Archives for category: Business

Reviews are here to stay, and that’s a good thing. But how do businesses defend themselves from those who would abuse the review system for their own ends? In this three-part series, I offer practical advice on how to handle Yelp bombing campaigns and how to mitigate their effects. In part two, we look at how to hopefully prevent, and then handle a weaponized review campaign going viral. You can find part one, on prevention and initial responses, here.

goats-competition-dispute

(image courtesy of http://pexels.com )

Whack-A Mole

After you have responded to the initial review, you now have several reviews all referencing the same issue / incident. The good news is that most review platforms care about their review eco-space and you can report these reviews as violations of their Terms of Service. Brevity is the key. Don’t explain why the reviewer is wrong just explain that the review is essentially a duplicate and part of a campaign or a review by someone who is not a customer.

Make sure to start checking your other platforms for reviews, respond to the first one with your measured response, and then report any duplicates. Don’t forget about other opportunities to post on your social media pages and channels. Yelp Tips, which can only be viewed on mobile devices, are often forgotten. Posts to your Facebook page, or check-ins on Facebook and other location based services, are also areas that need to be monitored. Other than the initial measured response, do not engage on that platform any further. If a customer has a genuine question then of course you should answer, but it ideally should just be a version of your measured response.

Going Viral

Making something go viral, for any reason, is hard. You should take solace in this. As a marketing professional, I have only had one thing go truly viral, and that is not so unusual. An amateur trying to make something go viral will have to be very lucky indeed. However, we do live in an age of ordinary people with extraordinary social reach. If review / story has legs and starts to go viral, you need to be prepared.

Banning people from your Facebook page, and other social media channels, can be counterproductive. In the minds of those posting, it just proves that you have something to hide. Take the moral high ground and post your measured response on your social media channels and your website. This can be a little risky as you are letting your clients and followers know about something you have been trying make go away. It can also be a hard sell to those you report to. It does, however, have the advantage of letting you shape the story rather than letting others shape it and just leaving you to respond.

A great example of this working is how FedEx responded to one of their drivers caught on camera throwing a computer monitor over a fence. By responding publicly, with an apology, and what and how they were going to change, the story went from a FedEx driver throwing a package over a fence as an example of how packages are delivered, to how FedEx’s quick response was indicative of their customer service and culture. I believe one of the genius elements of FedEx’s response was to make a video statement so that their own video could be played alongside the video of their employee throwing the package. This looked a lot better than an uncomfortable interview, or a written statement.

By taking the moral high ground and being open, you may not convince your initial detractors that you are sorry / wanting the resolve the issue, but you may well persuade some that are on the fence about the issue. You will also give ammunition to those in your network, that support you, to help defend you. Your existing loyal customers will often be your biggest defenders and cheerleaders, but they need guidance. For this reason, I am not a big fan of disabling reviews on Facebook pages and the ability of users to post – but that is decision that needs to be based on the individual situation.

The Press

News organizations, and particularly local TV news, get pitched multiple times every day by people angry by how they feel they have been treated by a business. The good news for businesses is that it takes a lot for a story to be picked up, and anyone who is waging a campaign against you is unlikely to get past their screening process. The bad news is that news organizations need human interest stories, and if the customer is credible, and has a story with legs, then the media may get involved.

It is important that whomever answers the phones in your company, and your entire frontline staff for that matter, understand how to deal with the press when they come calling. “I know that the management will want to talk with you and address the situation. I am not the right person for you to talk with, but let me get you someone who is.” is an example of how to correctly respond to an enquiry. “No comment” is about the worst thing that anyone can say to press. The lack of a comment becomes the story. It makes it look like whomever has said it has something to hide because they don’t want to speak.

When talking to the press be very brief. The longer the answer you give, the more chance there is for something to be taken out of context. If you do not speak to the press; however, you will not make the story go away. Reporters have deadlines, so be cognizant and respectful of that. For the most part reporters are not looking to burn anyone, but they do want a story – try to make it yours, and not defined by someone else.

Unfortunately, once the media gets involved with viral story, it can self-perpetuate a Yelp bombing campaign with others who have read about / or seen the story leaving reviews. Again, Yelp itself is pretty good about dealing with this. If you send a link to the story in the media story when flagging the review Yelp can suspend all reviews to your account until interest burns out.

If you have stories, or additional tips on how to solve Yelp Bombing / review campaigns, please let me know in the comments. If you have an ongoing issue, please feel free to reach out to me.

Reviews are here to stay, and that’s a good thing. But how do businesses defend themselves from those who would abuse the review system for their own ends? In this three-part series, I offer practical advice on how to handle Yelp bombing campaigns and how to mitigate their effects. In part one, we look at how to prevent, and initially respond, to weaponized reviews.

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(image courtesy of http://pexels.com )

Nobody in business likes getting bad reviews. Anyone who pours their heart and soul into an enterprise can feel dispirited, and treated unfairly, when receiving criticism; particularly when you have not been given the chance to try and resolve the issue.

