Introspection And Honesty: Yeah, Good Luck With That

•January 16, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Hi! Remember me? I’m that narcissistic weirdo who posts original content here.

“Ohhhh – that guy! Didn’t you die in that monster truck rally incident?”

Nope – not me! To be honest, 2014 was an insane year for us here at Digital Ninjas Media. Which is sort of a shame, because there were a great many things that were put off or left undone that should not have been. For example: this group.

But, lo, I have returned! This is where you’d hear the trumpet salute in my head, if technology would just catch the heck up with my self-centered desires. C’est la vie.

Now, it might seem like I’m coming off as sort of an aloof jerk. Aside from the fact that I actually am, I’m also doing it as a segue into this post. The topic? ‘Do your views of yourself jibe with those of your employees/employers?’ Before you answer that, let’s discuss it a bit.

I recently read a humorous quote that stated something akin to ‘95% of Americans believe that they’re smarter than the other 95%’. I’m assuming that the other 5% are either lying, nuns, clinically brain dead individuals, or politicians. I wanted to move on with my life after reading that little nugget of truth, yet found that I just couldn’t. It got me thinking – and I mean REALLY got me thinking. Why? Because if I was being honest, I felt like I really WAS smarter than most Americans. My guess is that you might as well. The problem? Someone has to be wrong. And, sad as it might be, it might just be you and I.

“All right, you disappear for nigh on a year, show up, tell me something I already knew about how awesome I am, and then turn it around on me in a total jerk move. What’s your point, you douche-weasel?”

My point is this: you’re not as great as you think you are. And this goes for employers and employees alike. But it’s okay! This is a workable situation! Let’s begin tackling the problem from the employer’s side (but – employees – read along!)

As an employer, you are responsible for all of the risk in owning the business: insurance, workman’s compensation, taxes, paying the bills, creating the work, maintaining workload, forecasting, keeping the shareholders happy, and eight thousand other things that would make most mortals opt to investigate the business end of a skunk with their tongue rather than do what you’re doing. In some ways, you’re a modern-day superhero.

Employers, however, often focus too much on these points and forget one additional, key piece of the equation: while you’ve done all that, the employees are the fuel that makes the engine run. Without something as seemingly simple as fuel, a Maserati is just a pretty lawn ornament. As such, you have an obligation to maximize profit, while also keeping the fuel clean, and the vehicle that is your business road-worthy. And that’s a painfully difficult exercise at times.

A great leader (i.e. – the employer) develops relationships with their followers (i.e. – the employees). Oftentimes, a person can have amazing business acumen, yet possess no human interaction skills. And this, sadly, is the death knell for many business ventures. They’ve literally failed before they’ve even begun – it’s only a matter of time. Ask yourself this question: do your employees like you? Are you, in fact, fortunate enough to have employees who are willing to do what it takes to make you happy? Are your employees committed to the company’s well-being, without fail or question?

That’s a tough set of questions, isn’t it? Now, I’ll ask you this: how many times did you just lie to yourself? It’s okay. You’re human. Then again, so are your employees. As humans, we crave acceptance, recognition, praise, and inclusion. If, as an employer, you can focus on nurturing those human needs (without being overtly disingenuous, as so many bosses and business owners end up being), you will develop a solid crew of workers who would go through Hell and back to make damn sure that your business is the best it can be. They’ll be motivated to be productive, to be resourceful, and to be open and honest. A few kind words, meaningful recognition programs, or the like are sometimes all it takes to make the things your employees say about you when you’re not around positive in nature.

Ask yourself this: how often do you hear a friend, relative, or colleague gush on and on about what a jackass, know-nothing tyrant they work for? Now, to expound upon that, how often do you hear the opposite? I’m guessing the ratio is phenomenally one-sided.

As an employer, you need to recognize a few things you might not otherwise consider:

  • Lost time and motion translates into lost revenues
  • Lack of productivity devalues the product or service you’re offering with every passing minute
  • Lack of employee morale is transmitted directly to your customer base – be it oral or physical. And customers do NOT like dealing with the emotional baggage of others. They’ve got enough of their own to spare.
  • Training a new employee is profoundly expensive, when you consider the lost productivity on the part of both the trainer, and the trainee. Finding them can add to the costs as well, with regard to placing ads, holding interviews, reviewing resumes, etc. Not to mention potential errors in job performance, which create waste or unsalable product(s).

Employers: look in the mirror. Be critical. No – be HYPER-CRITICAL. It will pay off. I promise. And – for the love of all that’s good and holy, stop lying to yourself. You’ll thank me for it.

