Belichick on Bringing your Team Back to Earth

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Celebrating success and honoring achievement is an important aspect of leadership but, if you want to be successful over the long run, you can’t spend too much time resting on your laurels.

Bill Belichick, arguably the best football coach in NFL history, knows this first hand. The day after his team celebrated their latest Super Bowl win with an extravagant party where the players received their Super Bowl rings, he made it very clear the party was over.

“You know, we’ve had enough parades, enough celebrations and enough everything. This 2017 team hasn’t done anything yet — none of us have. We really need to focus on what we’re doing this year. There have been a lot of great moments in the past, which is great, but that isn’t going to help us this year.”  Bill Belichick

Acknowledging the success of the past and ensuring your team understands the realities of the present is a critical leadership skill to master after a big win. Landing that big order was great but you need to meet the customer’s expectations now and in the future.

What do you think? Is it possible to let winning go to your head? Is Belichick right to close the chapter on the past and set expectations for the future? Do you know of companies or organizations who rested too long on their achievements? Let me know in the comment section below.

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The Bleeding Edge: When Innovation Fails

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In 2002, in the early days of Bluetooth, I toured the Bosch white goods factory in Germany. They presented to us their concept of the washing machine of the future which had Bluetooth connectivity. The idea was that your washing machine could communicate with your cell phone and you could control its activities.

I remember thinking at the time, what problem are they trying to solve? Who needs this technology? My washing machine buzzes when it’s done. That’s all I need. I don’t really want my appliances texting and calling me in the middle of the night with all their problems. To Bosch’s credit, I don’t think they ever commercialized the concept.

Fast forward to 2017, Samsung is now widely advertising their new FlexWash and FlexDry Laundry System. According to the ads, these Wi-Fi-enabled appliances will allow you to start and stop the units remotely with your smartphone as well as monitor the progress of each cycle. CNET calls it, “the wackiest innovation we’ve seen yet.” My reaction is pretty much the same as it was in 2002. The question I continue to ask is, who is looking for this kind of technology in their washer and dryer?

Don’t get me wrong, I love technology. I’m an engineer. By law, I’m required to get excited about the latest gadgets. I’ve also served as an R&D manager several times in my career. What I don’t like is new technology that doesn’t make things better or easier. What the Samsung case reveals, in my opinion, is the dark side of innovation, what I like to call, “The Bleeding Edge.”

Maybe Samsung will be wildly successful with their new washer and dryer, but I don’t think so. In my view, they are heading toward the bleeding edge which is characterized by three main failures:

  • Innovation that fails to solve a problem.
  • Innovation that fails to make money.
  • Innovation that is ahead or behind market demand.

Let’s look at these three points:

Innovation that fails to solve a problem. Einstein is credited with saying, “if you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” I think innovation is similar. If you can’t easily explain how it helps the end user, it probably won’t. Take the example of a toilet brush with a flushable head. It’s not hard to understand how this helps make cleaning a toilet easier. It solves a problem. The value of controlling a washing machine remotely is a little harder to explain. Just because you can create technology doesn’t mean you should.

Innovation that fails to make money. Unless you operate a charity, the goal of a business is to make money. Even if you create an innovation that solves a problem, if you can’t make money selling it, you have also failed. Look at the Segway. It’s an amazing innovation but it took 7 years to sell just 30,000 units which was far less than its first-year sales goal. And even with the high price tag, Segway is still not profitable. Like it or not, customers will place a perceived value on your technology. If your perceived value is low and your cost is high, you won’t be making very much money.

Innovation that is ahead or behind the market demand. Timing is everything. This is especially true for innovations. Being “ahead of your time” is just as bad as being behind. I learned this lesson the hard way during the so-called Smart Grid revolution. We had the right technology that solved a major problem on the grid and we could make money selling it. The problem was the market wasn’t ready. Instead of embracing these new solutions, electric utilities took a more cautious and conservative approach. They experimented with pilot projects around the country but they never purchased the technology in the volumes predicted by the experts. The market just wasn’t ready to embrace this change.

Innovation is great but there is a dark side that needs to be avoided as well. Developing a new technology that fails to solve a problem, fails to make money, or misses the market demand can cost companies millions in profit. Just because it’s possible to do something, doesn’t mean you should. Innovations need to be carefully planned and executed to ensure business success.

What do you think? What am I missing? Is Wi-Fi the future of laundry? Is this just part of the IoT revolution that will make a huge improvement in people’s lives? Have you personally experienced the “Bleeding Edge” of technology? What was that like? Let me know in the comment section below.

Why Entrepreneurs Love when Big Companies Don’t Care

ct-why-airlines-get-away-with-terrible-customer-service-20170418The world was shocked to see a viral video of a paying customer being dragged from a United Airlines flight. It was unthinkable to believe a big company could treat a customer that way.

