- Boston endures
Seventy years ago today, my mother was born.
Thirteen years ago this week, and then again three years later this same week, my daughters were born.
I grew up an hour north of Boston. Some of my earliest memories recall family trips into the city. Frigid December visits to see the Christmas-decorated windows at Filene’s and the lit-up trees on the Common. Muggy August afternoons at Fenway Park to see the Red Sox, the team I worshipped. For 22 years after returning from college, I lived or worked in the place that I will forever consider my hometown.
I’m sharing this personal history because that is what Boston is all about: history. It’s what we’re best at. Maybe it speaks to our metropolitan inferiority complex, living in the shadow of New York and often forgotten as a major American city. Boston is like the nerdy kid with glasses in your fifth-grade class. Not as athletic as New York (and its 27 World Series titles), not as hip as Los Angeles. We trumpet our many world-class universities and hospitals the same way the nerdy kid recites all the presidents in order.
Another reason we celebrate the past is that it reminds us of a time when Boston was more important. It was the first major city in the United States, and the largest until Philadelphia surpassed it in the mid-1700s. The American Revolution began here, of course, 238 years ago this week. It is home to America’s oldest public school, oldest university, oldest subway, and oldest major-league ballpark. Even the city’s only acceptable nickname* — “the Hub” — comes from an 1858 Oliver Wendell Holmes book referring to Boston as the “Hub of the Solar System.” There’s a mix of self-consciousness and wistfulness when we use that sobriquet.
But there’s another reason that history is so important here. More than anything else, Boston endures. It’s a trait we inherited from the Puritans who settled here. Boston endures endless winters of chilly grayness and frustrating seasons of baseball ineptitude. Boston endures indicted House speakers and derided presidential candidates. Aggressive drivers and countless struggles with the eighteenth letter of the alphabet.
And Boston will endure the Patriots’ Day tragedy, an attack on another of its many historical institutions: the world’s oldest annual marathon. Bostonians will forget their differences and roll up their sleeves and work together to clean up and rebuild. Bostonians will pursue the cowardly perpetrators with New England ingenuity and industriousness. And most of all, Bostonians will remember, and will take this new Boston Massacre and weave it into the 400-year-old tapestry of the city’s history.
Because Boston endures.
*You will never hear a Bostonian say “Beantown.”
- Trade Secrets — Chapter One
Many of you know that I’ve just finished writing my first thriller. During my career as a trade-secret litigator, I was always struck by how fiercely corporations would fight to protect their secrets. Some would do almost anything. So I got to wondering: what if a company would do anything—even kill—to protect its secrets?
When investigator (and recovering lawyer) Warren Archer lends his phone to a beautiful stranger, a ruthless corporation marks him for elimination. He must confront the secrets of his past to save himself, the woman, and a city.
- One less grammar post to read
The cool thing about English is that no matter how well you think you know it, there’s always something more you can learn. Every so often, I discover that I had been making a mistake. In this case, it involved the words less and fewer.
I considered myself reasonably well educated when it comes to these words. I knew that fewer dealt with countable nouns, like ducks and cupcakes. (“I have fewer cupcakes, but she has fewer ducks.” Or something.) And I knew that less dealt with uncountable nouns (or mass nouns), like body fat and waterfowl noise. (“Consequently, I have less body fat, but she has less waterfowl noise.” Who writes these examples?) The classic misstep is made by supermarkets everywhere, where the sign for the express checkout reads “ten items or less.” (Except at Whole Foods, who gets it right.)
Of course, some countable nouns still take less because they’re really things you measure instead of count, like money and time. (“Less than ten minutes,” or “less than five bucks.”)
But where I went off the rails was with the phrase one fewer. I figured that if the noun was countable, then fewer was the way to go. (“I have one fewer duck than she has.”) Turns out, I was wrong. The proper phrase is one less. The logical argument is that one thing can’t really be counted. But the real reason is that no one says “one fewer.” Well, almost no one. I did.
Until I looked it up.
The important thing, if you care about writing well, is that you continually try to improve by looking up things instead of just guessing. (I had to double-check that I didn’t mean continuously; I didn’t. I also double-checked the hyphen in double-check. Tough sentence.)
(Image courtesy of The IBD Blog.)
- You made LinkedIn’s top 10 percent. Now, shut up about it
Recently, LinkedIn sent out
spamcongratulatory emails to some of its members, telling them that they ranked in the top one, five, or ten percent of the most viewed profiles. Which sounds great, till you realize that LinkedIn has 200 million members. Now I’m no math whiz, but I’m pretty sure that ten percent of 200 million is 20 million. Even the lofty top one percent loses some of its luster when you realize it’s a distinction shared with 1,999,999 other users.
So if being a member of such a large crowd pleases you, that’s fine. But do you really want to brag about it on Twitter and Facebook? The distinction is dubious and the self-promotional element seems a little tone deaf. It’s kind of like trumpeting your Klout score or how many Google Wave friends you have. There’s nothing wrong with self-promotion, as long as it’s done with authenticity and class. By all means, shout out your accomplishments to your friends — they’ll be proud of you for the stuff you’ve actually done.
By the way, I’ve got nothing against LinkedIn for running this promotion. I give the company credit for getting people to promote the site for free.
- 🔗 How to improve your social-media training ⭕
Really useful article by Sharlyn Lauby of HR Bartender on social-media training. Spoiler alert: Includes a quote where I manage to offend cat-video enthusiasts. Fortunately, there aren’t too many of those out there. Wait … what?
- 🔗 Can your firm be like LEGO? ⭕
I’m not saying that you need to give out action figures. But how can your firm strengthen customer relationships by giving away a little something extra?
- How to calculate your real hourly rate
If you’re a professional and you have an hourly rate, you’re probably used to measuring your time in tenth-of-an-hour increments. You keep track of the work you do on timesheets, and then you multiply those totals by your hourly rate. That calculation gives you a value of the work that you performed for your client.
Or does it?
Let’s say that you’re a CPA with five years of professional experience. Let’s further say that you spend an hour working on the audit of a client. Your rate is, say, $120 an hour. By that calculation, at least in theory, the work you performed during that hour was worth $120. And that’s the amount that the client will be charged.
But an hour is an hour. (Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity is of course beyond the scope of this post.) So what if I spend the hour doing audit work for that client, instead of you? Isn’t it also worth $120?
“No, you idiot,” you say. “You’re not even an accountant.”
That’s true, I reply. But what if I send away for my very own CPA license from an ad in the back of a magazine? Then suddenly I’m an accountant, too. Now is my hour of work on this client’s audit worth $120?
“Of course not,” you scoff. (I get a lot of scoffing.) “It’s not about the license, you maroon. It’s about the knowledge I accumulated over my five years of working.”
Bingo! You just figured the whole thing out. It isn’t the hour of work that creates the value. It’s the knowledge that you’ve accumulated that creates it. You and I could spend an identical amount of time working on that audit, but because I don’t have any knowledge beyond “debits on the left and credits on the right,” the accounting work I do would be essentially worthless. So the single hour on the timesheet does nothing to measure the value that you and I create with our hour.
This is what Peter Drucker meant when he coined the phrase knowledge worker. The value created by a knowledge worker — an accountant, a lawyer, a designer, a consultant, an architect, or an advertising professional — derives from the knowledge that he or she is transferring or applying.
And where does this knowledge come from? It primarily comes from two places: education and experience. So if you’re going to use the amount of time spent to measure the value you create, then you had better account for all the time spent. (You realize, of course, that I don’t advocate trying to measure the value you create by marking the passage of time. I’m just making the point that if you choose that particular metric, you’d better make sure that you’re measuring everything.)
So let’s now try to figure out what your real hourly rate is. First we’ll look at your education. If you grew up in the United States, you were most likely required to go to school from first grade through twelfth grade, plus kindergarten. Most professionals also attended college, so you need to count those hours. Depending on the profession, you probably also attended some graduate school. During all these years of education, you amassed much of the knowledge that you now transfer to your client in your professional life. So you need to add up all those hours.
(Yes, I appreciate that some of those hours are apt to be more valuable then others. You probably learned more things in your second year of law school than you did in kindergarten. Or did you? I don’t remember much from my second year of law school, but I still know what a silent e does. But based on your current timesheet usage anyway, hours are hours. You know that some of the hours you spend working are more valuable than others. You just figure that it all evens out in the end. Using that same assumption, we can measure your education hours as a single total.)
Once you’ve added up your time spent being educated, we need to turn to your professional experience. Obviously, an accountant who has been practicing twenty years knows a heck of a lot more than an accountant who’s only been practicing for one year. So we add up the hours you’ve spent working, too.
So to calculate your Actual Hourly Amount, we need to add your total education hours plus your total professional-history hours plus the hour that you’re doing the actual work for the client. Then we take your hourly billing rate and divide it by that sum. That gives you your Actual Hourly Amount.
You can use this handy calculator to calculate your figure. Just replace the numbers with your own. The grade-school and high-school hours are built in. (If you are reading this post in an email or an RSS reader and don’t see the calculator after this paragraph, click here to go to the post on jayshep.com.)
Surprised? Now that you include all the time that you spent being able to do the work for that client, you suddenly realize that you’re only earning pennies an hour. And I don’t care how experienced you are or how high your billing rate is. Using this calculator, top lawyer David Boies, who bills at $1,220 an hour, only earns one penny for each of those hours when you account for all his knowledge-gathering time spent (education plus 46 years of practice). (I find it ironic that I earned 1.1 pennies an hour, based on 17 years experience and a phantom rate of $600 an hour. I was a very good lawyer, but I was no David Boies.)
Try the calculator with other rates or different levels of professional experience. See what you can look forward to later in your career. Go ahead; I’ll wait.
The point of calculating your Actual Hourly Amount is to show you once and for all that timekeeping is a ridiculous way to measure the value of a professional’s work. I hope that your AHA moment will lead you to realize that the value of the knowledge you sell is based on what it’s worth to your clients when you use that knowledge to solve their problems.
- What kind of price is it?
We’ve been hearing about so-called alternative billing in earnest for the last five years. But many professionals today find the definitions confusing. That’s why most law firms claim to use “alternative fee arrangements,” and yet the billable hour is showing no sign of shuffling off its mortal coil.
Click it to embiggen. You can also download it as a PDF. Feel free to share it.
- How to price mediocrity
I know this lawyer. Let’s call him “Bob,” because, quite frankly, palindromes are fun (and “Stunt Nuts” doesn’t work as well). He’s not the best lawyer in the world; he’s not the worst. In fact, he’s far from either extreme. He’s right there in the middle.
He’s mediocre. When it comes to mediocrity, he’s the best. I’m not being judgmental here; he’s fine. As in when you go to a restaurant and your steak is overdone and your fries are underdone but you don’t want to sound high maintenance so when the waitress asks how your meal was, you say, “Fine.” That kind of fine.
Now because the work that Bob does is mediocre, the very best way for him to price it is by billing his time on an hourly basis.
You see, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with doing mediocre work. It’s incredibly common. In any profession or industry, if you were to draw a bell curve to show the normal distribution of quality, you would see that most performers end up in the middle. Only a few would be truly poor performers, and only a few excel.
And not every customer needs excellent performance. Sometimes, people just want to get the job done adequately, and they don’t want to pay for a higher level of quality when they don’t need to. So I mean it when I say that I’m not criticizing people who choose to do mediocre work. There is certainly a market for it. There are plenty of times when I have chosen not to pay more to get higher quality. If I’m hiring a lawyer to do a basic real-estate closing, for example, I don’t need David Boies to handle that for me.
Because Bob does mediocre work, there’s no need to differentiate the work that he does. The clients who come to him for that level of service all expect roughly the same from him.
For that reason, when all the work and all the clients are essentially equal, then the best way for Bob to price his work is by merely measuring the time spent and multiplying it by his standard hourly rate (which is, unsurprisingly, average for his market). In other words, Bob is effectively “weighing” time on a scale, rather than assessing the value and quality of the work. When a consumer is buying a commodity like sugar, it makes no sense to do sophisticated lab analysis of each individual crystal. Just weigh it. Five pounds of sugar? That will be five dollars, please.
So if Bob is content doing mediocre work for customers who aren’t looking for more, then by all means he should bill his hours. It’s the most efficient way to track his work when all of it is essentially the same. It’s only when work is differentiated — based on the types of customers and the value that they place on the results — that it makes sense to price.
