Monday, August 24, 2015


But I want to.  I really really want to.

It’s time for another horse analogy and a short trip down Human Nature Lane.  An applicant for a position reinforced two really good lessons involving both horses AND human nature, or more specifically, desire.

Recently a key employee gave notice.  It doesn’t happen often and we are always surprised when this happens.  Our standard procedure, only standard because we haven’t thought of a better way, is to put an ad online and wait for the resumes to pour in.  We cull the resumes and call a select few applicants to set up interviews. We do a first interview and then request a second one for the really qualified folks.  

Our first interviewee was just about too good to be true.  His sincerity was overwhelming.  His answers to some tough questions were nearly perfect.  He left the interview with a warm handshake and the words, “I really want to work here.”  We were thoroughly convinced of his desire.  Only other person out of five or six was actually close in qualifications and he lacked the enthusiasm. 

We requested a second and final interview for the two qualified candidates.  The second one cancelled because he received another offer, so the only person we saw was the very first applicant.  Once again he was warm, sincere, honest, interested.  He gave us references that all gave him a glowing report, and that afternoon we offered him the job.  Since he was currently not employed, he said that he could start right away, just as soon as he finished up a couple of side landscape projects.  He told us that he couldn’t wait to start, though.  We set a time of nine a.m. two days from the acceptance date.  He was so excited that it was infectious.

On the first day of work, he arrived on time.  He was, he said, still involved in a landscape project and would it be at all possible if he postponed for a day.  I was concerned and at the same time glad that he was so dedicated to a project that he would actually want to finish it.  After all, so many people just walk away from the job.  This guy was impressive.  He said that this would be it and he’d be back the following day at nine.  He really, really wanted to work for us and he was so excited about the job. 

Nine o’clock the following morning we received a phone call.  He was still finishing.  The job took longer than expected.  He’d be in by eleven.  And at quarter after eleven, yet another phone call.  This time, he explained that he had to clean up and that it would take an hour.  After that, he would for sure be in.  And he was really (times three) looking forward to the job.

I rescinded the offer.  Wanting to do something just isn’t the same as doing. 

On to horse stuff. 

Horses like to make us wait on them.  They know that we’ll walk to them with their grain, their hay, their saddles.  We walk to them because we love them.  Horses stand there and take all of this attention in.  We think that they love us back.

Truth is, non-moving horses are demonstrating dominance.  Whomever moves first in the horse world loses.  If you want a horse to respect you (and believe me, you do want their respect because they outweigh you by oh, several hundred pounds and they have these nasty hooves and teeth that will hurt), then the first rule you learn is to make them come to you.  After all, you make your dog come to you and he is your best friend.  Your cat makes you go to him and he is therefore not your best friend.  Your cat, in fact, dominates the world and treats people as if they were the pets, not the cats.

People work the same.  They are subtle.  They use waiting in order to create fear, subservience and outright domination over others.  I refer you to our wannabe employee.  He wanted so badly to work for us.  He postponed his first day three times.  The reason that I broke off our relationship was not because he had to put us off.  It was because he made us wait.  He would have had the upper hand and we would never have been in control.

Look around the next time that you are late to a party.  Check to see who is last to a business meeting.  Who is in charge?  Does the meeting start without the last attendee or does it wait?  Who is actually in charge?

What I learned here was that I am no longer willing to be place on the waiting list.   Show up, don’t just want to be here and be on time.  We’ll get along just fine that way.

Monday, August 3, 2015

The road to perfection

About three years ago, I asked my management staff for help in defining our ideal customer.  This was done for marketing purposes.  The more we knew about our customers and about the ones with whom we identified most strongly, the better we could target our marketing. 

This year our growth rate has been phenomenal in comparison to prior years.  We have acquired several new customers and we have seen sales increases for some of our existing clients.  The job of completing these orders on time and accurately has become more difficult these days, especially since we are often at one hundred percent production capacity.  While this is an ideal situation from a profitability standpoint, it is not such a great thing for our staff.  They work very hard and the stress of meeting ever more pressing deadlines is getting to them. 

You learn many things when you reach capacity.   You can’t really increase individual production very much if you have a motivated crew.  The jobs of the production crew don’t change a whole lot; they just get to work more hours if they choose.  Most of them are happy with the extra income, especially during periods that were previously pretty slow.

The biggest allotment of stress drops onto the workflow management staff.  They are the ones who have to prepare the orders to be done, make them absolutely clear for the embroiderers and make sure that the product is processed smoothly from the time we receive the order until the apparel is delivered to the customer.

In stressful and rushed situations, some orders are much easier to process than others.  This leads us back to our ideal customers.  It turns out that the majority of the easy processing orders come from our previously identified ‘ideal’ customers.  Fancy that!  The process works not only for identifying a market.  It also provides pretty good feedback as to who is going to be the easiest to work with.
What, you may ask, makes our ideal customer?   We worked on the definition for a long time and I’ll try to parse the whole idea into a few specific statements.

1)      Our ideal customer understands what we do and does not continually ask for us to stretch beyond our limitations.  This applies to rush orders and design work.  We do embroidery, not sewing.

2)      Rush orders are often a sign of disorganization.  Either the customer forgot to order (quite often the case) or they have not yet trained their client to order on time.  Constant rush orders eventually get messed up.  That costs us time and money.   Our best customers provide us with fewer rush orders. 

3)      Customers pay us on time.  They understand that this is a business relationship and are not so arrogant as to assume that we appreciate being blessed with their orders.  In fact, the harder it is to collect, the more resentful I get.  Yes, it is a personal thing.  I have employees who need to pay their bills.  They also do very good work.  It is insulting that a client would not pay for the service that we provide. 

4)      If a customer learns on the job, they are our kind of folks.  We don’t expect anyone to be perfect.  We also don’t expect to answer the same questions every single time the client calls us. 
Last month a client sent artwork to us, along with a purchase order.  I had the artwork converted to embroidery and was told that the whole design was wrong.  It turns out that the customer has defined standards for the logos and among them are specific guidelines for size, what is to be included, and the colors that are to be used.  Later still, we received a sample (after I had set up the design).  Even later, we were given a completely different size for the logo.  Had the customer asked the right questions in the beginning, neither my time nor his would have been wasted.  As it stands, though, we were able to discuss the problems and he let me know that he’d be asking for samples and guidelines in the beginning next time.

5)      Orders are organized and easy to read.  That’s pretty easy to understand.  It certainly helps the receiving staff and finishing department to count things in and out when we know what we’re supposed to have. 
That’s a list of some of the more important features of our ideal customers.

If we get famous and go global, would it be awful if I were to do a best/worst list and publish it?  Number 1 Perfect Client of the Year?  Or maybe I can put a sign on the door:

No solicitors.  Only ideal customers allowed to enter these premises.