ALWAYS LOOKING AHEAD

July 24th, 2014

Reid Hoffman (CEO of LinkedIn) raises an insightful point about job security and the way the world of work has been changing (“Charlie Rose Talks to . . . Reid Hoffman” Bloomberg Businessweek, 7/21/14–7/27/14, p. 32):

Most people haven’t looked square in the face the notion that lifetime employment is gone.  That’s not the way the world works anymore.

As others have observed, rather than pursuing lifetime employment, we should all pursue lifetime employability.  The two terms have very different definitions.  Lifetime employment means that you depend on a company for a guaranteed job for life.  Lifetime employability means that you create your own job opportunities by how you continuously reinvent the corporation of YOU.  The former no longer carries with it a guarantee; the latter has the guarantee that you are in control of your destiny.  Now that is forward thinking.  Speaking of forward thinking, here is Hoffman’s follow-up comment on the topic:

Our head of engineering and operations at LinkedIn actually does something that didn’t occur to me but now I’ve started to do.  In his very first interview with an employee coming to LinkedIn, he asks them what job they want after LinkedIn.





SPRINT’S FOUR WOES

July 23rd, 2014

Sprint keeps talking about its challenges of being in the number-three spot behind Verizon and AT&T.  Sprint customers continue to leave for the competition.  Since 2007, 12 million high-revenue customers have switched to another carrier.  One of the big reasons is dropped calls due to poor network reliability.

My observations do not constitute a scientific study.  Nevertheless, having been involved directly and indirectly in telecom for many years, and having paid attention to anecdotal reports, it does seem that Sprint consistently is associated with a less-than-the-best customer experience.  Mark Davis summarizes Sprint’s four woes (“Merger Dials Up Tough Choices” The Kansas City Star, July 21, 2014, pp. A1, A6):

Sprint is small.

Sprint is losing ground.

Sprint’s network lags.

Sprint’s brand is damaged.” (p. A6)

Each of these deficiencies aligns with my own observations and much of what I have heard other consumers affirm.  One of the most interesting is that the brand has been damaged.  Ironically, even though Sprint is working diligently to improve its network, the very nature of the upgrade process is that network interruptions occur.  I think under normal circumstances this would not be so much of an issue.  However, in Sprint’s case, I think so many customers have experienced so many issues for so many years, that these new network interruptions represent the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

Regardless of which direction Sprint moves, I’m afraid it will not be an easy road.  Brand damage might be so bad, that the best action is for another company to acquire Sprint.  At least that approach might provide the opportunity for the substantive portions of Sprint to be rebranded into a new product or service line.





WATCH AND SEE

July 22nd, 2014

Ernest Hemingway once offered advice to a young writer.  The advice he offered would surely be of help to any writer.  More broadly, the advice he offered is something from which we can all benefit (Letter of advice to a young writer, reported in Malcolm Cowley, “Mister Papa” LIFE magazine, January 10, 1949, Volume 26, No. 2, p. 90, and also in Across the River and Into the Trees, 1967):

When people talk listen completely.  Don’t be thinking what you’re going to say.  Most people never listen.  Nor do they observe.  You should be able to go into a room and when you come out know everything that you saw there and not only that.  If that room gave you any feeling you should know exactly what it was that gave you that feeling.

Do you know that one of the most respectful things you can do to another person is to listen?  I am reminded of Stephen R. Covey’s statement, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”  When we respect another person by listening, then we open the door of possibility to be understood.

How good of an observer are you?  Most of us do poorly at this.  Hemingway challenges you and me to ramp up our observation powers, ramp up our respect, and ramp up our genuine engagement in the moment.

This is something that I am still trying to improve.  I have been amazed at the simple power of observation.  Sometimes, one simple little observation becomes the key to a new door of opportunity.

Watch and see.





SPRINT MUST SPRINT

July 21st, 2014

Sprint keeps talking about its challenges of being in the number-three spot behind Verizon and AT&T.  Sprint customers continue to leave for the competition.  Since 2007, 12 million high-revenue customers have switched to another carrier.  One of the big reasons is dropped calls due to poor network reliability (Mark Davis “Can Sprint Reconnect?” The Kansas City Star, July 20, 2014, pp. A1, A12, A13).

My observations do not constitute a scientific study.  Nevertheless, having been involved directly and indirectly in telecom for many years, and having paid attention to anecdotal reports, it does seem that Sprint consistently is associated with a less-than-the-best customer experience.