Like it or not, reviews are here to stay. They are a fact of doing business today. To deal with everyday review issues, I highly recommend Jay Baer’s excellent “Hug Your Haters,” which I reviewed here.

Unfortunately, however, there are people who try to turn reviews into a weapon. This is usually achieved by posting multiple reviews, sometimes across multiple platforms, using multiple different accounts, giving the impression of a serious issue or to destroy the businesses review platform rating. This can be to extort money and / or services, or as an act of revenge. This kind of review warfare is also sometimes known by the term “Yelp bombing.” This series, hopefully, will give you some grounding, and tools, to help protect yourself, and your business, from weaponized reviews.

It is important to recognize the difference between a Yelp bombing campaign and a review going viral. If something is going viral, it is because strangers like, or are outraged by, what they see or read. When it comes to a concerted attack, there may be a hope that the attack will become viral, but it is originally perpetrated one person, or a small group, trying to exert influence. This could be a customer, a former employee, a competitor, or just a bully trying to change something about you or your business.

Prevention

It is a cliché, but an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Have a complaints procedure for your clients. Empower your staff to solve small issues before they turn into big issues. Listen, learn, and respond to your reviews. Try to divorce yourself from the idea that you are right and they are wrong. It does not matter if you win the argument in your place of business. If you turn your customer into an enemy, and they then bash you online, you have lost.

Usually, apologies cost nothing. Make them sincere and swallow your pride. If the dispute cannot be resolved with an apology ask a simple question: “how much am I willing to pay to not have this appear on Yelp or other review sites?” Whatever the answer is, there is your budget for resolving this complaint.

Obviously, you have to have claimed your business on all the major review platforms. Going through this in detail is really outside the realm of this article; however, you should receive an email, or alert, anytime someone posts a review on Yelp, Google, or Facebook. I would also strongly suggest that you have a Google Alert running for mentions of your business name, names of key personal, or anything else that someone may use to identify or describe your business. You can setup alerts here: https://www.google.com/alerts

Stay away from controversial subjects with your online presence. Businesses should standup and be counted for causes and ideas they support, but go into it with your eyes open. With any controversial subject, there is the potential for someone to become upset and try to change your stance by methods other than debate or no longer giving you their custom.

Assessment

Despite your best efforts; however, you find yourself a target of a Yelp bombing campaign. It is important to note, that while the term “Yelp bombing” has become a generic term for an online review attack, Yelp is actually the platform you want this kind of attack to take place on. Yelp tends to have the best tools and resources for a business to protect itself. I am not a big fan of Yelp, you can read my feelings about Yelp and why I dislike their business model here, but when it comes to Yelp bombing they really do have their act together.

The first signs of a campaign against your business will usually be you being alerted to, or reading, a 1-star review. Speed is of the essence. If the review is seemingly out of nowhere, then reach out to the reviewer apologizing for their experience and asking if you can help to resolve the situation. If the platform allows it, message the reviewer privately. Don’t be afraid to ask them for their name so you can look into the matter.
If, despite your speedy response, more reviews are posted, then you have genuine situation on your hands.

First, breathe.

It is easy to feel panicked and that events are completely out of your control. You need to be the one with the cool head. People undertaking a Yelp bombing campaign are not doing so from a particularly rational place. This usually shows up in the writing and the nature of the complaint.

Read the review(s). Does the client have a point from reading the review? Is it a good story? If you were not connected to the business would you want to learn more? Remember right and wrong does not enter into your assessment of the campaign. What you need to assess is whether the story has “legs.” Is what has been written true? If someone reads this who knows nothing about your business will they believe it? Get other people’s opinions – this will help bring some perspective. If you make the assessment that the reviewer has a point and that the story has legs then there is the potential for it go viral, which is what you are trying to stop.

First Responses

Do not, I repeat, do not be in too much of a hurry to tell your side of the story. However, while it is important to not to lash out immediately with why your customer is “wrong, crazy, or clueless,” it is also important that your response is prompt and the correct response.

If the reviewer is not communicating, then start to craft a public response that addresses your position in very general terms and that you are happy to engage further via a different channel. I am a big proponent for email as this new channel. Email keeps the communication out of the public eye, unless someone posts it, it takes the heat out of conversations, and it gives you a written record. I know others feel that responding by a phone call, or even meeting in person, are better solutions. I would suggest that you choose whatever you are the most comfortable with.

Your response should be read by multiple other people and you should all agree that it is reasonable, conciliatory, and addresses the reviewer’s primary complaint. If the campaign against you has legs, and starts to go viral, your response will also be featured so it is important that the response is the right one.

It should also go without saying, that you should never retaliate. You need to be the adult, and it needs to be clearly seen by any 3rd party that you are conciliatory, level headed, and just trying to resolve the issue.

If you have stories, or additional tips on how to solve Yelp bombing / review campaigns, please let me know in the comments. If you have an ongoing issue, please feel free to reach out to me.

power

The Power Paradox: How We Gain and Loose Influence, is a slim but insightful book on the relationship between power, the powerful, powerlessness and the powerless. “The seductions of power induce us to lose the very skills that enabled us to gain power in the first place”, which is from the introduction, nicely sums up the premise.

