systems

Defend the Brand

Seth Godin’s blog post today “Defender of the brand” was a salient reminder of what we’re aiming to do. In the piece, he reminds his readers that a Marketing Officer’s first duty is to ensure the brand experience is one of quality. All the ads in the world are meaningless if the execution of the business is poor.

In my experience, the best advertising, amenity upgrade, or value-add is an operations system that works well. Many people take their systems for granted but spend five minutes talking to the person answering the phone and you’ll see that isn’t the case. Tap on any area of the business and you’ll find ad hoc patches pasted on by an insufficiently supported front-line staff.

I’ve met too many people that think focusing on the surface details will be enough to make a difference. Sure, superior finishes, polished marketing, remarkable design will all have a positive impact. However, without an enjoyable, engaged staff that feels supported and heard, it won’t mean much.

The student housing business is full of bright shiny underperforming assets and always has been. It’s not all metal, glass, and stone. It’s also hearts and minds.

Want to get the best performance out of any business? Here’s the recipe:

  1. Listen and support the people doing the work. Make their lives as easy as possible; solve their problems with them. Their problems are your problems.
  2. Let those people help your customers have an easy/fun experience.
  3. Rinse, repeat.

Do this ruthlessly. Over and over again. Defend the brand by ensuring what the brand stands for is a quality experience.

What would this look like if it were easy?

I came across this 5 minute video and I’ll spoil it for you – it’s the title of this piece. That’s the question Tim Ferriss asks this guy. It’s a variation on “Begin with the end in mind” – the second of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

The guy is working through a tough process and it’s stressful; who hasn’t been there? Tim Ferriss asks him what it would look like if it were easy. He gets snapped out of his Lucy on the chocolate line mindset and thinks about what should change to make this bearable. He solves his problem and then invents a product to solve another problem he wasn’t immediately aware he had.

We’ve all been Lucy in that situation. It’s what makes it her most enduring bit. We know the feeling.

They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. I like the sentiment and I’d offer another version: An hour of design is worth weeks of labor. Doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, does it?

As we’re creating new systems it’s worth talking to the stakeholders and getting an idea of what this would look like if it were easy. Let’s give that a shot with work orders that aren’t binary (open/closed) but that require multiple steps, like water intrusion.


What would it look like if it were easy?
It wouldn’t be 12 steps, all of which are unpleasant. Maybe 4 steps?
It would be intuitive.
It would elicit delight in its use.
It would make our jobs easier.
It would be (pick only two (faster/cheaper/higher quality) – let’s go with faster/quality for this one.
It would set up the next phase of the job as each one closed.
It’s got to be handled outside of the normal work order system then since that system can’t handle it.
It’s got to be transparent/easily shared – a Google Sheet?
It should inform the affected parties along the way – it has prewritten notices/emails ready to send informing the resident about what’s happening next.
It should dovetail with accounting for charging back costs if it wasn’t an accident.
It should contain documentation/photos from the start so everyone understands what happened, when, and why.

Answering the question gives us a lot of good ideas on where to go next and changes we should make.

What difficult process are you facing and what would it look like if it were easier?

Why do you do what you do?

When I work on a new spreadsheet build I’ll throw on a TED Talk or speech in the background. This week I reheard a classic by Simon Sinek – a primer for his book of the same name: “Start with Why.”

This may be the twelfth time I’ve heard it and I enjoy it as much as I did the first time nearly a decade ago. If you’ve been reading me for several years you’ll notice I’ve mentioned Sinek before in this blog; he’s a charismatic story teller and I like telling stories. I also tend to believe what he believes.

I think leaders eat last. I think a leader should take care of their team before anything else, especially the customer. I think trust is the most powerful force and we should be free with it to create more of it.

Not everyone believes those things and that’s ok. We only need to find the people that do believe what we believe and we can do amazing things. And I don’t mean “amazing” as in world-altering; I don’t need to pry up a mountain or convert all of Mongolia to veganism. I mean doing something remarkable that positively impacts people.

When you’re aiming for that – better, faster, stronger – in whatever you’re doing, and you hit it?! And it makes the lives of those you work with better? That’s it for me; that’s as good as it gets.

Right now we’re making our first hiring decisions and I couldn’t be more excited. I’m also spending a decent amount of mental RAM thinking about our mission.

What is our “Why” and how do we articulate that to effectively attract people that share that why?

Can I even create that before we’re a “we?” How many people do we need to have before we can decide on it?

How is our Why separate from my Why? What is my Why?

I’ve done this enough times to know that if you’re asking a lot of questions you’re doing well. The answers to those questions will form the bricks that pave the way to the future you’re trying to create. We’re going to need a vast number so the questions are going to need to keep coming quickly now.

What is my Why?

I like systems, elegant ones designed to last and to grow. I like beginning with the end in mind. I like having a great time with the people I work with. I notice those times come most frequently when we’re not battling monsters. I notice monsters are scarce when things work as or better than expected. To get there we have to solve or prevent problems. I like solving and preventing problems.

That doesn’t feel like a “Why” though, does it? It’s certainly not clean enough but it’ll have to do for a start.

Busy doesn’t equal Effective…

Image

It’s a learned behavior. Odds are you had mentors or bosses who were forever putting out metaphorical fires. You learned something implicitly: Busy = productive. Scratch that. Busy = valued.

It’s not true and odds are when you started out in your career you sensed it in your heart, if not your head. But the allure! Running around all crazy you couldn’t help but feel… important! Needed! This whole thing relied on you to keep those balls in the air or else they would fall and everyone would be let down.

Stop that.

Busy is often times, bullshit. Sure, you’ve got deadlines and reports, and big things in the works. Who doesn’t. If you’re running a restaurant, the kitchen had better be busy or you’re not making jack. But you’re not the sous chef for Chez Awesome, now are you? Didn’t think so.

To be effective you need to delegate your time and spend some much valued time planning so others can faithfully execute. Like a good point guard, yours isn’t to score all the points – it’s to distribute. And to do so in a way that allows your team an easy dunk.

If you sense yourself saying any of these things as a leader – check yourself, lest you wreck  yourself:

  • OMG! I’ve got so much to do!
  • WTF! I’ve got 156 emails since lunch! 
  • IDK! Maybe I have 10 minutes next week, maybe!
  • AGGGHHHHHH!!!!
  • If I don’t send this TPS report by 3pm, I’m burning this whole thing down. 

Also, it’s a good tip that if you find yourself speaking in “text talk” then you’ve likely got some big issues.

Busy isn’t beautiful – and it sure isn’t effective. Yes, at times, you’ve got to put the head down and scramble, but that’s not the ideal situation. The glory goes to being prepared. Toward having effective systems. Toward making the most of opportunities and marshaling resources into a mighty force for good.

So next time you have the inkling to put off your work till 5pm so you can stay until midnight and claim your gallantly selfless act, don’t do it. Leaders don’t engage in such sophistry. You’re better than that. I know you are. 

Insert a bunch of quotes here on: not waiting till the last minute, being awesome, and having great commitment to rad internal systems in your winning organization.