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Is your Project Doomed

It’s summer time, so I am always on the look-out for something amusing.  Glen Alleman is a serious project manager who unearthed a humorous – but essentially profound – set of Laws of Project Management, which he calls Brasington’s Laws, after Bil Brasington who first articulated them.  I won’t steal all of his thunder by listing them all – they are well worth a look, on Glen’s Blog, Herding Cats.

Brasington’s 1st, 3rd and 7th Laws

Brasington’s First Law
‘No major project is ever installed on time, within budget, or with the staff that started it. Yours will not be the first.’

Brasington’s Third Law
‘One advantage of fuzzy project objectives is that they let you avoid the embarrassment of estimating the corresponding costs.’

Brasington’s Seventh Law
‘A carelessly planned project will take three times longer to complete than expected; a carefully planned project will take only twice as long.’

Beating Brasington

Of course, you can’t – they’re laws, after all.  However, good project managers will at least try to hold their own against the chaos.  This means a carefully planned project is in order.

To do this, you need to set aside the third law and start with the clearest articulation of project objectives that you can create.  To do this, you need to bring together the key stakeholders to agree what success will look like.  How will each stakeholder evaluate the outcome, and what criteria will they use to measure success?

OnTarget
Photo credit: viZZZual.com

Objective Setting = Negotiation

Sadly, you will rarely work with a set of stakeholders with a single vision of success.  As a project manager, you need to conduct a set of negotiations to bring all stakeholders into alignment around a core set of objectives that they can all agree on.  Once you have done that, you must then create and agree with them a process for agreeing any variations to this.  If you don’t, then you will surely fall prey to …

Brasington’s 5th Law

Brasington’s Fifth Law
’If project content is allowed to change freely, the rate of change will exceed the rate of progress.’

Conducting Negotiations

9781903776872

This is a nice metaphor for much of what real project management really is – and is the image that Pocketbooks illustrator, Phil Hailstone, placed on the cover of The Project Management Pocketbook, by Keith Posner and Mike Applegarth.

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This excellent Pocketbook has more on defining outcomes, setting objectives and working with stakeholders.

Other Management Pocketbooks
Project Managers might Enjoy

You may also enjoy the author’s own Project Management blog, Shift Happens!

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Coping in Tough Times

Personal success is about more than taking advantage of opportunities.  One of the most powerful personal attributes is resilience – the ability to take the knocks that fate lands on you, and then get back on your feet and keep going.

Mistakes; I’ve made a few

Photo credit Nicobobinus

Of course, it is okay to make mistakes and, if you aren’t making any then you are either playing it too safe to really succeed, or you are supernaturally lucky.  The first key to coping in tough times is to be able to evaluate risks and  to take a few, knowing that one or two failures are not a sign of inevitable doom.

If, on the other hand, a pattern of failures seems to dominate your career, then maybe it is time to evaluate your decision making process.  Probably, either your criteria are wrong, or you are not fully evaluating all of the evidence before you take your risks.

The Grass is always Greener

Few people worry about how well they are doing until they suspect that their peers are doing better.  When things are easy, it is no problem to set ourselves goals and evaluate progress against them, but as things start going bad, we often feel tempted to glance over the fence to see how the folk next door are doing.  Unless you can deliberately learn from their experience, this is a destructive strategy.  If they are doing better than you, you’ll resent it: if worse, you’ll be tempted to complacency.

Continue to set yourself goals and monitor your progress against your own standards.

The Universe doesn’t hate you

In fact, it’s pretty indiscriminate.  So do not feel that adversity is your fault, or that you are fated to have bad luck.  Instead, believe in your ability to control aspects of your future, and focus on those aspects.  Let the things you cannot control happen.

There’s no point in staying angry

Oliver Burkeman in Saturday’s Guardian reported on research which shows that forgiveness really does help us, by making us less likely to suffer from high blood pressure, clinical depression and other health problems.  So don’t get angry, don’t stay angry and let go of past injustices and misfortunes.

Personal Success is a Set of Skills

There are a pocketful of Pocketbooks to help you achieve success, starting with The Personal Success Pocketbook, in which you will learn that Abraham Lincoln suffered twelve major failures before being elected President – that’s resilience.  Of course, we could argue that perhaps he’d have lived a longer life if he’d taken heed!

