The Worst Boss of All Time

Actually just the first of many...

In the summer of 1982, just days after my high school graduation, I began a six-month program in dental laboratory technology. Dental lab technology is the study and practice of building dental devices such as crowns, bridges, and dentures.  This fit nicely into my interest and skills in building model airplanes and dioramas.  Part of the program involved doing a short internship in a local dental lab.  I was assigned to work with a dentist named Cordell Riley at his facility, Modern Denture Institute in Orange, CA.

There was nothing modern about MDI and under Dr. Riley, it was more like an institution than an institute.  MDI boasted that it could make a full set of dentures in one day for $200.00.  To accomplish this, sanitary conditions were questionable at best, materials cheap, and of course, at a mere $10.00 per day as a salary for me, so were labor costs!  This was a modern-day sweatshop.  I worked from 8 am to 6pm with no breaks or even a lunch break.  The pace was fast and Dr. Riley micro-managed all of us.  When there was a brief break in the action, I was assigned other duties such as picking up his wife from the beauty parlor.  Mercifully, the internship finally ended and as I picked up my last, tiny check, Dr. Riley quipped that I should have paid HIM for the experience I got.  What I got was my first taste of what it was like to work with a BAD BOSS!

But that’s me.  I’m sure you have your own Worst Boss Ever story.  I’m going to start a series on bad bosses and how to deal with them.  If you have a bad boss, I’ll offer coping strategies.  If you ARE the bad boss, I’ll hopefully help you see what you need to do to improve.

Life is too short to be miserable at work.  Since bad bosses account for most of the misery folks experience at work, I think we ought to do something about it.  Are you in?

How Well Do You Sell?

Above view of consultant shaking hands with customerIf you’re anything like me, you probably hate selling.

Most of us get our hate for selling from early childhood experiences like selling Christmas cards door to door or worse, having to sell Girl Scout cookies outside of a store to total strangers.

Then of course we deal with salespeople as adults which can put us off even more.  The car salesperson who we just know is dishonest and wants to screw us over.  The cold caller who pesters us to switch from Dish Network to DirectTV.

As someone who actually has to sell in order to get more clients, I’ve seen both extremes in the world of sales.  On one hand, there is the salesperson at the booth at a trade show who is too afraid to look at your when you walk by, instead peering intently into their smartphone.  Then there is the other extreme.

On a recent vacation to Cancun, Mexico I walked into the crowded flea market next to the Senor Frog’s to buy some souvenirs for family and friends.  I was about 10 feet from the entrance when I was immediately swarmed by vendors selling anything from t-shirts to plaster skeletons to spoon holders with Our Lady of Guadalupe on them.

“Where are you from?” they asked.

“Tennessee” I replied.

“Ah Tennessee Titans” (they pronounced it “Thennessee Thitans”) and proceeded to show me a plaster skull wearing a Titans football helmet.  They offered me a beer, probably to relax me and intoxicate me enough to suddenly develop an obsession for turtles sculpted out of abalone shells.  As it happens, I walked out of that market with a lot of stuff I really didn’t need nor intended to buy.  At least I was able to negotiate with them which meant I was only a little ripped off buying Mexican stuff that was probably made in China.

But it taught me a sales lesson:  There is a balanced approach to selling something to someone.

And just to be clear, all of us are salespeople.  We may not all sell products or services but all of us have to sell our ideas or opinions, or even ourselves to a hiring manager.  What is the best way?

