In many organizations, and certainly within organizations of size, a role tends to arise out of necessity: the fix-it guy. (Author’s note: For our purposes, “fix-it guy” is a gender-neutral term that can refer to an individual of any gender who is routinely called upon to save the day.)
This person has a particular talent for getting things done without planning. So when a problem suddenly arises or things get stuck, they’re the one that everyone rushes to.
Some people make entire careers off of fulfilling this role—but, in reflecting on my own role in several organizations, I’m asking myself if the fix-it guy is actually good for the overall health of an organization.
Here’s the source of my doubt: When things suddenly fall into the lap of the fix-it guy, most people just thank their lucky stars that someone was there to catch the pieces. But what they tend to overlook is examining how things got to the point where they needed a fix-it guy in the first place.
In my career as an executive, I’ve found myself in the role of the fixer more often than I’d like to admit. It usually happens like this: There’s a product launch or a new opportunity that I know is coming down the pipe. But instead of mobilizing the organization to get resources ready, I get wrapped up in other projects. Then, when that opportunity or problem finally comes to a crisis point, I find that I’m the only one with the ability to handle it on short notice.
This happens a lot in a venture where I’m providing some operational support. The executive runs the organization and does a great job and has assembled a team of talented, driven professionals. But every now and then they'll come across an issue, and it’s easy to say, “Doug, can you take this?”
And let me be clear; they are not the guilty party in this. At least as often, I’ll find myself going to them and saying, “I know this thing is coming up and we should have talked about this, but now it’s too late and I have to pull a rabbit out of a hat.”
Why do I let it get that far? Well, to be honest, I have a lot of hats as a result of a long career, and finding rabbits in them can be easier than mobilizing the entire organization. But lately, I’ve started to doubt this way of operating. Because yes, I’m solving problems for the organization, but I’m not helping to develop any skills or resiliencies for the organization as a whole.
Healthy organizations can respond to situations through established processes and planning—not through crisis management every few weeks. And as I write this, I’m currently on deadline for two things that I should’ve worked on last week, but I kicked the can down the road because I knew I’d be able to pull it off.
This is the crux of what I’m talking about. Does what I’m doing work? Sure, the job will get done. But it’s not contributing to the health of the ventures that I’m trying to grow. And the more I think about it, the more I’m starting to suspect that I’m actually doing a disservice to these groups by fixing disasters maximizing potential opportunities instead of helping them build processes to address these in the proper course.
So what should you do instead? I challenge you to try to identify when you or your organization’s fix-it guy is being called into action. When you see that happen, don’t let one person fix it all. Instead, try something like, “I know we’re running late, but how can we peel this apart and deal with it in a way that’s not so reactive?”
If you can, try to enlist help from other people so it doesn’t all end up on one person’s soldiers. But you should expect to have to coach people on how they can help, especially at first. These don’t have to be in-depth, but give people a lead-in on how they can contribute. Try things like, “Hey Kim, there are three parts to this thing coming up, could you help me with this part?”
For myself, I need to remember that if I want to help this enterprise, then I should help the organization grow its own strengths instead of letting it rely on my shelf full of magic answer books.
That said, I really am under tight deadlines for two different projects. So I’ve committed myself to dissecting one of the issues in a team meeting and getting other people to help, even if that means that the final product is a little late.
The other one? I’m going to have a late night and pull a rabbit out of a hat. Recovery isn’t always linear, so do as I say and not as I do!
Many moons ago, I was a salesman new to the media world, and I was young, hopeful, and indisputably did not know what I was doing. At another time we can get into the journey of how I got my position without being strictly qualified, but one way or another I was there, and I had to figure out how to make it work.
As part of trying to figure out how to make the position work and not lose the paycheck that I very much needed, I happened to sit through a seminar with a passionate speaker who shared their skillset, and I still remember that feeling of the world suddenly opening up to me.
Out of nowhere, the things that old salespeople told me off the cuff and without context were being explained as a process and tools that I could use in my career, instead of vague recommendations steeped in wit and a certain glib nature.
And one of the most helpful things I learned in that seminar, although I didn’t fully appreciate it at the time, was something you’ve certainly heard dozens of times: time is money.