Sprint contends that it is working diligently on its network so that the customer experience will radically improve.  How quickly that happens remains to be seen.  Hopefully, for Sprint’s sake, the improvements will happen sooner rather than later.





COMCAST CUSTOMER-EXPERIENCE LESSONS

July 18th, 2014

Yesterday I posted about Ryan Block’s horrific experience in attempting to disconnect his Comcast service.  He encountered an exceptionally driven associate in the retention department.  The over-the-top persistence manifested by the retention associate created an extremely frustrating and painful experience for Block.

If you have not already heard the call, I have a link at the bottom of this post.  Please be forewarned that listening to the call is as painful as it is humorous.  The Comcast event does serve to remind us of some basic principles of the customer experience:

Respect.  All of us want to feel respected.  When an overzealous associate persistently pushes for a different decision than the customer has made, this violates the respect principle.  First, the customer feels that her own decision powers are suspect.  Second, the customer feels that her time is not valued.

Spirit Of The Law.  Granted, associates are normally given guidelines and policies to follow.  Nevertheless, professional judgment should direct how those are applied.  When associates repeatedly pound away on the customer to uphold guidelines and policies, that means a serious oversight has occurred.  That associate has embraced the letter of the law without giving any credence to the spirit of the law.  This is a major mistake.

Leaving Well.  The adage remains true: do not burn any bridges.  If a customer has made a decision to sever his relationship with your company, then work hard to ensure that the disconnection process proceeds quickly, easily, and yes, even pleasantly.  You want your customer to have every opportunity for positive memories about his final experience.  You never know if and how he might choose to return.  Do everything possible to make that return more likely, rather than less likely.





DISCONNECT MEANS DISCONNECT

July 17th, 2014

When Ryan Block attempted to disconnect his service with Comcast, he encountered an exceptionally driven associate in the retention department.  The problem as I see it was that this associate was so driven, he had stopped listening to Mr. Block.

It is one thing to be genuinely friendly and empathetic as you work to retain a customer and restore a professional relationship.  All of us can appreciate that.  In those circumstances, even if the customer remains committed to disconnecting service, at least the associate works quickly and pleasantly to make it happen.

In this case, the retention associate spent excessive time trying to analyze Mr. Block’s decision and how it had to be a bad decision.  He spent excessive time trying to coax Mr. Block into revealing detailed reasons for his decision.  Even when Mr. Block simply stated that he did not want to answer certain questions, the associate continued to press for answers.  Moreover, the questions genuinely had no bearing on performing the disconnection.

If you have not already heard the call, I have a link at the bottom of this post.  Please be forewarned that listening to the call is as painful as it is humorous.





PRICY INTERNSHIPS

July 16th, 2014

Since when did internships become such high-on-the-hog gigs?  Since they have been offered by cutting-edge, high-tech companies such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Google, Microsoft, VMware, and others.  Based on data from Glassdoor, here are average monthly stipends for summer interns (Sarah Frier “OmggggBEST Summer Everrrrrrr!!!!” Bloomberg Businessweek, 7/14/14–7/20/14, pp. 31–32):

Apple—$5,723

Ebay—$6,126

Microsoft—$6,138

Facebook—$6,213

Palantir—$7,012 (p. 32)

Not a bad way to spend a summer if you are a struggling student.  Companies are willing to pay these wages because they have their eye on the talent pool.  Some are recruiting students even before their freshman year in college, and in some cases, during their high school years.

Michael Sayman taught himself to build apps when he was 13.  Now at 17 and newly graduated from high school, Sayman is working an internship at Facebook.  He is hoping for a fulltime job offer there eventually.

The age differences sometimes create humorous situations.  For example, Sayman summarizes his current internship this way:

‘I try to keep my mouth closed during meetings because I don’t want people to see [my braces] and not take me seriously.  . . . I’m 17, and these guys are the best of the best.  . . . I don’t know the things that they talk about that are old, like cassette tapes, but we get along.’





LETTING THE MARKET SET A FAIR WAGE

July 15th, 2014

Some fast-food restaurants are choosing to pay their workers something better than the minimum wage.  For example, in New Hampshire, word on the street is that McDonald’s workers are earning $7.25 hourly while Boloco burrito workers earn $9.00 hourly.  In some cases, this strategy seems to be working because it reduces turnover and enhances teamwork, all of which add to a more positive customer experience.

