Archives for February 2016

“Talk to My Supervisor”


Those might be some of the most frustrating words you can hear.

Usually because whatever you’ve said to elicit that comment wasn’t a point of praise.  I can almost guarantee it was a criticism or a complaint.   Think about it – would someone ever tell you to talk to their supervisor if it was something positive? Of course not.

And whether it was those exact words, or something similar, it’s likely that everyone has heard those unbelievably frustrating words at some point.

They wreak of bureaucracy, of governmental inefficiency.  Honestly, they sound like something you’d hear at the DMV (note to the DMV: please don’t make me stand in an (even) longer line just for typing those words…even though they are likely true).

But what is it about those words that drives us crazy?

  1. Whether we are polite or rude, when we are unhappy about our situation, we want someone to take action. To say something to help. Heck, we just want someone to *pretend* like they care or are doing something.  “Talk to my supervisor” doesn’t even humor us for just how apathetic and inactive it shows us the other person is.
  2. Said supervisor is rarely around. They are usually “in the back over there” or dealing with another annoyed individual so you’ll have to wait your turn.  And even then, on the off chance you actually encounter the supervisor, you realize that the supervisor has no ability to do anything anyways.
  3. And that is where you realize that it’s not the individual, but rather the organization or system you are stuck in. That place has no accountability.  That role is reserved for the “they” – and no one really knows who “they” is (or is it “are”?).  The entities where these painful words are uttered are bastions of bureaucracy, inefficiency, and pain for the consumer.
  4. Most annoyingly, usually the person saying those words has spoken them countless times before. It’s almost like the words roll off their tongue.  As if they are so resigned to their lot, as if they just don’t want to hear it anymore.  As if I should be questioning why I even opened my mouth.

Here’s the kicker.  The attitude and culture of “talk to my supervisor” isn’t reserved for government offices.  It happens every day in companies, but just under a different expression:

“That’s what I was told was decided at the meeting a couple weeks ago.” (passive voice intentional)

“I got an email that said we shouldn’t be doing things outside the box.”

“What do you mean?” Followed by utter silence

And my all-time favorite:

“The CEO said to do it.”

It’s no wonder that the number one characteristic that top managers are hiring for is pro-activeness.  Because it doesn’t show up that often.  But also because of what it reflects:

-Someone actually thinking (I could just stop here, but I’ll go on)

-Not waiting to be told what to do

-Some semblance of leadership skill (note that is not the same thing as management skill)

-A desire to make a positive impact (assuming the idea is halfway reasonable)

-An action-orientation

-Presumably the right amount of impatience

Certainly there’s plenty of discussion to be had why the lack of initiative is so prevalent in companies.  This, despite that companies typically operate more efficiently than government entities.  People don’t like to stir the pot or draw attention to themselves, laziness, or politics.

And those cultural norms need to be addressed.

In particular, because this type of behavior is probably present in your organization, far beyond whatever level you think it exists today.  And I’d posit that it’s more costly than certain failed strategic initiatives because it lives each day in the organization and is impossible to be compartmentalized.

But it has to get rooted out if you want to have a great organization.  Which could include doing one or more of the following:

-Creating a culture of accountability – where single individuals hold accountability for key areas of a business (nothing is worse for getting something done than having 2 or more people supposedly assigned to it)

-Building a coalition, if you will, of people who will marshall the cause of change and proactivity

-Taking a stand for what you do and don’t accept.  And that often happens in the moment, when either because of time or even social etiquette, it is more difficult to take action.

-Making changes to staff when the desired behaviors aren’t displayed.

-Figuring out what your version “Undercover Boss” is. (By the way, I love that show because of how it gets regular employees to put their guard down, so you see who they really are, both negative and positive.)

So yes, we all go crazy when we hear those almost-insulting words of “Talk to my supervisor.”  But let’s also not be so delusional to think that that culture and thinking is confined to wherever you associate it.

Unfortunately, it’s everywhere.  And any organization that wants to be considered “great” has to take proactive steps (there’s that word again) to eliminate, or at least minimize the apathy, lack of leadership, and an overall sense of “it’s not my responsibility” in your organization.

And if you need any additional further motivation, just imagine if one of your employees said their version of “Talk to my supervisor” to your customers…

How to Add Value When You Know Nothing

If you’re struggling with how to add value at your company, then at every meeting you go to, be the person who takes notes and sends them out to everyone who was at the meeting.  Be sure to include what specific decisions were made, what the next steps are, and most importantly, who the single person who is accountable for any follow-up items.  And if you’re unclear about any of these, most likely someone (or everyone) else is as well. Don’t let the meeting end without asking (translation: demanding) for clarification.

