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Throughout my career I’ve leveraged personality profiling tools to help my teams be as successful as possible working together. These tools have included the Myers Briggs Type Profiler, the Golden Personality Type Profiler, and PI Worldwide’s Predictive Index. Recently, I had the opportunity to see how effective the Gallup StrengthsFinder works.

All of these tools are extremely useful to help make decisions, understand the people around you, and apply techniques to better manage relationships. Many businesses have adopted a tool of some type to help improve performance, build understanding between team members, and assess where individuals will perform their best within the organization.

From the tools I’ve listed above, I do have a first choice and second choice. The first choice is PI Worldwide’s Predictive Index, in part because of the training I’ve gone through to deeply understand the tool, make interpretations, and apply the managerial suggestions supplied into my leadership techniques. I loved it’s ability to “hit the nail on the head” when summing up someone’s personality as it relates to tested personality types, as well as how one makes decisions (objectively or subjectively). My second choice, even though I’ve had limited exposure to it, is the StrengthsFinder tool. The Gallup StrengthsFinder website made it easy to take the survey, and the three-page report was easy to read, straight to the point, and easily understandable.

If you’d like more information on my experiences with these tools, feel free to contact me at robert@robertesmith.com.

 

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If you are in the process of building a company culture that employees will want to be a part of every day, here are some ideas that I’ve used over my career as a member of management. While it may not retain everyone, it will at least provide a foundation from which growth can occur.

  • Establish leadership development programs.
  • Coach team members to develop their skills through roleplay.
  • Provide training so people can learn and grow.
  • Inspire team members by helping them achieve their career goals.
  • Provide productivity and support tools needed for them to succeed.
  • Create individual and team incentive programs.
  • Reward hard work and encourage the delivery of memorable customer experiences.
  • Foster an open communication environment.
  • Allow employees to creatively personalize their work environments.

There is a cost to do this of course, but the cost of a revolving door needs to be considered as well. One can easily offset the other!

How many times in your life have you left a customer service agent feeling so good about how they handled your needs, you were ready to tell all your friends about the company and how good they treated you? These moments happen all the time in organizations that have established a culture of customer-centric celebration, and they reap the rewards that come with it every day.

In my experience, too many companies are leaving a tremendous amount of money on the table by not leveraging a business model that focuses on the customer. The cold, hard truth of the matter is that many businesses will never reach their growth potential if investments aren’t made in fostering relationships with the customer.

Being in the business of delighting customers for many years, I get a true sense of pride and satisfaction when customers speak highly of my organization’s service delivery teams, because this is the beginning of what can become legendary customer service. Developing a service organization that automatically responds to customers in a helpful manner is really the key to progress, so I thought I would share some of my favorite ways of accomplishing this.

  • Be proactive in your communications, regardless of the communication medium being used by the customer or your business.
  • If there are obvious issues contributing to a negative customer experience that can be corrected, triage them immediately to stop the bleeding.
  • Assess how easy it is for a customer to do business with your organization. If it’s harder than it needs to be, assess your alternatives and change it. Don’t forget to communicate the change to your customers.
  • Establish a baseline of customer satisfaction that comparisons can be made against in the future. Without a baseline, you have nothing to measure against.
  • Jump in with the service teams and understand how they work, what makes each person tick, where efficiencies are, and areas needing improvement.
  • Leverage competitive intelligence to learn what customers like and dislike about competitors. Buy competitor products and call or go online with their service team for help to see how effective they are. Analyze the results.
  • Partner with all areas of the business to establish relationships that will endure the test of time. Be helpful to them, and seek help from them when needed.
  • Set goals with your service delivery teams that are understood, realistic and measurable, and then establish KPI’s that people can support.
  • Determine customer loyalty in order to build action plans that will contribute to team success. One service I’ve used before was NetPromoter, due to how elegant and simple the solution was.
  • Adopt a customer-focused talent development program that incorporates role-play, such as Ron Zemke’s “Delivering Knock Your Socks Off Service”. I’ve used it several times throughout my career, and it works.
  • Incorporate a personality assessment tool into your talent acquisition and management processes to help make informed decisions. I’ve used the Golden Personality Type Profiler and Predictive Index to accomplish this, and both work well.
  • Make use of data from every possible source, and analyze it, to look for valuable insights to improve and evolve your business and products. Common sources for this data include web forums, social networks, call center logs, diagnostic data, financial reports, Google alerts, customer email, and product databases.
  • Build a variety of team and individual incentive programs that reward hard work and encourage the delivery of memorable customer experiences. Think out of the box, and tie incentives back to what makes your team members tick.

