Epic Fails

It’s hard to miss all the discussion around United Airlines the past few weeks over what happened when a flight got overbooked and they needed to address the issue: big failure.  The publicity around the event has been crazy, and rightfully so.  There are tons of ways this could have been handled and wasn’t.  In business I think most of us try to do our best when it comes to working with our customers, so maybe you got a chuckle over what happened, after you got over your disbelief.  After all, who would handle this situation like that?  Let’s take a look at a few thoughts on the whole event.

First, let’s talk about the situation and actions taken.  Would the violence and severity of the actions taken have been the right course of action if it were a life and death issue, yes.  As many reports have revealed there were at least a handful of other options that could have been pursued before this degree of action was taken.

Second, as you may know, I’m a big believer in not trying to be everything for everyone.  I don’t think we business owners need to try to please everyone or offer our product/service to everyone.  What we offer isn’t for everyone.  So when we run across the stubborn individual who decides they absolutely have to work with/buy from even though it’s not a good match and then ends up leaving a nasty review because (as we knew) we weren’t what they were really looking for, it’s frustrating.  However, while we may not have to offer something to everyone, that doesn’t give us the right or reason to treat our non-ideal customers or interested parties in a rude, aggressive, or disrespectful manner.  Just because there’s an issue with them it doesn’t mean that we can ignore that they’re human too.  And as long as they’re not being aggressive or threatening, there’s no reason or right to treat them in that manner, nor are the issues something you need to air in the public space.

Finally, the ever challenging concept of handling problems.  We won’t get it right 100% of the time, but we can do more to get it right more often.  As I said there were some options left to United before they escalated to the level that they did, yet they chose not to take those options.  Often there’s a simple way to resolve the issue and usually it involves money in the form of a refund or credit.  Some companies have chosen to offer free returns as a way to alleviate any initial fears buyers may have about purchases.  Another simple solution is to give people the answer they’re looking for, sometimes all that is necessary to make the customer happy is a little troubleshooting and being available to listen to their feedback.  They may not respond and they may not change their negative review (some people prefer to be unhappy and leave a nasty (and often irrelevant) review), but you’ll have at least extended the olive branch.

Procedures and policies are in place for a reason and when they’re not followed we end up with unnecessary issues like United, and often those issues revolve around how we treat others.  I encourage you to take time to evaluate your policies this week and make sure you’re really prepared for situations that could occur, and that you’re first and foremost handling them with communication and compassion.

An Unsinkable Business?

This weekend I was watching some TV shows about nautical history and two of the boats they talked about were the Titanic and Bismark, both of whom were called by titles like “unsinkable” and “impenetrable.”  It got me thinking about our businesses and what we believe about them.  Do we believe we’re infallible? Do we expect to be or feel required to be perfect? Do we think we’re untouchable?  If so I believe we’re setting ourselves up for a hard fall someday, giving people possibly unrealistic expectations about us, and setting us up for extra and unnecessary criticism if and when we do fail (no matter how large or small the fail was).  Instead of trying to live up to these demanding titles, I believe we should focus instead on being known for things like our customer attention, great products and/or services, humility and continual improvement.

Do I think the outcome of the Titanic would have been different if it wasn’t billed as unsinkable?  Not necessarily, the same decisions might have been made regardless and nature does what it pleases without any input from us.  The loss of life isn’t any less or more tragic because the ship was called unsinkable either.  It’s still an incredible tragedy and reminder of how important it is to treasure your life.

This is one of the reasons I don’t like the effort that people put into going “viral” with their businesses. It’s often not achievable, and even if it is achieved they can’t replicate the results later, the results only last for so long and they’re known as one-hit-wonders in the business world.  It’s great to get a lot of attention for a worthy cause or be able to get some very helpful or necessary products in front of lots of people.  But of all the things that have “gone viral” the only one I can name off the top of my head is the Ice Bucket Challenge.

So with the holidays and the end of the year coming up I encourage you to consider if going for “the big win” is really what you want to do and what’s best for your business and customers.  Think about your long and short term goals and make sure that the effort you may put into going for the big win is really worth it and if you really think you’ll be “that guy” and catch the eye of a billionaire who wants to buy you out or celebrity that wants to promote you to all their fans.  If not, maybe there’s a better way you can use the time, money and effort you were going to put into becoming the next big thing.