More Management Pocketbooks you might enjoy

The Impact & Presence Pocketbook

The Networking Pocketbook

The Career Transition Pocketbook

The Positive Mental Attitude Pocketbook

The Self Managed Development Pocketbook

The Energy and Wellbeing Pocketbook

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I can’t do that now

The NLP wave rises and falls and, frankly, I’ve lost track of whether it is near a popularity peak or a sceptical slump.  Of all the ideas that managers use, this is the one that comes in and out of vogue most often – on a two or three year cycle, it seems to me.

Why does NLP peak and trough so much?

Many practitioners do NLP no great service in making some extravagant claims for what it can achieve, whilst others doggedly push away at the very real benefits of improved communication, processes and insights that an understanding of its models can offer us.  The world becomes exhausted by and cynical of the excessive zeal of some trainers, then recovers, as other trainers help build a new cohort of learners who can see real benefits.

Gillian Burn’s NLP Pocketbook is a contribution to ‘real benefits’ end of the spectrum, and has a nice take on one of the most powerful NLP models.

Logical Levels of Change

This model has many uses, so let’s pick one: let’s say that you ask someone to do something.  Let’s further assume that your request is reasonable, and that your relationship with them is good, so you have every reason to expect them to comply.  So it comes as a surprise when they say:

‘I can’t do that now.’

Handling Resistance

This sounds like resistance, so rule number one is to respect the resister and assume that their reason for resisting is a good one.  But what is it.  On the face of things, their statement gives you no clues; but if you listened very carefully, they probably told you exactly where the problem is.

Listen Carefully

What you are listening for is where they put the emphasis of their statement.  It may be very subtle, but can be remarkably obvious.  They may have said any of these statements:

‘I can’t do that now.’
Meaning: ‘there is a problem with the time or place.’

‘I can’t do that now.’
Meaning: ‘I have a problem with what you want me to do’

‘I can’t do that now.’
Meaning: ‘I don’t have the ability to do it’

‘I can’t do that now.’
Meaning: ‘I don’t believe I can do it’

I can’t do that now.’
Meaning: ‘this is not something I can do’

Once you know where the problem lies, you can tackle it more confidently.

What else?

Could there be another reason?  What if there appears to be no emphasis.  The Logical Levels model suggests a sixth possible level, deeper than the five we have seen.  If we characterise these five as:

Environment – Action – Capability – Belief – Identity

… the sixth level is Purpose, or meaning.

People need a Purpose

We all need a meaning to our lives and a purpose for doing something.  In their mind, they are possibly asking ‘why?’ If you are unable to supply a good reason, then you should not be surprised to encounter resistance.  One of the powerful words we looked at in an earlier blog is because.’

Management Pocketbooks you might enjoy

The NLP Pocketbook

The NLP Pocketbook
is full of easy to follow descriptions and examples from the best tools that NLP has to offer.

NLP, by the way, stands for Neuro Linguistic Programming

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There is also a chapter on the NLP model of communication in:

You might also like:

So here’s the deal

Listen carefully when people resist you, act on the information you gather: not your assumptions, consider the powerful tools NLP can offer you.

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The Power of a Single Word

There are some words in our language that seem to have special powers that elevate them above the ordinary day-to-day words.  They are a bit like super-heroes and super-villains, in the world of mere humans.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MAY 29: A man dressed as Clark Kent poses as Melburnians participate in a Guinness World Record attempt for the most number of people dressed in superhero costume at Federation Square on May 29, 2010 in Melbourne, Australia. The event was organised to mark the 75th anniversary of DC Comics. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Because

What would encourage you to do someone a favour? Helen Langer, Arthur Blank and Benzion Chanowitz did an experiment asking 120 students if they could jump the queue to use a library photocopier. The experimenter asked in three different ways:

  1. May I use the machine?
    Giving no reason
  2. May I use the machine, because I have to make copies?
    Giving no real reason
  3. May I use the machine, because I’m in a rush?
    Giving a reason

When the request was a small one – with only five sheets to copy – 60% of the students asked obliged without hearing a reason (Request number 1). With a reason (Request Number 3), 94% agreed. And with no real reason (Request number 2), 93% were prepared to oblige. The reason is clearly not important; what was important was that there was a reason – the students heard the word “because” and that was enough.

