The New Normal Has Happened Before by Randy G. Pennington

“When will things get back to normal?”

That question has been asked countless times since the economic meltdown of 2008. Most people want to know when the job market will bounce back; the economy will return to something close to sustained growth; uncertainty will subside; or the rate of change will slow to a more manageable pace.

The answer they want is a time table for returning to stability. They hope for a world similar to the one in which they knew how to compete and succeed.

But, what if this is it? What if instability, rapid change, and uncertainty are the new normal? And, what if I’m wrong and things bounce back quickly? If you can succeed now, you will crush it then.

Humans have a tendency to believe that their initial experience with a situation is the first time that it has occurred. Every change that makes you nervous, uncertain, and sometimes a little crazy has occurred in some form before.

New technology has always been a disruptive and beneficial force in how people work and live. The folk legend John Henry was a steel driving man who raced against the steam powered hammer that revolutionized the building of the railroads. The telegraph opened a new era of communication that created new jobs while making others unnecessary. Business has always looked for ways to do things faster, better, cheaper, or friendlier; and technology has played a major role. Why would that be different today?

Globalization has existed since the beginning of time. Overland trade routes between Western Asia, the Mediterranean region, and China date to the second millennium BCE. The travel took longer and was much more precarious, but it brought imports, exports, new jobs, and competition for existing jobs between countries and individuals. The opportunities and threats of globalization today are the logical extension of a history of expansion into new markets to sell, purchase, and produce goods and services.

The Dutch Tulip Bubble of 1637 shares an eerily similar feeling to the banking and mortgage crisis of 2008. Tulips were the speculative currency of the time in Holland. Fortunes were made and lost daily as tulip traders speculated on what appeared to be an investment that would only increase in price. Then someone didn’t show up to pay for their tulips. Wide spread panic ensued. Tulip prices plunged to virtually nothing, and the Netherlands was forced into a depression that lasted years.

The News for You and Me

All change creates moments of instability, and anxiety. Now is not the time to be timid. Timid companies don’t anticipate the future.  Timid people don’t take the actions or invest in themselves that enable them to quickly adapt.

Now is the time to:

1.    Focus on value given and value received. In uncertain financial times, investors run toward value. Your customers and your employers do the same thing. Your challenge is to add so much value that doing business with you takes away any anxiety or fear they may have.

2.    Strategically invest in your future.  The biggest threat most of us face is irrelevancy. Your customers are asking, “Why you? Why now? What makes you relevant?”  Now is the time to strategically invest in the areas that will make you successful five years from now while continuing to add value today.

3.    Prepare for the worst and look for the best.  Long-term anxiety and instability breed a lack of confidence. And, that lack of confidence closes our minds to opportunity. The Great Depression of the 1930’s saw lots of companies go away, but it also gave us companies such as Motorola, Texas Instruments, Hewlett Packard, and Converse.

Fifty years from now, we’ll look back on this time as the crucible that spawned legendary brands and businesses.

There are a number of factors that affect your success. The only one you can control is what you do to see further and adapt faster than the other guy in the new normal.

Randy Pennington is author of Make Change Work: Staying Nimble, Relevant, and Engaged in a World of Constant Change (Wiley, 2013) from which this article is adapted. For additional information: contact via telephone at 972.980.9857; or on the Internet at http://www.penningtongroup.com/make-change-work/.

©2013 by Pennington Performance Group; Addison, TX. All rights reserved. This article may be downloaded for personal and professional development. Copies may be shared within an individual organization. All other uses of this material are strictly prohibited without written permission from the author.

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Flowers for Customers

Flowers are warm expressions of affection, compassion and interest.  We dial the florist at Easter for lilies.  During winter holidays we send people poinsettias.  On Mother’s day we order her roses.  A dozen red roses delivered to the office is a sure sign that someone is adored.  But, what about your customers?  What is the flower for customers?

My aunt was in the hospital for surgery.  The afternoon before her operation we dropped in for a short visit.  Her hospital room was filled with bouquets of flowers, mostly from her large family.  Every one of her children had sent her a flower arrangement except Tom, her oldest son. 

“Where are Tom’s flowers?” one competitive sister asked her mother as we were about to leave.  “Oh, Tom gave me the very best flowers,” she said.  “He mowed my lawn and fed my dog!”  Flowers come in many forms.  What flowers have you given your customers today? 

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The Customer’s Chair

Chairs are a big deal.  The big boss sits in the chair at the head of the board table.  The best player in each section of an orchestra is called “first chair” and the first chair of the first violin section is the “concertmaster.”  We call the leader of a committee the “chair.” Many renowned professors get an endowed chair at a university. One of our most frequent expressions for joining a group is, “grab a chair.”  We use the size and decoration of chairs to signal power (the King’s chair), privilege (sit in the chair to the right of the leader) and prestige (box seats).