  1. Build a genuine rapport. One of the T-shirt vendors in Cancun asked me where I was from originally which of course was California.  He said he was from there and lived there 6 months out of the year.  He referenced places only a Californian would know so we hit it off.  After buying stuff from him, I asked which vendor he trusted to give me the best deal on some plaster jewelry boxes.  He walked me over a couple of booths and introduced me to a guy who I then bought from.  When we went back for more t-shirts a couple days later, I went right back to his booth and we bought from him.  Rapport builds trust.  We buy from people we trust.
  1. Be Assertive, but Not Aggressive. Assertive means asking for the sale.  Aggressive means insisting on the sale.  I recently purchased a new Mazda CX-7 in Clarksville, TN.  The salesman spent about an hour demonstrating the features and benefits of the car.  At no point did he pressure me.  Finally though he asked, “What will it take for you to purchase this car from me today?”  Assertive?  Yes. Aggressive?  No.  Had he asked me that in the first 10 minutes it would have caused me to walk away.  But after an hour of conversation, it was an appropriate question.  After some haggling, I bought the car from him.
  1. Ask for the Sale. That’s the point of selling isn’t it?  Don’t expect the customer to just open up their wallets to you and ask you to reach inside.  This means you have to do the hard work to build rapport and explain the features and benefits of your product, service, proposal, or SELF.  Then, when it’s time, ask for the sale.

Selling is difficult and scary but by practicing the techniques and then putting yourself into that assertive mindset, you’ll be able to do it.  Trust me, I do a whole lot of selling in my business and even though it doesn’t come naturally to me, I’m getting better all the time.

All of us need to sell.  The question is:  How well will you sell?

The Wrong Way to Solve a Problem

remoteWhen faced with a problem, what do you do?

Some people rise to the occasion.  They are at their best when chaos reigns and solutions seem elusive.  They don’t show emotion, think and act rationally, and have a knack for making a tough situation seem rather ordinary.  We admire people like that.

And then there is everyone else…

One of the biggest challenges for my mom was learning new technology.  It seemed to grow in prominence in her life even as she aged.  My dad described her method of problem-solving a misbehaving computer or a confusing remote was “push every button until you figure it out.”  That of course never worked.  Their DVD player played every one of their movies in French until my son was able to fix it for them.

Sadly, that’s how most of us solve a problem.  We don’t really know what the root issue is so we go after the surface solution and try multiple attempts without documenting or testing anything which results in the occasional fix, but most often, a more complicated situation.

What’s the best way to solve a problem?  Try this approach:

Step #1:  Specifically define the problem.  This means name the problem.  Rather than “The TV’s broke” say “I can’t seem to figure out how to change the language from French back to English.”

Step #2:  Get out all documentation and manuals you have.  Intuition works occasionally but why reinvent the wheel when you can refer to some documentation.

Step #3:  Work systematically while testing and documenting each step.  Take a step.  Test the result.  Write down what the result was.  When you get a step correct, take the next step.  Stop, document, and move on.  Then, when the problem is solved…

Step #4:  Document everything you did.    This way you have more data to use when you need Step 2 in a similar problem.

This is the standard way to solve a technology problem but it can certainly work in other areas.

  • “John is a terrible employee”  (Vague, subjective, and not very specific)
  • “John is unreliable”  (Better, but still not specific.  What makes him unreliable?”
  • “John never seems to be here when we need him” (Still better, but more specific please?)
  • “John has been late 5 times in the past 2 weeks.”  (Now we have something to work with!!!)

Work through the steps using documentation from time and attendance, the HR handbook, and of course any previous performance documentation.  Then sit him down and figure out why he’s been late and get him to fix it.  Rather than trying a bunch of solutions to motivate John, be sure to go through this methodically.

Our organizational value is quantified by how well we solve or prevent problems.  Try these four steps next time you get challenged by a problem.

 

 

Is the World Ready for Your Big Idea?

bbbLately I’ve been watching a unique cooking show on the Cooking Channel called Big Bad BBQ Brawl.  It involves two brothers, Shannon and Big Rich Ambrosio who own a successful BBQ food truck in Brooklyn, New York, traveling the country competing with local chefs in a fun competition.

On a recent episode, the Ambrosio brothers entered a full BBQ competition in Florida.  This meant that they competed against real Pitmasters in three types of meat: brisket, ribs, and chicken.  Wanting to dazzle the judges who were used to traditional sweet southern flavors, they opted for Italian style brisket, Vietnamese-flavored ribs, and non-traditional chicken.

They didn’t place in any category.  And they were very disappointed.