Why

Why is like one of those super-heroes who can turn super-evil at times.

The Good:  Ask the question ‘why?’ about a problem enough times, and then ask why about the answers you get, and then keep repeating.  You will almost always find your way to the root cause of the problem.  This is the basis of the ‘Five Whys’ method.

The Evil:  Ask me ‘why did you do that?’ and you will usually get a defensive answer.  ‘Why?’ feels like an attack on our very values that direct our decision making, so we react against the question and rarely give a resourceful answer.  A better question might be: ‘what were your criteria when you chose to do that?’

But

‘I like your new suit, but…’ As soon as we hear the ‘but’, our brain thinks ‘aha – here comes the truth.’ We switch off to what we have just heard, making the first half of the statement almost invisible.  Better to say ‘and’‘I like your new suit, and if I’d have been choosing, I would have preferred a blue one for myself.’

You

Another super-hero/super-villain.  When I talk about you and what you want and what I can offer you, you feel like I am giving you all of my attention.  ‘You’ has the power to make a reader or listener feel special.

When I use ‘you’ in describing a wrong action or assigning blame, I will trigger your defence mechanisms that start to create conflict.  ‘You never do the washing up.’  ‘You make me so angry, when you….’ Better to say ‘I really prefer it when the washing up is done.’  ‘I get angry when I feel I can’t influence…’

So here’s the deal

Pay attention to the words you use – they really do matter.

What other words have super powers?
Contribute yours to the comments section below.

Management Pocketbooks you might enjoy

Impact & Presence Pocketbook

Communicator’s Pocketbook

Influencing Pocketbook

Handling resistance Pocketbook

Tackling Difficult Conversations Pocketbook

Coaching Pocketbook

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MAY 29: A man dressed as the Incredible Hulk poses as Melburnians participate in a Guinness World Record attempt for the most number of people dressed in superhero costume at Federation Square on May 29, 2010 in Melbourne, Australia. The event was organised to mark the 75th anniversary of DC Comics. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

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Aubrey and Maturin, Arthur and Merlin

I have just finished a ten year endeavour – reading all twenty of Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey – Maturin novels, two a year.  These are set in the time of Napoleon, among characters of Britain’s Royal Navy.  Here, ‘Lucky’ Jack Aubrey is one of Nelson’s Band of Brothers – a fighting Captain sailing a fine frigate with a well-trained crew around the world, fighting for England.  Stephen Maturin is his friend, his ship’s surgeon, a skilled naturalist and an intelligence officer for the Admiralty.

Captain Jack Aubrey (left, played by Russell Crowe) and Dr Stephen Maturin (right, played by Paul Bettany) in the Twentieth Century Fox film ‘Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World ’.

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That’s enough of the ‘fan stuff’.  If you are a fan, you know all of this – if you aren’t, you either don’t care, or will one day pick up the first book in the series, ‘Master and Commander’, and become hopelessly hooked.

By the way, the movie ‘Master and Commander’ was subtitled ‘The Far Side Of The World’ because it was most closely based on the tenth novel of that name.

Back to Management…  and Leadership

There are too many models of leadership to name, but one of the commonest approaches is to consider how to combine and apply different leadership styles to a situation.  These are sometimes called ‘contingency models’ or ‘situational models’.  Whilst the best known are the trademarked and copyrighted models of situational leadership promoted by Paul Hersey and Kenneth Blanchard, they all track back to the earliest and possibly the best; that of Tannenbaum and Schmidt.

Attention to task and Attention to the person

All of these (and we could throw around names like Mouton & Blake, and Fiedler too) combine how much attention we give to getting the job done, focusing on facts and data; and how much we attend to the people concerned and our relationship with them.  My worry is that these do not account for the extraordinary leadership O’Brian’s two characters show throughout over 6,000 pages of historically detailed and compelling novels.

Did Patrick O’Brian get it wrong?

This is a fair question, but I think we have to conclude not.  Not only do the characters ring true to thousands (maybe millions) of readers, but Jack Aubrey at least is based closely on a real person, Lord Thomas Cochrane.  Maybe, then, these models of leadership are missing something.

