The Value of Punctuality

The Value of Punctuality

As a mom and business owner I am hyper aware of the value of my time and the opportunity cost for any activity that takes away from time with my family or time providing for my family. So you can understand why I find it annoying when people are late, leave me waiting, or worse, forget about our meeting altogether. It seems as though punctuality isn’t as important as it used to be.

I know some of you are jumping to conclusions now. No, this is not an issue isolated to the millennial generation. I have been left waiting and stood up by people in all generations, with no noticeable concentration from a single generation. So it’s not an age issue. The issue is that, as a culture, we have succumbed to “busyness” syndrome and forgotten the value of punctuality and planning.

The Value of Punctuality

It Demonstrates and Earns Respect

When you show up on time for a meeting, it shows that you value and respect both your time and theirs. It shows that “I really want to work with you and will make you a priority and give you the time and attention you deserve.” If it’s a client, they will see it and feel it and give you their business.

It Demonstrates Trust

Being where you say you’re going to be when you say you’re going to be there shows dependability and builds trust. I want to do business with people I can trust. I won’t hand my money, time, or reputation over to someone I don’t trust.

It Makes You More Productive

Running late has a way of snowballing. If you’re late for your first meeting, chances are you’ll be late for the rest and either lose out on precious time or stretch your day out longer than you want.

It Makes You Less Stressed

If you’ve ever run late you’ve felt the stress and pressure to hurry. Not only is that dangerous when you’re behind the wheel, but in today’s world we have enough stress threatening our health. We don’t need to add to it.

It Makes You More Efficient

Efficiency is different from productivity. Efficiency is using fewer resources to do the same tasks. Productivity is what you get out of those tasks. Being punctual reduces the amount of time you spend stressing about running late rescheduling, apologizing, etc. You’re able to show up, get down to business, and direct your energy toward productive things.

Bottom line, being on time is good business. It demonstrates quality and care to the client or prospect, and puts you in charge of your day and what you do with it. Yes I know that there will be the occasional unforeseen circumstance—a car accident, a client who won’t stop talking, the dog runs away as you’re heading out the door, your teenage daughter is, well, being a teenager—we’ve all been there. But when being late becomes a habit instead of a rare occurrence we have a problem. Help me put a little social pressure out there. Let’s make punctuality trendy again.

The Productivity Paradox of Well-Run Meetings

The Productivity Paradox of Well-Run Meetings

The dreaded “M” word. It invokes visions of unwanted commitment, a loss of freedom, and life-sucking boredom draining all of your energy. No I’m not talking about marriage, but an equally fear-invoking word –meetings.

For many of us, meetings are a waste of time. A veritable black hole where nothing really happens and we must fight to stay awake. We often have no choice but to attend and scream in agony to the office gods to save us from this torture. Don’t blame the meeting. Blame the organizer.

If used correctly, meetings are a valuable business tool. In the wrong hands they are a waste of time, but if designed with focus and purpose and, most importantly, well managed, meetings are a productivity booster.

 

How Well-Run Meetings Boost Productivity

 

We will discuss best practices in a moment, but first lets look at how short, effective, regular (but not too regular) meetings have productivity boosting benefits:

They Establish Predictable Patterns

Recurring meetings that happen at a specific time weekly, monthly, or at other regular intervals create predictable patterns staff can use to plan their activities. If they know that specific meetings are for making certain decisions or for providing updates, they know when the decisions will be made and when items will be reviewed.

They Reinforce Accountability Measures

Group and one-on-one meetings both help to reinforce accountability for delivering information, work products, and demonstrating progress on projects. If people know they have to report on progress in front of others they will work harder to make sure they can report that real progress is occurring on their projects.

They Eliminate Excessive Emails and Drop Ins

If you set the standard that meetings are for addressing certain issues and teach your team to reserve questions, decisions, and updates for those times, then you will ease the burden on your inbox and work time.

They Force Prioritization

Another side effect of containing certain activities to meetings and restricting the length of those meetings is that your team will have to prioritize items and focus on only the most mission critical concerns and tasks.

 

Best Practices for Leveraging Meetings (And Not Letting Them Take Over)

When it Comes To Frequency and Duration, Less is More

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review showed that people spend nearly half their workweek in meetings, which is double the amount of time spent 50 years ago. Much of the increase in time is due to poor planning and management. Its better to opt for less meetings and shorter meetings with a hyper focused agenda and purpose.

