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Monthly Archives: March 2011

Yet another example of lack of client responsiveness

Earlier this week, I told you about Lester, an ACT consultant we hired back in September who didn’t comprehend how important it was to think strategically and be responsive to clients’ needs.  I promised that I would tell you what happened recently that reminded me once again of Lester – this time my experience with another ACT consultant, let’s call him Colbert.

About two weeks ago, my business manager Paulene got a new desktop computer that created unexpected problems with our ACT system.  Given that this was something that went beyond our everyday troubleshooting capabilities, we needed to hire an ACT consultant again!  Clearly though, given our past experience, it was not going to be Lester!  Since time was of the essence, after some quick research over the Internet, we hired Colbert.  My conversation with him was almost identical to the one I had with Lester about six months ago – we needed a one-time installation with enough knowledge transfer so that we could handle routine issues on our own; my goal was for this to be the start of a long-term relationship so that we could go to Colbert as our resource person when we had out-of-the-ordinary ACT issues in the future.  We came to agreement and the work was scheduled for the following Wednesday.  On Monday, two days before the work was to be done, I received an email invoice from Colbert asking for pre-payment, either by credit card or by cheque.  That evening, I issued and mailed a cheque, letting Colbert know by return email that the “cheque was in the mail.”  The next morning, when I got to my office, there was a reply waiting for me in my in-basket.  Colbert was cancelling the planned work until he received the cheque.  A little shocked (the invoice was less than $300), I called him.  He was clearly in a bad mood when I called (not sure why), and the conversation went downhill in less than 30 seconds.

“I’m not doing any work until I get paid,” he said.

“The cheque went out last night, it should arrive by the end of this week,” I responded.

“The only way I’ll do it is if you give me a credit card number right now.”

“I’d prefer not to, you gave me the option to pay by either cheque or credit card, and cheques are easier to track in our accounting system.”

“Clearly you don’t understand the concept of prepayment,” he replied rudely.

Nonplussed, I paused.  Taking a deep breath, I tried again.

“Seriously?  You’re going to hold everything up for an amount this small?  We were counting on having the work done tomorrow.  If we’re going to have a long-term relationship with one another, our level of trust has to go beyond $300.”

“Well then maybe we should end this relationship right now.”

I barely got out an “okay” as the phone slammed down loudly in my ear.

So there I was … left in the lurch, one day before we hoped to have resolved our problems and be up and fully running!  Once again, someone else who simply didn’t “get” that thinking strategically and being responsive to your client’s needs are a precursor to success in business and leadership!

So I’ve got to ask again – what has been your experience?  Do you agree with me, or do you think Colbert’s behaviour and actions were justified?  I’d love to know your thoughts – add a comment below.

So did Paulene ever get her ACT system up and running?  The answer in next Monday’s blog post!

(Lack of) strategic thinking and client responsiveness – a true story

I’ve always known that being responsive to your clients is an important measure of business and leadership success, but recent events in my office have just served to further emphasize and highlight this important concept.  Let me explain.

I’ll give you the whole story over the next few blog posts, but in today’s instalment, let me first set the stage by telling you about what happened last September.  Here in my office, we manage our client relationships using the well-known commercial software ACT.  Last fall, Paulene joined our team as my new business manager, so we had to setup a new remote location of ACT on her desktop.  Now, we’re familiar enough with ACT here in my company that we can do most routine activities and everyday maintenance on our own, but an installation and setup of a new remote computer is beyond the usual (plus I figured it was time to upgrade to the new 2011 version of the software anyway).  So to facilitate the process, I contracted with an independent ACT consultant who I’ll call Lester.  In our initial conversations, I was very upfront with Lester that we were looking for a one-time installation with enough knowledge transfer so that we could handle future routine issues on our own.  But I also told him that I hoped for this to be the start of a long-term relationship so that in the future, when we had out-of-the-ordinary issues (which seem to crop up fairly often) we could use him as our go-to person.  He agreed, and I thought all was fine.  Things started well enough; but unfortunately the eventual experience was not a positive one.  Continue reading

How emotionally intelligent are you?

Researchers and business experts agree that people with high emotional intelligence (or EQ) are consistently the top-performers in organizations. They’re more resilient and adaptable when things go wrong, and as a result, they’re held in the highest regard by their bosses, co-workers, employees and others. In fact, studies show that your EQ is a better predictor of your professional success than either your IQ or your technical skills.

So what’s your EQ?  Take this self-assessment to gain an insight into your EQ level.  And as always, let me know what you think?  Is EQ as important a predictor of professional success as the experts say?


I survived a tsunami watch!

