Cut your own trail

Life is interesting.  I read a lot of different blogs, posts and books.  Once in a while something I’ve been mulling over comes to the forefront when I do so.  This morning, I was directed to an article on and their quote of the day was as follows:

“Learn from others whom have walked the path before you, but be smart enough to know when to cut your own trail.” – Narciso Rodriguez

Lately, I have been involved in discussions about best practices, quality management and accountability.  The timing of this quote is apropos – It’s a reminder that it’s not always about what someone else has done. Sometimes breaking the mold or cutting your own trail is a much better solution to the issue.  Sometimes you just have to see what solutions can be created and figure out what works or doesn’t work.

Is Good Enough Good Enough?


Recently, I was in a discussion with an influential executive and he made a statement that was quite disheartening.  “Good enough is good enoughgood-is-the-enemy-of-great.” Although paraphrased, this was not what I wanted to hear.  I have a solid opinion that one has to do their best and one has to focus on the customer to be great.  There has to be commitment to strive towards excellence.

If your company is succeeding by virtue of passivity and the simple fact that it is too expensive or too difficult for your customer to leave, is that truly success? Is it really a long term, viable solution to a problem?  My view on it is certainly not. The customer should be wanting to stay with you through thick and thin. You want to drive customer loyalty vs customer satisfaction or apathy.

There are most certainly timQuotation-Voltaire-good-best-Meetville-Quotes-176578es when perfection or ‘the best’ is a problem.  Shipping software, for example, is an example of this.  If you hold a product delivery until you are perfect, bug free and have zero problems, you’re probably shipping too late — someone would have beaten you too it or you were solving problems that no one really cared about.  You can not, however, ship mediocre and expect to be successful.M_26A086_original


As a whole, it is always better to strive for greatness and fail than it is to accept being ‘good enough’.   Lead the way towards making things better.  It is better to try to make the customers ecstatic, the product phenomenal, and the employees extremely positive than it is to simply let things be or to be passive in your behavior. Take a chance, make things awesome. Take the shot, drive success and greatness.


Living up to Expectations

I’m very much a believer in bringing very high levels of expectations and driving forward a level of quality within the team that they may not have expected to be beholden to before.  This is often very present and noticeable when taking on a new team.  I’ve done it both by bringing in new organizations beneath my realm of responsibility as well as starting in a new role or at a new company.

When leadership changes, part of the reason that this change occurred is often because it’s necessary. This might mean there are pre-existing bar-graph-business-man-SalFalko-387x295problems, the previous leader moved on, or even that the team has been stable and it is simply time to make a change.  Many times, the new leader coming in needs to review what exists along with the strengths and weaknesses of the individuals and the organization.

I have found that many times this becomes perceived as micromanagement.  Although this can be a problem if the review is coupled with micromanagement long term, there is a very distinct difference between the two.

The micromanager takes essential management practices to extremes and interferes with employees’ ability to do their jobs properly, while creating undue stress for them. (NFIB)

The challenge comes when educating the new team about it. Perception may still be that the leader is micromanaging and, in fact, sometimes they are.  There are times where micromanagement, on a short term basis, is necessary.  Critical junctures, scenarios where there is no time to allow for standard execution and occasions where there are so many problems that they need to quickly be pinpointed and fixed. Just remember not to stay in this micromanagement focus for a significant amount of time.

All in all, communicating expectations and driving to a standard so that everyone on the team (leader and employee alike) knows the current temperature and environment is key to success.

The $300,000 cost of apathy

The other day I was driving home (my commute is almost over an hour each way) and was musing about customer service. I’m not quite sure why, but I was. What struck me was that many companies view customer service as a cost of doing business — not a way to increase business; not a way to drive references; not a way to drive repeat purchases but simply as a “cost”.   This, however, is a well knowapathyn statement – it has been this way for years and will, likely, be this way for years to come.  It is only those “stellar few” that have transformed their customer service, client care, support, order management etc organizations into one that transcends the simple “How can I help you as fast as humanly possible”? The fact is…this is solely driven due to apathy and lack of vision.

I’m sure the question is – does he have a point?