Arthur and Merlin, Watson and Holmes, Kirk and Spock

Captain Kirk is a fearless warrior, prepared to take on any odds in fighting for what he believes in.  So are King Arthur, Dr Watson and Captain Aubrey.  They mobilise their resources and use whatever skills, knowledge and power they have to protect what they value.  Great leader are fighters, prepared to rally their followers and inspire them with their courage, persistence and, ultimately, sacrifice.

Sherlock Holmes, whilst equally fearless, stands for something creative, insightful and even mystical, in his mastery of the finest detail of his science.  So too with Merlin, Mr Spock and Dr Maturin.  People follow them, not because of their desire to fight, but because of the sacrifice they have made in mastering their science or their art.  They are visionary and knowledgeable to a degree that inspires others to follow them.

Where are the task focused and
people focused leaders in fiction?

They are there, in the background, getting the job done and looking after the walk-on characters.  Dr McCoy, Mrs Hudson, Guinevere, Killick, Pullings, Lancelot, Scotty, Lestrade.  Often they are important characters in bringing balance, but they are not the ones who compel our attention.  They are heroes in their own right, but are loved for their contribution to the whole story and their support of those who dominate.

So here’s the deal

Leadership has many dimensions: fighting for what you believe in, a passionate commitment to a body of knowledge or skills, a deep concern for people, a resolute determination to see a job through, and many more.  Your model of leadership must focus on the style of leader you choose to be.  Don’t accept someone else’s model uncritically – it may not work for you.

But also know that to really lead, you need a supporting cast of other heroes to support you or, from another point of view, you can lead without being a star, in a supporting role that brings balance and wholeness.

… and, if you haven’t already done so, go order a copy of ‘Master and Commander’, read it, become hopelessly hooked, and learn new ways to think about management and leadership.

Management Pocketbooks you might enjoy

The Leadership Pocketbook
– looks at a range of leadership styles

The Management Models Pocketbook
– describes Tannenbaum and Schmidt’s Leadership Continuum, and also John Adair’s Action Centred Leadership

The Motivation Pocketbook
– lots of ways a leader can motivate their followers

The Teambuilding Activities Pocketbook
– activities like sailing a 28 gun frigate into battle, exploring space in a starship, solving a brutal murder, and questing for the holy grail
… are strangely missing from an otherwise excellent selection!

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How Good is your Business Card?

If you are self-employed or own your own business, then networking will be one of your most important activities.  And just as you would not expect a carpenter to turn up to a job without a full set of chisels, so you will need the tools of your networking craft.

By the way – if you get your business card given to you and cannot influence its design, skip down a bit and enjoy the links to some of the most imaginative business cards you’ll ever see.

A Sharp Business Card

If business cards are to networking what chisels are to carpentry, then what does a sharp business card look like?  One way to get a feel for what makes a good or a bad business card is to look at loads.  I never throw a business card away, and from time to time, I try to draw some lessons from them.

Business Cards

Five Lessons for Great Business Cards

  1. Keep it simple
    Don’t have more than three zones of content.  Each zone is a compact block of text or graphics that works together, for example, a logo, or a logo and strap-line may be one block; your contact details may be another.
  2. Make sure that the style gives the right message
    We all read something from style, so make sure that people read the right thing from the style of your card.  Run off a number of mock-ups and give them to friends or colleagues and ask them: ’what does this card say about me?’
  3. Colour is important
    Colour conveys a message about you, so choose it with care and, unless you are using full colour images, keep the number of colours down.  While colour conveys a style, don’t rely on it to convey important information, which should be in a strong dark colour for maximum readability.
  4. Make sure it says what you do
    If I take your business card, I will want a prompt to help me remember what you do and why I found you so interesting.
  5. Use the back
    A standard business card has two sides to it.  One way to get more content or more creativity onto your card is to use both sides.  For the marginal extra cost, you get a lot of extra real estate.

The Sixth Lesson for Great Business Cards

There are no rules to good design, and the best designs follow no rules.  Here are five blogs with wonderful business card designs.