As I said, Bob is fine (as a pseudonymous, palindromic, mediocre lawyer). If you’re a professional and you want to be like Bob, keep billing your hours. But if you’re not interested in being mediocre (or if you suffer from aibohphobia), then it’s time to learn how to price.
- New York Times “oppresses” workers worse than Apple
Today’s Sunday New York Times used two and a quarter pages of its front section — including the top-left quarter of its vaunted front page — to blast Apple for oppressing its workers. Which is ironic, because the New York Times Group is even worse to its employees, using the paper’s own metrics.
As it often does, the Times launches its attack on the most successful company in the world by focusing on how much revenue it takes in:
Worldwide, its stores sold $16 billion in merchandise.
But most of Apple’s employees enjoyed little of that wealth. While consumers tend to think of Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., as the company’s heart and soul, a majority of its workers in the United States are not engineers or executives with hefty salaries and bonuses but rather hourly wage earners selling iPhones and MacBooks.
But the most interesting twist in this particular harangue is the use of a blunt-instrument metric, revenue per employee, to show how unfairly Apple treats its workers. According to the story, Apple took in $473,000 per Apple Store employee. When you consider that Store employees only take in about $25,000 a year, the conclusion is inescapable: oppression. Amirite?
Glass houses, New York Times. Glass frakkin’ houses. Turns out that according to its own reported numbers (from its 2011 Form 10-K), the New York Times Media Group had 3,056
serfsemployees toiling for it in 2011 and made $1.554 billion that year. Yes, with a b. Whipping out my favorite iProduct (note my obvious fanboy bias), that works out to to a revenue-per-employee figure of $508,507.85. Oh, the humanity!
(Curiously, the David Segal article quotes Apple blogger Horace Dediu, who has written about these metrics before. Dediu says that revenue-per-employee ratio is like that of a consulting company. Given how incredibly reasonable and intelligent Dediu’s writing is, I have to think that his quote is taken out of context.) (Update: Read Horace’s excellent piece explaining the job growth at Apple stores.)
The truth is that no one goes to work for the Times or for Apple for the money. (Yes, I realize that Times CEO Janet Robinson got a $23 million severance package late last year, but that’s for leaving her job. Totally different.) People work at these two institutions to be a part of something bigger than themselves. The Times used to be the most respected newspaper in the country. (Sorry. Too soon?) And Apple keeps changing entire industries. Even Segal’s article recognizes that an hourly wage is not what makes people work in Apple Stores:
But Apple’s success, it turns out, rests on a set of intangibles; foremost among them is a built-in fan base that ensures a steady supply of eager applicants and an employee culture that tries to turn every job into an exalted mission.
“When you’re working for Apple you feel like you’re working for this greater good,” says a former salesman who asked for anonymity because he didn’t want to draw attention to himself. “That’s why they don’t have a revolution on their hands.”
- Don’t do what you’re good at
Here’s a short (19:47) video of a talk I gave recently at Super Conference II in Boston. In it, I warned over a hundred lawyers that the advice that they’ve been given — “Do what you’re good at” — is actually bad advice. Instead, they should find their outstandingness. (Yes, I know: that’s not in your dictionary. Well maybe your dictionary is broken. Or quite possibly, I made it up. Either way, you already know what it means.)
By the way, even though I was addressing lawyers, this advice holds for anyone in business.
Thanks to the Massachusetts Law Office Management Assistance Program and the Massachusetts Bar Association for hosting the conference and providing the video.
- How to increase revenue 43%
Ron Baker, the Yoda of value pricing, spoke about the use of options in his talk at the AICPA PSTech Conference in Vegas today. He showed a terrific short Dan Ariely video, which I wrote about on The Client Revolution a couple years ago. Here is that post, along with the video.
How can you increase revenue by 43%?
Short answer: offer an additional pricing choice. Even a stupid one.
Longer answer: Check out this video. It’s almost perfect. It shows how adding a single pricing choice can add 43% to total sales revenue. It’s presented by Professor Dan Ariely, a delightful MIT economist. And it’s only 114 seconds long.
Why don’t you take the 114 seconds to watch it? I’ll wait …
Here’s the math on the different options:
With two choices:
68 x $59 = $4,012
32 x $125 = $4,000
With three choices, one of which is stupid:
16 x $59 = $ 944
84 x $125 = $10,500
Total: $11,444 (an increase of 43%)
OK. Interesting, huh? Ariely’s main point is that customers often aren’t very good at knowing their own preferences, and they take cues from outside indicators of value, such as pricing options. By offering a third choice, even a ridiculous one, customers end up perceiving more value in the more-expensive choice. That’s why Wendy’s sells a triple cheeseburger — not to sell lots of triple cheeseburgers (they don’t), but to sell more double cheeseburgers.
The moral of the story is not to offer ridiculous choices; it’s to offer choices that lead your customers to find differing amounts of value in the various options — something you can’t do if you bill by the hour.
What do you think? What kind of options can you offer to help your clients discover their preferences? Share your ideas in the comments below.
- Marketing lessons from the Romney iPhone gaffe
Twenty years ago, Vice President Dan Quayle made headlines for correcting a schoolboy’s spelling of the word “potato.” The boy had of course correctly spelled it, but Quayle told him that he had forgotten the silent e at the end of the word. Pundits and late-night talk-show hosts excoriated him mercilessly. It was, to say the least, an embarrassing gaffe. No one really believes that this meant that Quayle was uneducated or unintelligent; more likely, he suffered a momentary brain-lock and flubbed the word. (Although he later blamed a cue card that the school had given him.)
Now the Mitt Romney presidential campaign has suffered a similar bout of spelling ineptitude. The campaign released an Instagram-like app for the iPhone that allowed users to share photos emblazoned with pro-Romney slogans. At first glance, it seemed to be a pretty cutting-edge effort for a campaign that has long struggled to connect with voters. What they hoped to accomplish by enabling supporters to create digital postcards is unclear. (Seriously: who’s going to send them to people?) But in the end, the app made news for a completely unintended reason.
One of the templates that users of the app could choose was a small graphic of the lower 48 states with the caption “A Better America.” Only problem is, they managed to misspell the name of our country. Instead of “America,” the caption said “Amercia.” Which sounds vaguely like a medical diagnosis. (“I thought I contracted nasal amercia, but my doctor said it was only allergies.”)
Not surprisingly, this mistake was caught quickly and went viral, with thousands of tweets poking fun at the mistake. Inexplicably, the app was still available in Apple’s App Store the day after the typo had gone viral. (It was fixed soon after.)
In one way, this mistake wasn’t as bad as the one Quayle made, because here the candidate himself didn’t actually make the error. (Presumably — Romney doesn’t seem the coding type.) But in some ways, this mistake is actually worse. People can forgive a momentary brain lapse like Quayle’s. But this was something else.
In all likelihood, the programmer who created the app knew how to spell America. It was very likely a typo: the digital equivalent of Quayle’s “potatoe.” Everyone makes typos. As a writer, I do it all the time. When writing the 90,000 words in my book, I probably made hundreds of typos. But the difference is that I reread every one of those words at least four times. And at least five other people reviewed my work as well. The reason for this is that I care about making mistakes and I try to pay attention to detail. And so do the people at Apress who published my book.
The programmer who created the app should have reread his work. The campaign official to whom he reported certainly should have checked the 10 or 12 templates in the app and made sure that there weren’t any mistakes. Given the size and import of the national campaign, there were probably several other officials whose approval was needed before releasing the app. In fact, it’s not beyond reason to expect that the candidate himself would at least take a look at it before it hits the App Store. The mistake was so glaring, anyone should’ve caught it.
But they didn’t. Since no one believes that the intelligent people who work at the Romney campaign actually have difficulty spelling the word “America,” this can only mean one thing:
They didn’t care enough to check.
And yes, we can all agree that in the scheme of things, this is a very minor mistake. But it’s a very visible one. And it sends the wrong message to the public.
It’s also not the first gaffe for the campaign. There was the time when Romney appeared in a commercial touting the value of American-made cars while driving in a Chrysler 300 that was actually manufactured in Canada. Or the time a senior aide compared the political map to an Etch A Sketch. Or the time that Mitt Romney named his son “Tagg.” (Just kidding.)
To be fair, I’m sure that the people involved in the campaign care very much. Many of them have put their lives on hold while they work tirelessly to get Romney elected. But the message they’re sending is that they don’t care.
Back when I had my law firm, I frequently received letters from law students and lawyers seeking employment. I was always amazed at the number of times that my name would be misspelled. I mean, “Shepherd” is a common English noun. It means, literally, “someone who herds sheep” (or “shep,” which isn’t a real thing.) Of all the variants of the name Shepherd in the United States, my spelling — the correct spelling, ahem — is the most common. But for some reason, people insist on spelling it with an a. (Actually I know the reason: it’s because astronaut Alan Shepard and his family didn’t know how to spell their name. Stupid astronaut. Nobody “ards” sheep. Or shep.) Other people double the p or lose the h. Many times, I’ve had people misspell my name as I was spelling it to them aloud. When I bought my first house, my name was spelled three different ways in the purchase-and-sale agreement. And none of them was correct. (Stupid lawyers.)
So whenever I received a job application from someone who hadn’t bothered to check the spelling of my name, I immediately threw it in the wastebasket. It’s possible that some of those candidates would have been exceptional lawyers. We’ll never know. Because they didn’t show that they cared.
The way I see it, being a lawyer is a job that takes attention to detail. (Just as being the president does.) If someone couldn’t demonstrate that attention to detail when they were trying to get the job, what would make me think that they would later show that attention after they got the job? Was I being too tough? Maybe a little overly sensitive? It’s certainly possible. But did they show that they cared? No, they did not.
In business, you often have opportunities to show that you pay attention to things and that you care about the work that you do. Nobody’s perfect and everybody makes mistakes. But if you want people to trust you — to believe that you care — you will make every effort to catch those mistakes before they cause harm.
Should a typo in a silly iPhone app have any effect on the outcome of the presidential election? Of course not. But when we evaluate people, we look at signs. And this is an unfortunate sign that the Romney campaign just doesn’t quite care enough.
Check your work. Show you care.
A political note: some people might read this and think that I must therefore support Obama for president. Not at all. I am a member of that rare species known as the Massachusetts Republican. (There are like six of us.) I actually agree with many of the positions that Mitt Romney campaigned on in the nineties when he ran for the Senate and for governor. In other words, I agree with neither candidate now.
- Every little bit doesn't add up
Back when I had my law firm, we would sometimes take business that didn’t really seem ideal for our practice. Either it wasn’t the right type of client, or they didn’t really have enough money to truly be able to afford us, or something else was wrong with them. But in the end, we would compromise our principles. There was always pressure to bring in more revenue. We had to pay the rent, the payroll, and other expenses. You couldn’t have too much revenue.
Every little bit added up.
And that’s what a lot of people say when they’re trying to justify doing the wrong thing. “Every little bit adds up.” The only problem with that is, it’s not true.
Every little bit doesn’t add up.
Taking on business because it’ll bring about a marginal amount of revenue even though it’s not the right type of client for you is a bad approach. Sure, it’s true that incremental amounts of revenue add up to more revenue. But what that fails to take into account is the hidden costs of taking on bad business.
The time you spend doing the wrong kind of work or doing it for the wrong type of client is time that takes you away from the work you really want to do. And when professionals are doing the wrong kind of work or doing it for the wrong kind of client, they tend to be unhappier. It becomes harder to do the work. Quality suffers. Morale suffers. Yes, every little bit of revenue adds up. But too many professionals fail to account for the emotional costs of doing this incremental work. And they justify it by saying that every little bit adds up.
All kinds of companies make this mistake. For example, look at this rate card from a Las Vegas hotel. I’m not going to name the hotel, because I’m staying there in the near future. But it’s one of the largest hotels in the world. They do a robust business, and they make plenty of money. And yet they have this rate card of incidental charges connected to its business center. This is serious nickel-and-dime nonsense. Eight dollars for the first page of outgoing faxes; a dollar per page for incoming email. (Of course, who even uses faxes anymore?)
While I am not privy to the strategies and mindset of this particular hotel, I am certain that someone there reasoned that every little bit adds up. If they can make a little bit of money on every fax, email, and package received, it will add up to a lot of money. But what they fail to take into account are the costs associated with that. I’m not talking about the actual expenses of receiving packages or sending faxes. Those costs are negligible anyay. I’m talking about the emotional cost of ticking off its customers. Nobody likes to see this sort of nonsense on their hotel bills.
