Monthly Archives: February 2008

Manager Tools

I have found that most managers from small businesses need coaching on how to become more effective, and that often the basics of the “craft” of management seem to be lacking. Many small business persons get into business not to be a professional manager, but they become managers by default because they build houses, or have a professional practice, or want to make money from their cooking skills. Nothing in any of those professions prepares small business owners to be effective managers. Many believe that effective leadership and management means “I am the boss and I tell you what to do.” End of discussion.

I always start with the basics of employee feedback, clear job descriptions, reviews, etc. These are foundations of the relationship with any employee and not just something that big companies do. How can an employee do their job if you have not told them what their job is and suggested to them on how to do their job better?

A couple of years ago, I discovered a fabulous resource for any manager in any size company. It is called Manager Tools and is a comprehensive body of recorded discussions on everything from how to give employee feedback to how to shake hands. It is distributed in the form of a weekly podcast and can be found for free either through their web site at or through the Business section of the podcast directory of iTunes. (For those who have not yet discovered “podcasts”, or are technically phobic, do not be intimidated. A podcast is just like a radio broadcast that you can access through your computer. Just load iTunes for free over the internet, go to the Podcast Directory, search for Manager Tools and subscribe.) The basic subscription is free and like much of the internet today, there are enhanced services for a nominal fee, but the free weekly podcast is fantastic by itself.

The two business consultants who produce this information work mostly with large corporations and so for small businesses, some of the podcasts are not relevant. But for the most part, the information is useful to anyone in business. I am a giant supporter of this resource, have suggested it to most of my clients and would recommend it to any small business person.

Sink or Swim Management

Imagine someone trying to teach a non-swimmer to swim by throwing them in the deep end of a pool and walking away. Then upon returning sometime later, finding that struggling student is not doing a perfect crawl across the pool, yelling at the student.

While this seems ludicrous, it is a pretty good parallel to how many otherwise smart business people treat employees. When a client tells me that they have a problem employee and I start to explore the situation, I usually find that there is no job description, no training, no consistent feedback on good or bad performance.

Most successful small businesses start with a core of people who learn quickly, adapt to new situations and are willing and able to take on new undefined responsibilities. But these people are relatively rare. It is a mistake to assume that a business can continue to grow by continuing to find this kind of employee. Later employees need a more structured situation with a better defined set of responsibilities. It is the manager’s job to make sure the employees knows what their jobs are and how to do them, and to give them regular feedback along the way.

It is possible to build a small business using sink or swim management, but the owner will be frustrated with a high turnover looking for the rare employees who learn to swim before they drown.

Customer Service: it’s more than just being nice

The true test of great customer service is not how nice your staff is. The true test of great customer service is what you and your staff do when things go wrong.

When Margaret Fox owned Cafe Beaujolais in Mendocino, she trained her staff to solve the customer’s problem at the table. It was more than just training. It was empowering. To correct a less-than-ideal experience, or even because the customer took so much delight in the dish, the staff could comp a dish or a bottle of wine, or the whole meal if they thought it was appropriate. Word-of-mouth reputation works both ways. It is much less expensive to prevent a bad reputation than to correct it once it has spread.

Many small business owners fear giving employees this authority. They feel the need to be in control of any financial commitments made for the business. This is a good instinct in general, but misplaced in the case of creating great customer service. You want to leave the customer feeling like they had a great experience regardless of any problems that occurred. The cost of a bottle of wine or a free dish is trivial; the effects of a bad experience can be enormous.

Danny Myers, in his recent book Setting the Table, has a whole chapter titled “The Road to Success is Paved with Mistakes Well Handled.” He looks at problems and mistakes not just as something to be fixed, but as opportunities to turn the problem into a truly exceptional experience for the customer. He calls it “writing a great last chapter.”Clearly there is a lot more to great customer service than just creatively solving customer problems, but I believe that there is a very high correlation between organizations that do so well and those that succeed.

By the way, the book Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business by Danny Myers is a book about his experiences in the restaurant business. But it is also a fabulous management book for anyone in any business that deals with the public. It is a must-read for anyone concerned with great customer service.

The First 12 Minutes

This is about breaking through blocks that prevent us from getting things done.

I love to ride my bicycle. Road, trail. It does not matter. But I often have trouble getting started. The critical time is the first 12 minutes of the ride. As I get closer to the time for the ride, I find that maybe my knee hurts, or that I am tired, or that it is cold outside or that it looks like it might rain. You get the idea. I would like to tell you that I always overcome those rationalizations, but often I do not. But what I have found is that if I can just get on the bike and ride 12 minutes, all of that goes away. I get into the ride, I forget my knee and my discomfort with heat, cold, wind, and all of the other excuses. What was all the fuss about? This is great!

To me there is a lesson for my business life and maybe for my coaching clients. What ever it is that we are avoiding or putting off with excuses, rationalizations and resistance, we just need to make a deal with yourself to do it for 12 minutes. Sometimes that gets you past the block and into the project.

There is a great book on the subject of breaking down the resistance to getting things done It is called The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. He addresses this problem from the point of view of a professional writer, but what he says can be applied to any of us who struggle with getting things done.

For other books I have found helpful, see my book list.