Thursday, May 26, 2011

Being On Time...

If you've read any of the rest of this blog you will know that I am rather high on this concept of "say what you'll do, and do what you say!" Sounds sort of old fashioned doesn't it? But I'm concerned that in today's world one of the things we are leaving behind is the concept of being forthright.

For instance, when was the last time you set an appointment and arrived either on time, or early? This sounds so simple but boy oh boy is it abused! Probably no action is more simple than 'saying what time you'll be there, and being there on time!' Remember, "say what you'll do, and do what you say!" My girls are sick of hearing it by now! If you were to ask them how many times when they were growing up I made a big deal about being on time, they would say it was a lot! My second line was probably even more famous to them - "being late suggests to the waiting person that your schedule is more important then theirs!" Ugh! At least call them if you know you're running late!

The 'kissing cousin' to this concept is moving the meeting around, or canceling at the last minute. Nothing shouts "I am tremendously important and you're not!" like re-scheduling the meeting within a few hours of the appointed time! I've become convinced through the years that some people move meetings just to remind us of their importance. To be fair about it, sometimes being late or re-scheduling at the last minute can't be helped. After all, this is life we're talking about here! But habitually falling into either of the aforementioned patterns may suggest that other, deeper issues may be at play.

I'm convinced that very few last minute opportunities are so unbelievably time sensitive that they require upsetting everyone else's schedule by changing a meeting time. Could it be that you are so overcommitted that you really have to play "apple cart turnover" with both your schedule and everyone else's? Are you so overwhelmed and exhausted that commitments made some time ago need to be cancelled or moved to accommodate your exhaustion?

"Say what you'll do, and do what you say!" 

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

First Impressions...

No one ever likes to hear the word "cancer." Though really bad when that word is directed at us, it can be just as devastating when a loved one is told he has a malignant tumor! That has happened recently with my Dad. He's 85 - he needs to have the tumor removed.

On Monday I went with my parents to meet with the surgeon. After a quiet knock on the door to the examining room, in walks this wonderfully confident Doctor who literally takes charge of the situation! We knew immediately that we had been referred to the right surgeon. She made a great first impression!

Almost every day we meet new people. What kind of "first impression" are we making? Practically every one of us has been confronted at one time or another with someone who's looks or manner upon initial introduction makes us feel very uneasy.  Maybe it's the way they are dressed - or the body "hardware" or exotic ink designs they sport. Maybe it's their initial salutation - or lack there of, that captures our approval or disapproval. Are they loud and boisterous, or meek and reserved? Do they inspire confidence, or just the opposite? We learn a lot about another person just on first impression.

Often our first impressions are right! Upon closer inspection, and with the benefit of ongoing relationship we usually discover that often what we thought of someone initially was correct. Does your first impression correctly reflect who you are, and how you conduct your business?

My Dad's surgeon was assertive without being obnoxious; confident without being cocky; knowledgeable without being a "know it all"; calm without being too casual; friendly without being too familiar. What's your first impression? 

Friday, May 20, 2011

What Will Be Your Legacy?

Doc Hamilton was a very special guy! Besides being a lifelong best friend of my father-in-law Jesse McDonald (who also was a very special guy!), Doc practiced medicine in Monroe, Louisiana for 56 years. Fifty of those years he served as a part-time volunteer physician for the Louisiana Baptist Children's Home, a privately run orphanage. Doc tended to all of the kid's needs - he loved them, and they loved Doc!

Affectionately referred to as the "fingernail" Doctor, Doc Hamilton would ask each child at the beginning of a physical exam if he could see their fingernails. Now Doc knew that you couldn't glean any medical information from looking at those kid's fingernails, but he had a very special reason for wanting to see them. You see, he realized that by seeing their fingernails it allowed him to hold their hand, and by holding their hand it would re-assure them that everything was going to be alright, and that they had worth as a human being! Now that is a special guy!