When coupled with high achieving leadership and vision, customer service groups can generate incredible amounts of good will with customers, which in turn can result in top-line revenue growth from repeat business and simple word-of-mouth promotion.  When service teams are proactive at delivering game-changing contact center information about customer-requested features or product issues to internal business groups empowered to act on it, the organization as a whole can become a runaway locomotive no competitor can catch. If this level of customer focus is ingrained into the culture of the organization and sustained over years, customer loyalty will rise and your company will become known to deliver legendary customer service.

… on Open Adoption

Back in 1994, my wife and I learned that we wouldn’t be able to conceive children due to infertility issues. Of course, this was an emotional thing to learn about, and we went through the standard process of denial, and finally acceptance. We spent a couple of years, and a lot of money, going the route of donor sperm, intrauterine insemination and finally in-vitro, all without success. It seemed all we were doing was making doctors wealthy. In 1997 we started looking into adoption, not knowing what we might face in the years ahead.

Please keep in mind these were our experiences and not everyone will experience the same things.

Our adventure started at one of the local adoption agencies in our home town. Here we learned that a domestic adoption for a caucasian baby would cost around $30k. We didn’t have that kind of money, so we talked with them about another alternative. We watched a video about an orphanage in the Ukrain it showed toddlers sitting in cribs banging their heads on a wall, they were malnourished and there was no medical history available for the children. Though our hearts ached for these children we had many concerns such as being able to financially support a child with life long medical needs. Needless to say we passed on this because of the costs related to the international adoption and we weren’t prepared to take on a child who would probably need on going medical care for the rest of his or her life.

The big benefit to an International adoption is that the children are usually available immediately and there is no risk of a parent reclaiming the child. Please keep in mind we saw that video over 20 years ago so please don’t let that experience sway you from a possible International adoption. So many things have changed since then.

In the late ’90s, we tried out a California-based adoption coordinator who was advertising her services on the Internet. It turned out to be a $4,000 take-your-money-and-run marketing scam. Fortunately, we took notes during our calls, so we were able to find inconsistencies between conversations that led us to ask a number of probing questions about a birthmother she was marketing to us in Arizona. To make a long story short, many things the coordinator told us weren’t true so we took prompt action to cancel our contract and put a stop payment on the check. Unfortunately, a check cashing service in the LA area cashed the check, and the “coordinator” made off with $4,000. Our bank protected us because the service didn’t follow proper procedures, but this opened our eyes to just how easy it would be to get sucked into an adoption scam.

Between 1998 and 2002, we spent over $60,000 on a variety of agency fees, home studies, attorneys, social workers, and travel. We made trips to Arizona, Alabama, Georgia, Ohio, Oklahoma and Kansas as we worked with agencies and birthparents in hopes of taking home a little bundle of joy. During this time, we had a private adoption fall through. A baby girl that had been in our home for two weeks was removed because a birth parent changed his mind. It broke our hearts.

In our quest to have a family we dealt with hostile hospital nurses against adoption, couples dealing drugs, and we worked with the FBI to help catch a prostitute who was running an adoption scam from a hotel in Pennsylvania. While we had plenty of stories we didn’t have a child to share our lives with.

