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January 2014 - Volano Solutions

Is Do What You Love Bad for Work?

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How Would this Look in a Meat Packing Plant?

Last week my cousin Laura, a senior software developer in Chicago posted a thought provoking blog on her Facebook page excoriating the oft quoted, chirpy mantra “Do What You Love.” Laura posts interesting content so I read the blog and have been banging it around in my head for the last couple of weeks.

Down with “DWYL”

Slate Magazine writer Miya Tokumitsu (@MiyaTokumitsu) contends that the “problem with Do What You Love…is that it leads not to salvation but to the devaluation of actual work – and more importantly, the dehumanization of the vast majority of laborers.”  Despite the slightly Marxist overtones of this piece, I think Miya has a point here and I tend to agree with her. They call it “work” for a reason.  My cousin works with young designers who experience cognitive dissonance when they realize that even though they are doing the thing they love, they are still beholden to clients, deadlines, a boss and they hammer out work because they are required to for money.  Miya goes on to say that “DWYL is a secret handshake of the privileged and a worldview that disguises it’s elitism as noble self-betterment. According to this way of thinking, labor is not something ones does for compensation but it is an act of love.  If profit doesn’t happen to follow, presumably it is because the worker’s passion and determination were insufficient.”  Ouch. Miya brings up other good points, such as the fact that Steve Jobs was an enthusiastic proponent of “DWYL,” yet his model relied on the labor thousands of factory workers who I would have to think, did not decide one day over latte’s and croissants to pursue their dream of working in a factory all day every day for a fixed wage.

My cousin Laura and I messaged each other back and forth regarding this blog.  She found it disheartening to see colleagues who got into graphic design for example experience cognitive dissonance when the tire of passionate artistic inclination met the track of deadlines and compromised autonomy and vision.  “Hey, that’s what they call it work,” she said.  Were they sold a false idea when they were told during their commencement ceremony to only do what they loved?

Another Perspective

I do see a somewhat happy medium here and think the writer might be harsh in her judgment that striving to find joy in one’s work is a “privilege …a sign of socioeconomic class.”  What about good teachers who work very hard for very little because of the satisfaction the work brings them?  I also think that even when the work that you do for profit is not particularly joyful, you should strive to find meaning and harmony in the relationships that surround that work, be it client, employee or vendor related.  You can love a job for reasons that go beyond the hammering out of a widget.  So although I think Miya Tokumitsu has compelling thoughts on the peril of preaching the Do What You Love gospel, I think the conversation would benefit by broadening the context.  One should be ever in pursuit of the activities that bring them happiness and satisfaction in life, whether its in work, relationships or hobbies.  By putting the burden on your paid gig to bring significance and meaning to your life might be myopic.  Opportunities exist in the banal moments of the day, whether it’s at work or not, where meaning and significance can be found if you’re aware and seeking opportunities to make, not just receive them.

Volano Welcomes Brian Vaughan to the Team

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Listening to "A Prairie Home Companion"

Volano Solutions is proud to welcome Brian Vaughan, another exceptional software developer to our team.  Brian brings technical prowess and all of the hard to find intangibles to a group already loaded with talent.  We are very fortunate and look forward to his client engagements and the sense of humor and personality he brings to the table.  Here is Brian in his own words.  My favorite part is where he discusses manipulating his way into the job at Volano.  Ha ha ha…wait, what?

I kind of consider myself an engineer, even though I’ve never taken the electrical engineering FE test. Computer science majors can make computers do whatever they want. Computer engineering majors can make the computer and then make it do whatever they want.

I was always pretty intrigued by computers as a kid. My mom used to bring home her Apple Macintosh computer and I’d play O.G. learning games (Oregon Trail) and make stick figure cars in the Paint program. The first time I really fell in love with the concept of computer programming was when I was around 13. My older cousin had this awesome new game called “Command and Conquer” and I wanted to play it at home. In order to pirate it he had to span a zip file to something like 13 different 3.5” floppies and then wrote me a batch program to unzip it for me when I got home.

After high school I went to UNL for my Computer Engineering degree. One of my first jobs was a computer sales person at Best Buy. I learned all sorts of computer nerd stuff, but I also learned how to work with people and do sales. This will probably make me sound like a sociopath (not recognized in the DSM), but it’s crazy how easy it is to manipulate people into doing what you want them to do. I mean, how do you think I got such an awesome job here?

It took me a few years longer than most to graduate. I mean, why would anyone want to graduate?  I was lucky enough to land an entry level programmer job right out of college (luckily they never asked for my transcript), and then I was promoted a year and a half later because I was so awesome at it.

So now I’m here.  In my spare time I work on cars, hunt, fish, and play computer games. When I’m bored with that I’ll start random hobbies like building a 70hp go kart, becoming a local Bitcoin distributor, learning to fabricate carbon fiber, or create my own botnet.

Welcome to Volano Brian.  You’ll fit in nicely here.