The answer is yes.  My point is that if companies changed their perspective to what Mike Faith, CEO of, calls an “extreme customer love philosophy.” ( blog, 11/23/2014) or Zappos calls “Deliver WOW through Service” (, I believe that companies would be more profitable for their shareholders and owners while, simultaneously, delivering a more enjoyable and satisfying atmosphere for their employees. turnover is 15% or less in a typical industry with turnover greater than 50% ( Zappos is at 40% or less (including promotions) in 2008, when average turnover industry wide was over 150% (

The cost of turnover for a good contact center agent (which are the ones that will leave because they truly want to drive a happy customer) is 20% of an individuals annual salary for individuals earning less than $50k a year (  Assuming that your contact center is of decent size (100 people), that you have a 50% turnover (50 people) and that your average wage is $30,000, you’ve just lost $300,000 because your contact center is mediocre, refuses to invest in their employees and feels that “bare minimum” is good enough.

I guess I’d rather spend that $300,000 somewhere else.

Quality & Call Centers

Recently, I was doing research into quality metrics and methods of driving towards a great support center.  The company I work for, 3M, is very heavily into ISO standards which tend to apply more towards manufacturing.  There is, however, a standard called ISO 10002:2014 that aligns with the more traditional ISO 9001. As per the standard, this “provides guidance on the process of complaints handling related to products within an organization, including planning, design, operation, maintenance, and improvement. The complaints-handling process described is suitable for use as one of the processes of an overall quality management system.”

I reviewed the standard as well as many others, including ITIL CSI, Benchmark Portal’s Call Center standards, HDI guidelines, etc.  The fact is, they are all very similar.  The key is to have something that:

  • Gives your team a standard to follow
  • Allows your management to monitor & audit
  • Has controls in place for long term successaqc-2

If you have no less than these three things in place, you have a system that drives towards a system that improves quality and direction; a system that sets you up for long term success. Just be careful about not having too many.

Allowing for Divergent Opinions

Personally, I believe that a strong leader allows for opinions that are contrary to their own.  In fact, I have at least one employee that disagrees with me on a regular basis and I foster that contrariness.  I am not infallible and certainly do not know everything.   I do not want “yes (wo)men”.

As a leader, part of the role is to understand the larger scope of things and the long term strategy behind decisions.  In really comprehending this, you NEED people who are contrary to your opinion, your work style, and your thought patterns.  This allows you to round out areas that you’re blind and avoid making a decision that is wrong simply because you don’t have the visibility.

I equate it somewhat to having a passenger in the car who happens to look out your side-rear window and yells “Look out!”, even though you’ve been checking all of your mirrors.  purpose-mourkogiannis-quote-01They have a different vantage point that is more focused (only looking at the side) where as you are responsible for all aspects – front, back, and both sides.  You need to trust that someone who is focused on a specific area might have a better view, better information, or better knowledge about what’s occurring in that arena.

This, however, does NOT mean that a strong leader allows an individual to derail everything or to argue with everything.  At that point, you have a backseat driver in your car and should probably ask them to tone it down or step out.  There is certainly a fine line between constant disagreement with your employee and strong leadership accepting the varied opinions of your team.  If your employee is constantly diverging from your vision and direction, there comes a time when you (and they) need to make a decision on whether or not the individual belongs on your team.

In the case of my employee, s/he agrees with the vision; s/he agrees with the direction.  S/he just doesn’t always agree with my direction and is willing to stand up for what s/he believes.  Once the decision is made and the direction is given, s/he accepts it and moves on.  There is true mutual respect and it boils down to a simple fact: I have the final say. Someone has to.

That is how your, as a leader, should allow your team to bring their strengths to the table.


Two quotes I love

David Ogilvy is widely known as “The Father of Advertising”, so the image above may be true in nature… if you’ve read this far, just realize you’re in the elite 20% that read the body copy of something!

For me, he has two quotes that always strike home when I read them.

If each of us hires people who are smaller than we are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. But if each of us hires people who are bigger than we are, we shall become a company of giants.


Hire people who are better than you are, then leave them to get on with it. Look for people who will aim for the remarkable, who will not settle for the routine.

There’s not much to say about these other than I hold them as a true.


What comes first? The business or the people?

The other day, I saw an image floating around and it struck me as a good way to live and run a business. Whether it’s sales, service & support, an operational business, or some other way that you’re running your business, it’s the people that you build off of; it’s not the business that builds itself.

