“Zero-Based” Meetings

You’ve heard of “Zero-Based Budgeting”? You start the year with ZERO in each line item of the budget and build from bottom up. Everything is evaluated from a fresh perspective and nothing is taken for granted in the new fiscal year.

How about we do the same for meetings? I’m just thinking from a “zero based meeting assessment” point of view; meaning everything about meetings, the meeting purpose, scope, duration, participants and value assessment is on the table for re-evaluation year to year or quarter to quarter. We need to ask ourselves if a particular meeting or set of meetings are still worthwhile or not, to see if we are still achieving the intended purpose and corresponding results, or not.

Let’s re-assess our goals and needs for all meetings and start fresh.

Our “Why”

It truly is always about “The Why”…the essential reason, the purpose, that clarifies our “what” our “context.” (Thanks Simon Sinek)

For instance, when my partner and I built our most recent office space, we wanted to support a new expression of our vision, one that would also permit us to grow, to showcase our brand, to attract and retain talent, to host clients within, and to be happy to work from every day. We also wanted some flexibility of space and options. We wanted to express a more refined version of our trade-marked brand of “Creating Structure.” We wanted to facilitate more collaboration, more inclusiveness, more connection. We wanted the building to functionally express our “why” within its surroundings and architecture. We defined a budget and we got what we envisioned. The same is true with our company’s branch offices. We want them to be the best expression of our values, for the context within their geography.

Everything we do as people comes from the internal expression of who we are, why we think we exist, and from where our identity is defined. What we do (the behavior) is driven from who we are (our identity.) And everything we do should be with thought; it should point to our purpose and mission. It should express our brand in tangible ways. In fact, it does whether we know it or not.

Why not make it intentional and meaningful? Why not do all that we can to support our “why” in everything we do?

Selling “Experience” – The Gas Stations

There are two service stations in my town. Both are within blocks of each other. Both charge within pennies per gallon of each other for gas. Both are national-level name brands.

One always has receipt paper at the pump. The other doesn’t. One always has full window-cleaning fluid troughs at each pump. In fact, at the one, the fluid smells like Wintergreen. The other rarely has enough fluid, if at all. It smells like regular cleaning fluid.

One has an ample stock of snacks and beverages inside and a clean smell. The other is always under-stocked and has an awful odor like a bad hospital smell inside.

One has nice canopies at the pump stations, well intact, with clean lines. The other always seems to have some maintenance issues going on at the pump stations.

One has uniformed attendants inside that typically respond with a polite greeting. The other has people with no uniforms, and generally a dis-interested person behind the counter.

The price is almost the same at the one or at the other; sometimes even the exact same price. But even if not, it’s worth the extra thirty to fifty cents per fill-up, to use the one.

At which one would you purchase your gas and snacks?

In a commodity business, “the one” has learned at how to differentiate. The other doesn’t care. It is always possible to differentiate within our existing revenue stream and context; to deliver value with some thought and care for the customer’s experience.

How about your business? How about mine? What experience do we want to create? What experience are we delivering?

 

 

 

 

 

PRICE IS IRRELEVANT

If the first question a client or prospective client asks about is related to price, then we know that their values are centered around cost. Most attempts to sell them otherwise will not typically work. To this purchaser, value is based on low price, and the product or service is viewed as a commodity. If the client-buyer is interested in what we’ve got, and we aren’t the low price, they may ask us to justify ourselves. I got this question last week “Why are you double the other price? Can you explain why your price is so high?” (This is a downward spiral by the way. Don’t answer the question to try to validate.)

I provided a polite and professional response, but didn’t answer the question exactly. I indicated what value was being provided and how the fee compared to other service-company fees in our category. My response asked the opposite question back, “Why is their price half of ours. What are they so cheap? We are both looking at the same project, right?” Then I explained what was being provided and nothing more.

I didn’t hear back from that client yet. And there’s a good chance that I won’t. They will likely purchase the other provider’s services. Because what this client was really SAYING, not asking, was “Hey, you’re too expensive. I can get the same thing for 40% less.”

So why do I say that price is irrelevant? Because we buy based on our values. Price is the consequence, the manifestation. It’s not the issue. Price or cost-based buying says “any of these firms will do, just get me low price.” The problem with this is that the buyer is assuming that they are getting the identical service from any of the choices presented to them.

It’s never really about price. It’s about the buying mindset and values.

Cost-based buyers want low price. Cost leads the conversation.

Value-based buyers want what they perceive to be the best investment and value for the cost of the purchase. Value and investment leads the conversation, price falls out, sometimes negotiated, sometimes as stated.