Look at the airlines, and their growing tendency to nickel-and-dime passengers for almost anything they can charge them for. What used to be covered in the cost of buying a ticket is now an additional charge. Baggage fees and change fees are the biggest offenders. Last year, American Airlines took in half a billion dollars in baggage fees and change fees. Arguably, this mitigated its $2 billion net loss for the year. You could say that this is an example of the mantra “every little bit adds up” coming true.
That is, until you look at Southwest Airlines. Southwest is the only major airline to show a profit. Not coincidentally, Southwest is also one of the few airlines that eschews baggage fees and change fees. By avoiding the emotional costs that those nitpicky charges exact on passengers, they run a more successful business.
I’m sure that the bean counters at American Airlines look at the revenue that comes in from baggage fees and change fees and say, “Every little bit adds up. If we didn’t have these fees, we would have suffered an even larger loss.” But I believe that if American were more like Southwest, they might actually make money from flying passengers rather than charging fees.
Another area where the “every little bit adds up” mentality comes into play is in cost-cutting. A lot of companies believe that if they skimp on certain things, “every little bit” that they save will add up to substantially lower expenses and higher profits. But that mentality is misguided.
At one point, someone at my law firm raised the suggestion that we start using less-expensive paper. The paper that we had been using was an expensive, heavier bond that was brighter, whiter, and more substantial than what most other law firms used. It was also much more expensive. And over the course of a year, we spent thousands of dollars on paper. If we switched to cheaper paper, we would save money. Every little bit would add up.
But I wasn’t willing to compromise on that. To me, the written documents that we filed in court or sent to opposing counsel or delivered to clients represented a major part of the value we provided. Sure, it was the words on the paper that mattered, and not the paper itself.
But there is an emotional quality that attaches to the physical documents and to the paper. The paper sent a message that our firm cared about the details. That we cared about how our documents looked. That we put a lot of effort into making sure that our documents were just right. That’s why our documents used a carefully selected font rather than Times New Roman. That’s why our document design was painstakingly developed, rather than merely relying on the default settings of Microsoft Word. And that’s why the paper we used was expensive Hammersmith rather than the bargain Staples generic copy paper. Because every little bit didn’t add up.
Now don’t get me wrong about expenses. Paying attention to important expenses is good business sense. You can make a much bigger difference by saving money on expensive office space rather than using chintzy, generic copy paper. It is the major expenses that actually add up onto you bottom line.
But enough about expenses; let’s go back to revenue, where most professionals have difficulty.
I’ve been there. I know what it’s like to worry about where the next bit of revenue is going to come from. I know what it’s like to not have enough in your firm account and have the rent or the payroll due. It is very difficult in times like those to turn away any client that comes in with a pulse and a checkbook. But trust me: it’s worth it.
Here’s what you can do to help get through it:
Tell the client that it’s not a good fit. Turn away the work politely. If you can, refer them somewhere else.
Figure out how much attention you would’ve had to pay to doing that not-right work.
Commit to spending that time and attention doing tangible things that will lead to getting the right work and the right clients. Get a speaking gig. Teach a continuing-education class. Get an article published. Write a couple posts for your blog. If you don’t already have a blog — hey, it’s 2012: time to start a frakkin’ blog.
Do these things and you will soon find that you’re doing more work that you want to be doing for more clients who you want to be working with. Because here, every little bit does add up.
- 🔗 How not to handle an unfavorable story ⭕
Massachusetts senatorial candidate Elizabeth Warren can’t seem to get clear of the story that she listed herself as a minority despite zero evidence that she is Native American.
From The Boston Globe:
“Politics 101: On issues that are potentially unfavorable, put all the information out, take the one-time hit, and move on,’’ said Darrell M. West, vice president and director of Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution, the nonpartisan Washington think tank. “That makes it a one-day story. The worst-case scenario is the story lingering for weeks and weeks, because it just creates doubts about the candidate.’’
The Globe‘s story also has a box with links to the chronology of her statements and the relevant Harvard documents.
- 🔗 The dignity of a job ⭕
Great short post by Frank Roche on why giving someone a job is such a big deal.
- 🔗 Trash your social-media policy ⭕
The best way to prevent employees from saying bad things about you is to hire the right people, give them the resources they need to do their work, and let them do it. When problems arise deal with it based on what happened.
When you fire someone, it should be for their actions, not because they violated a policy. If employees are constantly violating policies, you have a serious management problem. And more policies won’t fix it.
I agree wholeheartedly with Heather’s advice, and not just because she cited my two-word blogging policy. Along the same lines, here’s an approach for how companies should handle having a Facebook policy.
- Should I survey my customers?
This question recently came up from a colleague of mine. The answer I should have given was that he send all his customers a short form with the following on it:
Would you appreciate receiving a short customer-service survey from us? Please check all that apply:
❏ Absolutely not.
❏ Sure, why not?
❏ Yes. I really enjoy getting mail.
❏ Who the hell are you again?
❏ Yes, because it will remind me to have you send my files to your competitor.
But I didn’t. Instead, I answered along these lines:
No. Surveys are as reliable as polls. In other words, not at all. Why? To borrow the most-used phrases from recently departed (and long shark-jumped) show, House:
People will tell you what you want to hear. People will tell you things to make you feel better. People will tell you things to make you think better of them. “And how was your meal tonight?” “Fine,” you grumble, even though it wasn’t at all.
Years ago, I considered moving my law firm from Boston to the suburbs, but I was concerned that customers and prospects would be less impressed by a suburban law firm. Some people suggested taking a survey. But who would admit to being so shallow that they cared what zip code my office was in? Any data from a survey like that would have had zero reliability.
People will tell you that they’re “satisfied” on a customer-service survey, then quietly go find another provider. If you really cared about your customers, you wouldn’t need a formal survey to know how they felt; you would already know. From, you know, talking with them.
I know people who have had decent success using surveys, but I think surveys tend to be exercises in narcissism that waste customers’ time and put them in awkward situations. If you communicate well with your customers, you don’t need surveys.
- 🔗 Passion at work ⭕
Writer Paul Alofs gives his “8 Rules For Creating A Passionate Work Culture” in Fast Company. Here’s the first one:
1. Hire the right people
Hire for passion and commitment first, experience second, and credentials third. There is no shortage of impressive CVs out there, but you should try to find people who are interested in the same things you are. You don’t want to be simply a stepping stone on an employee’s journey toward his or her own (very different) passion. Asking the right questions is key: What do you love about your chosen career? What inspires you? What courses in school did you dread? You want to get a sense of what the potential employee believes.
- 🔗 How trusting an employee can create an Ace ⭕
The Boston Red Sox got off to a horrible start this season, and no one sputtered worse than their quirky ostensible closer, Alfredo Aceves. Just two days into the season, fans and sportswriters were calling for new manager Bobby Valentine to remove Aceves from the closer role. Valentine himself was wondering, and met with the pitchers as he considered what to do.
Later, when Valentine returned to his office, a clubhouse attendant handed him a note from Aceves. Only one word was written on it.
“Just one word. That was it,’’ Aceves said. “Everything comes back to trust. I wanted him to trust me.’’
Boston Globe beat writer Peter Abraham chronicles how Valentine did trust Aceves and how that trust paid off when the pitcher turned around his season and anchored a now-solid Sox bullpen.
The takeaway for employers and managers is that good things can happen when you trust an employee who really cares about doing a good job.
- How to Intuitively alienate your customers
Imagine that you bought a new car. It drives OK. It’s not the sleekest or best-looking thing on the road, but it gets the job done, more or less. It gets you to your destination, if not particularly in style.
Now imagine that three years later, you get a recall notice from the auto maker. The form letter explains that it is discontinuing support for your model year, unless you pay for an upgrade that costs nearly as much as you originally paid (87 percent, in fact). Turns out, if you don’t upgrade, your car’s fuel pump will cease functioning altogether. You can go to the gas station and get your fuel, but the car will not be able to process it. Don’t complain to the gas station, though, because they’ll just tell you that you have to pay for the upgrade from the auto maker.
Here’s the company’s recall notice explaining why this must be:
We are committed to developing easy, straightforward cars that help you today and grow with you tomorrow. But it’s a balancing act – making our automobiles better and easier to use while still supporting older versions. So we offer support for the current version of our automobiles and the two previous versions.
Now here’s the kicker: except for enabling your fuel pump to continue working, the so-called upgrade improves nothing about the car that you care about. All it does is provide you with some tacky decals to put on your rear window and bumper, a new vinyl document case for your glove box, and a new floor mat for your passenger-side footwell. Except for the fuel pump being held hostage, you would never pay for this upgrade.
You wouldn’t tolerate this from a car company, or any other kind of company for that matter. But this exactly what Intuit, the makers of QuickBooks and Quicken accounting software, is doing to its customers.
Three years ago, I bought QuickBooks for Mac 2009 for my law firm. I’ve never liked Intuit, because it has always treated Mac customers like something that got stuck on the bottom of its shoe. The software interface has always been garbage, eschewing most Mac human-interface guidelines.
Now I get word that Intuit is discontinuing support for my version of Quickbooks. OK. I get that. All kinds of companies stop supporting outdated versions of their products. But there’s a huge difference between “discontinuing support” and actively crippling a product. According to the text of Intuit’s discontinuation notice, customers will no longer be able to use online banking:
You will see an error message when you try to download transactions, send online payments, or send online transfers. The error message you see depends on your download method. For example, you may see the message “QuickBooks is unable to verify the Financial Institution Information for this Download.” There is no need to contact your Financial Institution, as they will refer you back to Intuit to upgrade your QuickBooks.
(Now you can see where the post title comes from.) In other words, the software that I paid $220 for a few years ago will suddenly stop working in one vital respect unless I pay a ransom of $183 to “upgrade.” And I use the scare quotes because the so-called upgrade contains no improvements that a user like me would find useful.
I understand the desire to increase revenue from your products, and also the benefits of increasing your share of wallet from existing customers. But don’t sell me something and then make it stop working after a certain period of time. If you want to do that, sell me a subscription-based product (like QuickBooks competitor Xero). That way, I make my purchase decision based on the knowledge that it will work for a certain amount of time before I have to pay again.
Surprising your customers with sudden obsolescence is a great way to alienate them, and send them to your competitors. No takesies-backsies, Intuit!
- 🔗 Why time is like food, not money ⭕
I just discovered Practically Efficient, the blog of actuary J. Eddie Smith, IV. I know: really? An actuary? Trust me: it’s OK to look.
I love what he says here about keeping control of your time and using your calendar to help.
To fail to schedule work that you, yourself, deem important is to put your wants last in line. You should regularly schedule non-meeting time on your calendar.
Check out Eddie’s blog. He has a lot of good thoughts on not letting yourself be overwhelmed by all the things you have to do.
- 🔗 Bad advice from Harvard Business Review ⭕
Author Rafi Mohammed advises JCPenney to dump what he calls its “risky” pricing strategy:
The best retailers succeed by offering highly differentiated products (as the Apple Store does) or a unique shopping experience (as Nordstrom or Target does). Today, J.C. Penney sells semi-differentiated products and provides a ho-hum shopping experience — it doesn’t have much “mojo” to draw customers into its stores. So what’s the only lever that can excite and bring in customers to make often discretionary purchases? Discounts…
I believe that even if customers fully understand its pricing strategy, J.C. Penney is not going to get the revenue/loyalty windfall that it is hoping for. It’s time to put pride aside and revert back to a discounting strategy.
Mohammed is a very smart guy and he’s written a couple of good pricing books: The 1% Windfall and The Art of Pricing (both affiliate links). But I don’t care for his advice that JCPenney should surrender and return to the brainless approach of discounting. When you rely on discounts, you send a message to customers that your stuff isn’t worth as much as you originally said it was. This is true whether you’re a midmarket retailer, a car company, or a law firm. Discounting belies a lack of creativity.
In fact, Penney’s path to success lies in something Mohammed said above. Since it’s not likely to start selling highly differentiated products like Apple, its best option is to create a unique shopping experience. It needs to figure out what “JCPenney” is supposed to stand for. In other words, something better and more interesting than “also-ran department store.” (And a name change might be necessary, too.)
No one is going to ever say, “Hey, let’s go to JCPenney because they have a new pricing strategy.” Ever.
- 11 things you should do before firing someone
Firing people is the hardest thing a manager or employer can do. Here’s a checklist to help you make it just a little bit easier.
Don’t fire when angry. Take enough time to make sure that you’re not making the decision for emotional reasons.
