Friday, January 29, 2010

The Killing Fields

I understand that during the Second World War there was a slogan "Loose Lips Sink Ships" which was designed to encourage everyone to be careful about disclosing information that may be of assistance to the enemy. I know that in the 1970's there was a sales training film entitled "Who Killed The Sale" which looked at things such as general chatter by employees of an organisation being overheard by potential customers to the end that an incipient sale was lost.

I thought about this the other day when I had to phone Microsoft about an issue (yes, the same Microsoft of which I spoke in an earlier blog!).

The issue was simple. An older laptop in the house had decided it wouldn't work and the system diagnostics made it clear that radical surgery was the only remedy - a reformat and reinstall of the operating system (Windows XP). Not a major issue, I thought, and one that even a person of my limited technical expertise could do.

All went well until the machine asked for the Product Key - that 25 digit arrangement that determines whether or not Santa will scratch you from his next Christmas list because you've been naughty and used non-genuine material. No problems. I was using the original disc supplied by the manufacturer (Dell) and they had attached the product key details to the base of the computer. I carefully copied the figures and then input it. Back came the message "The Product ID you entered is not valid".

After several such attempts I then took out several other copies of XP (all carefully stored in their original packages) for other computers in the house and tried their codes. Same message.

At this point decided I was obviously doing something wrong so I emailed Microsoft explaining the situation and asking for suggestions. Back came a response from their Michael Chong asking me to repeat the information I had already given and he suggested that I phone their service line. So I phoned.


The woman with whom I spoke (and who, I am sure, was the same woman who previously had told me I was using illegal material because "Microsoft never made an XP Office") now told me that the problem was not Microsoft's - it was Dell's and that she couldn't help me and, in addition, that I was using a non-genuine disc! Microsoft and I will, I am sure, have further discussions about this and Dell may want to have a chat with them, too!

I then phoned a local Computer Repair person. He asked 3 questions, made 1 suggestion, and the problem was resolved. I was doing something wrong. It was a simple error. In less than 5 minutes things were working and there was no charge. All done over the phone.

In thinking about this, the examples of "Loose Lips Sink Ships" and "Who Killed the Sale" came to mind. This "service" person at Microsoft has harmed her employer. She has created in me the belief that Microsoft don't give a S**##@ about their customers and she has implied that a reputable hardware manufacturer has acted improperly.

As have said before, this is a leadership issue.

There is something in the culture at Microsoft that either models the approach taken by this service person or the training that she has been given is focused on the wrong thing. There may even be a situation of cognitive dissonance in which she is told that "service" is important but other metrics by which she is assessed indicate that that she must get rid of me in X seconds so that she can deal with another person's issues. Under that scenario she is unable to listen to my issue in any other way than with the intent of moving me on as fast as possible - "packaged answers" are the only response.

It set me thinking.

What cultural issues in your organisation damage your reputation? Are there support area issues that adversely impact on how you are perceived by your customers / clients? What are you doing to check about this? What are you going to do in order to correct it?

More information about Doug Long and how I may be able to help you at

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Are we there yet?

When our children were young we did quite a few road trips. We travelled by car all around New Zealand and most of NSW and Victoria in Australia as well as covering significant amounts of Queensland, South Australia, and Western Australia. Like most parents we learned to dread the question: "are we there yet?"
Today, in the space of only a few hours, I had two different organisations ask me a very similar question.
Both organisations have a vacancy in a supervisory position. Both organisations have people who are technically everything they desire. The issue relates to the suitability of these people for the next step up the ladder.
Whether or not we readily admit it, the truth is that every supervisory and management position is, first of all, a position demanding "people skills". The moment we move from being assessed on what we achieve from a technical position to what we achieve through the work of other people, the ability to interact positively with other people becomes essential.

Some years ago, Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard in their book "Management of Organizational Behavior" introduced a diagram similar to the one here. The point they made was that, at the operator level of an organisation, the key payoff skills - those things by which you will be assessed - are your technical competence. Once you move into any form of supervisory or management role, the high payoff skills become your people skills. At each level, all three sets of skills are important, but the skills underlying the way in which you are assessed changes significantly.
This was something both of the organisations with which I spoke today have yet to learn. They knew that these vacancies were coming up yet they did nothing to prepare those they are interested in promoting. The result is that they now face the dilemma of either appointing people who lack the necessary people skills or disillusioning (and possibly losing) their best technicians.
Like any other sets of skills, people skills can be learned. What do you do in your organisation to develop the people skills of those responsible for other people?
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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

"Blue Zone" cares!

Last week my son purchased a 4WD vehicle and, over the weekend, went out bush with his mates. The group took several 4WD's and they are experienced 4WDers. This was serious "bush bashing" in an authorised area and they put themselves and their vehicles through some pretty testing stuff. The end result, fortunately just as they were about to come home, was that the clutch failed on my son's Nissan. It was interesting to be told of how the whole group worked together to get his car back to Sydney and to his workshop (as it happens most of them are mechanics): it has been equally interesting to hear how everyone is now helping him get the car fully repaired and back on the road in the shortest possible time.

They call it "helping your mates".

Also over the weekend we all heard of the disaster in Haiti. Again it is heartening to see the worldwide response of people seeking to provide help of all sorts to those who are in desperate need.

Some call this emergency international aid.

It doesn't really matter what you call it. Nor does it matter whether we are talking about a small group of friends working together or an international response to a disaster. The fact is that, for the most part, people are prepared to help others - even when there are significant costs to themselves. Its one of the really great things about humanity and it is totally independent of any religious, racial, cultural, or other perspective. We do it because we are human.