What chair is reserved for your customers?  Are they given court side, 50 yard line seats or relegated to the cheap seats in the nose bleed section of our attention and focus.  Do they have a chair at the table when products and service are designed, altered and enhanced?  Is their voice muffled through a distant survey or vibrant through a direct presence in the organization?  Are they relegated to a passenger seat or allowed to join us in the cockpit to help manage the flight to collective success—theirs and ours?  Like an orchestra conductor, put your customer in the concertmaster first chair and let them help “tune” your direction. 

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Fearing Thunder

It was a stormy night and our three granddaughters were awakened by the loud, shake-the-rafters thunder.  They quickly descended upon our bedroom, eager to sleep with us.  Their arrival triggered a discussion about the difference between thunder and lightning, including how to count the delay between sight and sound to know how far away the lightening was.  When they began taking turns counting, they came to discover the lightning was a long way away and was moving further away.  They went back to their own beds and slept soundly the rest of the night

Angry customers are a lot like thunder.  It can be scary and tempt us to want to fight or flee.  But, the sound of an angry customer is not the same as the origin of their noisy expression.  Smart service providers learn to respect the customer’s thunder but learn more about the nature of their lightning.  Instead of getting defensive, smart service providers use the encounter as an opportunity to learn—like counting seconds between lighting flash and thunderbolt.  They are quick to apologize…not in a self-deprecating admission of guilt way…but as a communication of sincere caring and genuine concern. They show humility and empathy in order to lower the customer’s wrath for a collective quest for rational problem-solving.   

Customer thunder should not be the cause for anxiety; customer lightning should be our focus.  Before the clap of the thunder, the customer has already felt the spark of lightning stemming from some disappointing incident.  How can you unravel the emotion of the thunder in order to learn the origin of the lightning?  How can you turn an incensed customer into an instructive customer? 

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What’s Your Customers’ Minimum Speed?

We are seeing a lot of threshold alarms these days.  Highway freeways tell us “minimum speed 40 mph.”  It is a way of keeping horse drawn buggies off the road.  Minimum orders signal that only volume purchases are allowed.  Even Disney has threshold alarms that say a child must be “this tall” to get on a particular attraction.  As her two older sisters zipped past the “this tall” sign, it promoted my youngest granddaughter to say, “Tell them that scary things don’t scare me

Customers also have minimums.  Their pursuit of effortless, fast-paced service has shortened their wait clocks and adjusted downward their hassle monitor.  Their standards for letting service providers into their game has ratcheted dramatically up.  They have no tolerance for toil, no interest in insipid, and no patience of the pedantic.  And, when their mediocre meter goes off, they alert all in their cyber reach to stay away.

Smart organizations stay up-to-the minute on their customers’ thresholds for service quality.  And, they find ways to accommodate those rare customers who report that “scary things don’t scare me.”  They know that standards of service are not set by competitors in the same industry but by everyone who creates customer experiences in the life of their customers. 

When customers enjoy a meal at a Chick Fil A restaurant and come to your location afterward, they carry that experience memory for comparison.  When FedEx or UPS answers their phone quickly should a customer call to schedule a package pick-up, the customer’s phone-handling standard is now raised before calling your organization.  And, they look at every website on the planet through Amazon and Zappo.com eyes.  What can you do today to find out your customers’ thresholds for any aspect of your service delivery?

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Customer GPS or Navigation System

My wife recently bought a brand new Lexus SUV.  It came with a navigation system built into the dash.  I think it looks really slick!  It will alert you when there is a traffic accident miles ahead and tell you the time length of the upcoming traffic delay.  It monitors all the systems of your vehicle and sends you an alert if there is anything out of the ordinary.  You get a reminder if your tires need air, your oil needs changing, or your shoe lace is untied.  I was just kidding about the shoe part…but, you get the point!

A week after she bought the car with the cool navigation system in the dash, she put her old Garmin GPS on top of the dash and plugged it into the cigarette lighter!  It was her test.  Sure enough, her Garmin was showing roads not known by the navigation system.  When the GPS on the dash and navigation system in the dash differed on the “best route” to a particular location, the GPS always gave the best, most up-to-date advice. 

“It’s the satellite,” she explained.  “The navigation system is information programmed into a CD months ago.  It stays the same until you go the dealership and update it.  But, the GPS stays updated…real time.”

Customer needs are a lot like the landscape.  They change all the time, not just annually when you are about to send out the big survey.  Smart organizations figure out ways to build customer GPS’s into every customer touch point.  When a customer has a hiccup in Des Moines, the distribution center in San Jose knows about it.  When a quorum of disgruntled customers register a compliant on social media, a strike team is triggered to search for root causes and implement an appropriate fix.  Get rid of your customer navigation system and put your customer GPS on your dash.

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Pollinating Insight

Archeologists excavating the pyramids discovered wheat seeds that dated back to around 2500 BC.  As in the tradition of antiquity, the seeds were there for the dead pharaoh to eat if he got hungry.   The find was important because it would enable scientists to determine what variety of wheat was in use in the ancient world and could be invaluable for engineering new types of wheat.  Out of curiosity, the scientists planted the 4,500-year-old wheat seed in fertile soil and an amazing thing happened.  The wheat seeds grew!  

