The most stationary of all stationery items, scissors hate to be hurried. I learned this as a child. You did too, probably. Don't run with scissors. A clear and simple instruction. Pencils, glue, staples... no problem. For them, like us, it's a finite existence. Time is short so don't dilly dally. But don't run with scissors.

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

g20, fundamentalism and quizzes in manchester

Most people would like to make a difference to the world they live in – hopefully for the better.

Take the G20 protestors for example; people who believe passionately that their actions are going to help build a better world.

Past anti-globalisation protestors will have had the same ambition, even if some of them have achieved little more than drumming up business for glazing companies and helping Plod earn a bit of overtime.

I have always thought of myself as “aware” in terms of the environment, global poverty, third world debt, animal welfare and so on. I’ve been fortunate enough on occasion to find myself in a position to put my money where my mouth is, like in 2005 when I turned the company I was running Carbon Neutral. But that wasn’t the end just part of the means, as it were. I’m no saint. I don’t think of myself as a role model.

Some years ago I earned my crust compiling quizzes and puzzles for the Manchester Evening News. During this time I remember meeting an earnest young man who was what we would have referred to back then as a Crusty. He was an in-yer-face animal rights and environmental campaigner. When he found out I was writing for a newspaper he spent a good 20 minutes in full flow telling me what kind of stories I ought to be writing. I let the storm blow itself out and then pointed out I was the quizzes and puzzles guy.

He looked at me blankly before saying that one week I should just hand in a piece saying how big business was ruining the lot of the common man (or something along those lines). I retorted that the readers of the double page spread I was filling were looking forward to the brain-teasers I set them every Saturday, and that if I followed his advice I’d get fired and someone else would file the copy in my place.

Unblinking he said that at least I’d have done the right thing.

What a knob. He confirmed the deep-seated mistrust I had (and still have) for fundamentalists, no matter what their calling.

A couple of years ago one of my neighbours had a bomb placed under his car by anti-vivisectionists. Literally hundreds of primary school kids walk past that house twice a day. It makes me shudder to think of what might have happened.

Going back to the story I was telling, I’m not sure how losing my job at the Manchester Evening News would have helped anyone, except maybe the person that would have replaced me. I feel much the same about the ritual vandalism and intimidation that sometimes accompany single-issue protestors.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

roy castle and the art of delegation

If you’re old enough to remember when Record Breakers was hosted by Roy Castle on the BBC, you might also remember the song he used to close the show with and its assertion that “dedication’s what you need.”

According to Roy, it was what you needed if you wanted to “be the best” and also to “beat the rest.”

Without doubt it is good advice, the kind that will see you well in life. But given a slight twist it becomes what I think is a great piece of advice for anyone wanting to run, grow and develop a successful team or business. Rather than “dedication” though in this case delegation’s what you need.

What am I on about..?

Well, this is my point – most people get promoted because they’ve done well in the job they were doing. Maybe this has happened to you. Almost without fail, someone new comes in to fill the space you vacated and it’s likely you could be managing them. At first it’s bound to be hard resisting the urge to micro-manage them; after all, until recently you were doing that job. And what’s more you were doing it bloody well.

Otherwise you wouldn’t have been promoted, would you..?

But if you are going to grow as a manager you have to focus on what your new role and responsibilities entail and, just as importantly, you have to let the newbie do their job unencumbered by your interfering, otherwise they’ll have a frustrating time feeling like they never get out of the starting blocks.

When I was a senior reporter on the IT trade newspaper Computing, I had the opportunity to interview Joe McNally – the man who brought Compaq to the UK and grew it into a £1 billion operation over the course of something like 15 years. That was in the days when Compaq was a serious player in the business IT market, not some strange left-over brand name HP sticks on some of its consumer goodies.

I asked one of the most obvious questions you could possibly ask such a man – how did he do it, what was the secret of his success. He told me that he had always tried to surround himself with the most talented people possible, and to give them the freedom to not only do their job but to exploit any new opportunities that arose.