Now, let’s flip the switch, and visit the world of the employee. Welcome! If you’re an employee, then you’re fortunate enough to have been selected by a business owner as a trustee of their consolidated risk. They’ve quite literally put their livelihood (or, a part of it) in your hands. Holy crap – you have responsibility! Who knew?

As an employee, you need to consider all of the things outlined above. Remember that employers often aren’t working a three-hour day to go home to their champagne-filled pool for bon-bons and lobster. Okay, some might be, but the odds are staggeringly against this being the case – work with me, here. Chances are they’ve worked themselves stupid and put everything on the line, risking it all, to make their dreams a reality. If you don’t know about any of this, then I’d encourage you to ask. I think you’ll find your employer is a lot more than they seem, and it might change the way you choose to view and interact with them.

Employers, as a rule, need you. There is, however, an old saying: ‘Just because you’re necessary, doesn’t mean that you’re important’. Which is true, in some respects. I’d like to perform the same experiment on you, as we did on your employer above. Look in a mirror, and ask yourself what your employer thinks of you. I mean, really and truly – not the Adonis-like, chiseled featured overlord you envision yourself to be. It’s a hard question, I know.

As a matter of course, in America, most employees are somewhat to profoundly unhappy with their jobs. Part of the problem, however, is that they blame this on the employer, rather than being introspective about it. Consider: did the employer hunt you down and beg you to work for them? Or did you apply to their business?

Ah-ha! I just caught 99.9% of you in a trap of your own making. You can’t see it, but I’m laughing maniacally, while pretending to twist my handlebar moustache. Frankly, it’s less satisfying than I thought it would be. >Sigh< Oh, well.

>Ahem<

If you applied for the position that you now hold, then who do you have to blame? Often, employees take out their frustrations on their employers using what psychologists call ‘transference’. Whether it be their home life, their love life, their regrets, their poor life decisions, their having been screwed-over by someone, etc. These, sadly, are often transposed upon our employers as somehow being their fault. Which is the epitome of unfairness. Likewise, employers can sometimes do this to their employees. It’s a phenomena I like to call ‘poisoning the well’, because it tends to begin with one individual and, like a cancer, spread amongst everyone in the workplace.

I could write about this for hours. Which would be awesome for my ego, but sort of unnecessary. The bottom line is this: every day that you arrive at your place of business – employer or employee – consider all of your interactions. Be kind. Be thoughtful. Be honest. Be forthright. Be fair. And – for God’s sake – never EVER yell or discipline someone in front of others. Make ‘deposits’ in the bank of praise, so that when negatives do have to be addressed, they’re taken more seriously, and with less stress. Put yourself in the shoes of others, often. Rescind your initial, gut reaction to situations and, instead, consider them like a crime scene investigator. Often, what appears on the surface to be one thing is – upon analysis and consideration – quite another. The problem is, most folks don’t bother to do the homework. They just go with their gut, open their mouth, and end up being stupid, a dick, or both. Don’t be that person. No one likes that person.

Above all else – be honest with yourself. If we all did more of this, the workplace would be an environment that far less of us would dread or vilify.

Cheers,

Heath D. Alberts – Co-Founder & Marketing Director

Digital Ninjas Media, Inc. (heath@digitalninjasmedia.com)

Author of: “Terminal Beginning” (2010) | “Guerrilla Business” (2012) | “The Battery Man” (2013) | “Last Rights” (2013) | “Deeper” (2014) | “Photographic Memory (2014) | “Not On The List” (Coming Soon)

Contributor To: “Secret Rockford” (2014) | The Rockford Blog

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Sometimes ‘Bigger’ doesn’t equate to ‘Better’

•January 25, 2014 • Leave a Comment
We’ve all seen it: the little one-person, Mom-And-Pop business that comes from nowhere, built on sweat, determination, and long hours into a company that employs others and creates a tangible footprint upon the society around it. Then, often, they grow bigger in an effort to diversify, serve more customers, gain more throughput/output, etc. Sometimes, they stop here. Other times, they continue to the next level, and become a chain, a national force, an international force. In effect: something far greater than anyone ever imagined.

Sometimes, this is a good thing. Other times, it’s a GREAT thing. The question I want to pose today is: is this the RIGHT thing? Here’s why I ask:

Recently, one of Digital Ninjas Media’s clients considered expansion. They wanted to take their business to the next level by purchasing an addition to their building, adding new equipment, and bolstering manpower. We were fortunate enough to be a part of the group-minding behind this process (Yep – we’re not just pretty faces – we have some business experience too.) Initially, we thought that it was a great idea that would make our client a lot more money. That was, until we started thinking not like an observer, but like a researcher.