In mid-2002, my wife finally accepted that the little girl who was in our home would not be coming back. After 2 years of healing we were ready to move on with our lives and give adoption another chance. I went to my computer, keyed in “adoption” to a then-young Google search engine, and www.adoption.com came up as the first hit. They offered a service I hadn’t seen or heard of before – www.parentprofiles.com. This was what appeared to be an established marketing service that would give us something that had been missing previously – broad coverage to tell birthparents what we could offer a child without the political influence agencies seemed to have relating to how long we had waiting, or how much money we had paid them. This seemed to be a fresh approach that would allow us to build on a foundation we already had in place through Little Flower Adoptions in Dallas, TX (we were certified adoptive and foster parents at the time).

Within a week, we were qualified to post our Dear Birthparents letter and profile on the Parent Profiles website. Our profile went live on a Tuesday afternoon and within 24 hours, a young, unmarried, pregnant couple still in their first trimester called us to talk about how much our profile had touched them. My wife and the prospective birth mother talked for hours on the phone and developed an immediate bond. The four of us met in Houston a few days later, and as we nurtured the relationship, we brought our social worker in to provide some counseling for the birth family.

As good fortune has it, this couple placed their healthy baby girl with us eight months later in 2003, and the adoption was finalized in the same year. It was scary to go through eight months of waiting, but it worked out for everyone! And, we have a very open adoption with the birthmother. We see her at least once a year, she talks to our daughter on the phone, and our daughter loves her very much.

Three years ago, we wanted to grow our family again. This time, I stuck with what worked for us four years prior. It was literally “rinse and repeat”. We used the same agency in Dallas for the home study and the same parent profiles service to post our Dear Birthparents letter. The home study and background check process took a couple of months. Once the Dear Birthparents letter went live, it took roughly two weeks before we heard from a couple who had seen our family profile. From there, we involved our social worker again for counseling, and everything fell into place. We met the family a week later to get to know them, and enjoyed watching our kids play together. Two months later, they congratulated us for being the new parents of a healthy baby boy. The birthparents stay in frequent contact with us, and we share pictures as often as we can with them, just as they do with us.

In both cases, the birthparents wanted open adoptions, which we were willing to provide. I can’t tell you how rewarding life has been now that we are parents. Our kids are bright, innovative little people whom we love very much, and the birth families are proud of how well they are doing.

If you are thinking about going through an open adoption, congratulations! I can highly recommend this path. Few things in life can be so fulfilling, but there are a few major lessons learned that I can share with you to make your life easier based on our own adventures.

* Go into this with your eyes wide open. Understand that you may meet people from all walks of life.

* Be prepared to feel more love in your heart than you can ever imagine. Adoption is truly a loving option.

* Decide what expenses you are willing to pay for. Some birth families need help with food, medical or other bills. Keep in mind any financial help is considered a donation. If the adoption falls through, the money will not be returned. It’s also a good idea to have any donations go through your agency so there is a record of it.

* Always follow the adoption laws in your state and/or the state which the birth family is from. If you are moving across state lines, there are special considerations which must be addressed through your agency and the courts.

* Understand that this is a journey. There are families who can’t care for their child, and they want to place their baby in a good home. The key is in forming a bond that everyone can relate to.

* Select an agency or attorney in your home state. Make sure they have a good reputation, and ask lots of questions to make sure you are comfortable with them. Make sure you understand how they will present you to birthparents, because it is important to get this right. If you are planning to do most of the footwork, see if they will provide their services one you’ve matched with a birth family.

* Network. Let people know you are wanting to adopt, and what you can offer a child. If people don’t know this, then you may never get a referral. Take the time to study other parent profiles, and build one from the heart. And, include pictures that demonstrate how loving and effective you are with other kids! Use the Parent Profiles website to post yourself to, as it is a natural magnet for birth parents that are considering adoption.