On the surface that might sound obvious but those are brave sentiments – they must be, because in the 20-odd years I’ve been in the workforce I’ve rarely encountered them.

So hat’s off to Roy Castle, because dedication is a great thing to aspire to. But the true art of delegation, the kind I think Joe McNally was talking about, that’s not to be under-estimated either.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

o2 - see what you can do...

O2 cut me off this morning. Not me personally, my iPhone – I couldn’t make calls or send texts. After several attempts I finally got through to someone at O2 customer service who was able to explain the problem.

It transpires that for reasons best known to them, someone at O2 decided that rather than collect the payment for my bill via direct debit, they would cancel the direct debit, not ask for payment and suspend my service.

The woman at O2 I spoke to was a bit bemused by all of this. “I can see from here that we haven’t tried to take the payment,” she said. “It doesn’t make sense.”

Quick as flash, she sorted everything out – phone working fine and as a grovelling apology (sorry, I mean goodwill gesture) she credited my account with £10.

As pissed off as I was that they’d dropped the ball and I ended up not being able to use my phone, I couldn’t fault the way my problem was fixed.

I recently interviewed a WStore customer who – on the subject of customer service – said that he cares less about mistakes than he does about the way mistakes are dealt with. And don’t we all.

Well done O2!

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

i robot

Branded merchandise. We’ve all had some at one time or another – crappy pens, the occasional t-shirt, the odd uninspiring laptop bag.

At WStore we’ve been thinking about getting some branded merchandise done, so one of my team – Deb – has been getting some product samples in for us to review.

There haven’t been any t-shirts, but there have been plenty of crappy pens and some utterly uninspiring bags. In fact, we were starting to lose faith in the whole thing until one day this metallic little chap arrived unceremoniously in a Jiffy bag.

He’s a USB stick in the guise of a robot.

Isn’t he great..?

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

power to the people

I’m on a bit of a mission at WStore to produce some new customer evidence material. You know, case studies and the like.

So, I’ve been asking some of the sales guys for suggestions of customers to call, and I’ve been doing some interviews. Thankfully they’re going pretty well. It’s not as dumb as it might sound to say that so far everyone’s been very positive. You’d think that no one would put a customer forward to be a case study/reference if they weren’t happy – completely happy. But you’d be wrong.

A few years ago I had the good fortune to write a lot of case studies for a large and well-known software company (yes, THAT software company – I know, I know... not bad, eh..?). Anyway, a sizeable minority of the customers I called (and they were recommended to me as good case study candidates) refused to have anything to do with the process, frequently coming out with statements like: given the experiences I’ve had recently I don’t think you’d want me to put my thoughts on the record.

Fair enough.

Back to WStore, and in particular the conversation I had this morning with a very frank and very happy customer contact. Clearly, this isn’t the time or place for me to say who – but you’ve probably heard of them.

One comment he made really stuck out. “Systems can always go wrong, and they often do. It’s how the people within an organisation sort out those situations that give you the measure of a place.”

Of course, he’s dead right. It’s not new or particularly ground-breaking but it’s worth remembering plus it was a positive message that resurrected my morning – I’d spent the thick end of an hour sitting in a traffic jam on the A322 on the way into work. Still, as frustrating as the hold-up was, at least I wasn’t the poor soul the ambulance was attending to.

Again, back to this morning’s call. The chap I interviewed said a lot of very positive things about the service he’d experienced from WStore – answering queries, pre-empting problems, dealing with returns, whatever... he made it clear that the reason WStore is now his preferred supplier is because of the people he deals with.

As good as this is when you’re on the receiving end of all this positive feedback, I think there’s actually more to be learned from it if you’re at the other end of the service spectrum. If you piss people off, if you annoy them, if you fail to deliver on your promises, you will be remembered for all the wrong reasons.