Choose the appropriate day and time to minimize additional pain. For example, don’t do it right before Christmas, or on the employee’s birthday, or when everyone else is going to be milling around.
Choose a location in the workplace that offers privacy, with the door closed.
If you’re concerned about an angry or violent reaction, have security or another coworker nearby and ready.
Have the employee’s final paycheck ready for the meeting. Include pay for the entire day of the termination, as well as any other money owed. Make sure your payroll people keep the termination secret.
Make sure you include pay to cover any accrued but unused vacation.
- If the employee has computer access, make arrangements to have her locked out of the system while you’re in the termination meeting. Not before and not after. And make sure the computer person keeps the termination secret.
- Prepare what you’re going to say in the meeting, but don’t write out an actual script.
- If appropriate, prepare a severance agreement to give to the employee. (There’s an example agreement in the book.)
- Gather up any material that your state requires you to give to terminated employees. Often, this includes information on unemployment benefits and health-insurance continuation (COBRA).
- Decide how much notice you want to give, and how much transition time you need during which the fired employee will stay on. Hint: the answer should almost always be “none.”
All of these tips come from Firing at Will. If you ever deal with employees, this book will make your life easier. To order your copy, click any of the following links:
To read Chapter 1 for free, click the link at the top of the page.
- Why arbitration sucks — even for employers
In the wake of Major League Baseball’s firing of longtime arbitrator Shyam Das after he ruled against it in the Ryan Braun case, I thought it might be a good idea to examine why this fashionable alternative-dispute-resolution mechanism is deeply flawed.
Arbitration has long been the norm in labor cases (that is, cases between unions and management). And baseball arbitration is of the labor-law variety. But increasingly, nonunionized employers are choosing to subject themselves and their employees to arbitration. Which is dumb.
Arbitration is much less common in employment cases, and usually only happens when there is a preexisting contract providing for it if there is a dispute. In other words, the employee would have signed an agreement — often at the start of employment — waiving his rights to go to court or an agency and instead having the dispute resolved by an arbitrator.
The arbitrator is chosen by both sides from a list of potential neutrals. In effect, he acts like a judge. Unlike a mediator, his job is to make a decision at the end of the case.
Many employers and management lawyers think it’s a good idea to have mandatory-arbitration clauses in employment agreements. They think arbitration is a good idea because it tends to be cheaper and faster than the agency-and-court system. They believe that arbitration ends up favoring the employer.
But they are wrong.
Arbitration is a terrible idea, for four reasons. First, the less-formal approach to litigating the case, dispensing with the evidentiary rules, means that the employee can bring in evidence that never would have seen the light of day in court. As I said before, rules of evidence are a good thing if you have a lawyer who understands them. Ignoring the rules turns the case into a free-for-all.
Second, there is no precedent in arbitration. In the court system, the judge generally has to abide by past decisions of earlier court cases, especially higher-level courts. Our legal system is based on the authority of precedent. But in arbitrations, there’s no such thing. Yes, lawyers can cite to past arbitration cases for examples of what arbitrators have done in similar cases. But the arbitrator is free to ignore it.
Third, there is almost no ability to appeal a bad decision. I don’t want to overstate this. While you can almost always appeal a bad decision at an agency or in a court, appeals typically have little chance of success. But it’s even worse in the arbitration world. Yes, you can file the equivalent of an appeal in court to prevent the enforcement of an arbitration award. But you shouldn’t bother: there’s next to no chance of it succeeding.
My final reason is the most important (and why arbitrators want to smack me in the nose). Remember how I said a few paragraphs ago that arbitrators are chosen by the parties? That’s the whole problem. If an arbitrator doesn’t get chosen for cases, he can’t make money. And if he gets a reputation as being too pro-employer, plaintiffs’ lawyers will stop agreeing to use him. (Likewise, if he gets a pro-employee reputation, management lawyers will stay away.) Trust me: this happens. At our firm, we had a list of arbitrators that we would never use because we felt that they were too likely to side with the employee.
In court cases, judges are assigned, not chosen. So the judge needn’t worry about acquiring a reputation of favoring one side or the other. But an arbitrator has some pressure to avoid that sort of reputation. This pressure naturally moves an arbitrator to try to come up fairly even-steven over time, with a rough balance of wins for both employers and employees. Sounds fair, right?
Coming out more or less fifty-fifty sounds like it evenly benefits both employers and employees, but in fact it drastically favors employees. Why? Because employees don’t win half of the cases filed. At the various antidiscrimination agencies, the percentage of cases where probable cause is found tends to run in the 5- to 15-percent range. (There are no reliable figures from court cases.) There are a number of reasons for these relatively low success rates.
For example, discrimination claims are inherently difficult to prove; it’s hard to get inside a manager’s head and find a discriminatory bias. Also, many cases are merely disgruntled employees’ weapons of last resort. Many fired employees bring their cases because of anger instead of an honest belief of having suffered discrimination. So a low success rate is to be expected. That’s why a success rate approaching 50 percent, which is more typical with arbitrators, dramatically favors employees.
So if your employment lawyer tries to talk you into arbitration agreements, ask her if she’s thought about these points.
To order your own copy of Firing at Will, which is a wicked-good idea if your ever have to deal with employees, click any of the following links:
To read Chapter 1 for free, click the link at the top of the page.
- 🔗 Major League Baseball axes arbitrator who ruled against it ⭕
Because that makes sense. If you don’t like a judge’s decision in court, you can always fire the judge. No?
What a ridiculous system.
- 🔗 Writers need to write more, faster ⭕
In a front-page story with a bizarre exclamation mark in the title, the Sunday New York Times explains that the growth of the e-book market is forcing writers to churn out more books and stories faster. This of course makes me wish I’d learned how to type properly.
But some authors said that even though they are beginning to accept them as one of the necessary requirements of book marketing, they still find them taxing to produce. “I have been known to be a little grumpy on the subject sometimes,” said Steve Berry, a popular thriller writer who writes short stories that are released between books. “It does sap away some of your energy. You don’t ever want to get into a situation where your worth is being judged by the amount of your productivity.”
Maybe that’s why writers don’t bill by the hour. Writers know that their value isn’t based on the time spent writing. Instead, it comes from the messages that their words deliver. Of course, you can say the same thing about lawyers. Huh …
- Pitchers, PA announcers, and passion
Two very different stories have dominated Red Sox Nation this week, and both contain lessons for employers everywhere.
The first story is a true tragedy, where 59-year-old Fenway Park PA announcer Carl Beane was killed in a single-car accident after he suffered a heart attack. In the rash of stories that followed his death, Beane was portrayed as a gentle man with a distinctive, booming voice. He was successfully able to parlay his radio background into what he always described as his dream job. He certainly didn’t do it for the money; when he began announcing games in 2003, he was reportedly paid $50 a game. But nearly every story written about Beane following this tragedy focused on how much he loved his job. Devoted Red Sox fans would hire Beane to perform at weddings and bar mitzvahs, or to record outgoing voicemail messages for them. His work was his passion, and it showed in his performance. (For more on how much Beane loved his job, see this terrific article by ESPN Boston’s Godon Edes.)
The second story is a sports tragedy, in that it’s not a real tragedy but sports fans see it as one. It involves Josh Beckett, an arrogant, petulant starting pitcher who used to be the Red Sox ace. Beckett helped lead the Florida Marlins to a World Series championship in 2003, and then did the same for the Red Sox in 2007. But since then, he has lost his elite status and begun pitching like he doesn’t really care. So far this season, Beckett has pitched poorly, owning the second-worst ERA in the American League.
On Wednesday last week, new manager Bobby Valentine announced that Beckett had an issue with his lat muscle and would be skipping his Saturday start against the Orioles. That weekend, because of poor starts and two extra-inning games, the Sox bullpen was called upon to pitch 27 innings. Even an outfielder had to pitch two innings. But Beckett was unavailable to pitch, presumably because of his lat.
A few days later, it was revealed that Beckett had played golf on the Thursday before the Orioles series — the day after Valentine announced that Beckett would skip his Saturday start. The Boston sports media had a field day, and Red Sox fans were livid.
Beckett finally returned to the mound this Thursday and got only seven outs while giving up seven runs on seven hits. When Valentine pulled him in the third inning, the Fenway faithful booed heartily, and one fan behind the dugout was caught on camera mimicking a golf swing.
Then in his postgame press conference, Beckett poured gasoline all over the place and lit it on fire. Metaphorically speaking, of course. Showing incredible tone-deafness, the pitcher defended his golf outing despite his inability to pitch that weekend.
“I spend my off-days the way I want to spend them,” Beckett said to the reporters assembled. “My off-day is my off-day.” He then went on to point out that players only got 18 off-days a year. Which is true, if you don’t count all that time off from October to February. Or all the days during the season when he doesn’t pitch. As he put it, “I think we deserve a little time to ourselves.” (Another Edes story here for more on Beckett and golfgate.)
Here’s a guy making nearly $500,000 a start who apparently doesn’t care enough about his job (which is secure through 2014), his employer (both the team and the fans who pay the bills), or his teammates. Contrast that with Carl Beane, a man who adored his job, even when he was making one ten-thousandth as much per start as Beckett.
When people work for money — even a lot of money — they’ll usually (but not always) show up when they have to and do just enough to keep that job. But they won’t show you the passion that excellence requires. Beckett used to have it back when he was an ace pitcher. Five years, 30 pounds, and 80 strokes per round later, that passion appears to be gone, and with it, any hint of excellence. On the other hand, Carl Beane left us and the job he loved too early, and he left at the top of his game.
Employers: hire passion first and talent second. Passion can turn talent into outstandingess (which may not be a word, but whatever), but talent without passion will eventually land you in the bunker.
- 🔗 The so-called art of billing ⭕
Lawyer James Conway describes the art of billing on the site JDs Rising:
This is very simplistic, but you only get paid for things you actually bill to the client. If it doesn’t make it onto the bill, you won’t get paid for it. Remember that quick email you sent from your blackberry? Bill it. Remember that “two-second” question that turned into a ten minute diatribe? Bill it. Remember when your partner walked through your open office door and you had a twenty minute brainstorming session on litigation tactics? Bill it. Unless you express your time, you can’t get paid for it. Further, unless you describe all of your work, your client doesn’t understand all the value you are providing for the fee that you charge.
No wonder people hate lawyers.
It’s not that the “client doesn’t understand all the value you are providing.” If the lawyer thinks that the value comes from the time spent sending a quick Blackberry email, then the lawyer doesn’t understand the value. A lawyer (or any other professional) who understands value prices it. Everyone else just measures time and bills it. And annoys the hell out of their clients.
- How to get people to do what you want
Here is the six-minute “LexThink .1″ speech I gave in Chicago in March at the ABA TechShow. In it, I explain the three simple steps you need to take to get someone to do what you want. LexThink follows the “Ignite” speech format: six minutes, 20 slides, 18 seconds per slide, advancing automatically with no control by the speaker.
Enjoy. And if you want the free Result Triangle worksheet, it’s right here. You can print it out and use it right now to help solve whatever problem you’re facing.
- 🔗 This guy’s walking down the street when he falls in a hole ⭕
An old Lifehack post called “10 simple ways to save yourself from messing up your life” has excellent common-sense advice on how keep yourself from falling into an emotional hole. Since lawyers are 3.6 times more likely to suffer from depression than other workers, I know a lot of people who could benefit from the advice. Here’s the first of the ten:
1. Stop taking so much notice of how you feel. How you feel is how you feel. It’ll pass soon. What you’re thinking is what you’re thinking. It’ll go too. Tell yourself that whatever you feel, you feel; whatever you think, you think. Since you can’t stop yourself thinking, or prevent emotions from arising in your mind, it makes no sense to be proud or ashamed of either. You didn’t cause them. Only your actions are directly under your control. They’re the only proper cause of pleasure or shame.
The other nine are just as good. Click the title above and read them.
By the way, this post’s title refers to the story Leo McGarry tells Josh Lyman.
- 🔗 Why paperwork feels like paperwork ⭕
Blame the lawyers:
Why would it be harder to write a regulation in plain language than in complex jargon? In part, points out Braley, it’s because of the job a regulation needs to do: taking a law that Congress has passed and “dealing with the fine-tuning . . . putting into words how certain conduct is supposed to be governed.” That means a regulation carries a heavier burden than other writing that government agencies produce, like forms and letters. “The lawyers get their hands on them and want to make sure that they’re absolutely foolproof as far as going to court is concerned,” said Cheek.