The author, who uses his own experimental data and a number of graphics, makes a solid case for the phenomenon that others have labeled, incorrectly, as power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Separating the Power Paradox into 20 ‘Power Principles, which are too extensive to list here, Dr. Keltner neatly lays out why leaders become leaders, and why they can go off the rails.
What is missing from the book, is historical perspective. It is filled with experimental data, but real world examples from business, or politics, would make for a more compelling case. One of the reasons that I appreciate the argument made in the book so much is due to the insights of Nassir Ghaemi in his excellent: A First Rate Madness which I reviewed here and is full (in retrospect) of historical examples of the Power Paradox in action.

From my own experience, I have seen the Power Paradox at work in supervisors and in myself. Terminology is, of course, a problem. I have always accepted that “power” means the control that your job, or position, grants you; whereas the ability to lead is granted through “authority.” Authority is given by a group. The Power Paradox lumps these both together, though it does make use of “empowered” but because of the larger framework of the “principles” this actually works. The definition of power and authority, may be too simple for such a complex subject, particularly when dealt with in such detail as here with “The Power Principle,”

The book becomes particularly interesting, and potentially controversial, when Dr. Keltner deals with gossip. Long considered a symptom of a potentially hostile work environment, Dr. Keltner makes the argument that gossip is how strong groups self-regulate and expose the “reputations of the selfish and the Machiavellian.” The author does recognize that gossip can be extremely harmful, particularly when it is abused by the powerful; however, the case for it not being the cardinal sin that we have long believed it to be – particularly if your goal is to have high functioning groups – is pretty solid.

Annoyingly for a book written by an academic, but probably a sop to writing a pop-science book, the footnotes are exiled to the end of the book, making following a path of enquiry more complex than it really needs to be, but this is a small criticism of a great leadership book. It is particularly useful for those who have been in leadership positions for a while. There are lots of books out there on how to become a leader, create functional teams, and even dealing with powerlessness; however, it is rare to find a book that addresses the dysfunction of leaders who get used to their positions, and why things can go awry.
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For leaders, you need the book before you really need it, otherwise you will not stay a leader for long.

make your bed

A slim volume, Make Your Bed – Little Things That Can Change Your Life …And Maybe The World, is and expanded version of a commencement address that the author gave to the graduating class at the University of Texas at Austin in 2014.

A retired Admiral, who had been a Navy Seal, and ultimately severed as the ninth commander of the United States Special Operations Command, Admiral McRaven is an interesting person who’s life story is one worthy of biography. Unfortunately, although this book does contain a number of anecdotes about his experiences in SEAL training and his life in general, it does not really meet the definition of a work of biography. It therefore needs to stand on the advice that it imparts and there is little here that is new or refreshing. In fact, there is a lot that is hokey or debunked.

The first lesson in the book is actually the one that works the best: to make your bed very morning. The idea being that it meant you started your day with a job well done, something you can could be proud of, whatever came next you will be better prepared for it. There is some merit to this idea, not necessarily making your bed, but starting your day with a task that can be completed successfully and that you can be proud of for the rest of the day. However, the author pushes the example too far, even noting when visiting Sadam Hussain in prison that his bed was not made and so therefore he must be a bad guy. Ignoring Sadam’s appalling crimes for a moment, I’m not sure that there are many leaders of countries, prisoners facing the death penalty, or politicians of any persuasion who make their beds.

Don’t give up, take risks, don’t complain, etc. the lessons are pretty much what you would expect from a career military officer. As mentioned before, there is a story to be told here. Just not with the structure and marketing of a leadership / self-help book. Perhaps the most frustrating element of the book is that the examples can be interpreted in such a way that they can contradict each other. For example, the author tells the story of being injured during a parachute jump and how his boss pulled strings to allow him to stay in the SEALs, thereby preserving his career. The author uses this as an example of why you need to be able to rely on your team. However, later on the book talks about accepting misfortunes that happen to you and that life is not fair so get used to it.

 I’ll buy an auto-biography or biography of Admiral McRaven. He has led an interesting life filled with interesting people and experiences. I’m just not sure I’m ready to take distilled life lessons from him at this time.

I’ve been holding staff meetings in veterinary hospitals for 10 years.

That is a lot of monthly staff meetings.

It occurred to me perhaps others could use some of this information for their own meetings in the same way that I used this information from where ever I stole it from.

I’m envisioning this being an ongoing resource for those who have to come up with topics for discussion or team building.

You can find Part One on Customer Service here and you can find Part Two on Team Building Activities here.

I have removed a lot of the hospital specific information and so please feel free to add, rearrange, and generally change the information to suit your practice, or business.  I’m going to try and keep similar subjects together. This week we are looking at communication tools. There are a lot of pictures here which are either royalty free (from Pexels.com) or I have created so you are welcome to use all of them.  If you do end up using some of this I’d love to see your slide decks, pictures, or presentations.

ABCDE

We do a stressful job.

We, hopefully, try to keep the drama to a minimum.

