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Articles written by
Adam Harrell
November 10, 2010

Negating The Value of Customer Feedback

The first clue that the company wasn't interested in my true opinion was when the "service consultant" asked me to give him an excellent rating, otherwise he'd get yelled at for doing a bad job. Now the reality of the situation was, this service consultant was far from excellent. But instead of looking for feedback as a means of improvement, they've decided to look for feedback as a means of validation.

There's an old saying: What gets measured, gets managed. And if your bonus is based on a metric, customer satisfaction ratings in this case, then the organization has created an incentive to improve the numbers, not necessarily the customer experience.

Even worse, this particular organization has created a punishment response that puts the pressure of a better customer satisfaction survey response on their front line staff. As a result the staff doesn't care about providing better service, but they do care about getting that oh-so-important excellent rating.

The root cause of this issue is simple. It's a badly designed reward system that incentivizes the wrong behavior. And this phenomenon of "making it look better on paper" appears at all levels of the work world. The CEO who improves short-term performance by juggling numbers on the balance sheet is no different than the service consultant begging for a better survey rating. Or event the marketing manager who calculates ROI numbers for their campaigns by tweaking a spreadsheet.

So how do you design better reward systems? I'm not sure. It's definitely something I'd love to learn more about. If anyone has any book recommendations, please leave them in the comments.

September 24, 2010

During Harvest Season, You Work The Fields

A generation ago, my family were farmers. Farming can be a hard life, and my grandfather is the definition of tough. Not in a Clint Eastwood way; there were no mean looks or quick quips, instead my grandfather had what I refer to as "grit". He had the backbone and quiet fortitude to stick it out in tough times. He'd wake up at 4:00 am, even when he didn't feel like it.

Stephen Pressfield, in the book "The War of Art," referred to this as being a professional. He said the difference between an amateur and a professional is that the professional does his job even when he doesn't feel like it. Artists, like farmers, know the key to success is pushing through the difficult times even when it's the last thing in the world you want to do.

When it feels like the world is on your shoulders and you're at the breaking point. Just remember to keep it in perspective. Don't let being "busy" stress you out. Stay calm, keep your head down and work through it. During harvest season, you work the fields until you're done.

September 21, 2010

The Anna Karenina Principle of Business

The Anna Karenina principle was popularized by Jared Diamond. It comes from a line in the book Anna Karenina.

"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own unique way."

This principle states that evolutionary success doesn't occur because of some particular positive trait, it is instead the absence of any serious negative traits that leads a species to thrive. If you were to apply this idea to business, it means a deficiency in any one core element will doom a company to extinction. However, a successful company somehow avoids each and every one of these potential failures as it grows and thrives.

The bigger question then becomes, what are the core traits that lead to business failure? In the case of domesticated animals, these traits are easy to identify (dietary needs, captive breeding, disposition, panic tendency, and social structure).

I propose the following, sure to be incomplete, list of positive traits required for a sustainable business:

  • Ability To Identify A Competitive Niche
  • Flexibility In Adopting Internal & External Innovation
  • Capability To Repeatedly Identify & Recruit Talent At Market Value
  • Ability To Sustain Periods of Frugality
  • Commitment To Organizational Learning

So what do you think? Did I leave anything off the list?

August 31, 2010

"Task Cohesion" is More Important Than "Group Pride"

Want to motivate a group of people to do something amazing? You don't need a group cheer, and you don't need to fly a flag. The individual members of your team don't even have to like each other (although that makes it a hell of a lot more fun).

Things like group cheers, crazy hats and other "tribal" identifiers are great at building social cohesion among like-minded individuals, and can be powerful tools. However, social cohesion is not a great predictor of a successful outcome.

If you want to succeed in a difficult task, the most important step you can take is to get everyone committed to it. In the military this is called "Task Cohesion", and studies have shown it's the most important factor in determining whether or not a difficult mission gets completed.

So, how do you create task cohesion? It's not easy, but it's relatively simple. The key aspects are:

  • Define the task in realistic and concrete terms. Make it memorable and inspiring.
  • Create a sense of significance. Allow them to understand the "why" behind the mission.
  • Encourage communication from the bottom up and leverage heterogenous skill sets.
  • Emphasize "getting the job done" above all else.

This isn't ground breaking advice, and you've probably heard a lot of it before. But, it's worth remembering. Work is about accomplishing what you set out to do. If you're leading a project team, the best thing you can do is set a clear goal and get everyone's buy in. It's great to have fun along the way, but if the mission fails. It won't matter.

July 30, 2010

The Difference Between Slick & Cool

Companies always want to be cool, but few companies actually are. Most are predictable and boring.

If you're predictable and boring, and you ask an agency for cool, what you'll get instead is slick.

Cool requires only one thing: Be unique and do interesting things. Companies that are cool embrace their quirks. They don't find the latest trend and hop in front of it like a dude desperate to lead the parade. They add to the culture and remix it; they don't exploit it. The more you learn about a cool company, the more interesting they are.

Slick is different than cool. Slick looks like cool from across the room, but as soon as you talk to it, you realize it's just a veneer. Slick companies are the farthest thing from interesting. They're more concerned with appearing cool than being cool. It's a short term gimmick, and it never works for long. Once the veneer cracks, you're back to square one. Like Mitt Romney saying, "Who Let The Dogs Out", your customers can smell the inauthenticity.

So if you're a boring company looking to become cool. Don't expect that a slick flash website or cutting edge social media campaign will do the trick. You'll be slick, but definitely not cool.

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