Doc quietly passed away Monday at the ripe old age of 86. I was fortunate enough to attend the celebration of his life in Monroe on Wednesday. So many wonderful things were said about Doc! Not only was he a gifted physician, but an incredible family man who loved his wife more than life itself! It was obvious that he had touched so many lives with his kindness and good humor. What will they say about you at your funeral? What kind of legacy will you leave when you go to your greater reward?

Consider starting with the answer and then working backwards to find those values which will lead you to your legacy. Who knows, maybe it starts with something just as simple as fingernails!

Monday, May 16, 2011


I've been busy this week putting on my armor for the annual fight with Denton County Appraisal District over our appraised value. The most optimistic report I can find online for residential values in North Texas for last year shows a decline in value of 5%. So why in the world has the appraised value on my home gone up by 14.8% since 2009 - one of the worst years on record since the Great Depression?

Denton County seems to do this every year. Last year I think the increase was 10.7% before my hearing with the appraisal board. Apparently the evidence I presented brought them back down to reality and we didn't have much of an increase. But the 2010 market was much worse than 2009! The number of foreclosures grew exponentially in 2010, and that has dramatically affected values in all areas. But affected down, not up!

Annoying as it is, one strategy employed by way too many people today is to ask for the increase, or ask for the double payment in hopes that you either don't notice the duplicate, or are too busy to do anything about it! Coupled with the veiled threat of turning your bill over to the collection agency if you don't pay, many customers throw their hands up and write the check. This is patently unfair, completely unethical, and smacks of lack of integrity! But when you are trying to justify a budget, or increase your bottom line, who cares? Well.... me for one!

Far too many businesses today count on not being made accountable! Why do we need to hold them accountable for their actions?  Think of it for a minute: if you are selling magazines by subscription and you keep "duping" people for their subscription renewal - and they keep paying multiple times, you've made that much more revenue! Or, if you are a medical provider who solicits payment from both the  insurance company (who is going to dictate to the Doctor how much he can make anyway!), and the patient, why not double bill the patient in hopes of getting them to pay multiple times? Worst case is that the medical provider gets the use of the money while the patient is busy trying to figure out how they were just duped! So if you are the appraisal district why not put your constituent in a position in which they are "guilty until proven innocent" by jacking up their appraised value and making them disprove it?

After all, do I really want to take four or five hours out of my day to drive to Denton, wait for the hearing, plead my case (with all of the stress that they build into the process), and find my way home for just a measly old 14.8% increase? Damn right I do!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Is Integrity Obsolete?

In the last blog I was on a roll about "functional obsolescence." It seems totally absurd to me that we are building a whole host of new products that are designed intentionally to become obsolete - just so marketers can profit from the sale of another one of the same product! Has "integrity" become obsolete?

Our world keeps changing at a faster, and faster pace. With that maniacal pace comes the continual upgrade in features, and performance as we discover new ways of providing technology to the marketplace. Some people just have to have the latest gadget or hottest style - I get that! But when an entire industry eliminates the analog signal for televisions so that you are really left no option but to buy a new digital TV set, I have a problem with that! Where is the integrity in this upgrade? Hey wait a minute - Sony already has developed the protocol that will replace 1080p televisions. Once again, this will make your TV clearer and even more sharp then it is today. All of the television cameras have already been built and tested, but Sony refuses to roll out the latest technology until their inventory of 1080p sets dwindles! Guess what - shortly our 1080p sets will be "technologically obsolete" so we will have to buy new sets in the future! Good for them, bad for us...

With all of the "obsoletes" noted in the last blog, has even integrity become obsolete? So what if the Boards of these large corporations press for profits to keep their shareholders happy - what is the right thing to do for the masses? You don't see Apple discontinuing service or features on their old iphones just because they have rolled out the new iphone 4! As a society we seem to strayed far from the concept of doing the "right thing" for everybody. The almighty dollar has taken over!