Nice piece by Leon Neyfakh in the Boston Sunday Globe on the attempt to bring plain English to government regulations.
- 🔗 How simplicity can change the world ⭕
Great TED talk (actually, a TED-Ed talk) by “MythBusters” host Adam Savage on “How simple ideas lead to scientific discoveries.” A ton of great information in just seven and a half minutes.
- 🔗 Die, Word, Die! ⭕
Tom Scocca on why it’s time for Microsoft Word to go the way of the fax machine:
What makes Word unbearable is the output. Like the fax machine, Word was designed to put things on paper. It was a tool of the desktop-publishing revolution, allowing ordinary computer users to make professional (or at least approximately professional) document layouts and to print them out. That’s great if you’re making a lot of church bulletins or lost-dog fliers. Keep on using Word. (Maybe keep better track of your dog, though.)
Word is a horrible example of bloatware at its worst. I now do all of my writing using iA Writer or Pages. I wrote Firing at Will: A Manager’s Guide in Writer. Then I had to import the files into my publisher’s template. In Microsoft Word. Which made me die a little bit, a chapter at a time.
(Hat tip to Patrick Rhone’s Minimal Mac site.)
- 🔗 A snapshot of HR at Instagram ⭕
Victorio Milian on the significance of billion-dollar Instagram’s having no HR department.
- 🔗 Ouch ⭕
From the Boston Globe‘s Extra Bases blog by Peter Abraham:
The Red Sox have nine players on the disabled list to start the season (Andrew Bailey, Chris Carpenter, Carl Crawford, Rich Hill, Bobby Jenks, Ryan Kalish, John Lackey, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Andrew Miller) who are making a combined $57,246,000. That’s more than the entire payroll of the Athletics ($55,372,500) and Padres ($55,244,700).
- 🔗 Cheaper than an ad saying “Don’t work here” ⭕
Nice piece from HRLori about how the CEO of OMGPOP took to the Twitter to bad-mouth an employee who chose to leave when Zynga bought the company. Lori writes:
This is such a poor example of leadership. The high road would have been to wish the employee the best and be on his merry (very merry) way. It is up to any CEO to lead the company into the future, not look back with disdain. People come and go. Those who stay want to be there. It is evident that Shay Pierce didn’t want to be there. And that was his choice.
The CEO later apologized and deleted his tweet, but the damage to the company is done. You think they’ll have any trouble attracting talent in the future? I sure do.
- The Result Triangle: Getting people to do what you want
You know how hard it is to get someone to do what you want them to do?
It’s pretty hard. And you know what? We make it harder. We get lost in the details. We fuss about incentives and penalties and policies. We overcomplicate problems.
So if complexity is our problem, then it stands to reason that simplicity is the solution. We need to figure out exactly what we’re trying to do and how best to do it. Well, that sounds fine. But how do we actually make simplicity solve our problems?
To find out, I went through nearly two decades of case files, looked at thousands of business interactions. Where had I messed up? Where had things gone smoothly?
And a pattern emerged, where complexity caused problems and simplicity led to success.
That same pattern appears in hundreds of business books, in all kinds of business interactions. This pattern teaches us the best way to get someone to agree to do something. It comes to down to three simple points. And these three points make what I call “The Result Triangle.”
The Result Triangle works in every business context: negotiations, sales, customer service, management, litigation, pricing. Whatever field you’re in, you can use the Result Triangle to simplify your problem and get someone to do what you want them to do. The three simple points are:
- clarify the goal
- show you care, and
- address the fear
These three points help you figure out what you want … and how to get it. Let me give you 3 quick examples to show how they work in real life.
Clarifying the goal
I usually fly Southwest Airlines. And many of you know that on Southwest, you have to check in early so that you don’t get stuck with a middle seat. Southwest doesn’t do seat assignments. Instead, you check in and get assigned a number. Get a lower number, get a better seat.
Why does Southwest do this? Because their goal is to keep their planes in the air as much as possible. Open seating, flying only one type of jet, and even “bags fly free” all lead to more time in the air. And more airtime means more profit.
Planes make money in the air, not on the ground. Their planes spend 30 percent more time in the air than their competitors’, and they’re the only airline making a profit. By clarifying their goal — “planes in the air” — Southwest gets their people to focus on doing what’s most important.
We tend to take our goals for granted without giving them a lot of thought: To close the deal. To win the case. To make the sale. But a goal needs to be more precise. Clarifying your goal — boiling it down to its essence — is the first step to achieving it.
Show you care
The second point is “show you care.” Let me give you an example:
My dad had this winter coat that he loved and he wore it until it finally fell apart. Turns out my brother was planning a trip up to L.L. Bean in Maine, so my dad asked him if he could pick him up a new coat while he was there.
So my brother brings the coat to try to exchange it and of course he has no receipt because my dad bought it so many years ago. And the folks at L.L. Bean can’t find the same coat. So instead of sending him away, they give him a different one, brand new, without any hassle. Because L.L. Bean cares so much about customer satisfaction.
So my brother gets back and gives the new coat to my dad. And my dad says, “Thanks. But I didn’t get it at L.L. Bean!”
And you know what? L.L. Bean must have known that, but they gave him a new coat anyway. Because they were focused on showing how much they care.
Showing that you care makes people want to do what you want them to do. Because of the coat, my family keeps coming back, and we’ve told this story to hundreds of people. By showing they care, L.L. Bean gets people to keep shopping there and tell others how great they are.
Address the fear
The third point is “address the fear.” I was at a Denver steakhouse recently. Great food, fantastic service. This place focuses on a great experience. When it came time to order, we picked out our steaks and we were trying to settle on a side dish to go with the steaks. The waiter recommended this fancy Brussels sprouts dish.
Now, I like Brussels sprouts as much as the next guy, I really do. But this dish sounded a little too daring for me. The waiter said, “Why don’t you just give them a try? If you don’t like them, I’ll whisk them away and replace them with anything you want, no questions asked.” So we tried them, and you know what?
They tasted like feet.
But even so, we didn’t ask him to replace them. We just moved them around on our plates. Because we didn’t want to ruin the experience. The waiter had addressed our fears about not liking the Brussels sprouts, and that made us happy, even though our fears actually came true.
People’s fears are what keeps them from doing what you want. By addressing those fears, you help people get past them. Even if you can’t prevent those fears from coming true. Simply addressing the fear helps make them want to do what you want them to do.
And that’s the Result Triangle:
- Clarify the goal
- Show you care
- Address the fear
You can start using it today. Anytime you need to get someone to agree to do something, whip out your trusty Result Triangle. You’ll be amazed at how this focuses your efforts.
When you do these three things, you simplify the problem you need to solve and you improve your chances of success. People will want to do what you want them to do.
Download a handy PDF of the Result Triangle Worksheet that you can use right now to help solve whatever problem you’re facing.
- 🔗 Libraries are learning that fines don’t work ⭕
From The Boston Sunday Globe:
In Carlisle, it was a decision that the library trustees began discussing with Gleason’s director, Angela Mollet, almost a year ago. When Mollet mapped out the financials, she discovered that as a revenue stream, overdue fines are actually as much a cost as a benefit…. Moreover, processing the monies collected from overdue books bears its own costs in terms of staff time, for collecting and reconciling accounts, and infrastructure such as change boxes and safes…. “At the rate we were collecting fines, the management cost was greater than the revenue.’’
Too many businesses use fines and penalties to control customer behavior, usually without success. These “sticks” are more likely to cause resentment rather than encourage the desired results. Companies who resist this temptation, like the libraries in this article, give their patrons more credit while suffering no downside:
But she says that most library users seem to have a moral compass that compels them to return items punctually, and there has been essentially no discernible difference in the amount of time that people keep materials since the library began its no-fines policy.
Does your company penalize its customers? Might be time to rethink that.
- 🔗 Welcome to Souther Carolina? ⭕
Think you know where South Carolina is? Think again.
Turns out it’s about 150 feet more south (why isn’t souther a word?) than was previously thought.
But for the owners of 93 properties who suddenly find themselves in another state, it’s a bureaucratic nightmare. The state line determines so much in their lives — what schools they go to, what area code their phone number starts with even who provides them gas and electricity. Small utility cooperatives in South Carolina are banned from extending services across the state line. Most of the properties in question are near Charlotte, N.C.
What is more, northerners will apparently have to drive a little bit further to legally buy fireworks. And since gas is 30 cents a gallon more expensive in North Carolina, it’s kind of like insult and injury.
Not clear who benefits from changing the border 240 years after it was drawn. The simpler solution would be to ignore the lawyers and surveyors and let life go on as it has.
- Tell people how you used to suck
How do you market a brand when people already know that it’s no good? The best way is to:
- remove the suckiness
- admit that it used to suck
- then explain how it doesn’t suck anymore.
Most companies in this situation overlook the second step, but it’s crucial. One of the central truths of marketing (and advertising) is that people won’t believe you when you tell them your stuff is good. Of course you’re going to say that: it’s your stuff, and you’re very proud of it.
But the converse is also true: people will always believe you when you tell them your stuff is no good. Or was no good. I mean, who would actually lie about that?
Microsoft, whose marketing is typically as bad as its products, has just launched a brilliant and fresh campaign for its new browser, Internet Explorer 9. Even nontechnical folks understand that IE has always been, well, not good. They say they’ve improved it, which itself isn’t remotely novel. But they also own up to the fact that it used to be very bad. And that is unusual.
Their campaign is called The Browser You Loved to Hate. The site is clean, simple, and well designed. It starts off refreshingly:
Some people are trying the new Internet Explorer and actually liking it. Not that they would say that out loud.
And rather than beating you over the head to switch browsers, Microsoft aims considerably lower:
Your current browser is probably great…
So keep using it. But there are probably a few sites that you go to everyday, like Facebook and Pandora. And for just those sites, try using Internet Explorer…. And when you do, you might find some stuff you like in Internet Explorer. Check out below for more reasons Internet Explorer is actually good now.
There is also an amusing video of a guy who used to run around uninstalling IE (and destroying his Mom’s gluten-free gingerbread-house blog), plus some funny, quirky graphs charting the coolness of different products (like unnecessary beanies and Pabst Blue Ribbon).
Most interestingly, the word “Microsoft” doesn’t appear anywhere on the landing page of the site.
Microsoft isn’t the only one using the three-step “we sucked” approach. Domino’s Pizza went this route in a well-received ad campaign where actual customers said that their crust was like cardboard.
If your company — or even your industry or field (lawyers: I’m looking right at you) — is saddled with a public perception of suckage, you could do worse than to follow Microsoft’s and Domino’s lead and own that suckle. And then explain why you’re better now.
- 🔗 How to make a billion dollars ⭕
Apple has announced that sales of their third-generation iOS tablet have reached three million since Friday, making this Apple’s best iPad launch to date.
That’s over a billion dollars in a weekend. If everyone bought the low-end $499 version, that’s a cool billion and a half. With many people paying more for 4G capability and higher storage, the real total is probably closer to $2 billion.
- 🔗 10 Things Your Employees Won't Say ⭕
Sarah Morgan nails it in Smart Money:
We reveal all the lies and deceptions that go into an honest day’s work.
(Hat tip to Christopher Mirabile.)
- 🔗 Quirk + Simplicity = Gift ⭕
This blog is about simplifying business ideas, but simplicity can help in most aspects of life outside of business. I came across this article in Huffington Post. In it, author Kim John Payne (almost certainly no relation to Kim Jong Il), talks about how simplicity can help parents deal with their children’s sometimes-troubling quirks:
In my decades of working with families around the world, I have seen thousands of children’s brilliant personalities — their funny, odd, remarkable, special talents, railroaded by stress, so much so that I came up with this simple equation: Quirk + Stress = Disorder, or what I call a soul or emotion-fever. And every parent already knows how to heal their child from regular, physical fever just as every parent knows how to heal their children’s soul fever. We don’t need to learn anything, or see a specialist or download an app. We apply our parental wisdom to our children’s hearts and minds; we do what we do naturally, when fever arises. Just as cumulative stress can lead to problems, even disorders, cumulative simplicity and balance can move the quirk in the direction of a child’s gift. Quirk + Simplicity = Gift.
Payne is the author of Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids (affiliate link).