We don’t always succeed.

When dealing with other people it often makes sense to question ourselves to help resolve an issue. If we intellectualize our emotional interactions it can help change behavior, and explain the connections between our actions and their consequences.

This system is based on Albert Ellis Cognitive Behavioral Therapy model, but it can be adapted to everyday interactions and is particularly useful for those who have a habit of repeating the same behaviors again and again.

ABC

A = An Activating Event. Something happens. It could be something another person says. It could be something that happens that to you:

  • It could be your spilt coffee,
  • or someone ran their car into the back of yours,
  • or your boss told you off for something that was not your fault.

These are all “Activating Events.” Things that are not in your control.

B = Beliefs about those events. When something happens to you, you have a belief about that event:

  • “I’m so clumsy and stupid I’m always spilling things,”
  • “That person who ran into the back of me can’t drive, or certainly should not be allowed to,”
  • “My boss is a jerk, I’ll show him, let’s see how he likes it when I go slow, and don’t talk to him unless I have to.”

C = Consequences of those beliefs. Having those beliefs leads to consequences:

  • A spilt coffee leads to questioning your ability to do anything, this makes you nervous when handling physical tasks, which in turn makes it more likely that you will spill or drop things.
  • You leap out of your car and immediately berate the person whose car just ran into yours, making sure that the person understands just how angry you are and how it is all their fault and that they can’t drive and should have their license taken away.
  • Your boss becomes exasperated with you as the quality, and particularly the speed, of your work deteriorates.

Consequences lead to more activating events that become self-perpetuating:

  • You stop doing any physical task with breakables or liquids.
  • When the police arrive you are placed in handcuffs for being disruptive and out of control.
  • You receive a written warning for insubordination, not being a team player, and having a bad attitude.

And in turn you have similar beliefs out these “Activating Events:”

  • “I’m so stupid and clumsy I can’t do anything, nobody trusts me and nobody should.”
  • “That guy and his crazy driving got me arrested, I’m going to get him.”
  • “What jerk my boss is, I’ll show him, I’m calling in sick tomorrow because I know they will be really shorthanded without me.”

abc

Activating events and the beliefs we have about those events lead to consequences, which in turn lead to more activating events which we have beliefs about which lead to more consequences.

abcabc

So how do we break this cycle?

It is important to understand that our beliefs about activating events are all in our head. They are what we think about the activating event, but they are not necessarily correct. Those beliefs that lead to consequences are really not connected to those activating events. We make those connections.

So when an activating event happens, we need to “D”ispute the belief we have about it if those beliefs lead to bad consequences, or consequences that get in the way of our happiness, career and general well-being.

abcd

By disputing those beliefs we gain new “E”xperiences. This in turn will lead to positive activating events which can re-enforce our new beliefs.

abcde

Our beliefs about activating events are a prism through which we see the world. We choose how to experience things. It is helpful to imagine a wall between activating events and beliefs. And it is our beliefs that act as a filter which leads to the consequences we want. We are responsible for our own experiences, and if we want to change those experiences we need to look at our beliefs about activating events.

[It is useful at this point to play out scenarios that staff members may have experienced, or that you all have experienced, and see how they fit into this model.]

 

Making your Job Easier – First impressions.

[This is very much a discussion based item. I am giving my opinions and how I would use them in this exercise. You may have different opinions and so may your staff. The point is to get people to understand that first impressions matter and that although it may not be right to base a relationship on first impressions, people do it all the time because of a lack of there data. If we can think about appearance and how others will interpret it we can at least have a discussion about presentation issues.]

First impressions matter.

They matter because you make decisions about other people and other people make decisions about you.  Now we can control whether we act on those decisions to a certain extent, but we have no control over how others view and act on their first impressions.

I believe that the better a first impression you can make the easier your job becomes. Your first impression is a tool that you can use before any other and it takes minimal effort.

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Who is this man? What are our first impressions of him? Is he at home? In his office? What kind of job does he do? How professional is he? Would we be happy going up and talking to him? What would we think if he talked to us?

What I take away from this picture:

  • Professional in a casual field (shirt, neat hair, type of laptop.)
  • Working away from his office (cell phone visible, laptop, and no cables to either).
  • Concentrating and busy, but seems approachable.

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Who is this man? What are our first impressions of him? How does he compare to the previous photo?

What I take away from this picture:

  • Stressed!
  • Could also work in a casual field but difficult to tell if he is working or not (dress, stickers on laptop – note it’s the same laptop.)
  • Obviously in a coffee shop, but laptop is plugged in which seems to suggest given his demeanor that he does not want to be there as he has had to charge his computer.
  • Unapproachable.

These two individuals could be dealing with the same issue, in fact they could be communicating with each other. But from first impressions they are very different while essentially doing the same things and they could even be from the same company in very similar circumstances.

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What do we take away from this picture?

  • Businessman.
  • A successful professional (polished appearance and comfortable).
  • At a conference (lanyard around his neck)
  • Representing something (a company or organization pin on his jacket)
  • Listening and interested in what he is hearing, but not afraid of it.