The decision all began (and ultimately ended) with numbers. First, we collectively developed a business-specific method by which we could ‘see’ – in a cause and effect manner – how much each employee was bringing to the table in dollar output, versus what it cost the company to employ them. Then we compared it to the employer’s perceptions. And a bomb went off. So we dug a little deeper. And the more we quantified and monetized the data, the more we found an inversion. In fact, the company was losing money by being as large as it had become already, based on a number of factors that were – to that point – unquantified, or unknown. How did we do this? Here’s what we used:

Costs of payroll (including the higher factor of overtime)
Costs of taxes associated with payroll
Costs of unemployment insurance
Costs of employee benefits
Costs of individual errors and mistakes (using the rule of 3)

Next, we took a look at the earnings potential of each employee per hour. Then, we figured out how many hours, on average, they were working in a set period of time. This number, subtracted from the amalgamation of the prior items, showed us what was left over for the company as ‘profit’. To the management’s surprise, some individuals were actually losing money for the company, while others were clearly carrying it. The end result? Expansion seemed like a terrible idea. Downsizing, in fact, would prove to be more profitable.

Now this might sound cruel, or even cold and heartless. But here’s the upside: the ownership didn’t want anyone to lose their jobs. They truly cared about their employees, as humans first, and employees second (which is something sorely lacking in this day and age.) As such, they sat down with each employee, and outlined their findings, as well as setting goals to rectify each individual situation. In the end, some did, and some did not. The result, however, was a much stronger and robust workforce. And as a bonus, morale was lifted. The individuals who were shining were further recognized for their stellar contributions.

The company did, in the end, downsize. They changed their business model drastically as well by identifying key areas where cost savings could be achieved, and then tackling each – one by one – in an effort to do so. Amazingly, as of this writing, we’re told that they’re doing more with less, and are experiencing a cathartic resurgence in pride of work, employee productivity, and employee recognition – all because they wanted to expand.

Expansion is something that cannot – and should not – be taken lightly. If you are choosing to consider it, here are some key factors to consider:

Would you be more profitable and nimble by altering your business model first?

Would your customers still receive the level of service that they’ve come to expect from you, or would it potentially suffer?

Are there enough qualified employees in your area to fill the new positions, while keeping the company workflow moving in a positive way?

Is the cost of expansion worth the return on investment? Can you quantify it?

Are you expanding to meet a new need, or just to increase the filling of a current one?

Is your company prepared for a ‘catastrophic loss’ – such as you, or your management, in the event of death, departure, or other significant ‘acts of God’ , or force majeure?

Are you maximizing the potential of all of your current assets – human and physical? Would doing so alleviate the need for expansion?

Are multiple shifts an option?

Are you, as the owner, going to be forced to work in the business? Or will you be free to work on it?

In the end, each business – like each individual – is different. Each one works around a specific model that is right for their industry, locale, economic climate, and any number of other things. I cannot, however, express enough how important it is to quantify everything in the most intuitive manner possible. It affords a snapshot of your company that will – I can almost guarantee – reveal things you thought you knew which are dead wrong.

Need help with getting started? Well, Digital Ninjas Media is nothing if not robust. We meddle only in things we feel we are strongly suited to. And we’re happy to assess – free of charge – if this sort of service is right for you. And, because we’re a-la-carte, you can choose as much or as little hands-on from us as you like – no contracts, no retainers. We’re not only to help you, but to educate as well.

Until next time!

Cheers,

Heath D. Alberts – Co-Founder & Marketing Director

Digital Ninjas Media, Inc. (heath@digitalninjasmedia.com)

Author of: “Terminal Beginning” (2010) | “Guerrilla Business” (2012) | “The Battery Man” (2013) | “Last Rights” (2013)

Follow me on: Riffle | Shelfari | Goodreads | Facebook | Pinterest

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Employee Burden Rates & You: The Hidden Truth You’re Ignoring, And What It Will Cost You

•March 30, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Burden Rate: The amount of money that a business is required to earn each week/month/year before a profit is turned.

As we’ve touched on before, the burden rate of a business is something that you MUST be cognizant of, lest you be destined to fail. By comprehending your burden rate, you can begin to determine where cost savings can occur, where money is being lost – often unnecessarily – and where your business is headed.

Since we’ve already touched on that aspect of it (check out the history in this thread), I wanted to take today to take it one step further: What are your employees costing you?