I’m a fan of the 15-minute daily huddle paired with an hour long focused meeting once a week. The daily huddle is to take stock of what’s on your team’s plate, their top priorities for the day and what resources they need to tackle them. The weekly meeting is to check in on milestones and progress and identify needs, concerns, decisions, and resources. If you are the leader of a large team, you may need to have multiple huddles and meetings, each with different departments/functional units. Breaking it down by functions or departments allows you to keep the meeting short and focused. Cross-functional and/or company wide meetings should happen less frequently, such as monthly or quarterly.

Severely Limit Attendees

There’s nothing worse than being asked to sit in a meeting that has nothing to do with you, so be sure to only invite the people who absolutely need to be there. If possible, keep it to single digit numbers (3, 5, 8). Once groups grow above 10 it’s easy for sidebars and too many opinions to derail the meeting and eat up valuable time.

Always Have a Clear Agenda and Purpose and Stick With it

Come to the meeting with a prepared agenda and purpose and do not stray. If important items or ideas are brought up, park them in a repository for “next to address” items and topics for future meetings. This way people know they aren’t lost and will get their own time when it is appropriate, allowing them to refocus their attention to the current agenda items.

Take Sidebars and Debates Offline

This is where most meetings derail and take up more time than necessary. If a relevant side bar or debate between 2-3 people develops, encourage those involved to meet “offline” so everyone else isn’t left waiting and refocus the meeting on what needs to be accomplished there and then.

Summarize and Define Action Items Before Closing

Too often we walk out of meetings not knowing the purpose or what happened, if anything. Before closing summarize what was discussed, what decisions were made, and any action items and responsibilities. Send out a typed version of this to attendees within 24 hours.

Get Updates on Action Items Before the Next Meeting

A big mistake many make is waiting for the meeting to get updates on action items. It’s always best to check in half way between meetings to see how action items are progressing. This can be done in the 15 minute huddle or functional meetings and does not require its own meeting. Reinforcing accountability for action items before the meetings shows that people are expected to deliver at the meeting and ensures that the next meeting will focus on progress and next steps, instead of rehashing what hasn’t been done yet.

The more action focused your meetings, the shorter they are and the more enjoyable. People don’t mind meetings if progress is happening. It’s when they digress into bickering, circular debate, and soapboxing that they become mind numbingly boring to the point of becoming physically painful. Be judicious and keep your meetings brief, focused, and purposeful to boost your team’s productivity.

 

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Is Your Company’s Culture Corrupt?

Is Your Company’s Culture Corrupt?

Good companies are often infiltrated at all levels of the organization by crooks, and some companies are inherently crooked, but even good companies can find themselves inadvertently creating a corrupt culture that promotes unethical practices both internally and externally. Many researchers have studied the phenomenon and have identified critical elements that make an entire company go bad. What’s frightening is these characteristics are rather common, especially in organizations that tout themselves as performance driven firms.

So is your company’s culture corrupt?

Leadership is often the first to blame in any situation, but even more so when the company’s culture goes bad. In the article “Culture Corrupts! A Qualitative Study of Organizational Culture in Corrupt Organizations,” authors Campbell and Goritz analyzed corrupt organizations to identify the underlying cultural factors that create a corrupt environment. The authors found that two crucial components created an organizational culture that supports corruption. First, “[c]orrupt organizations perceived themselves to fight in a kind of war . . . [and] perceive themselves as a military force rather than as an ordinary company” (Campbell & Goritz, 2014, pg. 298).

As we all know war brings out the best and the worst in people. Starting with such an extreme approach drives the organization to win at all costs, which leads to the second key component of a corrupt culture—how they reward employees.

Corrupt organizations tie organizational survival and success to employee job security and success. Under these circumstances, the “employees’ moral and ethical concerns become less important than the concern to survive, with the consequence that employees begin to perceive corruption as a positive behavior.” In short, this creates an environment where “the end justifies the means,” and the only thing that matters is results, not how they are obtained (Campbell & Goritz, 2014, pg. 301). The leadership sets the tone by “[setting] their goals in a way that these goals are only attainable through corruption, and they distribute rewards” and apply punishment in a way that supports corruptive means (Campbell & Goritz, 2014, pg. 302).

I have heard many organizations push their sales team with the “come back on your shield mentality” or quoting the Art of War and the conference table. This is a toxic behavior, and ultimately a foolhardy and shortsighted approach to business.

The recent issues at Wells Fargo serve as a prime example. High demands were placed on employees to secure new accounts. Rewards and job preservation became closely tied to this goal. Over time employees found themselves pressured to meet these goals by any means necessary, which meant securing new accounts without the consent of the customer. Now Wells Fargo is drowning in the legal and economic repercussions of a decision that started out innocently enough, but that ultimately lead to an enterprise wide display of unethical behavior.