* As you talk to potential birth parents be honest about yourself and the type of relationship that you are hoping for. Establish healthy boundaries for the relationship with them.  Make sure contact information is shared and kept up-to-date. Answer email in a timely manner.

* Get to know them. Know that it’s awkward for them just as much as it is for you, at least until you get to know one another. Make sure you are also sincere, and that you don’t view this as a trade goods transaction. You are dealing with people, emotions and life-altering decisions that can’t be taken lightly.

* Understand that most birth families prefer that you are open to either a baby boy or girl. If you are planning to be gender specific, this may make the birth family uncomfortable, so be up front about this in your profile.

* If you know which hospital or birthing center the child will be born at, go there with the birth mother and talk with the social worker on staff, as well as the department head overseeing labor and delivery to make sure it’s an adoption-friendly place. Get them to commit to signing a birth parent plan, which is a document that expresses the birth mother’s wishes. It can include simple things such as who will be in the delivery room, or who holds the baby first. The plans real purpose, however, is to communicate the birth mother’s wishes to the staff. It helps establish boundaries for people that don’t agree with adoption, encouraging them to keep their opinions to themselves. This is a lesson we found out about the hard way.

* Keep all promises you ever make. If you promise to send pictures to the birth family every so many weeks or months, make sure there is a reminder in your calendar to do it. My wife counsels birth families, and I can’t tell you how many promises were made to families only to find the promises were broken down the road. Understand that people who place children for adoption loved them so much they had to let them go. There were other alternatives to adoption, but they chose not to go down those paths.

Finally, be patient, and don’t appear desperate. When the time is right for the match to occur, it will happen. Sometimes at the most unexpected moment.

Apple has really come out with an amazing foundation upon which outstanding productivity enhancing products can launch. Being an MS Windows guy for the past 24 years, I’m starting to wean myself away from carrying a laptop with me all the time, in favor of carrying the much lighter weight iPad. The bottom line is I simply love the device, and when I combine it with cloud services, I can really get mobile. Now that I have a significant portion of what I love to do in the “cloud”, I have a lot more freedom to do the things I love without being attached to a heavy laptop.

Aside from the standard email, web browsing, book reading and movie watching that everyone uses the iPad for, I’m focused on making sure I can use it as a first rate productivity tool. In addition, I’m finding that there is a cost benefit as well as a health benefit to the device. Businesses, if they are not already doing so, should experiment with this technology to learn how they can standardize, save time and money, and provide health benefits to staff who are highly mobile.

If there is one element of business that I’ve learned can be impacted positively by cloud services, its collaboration technology, and it only continues to improve with endless options. Google and Zoho have cloud-based apps that work well on the Safari browser that comes with the iPad, covering disciplines such as project management, accounting, document management, etc. While I’ve experienced glitches, they are easy enough to work through as long as I keep things simple. Just understand that there are limitations, and follow the 80/20 rule (meaning, you can probably get at least 80% of your work done in such a utility, and then pull it into a more advanced tool to polish it up if needed).

Another collaboration tool that is working well for me is Tungle, a cloud-based service to create a unified view of all personal and business calendars, including the calendars of family members (now I can keep up with them!). It took a little time to set everything up, but now that I have all of my calendars, and those of my wife and kids in one universal calendar view, it has become a huge time saver for me. At the time of this writing, I have calendars syncing into a single view from Google, Yahoo and Outlook, and it’s amazing how effective it is. As another calendar enhancement, I’ve added Apple’s US Holidays list so the holidays automatically show up on my calendar now. If you didn’t know about this little gem, just add “ical.mac.com/ical/US32Holidays.ics” as a subscribed calendar in your settings on the iPad.

If you travel extensively, I find the “WorldMate Gold” app is a must have since I can book hotels, get local information, weather updates, and more all within the app. The tool itself keeps your travel itineraries in chronological order, with all flight, hotel, and car rental info. You just have to forward all of your booking information to the service so the itineraries can be loaded into your account. Another thing I like about WorldMate was how it alerted me to recent flight delays and cancellations I had leaving Austin so I didn’t have to travel all the way into the airport from San Antonio. That alone was worth the cost of the app ($14.99). If you have an iPod or iPhone, the same app also works on these devices as well.

