Tuesday, August 28, 2012

What's the worst mistake you've ever made...

Mistakes- love 'em, hate 'em, we all make 'em!

This week I am doing final interviews for new additions into our Graduate Consultant programme.  Our Service Delivery Manager has screened over 45 applicants to get to a shortlist of 7 for me to interview.

For years I've had a toolkit of questions I've used to look at character and personality when interviewing, but my favourite question to ask new staff is "What's the worst mistake you've ever made?".  This is usually followed with "How many people did it impact and what did you learn from it?".  

I will simply not hire people if they answer "I don't make mistakes" or "I can't think of anything".  I am looking for people who can recognise mistakes are part of life.  We all make them and we should all learn from them, if we cannot recognise and share our mistakes with others, it will certainly slow a new graduates growth in their role.

There is however a funny side to this story.  Today in an interview, it reminded me of a few of the answers I've had in the past, normally we'd expect someone to give a relevant business example such as - sending an email to the wrong person or not meeting a deadline.  Here are some of the goodies I can recall:-

"Getting Married"
(I did not really feel I could ask the later part of the question- and what did you learn from this!).

"Going into business with my husband"
(not such a great thing to say to a husband and wife owned business when you are being interviewed by the wife!)

"Getting Divorced"
(see above- also another hard one to follow-up with

"Going off my anti-depressant medication"- they then went on to explain the result of the after-math of what happened. 

One of the better ones I remember was a few years ago when someone told me when they were developing and working for a Bank, they released something into production and shut down a Bank in the UK.  When I asked how many people were impacted, he just said, "thousands and thousands of people".  He was also rather pale even having to think about the incident.

When I was discussing this in the office about "what's your worst mistake", I was reminded of a recent incident which is certainly one of our teams "Dick of the month" awards also.

We had to move furniture out of a house we rented in Hamilton for a project we were working on.  It was fully furnished and we decided to move the extra beds and furniture into a meeting room in our Hamilton office for temp storage.  Our offices are on the 15th Floor of the Tower Building in Hamilton.  In the bottom of the building is Centre Place Shopping Mall- the largest CBD shopping mall in Hamilton.  We have basement access to service lifts to move things up and down the floors.  So Wayne and another manager from work, hired a truck and went about collecting the furniture to move the 3 or 4 kms to the office. 

On arrival into the basement car-park, the boys (note - who's day jobs are working in an office) swung around into a car-park and in the process completely broke off a fire sprinkler.  Water was coming out at a rapid rate....and the fire-alarms were automatically activated.

What happened from here was the following:- total evacuation of one of Hamilton's largest shopping malls, including ALL retail stores (the likes of Pascoes Jewellers, Jeans West, Meccano, Stevens). 

This also followed by a full evacuation of the Food Court.  This was then followed by the evacuation of the Movie Theatre (yes people were at the movies!).  Not only this, it also evacuated the 15 stories of office floors above.  In addition, 4 Fire Engines were called out and the Sprinkler service Company, the Fire System Company and of course, the land-lord.  Yes, they CLOSED down a shopping centre!

The odd thing was that the story I was given was "Oh, we had a few problems with the truck today- we knocked a sprinkler off in the basement".  It took a number of weeks and a rather large bill to discover the real story, needless to say, the story is now out and all I can say is thanks for insurance!

So the lesson learnt from this mistake- when driving a truck into a basement, just because it fits under the height sign, does not mean that it will clear everything.  The second lesson, always fess up, the boss WILL find out somehow- it's just a matter of time!

So you are probably wondering- what's my worst mistake?

Updating a customers entire General Ledger balance for all accounts to -.03 cents.  I still remember that sick sinking feeling when I did it to this day! (I did fix it later on with help from a friend- who is also a friend still to this day!)