“No one can teach anyone anything of significance,” wrote the legendary psychologist Carl Rogers.  The purpose of mentoring is to help another remember, renew and make ready to use.  Mentoring is facilitating a bridge between knowledge from the mentor and understanding inside the mind of the protégé.  That magical bridge is insight—the spark that fires the engine of wisdom.  Mentoring is the process of awakening, nurturing and blossoming—just like the wheat seeds of antiquity.  It is the vehicle for giving the second greatest gift that one can give another—the gift of growth. 

It has been my honor to work with Marshall Goldsmith to bring you Managers as Mentors http://managersasmentors.com/.  Think of it as a handbook for insight-making through a mentor-protégé partnership.  This week is the official launch of this powerful tool.  I invite you to join, to learn, and to celebrate learning—the foundation for innovation, excellence and progress.

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Character: The Handmaiden of Innovation

“Would your work practices change if your son or daughter was watching you in order to learn life lessons?” my business partner, John Patterson asked a group of senior leaders.  The company was famous for its profit at any cost mentality and had indicated a desire to become more customer-centric with a long-term view. 

A major conflict had emerged when one of the senior leaders wanted to implement an opt-out product.  Opt-out means a current customer is sold a product or service they did not request and is required to proactively let the company know they did not want the product or service.  Many customers do not micro-manage their monthly statement and thus fail to catch the added fee.  Once they do, they scream at the call center.  Tricking the customer might generate short-term profits but it clearly is not customer-centric.

The incident launched a discussion about the relevance of an impeccable character among leaders of an organization.  Most organizations today are very transparent since social media can overnight spotlight corporate practices that reflect unethical methods or Machiavellian manners. But, the largest issue is the impact on innovation. 

Innovation requires an atmosphere of trust.  When leaders attempt to deceive (anyone) or foster relationships laced with uncertainty, organizational trust wanes.  When leaders camouflage key metrics to yield a more favorable impression to the board or investors, it signals an indifference to character, often introducing employee angst.  Anxiety is the adversary of invention.

Dr. Carol Kinsey Goman’s brand new book, The Truth about Lies in the Workplace: How to Spot Liars and What to Do about Them (http://amzn.to/11K2YNj) identifies fifty subtle physical and vocal cues that will that indicate destructive workplace deception. She analyzes the role all employees play in supporting lies—how one’s own vanities, desires, self-deceptions, and rationalizations allow us to be duped.  But the centerpiece of her work is the toll a “white lie” setting can take on progress. 

Fostering innovation takes leaders who live their work with the kind of values that would make their mother’s smile and their children proud. The tangled web woven by all manner of deception not only catches profits in its snare, it can cripple the capacity of an organization to grow.   

 

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Pollinating Insight

Archeologists excavating the pyramids discovered wheat seeds that dated back to around 2500 BC.  As in the tradition of antiquity, the seeds were there for the dead pharaoh to eat if he got hungry.   The find was important because it would enable scientists to determine what variety of wheat was in use in the ancient world and could be invaluable for engineering new types of wheat.  Out of curiosity, the scientists planted the 4,500-year-old wheat seed in fertile soil and an amazing thing happened.  The wheat seeds grew!  

“No one can teach anyone anything of significance,” wrote the legendary psychologist Carl Rogers.  The purpose of mentoring is to help another remember, renew and make ready to use.  Mentoring is facilitating a bridge between knowledge from the mentor and understanding inside the mind of the protégé.  That magical bridge is insight—the spark that fires the engine of wisdom.  Mentoring is the process of awakening, nurturing and blossoming—just like the wheat seeds of antiquity.  It is the vehicle for giving the second greatest gift that one can give another—the gift of growth. 

It has been my honor to work with Marshall Goldsmith to bring you Managers as Mentors http://managersasmentors.com/.  Think of it as a handbook for insight-making through a mentor-protégé partnership.  This week is the official launch of this powerful tool.  I invite you to join, to learn, and to celebrate learning—the foundation for innovation, excellence and progress.

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Service Still or Service Movie?

Taking pictures is so different today with the “everyone has a camera” smart phone.  You can now catch those special photogenic moments formerly missed with the “go get the camera” delays.  But, the coolest part of today’s camera-in-a-cell-phone is the capacity to shoot stills or movies simply with the touch of an icon.  When kids or grandkids stop posing, there are those precious authentic moments generally worth the wait.  Watching the movie that can follow a posed portrait can bring a parent or grandparent immense pleasure

Service is a lot like picture taking with a smart phone.  Customers can see a posed still shot of a service person just doing their job and mindlessly going through the motions.  Customers can witness a fake pleasantry, a stilted attempt to be helpful or veined gesture of gratitude much like a posed portrait.  Or, customers can see service as a motion picture—full of live, animated and genuine demonstrations of spirit, interest and enthusiasm.  Would your customer describe your service as a still or as a movie?

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