Undeniably, you’ve heard the concept before. But for me, hearing it and understanding it were different things. Before, I used to think that it simply meant, “Do things faster, go go go!” But it wasn’t until that seminar that I started to think of time as an asset that I could deploy to my advantage.
To get us thinking about this old phrase in new ways, the speaker wrote on the chalkboard (I’m dating myself, I know), “Time is…” and prompted all of us to fill in ways that time is money. After some ubiquitous dead stares, we started giving suggestions: Time is like money because you can spend it, save it, invest it, waste it, etc. We riffed for a while, but it the end one thing was clear: Time and money are both fungible assets.
Of course, being young and in the early days of my career, I didn’t incorporate this message as well as I could have, and I proceeded to create a work style that centered around trying to get too much done in too little time. And only as a manager did I realize that I wasn’t treating my time like it was my money.
But as a manager, you have to make a balance between the things that need to get done and the time available to you. And so I started looking at my time: Was I spending it wisely? Or was I wasting this resource on things that other people could have been doing? And that kind of examination is absolutely crucial to getting the most value out of your time.
This came up recently in working with an executive who has had a lot of success in growing their organization. A lot of success, in fact—about 50% growth in the last few years, largely driven by this individual’s zeal and enthusiasm.
As they’ve been adding people to their small-but-growing organization, the executive hasn’t really changed their routine to account for these new circumstances. In other words, the organization has acquired a lot of new resources, but those resources aren’t coming together cohesively because the executive self-selects what they do and when they do it.
I’m still working with this executive, and we recently started to talk about where, why, and how they’re spending their time. And a lot of that time is going to communicating with clients, something that this person loves to do, but probably isn’t the wisest use of time if their goal is to keep growing their organization.
And I want to be clear—the executive didn’t have to change anything, in the same way that nobody can stop you from spending your money on lottery tickets or expensive cars. But we talked about their options, and it took an investment conversation for them to decide if they wanted to spend their time in a client-facing position or if they want to spend their time growing their business.
Ultimately, this executive decided that their priority was in growing the organization. And in our conversation, we identified ways that they could secure their personal time and more wisely invest their time at work into projects and processes that will advance the organization.
We’re still in it, but I have every confidence that we’ll be able to keep finding ways for them to invest their time in a way that’s getting them closer to the goals that they want to reach. And while I don’t have a worksheet or a guided activity for you, I’d encourage you to think of how you’re investing your time.
So, how’s your investment working out?
No matter what industry you’re in, at least part of your organization’s core function is to communicate information to your target audience. Whether that’s telling them how to make good dietary decisions or providing information on your latest sale, you are usually seeking a reaction. Because if you don’t understand their perspective, you are going to screw it up.
Recently I’ve been working with two organizations in planning for their annual conferences. One of the companies just had theirs, and it was a success. And it’s not hard to identify why: They started planning nine months ago by starting with broad things like who would come and what they would want to learn. Only after defining these aspects did they move inward to more granular aspects of planning.
These more detailed plans included an agenda, social events, and by far most importantly, the reasons why someone in their audience would want to go to the event. In this process, they reasoned that people would come to develop their skills, network, and share in some camaraderie with others in their field.
Once they knew why someone would want to come, they made sure to push that message in their marketing. They then monitored the results, pivoted slightly in response, and then it was just wash, rinse, and repeat. At the end of it all, they had constructed a successful conference.
This is markedly different from the approach that the other organization took in planning their annual conference.
Instead of identifying why their audience might want to come to the conference, this organization’s message centered around simple messages like “You should come!” or, if they were feeling more verbose, “You should come because the bosses will be there and they say it’s important!”
It’s not exactly “We shall fight on the beaches,” is it?
I was engaged to help because the organizers were coming down to the wire and they’d gotten little engagement from their audience on this and even fewer sign-ups for their conference. Until that point, the only thing they’d tried was saying the message louder and in more places, but the core information had been unchanged.
When we started talking about what could be done to get more people to sign up for their conference, I used the first group’s example and suggested creating a list of value-adds that the conference will create for attendees. Because even the most banal frat party has the core message of, “Hey, we’ve got booze, and it’s free!”