Identity, connection, or brand-based buyers, want to identify with a particular person, enterprise, brand or genre. Being connected to the associated values leads the conversation. Price is what it is; “If you want to be connected with us, the fees associated with that are as defined.”

Price is important, but price is really irrelevant. People already know about what they are willing to pay based on their mindset.

What kind of buyer are we seeking to attract?

What values are we seeking to communicate?

How is that portrayed in our brand?

Are we delivering?

Whatever we choose, we need to stick to it and dive deep. Pick a lane and stay in it. We can’t be all things to all people.

Post Project Meetings – Defining Experience

Post project review meetings are arguably the most important project and team meetings in an organization (and a required SOP now at my company) since it defines lessons learned; what we did well, what we did not, how we can improve. It helps identify “the experience” of the team and the client. It’s ALL about the client’s “experience.” The team’s experience is equally important  (client experience is only as good as the team experience and service to each other)

There’s many hotels, restaurants, auto dealers, contractors, engineering firms, professional services corps, ALL TOUTING the SAME THING.

Which one’s do you like to frequent and write checks to? Those with whom you have a positive experience or a negative experience ? Positive experience (gratitude, smiles, fair price, great value, delivering on what has been promised) means repeat business and growth.

Post project reviews are necessary for company and professional advancement.

All progress starts by telling the truth. These meetings are great truth revealers and tellers. We learn and grow through doing, celebrating wins, and fixing problems.

What to Say

Prior to our December staff meeting I wrote this to key colleagues helping me to prepare for the meeting. Sometimes we need to just put it out there. The feedback I got was so meaningful and led to a great meeting and connectivity.

“You know me, normally I have much to say. But I’ve been so deep into the dirt and operations, and I am so fatigued mentally, that I am struggling to even have or organize a message. It’s not often we can all meet in staff meeting, so it’s critical that any message is clear and delivered well. So I need to lean on RS, DP, GR, and you for insight and input. If I could say what I want to say, I am not sure if I would say:

1. Thank you. Thanks to everyone on staff and all our colleagues. Companies are only as good and as happy as their people. Thank you all for everything you do day to day to care.

2. Merry Christmas. Happy holidays. Enjoy your family. We are not our work, it’s just what we do and how we try to bring value to the world.

3. Have Debra to tell everyone what we’ve distributed in 401k match this year to help people in the FUTURE to have an income stream after they retire, and to update on any benefits.

4. Let everyone know we have 6 people in NC and they just celebrated year 6 anniversary.

5. That we need their inputs and engagement in all of their realms to make the company better and to improve service to clients.

6. That I value and care about each person

7. That 2018 can be our best year ever

8. That transparency and vulnerability is some of the magic in bringing strength and connection to relationships

I don’t know what to say. Maybe all of the above or maybe none. You all tell me and we will all come together prior.”

This dialogue opened the door for such good inputs, and a really good meeting. I love our people. We are all in the same boat. We all have to row together.

What’s your message?

Hats

When we started our company in 1994 my partner and I were the employees, technicians, marketers, officers, and owners. We both wore all of the sales, marketing, administration, and operational “hats.” At one time I was a project engineer, engineer of record, marketing VP, building envelope engineering VP, and President. If we liken roles and job description to hats, I wore five different hats depending on the day or hour of the week.  I actually did this for quite some time. It’s necessary for most of us in business start-up, boot-strap, entrepreneurial mode. I can be exciting and fun for a short time, but the problem is that it’s unsustainable for the long-term. It works well only if we want to kill ourselves and go to an early grave, or as a minimum, become disenchanted with owning a business and not make it. The goal for all of us as business owners should be to wear only one hat, the one that fits the best according to our most unique ability, to shed the extra hats, and hire others to wear them.

Educated and trained as an engineer, in the early days, I was a classic micro-manager and control freak. This works well when everything is dependent on  me alone. However, I recognized quickly that we needed to write job descriptions, build and organizational chart, and structure the company so that others could wear the additional hats we had to take on and off daily. I remember writing job descriptions (defining hats) on planes, at my kid’s piano lessons, and during the work day between urgent project work. Slowly, each role and realm began to take shape.