Hungry marketers often seem to say whatever they need to to get the next sale, or the next job. It's not uncommon at all for us to run face to face with a competitor who has promised things to an unsuspecting client that they cannot possibly deliver. Who gets hurt? Usually not the builder! That happens because as a society we have gotten away from "my word is my bond." Is the concept of "say what you'll do, and do what you say" now old fashioned? Isn't that what integrity is really all about?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Demolition Derby

Recently I had the misfortune of dropping my cell phone in a sink full of water. Off to the AT&T store to hopefully get it fixed. Wrong! The sales guy at the AT&T store reminded me that they don't fix those anymore - too expensive, but they would be happy to replace the unit, or even upgrade (at a very substantial premium)! Ouch... did the repairman move to the Philippine Islands or something?

Wait: isn't that exactly what we do with many houses today? Are we now building them to be "functionally obsolete" within years now instead of lifetimes?

When I started in the business in 1978 the firm I worked for was just completing the biggest home imaginable on Inwood Road for a wonderful couple. Easily 10,000 square feet of living space with everything you could possibly conceive. The pool was "ginormous" and the tennis court was beautiful! For years I drove past that house wondering what that wonderful family was doing, until one day when I went by, AND IT WAS GONE! Someone wanted the land under the house, pool and tennis courts to re-create life in their own image! No telling what THAT cost!

We live in a world where everything seems to be disposable. Maybe it started with kid's diapers - cloth was too hard to keep clean so someone invented disposable diapers (admittedly a much better idea!). Onward the trend went to paper plates, plastic forks and spoons, toiletries, clothing, cars, appliances, electronics, cell phones etc. Even marriages! The whole world is disposable!

To learn more about this topic I looked up "functional obsolescence" for a definition. Oddly Wikipedia also gave me "Technical obsolescence" or when a new product or technology supersedes the old and it becomes preferable to utilize the new technology in place of the old (see: my cell phone!); "Planned obsolescence" or when marketers deliberately introduce obsolescence into their product strategy with the objective of generating long-term sales and repeat purchase (seems grossly unfair!); "Style obsolescence" which is when a product is no longer desirable because it has gone out of style (they highlighted Jimi Hendrix's bell-bottoms - gross!); "Postponement obsolescence" which is something altogether different; even "Obsolescence management" which I guess has to do with managing the obsolescence.

You mean to tell me that a whole generation of "obsolescence" has been created to cheat us out of what used to be built to last? Understanding that the almighty dollar seems to rule in our society, isn't this somewhat unethical? I am finding it hard to believe that people would deliberately build a product and take my money with the sole intention of having it either break or go out of style so that they can take my money again by selling me the "new and improved" version of what I already had! Am I the only one here who finds that unfair?

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Importance of People

Our local homegrown hero, The Container Store is regularly voted "Best Place to Work in America!" They seem to make the list every year. This is no accident - they are very intentional in how they treat their employees!

Kip Tindall, Chairman and CEO of The Container Store says it this way, "We're really committed to the concept of being an employee first culture. If you take care of your employees better than anybody else, they're going to really and truly take care of your customers better than anybody else." He's right! But finding the right people is another issue altogether.

Often a perspective employee looks to have a skill set which would match perfectly in your business. Everything seems perfect, you hire, and time reveals that it wasn't a good fit at all. Skills are one thing, but culture is another. Way too often business' are spending too much money on hiring the wrong person. By the time you figure in severance, this can get really expensive. Just like life, business has a rhythm which cannot be ignored. If the new hire doesn't match the rhythm of the business the employment most likely won't work! We end up with "hit and miss" - hiring people to try, and replacing them if they miss. Not only is this confusing to the other employees, it can take it's toll too on customers. The questions it can raise can be damaging!

Back to The Container Store... One of their core philosophies is "...three good people equal one great person, so why not hire only great people?" The company has a history of matching employees strengths with the needs of the company, choosing to focus on talent rather than titles. BRILLIANT!