You know who wasn’t surprised? Business travelers. Those of us who travel frequently have been dealing with delayed flights, shrinking seats, reduced rewards, increased fees, crowded airports, long lines and disinterested employees for a long time. There seems to be little effort or desire for excellent customer service in the airline industry. Even so, we keep flying.

I was thinking about this while I waited 30 minutes in a checkout line at Wal-Mart the other night. There were about 40 checkout stations but only four cashiers working. Our cashier was actually a manager. He was friendly but he didn’t seem to care that we waited longer to checkout than it took us to find the items we were buying. He didn’t care because he knew we would likely come back.

The truth is, big companies don’t care when they know they will get repeat business regardless of service. It’s also true that industries don’t care when they know all the competitors offer the same poor level of service.

While this is bad news for customers, it’s great news for entrepreneurs. Rob Biederman points this out in his article, Ugly is the New Beautiful: 4 Ways to Create an Innovative Company in an Antiquated Industry. He explains that industries with poor customer satisfaction and high repeat business are ripe for disruption. New businesses that can offer a viable alternative to the industry giants without the hassle have an opportunity to change the industry landscape.

“Simply put, if your [customer satisfaction] score is low but repeat purchase is high, your industry is probably ripe for disruption.”  ~Rob Biederman

Think about what Amazon is doing to the retail industry. As I stood waiting in the Wal-Mart checkout line, I realized everything in my cart could be purchased now (or soon) from Amazon without the hassle. So, why should I ever go back to Wal-Mart?

Entrepreneurs have an amazing opportunity to create value for frustrated customers. The question is, how can you identify these opportunities? How can you recognize an industry that’s ready to be disrupted?

In an article called, Shake It Up: How to Identify Industries That are Ready for Disruption, Anna Johansson suggests looking for these three tell-tale signs.

Industry Complacency. When the existing companies in an industry stop innovating, stop caring and begin to take their customers for granted, it’s an indicator that the industry has become complacent.

Customer Frustration. Chronic customer frustration with no end in sight is another indicator. As customers continue to be dissatisfied with the performance of existing companies in an industry, they will “voice their opinions, tighten their wallets, and look for alternatives.”

Tension Points. More subtle than major pain points, tension points are those areas of customer dissatisfaction that, once an alternative solution is presented, will cause customers to move away from existing companies.

When big companies don’t care, opportunities open for entrepreneurs. In fact, this was a leading reason I co-founded Peak Demand. After working nearly 20 years for big companies in the electrical transmission and distribution products industry, I realized the industry had all the signs for disruption. Customers were frustrated with the performance of the existing big companies in the industry but had no place else to turn. Utility and OEM customers were looking for alternatives. They wanted a hassle-free way to buy high-quality products that could be delivered in days not weeks. They wanted on-line ordering system that were easy and reliable. Our team is filling those needs.

There are many industries that are ripe for disruption. Smart entrepreneurs can create viable alternatives to the industry giants and have an opportunity to change the industry landscape. Complacency, frustration and tension are tell-tale signs that an opportunity exists. Entrepreneurs that can identify and exploit these opportunities will be the winners.

What do you think? Are there other signs an industry is ripe for disruption? Can incumbent companies disrupt their own industries? What causes big companies to stop caring? Let me know your thoughts.

3 Lessons in Customer Service from a Captain Who Cared

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Customers don’t expect you to be perfect. They do expect you to fix things when they go wrong. ~ Donald Porter

If you’re looking for great examples of customer service, don’t travel by air. Delayed flights, lost luggage, crowded airports, long lines and disinterested employees seem to be the norm across the country. There appears to be little effort or desire to take care of the flying customer. It makes traveling for business depressing, discouraging and disheartening.

So, when you see someone trying to do everything in their power to take care of you, it stands out.

My day started with an aborted take-off from a frozen runway on an uncharacteristically cold Monday morning. The 10-degree weather froze the plane’s systems and caused them to malfunction half-way down the tarmac. We all noticed something was wrong when the plane powered down from 120 to 0 MPH in what seemed to be several short seconds.

This is when we met our captain and learned 3 valuable lessons:

1.  If you screw up, let the customer know what happened. Once the plane was stopped and off the active runway, our captain let us know exactly what happened. He explained in detail why he had to abort the take-off and what he planned to do next. One of the keys to great customer service is communication. Things will go wrong but great customer service starts by being transparent and keeping the customer informed.

2. Take ownership and do everything you can to make things right.  As we returned to the gate, our captain informed us of what he was going to do to try and get us out as soon as possible. After we deplaned, he appeared to be personally working with the airline to get the plane fixed or get us another aircraft. Great customer service means not passing the buck or blaming others for the customer’s poor experience. It means taking ownership of the problem and personally working to fix it as soon as possible.