 

Creating The Ultimate Customer Service Experience

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Always Exceed Expectations

 

The Model

A couple of years ago I got to hear a killer talk by best-selling author and consultant John DiJulius on customer service.   John is the founder of a successful, upscale Cleveland-based salon chain and consults with a prestigious group of clients such as Ritz-Carlton, Lexus, Starbucks, Nordstrom, Nestle and Mariott to name a few. He is a huge proponent of defining your business by the level of service you provide your customers.   DeJulius is an engaging speaker and typically follows his own advice to businesses with whom he consults by avoiding clunky corporate clichés when talking about customer service.  He provides very specific, tactical advice on how to train your people to create the optimal experience for your customers and building brand loyalty.  Below is a segment that illustrates this from a blog John wrote in 2011.

John DiJulius

FAB FIVE – I hate platitudes. Don’t tell your employees to be present or to make or exceed expectations. Tell them how, make it black & white, and make it measurable. One of my new favorite systems for making a customer connection are the “5 E’s.”
1. Eye Contact
2. Ear-to-Ear
3. Enthusiastic Greeting
4. Engage
5. Educate
Why? – I love these for five reasons:
1. They are so simple to do
2. They can be effective with every customer
3. The first four take zero time to execute
4. They demonstrate genuine hospitality
5. No one else is doing them

Three Reasons

I’m very interested in companies who are successful at consistently creating a positive experience for their customers for a few reasons.  I am a consumer and have sadly learned to lower my standards for service by defining good service as anything that is not bad or disappointing.  When I actually receive outstanding service, I tell anybody who will listen to me like a mad man on the street corner prophesizing the end of days.   With bad service, I fall into the national average and tell twice as many people.  The second reason is that I believe your product is only as good as the service you build around it.  Great concepts can be defeated by poor service.  This is especially true in the hospitality industry.  An elegant hotel can be ruined by an unclean room.  A five star dinner can be marred by unfriendly wait staff.  Finally, I believe that putting processes in place that promote good service, from hiring and training to regularly auditing your businesses actually helps employees become greater stakeholders in your mission and creates a greater sense of corporate identity.

Black or White Apron

DeJulius believes that if you want to have customer centric employees, you need to hire people who demonstrate the very mannerisms in the interview that you’re looking for on the job.  If you have to require friendliness, you’re probably going to struggle to communicate that attitude to each customer that walks in your door.   You should hire people that are actually friendly so that asking them to treat customers in that way is not requiring more of them than the simple,  natural extension of their personality.  When interviewing job candidates, you should note the level of eye contact made, how much they smiled (ear to ear), how much enthusiasm that they had and to what extent they actively engaged in the interview.  If you’d like empathetic, altruistic people, you should look for those characteristics on display throughout the interview process.

When I heard John speak, he mentioned how at his salons, repeat customers are given black aprons to wear prior to getting their hair done.  First-time customers were given white aprons.  For his customers, the color differential didn’t signify anything.   For his staff, whether they were seasoned veterans or brand new, they understood that their return customers should be acknowledged and that their first-time customers should be welcomed and engaged.  Optimal but differentiated care.  His employees were trained to never say “no” to a customer and were encouraged to do the very thing that came natural to them, the reason for which they were hired; treat customers as you would like to be treated. This concept is not revolutionary but it is surprisingly rare.  Companies looking to differentiate themselves from their competition should look at their commitment to service first.

What Does Google’s Acquisition of Nest Mean?

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This week Google announced the acquisition of Nest for $3.2 billion. Nest is a young but quickly growing tech company founded by Apple veterans Tony Fadell and Matt Rogers. Nest creates “smart thermostats and smoke detectors” that learn your behaviors and adjust usage accordingly. Operated in the cloud, Nest smoke detectors can send your phone a message when the battery is running low and the thermostats can be similarly regulated from a mobile device. It programs itself to run your energy usage more efficiently and becomes more intuitive over time based on your home energy consumption patterns.

The Internet of Things

Google sits on over 56 billion in cash so this investment, however mind-boggling to me, won’t break the bank. What the acquisition does however is provide Google with an opportunity to become more product-focused with product that should be relatively easy to integrate into their other existing platforms. Google is busy in your living spaces currently through Android and Chromecast, the streaming TV gadget, as well as computers and tablets, however as Larry Dignan points out in a piece he wrote this week,    “Google’s purchase highlights the importance of the internet of things.” The internet of things is an increasingly popular description of ‘uniquely identifiable objects and their virtual representations in an Internet-like structure.’  Sounds suspiciously Orwellian and cryptic to this 39 year old but I also get it.  The technology silo is starting to breakdown and through the internet, we’re starting to see the interconnectedness of product, data, communication and lifestyle.  Google bought expertise and the gateway drug to intuitive product and product that can create a greater level of entanglement between consumer and provider (Google).   If Fadell stays with Google, which I am inclined to think he will based on interviews, they will have the global platform and muscle to realize their goal for smart, internet-based product development and sales.