At the start, I asked why someone would want to come to the conference, and the organizer said, “Well, because it’s good for them.” Good for them like broccoli and eight hours of sleep? That’s not what entices people. I don’t doubt that it’s true, but “it’s good for you” didn’t work when your parents wanted you to finish your Brussels sprouts, and it’s not going to work now.
After working through it, we came up with a much clearer value proposition, that essentially boiled down to:
“You are a part of this organization for reasons A, B, and C. Well if you come to the event, we’re going to show you how to do A better! The conference will also have people who succeeded in B to share their stories, and we’ll have experts in C there to talk with you about how you can make C happen for you.”
We retargeted all of the people who’d gotten the old messaging and sent them our new, value-oriented information. And to be honest with you, I’m not sure how much of a difference this is going to make.
At the time of writing, this all happened a few days ago, and the clock is ticking. So the time crunch couldn’t be much tighter, and even with them pushing this new messaging out across their various marketing channels, I’m not sure what the results will be. It’s hard to convince someone to give up several days of their life for your conference, and that’s even more challenging on short notice.
I’d encourage you to get ahead of your messaging so that you’re not put in this sort of uncomfortable situation. And a good place to start is to be aware of the gap between what you care about and what your audience cares about.
If you’re a true believer in your organization, then you already know why your product/service/event is so special and fantastic, so that can feel old-hat to you. And as an organizer, you might want to brag about something new, like how great and accommodating the hotel staff are!
That’s nice, but nobody has ever gone to a conference for the polite hotel staff.
The question to answer, from the perspective of your audience on anything you want to sell is always, “What’s in it for me?” Focus on spreading the message of how your offering is going to improve the lives of your target. Do that, and do it from the beginning, and you’ll be in a much stronger position to meet your goals.
Throughout literature, television, and nearly any other form of media, there’s a recurring trope of the jezebel: the homewrecker, the other woman, the person who steps in and ruins a happy relationship.
Whether this threat is the eponymous Jolene from Dolly Parton’s hit song or Jacob Black of Twilight fame, you’ve certainly seen examples of someone coming in and threatening an existing relationship.
I’d posit that this role also exists in the workplace. And, if I may be so bold, I’d also go so far as to suggest that you should be filling this role, because there is a lot to be gained from becoming “the other job.”
Right now, we are well past full employment, and most businesses are scrambling to hire more people. There are, of course, high-profile instances of tech giants implementing mass layoffs, but these noteworthy examples are by far the minority. Indeed is still bursting at the seams with job listings in most industries, and employers are desperately seeking new talent.
And if the current situation is challenging for employers, it’s certainly no easier for working class individuals. At present, 62% of Americans in the workforce are living paycheck to paycheck. Blame that on the high cost of living, wage stagnation, or whatever else you like, but the reality is that more than half of the American workforce are in a pretty desperate situation.
I’m not just telling you this to tug on your heartstrings. I’m telling you this because a lot of your employees are probably in the same position, and if you’re not careful, there exists the potential for “the other job” to step in and offer them something better.
You see, this is the problem with the legend of the other woman (or man, or person). The myth is that two people are in this perfectly content relationship, then a temptress steps in and ruins everything.
And it’s just that: a myth.
The truth is that stable, happy relationships don’t have anything to fear from outside intruders. Put simply, you can’t sell to someone who doesn’t want to buy. Similarly, employees who are happy with their current employers aren’t likely to be tempted into another position.
So how do you make sure that you don’t lose your people to a new, more appealing offer? Simple. You become the other job. Instead of the boring person at home, you become the mistress.
If you have part-time workers who have another, “main” job, start courting them. Make sure they have a good wage and a pleasant work environment. If they need you to be flexible around their main position’s hours, then happily work around that schedule and impress them with how fair and reasonable you are.
The goal here is to slowly let your employees realize that you’re the more appealing employer. Then, as time passes and you prove that you’re stable and reliable, maybe your part-time employees become full-time hires.
For the last several years, I’ve worked with a company that has done this brilliantly. Routinely, they bring people in as part-time help and then slowly become their main employer. And honestly, the strangest thing about this practice is that it’s not particularly difficult.
This is certainly not the highest-paying job out there. But management makes sure that it’s a nice place to work, that there’s a culture of empowerment amongst employees, and that each employee has a variety of duties and responsibilities so they feel like they’re growing and gaining valuable skills.