Many people can’t understand how Wells Fargo was able to let the situation get so bad. The answer is fear and silence. Fear and silence infect the whole organization and it is through fear and silence that immoral persons are able to falsify numbers, engage in conflicts of interests, and other unethical behaviors. The buck truly stops with leadership. The recent HBR article, “Why Ethical People Make Unethical Choices,” showed that a manager’s reaction to employees who raise concerns determines whether they will ever speak up again (Carucci, 2016). Leaders need to make it okay to speak. Still, they are not the only ones to blame.

Whether through fear or silence, all members of the organization become complicit in the moral collapse of the whole firm when they don’t speak out against the unethical few. Author C.E. Johnson notes that some “don’t want to believe the organization is in trouble” and so choose to ignore what they see (2015, pg. 325). Self-imposed ignorance and inaction represents immoral behavior just as detrimental to the firm as the immoral behavior they are ignoring.

The push to win at all costs is a dangerous and slippery slope for companies. Don’t let a drive for results and success undermine the very fabric of your organization. Don’t let economic incentives erode the moral fiber of your company. Build an organization with a worthy purpose and set standards of behavior and money and success will naturally follow. Shortcuts ultimately leave you stranded, or worse, in jail. Better to take the high road.

 

 

References

Campbell, J., & Goritz, A.S. (2014) Culture corrupts! A qualitative study of organizational culture in corrupt organizations. Journal of Business Ethics. 120, 291-311. Retrieved October 8, 2015 from the EBSCOhost database.

Carruci, R. (2016, December 16). Why ethical people make unethical choices. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2016/12/why-ethical-people-make-unethical-choices.

Johnson, C.E. (2015). Meeting the Ethical Challenges of Leadership: Casting Light or Shadow (5th ed.). Los Angeles, California: SAGE Publications Ltd.

 

Is There a Tradeoff Between Profit and Corporate Social Responsibility?

Is There a Tradeoff Between Profit and Corporate Social Responsibility?

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a comprehensive approach to operating a social conscious business. CSR operates with the understanding that the firm affects many stakeholders and must function in a way that creates a positive impact. This includes providing good wages and working conditions, promoting sustainability, and other community focused endeavors. CSR differs from corporate citizenship in that corporate citizenship only looks at community involvement in terms of donations or other limited efforts, or what author Richard Levick calls “passive check writing” (2012). Instead, CSR ensures that every aspect of the business is run in a socially conscious manner.

According to authors Gamble, Peteraf, & Thompson, CSR programs manifest in a few ways. The first is the commitment to operating an ethical business that is inclusive, principled, and fair. This includes programs that promote quality of life for employees and fair treatment of suppliers. The second are large-scale philanthropic initiatives that target disadvantaged groups, such as diversity programs, job programs, charity campaigns, and other endeavors. The third are sustainability or “green” programs that promote stewardship of the environment. In essence, Corporate Social Responsibility is concerned with the triple bottom line: people, the planet, and profit (2013, pg. 197-199).

The Perceived Trade Off Between Profit and Corporate Social Responsibility

Many argue that managing the triple bottom line requires trade-offs between social equity, ecological preservation, and profitability. Businesses need to consider the overall cost versus return of initiatives and the trade-offs associated with each. The investments in green and social practices need to produce enough of a return either in reduced costs, improved revenue, or reduced liabilities to meet the standards of business both in terms of sustainability and profitability (Halpern et al, 2013, pg. 6229-6234).

However, much of the research has shown that operating with a focus on a triple bottom line does not require trade-offs between profit and social responsibility. Because triple bottom line companies operate with concern and interest in the social and ecological environments they operate in, they are able to shape those environments in order to develop new markets and new capabilities. Also, by valuing the resources used to produce goods and services and operating with a focus on preserving those resources, triple bottom line firms have been able to identify sustainable sources that are both cheaper and ecologically sound. This reduces costs and insulates the business to fluctuations in the supply of raw materials. By better managing supply chains while developing new capabilities, triple bottom line firms are able to establish and maintain a competitive advantage over their peers (Glavas & Mish, 2014, pg. 630-632).

One key example of this is Starbucks. Starbucks’ Corporate Social Responsibility programs address every aspect while preserving a focus on profit. Their products, especially their coffee beans, are ethically and sustainably sourced. They have numerous hiring programs that support key community members such as veterans and their spouses. They promote volunteerism among their team members, and other key programs. Their commitment to sustainable coffee sourcing and biodiversity are especially forward thinking practices. The coffee supply under traditional farming practices is in serious danger. Traditional farming practices have eliminated biodiversity in many crops, leaving them susceptible to pests and diseases that have become more prevalent over the years. The NY Times recently shared a report on climate change that claims coffee crops will continue to be devastated by pest and disease as temperatures continue to rise. By promoting biodiversity and crops that are more resistant to these pests and diseases, Starbucks has a head start on protecting and preserving their supply chain.

