leadership dot #2799: reciprocal

It’s easy to shake hands, smile for the cameras and proclaim that you’re partners with another organization when you think that you will benefit from the arrangement. But it’s a whole different story when your partner needs something from you.

Such is the case with our “sister city.” In 1983, the governor signed a formal agreement with a city in China, hoping to “bolster U.S.-China relations.” I’m sure people thought it would benefit us, and maybe it has, but now that city is asking us to send large quantities of medical supplies to help control the coronavirus in their area.

This poses many interesting questions. Should we do it? Who should pay for it? How would we even get them there since many carriers have temporarily stopped traveling to the country? We have a medical supply company in town and everyone looks there first, but I’m sure their demand has skyrocketed and they are able to garner premium pricing – why should they be expected to make a donation? The same is true for the hospitals; should they be held responsible for meeting the obligations of the whole city?

I am not sure how this will be resolved, but it serves as an interesting lesson when considering partnerships in the future. You shouldn’t sign an agreement because of what you think you can get if you’re not willing to retain the partnership when it’s time to give.

leadership dot #2798: duplicity

When I went to mail a package, the clerk quoted a price of $24 instead of the $15 flat rate that I was expecting. I had used an official Post Office box and couldn’t understand why it did not qualify for the “one rate, any weight” postage. It turned out that I had unknowingly used the “mailing box” instead of the “flat rate box”.

As a result, I experienced bureaucracy at its worst.

Both boxes are distributed at the Post Office. They are so similar that they remind me of those “find the differences” pictures – where everything is exactly the same except for the most minute details. These boxes are less than ½ inch different in dimensions: 13.375 vs. 13.625 by 12.125 x 11.875 (yes, they list the size to three decimal places!) – so alike that the only real difference is the name the Post Office gives them.

Because of my egregious error, I got out of line, discarded the incorrect mailing box and repackaged the same exact contents in the clone of a box — and paid $9 less as a result.

What would it have taken for the Post Office to use one box where the clerk could just check off the flat rate option or to have crossed off the wrong title and used it anyway? I wonder if the duplicity isn’t intentional deception: how many people mailing a box even know that there is a flat rate and instead pay whatever price they are quoted.

Don’t let this kind of nonsense happen in your organization. Designate one day to do some “bureaucracy-busting” in your area. Offer incentives for people to point out ridiculous practices like three-digit measurements on a box or twin packaging at different rates. Celebrate those who are brave enough to question your status quo or who make things easier for the user. Maybe you could even mail them their prize – using the proper box, of course.

leadership dot #2797: restaurants

In a fascinating New York Times article, Pete Wells highlighted 8 ways restaurants have changed in the past decade. Number one: “We ate with our cameras.” Wells recounts that not only has the proliferation of camera phones and Instagram changed the habits of the diners, but it has caused chefs to alter their presentation of the food and for other chefs to become quick to copy them. In this decade, it is as much about how the food looks as how it tastes.

Another trend is the online delivery service – something I would have thought was a good thing for the restaurant business but Wells includes it in his “the future looked grim” trend. Restaurants already faced increased costs of rent, labor, insurance and taxes – and now they must add in delivery services (which take a commission from the restaurant for all their orders) as well as fees for the increased use credit cards.

Consider how the shifts impacting the restaurant industry affect your organization, too. Have you altered your offerings to make them more “Instagramable”? Have you considered whether the widespread use of delivery intersects with your organization’s services or influences your budgeting?

We live in an intertwined economy. Paying attention to what’s on the menu outside your industry can help you thrive in your own.

 

leadership dot #2794: rush job

People frequently ask their printer to rush jobs for them – needing the finished product ASAP or requesting special consideration to get the project printed on a short timeline. One printer capitalized on this phenomenon and made it their business model: promising four-color printing within tight deadlines.