Here’s the lesson:  While the food was good, the Florida judges weren’t ready for it.  A good idea at the wrong place at the wrong time.

We’ve probably experienced that too haven’t we?  We have a great plan in our heads for a new process and the boss shoots it down.  We come up with a new product or service we KNOW our customers will love and they simply blow it off.  We try to impress our partner or spouse with a new restaurant or gift and they don’t react the way we hoped they would.

In ALL cases, we approach the idea from OUR point of view rather than from that of our intended audience.

I know, it’s that Golden Rule thing:  Do unto others and YOU would have done unto YOU.  Unfortunately, most people don’t really care what YOU want done unto you, they simply want what they want done unto THEM.

If that’s the case, maybe we should approach anything new with a little market research or at a minimum, careful observation.  And innovation, while very cool, is a risky business.  The world might not be ready for what you have right now.

It takes patience and lots of careful research.

So this week, before you unleash your new idea on the world or even your relationship, ask the following questions:

  1. Is there a need for this right now?
  1. Is there a need for this EVER?
  1. Do I think it’s a great idea without even testing it?
  1. What will I do if the idea is rejected?

I don’t intend to discourage you.  Just wanting you to maximize success!

Are You Aware of Your Bias?

Unconscious BiasAre you biased?  If you say no, you’re just not human.  If you’re reading this, trust me, you’re human.

Recently I put together a short seminar on dealing with unconscious bias.  In researching the topic, I found some interesting information.

First, we are all biased.  It simply means we tend to sort out information and give preference to one piece of data to solve a particular problem.  Also, we as human beings sort out data as we see it.  For example, when we enter a room, the first thing we do is scan up and down and side to side.  Then we notice people.  The first thing we notice is their skin color followed quickly by their gender.  Up to this point, there are no problems.

Unfortunately, when it comes to that sorting and bias, if we’re not careful we can start giving preference unfairly when we’re not aware of our thinking process.  That’s where the conscious bias (what we’re aware of) can be influenced by our unconscious bias (what’s inside us and often has free run of our brains without ever being questioned).

My first wife hated fish.  She had the privilege of visiting some amazing places like Hawaii and Australia and had access to some of the best fish on the planet.  As long as I knew her, I never saw her take a bite of fish, and yet she always told me how much she hated fish.  Our daughter grew up hating fish.  She never took a bite of fish (as far as I could remember).  When she was in her early 20’s, she moved in with us for a couple of years.  I convinced her to try fish.  She loved it.  Her fiancé (and now husband) cooked lots of fish and she ate it.  She even ate calamari, not just the cylinder-shaped ones but the ones with all the tentacles.  An unconscious bias against fish (from her mom) led to a conscious one (from her) until it was challenged and overcome (by me and Chris).

But enough about fish.  Could a host of early experiences be lurking in our subconscious and affect our decision-making?  Absolutely.  Here’s how it works:

Think about your most trusted circle of advisors.  Don’t count family members in this group.  These folks are the ones you can rely on, can relate to, and can be counted upon to never let you down.  Do you have your list?

Now take a good look at them.  I’m willing to bet that most, if not all of them look like you (gender/race/age), think like you (political leaning/religious affiliation), and act like you (sexual orientation/marital status).  If that’s your trusted inner circle, you might be tempted to use them as your yardstick when measuring others.  If they “fit” you, then you trust them, if not, then you discount.  You do this unconsciously.  It’s normal.  Just pay attention to it.

It becomes a problem then when we select only those people or people like them for special projects, promotions, or favors.  We discount those we don’t know and don’t even give them a chance because on the surface we can’t really trust them.

Many years ago, a dentist that I assisted looked past the obvious (an enlisted kid with no motivation) and took the time to push me to attend college and dream bigger.  It’s the reason I have the career I do today.  The dentists I worked for before him and after him saw just the surface and treated me like crap. Had I never met Greg Nelson, I would not be successful today. Don’t let an unconscious bias derail the potential in others around you.