Other fast-food restaurants are considering how they might revise their pay scale.  What I like about that is that they are assessing all factors involved, including the marketplace.  This is a superior approach to an arbitrary imposition of a doubling of the minimum wage or a $15.00 minimum wage.  The former approach has intelligent, market analysis connected to it whereas the latter has none.

Although I always advocate for paying workers the very best wages possible, the fact remains wages are forever on the expense side of the ledger.  Business owners cannot just inflate wages without any regard for the bigger picture.  Every penny paid in wages reduces the company’s profit margin.  This is always true, but it is particularly, painfully true in the fast-food business where profit margins are razor thin.

Workers receive wages because they work for them.  Wages are not handouts.  I fear some value shifts over generations have resulted in a contemporary mentality of “you owe it to me” when in fact I do not.

Paying a high school student $8 an hour to flip burgers is fair.  Paying an attorney $200 an hour to handle a civil lawsuit is fair.  Paying workers for the value of their contribution is always fair.  However, to decide arbitrarily that all fast-food workers should receive double compensation is not at all fair.

Even if we immediately double the minimum wage for all fast-food workers, does anyone really believe that extra money materializes out of thin air?  Someone always pays.  In this case, it would be customers paying significantly higher prices for their fast food, restaurants laying off workers to reduce their labor costs, or some combination of the two.  There is no free lunch.

Granted, we all have situations and circumstances beyond our control.  Nevertheless, we all have a tremendous amount of situations and circumstances that are within our control.  I can choose to flip burgers forever, but I can also choose to pursue my dreams for a better future.  Some of those dreams might involve going to college, starting a business, working three jobs, or relocating.  The more passion and dedication I bring to my dreams, the more likely I am to achieve them, and to obtain financial reward.

Finally, let us remember that a wage is an incentive.  Workers do their jobs hopefully because they enjoy them, but assuredly because they value the paycheck.  The paycheck allows workers to live the lifestyle they want to live.  Precisely because a wage is an incentive, people pursue training, education, apprenticeships, and entrepreneurial endeavors to enlarge that wage.  Part of the indirect benefit of the lower fast-food wage is the very fact that it forces that worker to ponder whether he or she wants to remain in that wage bracket forever.  In many cases, the worker opts to improve his or her skillsets to command a better wage.  The fast-food wage itself is an incentive to advance to a better wage.





WHEN SPEED IS NOT KING

July 14th, 2014

Some of the strategies to keep workers efficient are effective and even humorous.  Some companies dictate that all meetings should take place in a room without chairs so that everyone must stand.  Others will require a large physical timer that ticks menacingly throughout the meeting.

I believe we all have those times when we must prompt our colleagues and ourselves to keep meetings moving along for the sake of efficiency.  We do not always need an hour to handle a few simple items on the agenda.  On the other hand, I think we can undermine our ultimate quality if we make speed king.  I agree with Adam Grant (professor at Wharton who studies workplace behavior) who warns that the constant attempt to keep meetings fast may come at the expense of quality results (Belinda Lanks, “You Can’t Beat the Clock” Bloomberg Businessweek, 7/7/14–7/13/14, p. 78):

‘When you rely too heavily on a device like a timer, you discourage people from raising minority opinions and maybe challenging the majority.’

In those cases, we may end up excelling with time while killing the company via faulty decisions.  Sometimes you genuinely need more time to mine the gold.  As the late notorious gunslinger, Wyatt Earp, once quipped:

Fast is fine, but accuracy is everything.





MBAs CONTINUE TO GLOBALIZE

July 11th, 2014

Business globalization continuously demands globally strategic decisions.  Hand in hand with that, higher education must keep pace for maximum success.  That is why I was so excited to see the recent development between Washington University Saint Louis and the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay.

In a joint venture, the two universities will begin offering an executive MBA program beginning in early 2015.  This approach is not new to the University of Washington but it marks new territory for India as Molly Duffy explains (“Wash U to Offer Exec MBA with Center in India” The Kansas City Star, July 8, 2014, p. C4):

The program will be modeled after Washington University’s joint executive MBA program with Fudan University in Shanghai that launched in 2002.  That program is offered in St. Louis, Kansas City and Denver.  This will be India’s first executive MBA offered by an American university.

Given IIT’s stellar record in engineering and technology and Washington University’s reputation, this should be a partnership that produces many dividends.  That means a win for higher education and a win for business internationally.