42 Awesome Business Card Designs

Cool business card designs

18 Smokin’ Hot Business Card Designs

Cool Business Cards

100 (Really) Creative Business Cards

Management Pocketbooks you might enjoy

In The Networking Pocketbook, Jon Warner cites the statistic that 90% of us don’t have a calling card.  I suspect that’s mostly the 90% who don’t really need one.  However, far more worrying are his statistics that, of the remaining 10%, 35% show only name, address, and phone number, and 40% are out of date or have incorrect information and therefore have to be amended by hand every time they are given out.  My collection does not quite bear out that statistic, but there are certainly a good handful that have scribbled comments names, numbers or addresses on them.  It looks bad.

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You may also like:

The Personal Success Pocketbook

The Meetings Pocketbook

The Impact and Presence Pocketbook

The Salesperson’s Pocketbook

The Key Account Manager’s Pocketbook

So here’s the deal

Take a critical look at your business card.  Is it time for a refresh?

If no, take a look at some of the cards in the links above and enjoy being awestruck by the creativity.

And, if you have a card you are proud of, or some advice on how to create one, let our readers know by adding a comment below.

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Mending a Relationship Breakdown

Man Getting Pie in the FaceConflict at work, whether between colleagues or with customers or suppliers, can sometimes end in a breakdown of the relationship.  You have two options:

1.  You can walk away
It’s safe, it’s easy, it’s a waste

2.  You can try to fix it
It’s hard, it has the possibility of failure, it can turn disaster into triumph

Your Choice

Which course you take towards managing the end stage of conflict is up to you.  Few would blame you if you were to walk away, but if you choose to try again, consider this: if the relationship has truly broken down, then you have little to lose, so everything to gain.

If you choose to try again, the Management Pocketblog offers you  process that you can follow.  The stronger the prior relationship, the better it can work.

Three Phases to Mending a Breakdown

Phase 1: Reality

If you decide to try to mend the relationship, the first phase is to understand what has happened.  To do this, there are three steps:

  1. Listen to each other
    When you decide to mend the breakdown, take it upon yourself to listen to the other person.
  2. Clarify the facts
    How do each of you perceive the situation, and what would each of you most like to achieve?
  3. Declare a breakdown
    You must end this phase by recognising that a breakdown has occurred and that, whether there is fault or not, both parties have participated and, therefore, both of you must engage if you want to mend it.

Phase 2: Commitment

Building commitment needs an openness to the situation, and a positive statement of intent from both parties.  Respect each other’s perceptions, and try to establish how the objective facts compare to these.  Then offer your commitment to whatever you are prepared to do, to mend the relationship.  When you have done that, ask what commitment the other person is prepared to make.

If your respective commitments complement each other, you have the basis for mending the relationship.

Phase 3: Progress

Now you are ready to make some progress.  Typically, there are three things to put in place:

  1. What’s missing?
    Work together to identify what information, processes, data, options, or solutions are missing, which you will need to mend the relationship fully.
  2. Plans
    Now make your plans for who will do what and when.  Re-iterate promises to honour your respective allocated roles.
  3. Review
    Follow-up with open and honest reviews of progress.  Be generous in recognising what positive steps the other person has taken towards your goal.

So here’s the deal

Mending a broken relationship is not always possible.  There must be a pre-existing strength to the relationship, and both parties must be eager to re-build.  But if these foundations are in place, then it can be done.  It may not be easy, but the results can be well worth the effort.

Management Pocketbooks you may enjoy

The Resolving Conflict Pocketbook has a range of valuable resources to help you understand and resolve conflict.  It also has interesting sections on bullying and harassment, and team conflict.

And if this is not enough for you, there is more than a pocketful of extra help from other Management Pocketbooks:.

For managers,

and, for trainers,

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If it sounds too good to be true …

The old saying goes: ‘if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is’.  But there is another possibility: ‘if it sounds to good to be true, then you haven’t done your homework’.

Catching out the best negotiators

Sometimes in negotiations, you will be caught off guard by an unanticipated comment, statement or offer.  There is very little that is more disconcerting than an offer that is better than you were expecting.  This is because even the best negotiators rarely prepare for this scenario.

The cautious response is to ask yourself: ‘where’s the catch?’ and proceed delicately.  But there may be no catch; the offer may be genuine.  So whatever you do, don’t risk giving offence by challenging the offer.  Unfortunately, when we get caught out, we often respond in an unguarded manner.

What else could be going on?

If there is no catch, then there are two further possibilities:

  1. the offer is a fair one
  2. they know something you don’t and the value is higher than you thought

What should you do?