Bias is normal.  It’s the lack of reflection and honesty that makes it dangerous.  This week, make it a point to expand your circle of trust and begin to draw from the wealth and wisdom of others you may have previously ignored.  Everyone wins if that happens!

Why Being FIRST Sometimes Makes You Best

copyHollywood seems to be in full-bore reboot and sequel mode.  Where Summer and Thanksgiving used to be the launch of the big blockbusters, now they seem to be nothing more than a couple of new ideas but many more sequels and more recently, the reboot – a remake of a remake…of sometimes another remake.

Up until just about 10 years ago, there was the Batman movies which built on the original TV series from the 1960s with Adam West (with several different actors) and the Superman movies (with Christopher Reeve).  Then came The Hulk and Spiderman.  Then nothing.  Then of course came the multiple other superhero movies and then the phenomena of multiple Hulk movies (reboots) and to date, two more Spiderman reboots, another Batman reboot, and then of course Batman vs. Superman.

It’s not just superheroes.  Since the original Jaws movie in 1975, there have been four sequels and several other killer (really insane killer) sharks in movies.  Just when you think it’s safe to go back into the water…

What does this all have to do with you?  Well, how original are you?  How groundbreaking are your ideas?

There is a risk with being first and with being original.  You could of course be wildly successful.  That’s what happened with the original Jaws movie.  Even though the shark looked fake, the terror kept people in real life off the beach.  Sequels tried to recapture that same magic but aside from more realistic sharks and bloodier human feedings, they just didn’t have the same effect.  There was always a comparison to the original.

On the other hand, you might fail.  It’s possible.  But here’s the thing.  Even if it failed, you were the first to try.  Even if someone builds and perfects your idea, they still keep YOU in the conversation.  Someone else is trying to improve what YOU started.  YOU started.  You’re still memorable.

Hollywood seems to have lost its creativity.  And the more it happens, the more we think about and miss Adam West, Christopher Reeve, and the robotic fake shark Bruce.  The more you copy the original, the more the original shines.

What new idea have you been thinking about proposing?  What new direction have you been contemplating in your current career path?  Instead of waiting for affirmation from what’s already been tried, why not be the pioneer that will be remembered for no other reason maybe than it was simply the first…

 

 

Unleash Your Inner Ninja Warrior

ninjatrainingThe other night while flipping channels on the TV, I happened to come across the American Ninja Warrior TV show. If you’ve not seen it before it involves some very physically fit individuals who run on a timed obstacle course. The course requires balance, stamina, and most of all upper body strength. I was amazed at watching some of these people and then even a 65-year-old who managed to finish several of the obstacles before falling off and losing his dentures in the water. I thought about what it would be like to be on this program but at my age and with my hip replacements and bad back, just bending over to tie my shoe is enough of a warrior challenge.

For all of us who are not athletes, I believe there still are some Ninja challenges we can do when it comes to our professional development.  It’s easy to admire of those in our field who are committed to excellence, who managed to give great presentations, do amazing analytical work, or solve complicated problems. The good news is that all of us have the potential to be in that class. It simply involves your commitment to personal and professional development.

I don’t know what these Ninja athletes do but I can imagine it involves several types of training, many of which are not directly related to the obstacles they must overcome in the challenge. What that means is that not only do they need to know how to climb on parallel bars, they need to develop the upper body strength and the hand strength to hold their grip. It doesn’t always involve just cardio as we might think about it via long distance running, it might be short interval sprints. This means that transferable physical strength and agility must be made to be the focus competitive strength and agility.  In other words, you have to train for more than just the actual competition.

We need to do the same in our professional lives too. While we might be really good at our jobs, there are some ancillary skills we might not be good at. I must admit I’m pretty good at what I do in organizational and management development consulting, but where I come up very short as in sales. That may not seem like a logical business skill for me to have but if I can’t sell what I do then I won’t be able to do it. With that in mind I’ve spent much of the last year and a half reading and studying everything I can get my hands on about sales. That is an additional skill that will help me be more successful.

