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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Difficult Situations / Staying Calm (thanks Michele - again)

Now, you might have guessed already that “business humming” means there aren't difficult situations. Or more precisely very few: human error, mis-communication, divine acts – that sort of thing.

The truly difficult situations I have encountered were generated by bad intent or a lack of honesty.

For example:

In an arrangement where we were to sub-contract to another consulting company to provide our expertise to their client, we were asked, on the spot, to explain their contract to their client. Hopefully, this sounds weird already. What made it worse was that the consulting company hadn't provided us the latest copy of the contract until the last minute, and it was a version that contained material we had asked them to correct.

So here is a deal, with a new, big client, very important to us, that is hanging in the middle of a conference call, when the consulting company suddenly handed off to us to explain a contract that was unexplainable. Based on my prior corporate role models and experience, I would have tried to save everyone's face, and wriggle my way through with some fluffy explanation and fancy footwork.

But because of BootCamp and my alignment of integrity, I just told the truth: “This isn't the correct version of the contract; let's meet again later with the corrected version.”

Did the client hang up believing we were all bozos? They should have, but they didn't. We went on with a business relationship that started in 2005 and is continuing today.

The most difficult situation I have ever faced occurred as a corporate employee when I was dismissed without warning based on a false accusation. That was definitely a Nietzsche experience: “What does not kill me, makes me stronger.”1 During the legal proceedings that followed, I had moments when I literally couldn't breathe. I'll spare you the gory details because the settlement I won after 6 years prohibits me from continuing the story.

But those things have never, and will never happen to me as a business owner and consultant, because the client relationship is built on two way trust. And now the difficult moments are the ones where the client repeatedly thanks us to the point of embarrassment.

As for staying calm and detached, I think that's a myth fostered by my publicist and groupies. I certainly work hard at keeping my head when others around me seem to be loosing theirs, but I also have my moments. I don't know how one can be passionate about their work, finding the best solutions, getting great results, without getting excited. And since Vickie and I arrange to have Work = Play we always make room for fun, laughter, and energy.

We don't do our Monty Python imitations in the boardroom in front of the CEO and the leadership team, unless they take the lead, or we are desperate to make a point.

But calmness is an attribute I developed as a camp leader, pool lifeguard, father of four, sailplane, hang glider, and ultra-light pilot, among other experiences. It's just not helpful to instill the thrill of flying in a passenger while moving through some bumpy air and have the pilot scream, “We're going to die” and attempt to jump out of the plane.

What are the take aways? (And I don't mean fast food for my English friends and relatives.)

  • Conduct business based on strongly connected relationships.
  • Build those through honesty which leads to trust.
  • Don't flip the Bozo Bit on someone based on an isolated incident or single mis-understanding.
  • Don't panic. (Thanks Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy)
  • Make fun and find friendly ways to make your clients laugh.
  • Make sure you can deliver the required results – get help or get out.

(And I don't really have a publicist nor groupies – that I am aware of.)

1 Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 - 1900), Twilight of the Idols, 1888

Next time: some thoughts on Leadership.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

How do I do business? (thanks Michele)

One of the things I really like about folks in the Maritimes is the lack of formality in business dealings. Perhaps it's just that we live in a rural area, but it seems that people are happy and comfortable to make business arrangements based on their word. Quotes, contracts, etc. “just ain't in it”. (Thanks Killick, care of Patrick O'Brian.)

And that suits me.

I learned in my corporate employee days that the union stewards, and hallway lawyers, and Legal Affairs, etc. needed their paperwork, because, after all, who could one trust?

And now that we have to have agreements documented with our clients, and contracting partners, so we get paid, I have learned to cross “i”s and dot “t”s with the best of them. :)

But, at the end of the day, you really want to be able to look your customer, partner, fellow human being in the eye and say, “That was a fair exchange of energy”. (The “energy” part is Vickie's phrase and I like it because whatever the work and money in the arrangement, energy is exchanged, and energy and matter are just words for the same thing if I grok the current thinking in quantum physics – so it all works out.)

So for me business hums when the relationships are strong, built on trust, the letters of understanding or statements of work are short, concise, and factual, and the players have intent to be honest with each other. It also helps if they like really good coffee.

And how do we get business?

In the beginning (sounds very auspicious!) we had to sell our capabilities, skills, services which really becomes selling one's self – who we are, what we do, etc. (This should sound very familiar from the page layout of my web site; it does – doesn't it ?!). Now we are referred to by people with whom we have previously done business. And that is so much easier and more productive.

So the question is: why would people do that?