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What do we take away from this picture?

  • Business man.
  • Does not look as successful (unpolished appearance – shirt is neat but almost looks like it does not belong given the ill fitting sleeves. Unshaven.)
  • Looks nervous – not enjoying the conversation.

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What do we take away from this picture?

  • Professional but casual.
  • Clean polo shirt, very neat.
  • Dentist (equipment in background)?

How does this picture compare to the last two? Is this how this dentist might look when coming into the office on his day off? Even so, do we trust him?

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What do we take away from this picture?

  • Confidence
  • High self-opinion
  • Not very subtle
  • All about the impression – very loud and in your face.
  • Are you impressed?

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What do we take away from this picture?

  • Doesn’t care what we think.
  • Some effort has been put into his appearance but on his terms (hair is neat, but unshaven, and an un-ironed shirt.)
  • Cigarette is a statement.
  • Are we impressed?
  • A tragic figure?

How we present ourselves to others has an impact. If all a client has to go on is a few short words with us then the non-verbal cues such as our demeanor and our dress are just as important if not more so in building trust.

I’ve been holding staff meetings in veterinary hospitals for 10 years.

That is a lot of monthly staff meetings.

It occurred to me perhaps others could use some of this information for their own meetings in the same way that I used this information from where ever I stole it from.

I’m envisioning this being an ongoing resource for those who have to come up with topics for discussion or team building.

You can find Part One on Customer Service here and Part Three on Communication Tools here.

I have removed a lot of the hospital specific information and so please feel free to add, rearrange, and generally change the information to suit your practice, or business.  I’m going to try and keep similar subjects together. This week we are looking at team building exercises and games. If you end up using some of this I’d love to see your slide decks, pictures, or presentations.

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Blind Trust

Separate into pairs. One of the pair is blind folded and needs to be navigated to the other side of a room full of obstacles.

The obstacles can be anything. I’ve printed out pictures of lava, snakes, poo, etc. and then taped additional sheets of paper to the pictures to make the “obstacles” interesting shapes. If you have difficulty finding blind folds elasticated headbands work really well.

Have both members of each pair stand at the same end of the room. Have one of each pair put the blind fold on. Quickly rearrange the obstacles so that the blindfolded team member done not have the benefit of having seen the layout of the course. The un-blindfolded team member instructs the blindfolded team member through the “maze” while they remain at the starting point. Then the roles are reversed. If a blindfolded team member steps on an obstacle they go back the start and they try again. If you have candy or some other kind of reward it helps get the competitive juices flowing.

This is a fun exercise that teaches the value of listening to instructions and working as a team. It does eat up a lot of time so don’t cram it into a busy meeting, particularly if you have a lot of people.

What’s That Tune?

Have a deck of index cards with the names of very recognizable tunes written on them. Split your group into two halves. Give a card to victim / volunteer and have them share the name of the tune with the rest of their group. Have the volunteer tap out the tune and see if the other group can guess that the tune is. You can then have the groups reverse their roles a couple of times. Have anyone who thinks they know the tune out their hand up rather than shout out.

The group who know what the tune is will find that it is almost impossible to believe that the other group does not recognize the tune from what is being tapped out. But then they will realize how difficult it is when it is their turn to guess.

This exercise is used to explain “the curse of knowledge.” Context and knowledge are incredibly important for communication, but they can hinder. When a person has knowledge (such as the name of a song) it can sometimes be difficult for them to understand why someone who does not have the knowledge can’t understand a less than ideal description of that knowledge. Things that are obvious to staff that deal with the subject everyday are not so obvious to clients who do not.

Song Suggestions:

Star Spangled Banner

Star Wars Theme

Jingle belles

Game of Thrones Theme

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star

Tower Building

Get whatever materials you have to hand. Straws, paper cups, paper plates, sticky tape, etc. Spilt your group into separate teams and see which team can build the highest free standing tower within five minutes.

This is a great ice breaker and team building exercise that is cheap and does not take a lot of time.

Call My Bluff

Works better with smaller groups of less experienced staff. Have everyone sit in a circle and have a small table with a selection of brochures for the products / services you sell. Use a stuffed toy or something similar to designate who’s turn it is to speak.

Pick a person to start who chooses a leaflet from the table. They read out three statements relating the product leaflet, one of them should be false. If someone in the circle guesses which statement is false they get to pick who gets the stuffed animal and picks a leaflet next. If someone in the circle incorrectly identifies a true answer as false they get the stuffed animal and have to pick a leaflet.

This exercise not only allows staff to learn about the products and services you sell it also helps pinpoint deficiencies in training programs.

The Prisoners’ Dilemma

Two players.

Each player should have no more than 25 coins. Tell both players that they can keep all the coins that they have at the end of 20 rounds as long as they play all 20 rounds.  However, warn them that you may play multiple games using the coins they have and they cannot reuse coins that they bet or win. Players can talk to each other but they need to hide their bet until both bets are revealed at the same time (behind or underneath a player’s hand is usually the easiest way to achieve this.)