Once you’ve made a good place to work, all you have to do is start offering some extra hours. People don’t usually go from 20 hours to 40 right away, but slowly but surely, this organization becomes the primary employer for most of their staff,
Not sure what you can offer your employees to tempt them out of another role? Ask them. Monetary compensation is always a good place to start—yes, your labor costs are going to increase, but they’ll do that anyway (and worse) if you have to keep hiring and training new people.
The reality is that we are past full employment. So if you want to stay competitive in the job market, it’s time to look at better pay, more robust benefits packages, and anything else that will keep your people choosing you as their preferred place to work.
There are a lot of potential employers out there. And if you’re not willing to become the other job that steals away employees, then you can bet that somebody else will.
Isaac Newton’s first law of motion is fairly simple: An object at rest will stay at rest until acted upon by an outside force. Similarly, an object in motion will stay in motion until an outside force stops it or changes its direction.
This is a foundational law for our understanding of how matter moves through space, but I find that business operates along similar rules. And just like with Newton’s laws of motion, people tend to overlook the impact of what this means.
Business momentum tends to be a more significant factor in gauging how a business is doing than many people think. Some of what is happening to you may be of your own making, but it’s important to remember that you’re surrounded by outside forces that could change your trajectory.
In Newton’s example, “outside forces” are things like gravity, friction, wind resistance, etc. But in business, those forces look like a variety of things—some you can control, and some that are completely beyond your power to change.
I’m referring to things like decreasing sales in a product line, consumers choosing Bundle A over Bundle B, drop offs in returning customers, etc. In my world, these are trends, and Doug’s first law of business is that the trend is the trend until an outside force changes it.
Much like gravity or friction, you often don’t have a lot of direct control over many forces. But you should be able to identify them, because whether you can or not, they’re going to impact your business. And in some cases, a negative force might come from within your organization without you realizing it.
Your business cycle has trends that may be hidden. Finding these often with a broad look at numbers through time and across product lines. I like to find unexpected patterns—recently in working with a subscription-based company, we identified a very unexpected hot spot. Only by laying activations out across five years did we identify a strong seasonal bump in one subscription type, hidden by a weakness in another. It was big and opened the door to create sales pressure where we had never thought it logical before.
This is an example taking note of the areas that I have the power to influence within the “trend” of outside forces. Things like my management style, how we price, quality of our products, sales pressure, etc.
Once you have a clear understanding of what’s in your control, then you have a path forward to impacting the trends—if that’s something that you want. If, on the other hand, the trend is favorable, that may not be ideal. Just like you can turn around a negative trend, you can also unintentionally mess with a trend that’s working in your favor.
I saw this firsthand when working with a client who wanted to add an extra incentive to a certain product line. Their reasoning made sense: If I give customers another reason to buy this product, our sales will increase.
Except that wasn’t really how things turned out in this case. The trend was that sales had already been perfectly acceptable for this product line. But once an outside force acted upon the trend, it changed directions, and suddenly sales for that product were noticeably decreasing.
The client and I each started doing some research and reaching out to customers, and we both reported the same findings: By increasing the incentive to buy, we cheapened the product in the customers’ perception.
If we hadn’t taken note of the lower yield in sales on that product line, we would have been completely ignorant to this new trend and thus unable to remedy the situation. As it was, the client had to back off on that product line for a while, until a later date when the market will be more receptive at the higher price point.
For your own research into the trends impacting your business, I recommend starting simple. I like to make a sales graph, print it out, then lay a ruler across it. It’s a little rustic, yes, but it’s also an excellent way to identify sales patterns, which allows me to work from there to figure out what trend is causing the results that I’m seeing.
As you look back at your sales, try a couple different time periods: several months as well as several years. When you can see clear up- or downswings, try to identify the trend that was working with or against you at that point. Were there a lot of layoffs that year? Was your community going through a financial rough spot when sales dropped off?
These can help you identify the trends that have impacted your business in the past, which is an essential step in figuring out how the next trend is going to hit your bottom line.
