Sunday, March 16, 2014

Stay on Task But Don't Lose Sight of the Mission

There is an old expression that goes you can't see the forest for the trees.

I was reminded of that the other day as I waited patiently behind a waitress who was diligently refilling the large coffee urn in the lobby of the hotel where I was staying.

I have been traveling quite a bit this year and stay in a variety of different hotels. Some are major chains like Marriott, Hilton, Westin, and Hyatt. Others are the "suites" such as Double Tree, while still others are independent hotels.

At this particular independent, the restaurant off the lobby offers full waitress service. Breakfast is included as part of the daily room rate. The usual fare can be found on the menu: pancakes, french toast, eggs and so on. But the deal includes a self-serve buffet, too. In the lobby, there is a coffee station where, after breakfast, I like to grab a cup of coffee to take with me on the ride to the office.

Dedicated to good customer service, this waitress was very carefully pouring in several pots of recently brewed coffee to make sure the urn was full. Her mission was to ensure customers could always fill their cups with fresh, hot coffee. That meant, of course, that she had to check the urn from time to time and, when necessary, fill it up.

She was concentrating so hard on her immediate task, filling the urn without making a mess, that she failed to notice anyone (like me) waiting to get a cup. She wasn't doing anything wrong, but she had become so focused on her immediate task that she lost sight of the overall mission; delivering coffee to her customers.

So it often goes in business that we get so caught up in the immediate tasks at hand we lose sight of the larger picture. Had my friendly waitress kept the overall mission in sight she might have paused for a moment to fill my cup with some of that lovely fresh coffee in the pot she held, allowing me to be on my way, and her to complete her task.

In my elementary school we were frequently reminded not to look down at our feet when we walked. While you could see where you were stepping, you might not know where you were going. It is good practice to lift your head and take in the big picture from time to time.

It will also keep you from walking into a telephone pole.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Spam, Bam, Thank You Man

After watching a segment on Sixty Minutes tonight about a computer virus designed to infect a computer at the BIOS level, I was reminded about the ever present and growing cyber threat. Especially during this time of year, one has to be alert and extra vigilant to avoid falling prey to one of the many tricks used to gain personal information you didn't want to share.

The story was about a foiled plot to spread malware to computers at the level of the BIOS, the very heart of every personal computer. This is the code that sits between the operating system like Microsoft Windows and the physical hardware such as the memory and hard drives. Worse than stealing or destroying the data on the machine, controlling this layer could render the machine totally useless. Imagine the impact of massive computer failures in major financial institutions, banks or utility companies. What if a massive amount of government computers suddenly all stopped working and could not be restored?

Malware is usually spread through some form of social engineering. Clever tricks are used to fool people into allowing the bad code to gain access to their computer.  Email disguised as a legitimate message from a friend in need, a bank, retail store or web-based company arrives in your inbox. It invites you in some way to click on a button or a link where the malware resides. You don't realize it but when you click you allow that program to run on your machine with all the rights and access you have.

During the holiday season when we receive so many electronic greeting cards, photos and other messages
from relatives and friends, the challenge is to be sure we do not click before we think long and hard about what may happen.

We receive a message that looks as if it came from our bank warning of an overdraft, our favorite retail store with a special discount or the delivery service (Fed Ex, UPS, USPS) advising of a delivery.  They are each brilliant recreations of the formats actually used by these companies including actual logos.  It is hard not to be taken in.

Before clicking examine the links carefully. Browsers will show you where you are about to go if you hover over the link or hotspot without actually clicking on it.  Look very hard at the address. Note when it does not end with the company domain.  Visit the company site directly to see if the message is legitimate, or if warnings of fraudulent messages have been posted there.

A great way to protect yourself is to create an account with limited privilege for every day use. Use a different, special account to administer your computer. That way, malware will not have deep privilege and you can limit the amount of damage it can do. Change passwords regularly and don't use the same one for every account you have.

When all else fails, be sure you have good solid backup for that long, hard road to recovery.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Sunday, December 8, 2013

I Fail to Understand

After enjoying a delicious meal at a local Chinese restaurant this weekend, I cracked open my fortune cookie to be amused by the content as is usually the case. But rather than the typical nonsense, my little white strip had words on it that made an awful lot of sense. It said something we have heard or read many times before.

Good people learn from their mistakes.

Whether great inventors like Thomas Edison, famous sports figures like Wayne Gretzky, US Presidents and their wives, or the granddaddy of all fortune cookie sayings, Confucius, you can find an endless variety of quotes that inspire people to try and espouse the value of failing.