Employees are, at their heart a necessary evil, or a joyous burden, depending on your perspective. For me, they’re a double-edged sword. For each one hired, you’re banking on the premise that they will have the skill, ambition, drive, and desire to fulfill their end of the bargain to the best of their ability, thereby making them more valuable come raise time. But how many of us are truly able to put a number on what each employee brings to the table? The answer might both surprise, and depress you. Here’s how you do it:

Each employee has a salary or hourly wage. Prior to each employee’s annual review (and if you’re not doing this, then shame on you to begin with – you’re practically asking for failure-  or mediocrity at best), calculate all of the known quantities.

–          Wages & bonuses over a 52-week period

–          Federally mandated taxes that you contribute on their behalf (Medicare, FUTA, and State Unemployment)

–          Benefits: Your portion of any and all benefits paid out to the employee – insurance premiums, profit sharing, company-sponsored events, etc.

–          Any sick days, personal days, or vacation days that have accrued, but have not been used (including their impact on the above numbers!)

–          Lost revenue due to non-presence (i.e. – when an employee has NOT been at your place of business, for one reason or another, and someone has had to cover for them, or they have not contributed to the productivity/billable bottom line due to the actions of others around them.) This is ESPECIALLY egregious when an employee who can provide billable hours is forced into a position of non-billable hours. They’re not only working far below their capacity, they’re costing you money in lost revenue and productivity.

–          Lost revenue due to error (i.e. – we log all of the errors that each employee makes at the Machine Shop that I run. I calculate the lost revenue in both times, material, and outside services, then triple the labor number. The reason? You’ve lost the initial time to make the product (1x), you’ve had to re-make the product (2x), and the time spent to re-make the product was not permitted to make something new that would otherwise be billable (3x)

–          Workman’s compensation insurance for that category per hour

–          Any number of specialized facets that may occur in your business (i.e. – employee discounts vs. their purchases with said-same, et cetera.)

The first number that will ASTOUND you will come from businesses where production of billable hours/goods is in play. If they’re an employee who produces ‘billable’ hours, every hour that they are not present has a negative impact far greater than their sick pay, vacation pay, etc. Unfortunately, this needs to be considered in the Burden Rate.

I recommend developing a spreadsheet template so that you can copy and plug-in employees through the review cycle each year. You may also wish to figure operating expenses that pertain to the employee as well. In my case, Managing a Machine Shop, I can safely figure a portion of the utilities, tooling, raw materials, etc. into the mix, if I so choose. But don’t do this lightly, either.

What you find will startle you, but is also a good tool for proving or disproving the employee’s true worth. Often, business owners have no notion of what a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ employee really is. Sure, they might miss a lot of work but they’re super-productive when they’re there, so that makes up for it… right? No – not usually. By running these numbers, you can come to a number of your own: What it costs you to employ this person, per annum.

Once this number is reached, things can become a little vague. If you’re in a production environment, then it’s simple: Multiply the number of hours worked by the amount you charge for those hours and – then – compare it to your burden rate calculation. If there’s a decent profit there, then it might be time for a raise: a raise that comes with the expectation that, this time next year, that number will be relatively similar or even marginally better. Conversely, if the number comes up the other way, that employee that you perceived as great (or even just okay) has just proven otherwise. Here, you now have a decision to make, depending on the egregiousness of the offset. You may choose to show the employee these numbers, explaining WHY you cannot afford that raise they feel that they deserve. You can also use this as a tool to discuss areas for improvement with the employee – while being able to SHOW them the financial impact of their actions.

I see – time and time again – businesses that have a few stellar employees, who buoy one or many weaker ones. Some, who are actually costing the company far more than they’re worth to retain but, since no one’s checked the burden rates, nothing is ever done about it. I then see the business owner making a second mistake: telling the employees that there’s no money for raises. Lax employees probably won’t care – they know how good they’ve got it. Mediocre ones will probably get cranky and deter your profit margins a little more. The good ones will be savvy enough to realize the stupidity in that remark without burden-rate founding, and walk away. How do I know this? Because I myself – and my wife – have walked away from a number of jobs for just this reason. I also hire a lot of these folks – permanently – at my shop, when they walk away from other shops not performing this function. We get tired of hearing that we’re all being evaluated by vagary or – worse still – nothing more than, ‘We didn’t make enough profit for raises’, even though we know there is burden rate being wasted, needlessly. We’re the folks you want to keep, and – ironically – we’re the ones least likely to stay to support the employment-needy around us, and that you won’t fight to keep until it’s too late.