Recently I ran on to Adrian Wood, a delightful British chap who represents PeopleSync - a software that defines nineteen different habits of an employable candidate so that those attributes can be compared with the established culture of the hiring business. FASCINATING! The software Adrian sells can't be manipulated through personal assessment so the candidate can't try to "win the job." PeopleSync's test doesn't ask those kind of questions. With no right or wrong answers the final results can easily be measured against the culture of the business as defined by that business' top performers.

I wish subcontracting out the work in our business could be so easy! What do you suppose would happen if I gave my Framing crew the PeopleSync aptitude test? No question it would make for a top rated TV "sitcom" - the protests would be legendary! With the level of unsophistication in our business (read: reluctance to test!), throughout the years we have had to rely on finding and developing (a/k/a "hit and miss") great talent. Once developed to meet our customers needs, we must retain that talent for future projects.

Just like The Container Store, we fight consistent product and service delivery. Our customers expect us to be able to perform the same, project after project, so that their home or remodel looks as good as what they may have seen of our work somewhere else. We won't win any awards for "Best Place to Work" like The Container Store, but I have found several basic principles help us attract and keep good talent:

  • Support the troops. Make sure that they have the tools and materials necessary to do their jobs. We add "specific instruction" to that list so that our trades know exactly what task to perform.

  • Prompt Payment. 'Hell hath no fury like a mad subcontractor!' For years one of our competitors would take money given them for paying the subs and instead invest it in a 90 CD! After the CD matured the sub would receive payment - ahhhhhhh, NOT GOOD!

  • Clearly Communicate Expectations. It's not enough to have "specific instructions" on what task to perform, our people need to know what we, and the customer expects it's going to look like when finished.

  • Fair and Equitable Resolution. When problems occur (and they always do!), don't use the sub as a "shield." Understanding that there are at least two sides to every story, quickly resolve the problem to the satisfaction of as many as possible.

  • Develop a Culture of Fun! Insist that everyone involved in the process enjoy themselves while working hard. If a constantly grumbling sub can't see his or her way to that, GET RID OF THEM!

Managing people is not rocket science! The way some people manage though, you might think it is... Briefly consider how you would like to be treated in a given situation - and then manage accordingly!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Understanding Your Uniqueness!

Who are you? What are your gifts and talents? Are you using your gifts and talents to their fullest extent with your family, and in your work? Yesterday we focused on not spreading ourselves too thin, and on taking a personal inventory of our life. But when you take the personal inventory of your life, what are you looking for?

The Apostle Paul in his letter to the Corinthians encourages us to not be ignorant of the gifts God has given you (1 Cor. 12:1). Recognizing the diversity of those gifts (v. 4) Paul makes the distinction between "administration" and "operational" gifts (v. 5&6) and notes that all gifts are given by the Almighty who is steadfast and never changing! Specifically he enumerates a short and somewhat incomplete list of spiritual gifts in verses 8 through 10 when he says " one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; to another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another different kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues..." It would be easy to discount Paul's teaching as being old fashion and behind the times. But this ends up being a pretty good list to begin to help us define the gifts we might have!

Understanding the gifts God has individually given us helps us to define our uniqueness. Just like the Hope Diamond above, no two diamonds, or people are alike! At 45.5 carats few diamonds, if any, have ever been mined that as large, or as beautiful. The unusual attributes of that diamond make it one of a kind - you are too, just the way God created you!

Understanding your uniqueness means you can differentiate your abilities from the others. It sets you apart from the rest of the field. Your ability to recognize how your skill set is different from the rest of the population defines your uniqueness in the marketplace.  Finding the right audience that seeks your uniqueness is the real trick, and often where people fail in the process!