However, this would have to be closely followed by dropping every index on a consulting assignment for New Zealand Customs PeopleSoft Finance System when I was trying to fix a performance problem.  I then had to sit in the same area where the team was working and hear their horrified comments when screens started taking 20 minutes to load.  It took me 2 days to recover the system and I have never felt so bad in my life as it was 2 days of constant complaints and I could not hide anywhere! 

The worst thing was that I also made a further mistake while I was there- I had to take a call and was on the phone outside the building where there were two sets of almost identical sliding doors.  When I came back in and up the lift, I was horrified to see my handbag was not at my desk and my notepad appear to be moved.  When I walked around further into the office, I had that sinking feeling and then a rather burning red face.  I was not even at my desk.  Nor was I in the right floor or even the right building.  I looked up and saw the sign "Department of Corrections".  Brilliant- I had managed to walk in the wrong door, get in the wrong lift and sit at a desk in the wrong company...and it was the Department of Corrections- could I have picked anywhere worse!!

So how does one exit such an awkward situation after you have just made an outburst about where you things had been moved??

You just walk at a normal pace, like you know everyone there, smile as you pass their desks.  Wait at the lift, get in and then hold your hands to your face and turn purple. 
Then, walk back into New Zealand Customs like nothing ever happened!

So what did I learn- NEVER exit a building you do not know when you are on your mobile- cellphones are distracting at the best of time and can potentially put you in jail, if you walk into the wrong place!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

A story of four people | Naomi Simson's Blog

For those of you who don't know, Naomi Simson is the founder of Red Ballon- online gifting.  She is a successful Australian business woman who I admire a great deal and who has inspired me to blog. I adore her latest blog on Accountability, its worth a read and is so true....

A story of four people | Naomi Simson's Blog

Put what divides us behind us and move on

Last night I was watching Parliament TV.  In case you are wondering, yes, I have MySky with 50+ channels, but I still find myself fascinated when law is being made.  The recent law being passed is a 'Reform Bill' which is merely a collection of a whole pile of issues with a number of laws, including the labeling of DVD cases....saving the industry $50,000 per week as they no longer have to re-censor and re-label incoming movies in this format into NZ using the current method.  Crazy!

I was thinking about the whole process of the Committee stages and the passing of bills through Parliament and even how the sitting days run. The process is so archaic, it makes me smile.  It also makes me think how much more efficent business meetings would be if we applied the same heres how I see some of it applying..

Rule 1/ There is a ceremonial mace used in parliament (we'll refer to it as our 'weapon of choice' depending on the chair of the meeting).  This 'weapon of chioice' is then carried into the meeting by an appointee of the person running the meeting (we'll call them 'henchman' for the purpose of this exercise) .  The ceremonial mace or weapon of choice is then placed on the meeting table as a threat that if the meeting does not run as it is supposed to, and meeting etiquette not  followed, the "henchman" can choose to use it on the chairs behalf at anytime in the meeting. 

This is actually what pretty much happens in Parliament currently- I actually checked the website, of course, there are a few changes I made to the wording, and in all my time watching Parliament TV' I've never actually seen anybody pick up the mace an use it, although I'm sure many have wanted to over time! In parliament, the "henchman" is actually called the Serjeant-at-Arms and their role and the ceremonial mace dates back to 1415.  The mace is carried by that person and simply symbolises the Speakers Authority, and yes, they can use their authority to 'get things under control'.

I made a mental note that I will have to try this process out sometime soon and see how it works....(hmmm I feel another blog coming on)!  Before then I will have to spend time choosing my weapon of choice...something perhaps a little more...spikey...or perhaps I will simply try and find that great gold ceremonial mace, it looks like it could do some damage and it really would be a nice piece of bling for the office!  I'd just love to see the reaction of the meeting attendees when it was placed on the table!
 So let's look at the remaining rules and how they might apply...