Think I’m being overly simplistic? Perhaps. But consider, if you’ve been in business long enough, how well your business has done, versus how well you FEEL it should have done. Consider how many good employees you’ve seen move on, because you, ‘Couldn’t afford to pay them those high wages they were asking for.’ Think of how many employees have been with you for years, and where you feel their value is on a scale from one to ten.

In other words: Take a big boy/girl pill. Take responsibility for your potential mismanagement, and rectify it by doing yourself the service of developing this burden rate technique. Then, implement it. I GUARANTEE that your business can be more profitable, without being the evil, money-grubbing ogre you’re probably thinking that I am right now. I’m not. I simply want to be paid what I’m worth, in reference to my peers, in a business that is well run so that my hard work will result not in financial crutches for my weaker co-workers, but grander things for myself, and the company.

You can often spot your highest producers. They’re the ones who you rely on the most, who you force to do the top-tier work – so that it’s done right. The ones you trust. And, probably, the ones you ride the hardest. These types of employees don’t usually mind this – some may even thrive on it. However, they do look for greener pastures once they spot inconsistencies in treatment that is not commensurate with wage values, or burden rate comparisons. If you ignore the above advice, you will find yourself churning through the occasional stellar employee, while finding yourself surrounded in permanence with the remoras who know a good thing when they get a paycheck from it. If a stellar employee is ridden too hard, and they suddenly make subtle changes to their demeanor or work day – look out. They’re inadvertently telling you that since you’ve given up on them, they’re giving up on you. And two-week’s notice won’t be far behind, as some other savvy employer snatches them up, to leave you floundering with the group they once bolstered.

Humor me – DO THIS. And if I’m wrong, you let me know.

The Envelope, Please!

•December 9, 2012 • Leave a Comment

I attended a Christmas party last night, held at a local upscale restaurant. The food, company, and setting were all quite nice. As the final round of dishware was being cleared, a waitress came around to all of the couples and individuals. From a basket on her arm, she handed each a sealed, red envelope. Aside from being festively printed, and intriguing, here is what the envelope read:

“Come back to <Restaurant> any time between <dates> and bring this envelope – unopened – to receive one of six secret prizes. … Envelope needs to be opened in front of your server to be valid.”

It then went on to list the prizes:
A $100 Gift Certificate
A $50 Gift Certificate
A Free Entree Up To $22
$15 Off Of Your Check
A Free Appetizer
$5 Off Of Your Check

Frankly? the food itself was enough to bring me back. But this addition? This was a stroke of pure genius. Consider how many folks will be swayed off of the fence, in the hopes of hitting the big one. You’re guaranteed something, as well. I like that idea.

While it may not sway everyone, it was such a unique and interesting idea I felt I could not avoid sharing it. It has all the hallmarks of a true guerrilla endeavor:

It offers incentive
It offers intrigue
It’s not hokey, like some ‘give-aways’ or ‘contests’
It’s straightforward
It had great presentation
The return on investment, on the whole, is phenomenal, if it succeeds as I believe it will

Congratulations to this establishment: it proves that guerrilla marketing is for every business, no matter the clientele, and can be done – and done well – when the proper facets are collectively applied. Well done!

The Elections Are Over. But Here’s One Last Thought To Both Business Owners, And Individuals Alike

•November 25, 2012 • Leave a Comment
I had a long discussion with my barber on Saturday, which I’ve only just recollected as ‘interesting’ now. So, for posterity, I present it here, before it’s gone. Specifically, he asked if I were up to anything new since he’d seen me last. I believe he cares (more than could be said for most of his customers, whom I am sure he asks the same of, which is to say, only a very little) because he’s cut my hair for three decades now. I said no, and then mentioned that I had been tapped to be a precinct committeeman for the Republican party. This got his attention and his response was much like most of the folks I talked to when I told them this: Hates politics; self-centered and indulgent; screwed anyway.

My response was to agree, but also to add that instead of bitching about it, I wanted to see it at work from the inside and make my own determinations, in an effort to effect change, no matter how slight. This actually took him off guard, and we had an interesting conversation about politics as a whole, and what we felt was most wrong with the system. Amazingly, he has a lot of the same core complaints that I do, which I never would have guessed.

I conveyed that, during my first minor forays on the ‘inside’ I was stunned by how cobbled together the local system felt. Many in my position were far, far older than I, and I was one of only two or three of the ‘younger set’ – although this becomes more a ludicrous statement the older I get. I think that, for the most part, people are just so jaded, manipulated, or supported by political systems that they’ve abandoned all hope. And that’s just sad, because our country has within its grasp the power to be great with each and every election. Yet, either the wrong party to effect fundamental change is put into power, or the power taints them too quickly to do any good.