Obviously, the lesson from this example is to prepare for even this scenario.  As Patrick Forsyth says in The Negotiator’s Pocketbook, ‘successful negotiators do their homework’.

But if you are unprepared, then you certainly don’t want to just jump on the offer.  So, do what you would do with any offer: make a counter offer, by asking for a little more.  What you do not want to do is quickly accept the offer and leave the other person wondering if they have over bid.  If they do that, it can lead to buyer’s remorse – a sense of disappointment with the deal that they have struck, which can lead to them later reneging on the deal or not doing further business with you.  Worse still, you don’t want to accept a great offer that you could have improved still further.

If you sense the offer is a fair one – just a little better than you had anticipated, then your counter offer can be a little higher.  If, on the other hand, you think they know something more about the value than you do, either go considerably higher or, if you can, take a time out to do some more research.

So here’s the deal

There is no substitute for being prepared before you go into a negotiation: both in command of the facts, and mentally prepared to deal with the unexpected.

What are your tips for negotiating, from your own experiences.  Let us and our readers know, by contributing your own comment.

The Negotiator’s Pocketbook

In The Negotiator’s Pocketbook, Patrick Forsyth sets out a seven step process for your negotiation preparation.  This Pocketbook really is full of fabulous insights and tips.

The Handling Resistance Pocketbook

Okay, so we’ve not been talking about resistance but in the forthcoming Handling Resistance Pocketbook (due in the autumn), you’ll learn a great process, called ‘SCOPE the resistance’ to deal with the kind of surprise this blog talks about.

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Read the Handling Resistance Blog at www.handlingresistance.com

Other Management Pocketbooks you might Enjoy

The Influencing Pocketbook

The NLP Pocketbook

The Salesperson’s Pocketbook

The Positive Mental Attitude Pocketbook

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Making Customer Service Count

We recently wrote about the secret of customer care.  Now, Customer Service Pocketbook co-author, Sean McManus, considers the implications of a recent survey from consumer organisation Which.

The Best and the Worst Customer Service

A recent survey by Which named the UK’s best and worst companies for customer service. Top stores included Lakeland, Richer Sounds, Apple, Lush, John Lewis, Body Shop and Ikea. Those at the bottom of the table of 100 companies were Currys Digital (in last place), WH Smith, Focus, PC World, JJB Sports, and Currys.

To compile the chart, Which surveyed over 14,000 members of the public about their shopping experiences in the previous six months. Over 130 people rated each shop in the top and bottom ten.

What Differentiates the Best and the Worst?

Roughly speaking, the bottom ten shops are those that compete strongly on price. The top ten shops compete more strongly on differentiation and specialisation. You could argue, then, that people get the customer service they pay for. Good customer service doesn’t have to be expensive, but in businesses where costs are under pressure, it can be difficult for the team to keep customers happy.

You might think that stores like Homebase and Focus (both in the bottom 10) have to compete on price because they’re fighting each other, but all the shops in the top ten have strong competition too. By investing in differentiation and great customer service, they’ve managed to create the impression they don’t.

Mediocrity is Instantly Forgettable

Since people were being asked to recall their shopping experiences over the previous six months, mediocre customer service will have been long forgotten. What people remember is when the business goes the extra mile to really deliver above and beyond expectations. That’s what will encourage people to return again next time they are ready to buy, which, in the case of most of the top ten shops, is likely to be months or perhaps years later. (Of course, outstandingly bad customer service is also memorable).

The quality is determined by who is working on the shop floor on the day

Ask around and you’ll probably find plenty of people willing to quibble with the results. I’ve had bad customer service at times from Ikea and excellent service from WH Smith, which runs contrary to the trend. But that highlights a key challenge with customer service: the quality is determined by who is working on the shop floor on the day, how committed they are to delivering to good service, and whether they have the resources to do so. Customers never think ‘that salesperson’ wasn’t helpful, though. They think ‘the company doesn’t care’.

So here’s the deal

Make sure everyone on your shop floor is trained in customer service and, more important, is motivated to really care about it.

The Customer Service Pocketbook

CustomerService Companies that want to be known for chart-topping customer service, the only kind that customers really care about, need to make sure that the whole organisation is geared up to deliver it. For tips on how to do that, see chapter 5 of The Customer Service Pocketbook.