A Job Well Done?

Today I’m writing from a friend’s kitchen.  I’m seeing the inside of their house for the first time after they began a big renovation a year or so ago.  As I walked through the house I looked for places and spaces that would connect me with the old house, because they built up and around the old one.  Now, I don’t know all the details and do know that there were some issues that delayed the finish, but I was surprised how much of the house wasn’t done yet.  Painting, area rugs and furniture I could understand, but I can’t understand the missing back splash in the kitchen, a missing shower door and temporary fixtures in a bathroom.

As we talk about health this month one of the important areas of our lives to talk about is our work lives.  Whether you look at it from the perspective of owning a business or working for someone else, I would not feel good about leaving the house in the condition that it is in and calling the job complete.  Yes, I would be proud of what has been accomplished so far, but not as satisfied or proud of what it could be if the job had really been completed.  I’m not talking about perfection here, but about completing the entire task to the best of your ability, being able to look at what should be the finished product and be satisfied with the work I have done.

I believe it’s important to be proud of the work you do and to celebrate the work you do.   Too many people don’t seem to get any recognition for a job well done, even if they were doing just what they were asked to do.  But I believe all of it should be celebrated, not just the big stuff or the stuff done by the big bosses.  But you can’t celebrate what isn’t complete or what isn’t done well, it’s just not right.  We don’t celebrate when we get some of the cancer or beat 20% of the other teams in the league, we celebrate most when all of the cancer is gone or beat all the other teams, because we know we’ve done our best and accomplished what we set out to do. So I guess the question is are you satisfied with what you have done and what you’re doing in your life or are you dragging through the day because you don’t have any pride for what you’re doing?  If you aren’t satisfied what are you going to do or think different to change that?

Creative Mistakes

When was the last time you made a mistake?  Was it recent?  It probably was, I know I’ve made a bunch of mistakes today!  As adults we often see all mistakes as bad and really wrong, can you remember the last time you laughed at a mistake you made or it honestly didn’t bother you?  Kids are really good at letting things go.  They have very short memories about most things, or at the very least don’t let it bother them as long as we hold onto things.

Kids are good at making messes and mistakes, at least they’re mistakes as far as we view them, they may not view them that way though.  Often what we see as something not quite right that kids have done is their way of being creative, their way of trying new things and their way of learning about the world.  By letting them discover on their own we’re helping build their creative muscles and letting them learn how things work and about cause and effect.

The other great thing about kids is that they’re not worried about right or wrong to the same degree that we are or in the same context.  We’re so worried about things going right or being perfect in our eyes or the eyes of the world that we don’t open ourselves up to trying new things and doing things differently like our kids do.  So the next time you face a change instead of just doing what you’ve always done or doing things the same way, try a different approach and see what kind of results you can create.

“Because of their courage, their lack of fear, they (creative people) are willing to make silly mistakes. The truly creative person is one who can think crazy; such a person knows full well that many of his great ideas will prove to be worthless. The creative person is flexible; he is able to change as the situation changes, to break habits, to face indecision and changes in conditions without undue stress. He is not threatened by the unexpected as rigid, inflexible people are.”  Frank Goble

Telling the Truth in Business

Do you know what can sink your business really fast? Lies. When you lie about how effective a product or service is or what you’re going to do or who you are, people not only won’t buy from you again but they tell their friends too. And as we know negative news spreads faster than the positive news. I know some people will tell you that too much truth is a bad thing or that some mystique is a good thing. I agree that a little mystery can be a good thing, but what you offer and who you are should not be one of those mysteries.

The whole truth and nothing but the truth:
I understand that you want to keep some secret sauce for your clients. I have no problem with that. Some people find success in sharing their secrets, others have learned what “enough” is that they can share and interest people with what they offer. One of the things I advise some of my clients on is using Facebook. The first thing usually asked or considered is “what do you think of my page?” My answer is usually “I can’t really tell what makes you special” (or tell what you really offer at all), and sometimes also includes “and all your posts are promotional” (which isn’t a good thing). Most people don’t give sufficient information about their business whether we’re talking promotional materials, social media or in client conversations.

Do it right the first time:
If at all possible it’s always desirable to get things right the first time. The reality is that we don’t always get things right the first time and do have to fix things and sometimes start from scratch. But you’ll be more satisfied with doing the job right the first time than you would be if you gave it a half effort. Not giving it your best effort means you’ll also never know if you could have been successful if you gave it a little more effort.