Let's be really crass for a moment and say it is money. We do offer a finder's fee for referrals that become revenue generating business. However, in 15 years no one has ever taken us up on that. OK; the companies to which we often subcontract get their share, and usually a handsome one. On the other hand they have done all the initial work of finding the client, persuading them to buy, arranging meetings, getting contracts signed, etc.

But, still, why do clients refer us?

We hope it is because they have enjoyed working with us.

OK; this is silly – stop this right now. “Enjoyed”? Really? Are you serious?

Actually I am. The operating rule Vickie and I have is “Work equals Play” so we should all enjoy the experience.
  • If, as the client, you aren't having to worry about integrity, trust, getting results, receiving value in the exchange, then that should be enjoyable.
  • If you are working with people who like people, understanding them, finding the best for them, being serious and having fun whenever appropriate, that also should be enjoyable.
  • If there are no hassles, that should be enjoyable.
  • And if you get the results you want, that should be enjoyable.
After all where would you rather spend your money? And it is your money even buried in a financial budget allocation somewhere in the vault, because your success with us is going to keep your company capable of generating more revenue or allocating current spending more wisely, and that puts salary in your pocket.

Since we base our work on using these principles (the How page on my web site), providing built-in quality (not an add-on), and on getting results, we have happy customers who, yes, enjoy our work.

And we're happy to do business that way too.

[Upcoming topics: Difficult situations, How we stay calm and detached (oh?), Leadership, ROI for ITSM... Let me know what you would like to see via your comments and the survey at the bottom left.]

Monday, December 8, 2008

Task: Determine Blog Theme - Done

Well; choosing a theme / template turned out to be really easy after all.

My initial thought was to use the same template as my web site. The magic of open source material is that the universe of cyberspace is Abundant. I have capitalized abundant because that is a key word for our teamwork retreats – BootCamp a.k.a. ResultsCamp. I'm sure I'll get back to that topic later. :)

Since so much valuable material is available in the open source world today I started my search for a new web site template at the open source web templates community; for example: or Having found a number of interesting choices to replace my very mundane looking site, I locked onto a particular template and then the particular designer, Andreas Viklund (, in northern Sweden of all places.

Once a programmer, always a programmer, and tired of the web design programs that do it for you but produce constrained and bloated results, I tinkered and plodded my way through HTML land with Andreas's template to produce my current site. Liking the new look very much, it seemed a natural fit to use Andreas's template (yes; Strunk & White's first rule is to add “ 's ”; therefore, “Reeves's” as well) modified for blogs.

But then a whispered message from the Universe: “Lighthouse, Paul... lighthouse.”

  • My first blogs on flying, started after I soloed, used a lighthouse theme which fit well with our pending move at the time to Nova Scotia.

  • Further, one of my favourite stories in Covey's Seven Habits of Effective People is the “paradigm-shifting experience as told by Frank Koch in Proceedings, the magazine of the Naval Institute.

Two battleships assigned to the training squadron had been at sea on maneuvers in heavy weather for several days. I was serving on the lead battleship and was on watch on the bridge as night fell. The visibility was poor with patchy fog, so the captain remained on the bridge keeping an eye on all activities.
Shortly after dark, the lookout on the wing of the bridge reported, “Light, bearing on the starboard bow.”
“Is it steady or moving astern?” the captain called out.
Lookout replied, “Steady, captain, “ which meant we were on a dangerous collision course with that ship.
The captain then called to the signalman, “Signal that ship. We are on a collision course, advise you change course 20 degrees.”
Back came a signal, “Advisable for you to change course 20 degrees.”
The captain said, “Send, I'm a captain, change course 20 degrees.”
“I'm a seaman second class,” came the reply. “You had better change course 20 degrees.”
By that time, the captain was furious. He spat out, “Send, I'm a battleship. Change course 20 degrees.”
Back came the flashing light, “I'm a lighthouse.”
We changed course.”1
  • And, my daughter Allison had honoured Vickie and I, after a wonderful visit full of meaningful discussions and insights, with a thank you note, and a window hanging of stained glass, identifying us as her lighthouse illuminating her the way through the whirlwind of life.

  • The “closer” was that Google had updated the Blog site and templates and there was my old favourite, revamped, and waiting for me.

If you check the Comments, Christophe likes the theme too. (Don't be misled by his scoring – that is the way the Perfection Game works best.) And if Christophe likes it that is good news for me.

It seems pretentious to me that I might shed some light your way too. But that is what this is all about, and you will be the judge.

And I will “get-on-with-it” next time. I already have requests!

1The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey, Franklin Covey Co.