As the business has grown to five offices, two divisions, and many times the initial number of employees, I’ve worked myself slowly out of wearing all but one or two hats, mostly. I wear one primary hat as the leader and President of the organization, and then put on specific operational, developmental or sales hats depending on a project need, a unique ability I can apply in a specific realm or issue, or to support my colleagues. I say emphatically that if you are a business owner and are growing a business, it a disservice to yourself and your colleagues to not work yourself out of multiple roles and to find other hat wearers as quickly as possible. Our role is to be the owner, leader, facilitator, supporter. People are counting on us. You and I have a primary unique ability or two that we do really well. So do others working for us. They wear many hats better than we do. Our businesses will benefit the most by applying our unique ability, while also letting others do what they do best around us. If we do anything less, we are eroding the future stability and sustainability of our organization. We’ve got to build strategically all the time while working on the urgent matters of the day and still moving forward. Otherwise things stay status quo and can remain that way for a long time. This is not of any value in building and growing a business.

Often times what we experience in a business and life is due to our own lack of awareness of these issues. The more I’ve learned and the more I’ve grown and gotten inputs, the more the business has improved. While it may be a big challenge as a small business owner to have a 100% sustainable business without our presence 100% of the time other than for financing, leading, and providing strategic direction, that should be the goal. The people who work for us, our staff, our colleagues, all the clients, constituents and collaborators that are attached to and support the business, will all benefit.

Do yourself a favor and build in this manner. Give colleagues, and all those in your charge, the confidence that we are charting a course to allow for long-term growth with as little necessary input as possible from us as an owners. The less an owner has to be involved in day-to-day decisions, the more valuable the business. The more and owner can stay out while having their staff executing the sales and operations of the business, the more valuable the business to the staff, the world, and future acquirers. It may look good on the outside that we are involved all the time and working mega-hours, but in the end it’s counter-productive. Visualize yourself not in the business and reverse-engineer it. Figure out how to put others in the right positions and build something of value. Build the business. Build up the people. Share hats. Give away hats. See how good others look in them. The picture will look much better and the future will be much brighter.

Dissent

Allow dissenting voice in meetings, especially around strategic discussions and direction. If  dissent doesn’t define this idea clearly, call it “allowing opposing viewpoints.” Some will say “I’m playing the devil’s advocate for a moment.” Phrasing aside, I find it good to appoint someone to state the “cons”, to point out the roadblocks, to take the opposite view, to articulate the worst case scenario. I’m not always excited about the opposing view. In fact for many years I didn’t think it necessary to hear, nor did I advocate for it. It made me uncomfortable. It still does at times. This is good. It allows freedom for all to vent their perspective and be heard. Collaboration in decision making wins. I’ve made many mistakes alone or in isolated decisions. Again, collaboration wins. Dissent and opposing viewpoints are one key part of that process. All stakeholders must voice input. In the end, the leader makes the decision, but  it’s harder to make the wrong one when all the facts are on the table and we are fully informed.

Customer Experience

It was the jeans that triggered it.

You see, they were the exact same jeans that I had on as I walked into the store. The same jeans I bought there 6 months ago. And I love these jeans.

So the pair I grabbed off the shelf, the exact same color, size, make, model, when I pulled them on, they didn’t fit over my thighs in the dressing room. What? I double checked the size and shape. No difference.

“Perhaps they aren’t marked correctly, I said to myself.”

So I asked the sales attendant if he can help. I ask if I’ve made a mistake.

“Nope, he says. This happens all the time. You see we recommend you grab 3 or 4 pair at a time when you’re trying them on. They’re made in like, 50 or 60 different countries so you never know what you are going to get.”

Great response. Glad you don’t sell for me.

He’s doing a poor job at customer experience management and selling. Plus, he’s saying that they aren’t making jeans with consistent size patterns based on the country where they are assembled. Either way, both the salesperson and the manufacturer are doing a terrible job of designing experience. No thank you. I don’t expect to have to grab 3 or 4 pair of jeans to see if one or more of them, the exact same size, actually fit. I don’t care what country they are made in or what their supply chain logistics look like. Once I find a pair of jeans that works, I expect they will all be close to the same size EVERY TIME. I don’t want to play “roll-the-jeans-dice.”

This company is providing a negative and inconsistent experience when it comes to sales, and product QA/QC.

I quickly placed the jeans back on the shelf and slipped quietly out of the store. I wasn’t in the mood to manage my shopping experience through trial and error.

So what about your company? What about my company? I know different clients can have different experiences even though they all are “shopping” at our place, in different offices, and different ends of the building. How consistent of an experience am I creating? How am I making it easy on the client? How are my colleagues and people representing our services to buyers, prospective clients, and observers? Do our people know what to say and how to say it? Have they been trained in the “why of our business?” Is our product the same EVERY SINGLE TIME?

Even in professional services it’s not uncommon for clients who’ve had a negative experience to quietly slip away; to place the jeans on the shelf and never return. Do everything possible to prevent this from happening.