Anything worth doing is worth doing right:
This is another of my favorite sayings. Too often we throw something together quick without really thinking it through or doing the research. Sometimes, as I’ve said in the past, the research is as simple as reading what’s been written and already provided to you. I don’t believe in perfection so that’s not what I’m saying and I think questions are great, so I’m not judging that either. But if you’re really serious about helping people with your product or service you owe it to them (and will save yourself lots of time) if you disclose as much as possible.

Do everyone a favor and check your business for lies, misleading information and invisible information. What do your customers and potential customers think of your business?


Learning from Failures

I’m not perfect, I’ve made lots of mistakes. The fact that I learn something new everyday and there’s lots that I know I don’t know about means that I’ll be learning for the rest of my life and still not learn everything. The same is probably true for you. Life is one learning experience after another. Every day brings new opportunities, new chances and new people into our lives and it’s up to us to choose if we want to use them to the best advantage or if we are going to waste them.

What do you do with the mistakes you make, with the lessons you learn and the things you see other people do and fail? Do you mentally put them into a file to pull out in the future when you face a similar situation? Or do you just shudder and hope that never happens to you? The only way that we can make the world into a better place is if we make wiser choices in the future.

Change happens whether we want it to or not, the choice we have is how we go through that change. Do we try our best or do we let it run us ragged? Hopefully it only takes a couple times of being run ragged for us to learn our lesson and start being more proactive and attentive to what goes on around us and how it affects us. You don’t have to get it right the first time, everyone fails occasionally. But if you do want to get it right at some point in time you have to keep trying.  Don’t be discouraged by your failures unless you’re not using them to make fewer failures.

“Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.” Will Rogers

Failing for the Future

Last week I talked about some things that kids think about parents or adults. We learn many things from our parents, that’s their role: to teach us and help us grow into people capable of taking on the world. Yes, the world has changed since they were kids so their childhood experiences may not totally line up with ours, but many of the concepts and lessons are still applicable and need to be learned now more than ever. One of the things that kids today need to be taught is about what to do with failures. You will fail or someone will fail you sooner rather than later. So what can we teach our kids and maybe learn ourselves?

Failure will happen. It’s part of the learning experience that is life. In one way or another you’ll fail or let someone down somehow. Once you’ve done that you have to figure out where to go from there. You can of course ignore the failure and hope it goes away or doesn’t get caught. It’s something we all try at least once because it’s not really pleasant to realize you’ve made a mistake or admit to it. You can also choose to live less life and not try new things because of it. Or you can learn from it and be prepared so you hopefully don’t make the same mistake again.

If we choose to live less life because of our failures and mistakes we’re letting fear win. When fear wins the world stays flat, doesn’t fly, can’t take pictures, and can’t cure cancer. Yet today because some people chose to overcome their fears, we know those things aren’t true.

So as adults our best bet is to face our fears and failures and keep living anyway. Not to ignore the failures or not apologize when necessary, but to choose to do better next time because we can.

“I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. ‘Tis the business of little minds to shrink, but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death.” Thomas Paine

A Parent Was Once A Kid

Recently I heard about a survey given to a group of 10 year olds about “what’s wrong with grownups.”  Here were some of their answers:

1. Grownups make promises, then forget them, or say it wasn’t a promise, just a “maybe.”
2. Grownups don’t do the things they tell their children to do—like pick up their things or always tell the truth.
3. Grownups don’t listen. They decide ahead of time what they’re going to answer.
4. Grownups make mistakes, but won’t admit them. They pretend they weren’t mistakes at all—or that somebody else made them.
5. Grownups always talk about what they did and what they knew when they were ten-years-old, but they don’t try to think what it’s like to be ten-years-old right now.

There are a ton of things we could discuss from this incredibly insightful (and embarrassing) survey, but I just want to focus on a few key things we can do to set better examples for the kids in our lives.

First: perfection and aiming for the moon are great, but usually unrealistic.  Instead, promise what you know you can deliver, and if possible surprise them with something extra.

Second: words are powerful, so when we do or don’t follow through with what we’ve said kids think they don’t have to either (which leads to lots of fights and usually punishments).