Imagine a world where everyone voted their hearts, or said ‘screw it’ and voted third-party. We all claim it’s impossible, but why? Because we’re afraid to ‘throw away’ our vote on a losing horse. But if enough people do so, is it still a losing horse? Lo, the self-fulfilling prophecy. And that’s not to say that I’m an Independent – I’m typically not: I’m predominantly a Republican. But this year, I got out and did what I felt needed doing, to effect change. It wasn’t a success, but at least I can say that I tried: I did something about the problem I saw.

I am also appalled at how random and superficial the local races were. We elected a former television anchor man who sounded more like a sycophantic Republican than a Democrat. And he won in a landslide. Why? Well, it wasn’t on the strengths of his campaign but, rather I feel, was won on his notariety and ‘connectedness’ to the local consciousness. He’s been in our homes for some 20-30 years, so we ‘know him’ and, therefore, ‘trust him’. It’s so short-sighted as to be laughable yet, in practice, it worked. Now, I ask you: Were the voters really educated? Was he the best candidate? Or did they just vote for what was comfortable and a known quantity? I think he’s the wrong man, but that’s my opinion. And for those that voted for him – great! – at least you voted. But WHY did you vote for him? How many can answer that without resorting to one of the two statements made above?

I’m still waiting for the Jesse Ventura/John Stewart ticket. I really believe that those two, in tandem, could make this nation great again. Laugh if you will, but they’ve got the combined necessary background, and connectivity to the common man – combined with the jaded eye – to make a real difference. Agree or disagree, at least it’s an outside the box option.

Here’s the other frustration he voiced: Local politics is crammed with individuals who are only out for their own gain. To some degree, he may be spot on. But, take a step back and ask yourself why this is. Here’s my theory:

There are three kinds of folks who enter this political realm:
º Those who want change for the good of the community
º Those who want to further their own agendas
º Those who want a little of both

I think everyone begins as one of these but, once inside, the ability to become more like a type-2 begins to supercede all else. I’ll be brutally honest: I’m a type-3. I do want to effect change but, I also want to further my local noteriety for future endeavors, be they political, for purposes of leadership outside of oplitics, or merely recognition as an Author: I want to be known in my community, and I’ve been a shameless self-promoter for about three years now. Yet – all along – I have given as much as I’ve taken. When I do book signings, I give part of the proceeds to charity, and I talk up the locale within my personal spaces and circles. When I opened forums on Facebook for my business, I gave each a purpose. I offer a well-policed, spam-free, area for individuals to gain insight into owning and running their small business, marketing, social media, free computer and technical questions to a plethora of sharp minds, and on and on. I’m offering something, but I’m branding what I offer: Every forum reads ‘Digital Ninjas: >Forum Name Here<. This way, I’m getting something out of it as well.

Back on subject: I felt that by immersing myself into a new realm (politics) I could effect change while gaining noteriety amongst a new crowd of ‘movers and shakers’. And I intend to work it for as long as it’s doing either thing. Having a name like ‘Heath’ also helps – it gets me remembered because it’s fairly singular to most folks. Score two for the parents, I suppose.

Back to his original complaint: local politics is crammed with individuals who are only out for their own gain. I think that, to a goodly degree, this is true. BUT – it’s only true because no one else chooses to make their voice heard. Without others to police and steer the leadership’s decisions, they are more apt to treat it as a personal prospect. And who’s to blame them? If no one cares enough to do something, and they are there, and in power, why NOT effect their own agendas? I personally cannot say that I wouldn’t do the same in their shoes. And that isn’t to say I’m looking to screw anyone – I’m not. But if I have a choice to make, and I know what I would do, yet have no further data or voices of the community to otherwise steer my decision, then I’m more likely to do what >I< feel is right, aren’t I? This is where it is so crucial for local individuals to become involved in their local government. I can tell you for a fact that I often get ‘talked out’ of an initial idea at work. How? Because I take into account the thoughts of others, and often see a flaw in my thinking, or a better way. Without this additional input, I would not run a $3 million dollar company. In fact, I might not be running a company at all.