But what about you? Right now are there other skills that would help you be more successful? You might be good at making a presentation but how are you and navigating the politics of your organization? You might be great at solving a complicated problem but how good are you at actually preventing that problem in the first place? All of us have a responsibility to be the best in our field. Since only a few of us can be an elite athlete, why not be excellent in the everyday playing field that is our professional lives?

 

Peak Early…AND Often!

 

success bikeI believe all of us have potential for greatness.  In some way, shape, or form.  Not all the same either.  That’s not some motivational Tony Robbins fire-walking fluff either.  I just think it’s true.

Some don’t live up to their full potential.  It may be because of a lack of resources or encouragement or time or opportunity.  My dad was in this category.  He was full of great ideas but could never seem to pull the trigger on any of them.  I wish I could have met him at my current age, when he was 30.  He could have been the 1970s equivalent of Elon Musk.

Others reach their potential early but never seem to surpass or repeat it.

During my daughter’s senior year in high school, she was surprised to see some of the most popular seniors from the previous year come back to high school during their college spring break and actually sit in some classes!  One individual, a popular guy in his senior year but now a freshman at a prestigious college on the West Coast, asked one of my daughter’s classmates to ask HIM to the prom.  And she did.  And he went to the prom.  Again.

You probably know someone who fits into one or both categories.  I’m sure you don’t want to end up in either one.  How do you maintain peak performance so that we achieve success AND don’t have to always bring up our greatest hits from the past?  Here are five suggestions.

  1. Define Success.  It’s different for everyone but only you know what it is for you.  Think beyond wealth and status.  Make sure it’s tangible and achievable.  If you see success as being a brain surgeon but you faint at the site of blood and your hands shake when you get nervous, keep looking.
  2. Develop a Path to Success with Measurable Milestones.  Think of it as climbing a mountain using a series of diagonal switchbacks.  Your progress may be slow but if it’s heading upwards, you’re on the right path.
  3. Make Good Choices.  If you’re on the path to success, make sure whatever choices you make elevate you upward, not laterally or down.  Don’t let money or an unrelated success take you off the path to get the success you really want.
  4. Keep a Visual Record of Your Journey.  The reason fundraisers use the big thermometer to show donations is to have a visual to encourage people to help out.  You need a visual to remind yourself each day that you have a plan, and work to do to achieve it.
  5. After Achieving Success, Keep Going.  If you accomplish wins, you should now know the formula.  Why stop there?  Don’t be the 19-year-old who comes back to the prom to relive old glory.

All of us have a finite amount of time on this planet.  Why not use every last bit of it to achieve continual success?  It’s your choice.

I guess it comes down to a simple choice really.  Get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’

– Andy Dufresne.  The Shawshank Redemption

 

 

 

 

Stop Taking “NO” for an Answer

Businessman holding paperMany years ago, while in the Navy stationed overseas, I remember what it was like any time you needed paperwork approved by our personnel support detachment (PSD), the equivalent of the HR department.  PSD was managed by a guy named John Clark.  No matter what you asked for, the answer was always a resounding “NO” without any explanation.  It might be because he outranked most of us, or maybe he was just a crotchety old-timer, but dealing with him and PSD was the nearest equivalent to going to the DMV.  I never forgot that.

Fast forward to today.  I do some work with a local company that complains incessantly they can’t seem to get into a nearby large organization in order to market to them.  It seems was an incident a few years ago and this company was banned from entering the premises to do business.  Unfortunate since the employees of this large organization are the perfect target audience for my client.  Nobody can tell me exactly what happened or where this ban notice is written, but they are all paralyzed by it.

Last week I attended a networking meeting and lo and behold I ran into the person from this large organization and I flat-out asked her what the deal was.  She told me it was a federal regulation that stated one part of my client’s services were not able to be promoted, but there was no official ban and they even looked forward to having this client get involved.  The regulation made sense to me and of course this is good news for the client.  If only they had simply asked after being told “NO” they could have been active and successful with this organization.