Once you have an understanding of the trends that have been working on your business, you can start tackling the issue of changing your behaviors to adjust them. Or, if you’re lucky, you can identify what’s working in your favor and make sure that nothing messes with it.
We’re well into the new year, and by now you certainly have some sense of what you want to accomplish in 2023. I know, because it seems like everyone has been forced to identify some goal, direction, or thought for the year. But setting up a goal, or “strategic objective,” is not the same thing as executing one. And none of this is a vision—which is where the North Star reference comes in. We are not taking on the vision monster today.
This season, I’ve been intrigued to watch how people approach goal setting and, more honestly, how many people do it poorly, myself included.
Recently I was engaged to work with a business on a large-scale strategic plan, something on a scale that the business had not attempted in living memory. It was a good, engaged group of people who had a lot of thoughts and were happy to contribute. Everyone worked hard on it, but when we finally sat back to look at what we’d accomplished, I was surprised to see that the overwhelming majority of what they came up with were tactics, not strategies. Things to do, not reasons to do them.
If you already know the distinction between these concepts, then bear with me as I re-explain them. Put simply, your strategy is your defined, large-scale goal: “I want to accomplish X by doing Y for the reason Z.”
Tactics, on the other hand, are the smaller steps of how you accomplish your strategy. If your strategy is where you want to be, then your tactics are the steps that get you there.
(Other consultants, please suppress the urge to send me hate mail. This is a working definition, not an in-depth analysis.)
As you look at your list of things that you want to accomplish this year, consider your objectives through this lens. Because what I often find is that when I sit down with people to discuss what they want to get done, the conversation becomes very tactical very quickly. And this isn’t just something that happens to people who don’t know any better—anyone can easily make this mistake.
Not too long ago I was in a session that was attended by a company principal, their leadership team, and an outside marketing firm. The goal of this meeting was to discuss the organization’s needs for the upcoming year.
Early on, the principal asked, “How do we do X?”, and, him being the principal, figuring out how to accomplish X immediately became the focus of the session. This tactical, granular discussion went on for about half an hour before a junior marketing individual spoke up.
“We’re here to talk about strategic goals for the year, right?”
Everyone agreed that yes, that was the objective of the session.
“So why did we spend the last 30 minutes talking about how to accomplish something that we haven’t established as a goal? Shouldn’t we be deciding if we want to do this, and if so, what we want to get done with it?”
The principal said, “Huh. Look at that. Yeah, we just went down a rabbit hole.” Thank goodness the junior marketer said something, because nobody else was going to tell the emperor that instead of setting his sights on the stars, he was just digging a ditch.
(Full disclosure: Yes, I was the hapless principal, yes, I should have known better, and yes, I’m very grateful that the junior marketing member spoke up.)
The North Star has become a popular metaphor for one guiding thing that you’re following (e.g., world domination, destroying competition, wiping out the last of House Stark, whatever floats your boat). But how can you avoid my mistake and make sure that you’re not confusing your North Star for a strategy?
I find that performing a gap analysis is helpful in this venture. Put simply, in a gap analysis you identify your current state (things as they are now) and your desired state (things as you’d like them to be in the future).
When making your current state list, you could record something like, “I spend six hours a week working on this task that has very little return.” Then on your desired state list, you could write down, “I want to spend an hour a week on this task for the same return.”
That’s it. Don’t overthink it, and don’t be afraid to go as small- or as large-scale as you want. Once you have both of your lists complete, pick one item for which you can identify a few ways to get from your current state to your desired state. That becomes your strategy, and those ways that you move from current state to desired state are your tactics.
Try this lens of analysis for yourself, and see if your North Star is just a dressed-up tactic. If all of your plans are hyper-granular without a guiding strategy, you’re only treading water and iterating, not growing. And who doesn’t want to grow in the new year?
I’m going to give you some business advice that you probably don’t get a lot: Stop. Stop already! Your business is trying to do too much at once—you’re trying to do too much.
It’s December as I write this, and it’s a mystical time when contracts end, leases expire, and there’s a strong wind of change blowing us into the freshness of a hopeful new year. To see how the people around me are making changes, I’ve been sampling owners and managers in the business world around me.
One of my contacts has wisely identified that their pet project needs to be put down. This was a trial concept that they desperately wanted to work, and as far as I can tell, they did everything right. They gave it a lot of time, support, resources—everything it takes to make a new venture a success.