At a recent meeting of local government, a prior vote was discussed. Everything was set into motion, and the day of the vote came. Know how many of the more than 10,000 residents showed to voice their opinion? FIVE. So I don’t want to hear any more about local politics being self-serving – you’re damn right it is, and YOU’RE the reason it is. So go to these meetings, say your peace, tell your friends, and make your voice heard. THEN – and only then – do you earn the right to cast stones and complain. 

Music Sets The Mood

•October 23, 2012 • Leave a Comment

When I was sixteen, and still working my second job* at the sign of the big red K, I would go in to work each day and be greeted with the best forty years of pop, soft rock, and country had to offer. Fortunately, I had spent a lot of my formative years experimenting with music. While most kids were listening to nothing, or pablum, I would play with my parent’s console stereo listening to their albums: The Doors, Sly & The Family Stone, Three Dog Night, Jim Croce, and on and on. I learned from an early age to appreciate music. By the age of eight, my Grandfather had introduced me to classical music, so I gained an appreciation for Ravel, Mozart, Bach, Dvorak, and Chopin at a time when most kids couldn’t spell their names.

*(I started working when I was twelve, in a wood shop owned by a family friend, until I could get a real job, in case you were wondering. There, I was exposed to the likes of Jethro Tull, The Who, R.E.O. Speedwagon, Styx, Led Zeppelin, and Pink Floyd.)

So where am I going with this? Well, instead of tuning the music out, I listened. I would find myself hoping to hear a certain song, and would get a cheap thrill when it arrived over the satellite feed of “The K-Mart Radio Network” (it was, in fact, called that.) I learned a lot about those genres in those few years that I remained there. I also found that many other places offered music to their shoppers. Borders Books brought me in touch with Pulp, Half-Price Books with Beth Orton, and a number of other places and songs began to mount up. Today, I have a collection of music that about 82,000 songs strong, and I treasure them.

So, what does this have to do with your business? I’m finally there! Being young and inquisitive, I entered a conversation with one of the sextogenarian managers in the store about the concept of music within the confines. I was surprised to learn that it was a psychological issue and that, in fact, studies had been done. Apparently, some years ago, he had taken the time to avail himself of this knowledge when presented in written form, where he could not recall. What he told me, however, was fascinating.

Specifically, he spouted some haphazardly recalled numbers about the average number of minutes folks spent in a store with, and without, music. I really wish that he, and subsequently I, could recall the specifics.

I did a little research, and in a nutshell, here’s what I came up with:

In retail settings, there are two schools of thought: to play – or not to play – really popular songs. In the past, hits of times past were chosen so as to give the shopper something familiar to listen to, but not too familiar. This is in contrast to some stores who, now, play top pop hits, even though the psychology once indicated that it distracted the buyer from shopping, and browsing, by making the song more prominent in their mind (I agree with this – I’m looking at you, Wal-Mart). It also has a similar effect on employee’s work habits. If the music doesn’t blend pleasantly into the background, they’re more likely to focus on the music as well, leading to decreased productivity and focus.

For my money? I can see both schools of thought, but I’m on board with the prior theory. The only potential exception is that folks may tend to see this as less ‘trendy’. It’s a trade off.

Then, there’s the classical music theory. Every time I visited a Barnes & Noble, I found myself immersed in the exquisite choices in classical fare on offer. I relaxed, I took my time, I was fluid. And you know what? Studies have indicated that classical music provides a medium for shoppers to shop for a more protracted period of time, and also to be more open to purchasing items of higher cost. I, personally, concur, based solely on my own personal experiences.

Then again, a lot of folks think classical music is ‘icky’. But, in the case above, those folks ALSO won’t tend to be in the target demographic of that particular establishment, so it still makes sense to move forward with that music of choice.

And then, there’s the Groceteria (a word I made up, that I’ve been trying to get established for about fifteen years now. I’m still deluded enough to believe that it might happen.) Grocery stores use slower-paced music in an effort to get patrons to move – and shop – more slowly. The slower the movement, the more time the eyes have to take in the offerings on the shelves. It’s all about eyeball time. It’s hard to recall that you DID just run out of canola oil, if it isn’t on your list. It’s easier, if you’re scanning the aisles, and your eyes hit upon it. And studies have shown a whopping 38% increase in sales in grocery stores when slower music was applied to the patrons.

Own a restaurant? If so, then you have the opposite problem. In the words of Ed Debevic, you want your customers to ‘Eat it, then beat it.’ Table turnover is important to keep waits down, keep wait staff happy and well-tipped, and to promote the most revenue in your proverbial till at the end of each evening. Part of the reason trendy restaurants are expensive (aside from the chefs, the quality foodstuffs provided, and the complex recipes) is that they’re designed to be low-turnover. Part of that cost is built into the sometimes staggering price of said foodstuffs provided.