In another arena ( I have talked about the areas of our brains that control how we see the world and how we respond to the various issues that confront us on a daily basis. I have also referred to this in a previous blog (Leaders and the Brain). In both of these, as well as in The Success Zone (2009, Mowat, Corrigan, Long, Global Publishing Group, Melbourne: I have talked about "red zone" areas of brain control as opposed to "blue zone" areas of brain control. Being "human" - caring about people and trying to find appropriate solutions when disasters strike is a blue zone activity.

Wouldn't it be great if we all had much more "blue zone" control in our lives?

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Its a cultural thing

A few years ago when John Corrigan, Andrew Mowat and myself first started working with schools, we thought that helping teachers understand and change their behaviour would bring about greater levels of student engagement and hence improved results for students, teachers, and the schools. Theoretically we were right - the key to increasing student engagement does lie in the attitudes and behaviours of teachers. However what we found was that unless the culture of the school was totally supportive of the new attitudes and behaviours any improvement was transitory. (More information about this is available from This lead us to the realisation that we needed to deal with leadership issues first and foremost.

My blog on Tuesday dealt with service problems and the concern that different people dealing with the same organisation can have vastly disparate experiences. I made the point that ideally every person dealing with an organisation should have a positive experience. The issue, I argued, is one of leadership.

Deming, the 'father of quality' (as some have said), made the point that only about 15% of problems are caused by special causes. He also made the point that these are the areas on which most attention is focused because we are "seen" to be doing something about the problem - that fact that it may be simply a cosmetic repair that will eventually break down doesn't really seem to faze us. Deming argued that the time, money and effort should be put into dealing with the systems causes because, although they will probably take longer to fix, the repairs will be long-lasting.

Effectively Deming argued that leaders deal with the systems causes of quality issues because they know that ultimately quality is always a cultural matter- and leaders determine culture.

There used to be a military joke that stated military personnel of a particular country had a philosophy of "ready, fire, aim" - when the defence budget is astronomical and the culture is "gung ho" then it is easy to slip into a behaviour that shoots first and asks questions afterwards. I see this today in the behaviour of many "leaders" - and it shows primarily in a predilection for immediate rather than considered action. In the area of service quality this can be seen by disciplinary action against individuals rather than correcting the culture that forces them to minimise the amount of time they spend with each person seeking help.

What is the culture like in your organisation? What systems issues need to be addressed in order to ensure all your customers/clients receive high quality help when they need it? Before singling out individuals for blame and correction, remember that when you point a finger at someone, there are more fingers pointing back at you. If its a systems or cultural issue, dealing with a special cause won't fix it.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Service! Please!!!!

Just after Christmas my laptop got seriously sick - first it wouldn't boot then, when it did boot, it decided that it didn't like Windows any more! (At least that sentiment is one that it shared with plenty of other people.)

Last Thursday, January 7, I managed to get it operational again thanks to some help which finally arrived from the manufacturer in the form of a new hard disk. Now we are fully operational again - I even managed to transfer everything from the old disk to the new one so I've not lost any work. What I did lose, however, was a lot of patience with the leadership of organisations that claim to provide "service".

My first encounter with the manufacturer's service department was positive. Their Australian operations were closed on Monday December 8 because of a public holiday. Fair enough. So I phoned their other listed service help line number (obtained off the internet through another computer) and the technician was very helpful. We worked through all the checks he nominated and he made a diagnosis which made sense. He then said I would need to contact the Australian service number on Tuesday to follow up and get action taken.

And that's where my problems started.

First the technician made it clear that my warranty had expired 14 days previously and that I would now have to pay for any repairs. He then told me that I couldn't have spoken with anyone on Monday because it was a holiday. We then went through the same diagnostics as previously and agreed on the same fault. I was then told someone would phone me back with a quote which I would have to accept before anything could be done.

It took several days and much contact with local management before I finally got the quote and then a little while longer for them to understand the vagaries of Australian Consumer Law which takes a very dim view of essential parts of anything needing replacement just after the warranty expires. Still, as I said, by Thursday we were back in business and I am grateful for the very helpful technician in India and then for the management action at Dell that finally got things happening.

But I still had a problem. My email wouldn't work. So I contacted Microsoft who had supplied me with Outlook. My previous problems now faded into insignificance. I had in front of me the original case for Microsoft Office and all the details. I had been using this for several years and it was registered with Microsoft. Now I was told by the service department that Microsoft hadn't make an XP version and that I must have a dodgy copy. It didn't matter that I could quote chapter and verse including all the requisite information she requested. She was right. I was wrong. She than added fuel to the fire by making it clear that no-one could even help me with the diagnosis until I crossed Mr Micrsoft's palm with significant sized monetary notes.

I hung up; contacted a friend; and the problem was resolved in 3 minutes.

Then I needed to get my antivirus back. In fear and trepidation I phoned the Norton people. What an amazing change. In about 2 minutes the technician had checked my details and 15 minutes later I had my antivirus back and fully operational. No fuss. No problems. Great, helpful, immediate service.

Now I fully appreciate that other people may have had totally different experiences with Dell, Microsoft, and Norton from those I have set out above. My point is: we should all have had the same experience - and that should have always been a positive one. Whether or not a person receives good service should never be a random probability - it should be built into the culture of the organisation.

And that is a leadership issue.

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