But after a couple of years of putting in the work and barely scraping by, they came to the realization that this project was never going to be what they wanted it to be. And rather than keep pouring their time and effort into the bottomless hole that this venture would become, they had the foresight and the fortitude to finally pull the plug and move on.
Did it hurt to give up on a project that they cared about and really believed in? Of course it did. But spending another year wasting their time and energy wouldn’t have spared them any pain, and at least now they can look for another project to invest all of those resources into.
Most often, people learn this lesson the hard way. Like someone I know in sales, who spent two months working around the edges on a concept to push into a new sector. He spent hours putting materials together and generally solidifying the foundation for this new material.
I say generally solidifying because he did forget one important step. Early on, I suggested that he take a breath and talk with his market to make sure that there was an interest in this new material, but he insisted that he knew what he was doing and didn’t want to break his momentum.
Unfortunately, the tricky thing about momentum is that it can send you speeding along the road to success just as easily as it can run you straight into a brick wall. That’s why every now and then, it’s a good idea to pump the brakes.
You can probably guess where this is going—he took his new product to market, and every single person he talked to had not a drop of interest in it.
Stopping is often viewed as a failure or, at the very least, a lack of success. But “not winning right this second” and “losing” are very different things. My friend lost two months of work because he could only see his imminent win. And if you don’t want to find yourself in a similar situation, then I’m challenging you to find something to stop working on.
One of my clients was making his plan for 2023, and he saw some dark clouds on the horizon in his business plan. In peeling things back and re-examining his product lines, we discovered a couple of areas that brought in great top lines, but once we factored in the opportunity cost and shared resource allocations, they were clearly losers.
These were beloved products, things that he and the team liked and had done for years, but it was obvious on paper that they weren’t worth what got put into them. And once they realized that they were dragging down the bottom line, my client cut them.
My bet is that you have similar areas that take up a lot of time without bringing in as much revenue as they should. Whether you’re a thousand-person enterprise or a one-person band, there’s probably something that you take to market that isn’t worth what you’re investing into it.
But how do you tell what’s worth your time? In most cases, it’s pretty simple. Look at what you put into the venture and compare that with what comes back. If this is something that you work on personally, look at how much time you put into it, how much you charge for the product or service, and then compare what each aspect costs relative to the whole.
For those who are risk averse and want to experiment a bit before stopping entirely, that’s fine, start by identifying a project that takes a lot of your time and only generates so-so results. Then increase the price or pause delivery. If the market decides it still wants what you offer,it will let you know. If not, then you know it’s time to stop and reinvest that time somewhere else.
Of course, this begs the question, to where do you reallocate that time? I’m so glad you hypothetically asked—that’ll be my topic of conversation next time!
Are you a Hilton person or a Marriott person? I ask because this distinction recently came up while my wife and I were at a family event out of town, and the organizer had booked it at a DoubleTree hotel.
Upon learning this, I did what a rational, sane person does, and pulled out my phone, did a quick search, and dutifully informed my wife that there was a Marriott Courtyard up the road. To her perplexed “What’s your point?” I replied that I only stayed at Marriotts. I could get points, upgrades, special pillows—I’m a Marriott guy!
Anyone in a committed relationship will know that I spent the weekend at the DoubleTree, and it was fine—although I didn’t get an upgrade or free wifi, just saying.
But upon reflecting on it, I know that this neurosis is not unique to me, despite what my wife’s exasperation would imply. I talk to plenty of people who travel regularly, and we all have our own particular loyalties and affinities for different hotel brands.
Curiously, though, none of my contacts have that similar kind of “Google the nearest Marriott location” sort of loyalty for airline brands; we all just take the best deal that’s in front of us while paying nominal attention to the airline.
This begs the question: What are hotel chains doing that airlines aren’t, and why does it engender such affinity?
Looking at airlines, it’s possible to get small rewards—maybe an extra inch or two of overhead space, or the promise not to be squished against a bulkhead in the back of the plane by the bathrooms. But at the end of the day, the promise is thin, and there’s not a clear, consistent way to get those rewards except at the very highest levels..