So, if you own a non-high-end restaurant, your best choice it to play fast-paced, energetic, music. This keeps the old juices a-flowin’ in the patrons, making them less logy and lethargic. An energized patron is less likely to park his or her hiney in your precious booth or seat for too long.

Most important of all, regardless of what sort of establishment that you own, is to know your customer. Play music that meets both your needs, and theirs. And, if you’re a trendy, hip place to shop, make REALLY certain that if you are playing something new, awesome, and obscure, that  you consider having copies of the CD playing for sale. I can’t tell you how often I’ve wanted to purchase what a store who actually sells CD’s was playing, only to find that it was not for sale there.

Pride: A Five-Letter Word That Can Win Or Lose Customers, And The Respect Of Your Peers

•October 11, 2012 • Leave a Comment
Let’s face it: we’re all human. Okay, more specifically, I assume we all are, because aliens are really good at hiding, and Sasquatches don’t write newspaper columns too often. Then, there’s Weird Uncle Pete who may very well fall into a category all his own. But, for the most part: human.

As humans, we all have pride. Pride is so engrained in us that the Catholic Church has gone out of their way to let us know that it’s on the seven most-unwanted list. And it’s a natural response. When we do something well, we’re proud of our efforts. This is fine, to a degree. This is healthy, so long as you don’t go all Jim Jones about it and start offering free Kool-Aid. It’s when we allow pride to begin clouding or, worse, precluding, rational thought that we start to run into some trouble.

Pride can be a fickle thing. It can make us say and do things that our rational mind knows to be wrong or, at the very least, not the best idea in the world. This is where we need to take a step back and assess ourselves and be prepared to acknowledge that – again – we’re human.

In business, ‘Pride goeth before the fall’ is all too true. I have personally been a victim of this vice from time to time and, in hindsight, the only one I hurt was myself. In fact, I let it get in the way of a customer interaction just the other day. I allowed my pride to immediately jump to the conclusion that my customer was wrong, and I was right, based on my wealth of computer knowledge in relation to her veritable lack of it. Know what? We were both wrong.

She was experiencing a two-fold problem: first, her version of Internet Explorer was bringing up a cached version of one of the web sites that we had written for her and, second, Bing was doing some stupid things I didn’t even know could happen. In the end, I took a step back, listened, had her show me what she was experiencing, and we devised a solution (clear the cache, and make one minor tweak to allow Bing not to do stupid things to us anymore.)

Had I not done this, and had I instead let pride take the reigns, I may have lost a customer, and their respect for me as well. And how awful would that have been?

Allowing yourself to possess a ‘pride override’ switch is a learned talent. My first piece of advice is to assume that you are, in fact, wrong. No matter how much you know that you are right because you’re nearly deified in your own mind. Humble yourself to this level, and work it like a Geometry proof. Take the issue step by step and empirically prove that you are as right as you believe yourself to be. Know what will happen? You’ll find the problem with a level head, and retain your good standing with the public at large. Or, in the best case scenario, you’ll be able to walk them through why you’re right, proving to them in a kind and gentle way that they’ve made an error.

If it goes the second way, I also highly recommend playing it down. Waaaaay down. I like to make folks feel more comfortable about their misconceptions or errant ways by giving the ‘Aw, shucks. This sort of stuff happens all the time. If this is the worst thing that happens today, it’ll still be a great day’ speech. That sort of thing. Because their pride might be damaged at just that moment, and an inferiority complex brought on by your smug derision probably isn’t going to gain you any brownie points.

This concept also works well with employee interactions. When I was a young manager (read: Really bad at it) I would get visibly upset about situations (I learned fast that I was a moron). When you approach a situation with delicacy and tact, your employees, too, feel better about themselves, and are more open to gentle coaxing in the form of friendly advice on how not to make the same mistake. I also take the time to recall that I’m human, and make mistakes as well. I take this a step further by attempting to relay a similar story to their plight, should I have one. “Heck, last week I did so-and-so, so compared to that, this is nothing.” It humanizes you as a manager, and levels the mental playing field by removing the ‘us versus them’ wall that often exists. Now we have something in common, and I seem to understand their plight because, well: we do, and I have.

So, in the words of Glen Campbell, “Try a little kindness”. Don’t be glib, prideful, or angry when something goes wrong. Treat the situation as you would wish to be treated, were the roles reversed. I guarantee your street cred will soar, and respect will follow closely behind in the majority of cases.