- 🔗 Are social-media users less ethical? ⭕
A recent study suggests that they might be. HR Bartender’s Sharlyn Lauby explains on Mashable:
One of the most fascinating conclusions in the report is that “active social networkers show a higher tolerance for activities that could be considered unethical.” But Harned says the findings are not an indictment about the character of social networkers: “It appears that they are more willing to consider things that are ‘gray areas’ — issues that are not always clear in company policies as wrong; and that’s an area for further study.”
I have some issues with the premise of the study, and Sharlyn kindly included some of my thoughts in her piece.
- 🔗 Airlines struggle with cuisine, common sense ⭕
Interesting piece on airlines’ attempts to improve the quality of inflight dining. The article, by Jad Mouawad in Sunday’s New York Times, showed the efforts and difficulties of making food suck less while you’re trapped in a metal cylinder six miles above the ground. And I’m happy to give the airlines credit for trying to make the food better.
But one thing jumped out at me: the airlines’ focus on cutting costs. For example, Delta carefully tracks how much money it can save by diminishing its culinary offerings:
A decision a few years ago to shave one ounce from its steaks, for example, saved the airline $250,000 a year…. Delta also calculated that by removing a single strawberry from salads served in first class on domestic routes, it would save $210,000 a year.
I appreciate that the airlines have struggled financially since 9/11. But for every nickel saved on removing a passenger’s strawberry (who puts strawberries in a salad, anyway?) or fifty cents saved on offering an ounce less steak, there is a passenger whose experience on a long and expensive flight just got a little bit worse. Delta and the other airlines would do better to focus on improving their customers’ experiences, and then add 55 cents to the price of the ticket to cover the strawberry and extra steak. I’d pay it. Wouldn’t you?
- 🔗 “Garden-variety marketing doucherosity” ⭕
Simon Sage of iMore uses what is now my favorite new phrase to explain how AT&T has created a little upgrade of its own. The much-maligned carrier used the cover of today’s new iPad announcement (and upgrade to iOS 5.1) to change the little “3G” icons on iPhones to “4G,” despite no actual change in speed or performance:
If you’ve updated your AT&T iPhone to iOS 5.1, you may have noticed that the signal indicator in the top-left now reads 4G instead of 3G. Now, before your mind gets blown all over the place, there’s no actual upgrade here; it’s just your garden-variety marketing doucherosity wriggling its slimy way into a software update.
Maybe it’s legally accurate, and maybe no one will really notice during the frenzy of the new iPad introduction. But in the end, it comes down to this: there are companies who play games like this, and there are companies who don’t. Who would you rather do business with? I just ordered my new iPad, and didn’t choose AT&T as my carrier.
- 🔗 “It’s so gentle a toddler could use it.” ⭕
Is this startup-launch video any good? No. This startup-launch video is f***ing great.
It’s just 1:34 long. Mashable sums it up:
If there’s one lesson we’d like CEOs to learn from the Dollar Shave Club, it is this: don’t take yourselves and your product so seriously. Either that, or pretend to take yourselves and your product so seriously that you go over the top and venture into the world of parody. Have fun with it, and your potential customers are much more likely to pay attention.
- What George Lucas can teach you about business by making Star Wars worse
Confession time: I’m a Star Wars geek. I was born in 1967, so I was nine going on ten when Star Wars hit the theaters. I went to see it with my Little League team, and it changed my life.
But the truth of the matter is, Star Wars is only one-third good. The first two movies are excellent. Return of the Jedi has its moments, but they’re lost among too many Ewok hijinks. The prequel trilogy is basically a honking mess.
But many fanboys (and fangirls) of my generation get particularly worked up when George Lucas trots out yet another “special edition” of what is supposed to be immutable canon. This all started in 1997, with the first “special edition” rerelease of the first movie — the version that created the “Han Shot First” rhubarb. Fans screeched that Lucas was making the movies worse!
This issue has returned because Lucas has just rereleased a new version of The Phantom Menace, widely regarded as his worst work since Howard the Duck. But in this hysterical piece, Chris Bucholz explains why we fanboys ought to just shut up and let George do his worst:
Really, if Lucas wants to fix something he thinks was a mistake in an earlier film, that’s his business. Our lives aren’t affected in any serious way if he changes it, nor does he have a contract with us to preserve The Phantom Menace as some kind of cultural monument to poor plotting. We’re just not talking about something that’s that important — it’s not the Constitution, or the Bible, or The Godfather.
The bottom line is, successful businesspeople create the things they want to create, not what they think the customers want. Henry Ford famously said that customers would have asked for a faster horse. (Actually, it turns out, he may not have said it.) Steve Jobs’s Apple didn’t use focus groups, and never asked us if we wanted a physical keyboard on our iPhones. Geniuses — like Ford, Jobs, and Lucas — create the things that they feel passionate about. That’s what geniuses do.
If those things fill a need with customers, then the success will follow. But success does not come from slavishly following the whims and wishes of fanboys. Don’t listen to your customers more than you listen to your passions.
- 🔗 Encouraging social media at work ⭕
In the March 11 Sunday New York Times column “Corner Office,” Jim Whitehurst, CEO of Red Hat, tells how his company’s open culture includes using an internal social-media platform (the “Memo List”) to allow employees to be heard:
Engaging people in how decisions are getting made means it can take forever to get decisions made. But once you make a decision, you get flawless execution because everybody’s engaged. They know what you’re doing and they know why you’re doing it.
Hurst says that three-quarters of his 4,000 employees spend time on the forum every day. Most companies would worry about employees’ spending too much time online. Red Hat encourages it, and then enjoys the benefits from having engaged employees.
- How not to do online-chat customer service, by AT&T
Calling customer service can be very frustrating. Some companies realize that, and have begun offering online-chat services as an alternative. This makes sense. I would rather type a quick summary of my issue and read the answer realtime instead of waiting on endless hold. Plus, online chat allows you to avoid insipid remakes of Christopher Cross songs or worse, advertisements for other things sold by the company you’re currently unhappy with.
So when I had an issue come up with my AT&T, I noticed that they had a button for online chat. I had become a reluctant customer since the iPhone was introduced in 2007. I live in a major suburb of Boston, and yet in the four years I had an account with AT&T, I had an average of three to five calls drop a day. Every day.
So last November, when the iPhone 4S came out, I pulled the plug and moved my number to Verizon (actually, back to Verizon, because I had ported it to AT&T to get my first iPhone). This, of course, led to an unexpected complication.
You see, last summer, before I quit AT&T — “Ah wish Ah knew how to quit you” — I gave my 11-year-old daughter one of my previous iPhones and added her to my AT&T account. But after I moved my phone to Big Red, AT&T somehow forgot how to process my autopayments for my daughter’s account. Which led to my daughter getting pestered with texts and phone calls. “Daddy, what’s a deadbeat?” (OK, possibly not an actual transcript.)
Finally, I got a letter stressing the dire need to pay my daughter’s phone bill (which I had thought was getting paid automatically). I didn’t want to call their 800 number for customer service, because that’s a hole whose gravity well is so strong that neither light nor helpfulness can escape. So I went to att.com and found a button that said “Click here for an incredibly helpful online representative.” (Again, I may be embellishing what the button said.) Since I was pretty sure that no one had figured out how to play shrill on-hold music on a chat button, I went for it.
After a short wait, words magically appeared on my screen. The words purported to be from a customer-service representative named Julius Ray Something (he gave a actual last name, but I won’t share it). I explained that I could no longer access my account and therefore couldn’t pay my daughter’s bill.
Julius Ray (who perhaps was just a computer algorithm) helpfully described the process for setting up a brand-new account. So I explained why that wasn’t what I needed.
What follows is the exact chat conversation between Julius Ray and me, cut and pasted from the chat window. The only changes I made were redacting J.R.’s surname and my and my daughter’s phone numbers. Read it and tell me what you think:
Jay Shepherd: Uh, OK. Here’s the thing: I had a wireless account with the number 617-XXX-XXXX from 2007 until November 2011. I added this phone for my daughter (age 11) this past summer. When I moved my phone number to Verizon, my daughter’s was left somewhere in space. Or something. [Yes, I always write this way. It’s a personality flaw.]
Julius Ray XXXXXXX: I apologize but you will have to call Customer Service at 1-800-331-0500, Mon-Fri 7am-10pm, Sat-Sun 9am-7pm, for assistance with that. I can provide only limited assistance through Click to Chat.
Jay Shepherd: Fantastic. Thanks.
Julius Ray XXXXXXX: You are very welcome. I was glad to help you today! Is there anything else regarding online account access that I can assist you with?
Jay Shepherd: You didn’t help me at all, Julius Ray. My “fantastic” was sarcastic.
Julius Ray XXXXXXX: Thank you for visiting myWireless at ATT.com/wireless. We appreciate your business, once again my name is Julius Ray XXXXXXX.
Chat session has been terminated by the site operator.
Seriously? So in the end, the online chat was actually worse than calling customer service, since it accomplished nothing except wasting time. But the insult-to-injury part was the gleeful “I was glad to help you today!” That’s when I thought that maybe Julius Ray was a computer. You didn’t help me at all, Julius Ray. You didn’t fix my account. You didn’t open the pod-bay doors.
Online chat can be a useful customer-service tool, if done right. But don’t offer up a cut-down version of your regular phone customer service and expect me to be appreciative when you can’t help me. Don’t be like AT&T. Don’t be like Julius Ray.
Update: I was able to create a new login account on my own and link it to my daughter’s account, thus sparing her a lifetime of credit woes.
- Facebook privacy, simplified
Lot of talk lately about online privacy, what with Google dramatically changing their policies recently. Facebook users have always had an uneasy feeling about the privacy of their postings, and Facebook hasn’t done a great job of educating its users.
One of the trickiest things has been commenting on other people’s posts, then being surprised to learn who can read those comments. To help with that problem, here is a very simple chart to tell you who can see your Facebook comments:
Click it to embiggen. You can also download it as a PDF. Feel free to share it.
- 🔗 Saatchi: Brutal Simplicity of Thought ⭕
Kind of a neat thing. The advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi has launched a short web book devoted to simplicity. It contains a few short entries chronicling simple solutions to age-old problems, such as barbed wire and traffic lights. From its introduction:
It’s easier to complicate than to simplify. Simple ideas enter the brain quicker and stay there longer. Brutal simplicity of thought is therefore a painful necessity.
I like the sentiment. I also like that they then invite readers to contribute their own short entries. And they don’t overdo the advertising for the firm, which is surprising, since that’s sort of their thing. In fact, there’s no way to navigate to Saatchi’s main website. But as a tribute to the power of simplicity, it’s a nice one.
(Thanks to HR Examiner’s Heather Bussing for the heads-up on this.)
- Why HR might not want to read Firing at Will
Book authors want everyone to read their book. It’s a universal law. They spend a year or longer typing and retyping words, and when they’re done, they want as many people as possible to read what they’ve written. And I’m no different.
But it occurs to me that some people may want to avoid my book.
Firing at Will is listed (and intended) as a management book. My publisher (Apress) even included a handy little instruction on the back cover: “Shelve in Business/Management.” But so far, in every Barnes & Noble store I’ve checked, they’ve filed it under “Human Resources.” And I get that, because as much as it is a book for managers, it’s also a book for HR professionals.
But HR professionals who read it may be in for a surprise. Because the book takes on many of HR’s long-held beliefs, showing how some common practices harm employee morale and business profitability.
Many of the rules and policies that well-meaning HR professionals and employment lawyers put into place lead to toxic, dysfunctional workplaces. These rules are designed to protect companies from bad employees, but they instead drive away good employees.
Instead, the book promotes doing away with outdated management tools that end up becoming crutches for managers and take away their independence and discretion. For example, instead of sticking with these outdated tools, the book advises employers to:
- Throw out your personnel handbook (the title of Chapter 16)
- Abandon annual performance reviews (“the dumbest managerial tool”)
- Dump progressive-discipline policies
- Avoid performance-improvement plans (PIPs)
- Stay away from arbitration agreements
- Treat employees differently
That last one might be the biggest surprise. Employment lawyers are always telling companies to treat everyone the same. But when you do that, you end up treating everyone equally badly.
HR pros who have grown comfortable with these conventional notions may be put off by the shots taken at accepted wisdom.
On the other hand, there are things in the book that many HR people will appreciate. The book advocates for more responsibility and autonomy for human resources. It favors changing “human resources” to “talent” and elevating the role to the C-suite level: “Every company should have a chief talent officer reporting to the CEO.”
If you’re a human-resources professional, or any kind of manager or employer, and you’re thinking about reading Firing at Will, please proceed with caution. Some of what you read might be upsetting to you.
