Whatever happened to business common sense?

“Disruptive Innovation Made Easy” by Paul Michelman (Harvard Business Review, 7 June 2012). Since launching my work-streamy Chief Alchemist website (http://ChiefAlchemist.com) I’ve tried to reserve Alchemy United for more “original” proactive content, and less in-response-to content. This post actually started on CA but as it developed I decided its thoughts qualify as Alchemy United material. I hope you agree.

This is the comment I left on HBR:

“Each industry has practices that drive customers crazy,” write the authors of Smart Customers, Stupid Companies. Take technology providers’ technical support, with its long hold times “hopelessly complex interactions.” Is there something companies in your industry do that’s just as stupid? “Identify these types of practices, and wipe them out.”

With a fair amount of certainty I believe I can say we’re all in favor of innovation. With that being said, it’s still no substitute for good old fashion execution. Execution that meets Guest (aka customer) expectations. Forget “wow”, today I’m just shooting for “thanks, that’s great.”

Let me give you a perfect example. A couple days ago I was on the deals site Slick Deals (http://SlickDeals.net) and spotted a product at a particularly great price from Adorama (http://Adorama.com). For those who don’t know, Adorama is a well established retailer of (mostly) camera gear. I was so impressed with the price that I ordered ten—shipping was free.

In the end, they only shipped me one (out of ten) and for some reason they charged me for shipping. Other than the traditional “your order has shipped” email I received no out of the ordinary communications from Adorama with regards to my order. This morning I returned to the SlickDeals thread to find I wasn’t the only one who was short shipped as well as mistakenly charged. The short shipping is acceptable. Adorama elected to make more people (probably) less happy. I’m not selfish, I understand. (Note: Some others might not be so kind.)

On the other hand, clearly Adorma knows about the shipping charge glitch, or should know. My (read: everyone’s) expectation is simple…if you want me to want you, don’t make me take time to ask for something that you (the brand) should be proactive to acknowledge and provide. Surely HBR is not suggesting that such things require innovation? Would anyone like to bet that this was not the first time Adorama encountered an exception in their process? Yet, there’s nothing in place to catch that exception and resolve it? Really?

To top is off, I did notice that Adorama had taken liberties to start including me in their email blasts. Again, unacceptable. How about a “You should have received your order by now. Is everything alright? Is there something we can help you with?…” email first? I mention this because my company did just that when I owned a small (seven figures in revenue) e-comm company.  Every new customer got a follow up a day or two after they received their order. Note: That was something we did ten-plus years ago.

My point is, when business common sense is being passed off as innovative then we are all in a lot of trouble. Customers aren’t patting themselves on the back for clicking the Order Now button, or dialing a number on their smart phone. I think it’s time companies stop glorifying themselves about ideas and “innovations” that in 2012 should be as ubiquitous as air.

A Simple New Year’s Resolution for a More Successful 2012

We’ve all done it. We aim high and mean well but end up not reaching our own expectations. Sometimes it’s frustrating being human. Yet there’s got to be a better way. And there is!

As the story goes, a couple weeks back I came across an (audio) interview with Heidi Grant Halvorson (author of “Nine Things Successful People Do Differently”) via Harvard Business Review’s HBR IdeaCast. From there I drilled down and around a bit and found an HBR article that I presume to be more or less a synopsis of her book. Then within that article were links out to other supporting articles.

When all was said and done I found the whole bundle insightful, relevant and (given the time of the year) highly share worthy.

The simple New Year’s resolution is this: resolve to consume these six articles. I guarantee you’ll be glad you did. Don’t panic, they’re all bite sized.

“What Successful People Do Differently”—An interview with Heidi Grant Halvorson

“Nine Things Successful People Do Differently” by Heidi Grant Halvorson

“Six Keys to Being Excellent at Anything” by Tony Schwartz

“Get Your Goals Back on Track” by Heidi Grant Halvorson

“A Better Way to Manage Your To-Do List” by Peter Bregman

“How to Teach Yourself Restraint” by Peter Bregman

Dig in. I hope you find this collection as valuable as I do. Leave a comment, let me know what you think.

Looking at the world through empathy colored glasses

“The Three-Minute Rule” by Anthony Tjan (Harvard Business Review, 22 January 2010). Let’s look past the trying too hard title and focus on bottom line — context. Nearly everything from web design, ad design or a phone conversation, to buying a product or using service – exists within context. Furthermore, it’s crucial to keep in mind that the context is often not yours but theirs. So, as has been mentioned here quite a few times before, be sure to add Context’s twin Empathy to your checklist.

Essential pull quote:

These situations illustrate the narrow-mindedness to which it is easy to fall prey. In the Thomson example, we were thinking of ourselves as a data provider, though we were really part of a broader workflow solution. We failed to realize the importance of customer context over our own product capability. In the cross-selling and shopping-basket examples, the three-minute rule reminds us that rearranging the context of a shopping experience to better meet customer patterns can be extremely effective. Customers seek solutions, but it is likely that your offering is only part of one. The three-minute rule is a forcing mechanism to see the bigger picture and adjacent opportunities.

Understanding context is certainly important, but to truly interpret it correctly one must also have a healthy supply of empathy.

Sounds like a plan, man

“Using Checklists to Prevent Failure – Interview of Dr. Atul Gawande” by Harvard Business IdeaCast (Havard Business Review, 22 January 2010). This 15+ minute audio interview is going to save you hours, if not days as well as avoid excessive stressful moments. A classic case of what should be obvious and second nature is really a handy reminder. Thanks doc!

In a nut shell: Think ahead, develop a plan, keep it simple, write it down,  communicate, get and keep the rest of the team on the same page, avoid getting bumped off track by refering to the plan but be flexible.

Further proof that more often than not best practices are not rocket science.

Teach them to fish

“Has IT process standardization gone too far?” by Kathleen Melymula is actually a Q & A with M. Eric Johnson (Computer World, 9 March 2009). Mr Johnson and Joseph M. Hall have an article published in this month’s Harvard Business Review. Maybe you’d also like to check out “When Should a Process Be Art, Not Science?”

While “artistic” has a nice buzz word-esque ring to it better words might be: agile, pragmatic or versatile. The truth is, if your company / brand is truly guest-centric then it is no surprise to you that  having too much standardization is often counterproductive. To say nothing of the fact of how it might effect the morale of your co-workers. More companies would benefit from putting more effort into “standardizing” the (internal) perception of their vision. When everyone shares a vision making the right decisions for the right reasons becomes second nature. Unfortuately too often management would rather push memorization over actually growth and learning.