Networking and Old-Fashioned Service

Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, June 13, 2016

Potpourri week.

Networking: I still go to a lot of networking events, and I am always surprised at the outcome. Invariably, I meet four or five interesting people. I get their business cards, and then I religiously send an email the next day reaching out in some way.

One of my most recent events was a mix of millennials and old folks at a fancy La Jolla mansion. The speaker was a Zen guru who wanted us to be more holistically in touch with ourselves … yada yada. But only one of my reach-outs returned an email. There are lots of possibilities – including that I am just not as interesting as I think I am, but in general, the rule remains – return every email and every phone call. You just never know for sure, and ignoring is never a good opening move. (After all, that is why you went to the event.)

Marketing: I got a very fancy and expensive card on the door at the house offering a high-end, concierge house cleaning service. The previous day I had decided to fire our current service. First thing I learn is that I can only access them online. I had to fill out a form, and they would get back to me.

This requiring an email inquiry seems to be the de rigueur way to capture information. My question – whatever happened to a telephone number? I find it often impossible to find one on a website.

I filled out and waited. No word. I am a fairly relentless individual, so ultimately I found a phone number and called, was put on hold for nine minutes, and eventually a person answered. I asked if I could speak to the owner about services because I wanted to hire them.

Her response was “I don’t know the owner. We are a call center in Nashville.”

Now, here is the kicker. That evening when I got home, I placed a call to the owner of our current service asking if we could talk the next day, (but in a tone that suggested there were some issues), and then I settled in to watch the Warriors game. Thirty minutes later the doorbell rings and it is the owner of our house cleaning service – at my door and wanting to know the issues and not going to wait until the next day. We talk and we resolve, and I am so impressed that I end up offering (he never asked) to increase the fee I pay. There is no substitute for customer service. No substitute, period.

Coaching: It seems I am late to this game, since there are already hundreds of people in this line of work. I have recently begun to take on a small number of coaching clients. To that end I revisited Anders Ericsson, the Florida State professor whose new book, “Peak,” explores high performance and expertise.

He says, “Just working harder does not seem to be associated with high levels of performance … rather it is working with a mentor or teacher who can help you.” I have spent a couple thousand hours in psychotherapy – and I can tell you that you can’t see the pimple unless you have a mirror.

Ericsson is most clear on one point, “We know that in order to get benefits from training (or coaching) you need to be fully concentrated.” I think this argues well for a set time period. In the case of therapy, it is usually 45-50 minutes. My coaching session is never more than 75 minutes. Because, after a certain amount of time, you just can’t apply “concentrated” focus any longer. Golf lessons are often 30 minutes. Longer is not necessarily better.

And this argues for companies to create “training environments” in which employees are actively engaged in a highly focused learning moment, but for a compressed period of time. If you want confirmation of the above, talk to your personal trainer – heavy weights, very few reps.

Darkness: That is when your company is in extremis. I recently watched the movie “The 33” about the Chilean miners trapped underground who survived for 69 days. And then I re-read “Endurance,” the book about Sir Ernest Shackleton. These stories bring light to the darkness.

Rule No. 469

There is no substitute for leadership.

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