Privacy Concerns

Talking to one of our developers this morning who had concerns about the prospect of being hammered with Google ads every time she adjusts her thermostat, I got to thinking about other drawbacks.  What does Google do with this information it learns about my family and our home through it’s intuitive product?   Having just watched “Her” this weekend about the love affair between a man and an advanced, learning operating system, my enthusiasm with this technology is tempered by my fear that we’re fast approaching a time when critical thinking won’t be necessary.  Our products will tell us what we like and don’t like, what we should see, listen to and with whom we should correspond and know. When Fadell was specifically asked whether or not customer data should be shared with Google, his response did not ease my worried mind.  “Our privacy policy clearly limits the use of customer information to providing and improving Nest’s products and services. We’ve always taken privacy seriously and this will not change.”  I’m curious what and who defines the improvement of Nests products and how do we know this adherence to data protection will remain under Google?

Getting the Most Out of Your Franchise Owners

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True LeadershipUniversal Issues

One of the greatest challenges that growing franchise companies face is the disparity in performance between their locations and franchise owners. Often it takes years of franchise sales and development to learn who your ideal owners are, what markets tend do well and what processes enable operational efficiency and communication between corporate and franchisee. This can be a rocky period and can lead to lost revenue, costly time spent putting out fires and can complicate your franchise sales process by reducing the number of happy owners willing to promote your brand and talk to potential franchisees shopping for a business to buy. One of the most frequent complaints heard from franchisees is that they felt like they purchased a job, not a business. Many feel as though they’re not receiving enough corporate support for the marketing dollars allocated from their royalty payments. Of all the issues complicating the relationship between a growing corporate franchise and her franchisees, communication or lack thereof is at the heart.

Brand Standards

There is no silver bullet to improving the communication and relationship between corporate and franchise owners. However, having a clearly defined set of brand standards is the most important component. You have a successful model or formula. Based on that premise, you decided to apply that model in a franchise setting. Ensuring that your brand standards and proven best practices are applied consistently across all of your locations is the cornerstone of your success. Your brand standards also speak volumes about your company culture. When your owners deviate from the model, they confuse the culture and worse, create a muddy customer service experience for your customers. Your food should taste the same no matter which location you’re patronizing. Your product should be the same and come from the same vendors regardless of the location from which it’s purchased. Your customer service practices, uniforms and even the kinds of people you hire should be consistent with the culture and standards you’re promoting. For those that would say growing businesses find this to become a challenge as they get bigger, I’d point out the fact that companies who consistently get the highest net promoter scores have tens of thousands of employees (USAA, Costco, Apple, Dillards, Nordstrom, Southwest Airlines). If you have a great product, clear standards and those brand standards become part of your culture, recruiting, training and supporting the right kind of owners becomes less challenging.

Connecting Emotionally with your Brand

CEO and founder of Buyology Inc. Gary Singer came up with a powerful list of “brand activators” that help reinforce consistent standards. To state a few: Have a Great Story, A Clear Vision, Sensory Appeal, Symbols, Rituals and a Sense of Belonging. Tom Smith lays these out in detail in his recent blog “10 Ways to Enhance Emotional Connection to Your Brand”. The common denominator here is that successful companies have a compelling narrative and the things they do at every level reinforce that story and create a sense of belonging to customers who become part of the story through their patronage. If Apple can create a sense of belonging within their customers, franchises should be able to promote that same solidarity among their owners and subsequently, promote the standards that, if followed, drive revenue at leach location. I feel more like an owner when my leadership excites my employees to live the standards at work than an employee whose purchased a job.

The Process

Once franchises have clearly defined their brand standards and successfully incorporated those into an overarching company narrative, a system must be in place to ensure brand complicity at every location. Identifying areas of confusion or conflict quickly, dealing with them and selling your vision is the critical job of your Franchise Support Team and field personnel. Are locations adequately staffed? Are the right people recruited and hired? Is the owner purchasing from the approved vendors? Is the brick and mortar location consistent with the right signage and look? Is the owner following the model? Most franchises conduct regular site reviews. These may range from quarterly, bi-annual and annual reviews to phone calls. Having an assigned liaison between you and your franchisees is ideal. They will be the person that needs to sell your vision to the owner and gain trust and buy-in. They also need to provide a voice for your franchisees so you are aware of the challenges and mindset of your owners. The follow up here is essential and much can be leveraged from the time your staff spends with your owners. The criteria to which you’re holding your owners accountable should be consistent with your brand standards. They should be concise and easily measurable. Your scoring should be used to identify struggling owners as well as high performers. Reviews should be used as much to recognize achievement as it is to identify owners who need help. If they are seen as “audits” you’ll be challenged to have honest conversations with your owners and your field personnel will be driven to drink. The reviews should be easy to complete and should be transparent with your owners. Mobile applications such as Action Card can help streamline this review process, schedule reviews, identify and reconcile action items resulting from the reviews, track correspondence and documents including the reviews themselves and provide reporting that can be sued to track trends. All of this can be done on-line and with a tablet, including photo uploads to help capture examples. Regardless of the system used, franchise companies should be able to easily account for the time spent with their owners and the outcomes from these visits. If you can maintain consistent brand standards at all of your locations in a collaborative way, chances are you’ll have a much better relationship with your owners and that relationship is the basis on which you can clearly tell your story.