And some of it might just change your mind.
To order your own copy, click the following links:
To read Chapter 1 for free, click the link at the top of the page.
- The 10 most important traits for job candidates
Here’s an excerpt from Firing at Will: A Manager’s Guide, Chapter 17, “Hiring to Avoid Firing”:
How do you know the right talent when you see it? Remember: past accomplishments and skill sets are merely table stakes for candidates. Without those, a candidate shouldn’t even get through the door. Instead, what you’re really looking for is a culture fit, which is the best determinant of a successful employment. You want candidates who truly want to work there, and who will want to spend time with you and your coworkers, and with whom you will want to spend time. If you’re just looking at work experience and qualifications, you’re missing the opportunity to bring in the right people.
Here are what I think are the ten most important traits to look for in a job candidate:
- Differentness. You don’t want an office full of cookie-cutter duplicates. Instead, your team will be stronger when you have a truly diverse workforce. And not just race and gender, but also background and life experiences.
- Sense of humor. You’re more likely to enjoy working with people with a good sense of humor, who know when to laugh and who can bring the funny from time to time. They don’t have to be comedians, but they do need to know how not to take life — and themselves — too seriously. A good sense of humor is also a leading indicator of intelligence.
- Optimism. I’m not talking about Pollyanna-ish types who are naive and unrealistic. I’m talking about people who have positive attitudes, and can help lift coworkers up instead of bringing them down. Life’s tough enough without someone telling you how tough life is all the time.
- Eye sparkle. This is a Tom Peters term. It’s that look you see in a person’s eyes that shows that they’re alive and thoughtful and engaged. It shows warmth and empathy and fun. It says that the lights are on and someone is indeed home.
- Connectivity. Look for signs that the candidate knows how to interact with other people. Ask about his or her friends and family. This is why going out for drinks or lunch is such a good idea. Someone who connects well with people will be an asset to your team.
- Creativity. Even if the job isn’t what you would normally consider a “creative” position, it’s better to have creative people. They tend to be more positive and engaged, looking for better ways to solve the customers’ problems.
- Perseverance. The workplace should be a marathon, not a sprint. You want to find people who will stick with it, even when it gets dif- ficult. Look for signs that they follow through with things that they start. Someone who jumps around a lot from job to job might be deficient in this area.
- Initiative. Few things are more frustrating than having an employee who sits around passively and waits to be told what to do. I’d rather have someone who oversteps his or her bounds and needs to be reined in than someone who doesn’t show any initiative.
- Self-confidence. This is a critically important trait. It’s difficult to teach, although it can be developed and fostered. You’re better off hiring a candidate who believes in herself. Then she’ll also be more likely to believe in your company. Self-confidence is contagious.
- Passion. If you know that the candidate is passionate about something — anything — then it’s easier to believe that he or she will care about the company, the customers, and their problems.
You might not agree with everything on this list, and you might list other traits that are important to you or to your company or industry. That’s fine. Just make sure that you go into the hiring process with a strong idea of what you’re looking for in a candidate. It will make your task much easier, and it will improve your chances of getting the right people for your team.
- 🔗 Simplicity at Reader’s Digest ⭕
Here’s Dan Lagani, the (relatively) young (he’s 48) president of Reader’s Digest North America on how he learned how to keep management simple. From the excellent Sunday New York Times column “The Boss.”
I feel as if I’ve spent the last 25 years getting ready for what I’m doing now. During that time, I’ve found that simplicity is crucial in running a business, from keeping your mind open to ideas that present themselves in everyday life to ensuring that your processes are straightforward. It’s a matter of paring complex problems to the essentials.
- Noon to four is not a time. It's a cop-out
So the Thermador dishwasher-repair guy calls to confirm that he’s coming today.
“When?” I ask.
“Between noon and four,” he says.
“You can’t tell me any more specifically than that?” I ask.
“Nope,” he says. “We’re busy.”
Nice. And I’m not.
That suggests to me that he doesn’t really know his job very well. You’ve got to figure that an experienced dishwasher guy would have an idea how long repair calls usually take. And you’ve got to think that the appliance company he works for would have some experience in how to effectively dispatch the repair guys.
For the better part of two decades as a lawyer, I scheduled appointments, calls, and meetings with clients, courts, and other lawyers. Not once did I schedule something for “noon to four.” If I thought a client meeting would run longer than the hour I was planning for, I’d make sure not to schedule something for the next hour. It’s not that hard.
Cable and phone companies, appliance-repair companies, and delivery services: it’s time to start caring about your customers and their time. Either figure out how long your calls will take, or get better at staffing and dispatching. Or both. It’s really not that hard. Giving customers four-hour windows is a cop-out. It’s also disrespectful.
Note: not only did this particular repair company say that they charge by the hour, but they made a point of saying that they also charge in six-minute increments. Nice. Looks like I’ll be watching this guy like a hawk. When he eventually arrives.
- A Facebook policy for grown-ups
Our Facebook Policy
We have no Facebook policy.
FAQ on our Facebook policy
That’s right. We don’t have one.
Don’t we have to have one?
Says who? Employment lawyers? Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. No, we don’t have to have one.
Because we only hire grown-ups to work here. And grown-ups don’t need to be told how to behave.
But isn’t Facebook different?
Why? Because it’s on a computer? Time to let go of the twentieth century, Orville. Yes, sometimes things are on computers now. Or phones or tablets. Things like books, movies, TV shows, music, mail, phone calls, funny cat pictures, snarky comments, and other social interactions. Deal with it.
I don’t know. I’m dubious.
There can’t be any harm in having a little Facebook policy. Just to keep the employment lawyers happy. Please?
No. In fact, a Facebook policy can cause harm. The National Labor Relations Board, which is trying to expand its role in the nonunionized sector, is actively going after companies with dumb Facebook policies.
Oh. That seems uncool.
Still, without a Facebook policy, how do we know what we can and can’t post?
Look: somehow you managed to figure out that it’s a bad idea to yell on a street corner that your customer is a moron. Yet we have no Street-Corner-Yelling Policy. And you accurately deduced that you probably shouldn’t shout in a crowded theater that your coworker sleeps with farm animals (or shout “Fire!”; I think I learned that in law school). Yet we are completely bereft of a Shouting-Slanderous-Statements-in-Theaters Policy. Facebook is no different.
So nothing will happen to me if I post on Facebook that my coworker sleeps with farm animals?
No, dumbass. We’ll fire you faster than the Red Sox can blow a nine-game division lead in September. The fact that you’re thinking that means we probably shouldn’t have hired you in the first place.
But there’s no policy against it.
Now you’re catching on. That’s right: there’s no policy against it. We know you’re a grown-up and we trust that you’ll be professional and respectful of others. If our trust was misplaced, we’ll fix that.
Got it. Thanks.
Have a great day.
- 🔗 Simplicity at Davos ⭕
Author Chris Zook, writing on the Harvard Business Review blog about discussions on the need for simplicity at the Davos economics forum:
We just completed a multi-year study of the root causes of enduring success. We found an increasing premium to simplicity in the world of today — not just simplicity of organization, but more fundamentally to an essential simplicity at the heart of strategy itself. In every industry, we discovered companies that were enjoying an inherent advantage in dealing with the increasing tension of faster moving markets and increased internal complexity due to this ability to keep things simpler and more transparent than their rivals.
- 🔗 Maximizing utility ⭕
Nice summary by Michael Robson of 21tiger on how simplicity makes your apps better. This is from his review of Tapworthy: Designing Great iPhone Apps (affiliate link) by Josh Clark:
Yes, I know, there are a few of you out there rolling your eyes at this. I’ve obviously drank the Apple Kool-aid and I’m going to start rattling off all the ways software, technology, and apps should be oversimplified like the Japanese Dojo, with clean white interfaces and Helvetica Neue text. It’s not that there’s something great about white, but there is something incredibly fantastic about unitasking. I’m sorry if all this Zen stuff is putting a cramp in your zafu, but you have to understand just how much of a pain in the ass (for designers and users) complexity really is. Complexity is wasteful. Simplicity is about maximizing utility.
- 🔗 John Gruber on Apple’s Mountain Lion ⭕
On his world-class Apple-related blog Daring Fireball, John Gruber reports on his impressions of Apple’s forthcoming new operating system. As usual, he deftly sums up the key to Apple’s success — simplicity:
The changes and additions in Mountain Lion are in a consistent vein: making things simpler and more obvious, closer to how things should be rather than simply how they always have been.
- A twitterable Twitter policy (updated)
This is a post I wrote nearly three years ago over at Gruntled Employees. But it keeps getting rediscovered and passed around in social-media circles. Since simplicity is at its essence, I figured it was worth republishing here. I’ve updated some of the facts. Feel free to adopt it as your own company’s policy. Just tell people where you got it when they ask about its awesomeness.
You know that something new has gone mainstream when the employment lawyers get involved. So it is now with Twitter, the microblogging service that is currently taking over the universe.
Twitter has grown rapidly and enormously. There are approximately six million users right now. (Update Feb. 2012 It’s now estimated at 462 million users. That’s a little bit of growth over three years.) This is much smaller than Facebook or MySpace, the older members of the social-media set. (Update Feb. 2012 What’s a “MySpace”?) But the pace of growth has been incredible; one source pegged it at 1,000 percent in 2008 alone. (Update Feb. 2012 Over the last three years, it’s like a jillion percent, which is one followed by a wad of zeroes, or ten to the wad.)
By most accounts, the demographics of Twitter users skew older and more professional than Facebook. For example, 83% of Twitter users are 26 or older, compared to 60% of Facebook users. (Source: this cool 2011 infographic.) That makes sense, since Facebook began as a college-oriented site. (There are also far more teens on Facebook than on Twitter.) Also, it is said that “Facebook is about people you used to know; Twitter is about people you’d like to know better.” (The widely repeated quote is from a Globe and Mail article by Ivan Tossel, but you have to pay to read it.)
Some of you may still be asking, “What is this Twitter thing, anyway?” (“And don’t say microblogging again, because that doesn’t help.”) (Update Feb. 2012 Are people still really asking this?) Twitter is a free service that allows users to send very short messages (called tweets) over the web to people who (in theory) care. How short is very short? No more than 140 characters, including spaces and punctuation. In fact, they even have a name for a tweet that is exactly 140 characters long: it’s called a “twoosh.”
According to the site itself, the point of the site is to “Find out what’s happening, right now, with the people and organizations you care about.” And of course, to tell the people who care about you what’s happening with you. To be sure, most people don’t care to learn about the humdrum of your daily life: “I’m still in line for my venti nonfat extra-hot latte.” Or “Mr. Biddles rolled over again. Silly cat. LOL.” That sort of tweet is of value to exactly no one. (Even Mr. Biddles would cough up that hairball.)
Where it does become valuable to businesspeople is where people answer the question, “What are you thinking about?” Or: “What is interesting to you?” Then you try to find other people who might share your interests, and you “follow” them to learn what they’re thinking about. Often, they will reciprocate by following you. Done right, people can use Twitter as a powerful networking service to get in front of potential clients or colleagues within their industry.
As often happens when employees start doing something new, companies soon want their lawyers or HR people to create policies to restrict it. This happened in the Nineties, when employers got nervous about email and internet usage. More recently, companies have instituted blogging policies, and guidelines for the use of MySpace or Facebook. So it’s no surprise that we’re starting to see requests for Twitter policies.
Longtime readers of Gruntled Employees know how I feel about the hyperlegislation of the workplace by zealous policymakers. Well-meaning HR professionals and employment lawyers tend to throw the baby out with the bath water when it comes to policing employee behavior, whether online or not. I generally advocate a simpler approach that involves treating employees as grown-ups who have judgment. See, for example, “A two-word corporate blogging policy” and “The world’s shortest employee handbook.”
With that said, here is my take at a corporate Twitter policy that has the extra added benefit of being itself twitterable:
Our Twitter policy: Be professional, kind, discreet, authentic. Represent us well. Remember that you cannot control it once you hit “Tweet.”
(Feb. 2012 update The “Tweet” button used to say “Update.”)
And yes — that’s a twoosh: exactly 140 characters of pure employment-law goodness.
By the way, you can follow me on Twitter at @jayshep — as long as you follow the policy, too.
[By the way, without realizing it, I totally boosted the cat-rolling-over bit from Guy Kawasaki's excellent post, "Looking for Mr. Goodtweet: How to Pick Up Followers on Twitter."]