Despite the growing body of research, many companies are slow to tackle the Corporate Social Responsibility challenge. As the body of research develops and more examples of profitable, socially responsible firms emerge, the pressure to change will grow. The change to CSR practices won’t be easy for existing firms, and will require a complete overhaul in how they are structured and how they do business, but the long term pay offs for both the company and its stakeholders is worth it.

 

 

References

Bromwich, J.E. (2016, September 22). Climate change threatens world’s coffee supply, report says. NYTimes.com. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/23/science/climate-change-threatens-worlds-coffee-supply-report-says.html?_r=0.

Gamble, J.E., Peteraf, M.A., Thompson, Jr., AA. (2013). Essentials of strategic management: The quest for competitive advantage. (4th ed.). New York, New York: McGraw-Hill Education.

Glavas, A. & Mish, J. (2014, January 30). Resources and capabilities of triple bottom line firms: Going over old or breaking new ground? Journal of Business Ethics. 127, 623-642. Retrieved June 23, 2016 from the EBSCOhost database.

Halpern, B.S. et al (2013, April 9). Achieving the triple bottom line in the face of inherent trade-offs among social equity, economic return, and conservation. PNAS. 110(15), 6229-6234. Retrieved June 23, 2016 from the Highwire Press National Academy of Sciences database.

Levick, R. (2012, January 11). Corporate social responsibility for profit. Forbes.com Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/richardlevick/2012/01/11/corporate-social-responsibility-for-profit/#2f88c21646f1.

 

Is Your Strict Adherence To Company Policy Getting in the Way of Customer Service?

Is Your Strict Adherence To Company Policy Getting in the Way of Customer Service?

I’m a nerd about processes. They create consistency and help set and meet client expectations. They work great—until they don’t. Sometimes companies go too far with their policies and procedures, beating employees over the head with them until they become drones following orders, unable to think critically in the moment to assist the customer. Even some owners become a slave to their policies, reciting them on cue to customers instead of having a conversation and finding solutions.

Case in point.

I was cursed (or blessed however you want to see it) with a massive amount of thick curly hair. After years of fighting it I have embraced it and haven’t straightened it in a long time. This means I can’t just walk into any salon and work with any stylist. I need a salon that knows how to deal with curly hair of all ethnicities and works with the existing texture without applying a flat iron to it.

So when I first moved to San Antonio I was in desperate need of a quality salon. I searched and was recommended a place that claimed to work specifically with curly hair. Their website showed pictures galore of women embracing their natural texture. Basically the site screamed “all hail curly hair!” They had an online booking system so I set an appointment. The day before my appointment I get a call from the receptionist. During that call she informed me that I had to straighten my hair before I came.

What?!

Yes, in order to get a natural curl cut I had to blow-dry and straighten my own hair (which I never do) to get it cut. I told her I never straighten my hair. Then she began the scripted response “our policy is to . . .” After three rounds of this she put her manager on the phone. I explained again that I don’t straighten my hair and that I have worked very hard to embrace and nurture my natural curls. The manager than began “our policy is” which I heard for at least five more rounds, ignoring every question I asked.

Neither the employee nor the manager ever stopped to ask me questions about why I felt the way I did or to explain why they do things they way they do. They didn’t try to have a conversation or get to know me or in any way. Instead they recited their policy from the get go and never strayed from the script. It was one of the most frustrating interactions I have ever had.

Needless to say they didn’t get me as a client.

This is just one example of how a strict adherence to policy (mainly reciting policy) became a failure in communication and customer service. If they had stopped to have a conversation with me and address my concerns, who knows I may have become a client and a firm believer in the “straighten before you go” mentality. Or they may have learned that their approach and strict policy was turning off a large portion of their target market and taken it as a learning moment to adjust their approach and gain more clients.

Yes policies and processes are important, but its also important to have some guiding principles that let employees handle and address issues in the moment in a way that doesn’t compromise the business and meets the needs of the individual customer. Employees (and owners) also need to be trained and encouraged to first listen and understand the client, instead of blindly reciting policies. Nordstrom is the prime example of this. We’ve all heard the stories, and some of them can get outrageous, but there is no doubt that Nordstrom has figured it out. They are always listening to their customers and they empower their employees to solve the customers’ problems and give stellar service in the moment.

Evaluate your policies and how you are training your team to use them. Are they getting in the way of customer service? Are they ignoring the needs of the customer? If the answer is yes, it’s time to reevaluate.