Not so with the big hotel brands. Their promise is that if you get serious about them, in return you’ll get nicer pillows, a free cookie, free internet, and upgrades you can bank on. They deliver on that loyalty every single time you visit them, so you always have a compelling reason to book with them for your next stay. Not a lot of programs deliver that kind of consistent reward for loyalty, but they do and it serves them well.
If you’re running a business, in all likelihood you don’t have the opportunity to give out big rewards like free suite upgrades or first class seating. But there are probably steps you can take to attract repeat customers and establish some brand loyalty.
Side note: If you’re running a business where you only have one opportunity to sell to a customer ever, then this column isn’t for you, sorry, please come back next month.
But for anyone who has the potential for repeat business, large or small, what benefit does being your repeat customer get people? Your business certainly has some potential, even if it’s not in an industry you’d typically associate with loyalty rewards programs.
A great example is my local fitness center. At first I dismissed their perks program, but then I started getting simple emails showing my points and how to spend these with them. I signed up for some classes and did other things that they liked, and I got a free workout towel—not a cheap piece of terry cloth, but a high quality product that has actually made me go back and purchase other things from them.
They also reward my behaviors that are favorable to them. They’re in an urban area where parking is at a premium, so I can earn a handful of extra points if I walk or bike to their location. This isn’t making or breaking my experience with them, but the small rewards are tangible and nudge me to consider choices that are better for their business as well.
Similarly, you want any type of return business program you offer to feel like a win for both you and your customer. And if a rewards program doesn’t make sense for your business, what about referrals?
I own a transactional business in the leisure industry, and a lot of our business is from people who live in another state or country, so the opportunity for repeat business is slim. But we have rewards for referrals, which gets us great word of mouth business, and we have plenty of customers who come to us at roughly the same time every year when they’re in the area so we have an offer out to them for a special discount at that time. This nudge helps bring back customers who could easily choose a different provider.
Ask yourself what you can do to give someone that little extra reason to come back. And let me know what you figure out, because all I have is my own little laboratory to try out new offerings, and I’m always curious to hear what people are doing to retain business and engender affinity with their customers.
Just a couple months ago, everyone was talking about the Great Resignation or the Big Quit—I even talked about it on this platform. This mass migration of professionals changing jobs (or even industries) for greener pastures fundamentally changed the look of the job market.
Whatever industry you were in, whether you were hiring a barista or a senior sales executive, suddenly everyone was desperate and hiring much more generously. Better salaries, better benefits, better everything. And hopefully you got yourself into a stable position, because we’re entering a new era on the job market: the Big Regret.
If you’re a team leader or any sort of manager, then there’s a real chance that you lost some people in the Big Quit. And given how difficult it’s been to hire for essential positions, you might not have replaced them yet. But there may be a way to get the perfect candidate into these key positions—people who already trained for the job, in fact.
There’s new evidence that a plurality of people who changed jobs during the Great Resignation are rethinking their choice. There could be any number of causes—fears of an oncoming recession could make new employees nervous for their futures, some individuals who made a change for the sake of making a change, or they might just have good old fashioned buyer’s remorse. Whatever the cause, a lot of people are reporting that they’d happily go back to the jobs that they left just a few months ago.
So if your star employee left to chase something bigger, there’s a real chance that they’re regretting that decision. And I know it can be difficult to invite someone back after they left, but you have to consider the reasons that they made a change.
Was it because they were performing poorly and causing trouble on the team? Did they send off a rude email on their last day? Then sure, you have my blessing, consider that bridge burned.
But if they, like a lot of people who left their old positions, just wanted to improve themself and advance their career, then you need to get over your ego and see how their new engagement is working out. In fact, I’d posit that you should look at this as an opportunity for improvement as well: improvement by organizing your team in such a way that you have the best people operating at the highest levels to work toward your collective success.
So, do you have a position that still needs to be filled? If so, consider whether or not this is a position that you can see withstanding the recession. Because while the jury is still out on what the specifics of the recession will be, there’s already clear movement in the market that something is going to happen. And you’re much more likely to attract savvy talent if you’re offering a recession-resistant position.