Each player chooses whether to bet one, two, or three coins.  The player that bets the highest number of coins wins. If players bet the same they each get to keep the coins and they have survived another round.

A player that consistently bets three or two coins will run out of coins and therefore will not be able to complete all twenty rounds and will lose all their coins. A player that consistently bets one coin risks losing coins to the other player.

Ideally what should happen is that both players come to the realization that if they just agree to always bet one coin at the end of the 20 rounds they will both be 20 coins richer. However, there can be a temptation for one of the players to bet more at or near to the end. If this happens, then it is interesting to play another game with the same two players, or with a fresh player and the player who did not co-operate, and see how the cooperation goes this time.

The obvious goal it to show how working for the good of the group is actually in the interest of the individual as well. And while making a short-term gain can sometimes seem worth it in the long run everyone loses.

 

shattered

What can we learn about leadership, and management, from an insiders account of the 2016 Presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton?

A surprising amount is the answer in the case of Jonathan Allen & Amie Parnes’ excellent “Shattered.”

Subtitled:”Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed campaign,” Shattered is a surprisingly partisan look at one of the most dramatic election campaigns in memory. As is mentioned in the book’s introduction, if you are a Hillary Clinton supporter this book can make for painful reading and a reopening of recently scabbed over wounds. It is also noted that if you are not a Hillary Clinton supporter it may reenforce your views, but may also engender some sympathy.

The story spans Clinton’s early decision-making process of whether to get into the 2016 presidential campaign all the way to the days and weeks after the election of Donald Trump. It is really the story of an organization; and the failures of leadership, management, data, and strategy.

What makes the story so compelling is that the people at the heart of the campaign to elect Hillary Clinton, and Clinton herself, are painfully aware of the mistakes of the 2008 campaign for the democratic nomination against Barack Obama. The 2008 campaign was characterized by internal power struggles, leaks, and was generally drama filled, and the candidate and her team are hell-bent on not making those same mistakes again. While for the most part they succeed, there are numerous new mistakes which once again create a dysfunctional organization.

Prizing loyalty over everything else, Clinton cannot help but create an organization of fiefdoms which allows them to get top down decisions implemented; however, is then tone-deaf to bottom up feedback. It also creates a system where staff need to get multiple people need to sign off on decisions. This in turn, creates the need for others to get involved to help fix the organizational problems, but unintentionally make things worse. As is noted mid way through the book, leaking was a symptom of the dysfunction of the 2008 campaign rather than the cause. This is a failure of leadership by getting management structure wrong.

As the book progresses, through the democratic primaries it becomes obvious that while some lessons of 2008 had been learned by the 2016 campaign, for example focusing on delegates rather than votes, it blinds them to the fact that some of their underlying assumptions are wrong. They do not realize that they are losing the votes of working class whites who had formed their base in 2008 and for whom Bill Clinton had been a champion.

Other than the organizational issues, there is also the role of big data. Every campaign decision is based on analytics and is constantly looking for the least costly route of victory. However, analytics are being used as a strategy, and a decider, rather than as a tool. The underlying assumption is that is cheaper to persuade supporters to go to the polls, and register to vote, rather than change the minds of undecided voters. This does not take account that there are voters who are actively voting against Hillary Clinton, and they were not doing anything to change the minds of those voters.

The campaign was misreading the electorate, the analytics were wrong, but it was the organization that allowed it to happen. Having said that, as the book correctly notes, no reputable pollster was predicting a Donald Trump win, so the Hillary team is hardly alone.

This is an interesting book because these are people obviously working at the top of their game, repeating the issues made famous by the World War I book “The Guns of August” by Barbara W. Tuchman. That book explores the idea that the generals of World War I were not fighting the current war but the previous one and not realizing that the world had changed and thereby dramatically adding to the misery of The Great War.

Like Weapons of Math Destruction which I reviewed here, Shattered is also a warning of the potential limits of big data and predictive models. They are a tool, and should just be one of many. There are lots to learn from Shattered; it is an excellent tool as well.

As a manager, you are never going to please everyone.

Some might even argue that if you do, you are not doing your job correctly. You will be called upon to discipline and even terminate employees, some of whom you might consider friends if you no longer had to manage them, and who may already consider you a friend. That is until you fire them – no friendship survives that.  Moreover, a portion of your job is to stick your head above the parapet wall and take the pot shots that people send your way: customers and employees alike. You may well take the wrap for decisions that other stakeholders, and even the courts, have made and the people you work with will almost certainly never know about the arguments that you have won to protect their interests.

If you are someone who values internal culture, like I am, then you have the added concern of trying to make any piece of feedback positive. Gone are the days, for the most part, of managers losing their tempers and yelling at the people the work with. I won’t say that I have never lost my temper at a member of staff but I have made sure to apologize afterwards and I have always felt that loosing one’s temper is counterproductive: If it actually hurts what I’ve trying to achieve then what is the point? Management is hard, we are all over worked, underappreciated, our hands are often tied, and the goal posts are always shifting. However, the rewards make it worth it: financial, recognition of your peers, and the sense of achievement when you see both people and businesses grow.

