What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

It seems like I’m on a roll these days with rants about customer service. And this one is a doozy. A few weeks ago my wife and I were flying to Las Vegas where I was to speak at a conference. We were supposed to fly from Kansas City to Phoenix and then to Vegas. It was a Sunday morning and when we arrived at Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix, the trouble began. Apparently some joker decided to leave a locked vehicle unattended at the curb outside one of the terminals. It wouldn’t surprise me if someone was late for a flight and didn’t have time to take the car to the off-site rental car return and simply dropped it at the curb and figured he’d deal with the flak later. Well flak there was.

As we got off the plane, we were told that the terminal was closed due to a “security issue.” Passengers were not allowed to move down the concourse with TSA and the Phoenix Police Department enforcing this edict. Shortly thereafter, we were quickly herded to an adjoining section of the terminal where even more passengers were gathered. The line of demarcation was just short of the restrooms and very quickly the scene turned ugly. People were chanting and a full-scale riot was minutes away. Fortunately, someone in authority decided that letting people go to the bathroom might be a good idea, so they began creating bathroom lines and allowed ten people at a time to step under the tape and head single-file to the restrooms – all the while under the watchful eye of those in “authority.” Finally, they allowed the mob to move deeper into the concourse where everyone had access to the restrooms.

This situation persisted for somewhere between three and four hours. And not once did law enforcement provide any information whatsoever. I was able to watch some video on my phone from a local television station that enabled me to understand what was happening. Eventually (I was told), the bomb squad decided they needed to blow something up, so they blew the trunk of the car and the passenger doors to find . . . nothing. I guess I can understand how cautious we need to be in this day and age. But it was absolutely inexcusable that everyone was kept in the dark through the entire ordeal. A public affairs representative for law enforcement should have provided updates every 15 minutes on the overhead PA system as well as on social media along with an estimated time for resolution. Phoenix PD and the TSA did nothing to help their image with this display of arrogance. It was equally inexcusable that the decision was made to cordon off the terminal at a point where the restrooms weren’t accessible. From a practical standpoint, we’re talking 30 or 40 feet – and eventually the decision was made to move the cordon anyway.

Of course a number of flights were cancelled including ours. I received a text message from the airline (I’d “love” to say which one but I won’t) informing me that our flight was cancelled and to click on a link to re-book . . . except the link didn’t work. So, shame on the airline. Eventually we made a standby flight to Los Angeles that took us on to Las Vegas. But of course our luggage was MIA. The one bright spot in all of this was a very delightful lady named Lori at the airline’s lost baggage department in Las Vegas who really cared about our situation and said she’d do everything she could to see that we got our bag ASAP. And later that evening our bag did arrive. Kudos to Lori! Unfortunately, this airline – which is supposedly known for its technological prowess – has still not deployed a bar coding system for baggage. Another major airline we fly sticks a bar code on our luggage and we can look at a phone app and know exactly where it is in the country at all times. So another pox on the airline we used that Sunday for not getting with the bar coding program.

Things can really go wrong for us as entrepreneurs and sometimes they do. We can learn from experiences like this and avoid the mistakes that others are making. Above all, continual, clear and honest communications is paramount as long as the train is off the rails. And it’s also important to make sure all systems and processes are working and that common sense prevails. If we do it right, we can actually score points with our customers as they weather the storm with us.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 119 – Good or Bad Signals?

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The “Disneyland” Story

We’ve explored the concept of Vision in this blog before. But I’d like to share a technique that has worked for me – perhaps you’ll find it valuable too. Simply put, vision is “what it looks like when we get there.” Remember when we were young and a family vacation to Disneyland was being planned? What was the focus? It wasn’t so much on the long journey to get there. Instead, we could see ourselves riding in the Tomorrowland Jets (long gone now) or in a Matterhorn Bobsled. We could taste the cotton candy and hear the whistle on the Mark Twain Riverboat. In other words, we had a vision in our minds-eye of what we were going to experience.

As entrepreneurs we have that same vision. The problem for most of us is that it remains trapped inside our heads. We struggle to articulate it to others. And so our team members punch the clock every day with no clear idea of “what it looks like when we get there.” It seems pretty clear to us, but they don’t have a clue.

I’ve been struggling with communicating my vision for many years. I often launch initiatives and undertake projects that all make sense within the framework of my vision – but to others it seems like a helter-skelter approach to something that is undefined. At times, members of our team have expressed frustration with the process and begged for a clearer picture. I’ve tried reducing my vision to writing, but a few bullet points later even I’ve been uninspired.

At the urging of a friend and former colleague I took another stab at it recently. But instead of trying to put it on paper in a concise one or two paragraph manner I went a different direction. I decided to tell a story. I mocked up a Wall Street Journal masthead and put myself in the shoes of a WSJ reporter writing a profile of my company – ten years in the future. I actually picked the name of a real reporter and the date on the masthead was really ten years out. And then I told the story in considerable detail. What unfolded were several aspirations; explanations of how the aspirations were to be achieved, and ensuing measures of success. I quoted real people. I talked about how our customers were going to feel. Our culture was highlighted and several strategies were outlined. One thousand seven hundred and seventy words later a clear picture emerged representing “what it looks like when we get there.”