For time management, which many of us need, I’ve tried a variety of apps, and I’ve finally settled on OmniFocus for its simplistic approach to time management. So far, I’ve been using the app for a month and have enjoyed applying David Allen‘s “Getting Things Done” principles that come embedded within the application. If you want to get on top of all the activities and demands on your life, this is the app to have if you are going to put it to use every day. While it comes with one of the larger price tags in the app store ($39.99), it’s worth it to help control stress and keep things organized.

If you purchased an Amazon Kindle, like I did, you may find the device is becoming obsolete if you have an iPad. I’ve been using the free Kindle app on my iPad since the first day I bought it, and haven’t even looked at the Kindle device itself for a couple of months now. Why? Because all the books I purchased are right there on my iPad, and I have a better screen to read the books on. For me, it’s easier on the eyes, and there’s one less device I need to worry about charging.

There are many other apps that I’ve loaded to help me optimize productivity, such as Photoshop Express, WordPress, iThoughtsHD, and Fluent News. But, as useful as these products are, I still see incredible potential for the iPad because it’s still a young product.

If you step back for a moment and think about the greater potential of cloud services and optimizing them for use with the iPad, your mindset has to change from storing stuff locally to storing it in the cloud, or perhaps a hybrid model where local and cloud storage are used together for code, docs, data, etc.. Some things are better suited for this than others, and of course the sensitivity of the data will have to be considered, but in the end, stuff just exists somewhere in a data center, and applications on a server or an end-user on some type of device just interacts with it.

As someone who’s been innovating, delivering and providing customer service for cloud-based applications for years, I looking forward to the next generation of innovative cloud applications, and making contributions where I can to help mature the technology. Feel free to get in touch with me if you have any questions or comments.

There is a wealth of information about supplier relationship management on the Internet, but I can offer up some KPI’s I’ve used in the past to help evaluate IT provider ongoing performance:

(1) Projects delivered on time – does the vendor commit to delivery dates during project road map negotiation, and adhere to the dates? If there is a regular progression of slipped deadlines or missed deliverables, then the vendor likely won’t get the best score in this area.

(2) Staff training was effective – this is something commonly overlooked in negotiations, but critically important for knowledge transfer to staff if the supplier is expected to transition ownership to the company at some point in time. Did they prepare effectively? Were communications for signing up for the training laid out clearly? Was instruction provided clearly and competently? Did the vendor provide surveys for the trainees to fill out, and if so were the survey results shared and acted on to improve? Was the staff effective and competent on the products once they took ownership of them? All good questions, and it all plays into the overall score.

(3) Products met usability standards – another common mistake in the overall contract negotiations is leaving out the company definition of usability standards. Many times the standards will be something open to wild interpretation, like “make it easier to do business with us”. Keep in mind that one person’s “easier” can be another person’s “more difficult”. It’s really important to get out on the street and get to know your customers to determine what their expectations are relating to usability improvement. Is the vendor doing this? If they don’t know your target audience, then it could be that the vendor is trying to grand-stand and create something that they want to go down in the history books for. It may not make a difference at all to the bottom line of your company. Become a member of the Usability Professional’s Association to get a wealth of information related to this discipline.

(4) Application, database and/or infrastructure architecture delivered is scalable, maintainable, and extensible – The question to ask here is whether or not the supplier delivered a scalable, maintainable and extensible system to the contract’s specifications. If the contract, or subsequent artifact to which the contract refers, did not include specifications or standards to which the system would be built, then the entire topic is open to interpretation, and the waters are muddied forever. If the supplier didn’t include a section in the contract that talks to these topics, then I would simply put them down at the worst score. Suppliers should know enough about what you are trying to accomplish by at least asking the right questions when the project is being defined, particularly if they want to keep doing business with you.