And then there are things like this:

“I loved the actual job here. Worked here for almost a year. If you could rise above petty back-stabbing and the fact people would be super nice to your face, and cut you down in a heartbeat behind your back, then it was a great job. Hospital chief administrator suffered from Little Big Man syndrome and needed to be avoided at all costs – unless you wanted your day ruined, as he was always incapable of saying anything nice, and preferred to berate – even if praise was his intention! Some of the doctors were difficult, but most were really great to work with. Overall, if you have thick skin, this was a good place to work – but no benefits other than an employee discount for vet services.

Ouch.

Other than the obvious of “what else would you expect a terminated employee to say?” What else can be learned from this from a management perspective? What can I learn from this since I feature so prominently?

Well yes, I am short – well spotted. Not much I can do about that. I guess you could argue that as someone of limited stature I have to be additionally careful to not appear angry so as to not play into the stereotype. As noted above, this is actually in my own interests anyway but a helpful reminder that I need to live up to my own standards.

If I am to be avoided, then that is actually pretty difficult. I try very hard to check in with every employee on both shifts every day and I am obviously sorry they felt this way. I think the comment of being “incapable of saying anything nice, and preferred to berate” is a little harsh. We, as an employer and I personally, have put a number of programs in place to improve and celebrate employee recognition. However, I will admit, that I do need to praise more in person than I currently do. Most managers do suffer from this and it is probably one of the more difficult aspects of the job. It is particularly hard when you have an employee who is not doing anything particularly wrong, but also not doing anything particularly exceptional. Since the above quote is from an anonymous post it is difficult to know for sure anything about this former employee, but as a general takeaway I think this rings true.

A “reading between the lines” insight, and backed up by some feedback from former employees who are now friends (see I’m not all bad) is that there is perhaps a lack of trust at times. A feeling that I did not have the employee’s “back.” This is probably a feature of trying to make customer service central to what we do. If a customer complains about an employee or the service they delivered, unless the claim is outrageous, I will probably try to make to client happy. This can certainly be interpreted as taking the side of the customer instead of the employee. It shouldn’t – I’m trying to protect the business and therefore indirectly the employee. If I feel there is an issue to be addressed with the employee, I will address it separately; however, it is easy to see how this issue arises and perhaps I need to do a better job of dealing with this unintended tension.    

As a final note, it is interesting that this former employee felt that discounted vet services was all the benefits that were on offer. I would take away from this that I needed to do a better job of explaining the other things that formed our benefits package.   

I don’t want a lot of reviews like this – nobody does. But the same rules apply to bad reviews about yourself as to bad reviews about your business. They are an opportunity to get feedback that you would not otherwise be able to receive. And while anonymous former employee reviews are even more unfair than anonymous customer reviews, due to the legal issues involved, a little self-examination is not a bad thing. If nothing else, it hopefully made for an interesting blog post.

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 Zappos, Tony Hsieh, and the Downtown Project are controversial subjects in some quarters of Las Vegas – although I have always been a supporter. In my opinion, it is hard to not give credit to Mr. Hsieh for having the courage, faith, and energy, to move his company and sink millions into the depressed center of Las Vegas, a city I love living in and call home.

That makes Aimee Groth’s tell all book about living inside, or at least partially inside, the bubble of Tony Hsieh’s circle throughout the first five years of the Downtown Project all the more difficult, and fascinating to read. With Ms. Groth becoming part, if not the driving force, of the narrative this is very much a piece of Gonzo journalism which gives some first person perspective to the stresses and confusion that many in the story recall.

To give some background, Tony Hsieh is the CEO of Zappos, an online shoe retailer which is owned by Amazon. In 2013, Zappos moved its headquarters into the former city hall building of Downtown Las Vegas. Downtown Las Vegas, and in particular the area east of Las Vegas Boulevard, had been a rundown collection of tattoo parlors, pawn shops, seedy bars, and ultra-cheap motels. With the result, it had all the problems of a depressed city center, with homelessness, prostitution, and drug dealing on most street corners. With Zappos’s move to Downtown, Mr. Hsieh created the “Downtown Project” with $350 million of his own money. Almost half the money was earmarked for the purchasing of real-estate with the rest to be invested in businesses and startups centered in Downtown Las Vegas. The stated goals of the Downtown Project was not only the creation of a new business and a technology startup environment, but to make Downtown a place with a thriving innovation culture.

The story follows Ms. Groth’s intial conversations with Mr. Hsieh and other invited guests to the Downtown Project, through partying and becoming part of Mr. Hsiehs entourage, the first cracks appearing in the startup culture, to the major reorganization of the Downtown Project, and the internal strife at Zappos due to the move downtown and Holacracy. Holacracy is a new management system and communication tool that was adopted by Zappos. I reviewed Brian J. Robertson’s book on Holacracy here.