Rule 2/ If we are running the meeting, we'd  be addressed as "Mr or Mrs Speaker"
Rule 3/ If people spoke over each other, the 'Speaker' would simply say "Order" I'm on my feet and everyone would sit down and be quiet
Rule 4/ When the duration time of the meeting is up-(those1 hour meetings that always run longer because so many people are late- you know what I'm talking about) and when someone is in mid-coversation about an agenda item, or worse yet an off-topic subject, the chair simply rises and says, "I'm sorry to interupt, but the time has come, meeting will be continued next sitting day"  and that is that, you get up and leave.
Rule 5/  People can interject verbally while you are talking, but only to a level that the person talking can still be heard.  Just think, rather than keeping those thoughts in your head, you could actually say them out loud, how fun would that be!

The best part is yet to come, it actually happened last night.  A minister, Tau Henare was asked to leave the house for a period of approx 45 mins due to "out of order' comments.   He was able to come back in to Parliament at 9.00pm.  When he did, he raised several points of order about how he felt the punishment was unjust.  He then refered to the archiac process to 'seek leave' to issue a "Personal Statement" about his good character and behaviour.

So this brings us to point 5 of how this would translate to a business meeting..

5/ If someone is rude in a meeting, they get sent to sit on the naughty chair for 45 mins.  After that, they have a 5 min right to applogise, if they so choose.  Just think how the dynamics would work in our meetings!

The think I liked most about the sitting in Parliament last night was what the speaker said after the incident with Tau Henare.  I will take this into the work environment as I think we can all learn from this one...he simply said. 

"Let's put what divides us behind us and move on".   

I'm sure out of the corner of his eye he glanced at the cerimonial mace, but I could have been mistaken....

I thought that was an excellent piece of advice.  We really should think about this when something frustrates us in a meeting or in the workplace which is causing havoc amongst the team in some way.  Deal with the issue on the spot, get it out in the open and move on, this will create a much heathier and more productive workplace all round.

More facinating insights into the workings of Parliament here....

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Marketing a potentially unmarketable business

Marketing the 'un-marketable'

This week I had the great pleasure in meeting  the owner/ director on an Insolvency & Debt Collections Company who was interested in bettering their Customer Relationship processes.  My first impressions when I drove up and saw the 0800 CLOSED sign was that the owner must have a least a slight sense of humour when he picked this number to represent the business. 

As a marketer I also smiled as they aslo would have known that the number would stick in peoples mind and clearly represent what they stand for.

When I met the owner, in spite of the type of business, he was a delightful, knowledgeable person, who clearly knew a good business and how to sell and market and the importance of customer relationships.  He also mentioned that he is constantly in the media, not all positive, yet this still drove more business to them.

Yes, I agree, any press will certainly raise your profile, but behind the press, you still must have a company that can deliver and has proof points for its work.

The meeting this week made me realise how lucky I am to continually get insites into such different businesses on a daily basis as well as remembering that no matter what you do, you must never stop marketing, when you are flat out busy or in quieter, tough times.  The "pedal should be to the metal" at the same speed through out, never get complacent and stop your marketing, its a vital part of every business success.  There is always a way to market every product and service, but the key thing is to make sure you keep communicating messaging, ever if its not your best work, someone will get it and ask more questions and in turn purchase your products and services.

Friday, August 17, 2012

When technology gets the better of you

When Technology gets the better of you

I had a very odd experience this week involving a customer, cell phone and a toilet, not usally three things you should be mixing together!

It was around 8pm in the evening and I was preparing for a critical customer presentation at 8.30am the next morning.  I had not heard from a key contact (we'll call him Bob Smith)  at that customer during the day, despite following up a few times about our exact meeting venue prior to the big meeting, I had not heard back.

In typical style, I decided to respect Bob's evening privacy and simply send a text rather than phoning him to confirm.  The text was sent and I started sorting myself out to leave the office for the evening.  Armed with laptop, handbag and cellphone in bag, I headed off to the ladies on my way out the door.