For example, take Bill Gates - one of the wealthiest, or maybe the wealthiest man in the world. An early aptitude for math and science caused him to naturally gravitate towards an interest in computers. While still in college Gates, and his buddy Paul Allen convinced Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems (MITS) that they had a code that would run on MITS computer hardware (interestingly he really didn't have the code when he originally contacted MITS, but wrote it quickly for the demonstration!). Together they recognized the "gifts" and talents they had and realized with a burgeoning computer industry they could be "unique" by only producing the software, and not the hardware. Gates and Allen knew that a "body" without a "brain" was useless, and so was a computer without the software! Understanding their uniqueness differentiated them from the rest of the industry. Gates and Allen parlayed that uniqueness into the differentiation of their abilities and products from the rest of the market, and successfully found an audience that wanted their product. Both rode the wave to amazing fame and fortune.

The rock-n-roll band The Eagles haven't spent much time playing classical songs because their audience doesn't buy out their concerts to hear that type of music! They have discovered their uniqueness and play to a particular audience.

Once you understand your uniqueness, focus and discipline will help you use those gifts. In my opinion you will gain much greater satisfaction in life if you use your uniqueness in positive pursuits as opposed to marginal or illicit endeavors. To some extent refining your audience will help you gain even more satisfaction out of the process.

The joy is in the journey. Self evaluation and inventory can be one of the most fun things you will ever do! Remember that God created you with a specific, unique set of gifts that only you can discover and apply. Happy hunting!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

"Peanut Butter Spread..."

Some of my greatest inspiration comes from the next generation! If you drink as much coffee as I do sooner or later you are going to get to know the people you regularly see at Starbuck's. My new found friend Derek used the term "peanut butter spread" the other day in describing his corporate dilemma. What the heck is "peanut butter spread" I asked? He e-mailed me a definition: "the act of taking meager resources and spreading them as thin as possible to cover the most projects." I love the latest lingo! I'm challenged by the younger guys with fresh ideas!

"Peanut butter spreading" has got to be happening all across America. As we limp out of the recession, so many businesses have downsized (or "right sized" to be PC!) that a lot of the employees remaining find themselves doing jobs, and assuming responsibilities that never fit their original job descriptions. We are all trying to make do with what we've got.

'Desperate times make people do desperate things!' The Great Recession has caused everyone to re-examine every part of their personal and professional situations. The temptation clearly is to be all things to all people by "peanut butter spreading" ourselves around to keeps all bases covered. If we're not careful, the results will be disastrous! We're talking permanently damaged relationships and projects!

The response to the challenge of trying to make your peanut butter go further are varied. Some people have chosen to use new, untested resources and talent to hit new lower cost targets. Frankly a lot of new talent these days will literally say, or do just about anything to try and keep their job - and who can blame them?!! If we take this approach the question becomes 'will I be sorry later that I cut these corners?' Are we living in the moment, or taking the long view?

Across the board we are seeing less opulence in our buying decisions. People seem to be "peanut butter spreading" even their budgets across a wider variety of options. A recent article in MainStreet by Jill Krasny noted "...homebuyers are also forgoing traditionally pricey granite countertops for standard laminate countertops." Are we really willing to take a gigantic step backwards for the sake of "spreading" our buying dollars over the same size projects we pursued before the recession, or would it be better to downsize?

Should we be asking ourselves when purchasing goods and services what our true needs are? If we are the one constantly frazzled because we are trying to be all things to all people, do we need to re-examine who we are, what is our uniqueness, and what are our talents? It may be time to re-assess certain areas of our lives to make sure we don't end up getting spread around like peanut butter!

Monday, May 2, 2011

"Peanut Butter Spread..."

Some of my greatest inspiration comes from the next generation! If you drink as much coffee as I do sooner or later you are going to get to know the people you regularly see in Starbuck's. My new found friend Derek used the term "peanut butter spread" the other day in describing his corporate dilemma. What the heck is "peanut butter spread" I asked? He e-mailed me a definition: "the act of taking meager resources and spreading them as thin as possible to cover the most projects." I love the latest lingo - and younger guys with fresh ideas!

"Peanut butter spreading" has got to be happening all across America. As we limp out of the recession so many businesses have downsized that a lot of the leftover people find themselves doing jobs, and assuming responsibilities that have never fit their job descriptions.