While my experience with the devastating earthquake on Friday March 11 was in no way like that of those in northern Japan, it is still a day that I will not forget.  I was in Honolulu on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, and at approximately 10 PM local time, about 2 hours after the earthquake created untold destruction in the city of Sendai in Japan, we were startled by the shrill piercing sound of tsunami warning sirens.  Today’s blog post is a tribute to the importance and value of emergency preparedness.

Surprised, we immediately turned on our television, and local broadcasters informed us that the tsunami resulting from the Japan earthquake was estimated to reach Oahu at 3:07 AM.  Continue reading

Overcome workplace negativity by letting people talk

Workplace negativity continues to be an issue in many organizations; not a week goes by that a manager or supervisor doesn’t ask me for some ideas to combat the negativity toxin.  In the past, I’ve offered you a couple of ideas – feeding the grapevine and being inclusive when you communicate.   Here’s another.  Let people talk. Create forums for people to express their opinions about workplace policies and procedures. Provide timely responses to questions and concerns. When you let people discuss issues with each other you’ll find that you’ll nip small irritants in the bud, and negativity will decrease. For this to work though, when they talk, you have to listen.  Remember, sometimes people just want a sounding board, they want a place to be respectfully listened to.  Be visible, proactively schedule group discussions sessions or town hall meetings, and again provide responses to questions and concerns.

So what do you think?  Does this work, or is there a danger that it will turn into a “b*tch” session?

Survival depends on how you transform to fit your environment

Fred Smith, the man who founded Federal Express in 1971, is a classic example of someone who built a successful company by being responsive to changes in customers’ expectations and in the business environment.  FedEx originally started as an idea in a term paper that Smith wrote for an economics class in 1965, while he was still an undergraduate at Yale University.  His premise: as productivity increases with the use of machinery, breakdowns in equipment can easily destroy any efficiency and profitability.  Therefore, a system needs to be developed to ensure that organizations have rapid access to spare parts and materials as they are needed.  With this as a starting point, in 1973, Smith created the now-famous hub-and-spoke-system with his “hub” in Memphis, Tennessee.  Success followed, but the world began to shift more towards a knowledge-based economy.  Continue reading

Be aware of your cultural context when communicating

A professional colleague uses this picture in a “Working Overseas” workshop he occasionally delivers.  Apparently, this is a version of a print advertisement that the Coca-Cola Company used (for a short time) in their Middle East market.  While I have been unable to explicitly confirm its veracity, I nevertheless wanted to show it to you because it is a perfect illustration of why it is important to be aware of the cultural context in which you operate.


On the surface, the advertisement looks pretty straightforward: if you’re parched and exhausted, drink the promoted cola beverage and you’ll be in perfect form to go running across the desert.  Reasonable premise, until you realize that Arabic is read from right to left!  Oops, perhaps not quite the message you intended!

Humorous indeed; and whether it’s true or not, it clearly highlights the importance of fully understanding the culture you are operating in.  In the case of this advertisement, it is the cultural differences between world regions that changes how people receive and understand messages.  But on a much more micro scale, the culture of an organization can also act as a filter to how people accept and interpret messages.  If you’re a leader, then you need to be aware of the cultural context in which you operate.  If you don’t understand the filters that people use, then you run the risk of your message being misaligned or misinterpreted.

Have you seen examples of communication that have been misunderstood because of organizational culture?  Do tell.




Problem employee? Clearly articulate the issue to get a positive result

Last October, I blogged about dealing with a difficult employee, and the importance of determining whether the problem is one of performance, behaviour or attitude.  Once you do that though, you still have to raise the issue with the employee if  you want to successfully resolve the situation.  In other words: you have to be able to articulate the problem, clearly and succinctly, so that the employee “gets it”.  I mean, if you can’t describe the issue to the employee, then the likelihood that the employee will actually take positive steps to improve the situation is slim to non-existent.  So here’s what you need to do to clearly articulate the problem.  Continue reading

Finding the right words in awkward situations

Danielle Harder from the Canadian HR Reporter contacted me a few weeks ago about a story she was doing on difficult conversations in the workplace.  I was honored and thrilled to provide insights on how to find the words in awkward situations and tackle those prickly conversations that are sometimes necessary when dealing with employees.  Here’s the opening of the article:

As a leadership and communications expert, Merge Gupta-Sunderji thought she had heard it all. But when her Calgary-based firm asked clients about the most difficult conversations they’ve had with employees, she was admittedly surprised. Take, for example, the female manager who had to talk to a male employee about continually grabbing himself in his private area during meetings.

Read the entire article that was published in the January 31 issue. 

Do you have any additional tips?  Or any horror stories of your own?