Darn... the light-bulb had blown in the toilet (I had realized this before I went to Thailand but as the only female in the office working after dark, I'm usually the only person impacted).  As the landlord, it was utilmately my responsiblity to sort it out.  Oh well, another thing to sort out tomorrow. 

So sitting in the dark, I heard a voice from my handbag- thats right... I'd decided to be clever during my holiday as I was worried I might miss important updates from the office at work on my holiday as I was not glued to my phone as usual, so I had chosen to activate a feature that is voice driven when a text message comes in, which reads out the text to you and then you can respond by voice.

I'd been showing off to my 'iphone loving' husband with this feature that he did not have (as I have a windows phone), all holiday, sitting smug as I was shopping, having my phone read my texts to me.  Oh how clever I was!

So now that I'm sitting on the toilet in the dark, with my handbag somewhere on the floor in front of me, I hear somewhere in the general direction....

"Message from Bob Smith, you can say read it or ignore".  Of course its just too tempting, its late, and no one else is around, and how cool and hygenic, I can have my phone read my texts in the little room!  I was smiling to myself at this extra bit of productivity I was squeezing out of the day by multi-tasking on the loo,  so I said.... "Read it".  What I did not realize is a muffled kiwi voice, apparently sounds like quite a different computer generated American voice.  I waited...heard nothing and then heard, "Calling Bob Smith......"

OMG- I am now calling a major customer, on speaker phone from the toilet in the dark. 


I am floundering around dragging my handbag to me as fast as I can trying to look inside "the tardis" as my husband calls it, to find the said offending phone.  My heart is racing and I finally grab and push the end button immediately.  Phew, saved.

I finish my business in the dark, wash hands and depart from the ladies.  I have literally just left the room and my phone rings. I check the screen.  OMG its Bob Smith, he heard things he should not have, I'm sure of it.  Maybe I didn't cancel the call in time. 

Should I answer?

I Answer.

"Hello Bob" (I am so pleased I do not have a video phone- he would see that I'm actually purple, not even a shade of red at the moment)!

He was as repsonsive as normal with no clue about the past events and simply confirmed where we'd meet and that he may get held up by traffic so could be a little late.

After our normal conversation I hung up, no quite so embarassed as I could have been.

The next morning before the presentation, I had to go to the ladies before we started.  Bob was in the room and I must admit I am sure I saw him with an odd expression on his face.  Perhaps he did know?  I don't think I'll even know.

The moral of this story is that don't ever think you are smart enough to out smart your technology, when things go wrong, yes, they can go very wrong!  And don't ever think you can get away with interacting with your technology in the loo!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Time out in Thailand

Time out in Thailand

I've been back 1 week today from timeout in Thailand (not that I'm counting) with my husband for our 10th wedding anniversary.  I still believe that you come back with a different outlook on the challeges that lie ahead, and they also seam less of a problem than the day before you leave.

With plently of 'think time' up my sleve and time to stragegize, I came back and within 4 days of being back, closed a deal I had been trying to sell for more than 4 years.  That was satisfying.  Not only that, also managed to get the team to complete a project that has been pending for months.  Not only this, my husband also managed to sell more work that we had in several months prior.

Leaders need timeout.  Not bags of it, just enough to take a different perspective on things.  I am lucky enough to work with my husband and own the company we built together.  We both had time to yes, discuss work, but also to really take the time to work out what we would be targetting and our future direction for the next 6 months or so.  Yes, the holiday paid off.  We still got plenty of time to relax, but we also had lots of those 'ahh haa' moments we could share together as they bubbled to top of mind while reading our books on our sun-loungers basking in the sun sipping our cool drinks.  Sure, things went wrong while we were away, but the benefits of being away and the results of the first week back have far out weighed the minor issues we had. 
Now all we need to do is work our where we are going next! 

Timeout is important- don;t think your business is going to fall over without you- trust in your managers and don;t sweat the small stuff that goes wrong. now all we need to find out is where the 2 meter pole for our conference TV ended up (seriouly how do you lose something like this) and who scrapped one of the company cars while we were away and won't own up to it!