Other Management Pocketbooks you might enjoy

This blog was written by Sean McManus

Sean McManus is a writer specialising in business and technology. He is co-author of The Customer Service Pocketbook.

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In Praise of Flip Charts

A recent experience led me to think about the use of visual aids in training.  Two training companies were described as being like ‘chalk and cheese’.

Chalk and Cheese

In this case:

  • one company’s courses are scripted and PowerPoint driven, and trainers appeared to treat participants’ questions as a nuisance.  Hmm.
  • the other company’s trainers welcome interaction and dialogue, and mix PowerPoint with a range of other ways to get their message across.  That’s better!

Visual Aids

It led me to think about the term ‘visual aids’.  Aids to whom?  Some trainers seem to consider that their slides are there to help them in their role as trainers.  Perhaps they need to re-think.  Visual aids should help the learners to learn, participants to understand, and the audience to remember.  And PowerPoint and its kin can be magnificent at this – when used well.  We’ll hold that thought for another day!

Flip Charts – the trainer’s friend

I will come out of the closet: I am a real flip chart lover.  I love them as a consultant, working through ideas and solving problems; I love them as a facilitator, capturing and sharing ideas; and I love them as a trainer, to explain, clarify and illustrate learning points.

PowerPoint is linear and pre-programmed: flip charts are infinitely flexible.  So here are some of my tips and techniques for getting the most from this fabulous tool.

Flip Chart Tips and Techniques

Wings
Lots of flipcharts these days have wings – extendable arms that allow you to fasten a finished sheet to either side of the main display.  This is great for displaying participants’ work when doing a review or even for creating wide screen HD flip chart displays.

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Pre-prepare
If you want to create complex images or drawings that you are not confident to draw ‘live’ then prepare a sheet with the drawing in light pencil (a 2H lead is ideal).  It will be invisible to your audience, but clear enough for you to follow the lines and appear to draw a fabulous image free-hand.  Ruled pencil lines also allow you to write in straight lines if this is not something that comes naturally.

Better, still, practise your drawings on a whiteboard.  Do them over and over until they become second nature, then you won’t have to pre-prep your flip charts!

Laminates
A great way to great more dynamism and use more powerful images is to create full colour printed images and get them laminated.  You can then attach these to your flip chart with blue tack and build up your image more quickly and more stylishly than you could draw it.  For example, create six coloured images of hats for when you want to facilitate a discussion about Edward de Bono’s six thinking hats, or illustrate different team dynamics for when you are explaining Tuckman’s model.

StickyNote Sticky Notes
You can use the oh-so-useful sticky notes in a number of ways.  A simple trick is to use them as marker tabs to help you quickly find a pre-prepared sheet quickly.  A favourite use is in exercises where you want participants to identify, then classify items.  If they write their ideas on the notes, they can then place them on the table or grid you or they have created on the flip chart.

Fonts and colours
For large amounts of text, lower case is easier to read, as long as your writing is very clear.  But do ask yourself: ‘are large amounts of text really appropriate?’ They rarely will be.  So upper case is often clearer.  Text should be in strong colours to create good contrast, and do use lots of colour in your diagrams to make your images interesting.

Caution – do not rely on colour contrast to make distinctions that matter.  Around one man in ten has some limitation to their colour vision.  It is rarer in women.

Pens
Good flipchart pens are a must.  Most trainers (including this one) prefer chisel tip to bullet tip.  When you arrive at a training room (if you’re using their pens) or before you leave for the training venue (if you use yours) test all your pens and throw away any that are no longer at their best.  Always travel with your own set, and a back up set if you expect to rely on your own.  Three excellent brands for clarity/strength of colour, range of colour and life-span (and all are chisel tip) are:

  • Berol Flipchart Markers
  • Edding 40
  • Mr Sketch scented markers

Display
Brighten up your training room by putting flip charts up on the walls at breaks.  It creates a stimulating environment, with visual reminders all around, of what participants have been learning.

So here’s the deal

If you don’t already do so, look for more opportunities to use flip charts.  Make time to practise using them well, and use good quality pens to help you do it well.

. . . and, most important, please add your own tips to the comments at the foot of this blog, to share them with others.

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