Too many companies, both large and small, believe that the business will sustain itself and that the people in it don’t really matter a great deal.  I hold this to be a fallacy and have never seen a successful department, organization or business that treats its employees without respect.  At a macro level, a large company may be able to succeed (and succeed well) when a single department or organization doesn’t hold their people as a treasure mine, but once you get down to it, the fact is that particular group is likely failing itself and being propped up by the larger company.

It’s a fairly simple concept, though.  Support your team, lead your vision, and your team will execute towards success.  Build the business without the people and you’ll likely be alone when everything comes crumbling down beside you.

Level 5 Leadership

Jim Collins, author of “From Good to Great” (a great read in and of itself, mind you), created a concept he called “Level 5” leadership.  In 1996, his research began on what separates good from great in terms of companies and leadership.  He started with over a thousand companies and narrowed it down to 11.  In doing so, he also came up with the concept of “Level 5 Leaders” and defined the leaders of these 11 companies accordingly.

There are not many Level 5 leaders, but if you can attain this level of leadership, your employees will find that your company is generally great to work for.  The levels are defined as such:

Level 1: Highly Capable Individual

At this level, you contribute a great deal — with your job and your personal action. You have talent and skills, but aren’t necessarily leading yet.

Level 2: Contributing Team Member

Your knowledge (level 1) is used to contribute to your team and making sure that everyone succeeds.  You’re proactive, you’re effective and you raise the productivity of those in your group.

Level 3: Competent Manager

You can organize a group and achieve goals.  At this level, you’re still able to succeed and bring value to the organization.  Many people fall in this category.

Level 4: Effective Leader

This is where the pack begins to fall away. Many of the top leaders fall into this category — able to bring together a department or organization to achieve a vision and drive towards (or exceed) performance objectives across the board.

Level 5: Great Leader

If you’re able to achieve this pinnacle of leadership, you have all 4 other leadership levels AND the unique trait where you can pull humility and will together to succeed as a great leader.

It is possible to learn, train, and grow to any of these levels.  It takes significant effort and certain work to get there. In order to attain this, you need to:

  • develop humility — you’re not perfect. Stop being so arrogant.
  • ask for help — use the expertise of those around you to strengthen your execution.
  • take responsibility – you’re the leader. If something goes wrong, it’s up to you. No excuses and definitely don’t throw your team under the bus.
  • be disciplined – commit to a course and execute on it. Listen to opinions, but don’t let fear drive your decisions or force you into  changes that you’re not sure about.
  • find the right people – you CAN’T succeed on your own. It’s simply not possible.  Surround yourself by the best.
  • believe – be passionate about what you do. Show that you love and believe in what you’re doing. This leads by example for your team.

All in all, it’s possible to truly elevate your skills … focus on this list and  even if you never hit the top, your team will still love you all the more for it.

Corn, Teamwork, and Decisions

Back in 2006, I was reading a blog by “The Rainmaker”, Rick Roberge, that I wanted to dredge up from the annals of history.   The MIT class president of 2006 told a story about corn.  Fascinating, isn’t it?  Well, honestly, the story itself made a lot of sense and drives home how working together brings the best food (foot ;)) forward for everyone.  This farmer was both a good neighbor (sharing his corn) and a selfish one (looking to ensure his corn wasn’t degraded). Yet the net of the matter is that everyone benefited — a positive impact. Be aware that your decisions and your choices can have a lasting impact on yourself as well as those around you.

Here’s the story…

“There was a farmer who grew corn. Every year his county held a contest to determine which farmer grew the best corn. Every year he won. Year after year this farmer grew the best corn in the county and he won the award. One day, a visitor noticed that this farmer gave some of his best seed to one of his neighbors. The visitor asked why he was sharing his best seed with his neighbor. Wasn’t he concerned that their corn would be better than his? Wasn’t he concerned that they would eventually win the contest for having the best corn in the county? The farmer explained that the winds in the county pick up the corn pollen from all of the neighboring farms and deposit it to all of the other neighbors, so some of his corn pollen ends up on his neighbors’ farm and some of his neighbors’ corn pollen ends up on his farm. If his neighbors’ corn was very inferior and it was deposited on his award winning corn, wouldn’t his own corn become less superior. By sharing his best seed with his neighbors, the pollen that was deposited on his farm was better than it would have been had he not shared and his corn wasn’t degraded by the blown in pollen.” (Kimberly Wu, class president of MIT, 2006 as posted by Rick Roberge).