What I learnt from the retired workforce

After much frustration in trying to get a reglatory 'owners inspection process' underway for my commercial property business, I finally picked up the phone and pulled a retired relative back into the workforce.  This is the first time I have done this, however I went through my checklist and ticked off the credentials:-

1/ Meticulous beyond belief - check
2/ Can use a computer - check
3/ Is avaialbe for small periods of time once a month - check
4/ Understands building / property jargon- check

What I had failed to realise is that being out of the workforce for year, many things can change, mainly technology and peoples work habits, the main ones becoming blaringly obvious which I noted on the first day;-

People used to stop for tea breaks and meet in the staff room- it was a ritual
We have a all you can eat coffee machine- help yourself, take a micro break, but tea breaks, gone!

People used to write small amounts less frequently
We tramsmit and deal with ENORMUS amounts of data

Technology was slow, and a labourious process and now always around
Technology is fast,, simple and common place

The sad thing was, I only discovered these things by falling over them during the said retired family members comments.

When asked to add more detail to a note in our Property System- the response was "Do you want me to write an Essay?"

The second response was when asked to attach the digial photos to the damaged/ broken items was the response "I don;t do digital photos, not here or at home and I'm not about to start"

The tea break thing, I think this goes without saying, observationally it was realised.  Yup, we get our coffee as many as we need and drink it at our desk.  Everything is sped up, even how we get and take our coffee...soon I'm sure it will be fed to us through introvenus drip!

The other interesting observational note is mixing of our Gen-Y staff with our Retired workforce.  I had a 20-something staff member working with a nearly 80 year old for the day on a business problem.  They both needed each other to complete the task, but neither seamed to realise it....or perhaps it is true- ignorance really is bliss!

My learning from this experience have been that its all about reaction.  Understand the situational position you are putting people in- our Gen-Y's usually don;t tell us anything at all if they don;t get something or find something difficult, but its the opposite from our retired workforce- you are going to hear it as they see it.  .....I see definate potential in inter-mingling these two very different workers in the future workforce, but I'm going to have to do a little more thinking around approach!

What happened to service, any service at all...?

Basic service should be something every company should provide, not exceptional service, I'm talking just service.  If we expect our businesses to survive, we need to provide service.

I'm trying to contract a construction company to complete a commercial fitout.  I was astounded to see the tender deadline come and go this week with not a single tender submitted.  One of the key companies I asked to tender, had tendered before but their service had been substandard in getting back to us with questions we had asked about their tender, in some cases they just simply did not respond at all.  When I met with the director for a second time, I explained this issue and he assured my it was an oversight.  I gave him the scope of works, a set of plans and the deadline time and date with basic contract terms.  He said he would get us the quote back by the tender deadline.

I also decided this week to follow-up with a tiler who had just re-sealed the main entrance to our building, I sent him an email to the email address he sent the details from only a month earlier, only to find his emails bounced back- 5 times!

Then on Thursday, I had a call from the office to say the Air-conidtioning service people had turned up just before 8 and they had been let in to Level 1 and did I know what they were there for. There had been no phone call, no prior arrangement and I now had a situation where I had a female staff member, in a building, by herself with a random Air-Conditioning person, who had not been booked, nor did we know why he was there. A shiver ran down my spine wondering if he really was an Air-conditioning person at all. I called the company, no answer- this was now 8.10am. I had to leave a message and then contact someone else from our office to ask when he would be in as i was worried about my staff members safety.
A few hours later I finally got a call explaining they were there to do our service, but had told no one.

We must remember these occasions and ask ourselves-how does our business perform in these circumstances.  As a leader, you must ensure that you are prepared to test your service, but covertly and overtly and let your team know constantly the level of service you expect them to provide.  I shudder to think about us ever sending people to customers un-announced or scheduled.  Service is paramount.  Have it or lose business. End of story!