Our inability to move past “NO” is probably grounded in childhood.  We are all born naturally curious.  We ask lots of questions.  Finally, our exasperated parents tell us to quit asking questions.  Most of us stopped being curious then, but those who persisted began to encounter “NO” on a regular basis.  This culled the curious herd even more.  Now, just a few of us are left as adults to keep pushing when they hear “NO”.

It can be problematic to push past “NO” and it got me into a lot of trouble in the Navy and even in my first two jobs when I got out.  Today though, it’s the secret to getting business that others won’t ever get close to.  What’s the secret to pushing past “NO” without getting into trouble?

  1. Don’t push it when the “NO” is a safety issue. (i.e. “No Swimming in the Lagoon after Dusk Due to Alligators”)
  2. Don’t push it when addressing company policy that has a purpose.  (i.e. “Who are you to tell me I can’t wear jeans on Friday?” when working for a bank or financial institution)
  3. Don’t push it just to be a pain in the A**. (i.e. “This policy makes no sense.  I don’t care about it but I just feel like being an A**H*** today” – this was my first LPO in the Navy)

BUT, when the “NO” you consistently hear is preventing you from career or business success and you can’t get a clear answer as to why, then feel free to push back a little.

None of us wants to hear that we’re being held back by something that has no business doing it to us.  Pick your battles carefully and work diligently in the pursuit of “NO”.

Are Your Incentives Actually Incentivizing?

Still want to chew gum during the test?

Still want to chew gum during the test?

In my job working with organizations and business I often hear about new initiatives designed to build employee engagement.  Engaged employees, as the rationale goes, are more productive and loyal.  That’s a good thing.  The key of course is to figure out how to engage them.

Some companies try to be competitive with pay and benefits.  Others design educational and professional development incentives.  Some attempt to be Google, implementing organizational redesign with open workspaces, game rooms, and elaborate cafeterias.

And then there are those who use privileges to win over employees.  That’s also effective.  When done in the right spirit.

A colleague of mine shared the note that you can read in this blog.  It was given to all the kids in his daughter’s class in preparation for the standardized tests that are given each Spring.  The school was going to allow students to chew gum or Lifesavers during the test as a privilege, but first each student AND their parents had to sign a contract.  The gum chewing right came with a laundry list of requirements and rules.  What was designed to incentivize students was really no different than the standard set of rules they had to follow each day.  When the privilege has caveats, it ceases to be a privilege.

The idea of motivating people hinges around the concept that people are satisfied when they get WHAT they need, WHEN they need it.  Pay is only a part of it although to be fair, should be enough.  Privileges, like casual dress and bring-your-dog-to-work day should be those little surprises that dazzle and provide a spike in productivity.  But those privileges lose their luster when accompanies by a bunch of rules.  Granted, standards are important.  Provocative or offensive clothing can be a liability and nobody wants to step in dog crap when walking to the copier.  The rules are fine if the spirit of the privilege is not lost.

Which brings us to the gum-chewing contract.  With the fear of punishment high, combined with the added stress of standardized testing, I’m thinking students enter the test with lower morale than if gum was just outlawed.  The incentives just won’t incentivize.

So if your organization want to use incentives, keep the following in mind:

  1. Make the incentives special and limited in time.  Getting people accustomed to the incentive leads to it being seen as a right.  Now you’re stuck leaving it in place for good.
  2. Make the incentive something that the employee would want, not necessarily what you would want.  While I would love a new firearm as a gift, I’m pretty sure my wife wouldn’t see it as an appropriate anniversary gift.
  3. Make the incentive as rule-free as possible.  When privileges come with a host of regulations and rules, they just aren’t as special.
  4. Make the incentive as condition-free as possible.  My ex’s father paid to have the kitchen in her condo refurbished.  His condition was that she had to get rid of her pets and her son couldn’t fry doughnuts in the kitchen.  I’m not sure a gift should have that many conditions.

All of us love to give and get privileges.  Before giving them, take a moment to run through the checklist.  You don’t want your well-intentioned gift to have a negative impact.