And then here is the kicker, check back after the appropriate period of time to see if what was supposed to happen afterwards actually did happen.

There is are an immeasurable number of meetings that happen each day where the ball gets dropped because a) people weren’t clear about who was supposed to do what; and b) people just didn’t get done what they were supposed to do.

So there you go – you can know nothing about a business and can still add massive value.

By the way, if you don’t have someone in your org or in specific meetings who is assigned to do this (whether you, a project manager, note taker, assistant, intern, chief of staff, or your spouse), it might be one of the highest ROI roles you can fill.  And as you can tell, they don’t even know about your business to be effective in this role.

But watch out, they may start to learn your business and who gets stuff done – better than anyone else. You might even need to find a new role (gasp!) for them as you learn what more they can do.

Luckily, the next person you have to hire to replace them doesn’t need to know much about your business to be effective…


Your Business Metrics Are Not High-School (or even College) Math


So stop behaving like they are.

Quick story – when I was interviewing for investment banking jobs coming out of college, people used to say to me that I must be good with numbers because I was a math major at MIT.

I was amused because by senior year my math classes actually had very few numbers – it was primarily variables, equations and proofs.  But far be it for me to let people’s assumptions at what I was studying in college and what they thought I was good at get in the way of their advancing me in their process.  (I got 1 job out of all those interviews in ‘94/’95, a nasty environment, but it only takes one…)

Let’s be honest, though.  Looking at a marketing report or doing the type of math that’s required to run a business isn’t the type of math I did, or really that most people did, in college.  I’d even argue that it’s barely senior year high school math – whether you were in Calculus, Geometry or Algebra II.

I also know that just mentioning those classes is probably causing a nasty emotional reaction in some of you right now.

And that looking at your marketing metrics is eliciting that same emotional reaction.  But it’s not remotely the same thing. And so you shouldn’t be limiting yourselves.

For example, if you see that last week’s visitor count to your website was 20K and this week’s is 15K, are you really tapping into college-level math to know that something has changed and that you probably want to understand why? Or when you look at a report and see that you’re selling 1,000 units a week and that you have 2,000 in stock, that you better have a shipment on the way.  Or make a phone call pretty quickly.  Or plan on stopping selling in short order.

Now if you want to talk about critical reasoning skills and what to do with those results, that’s not math skills.  That’s business sensibility.  And why in that last example, I suggested a few possible courses of action – each business and individual has to come up with that list and then pick their best decision.

And so perhaps setting up data warehouses or running analyses in Excel takes some level of technical skill – how much is truly math or not, let’s not argue about.

But I continue to be amazed at how many people shy away from even asking for metrics and get intimidated by looking at business reports.

If you want to track your business results, you can hire a tech person to help set up your systems.  If you want to look at pretty reports, there are tools like Tableau or Domo that can integrate with your platforms to make it easier to view your information.  There are even companies like Fully Accountable that can help you interpret your data.  And sure, if you want to dig in to more sophisticated analyses – such as knowing how to track your offline media to online orders, there are companies like Conversion Logic, which are tackling this more complex problem.

But fundamentally, the output of these reports doesn’t require the quant skills that I hear too many people feel like they do.

You certainly don’t have to be skilled in the technical aspects of getting these reports done – despite my MIT education, I don’t know much about building data warehouses.  But that doesn’t preclude me from working with an IT department to describe what kinds of information I want to see.  And while my own focus is now in helping folks interpret their data (whether quantitative or qualitative) to find their highest leverage opportunities, one of my personal missions is to ease people’s anxiety when it comes to asking for and looking at metrics in the first place.

Just like the fact that the Internet is here to stay and that every company has to have a presence on the Interwebs or face severe consequences, marketing is continuing to move towards being increasingly quantitative.

Whether it’s a new skill you need to develop, a mindset shift, or finally deciding that you just have to make it happen, the longer you delay, the more at risk you are putting your business.  Clearly, this Is not to say that metrics will guarantee success.  More that those not looking at them, and not taking advantage of information about their business, are putting themselves at a severe disadvantage.

So if you need that kick in the butt, then get over yourself.  You’re not in high school anymore.  We all want to be cool, sure.  But being successful is a lot more likely to make you cool than not doing so.  And using your business metrics is one of the greatest factors these days to increasing your likelihood of success.