Just Get To The Point

We’re in the world of weasel words and wasted waffle. Yet behind the blarney and bluster, people often make interesting points, or have something important to say. But it’s often lost in a spurge and flurry of letters, syllables, phrases, sentences, paragraphs and essays. And yes, that was intentionally a load of waffle, and I’m sure you get the idea!

Sometimes I wonder whether it’s accidental or deliberate. Do people fail to hear how empty they sound, or have they really chosen these words in the hope of demonstrating what’s good about their business (or their perspective on life)?

I am fascinated by the notion of #value, and my perception that:

  1. some great people don’t realise their worth,
  2. many of the best ideas are spoiled by nervous babble, and
  3. most of the weak propositions are explained in far too many words.

As Malcolm S. Forbes, publisher of Forbes magazine, once said “too many people overvalue what they are not and undervalue what they are”.

My advice is to work hard on understanding your #value, and get clear in your own mind what makes you #distinctive and different. Then you need to practice how to explain that value, in a punchy and compelling way. Otherwise you end up in a situation where you have a good idea, a brilliant service or powerful solution but can’t explain it properly. Or worse still, you’re seen as someone who doesn’t get to the point.

Here’s an example – this week I spoke at length to someone with an impressive international background, a decent track record and a novel way of delivering learning. Unfortunately they (in my opinion very indulgently) spent 45 minutes taking me through a quirky framework of loosely-connected concepts. We never really recovered from a short exercise that wasn’t explained very well. Believe me, I tried to see the sense (what a waste of time otherwise) but the discussion went nowhere. In the end, I had to politely ask them to move on to something more concrete. And their reaction seemed to be a mixture of “surprised’ and “insulted`’, because I had interrupted their flow.

So the next time you witness someone struggling to articulate their value, please be patient, calming and encouraging. Sometimes it’s lack of experience that makes people hesitate and stutter, and often you’ll find brilliance there. But if an experienced and worldly person starts to waffle, just politely shut them up. Come on, I don’t have all day. Just get to the point.

Beware Of The Dogs

It’s sunny today, when they predicted rain. That’s always a good start to my day. You join me on my constitutional walk across Greenham Common (imagine hills, horses, cows and sheep right next to a large town, and you can draw the picture). Coming over the brow of the hill near home, there’s a farm. And on that farm (no singing “Old MacDonald” at this point) there are guard dogs. Every day I pass the farm, the dogs bark at me. And they are very loud.

But that’s not what makes me laugh. It’s the fact that I am at least 50 yards past them, before they bark and snarl. They have to be the world’s worst guard dogs. And I think poor service is like these guard dogs. Let me explain.

I have many real and recent examples of poor service. It’s usually when someone takes ages to acknowledge that I need help, and then barks at me when they open their mouth. Here are those examples:

  • the mobile phone shop where someone eventually wandered over, and then said they couldn’t help with anything to do with my existing phone (I’d have to call customer services). Shame I wanted to fix one device, and then take out a contract for another!  We didn’t get that far.
  • the car dealer that was texting while I looked around the showroom, and then asked whether I was ready to buy a car today (as his first question).
  • the hotel receptionist that barely looked up as she gestured me vaguely in the direction of the bar, and said I need to speak to “someone in front-of-house” (I know what that means, but it’s hospitality industry jargon).

We know instinctively that great customer service is key to acquiring and retaining customers. But how well do we understand how value is judged, in those very first interactions? Simply put, it’s The 7 – 11 Rule where, in the first seven seconds of contact, a person (in this example the customer) forms 11 impressions about you and your organisation – including honesty, professionalism and helpfulness. So beware of the dogs. They make poor impressions. Don’t hire them. Fire them. Better to lose them than your customers.

So, who is providing great service? I’m so impressed by @DecathlonUK in Reading. Go and watch how they handle those first interactions with customers. Knowledgeable. Helpful. Professional. And if Grace is around, watch how she works. Such a natural customer service style. Simple stuff, but so #standout.

But I Still Hate Algebra

Ok, so I like maths. But I hate algebra. When I was eleven it gave me a mental block, and I needed some additional coaching. It’s a positive story, because I went on to win the school maths prize at thirteen. Yet even now algebra leaves me cold – but strangely I have an odd fascination with equations…

When I was creating Meritology, that fascination had me looking for an equation to calculate value. By “value,”, I mean the specific value people and companies add to their customers, colleagues and communities. Bigger brains than mine have created some brilliant ways to define value. For example, Henley Business School’s own Andrew Kakabadse (Twitter: @Kakabadse) has developed an evidence-based way of defining whether a senior executive is a “value-delivery” leader. His worldwide research, of almost 15,000 boards and top teams, produces a defined success formula. This shows that a senior executive’s value is driven by:

  1. how much employees are engaged, and
  2. to what extent the organisation is aligned

with the strategy that executive creates for the business. I’ll leave Andrew to explain the formula in more detail, and my take is simple – it means that senior directors can create the best business strategy around, but it will fail if there is poor engagement and alignment. By implication, even a reasonable strategy will produce great results, if there is near-perfect engagement and alignment. To prove the point, think of successes like Apple and Amazon, and failures like Phones4U (where suppliers and and stakeholders were very apparently not aligned with strategy).

But is there a more universal equation that can be used to calculate value? Can we develop something simple and straightforward that we can apply to all situations? Research and experience tells me there is definitely a method. And so we have developed a new methodology to define, describe and discuss personal and organisational value. It recognises that calculating value is a science and an art.  It’s part equation, and part perception. There are hard factors and soft factors.  We call it The MERIT Method, and the five factors are:

  • Memory (how people remember you, and what drives their perceptions)
  • Emotion (why they connect to you, and their reaction to what you say and do)
  • Results (what you deliver, and the methods you use)
  • Innovation (where you have increased your value, or solved individual and specific problems)
  • Time (when value is recognised, and how that changes – including the “right time, right place” principle)

It’s a working framework, rather than a static model. And we know that every situation is different, making each factor more, or less, important. The fun comes from thinking about each factor, and what you should be doing to increase your today and tomorrow value – making you and your company #standout.

So that fascination with equations helped me create this new method. But I still hate algebra. Someone I know confesses that she has “a little place in my heart just for simultaneous equations”. Thank goodness for that.  When my son is struggling with his algebra homework, I know who he’s asking for help!