- 🔗 New book on Apple coming soon: Insanely Simple ⭕
Author Ken Segall, who writes the blog “Observatory,” has a new book coming out in April about how Apple has used the principles of simplicity to achieve its remarkable success. Segall was Steve Jobs’s agency creative director for 12 years. Here’s a quote from the book’s site:
To Steve Jobs, Simplicity was a religion. He built a company based on its principles, in which the complexities of traditional business were simply not tolerated. Simplicity was also his most powerful weapon—a means of humbling category leaders once thought to be invincible.
The book looks promising; I’ve already preordered my copy. You can order yours from Amazon here (affiliate link).
- How the Five Guys menu can help your company
A few months ago, when I was visiting my brother in Denver, he introduced me to Five Guys hamburger restaurant. Now I’m hooked. Each restaurant is clean and well lit, decorated with bright white and red tiles, and easy-to-read signs. There is a big box of peanuts for you to help yourself from while you’re waiting. The burgers themselves are as fresh as you will find (they use no freezers), and the french fries are fantastic.
But what really sets Five Guys apart is its menu. Check it out (click it to biggify):
As you can see, there’s not much there. They basically sell only five things: burgers, hot dogs, veggie or cheese sandwiches, fries, and soft drinks. You can add cheese or bacon or both to your burger or dog. You can choose a single patty (called a “Little Hamburger”) instead of the regular double patty. You can have your fries Cajun style instead of regular. And you can add all the usual toppings for no extra cost. And that’s it.
The menu is simplicity itself. They focus on a handful of items and they make them exceptionally well. Customers are not overwhelmed with a bunch of choices. It’s basically, “Burger, hot dog, fries, and what do you want on them?” Couldn’t be easier.
Contrast this with the complexity of the current menu at McDonald’s. There are too many categories with dozens of items, many of which aren’t even clear about what species they’re in. (Just what the heck is a “Big ’n’ Tasty” anyway?) Customers who don’t go to McDonald’s frequently and order their usual are forced to wade through too many choices while people wait in line behind them.
What is more, with so many different food items to prepare, it’s unlikely that they’re all going to be good. Better to do a few things well, like Five Guys does (Five Guys do?), than to do too many things mediocrely.
The biggest irony here is that when McDonald’s started out, its menu looked much like Five Guys’: just burgers, fries, shakes, and soft drinks.
Many businesses think that customers want a lot of choices. But too many choices tend to annoy customers and paralyze them with indecision. Too many choices takes away from the pleasantness of the experience, and eventually drive customers away.
No matter what business you’re in, don’t fall into the trap of thinking you need to offer your customers a lot of choices. Instead, focus on doing what you do best, and don’t do anything else. It’s easier for you, and easier for your customers.
- 🔗 Kudos to JCPenney for simplifying its pricing ⭕
Can new JCPenney CEO Ron Johnson turn around the fortunes of the ailing department store? He certainly hasn’t wasted any time making changes. The former head of Apple’s retail arm recently announced that Penney was radically restructuring its pricing strategy to make it simpler and less dependent on discounts:
“The customer knows the right price,” Johnson said. “To think you can fool a customer is kind of crazy.” In the past, only 0.2 percent of sales came from full price items and Penney’s 590 unique promotions a year were confusing and failed to draw shoppers, he said.
Discounts are almost always a bad idea, as it makes it impossible for customers to discover the value of what you’re selling. And complexity in pricing inevitably frustrates customers, and sends them to your competitors. It will be interesting to see if these changes are in time to save JCPenney.
- 🔗 Why choices hurt profitability ⭕
Great piece from Andrew Kim at Minimally Minimal from a few months ago on how market share is a misleading metric, and not nearly as important as profitability. Tech pundits are often talking about how Android dominates the smartphone market compared to iOS. But Apple makes far more profit than any other smartphone maker. One likely reason is the bewildering array of choices that Android manufacturers offer compared to just four types of iPhone. Look at Kim’s graphic showing Samsung’s complete smartphone line compared to Apple’s. He sums it up brilliantly:
I truly feel that a simple, focused and powerful product line is what’s not only better for the company but also consumers. Seriously, if you had to buy a Samsung phone, which would you buy?
- One word that will reinvent how you serve clients
Want to know what that one word is? Here are two easy ways to find out:
Go grab your nearest unabridged dictionary. Turn to page one. Start going through each defined word one at a time. You’ll get to it eventually. (OK, maybe that’s not so easy.)
Go to the LexThink.1 site and vote for my proposed talk, “One Word That Will Reinvent How You Serve Clients.” Just click on the handy “vote” icon (see image).
Voting ends February 24. There are 23 other proposals from a rogue’s gallery of big legal thinkers, and only the top 12 will be selected. Your vote will make a difference.
So what is LexThink.1? Well, it’s an evening of very short presentations with a challenging constraint: 20 slides, 18 seconds a slide (equaling six minutes exactly, or 0.1 to you lawyers who still use timesheets). The speaker has no control over the slides, which keep advancing like sands in the hourglass (or something) every 18 seconds. It forces the speakers to keep it brief and pithy, and to leave home all the boring bits. It’s inspired by Japan’s Pecha Kucha Nights, which allows a luxurious 20 seconds for each of the twenty slides. This is its third year; it was previously called “IgniteLaw.”
To see an example, here is my talk from last year: “Quantum Leap: How You Will Practice Law in 2019.”
No matter which proposals get chosen, it promises to be an amazing event. Hope to see you there. And thanks for the vote!
- Business strategy, emotions, and Inception
First of all, if you haven’t seen the movie, do. It’s one of the smartest movies of the last few years. If you haven’t seen it, here’s the general idea:
Leonardo DiCaprio plays Dom Cobb, an expert in extracting information from people’s dreams. But he’s put to the test by a new client who wants him to do something much more difficult: plant an idea in a business rival’s dreaming mind. That’s “inception.” They want their target, Robert Fischer, to break up his late father’s business empire.
As Cobb and his team map out their heist, one of them raises a question central to the movie:
“I will split up my father’s empire.” Now this is obviously an idea that Robert Fischer will choose to reject — which is why we need to plant it deep in his subconscious. Subconscious is fueled by emotion, right? Not reason. We need a find a way to translate this into an emotional concept.
How do you translate a business strategy into an emotion?
That’s a question that all businesspeople should ponder. We tend to focus on creating the ideal business strategy. But we often forget that customers don’t respond to business strategies. Instead, customers — like all human beings — are led by emotion.
You want to increase sales and make your company more successful? Then figure out how to translate a business strategy into an emotion.
Adapted from a Client Revolution post
- Simplicity and lawyers
A friend of mine recently complained how things become so much more complicated once the lawyers get involved. And quite frankly, he’s right. Lawyers do tend to make simple things more complicated. Part of the reason for this is because lawyers are trained to spot issues and raise them before they turn into problems. This is a legitimate and valuable role for lawyers. They are trained in law school to become experts at issue-spotting.
But for many lawyers, this becomes a habit. They end up focusing too much on spotting issues and detecting things that can go wrong. Trying to plan around these issues necessarily complicates the job at hand.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Instead of just focusing on spotting issues, the better lawyers look for ways to help the clients do what they want to do.
This isn’t a new concept. More than 100 years ago, legendary financier J.P. Morgan explained the proper role of lawyers to his own counsel:
I don’t know as I want a lawyer to tell me what I cannot do. I hire him to tell me how to do what I want to do.
What a beautiful and simple concept. Telling your clients how to do what they want to do.
- The wrong question
What if another employee finds out, and then asks for the same special treatment, or accuses us of not treating everyone equally?
This question is common, understandable, and well meaning. HR pros and good managers know that different treatment (or as the lawyers say, disparate treatment, which means “Look at me: I went to law school and learned how to talk different. I mean, disparate. D’oh!”) can potentially lead to discrimination lawsuits. The problem is that when you treat people uniformly, you end up treating them uniformly badly.
So this is the wrong question to ask.
The right question to ask is this:
If I was requesting this special treatment in the same situation, would I think I deserved it?
If your being-honest-with-yourself answer is yes, then you should try to find a way to grant the request. Of course, don’t discriminate (there are, like, laws against doing that). But don’t disgruntle one employee just because other employees might not get the same treatment.
You’ll end up with the wrong answer.
- Two kinds of lawyers
There are only two kinds of lawyers in the world:
Lawyers who price, and lawyers who don’t. Everything else is lip service, or window dressing, or sleight of hand.
Lawyers who price work very hard to try to figure out what their client’s needs are and what the value is to the client of satisfying those needs. They then come up with a price that is less than or equal to that value, and they tell the client that price before performing the service. The client either accepts that price or does not, and if so, the lawyer does the work at that price. And the price for that service doesn’t change. If the needs unforeseeably change, then a new price will be arrived at. But remember: we’re talking prices, not estimates.
And that’s it. It’s that simple. (It may not be easy, but it’s simple.)
If you don’t do this, then you’re the other kind of lawyer: the kind who doesn’t price.
Obviously, lawyers who bill their time make up the bulk of this category. Telling a client what your rate is and then giving a vague estimate of the time you think you might spend is not pricing. Not by a long shot. Making adjustments to the bill at the end of the month to put the total amount more in line with the value delivered is not pricing. Tracking your time to try to determine any kind of concept of value is not pricing.
Capped hourly fees are not pricing. Blended rates are not pricing. (They’re just a ripoff.) Hybrid fees are not pricing. AFAs (“alternative fee arrangements” — the in-vogue thing to call different alternative billing schemes) are not pricing.
Giving clients a choice between a price and hourly billing isn’t pricing. It’s a copout, and it tells the client that you don’t believe in the value of your services. Tracking your time to see if your “losing money” on priced engagements is the same kind of copout.
Project management is not pricing. Six Sigma is not pricing. Neither is Lean Six Sigma. Or Portly Six Sigma. Or whatever. (And I don’t care if you’re a black belt, orange belt, or a braided-leather belt with a giant John Deere buckle. It ain’t pricing.)
You can go to all the two-day seminars on AFAs you want, but mostly you’ll be learning about Not Pricing. Your time would be better spent learning about your client and how they value the solutions to their problems and whether you can make a profit solving their problems for that amount.
Originally published on The Client Revolution
- There are only 2 types of law-firm fees
If I read another article about “alternative fee arrangements” or hear of another two-day seminar explaining all the various and complicated AFAs out there, I’m going to try to swallow my tongue. (Disclaimer: This is of course hyperbole. I’m not going to do that. And don’t you try it either, just to see if you can do it. You can’t. End of disclaimer.)
Lawyers beholden to the Prohibition Era model of billing and the consultants who court them are desperately trying to show how complex and scary AFAs are. The clients and other lawyers who read these articles and go to these seminars walk away shaking their heads and surrender to sticking with the old billable-hour model. Maybe with a discounted rate, please.
But I’m here to tell you that it is not at all complicated. In fact, if you have seven seconds, I can tell you about all the different types of law-firm fees. Ready?
There are two:
- Time-based pricing
- Solution-based pricing
That is all.
No, really. It’s no more complicated than that. Time-based pricing is what nearly every law firm does, where the price of the legal services depends on the time spent doing the work and the rate of the “timekeeper.”
(In truth, I’m being generous here, because it’s not really “pricing” at all. Pricing is when you tell the client what something will cost them before they buy it; time-based law firms don’t do that at all.)
Under the time-based-pricing model, invented in 1919, every activity is worth the same amount on a minute-by-minute (or really, six-minute-by-six-minute) basis, regardless of how important the task is. With few exceptions, every client is charged the same per hour, regardless of their differing needs. The only measurement of value is the amount of sand that has dropped in the hourglass.
Solution-based pricing is when a law firm sets a price based on the value of the solution to the client. It’s that simple. I’m not saying it’s easy, because it’s not. It takes a lot of thought and preparation and understanding and empathy and experience to figure out how much this particular client values this particular solution at this particular moment. But that’s OK because we’re professional knowledge workers, not pieceworkers in a pin factory.
Clients — simple question: Do you want the price of your legal work to be based on the time lawyers spent, or on the value you place on the solution? It’s one or the other.
(See, I just spared you that two-day seminar on AFAs. You’re welcome.)
What do you think? Can you come up with any other methods? Bet you can’t. But give it a shot in the comments. (I particularly look forward to time-based lawyers protesting about how hourly billing is a kind of solution-based pricing. Good luck with that.)
Originally published in The Client Revolution