3. Apologize and be sincere. Our captain eventually got us another aircraft and had us boarding only a few hours after the aborted take-off. He continued to keep us informed and apologized for all the delays as we continued our journey. After we safely landed, he stood at the front of the plane and sincerely apologized to each of us personally. Customers can tell the difference between sincere and fake apologies. Great customer service begins with caring deeply for your customers and their experience. It should personally hurt when that experience is poor.

Customer service in the airline industry is generally poor but there are some people trying to make a difference. I’m glad I could witness someone who truly cared about their customer. Our captain demonstrated three simple rules of great customer service not because it was required, it was because he cared.

If a problem occurs in a customer experience, you have an opportunity to make it right. Great customer service begins with transparent communication. It continues with taking ownership and fixing the problem. It ends with a sincere apology.

How does your company measure up? Do your forward-facing employees care deeply for the customer? Do they communicate transparently? Are they empowered to fix the problem? Are they sincere? Have you experienced great customer service after a problem? How did that change your thoughts of the company?

5 Ways Leadership can Transform a Conflicted Workplace

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When there is no enemy within, the enemies outside cannot hurt you. ~ African proverb

If you’ve spent any time in the corporate world, you have dealt with office politics and departmental conflict. Over the past 20 years, I think I have seen every type of workplace culture, from teams that were aligned, externally-focused, and successful in the market to those which were more dysfunctional, internally-focused and operating in constant conflict. In every case, it was the leader that drove the culture.

The problem is that internal negative conflict and office politics can kill a company’s morale and performance. CPP Inc., the creators of the Myer-Briggs Assessment, published a study on workplace conflict a few years back. Their findings were interesting. According to the 5,000 employees surveyed:

  • 85% experienced some level of regular internal conflict at work
  • 29% dealt with internal conflict on a frequent or continual basis
  • 12% said that disagreement among senior managers was frequent or continual
  • 16% said a recent dispute escalated in duration and/or intensity
  • 27% have seen conflict lead to personal attacks
  • 25% have seen conflict result in sickness or absence
  • 9% have seen conflict lead to a project failure

Their findings showed that U.S. employees spent an average of 2.8 hours a week dealing with internal conflict costing companies more than $359 billion in productivity.

While internal conflict can’t be totally eliminated, it’s the role of the leader to align the team to focus on achieving the organizational goals.   The energy spent fighting internal battles needs to be redirected towards activities that add value and move the team forward. Here are some ways a leader can transform a conflicted workplace:

Set the Example. As a leader, employees are not only listening to what you say but also watching what you do. If your team sees you regularly bad-mouthing your peers or spending energy fighting turf wars, they see that as acceptable behavior.

Focus on the Competitors. If your organization is spending time fighting internally, your competitors are probably winning. I regularly remind my teams that, “the enemy is outside the four walls.” I explain that the problem isn’t with marketing, production, engineering, accounting, sales or any other internal department or group; it’s the competitors we need to worry about.

Focus on the Customer. The customer is the final judge of the performance of an organization. I’ve seen many internal battles fought over the right way to do something without ever involving any customers. Getting your team to spend time with customers changes this. It will help you gain a common understanding of what customers really want which will focus your organizational energy on meeting those needs.

Get the Organizational Structure Right. Often times, the organizational structure itself can create conflict. This is especially true with large global organizations. I’ve seen situations where teams were brought together to accomplish a task, all having different reporting structures, different bosses, different priorities, and limited authority. Conflict and escalation was inevitable. As a leader, it is important to ensure a clear organization structure with simple reporting lines, common goals, and delegated authority to get the job done.

Align the Incentives. In large corporations, it is not uncommon to have a variety of incentive plans for different departments, functions, activities, and levels. It is also not uncommon for people on the same team to have incentives that are in conflict with each other. The sales manager, for example, might be incentivized on order dollars while the operations manager might be measured on revenue margin percentage. This could set up a serious internal conflict, for example, when considering a large order with low margins. Part of the role of leadership is to ensure that, for the most part, the incentive structure aligns the team around a shared set of common objectives.

As a leader, it’s important to get the most out of your organization. If your teams are constantly fighting, politicking, positioning, and expending energy locking horns on every issue, you may be operating in an internally conflicted workplace. It’s your job to fix this by aligning the team and turning the energy into creating value for your customers and stakeholders. You can do this by setting the example, focusing on the competitors, focusing on the customers, getting the organization structure right, and aligning the incentive plans. It is important you send a clear message that you are all on the same team and the only victory that matters is winning in the market place.

What do you think? Can some conflict be good? Are there other issues that can create internal office conflict, like strong personalities, pressure to perform, or past experiences? What other activities can be done to minimize the internal battles?