Third: be open to all possibilities.  The more you close yourself off to what could be the less likely that you’ll get what you really want in life.  You’ll also end up alienating yourself from friends and family the less you’re willing to listen to and/or accept them for who they are and what they say.

Fourth: life has changed.  Kids today live a different life than even college students today did when they were their age.  So if that’s the case imagine how much has changed since when you were a kid!

Much has changed since you and I were kids, some things for the better and others not, and some things haven’t changed, like the value of love, honesty and family.  This weekend I encourage you to pay more attention to how you’re interacting with your kids, what you’re teaching them about responsibility, and which of your own advice you need to follow more.

Building Your Business Beyond the Fears

Today I want to talk about a very important topic: fear. We all get scared from time to time, whether it’s of something in the world like spiders or drowning, or something less physical like not making that month’s rent or not being able to complete work for a client. It’s true that sometimes fears become reality, but more often than not we’re blowing things completely out of proportion. So let’s be honest, what’s holding you back in your business and why?

Yes, fears can be a good thing because they’ll warn you about potential issues and things you may not have thought of when pursuing what you thought was a great idea for your business. It’s very important to really consider what could go wrong so that you can decide if it’s really want you want to do or if the risks, problems and challenges outweigh the potential benefits that could be had even if everything went exactly right, or better than could be anticipated. Knowing the potential issues can be a really big benefit to starting or growing a business. It’s when all you see are problems and fears that it becomes an issue.

Part of the issue is that fears distract you from getting things done. If you’re so focused on what could go wrong you’ll never give anything a chance, and sometimes it seems like luck is the reason things are successful. But usually there’s a lot more to it than that, including lots of hard work. It’s healthy to work hard, have big dreams, and deal with a few fears. If that’s not part of your life you, and your business, are not as healthy as you could be.

So this week I encourage you to dream big. Pull up those ideas that you’ve put aside and take another look at them. Figure out if they’re a good fit for your business, even if they’re a little scary, and how you can make them happen. Don’t give up on them because they were too big before, take a new look at them and maybe ask a friend, coworker, or consultant to look at them too and see what you’re missing that would make it achievable.

“Too many entrepreneurs with brilliant ideas never act on them because they foresee risk, challenges, hassles, problems, and possible failure and disappointment. It’s critical to shift your imagination…” Chris Howard

When Teams Fail

What happens when teamwork goes bad? This is something we’ve all heard about: the team just can’t pull it off. Maybe it’s wrong timing, maybe it’s the team, maybe it’s the goal or maybe it’s the leadership. There are lots of reasons why a team doesn’t succeed and sometimes there isn’t an answer as to why they did. I don’t wait around for it but I do believe that luck, good fortune, right timing, karma, or whatever you call it, exists. We’ve talked a lot about the benefits of teamwork, why teamwork is important, and how to have a better team this month, but we haven’t addressed the big issue of teamwork failures, so that’s what we’re going to take a look at today.

Let’s face it: not all teams are successful. Some statistics show we have a better chance of being successful when we’re working with and supported by a team, but sometimes the team just isn’t right and doesn’t succeed. It could be that the members of the team didn’t give their all, or much effort at all. It could be the fault of one member who is really against the goals of the team, or forced to be on the team and therefore shares their misery with everyone they come into contact with. It could be the goals just being too daunting for the team and their limited resources to accomplish. Or it could be bad, unsupportive or ineffective leadership. At one point in time or another most of us have experienced these situations and been frustrated by them, after all, very few people like to fail and team failures can be especially frustrating.

But the fact is that teams do fail. They have their bad days and bad seasons just like we individuals do. But the hallmark of a true team is what that team does with the loss. Do they drag out the failures, making mistake after mistake, or do they choose to pick themselves up because they realize they’re living the definition of insanity? It’s not easy to make changes in a team, after all there are more than one or two people there to work into the changes. But because so many people are involved it’s always better to make changes before things get so bad you can’t turn them around. Don’t wait to be falling off the deep end with your team before you start to make changes. Have a protective stop loss that you’ve chosen and be in communication with the team about how you’re going to move forward and what’s best for not only the individuals but the whole team.

Failure is inevitable, but it’s up to you how bad the failure is when it happens. Choose victories and success over catastrophic failure, even if it means making some hard changes.

“Teamwork makes the dream work, but a vision becomes a nightmare when the leader has a big dream and a bad team.” John C. Maxwell