Fresh Color Press is “the home of superb fast-turn, short-run digital collateral printing.” Translated, that means that they expect you to need your print job on a tight timeline, and are set up to anticipate it and accommodate you with a smile. Instead of being made to feel like the printer is doing you a big favor to process your job under an impossible timeline, Fresh Color replies with “no worries, we can still easily get them done.” Even their shipping labels say: “We get it. We’ve got this.” And they do!

Fresh Color is a living example of the high-end firm doing well (see dot 2769). They cost more than the average printer, but their quick service is priceless.

Think about what your clients really want from you. What do people ask for that you aren’t set up to provide? What causes you inconvenience but people frequently request it? What would you like from others who provide what you do? Maybe there is a niche waiting for you to leverage.

 

 

leadership dot #2793: partial

It’s a sure sign of silos when one part of a process goes live while another part is still in development. My sister in Massachusetts is waiting to file her taxes because the forms aren’t ready yet – as if it was a surprise that a new year was coming. I purchased a new car in August and received my Owner’s Manual last week because it wasn’t printed yet. On a technical assistance call today for a grant – that is due March 3 – we learned that some of the clarifying documents will be posted “soon”.

There is always a temptation to get things to the client as soon as you are able, but sharing incomplete information causes more frustration than it resolves. Take the time to “backward engineer” and plan for all the components of a project that will be needed and construct a release date accordingly. It’s not good to have supporting work-in-progress while simultaneously having the product in the user’s hands. Partially completed work is not ready to go live.

leadership dot #2783: golden arches

I watched The Founder, a fascinating movie about the beginning days of McDonald’s. In 1954 when the McDonald Brothers opened their hamburger stand, the only “fast food” was served at drive-ins where there was nothing speedy about the service. The brothers created a revolutionary automation system that trimmed the wait from 30 minutes to 30 seconds, in part by reducing their menu from 27 items to just three: hamburgers, fries and soft drinks.

What seems commonplace today caused an uproar when they first opened. “We underestimated the learning curve,” said Mac McDonald. Early customers were furious that they had to get out of their car and place their own orders (instead of a carhop coming to take them). They were mad that there were no plates and that they were expected to eat off of paper wrappers. They didn’t like that they had to throw away their own trash. But they did like the food, and so the franchise grew (and grew and grew) until now it feeds 1% of the world’s population every day!

There are many lessons from The Founder (and I’ll share more tomorrow) but take two away today. First, consider whether your “menu” is too robust. The McDonald brothers found that 87% of their sales came from the three items they retained, allowing them to specialize and improve in ways that an expansive menu would have not. Are you trying to be all things to all people? Would you provide better value or service if you concentrated on a smaller range of offerings and did them better than anyone?

Thought number two: when you implement a change, be intentional about the learning curve that those who will experience it will encounter. You understand the reasons why eliminating your “car hops” makes it better for everyone, but have you shared that rationale? Have you tested your concept on users who aren’t familiar with the back story to see what questions they have or how they react?

There is organizational gold under those arches. Mine a bit of it for yourself.

 

 

leadership dot #2769: themes

Thought leader Carey Nieuwof outlined 5 disruptive leadership trends for 2020. His list:

  1. The Middle is Disappearing (but the high end and low end are thriving).
  2. DIY (do it yourself) is giving way to DIFM (do it for me).
  3. Insight and access have become more valuable than content (because free content is everywhere).
  4. Focus is a new super power (because distractions are everywhere, too).
  5. Freedom and autonomy are the next generation’s currency. (Just ask Prince Harry!)

You can read more detail about these trends here.

His ideas have been rattling around in my head for days as I consider the implications of each of them. I think the list itself shows the power of #3 – that a synthesized list such as his has more power than pages and pages of random content.

It also makes me want to do a list of my own next year – the promise of which will undoubtedly make me more observant and reflective of the commonalities from these dots and that which I see. How about joining me in the challenge to outline a few trends next year? Let 2020 give you the clarity of vision to see some mega-themes for 2021.

 

Thanks, Brian!