The Advantage Letter by Dave Martin
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Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Volume 16 | # 362
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Keep your fears to yourself, but share your courage with others. » Robert Louis Stevensn

Training That Computes

I’ve long joked that the best neighbors to have were auto mechanics and plumbers. They were the most likely to have the skill sets you most needed in a pinch. These days, I’d put “computer dude” on that short list.

One of my neighbors, let’s call him Guy, is one of those dudes. His longtime career is software developer and manager of programmer teams. Computer technology is both his job and his hobby. He loves the stuff.

Being the good friend and neighbor that I am, I typically create 2 or 3 computer crises in my household each year for him.

While Guy was over this week fixing one of my messes, I asked him how his job was going. Not long ago, his company was purchased by another company, and he was pretty miserable about it. His office had become a cubicle. Instead of being a team leader, he was now more of an administrator.

He felt that the acquirer company was pretty dismissive about his skills and experience and didn’t appreciate his teams’ accomplishments. For a pretty positive guy, he was about as dejected with his new job situation as he could be. But with a weak job market, he felt largely trapped in his position.

I encouraged him to hang in there for at least a little while. Mergers are seldom easy and almost never fun right away for the “merged” employees.

This time, his response surprised me. He said, “Oh, it’s much better.” I thought he was going to tell me about a new office or more money or bigger title. Instead, he said, “They’ve got me learning about (some new programming language). I’m psyched! I feel like I’m being paid to increase my marketable skills. I actually like the place again.”

As he said that, I was happy for him on a personal level. I was also reminded of a slide that I’ve used in senior manager presentations in the past. That slide states, “To keep your best employees, prepare them to leave.”

One of the best motivators for our most ambitious team members is feeling that they are growing personally and professionally. Whether it is through taking on new responsibilities or getting skill-developing training, folks who feel they are improving their skill sets are more engaged in their jobs.

They tend to be more productive and loyal as well.

Help employees prepare to leave you. They’ll stay with you longer and be more productive, to boot.

Didn't Mean to Intrude

One of my longest espoused mantras to branch managers and frontline employees is that the most important people in a branch are the ones not being paid to be there. The common term for these folks is “customers.”

That mantra was ringing in my ears this week as I had an all-too-common interaction at a coffee bar in a local grocery store. As I walked up to the place, the two employees behind the counter were in a pretty animated conversation about what a jerk their manager is.

On the plus side, one broke away pretty quickly to ask how she could help me. She seemed distracted, but she at least paused the gripe session long enough to take my order.

The all too common thing that followed was that they immediately continued their conversation. As the young lady went about fixing my order, the other walked up to take my payment.

And all the while, I got to overhear every bad habit their non-present manager possesses.

As I waited, I fought off the urge to say, “You know, your manager is a good friend of mine.” (The truth is that I don’t know their manager.) I smiled, wondering what their responses would be. Heck, I don’t think they intentionally meant to be rude. Chances are they had quickly become oblivious to the fact that I was even standing there.

I also bet that if they thought I was a high-ranking person in their company, they would never have a “dirty laundry airing” conversation in front of me. But, I didn’t really rank with them. I was just one of those folks who actually pay their company’s salaries.

Yeah, one of those guys… a customer.

That said, I don’t begrudge people their God-given right to complain about their bosses and their jobs. I don’t think it’s the smartest or healthiest thing to do with your time, but I’m not kidding myself. As long as we work with, around, and for humans, it’s going to happen.

But a good rule of thumb for folks is that any conversation you wouldn’t have in front of your boss is probably not a conversation you should have in front of customers.

Engaging customers in friendly conversations makes them feel important. Turning them into eavesdroppers on your personal conversations makes them feel like intruders.

How will your customers feel today?

Good manners will open doors that the best education cannot. » Clarence Thomas

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in these columns are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of any affiliated entities or sponsors.
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