I know, the last thing that any of us wants to hear right now is to hire a new person. I certainly haven’t had fun hiring to fill vacancies, and in all likelihood, I’m still not done hiring in 2022. But I’m going to grin and bear it, because I know that I’m going to need qualified people on my team when the recession is brought to bear.
And I hope that this messaging hasn’t been lost on you as an individual. Because while some people are undeniably regretting their career moves, it’s also true that most people aren’t.
Maybe you were part of the Big Quit. How do you feel about where you’ve landed? Are you happy in this role? Do you feel stable and ready to weather the storm? If not, you haven’t missed your chance. There’s still a lot of movement in the job marketplace, and while some people are regretting their career moves, that doesn’t mean that every job has suddenly been filled.
There’s still a lot of opportunity on the market to be had, but you should know that the window is closing. Reevaluate your position and confirm that you’re where you want to be for the foreseeable future, or make a choice to find a position that can provide more security for what’s coming.
If you play it right, you’ll be able to catch the tail end of the Big Quit without accidentally taking part in the Big Regret.
Early in my management career, I worked at a company where the mantra was, “Everyone needs to be personally productive.” That meant that no matter your location or position in the organizational structure, you were responsible for regularly producing something of concrete value—no one just “managed.”
This was at a newspaper company, so being “personally productive” could mean anything from providing customer service to hopping on a sales call to helping with the printing process.
And for the most part, this system worked really well. This kept the bosses honest about what it really took in time and effort to get a project done, which led to more reasonable deadlines and better understanding between management and employees.
That isn’t to say that every manager loved this approach, however. Leaders in the organization would sometimes get frustrated because it was a lot to ask a full-time manager to also find time for regular production. Of course, since this was integral to the organization’s ethos, there wasn’t an option to simply not comply.
In the long term, this generally meant that aspiring leaders followed one of two paths in the organization. If you were good at finding the balance and could thrive in that structure, then you tended to do well, and you had a lot of opportunity to grow with the organization and have a great experience.
And if you couldn’t make that system work, you often failed and left the organization before too long. I don’t think this result was necessarily representative of a character flaw, so much as it was an indication this was the wrong culture for you to advance.
For that reason, it’s important for managers to take stock of what percentage of their time they spend leading vs doing. By leading, I mean managerial tasks like project management and enabling your team to do the work. By doing, I mean completing the vital tasks that keep revenue flowing.
At that same company, early on, I found myself doing entirely too much work for the people working under me instead of setting clear expectations and letting them deliver. I would do deep dives into their work, structuring and organizing it and making sure it was up to my standards. And while that may have ensured that the work was of a certain quality, it also left me with very little time to do any managing.
And in retrospect, I can see that that wasn’t helpful for the people I was managing, either. It stifled their ability to directly contribute to the business, because instead of enabling them to do their jobs, I was making them perform how I would have, not necessarily to make their own contributions.
I thought that I’d mastered my impulse to do rather than lead, until a recent situation at a non-profit I volunteer with. Not long ago I took a leadership role in the organization, where I quickly found myself falling into my old habit of doing instead of leading.
As I was getting organized in this new role, I started writing scripts for people defining what each individual role should do and be. I also made notes for every role and committee detailing how these roles should relate to each other, how they should be executing their duties, etc.
In short, I was doing instead of leading. Again.
This was a great reminder that as a leader, my responsibility was to focus time on enabling and empowering others rather than instructing them on the minutiae of their day-to-day tasks.
Because ultimately, a talented do-er may not perform a task in exactly the way that their manager would. But that doesn’t matter; what matters is that work gets done and done well.
Of course, good leaders do need to make sure that the work gets done. But rather than micromanaging or breathing down your team’s necks, that should look like explaining to struggling team members how their work relates to the broader organizational goals. From there, you can highlight where their work is or isn’t working toward those goals and allow them to self-correct from there.
This doesn’t work all the time, of course, whether the individual just isn’t right for the organization or they just don’t have the right leader. But regardless, giving individuals this opportunity to self-correct is the most valuable use of your and their time.
Because for leaders, the focus needs to be on giving your team the freedom and opportunity to be personally productive. This doesn’t mean that you can’t or shouldn’t help out and get your hands dirty from time to time. But at the end of the day, you have to make sure that the bulk of your time is spent managing effectively.