I’ve started sharing the vision story with various teams – our Executive Leadership Team, Senior Managers Team, etc. My vision needs to become a shared vision and I’m eager and willing to tweak it so that it is inspiring to as many members of the team as possible. We’re beginning to work backwards from what it looks like ten years in the future, to identify the various strategies that will be needed to reach the vision. Clearly there’s a lot of work to be done – but finally; for the first time in more than 40 years, everyone has a clear picture of where we’re going.

If you’ve been having a tough time articulating your vision, I encourage you to write your own story. And if writing isn’t really your thing, sit down with someone who has the gift of prose and tell him or her the story from your heart. This person can serve as your translator and put on paper the story that you will share with your team. You’ll have several re-writes. You’ll add, delete, clarify, expand and fine tune. Just remember that the final product should be inspirational. It should be as big and bold as you desire. And anyone reading it should come away without any doubt about “what it looks like when we get there.”

We all have a Disneyland image of some sort for the organization to which we have committed so much of our lives. We can share it with others through a storytelling process that creates clarity and a call to action.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Disneyland

Simplicity

In today’s business world there is a constant drumbeat for clear communications. And without a doubt, we’ll find a lack of clear communication at the root of many of the issues that we have with each other. OK, I get it. We need to communicate more clearly. But here’s something you won’t hear as often. There is also a need to simplify our communications. Sometimes we may think we are communicating clearly when in fact the message we are conveying is so convoluted and complicated that our audience gets lost.

I’m involved with a venture capital business that screens large numbers of start-up companies in the biotech space as we look for potential investments. One company in particular stands out from the rest – not because of the product it was developing, but because its pitch was so impossible to understand. We have some technical people on our board as well as advisors with whom we work, and no one understood what the pitch was all about. This company used highly technical terminology and language that no one ever hears in day-to-day conversation. I suppose that it’s possible that the product could have been an amazing breakthrough in its field. But we’ll never know because we declined to invest for the simple reason that we couldn’t understand the pitch. Here’s an excerpt from the pitch summary.

(XYZ) technology allows RNA to be manufactured using well proven large scale fermentation processes. Prior to (XYZ) manufacturing innovations these large scale fermentation processes were not viable because of the ubiquitous and unavoidable presence of RNAses (enzymes that break down RNA) in the fermentation process environment. (XYZ) technology sequesters, inside a protein capsid, the RNA as it is produced thus protecting it from RNAse degradation. This protein capsid protects the RNA allowing subsequent isolation and purification. There is also a high level of interest in using the protein encapsidated RNA as a delivery mechanism.

The preceding is an extreme illustration of overly-complicated communications. But there are countless examples that occur daily to a lesser degree. I moderate panel discussions at several apartment industry conferences each year. We talk about a number of aspects of the business including debt, equity, construction and operations. Often we have audience members who are new to the industry. While the subject matter can be complex at times, the bigger problem is all of the acronyms that are the plague on our house.

It doesn’t matter whether the communication is written or verbal, we must redouble our efforts to simplify, simplify, simplify. When we write like we speak, we tend to accomplish this objective. And if we think before we speak, it’s likely our communication will be understood. Guarding against ego-creep is also in our best interest. We’ve all seen the pontificators who like to show everyone how smart they are by spouting a bunch of intellectual-sounding mumbo jumbo. Staying humble and being respectful of the audience’s desire to understand what we are communicating should be our guiding principle.

A man or woman of few(er) words conquers rambling purveyors of verbosity every time. Striving for clarity and simplicity in our communications will ensure that we are persuasive and convincing.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

einstein lecture

The RPM Game

Question: I’m finding that I’m becoming less patient as I get further into my career. Sometimes my impatience doesn’t serve me well. Any tips on how to be more patient?

Answer: I’m right there with you . . . I hate to wait. As a matter of fact my sense of urgency is off the charts – my colleagues can certainly attest to that! It’s the worst when I’m in my car. I think that once upon a time a wicked witch put a stoplight curse on me because I seem to hit every red light known to man. In my world, things need to happen right now and right away. I have a perspective that life is a fleeting moment in the overall scheme of things and there is too much that I want to accomplish in a short period of time. So I’m not very tolerant of things that slow me down.

Yet, I actually have become more patient in many respects. What I’ve learned is that my impatience at times has caused me to try and muscle through situations where a more patient and finessed approach would have been much more effective. My sense of urgency remains as high as ever, but I’ve become more intuitive at backing off and being a bit more gentle and methodical in moving forward. At some point in the past I realized that my impatience with the people around me wasn’t helping them advance the cause. Instead it was frustrating and flustering them. That quite literally gave me pause.  

My sense of urgency is now tempered with my willingness to slow down and make sure that the people around me have clarity and understanding about the situation at hand. If they don’t, it’s my obligation to patiently take the time to help them gain a clear perspective. I liken this to the simple act of shifting gears in a car. In a lower gear the engine revs up and runs harder. When shifting into a higher gear, the RPMs drop and the engine doesn’t have to work as hard. The more impatient we become the harder our engine has to work.

Slowing down long enough to ensure that others have a clear picture of the road ahead is in itself, a practice in patience. And this actually allows us to shift into a higher gear and go even faster.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.