However, the main thrust of “The Kingdom of Happiness” is on Mr. Hsieh’s, and those around him’s, response to these events and to their motives in the first place. As the story is told there is almost a willful lack of support, and management, given to the early entrepreneurs, lured to Las Vegas with promises of financing to follow their dreams and the expectation of mentoring. With the result that many were essentially setup to fail, or at the very least felt that way.

“…the young entrepreneurs who didn’t naturally seek out assistance or know how to navigate an ecosystem like this were left to fend for themselves.” – From The Kingdom of Happiness.

There is also a darker undercurrent that flows through the book, and that is the potential conflict of interest in the due roles of the Downtown Project as both landlord and investor to various new and startup businesses. At one point in the book an entrepreneur wonders at the oddness of trying to avoid their investor and business partner, because they are also their landlord. There are numerous mentions throughout the book by those in the Downtown Project, that a source of profits for the Downtown Project is the real estate rather than in the businesses they have investments in. An uncharitable reading might question the ethics, or morality, of this arrangement.

 What I feel is the main takeaway from the book, and makes it of particular interest to business people,  is the balance between Vision, Leadership, and Management, and how this seems to have gone awry at both Zappos and the Downtown Project. At one point Mr. Hsieh snaps at Ms. Groth that he is not a leader but a visionary and it is hard to argue with him. But if Mr. Hsieh is not leading then who is?

The move to Holacracy, a system that dispenses with traditional management structures, through the lens of Ms. Groth’s book, seems to be an imperfect answer to some difficult questions. There has been plenty of vision at Downtown Project and Zappos. There is also some merit in the argument that there has also been leadership at Zappos (you don’t undertake something like Holacracy without leadership pointing the way). But the cult of personality surrounding Mr. Tsieh, and Zappos’s focus on its non- traditional internal culture, maybe filling in for actual leadership.

What is clear, particularly at the Downtown Project, is that there has been a failure of leadership through a lack of management. In a drive to be different, focus on making things “happen,” and create a self-sustaining entrepreneurial culture, the basic structures and support networks have never been put in place that would seem to be a prerequisite for this type of project.

I, for one, am a supporter of the Downtown Project and Zappos – particularly for Zappos’s focus on internal culture. One only has to walk through downtown to see the enormous impact that Downtown Project and Zappos have had. However, there have been significant costs, and without examining the issues that The Kingdom of Happiness raises we are doomed to repeat them. In business, but particularly in the startup culture, there is a focus on leadership to the expense of everything else and an almost dismissal of management. What the story that Ms. Groth tells us is that visionaries abandon management at their peril and that leadership, while the key ingredient in all successful companies, cannot survive without good management.

 

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Please don’t buy this book.

I’ve seen Jay speak a couple of times and the most recent time I was intrigued by the study he conducted with Edison Research that forms the back bone of “Hug your Haters.” The study asked two basic, yet fundament, questions in this new age of online reviews and online customer service:

1: How has the proliferation of social media, review sites, and other online forms changed the customer expectations of what good customer service really means.

2: When interactions between brands and humans are played out on the public stage, how must brands perform to in order to satisfy not only the customer, but the customer’s audience.

Hug your haters is a guidebook, informed by real data, on how to best handle complaints in this age of onstage public complaining. When I read a new business book it will sometimes take me down a particular intellectual path, other times it will provide nuggets of useful information that I can use, and sometimes I will disagree with it to such an extent, that I cannot wait to be done.

Hug your haters is different.

Hug Your Haters, for me, is validation of what I have come to believe over the last few years. Negative reviews are a chance to shine. Upset clients can be loyal clients if you can turn them around. Onstage interactions with upset clients is chance to show all those watching that you care enough to listen, empathize, apologize, and try to fix individual complaints.

It is amazing to read a book and have the author focus on a point of technique, where Jay talks about shock and awe was my favorite moment for this to happen, and realize “hey I love to do that – nice to know I’m not the only one!” Although the book primarily focuses on online strategies for customer resolution, is does deal with offline issues and really provides a blueprint, with real world examples, of how to provide customer service in almost any sized business. The basic philosophy is simple – answer every negative complaint, every time, in every channel. By doing this the author, and I agree, believes that customer service can become marketing.  This is because, more often than not, these interactions are conducted in public with an audience.  

If I have to have a complaint about the book it is that Jay lets Yelp off the hook far too easily. My own personal feelings about Yelp have evolved over the years; from outright despising them for their failure to engage with their clients and critics which you can read here, to acceptance with a few reservations which you can read here. However, the issue that Yelp arbitrarily filters out reviews from real paying clients, but does not seem to have the same scruples when it comes to negative reviews from people you do not recognize, and refuses to engage about what has happened, still stands.

However, this really is a minor quibble about what is without doubt the bible of how handle customer service in the modern age. It is not for the faint of heart. Following Jay’s playbook, you will encounter managers, owners, and employees, who feel that you are opening the company to being taken advantage or creating a culture where customers are rewarded for complaining. And there are some merits to these fears; however, these are far out-weighed by the rewards.

For me this book is validation – thank you Jay.

For others, it is heresy.

For most it will be revelatory.

But I like my competitive advantage, so please, don’t buy this book.

 

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