(5) Inter-application integration met or exceeded required standards – Here is an aspect that can’t be overlooked in most IT shops of any size and age. If you have dozens, hundreds or even thousands of applications operating your business, then you must select suppliers that know how to operate in complex computing environments. I’ve never seen inter-application requirements in a contract, but I have seen them (and developed them myself) in specification documents which are referenced in the contract. Without this documentation, and a deep partnership between the supplier and your IT staff, it will be difficult for either party to be successful. So, in my experience the themost important things to measure here are supplier competency in complex computing environments, a well-written specification with expectations, and how well the supplier partners with IT.

(6) Provider staff competence – don’t underestimate the power of competent specialists. I’ve not met anyone in the field of IT yet that can do it all. Specialists are the people that always tend to get to the root of all problems, patch them, and follow up by putting long-term solutions in place.If your supplier is a small firm with a big contract, make sure they know how to obtain specialists should the need arise to leverage one. You don’t want them to run into a brick wall for several weeks while they are running up your bill. I’ve experienced this before, and it’s not a pretty site. Also, make sure your staff is competent at identifying and alerting you to gaps in the supplier’s knowledge. If your team can help identify the gaps early, then you can make sure your project managers are adequately mitigating the risk this brings to the project.

(7) Provider understanding of our product roadmap (vision capability) – Trusted suppliers who have been deemed business partners will need visibility into your product or platform road map in order to operate at their peak efficiency. Once they gain visibility into the road map, its up to you to listen to their comments about it. If they just go with the flow, then they are not being strategic. My expectation is that a supplier will want to understand your road map, and provide you with a variety of options, thoughts, and competitor/industry comparisons to show how they can add value by helping to formulate the vision. When I’ve engaged suppliers that have a deep understanding of how to do this, they really shine and add real value to help the organization grow.

(8) Industry reputation on social networks – what better way to determine how a vendor will interact with your company than to hear it from their other customers? Not just their hand-picked reference accounts, but the general public. If the supplier constantly gets good commentary on social networks about the quality of their work, then its likely going to be a safe bet to at least try them on for size. And, ask questions on the social networks that are pertinent to the type of engagement you would have them do, particularly when initiating a new engagement with an unknown supplier.

(9) Overall capability – This can encompass a number of subject areas, but in general I want to hire a supplier that can meet all of the immediate needs of the project equitably and under the deadlines set by the company. If the company can meet all of the project needs, I would typically give it a score of 5 (out of 10) and if they can go way beyond all expectations of what we may have a need for in the future, the score would slide up to 10. It’s important to note that overall capability can include things like strategic planning, writing specifications, application development, QA, database modeling, infrastructure design, hosting, and a whole lot more.

This is not an exhaustive list, but it can help you create a group of solid starting-point metrics that can be measured on a vendor scorecard if you need to create one. You can apply weighting to them if you want to add multipliers, but I seldom have needed to do this. It’s a good idea to collect both qualitative and quantitative data about your projects, so that in the end, a decision of whether to keep the supplier for future projects is supported by data. Just make sure the data you collect can result in an actionable outcome, such as vendor negotiations, consideration for further work, or release from duty.

It depends on what you want out of your career, and what field of study you are going to become a practitioner in. In general, specialists have deep knowledge of something. I leverage specialists on projects because of their deep expertise in their field, and quick work on action items. People with broad experience tend to be the generalists – constantly orchestrating their thoughts around growth, optimization, leadership, or design – in a big-picture sort of way. In many companies, generalists are also the strategists, so keep this in mind as you consider your career choices.

To get things done requires people with both deep skills (the specialists) and broad experience (the generalists), so it’s a matter of determining where your passion is. Just keep in mind that as times and technology change, you must evolve regardless of which path you choose.