All too often as leaders, managers, coaches or parents, we only focus on the negative, condemning the actions of an individual who may have tried but did not succeed.  This will dampen excitement, diminish enthusiasm and eventually reduce the motivation to take any risk at all..

Of course, we cannot reward stupidity, nor should we tolerate laziness. But allowing people to experiment, try new things and find the one in a hundred that actually works will lead to more innovation, creativity and ultimately a wiser person.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Waste Not, Want Not

An interesting question came up in conversation the other day. If you could give one piece of advice to a vendor what would it be? Think of your favorite (or least favorite) sales rep, account manager or supplier. What would you suggest they do differently to make them be more successful and to provide more value to their customers? What exactly would you say to them?

Now I am sure a fair number of you are thinking "don't call me I'll call you" or perhaps your advice would be to suggest they take up another line of work altogether. But let's be both practical and realistic here. How can you help them be better salespeople; be less bothersome and more useful to you and everyone else?

Reflecting on what disturbs me most about a sales call, my advice would be simple. Don't waste my time or yours.

Perhaps the single most annoying call is what I label the "fishing expedition." This is where you get a call that consists of a series of questions designed to teach the caller about you and your company. They are thoroughly convinced you need their solution and they just need you to help them understand why.

They jabber on about the features and how well it will work in your environment. Then they say how it will add efficiency and quality to your operation. You know, they go on, it is extremely cost effective and will generate a huge ROI.  Of course, they have no clue what our company does or if we have any such need.  Occasionally, they can't even articulate what they are selling.

My simple advice is this. Before you call and launch into a hard core pitch, know a little something about the company you are trying to sell. Don't push your delivery route optimizer to an audit consulting firm. No matter how cheap or good it may be, they are never going to need it.

Countless times over the years I have listened patiently, for at least a few minutes, as some hot shot tries to persuade me I need his service or product. More than once I have asked, "Do you even know what we do?" and almost every time this has evoked a rather feeble reply.

So, my advice is this. Please know your product and how it fits in my world before you ever dial my number. If you can't figure it out, then please call someone else.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Auto Mechanics Syndrome

Having been in the technology game for many years, I must have heard people ask why can't you just fix it more than a million times.   It was working fine, they will say, and then it just didn't work any more. They want you to tell them why this happened, how they can fix it or how long it will take for you to fix it.

Seems like these things go one of two ways.

Often you get the call or the message and when you go to investigate the trouble report you simply can't make the problem happen. The screen was blank a minute ago. Not sure what you did but it seems to be okay now, the customer will say.  There was some kind of message but I am not sure what it said and I cleared it.  Can you tell me what you were doing, you ask, but they can't recall exactly. We often ask what changed only to get the standard "nothing" reply.

I once worked with a young woman who was convinced that the computes only worked when I was within 10 feet of them.  She always had problems and yet the minute I came near her desk her problems would miraculously vanish. It was as if I had some mystical aura or perhaps I was a biological key fob that unlocked them.

While that was annoying, far worse is the trouble ticket which tells little to nothing about the problem you are supposed to solve. My computer stopped working could really mean anything from a complete hard drive failure and inability to boot, to an error due to a bad formula in a spreadsheet cell. Its like the poor mechanic who draws the short straw, getting the customer who only says there is a funny noise and the engine wouldn't start the other morning. Can you fix it, please, and can I have the car back by lunch? The car starts every time and you don't hear any noise.

Technology has become incredibly complex. Moreover, much of the technology use is remote. Expecting any technician to simply know what is wrong and talk you through fixing it would be similar to expecting an auto mechanic to talk you through repairing your car, or your doctor talking you through surgery over the phone.

So when you report a problem, please try to include as much detailed information as possible. Computer repair 101 suggests the first step is always to reboot the machine and see if the problem goes away. This holds for mobile devices as well. Turn them off and back on again. Check wires and make sure all the devices, particularly the ones with apparent problems, are plugged in and turned on. Is the little green LED on your monitor lit, and is the network cable plugged in all the way?  

If none of that helps and you have reproduced the problem, make some notes about the messages, the conditions and the activities that seem to lead up to the problem.  If you know how to take a screen shot and send it that can be very helpful. Of course if the system is truly "dead" you won't be able to do any of this, but then your technician may not be able to help either.

Remember, the person at the other end of the phone call can't see what's in front of you. Be patient and assist in the resolution by providing information instead of just demanding a quick fix.  Follow instructions, repeating them and indicating the results as best you can. Don't get ahead of the technician.

Cooperation will get you back on the road again a lot sooner.

Captain Joe

 Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC