Media

When I arrived in London in November last year, I walked into the coldest winter and the hardest recession to hit the world in 20 years. Not quite the welcome I was expecting. It took me some time, months in fact to adapt to not only the weather and the media hype about the recession, but to the changes that had occurred to me physiologically and psychologically.

I come from a country that doesn’t take things too seriously, except getting an early morning surf in before work, over-indulging our children and eating too much. Most Australians are pretty laid back and although they will always give you a piece of their mind, they won’t act on much at all, not even a worldwide recession!

In spite of this environment, I still thought I was prepared for whatever this country could throw at me, the winter being the biggest issue or so I thought. Having lived in London 20 years earlier, I thought I would cope perfectly well. I refused to believe the media “beat-up” about the recession. I certainly enjoyed the change in climate it, it was a novelty all this cold weather business. Where I’m from, the coldest it gets is either inside the 5-below-zero Vodka bar, or occasionally at The Valley pool when you’re swimming in the middle of winter. No need to worry there though, a warm shower, trip to Merlo for coffee and walk to work will get you well sorted.

Change is one of those things that you sometimes don’t notice until it has happened – and sometimes even then, not until someone has pointed it out to you! An interesting thought for me, given I have spent the past 10 years managing and instigating change as my job, career and life.

Funny then, how change can just sneak up on you, tap you on the shoulder and shout obscenities in your face.

When I decided to emigrate to the UK, I thought myself very fortunate and blessed and still do. Not once did I imagine it would be a tough gig! They speak English there…, I’m employable – it can’t be that different!  Well, yes as true as all of those things are, there are some variations. Yes, they do speak English here. It may take a while to determine, but once you get your ear in, you can almost make out, that it is in fact English. Certainly a few words like “wot-eva” and innit”, repeated at 30 second intervals helped clear up my doubts. Teenage speak is similar the world over.

We all know language is interesting wherever you go. Having heard the type of English here and trying to get my ear in, I found even when I thought I was speaking English, I was asked to repeat myself. Not only the impact of my Australian twang (which of course I thought I didn’t have!) but my constant mistaken use of words and phrases. For example when walking in the summer I tended to take my “thongs” in my bag with me as my feet always tended to get too hot and too sore in heels. I gathered quite a few strange looks and offended more than one person when I felt the need to share my strange underwear fetish with them (thong here is used in the same way the Americans do, not what I wear on my feet to the beach).

I still can’t bring myself to call them flip flops……

I learned whole new names for vegetables – courgettes, peppers and aubergines instead of zucchini, capsicum and eggplant. That an Oyster was not necessarily found in rivers and Nectar not necessarily something derived from flowers! I became very intimate with a whole bunch of people I would not normally meet, usually on the tube or bus but sometimes the Tesco delivery guys and the people who came to read the electric and gas meter, inside your house, at 7am on a Saturday, (meters are only ever outside in Oz).

I missed not being able to order a long black or a flat white, with soy (not soya) and no, thank you I don’t want milk with my Americano (Does that not defeat the purpose of a black coffee??).

I have learned to avoid the post office at any time; Tesco on a Friday night, the tube in rush hour, riding anywhere on the route to Heathrow, wearing stiletto heels, and ever leaving home without my portable “Do Not Disturb” sign (iPod).

Even after my years of experience instigating and implementing change, it took me a while to understand that this incremental change was having an impact on me.

Incremental change can affect people as much as if the change happened all at once. I went from driving everywhere to catching public transport whilst reading a map. From a place where 35 degrees on Christmas day can be a little bit too uncomfortable, to a place where 4 degrees is the best it will ever get for Christmas lunch.

I have coped by realising that I have been undergoing incremental change (not without help I will admit!) and by learning to respect and appreciate that these changes abound and are sometimes sent to challenge us. We grow from them, learn from them and understand that one is not better than the other – just different.

I know I am not unique in this experience nor even in sharing it.  I have done my share of major change as well, changing careers, homes and family situations. What I learned is that change of any nature, can be challenging to say the least, even when you instigate it. I sincerely feel for those who never seek out change and then when it happens to them, are grossly affected by it, to the point where they no longer feel able to cope with life.

The two links I want to make about incremental change are around two of my passions, HR and Social Media. Change in HR is inevitable and is usually driven by us, the HR team! We enforce it as part of our strategic business plans in line with what is best for the business. We then try and steer the people in the right direction with as many tools for learning how to cope as possible. Sometimes we fail miserably, sometimes we succeed astonishingly.

Change in the form of new technology, including Social Media can be even more threatening. Something else we don’t understand, another thing we don’t have time for, something we don’t know how to use, something that we aren’t even sure is going to be of any benefit at all to staff and the business as a whole.

If you approach the use of Social Media in your life, be it for business or pleasure, then think about how it will change you and your routine, incrementally. It has the potential to change the way you do things, change the way you receive information, change the way you react to information, change your business processes and procedures and change the way your staff listen and react to you. It can be welcoming or it can be destructive, and like all change, it is how you react to it that determines how powerful it will be in either being part of another tool that you use to help you, or a distracting nuisance.

Whatever the impact, I hope you learn as I have, that it isn’t all bad, just different.

Productivity and Social Media

You know, the amount of times I hear organisational managers say that they have banned Social Media in the workplace still astounds me. I know there are various reasons for it; the main argument usually is about productivity and how badly it is affected if managers and organisations let their staff use Facebook or Twitter during the course of their business day.

I think productivity is one of those innate blessings. Either you are or you aren’t – and any number of “tools” or applications available will make no difference to the most productive of your staff. Of course it will have an impact on the least productive of your staff, but they don’t need Social Media to distract them from their work, any old thing will do!

It’s important that we debunk the myth that Social Media in the workplace reduces productivity. As a HR and Business Manager, I have seen productivity in all its forms. I have had many staff who would use any opportunity or any excuse to be unproductive. I once had a staff member try and take the company car to the shop to buy everyone coffee because it was “smoko” – the 15 minute morning tea break. The fact that it took him 30 minutes to drive there, buy the things, bring them back and socialise was lost on him!

It is our jobs as people managers to “manage” this behaviour; recognise it and call it for what it is. Preventing access to Social Media sites in the workplace can send a message that you may not be keen to listen to your staff, or keen to hear what conversations are going on around your business. It can also indicate that you don’t trust them to be productive, and probably means that you, as manager and leader don’t understand Social Media (which of course may very well be true!)

It is far too easy to assume the worst of someone and punish everyone for the sins of a few lazy team members, but most people want to do a good job; most people want to be responsible and make a good impression.

The introduction of a Social Media platform into your business could increase productivity, increase revenue and certainly retain customers. Like anything, the introduction of Social Media into the business could be done by a trial, and could be done with some fun, so that everyone can learn at the same pace, or at least at the same time.

Great research has been done on the positive effect of fun in the workplace, you only need look as far as Google to see how they are revered as an appealing place to work. Why not make the introduction of Social Media a fun project and assign tasks to people to create the accounts, write content, take photos and generally allow their creativity to influence the way you do business.

I am sure as a manager of people, you know who the un-productive members of your staff are already, why not use them as leaders in a project to devise the guidelines of how you manage your Social Media policy in the workplace? Like any policy, without guidelines or standards it will be pushed to the limits very quickly!

So, are your staff un-productive already? If they are, then take the opportunity to have a conversation with them about that, set some standards on what you expect if you haven’t already and start measuring them. Once you decide that the organisation would like to be part of this irresistible Social Media wave, then the unproductive ones will already have a clear message that what they are doing is being watched. It isn’t Social Media that you need to pay attention to, it is your people; how they contribute, how they are measured and then how they can positively influence the communication within your organisation. People really are creative and when given the opportunity, will give you all the answers and ideas you want.