The (business) road less traveled

Today was a gorgeous day in San Diego, so I went for a hike at Mission Trails.There must have been 50 to 100 people on the trail up to the top of Cowles Mountain. When I reached the top I kept going along a ridge to nearby Pyles Peak. There wasn't a single person on the trail to Pyles, but I was rewarded with better vistas, more vibrant plant life, and more active wildlife. Hiking alone on this part of the trail, I realized a few things about what sets the best companies and employees apart from the rest of the pack.


On the way to Pyles Peak. San Diego, CA

The trail to Pyles Peak was just as well marked as the trail to the top of Cowles Mountain. It was just as well maintained. The trail itself was actually an easier hike, though you did have to make it up Cowles first. It's also just as well documented on trail maps. So why wasn't there a single person on the way to Pyles? The answers are very similar to the reasons that so many best practices in business are well documented, and even shared by the companies and people doing great work, but so few organizations follow them.

  1. It takes longer.
  2. It is new, unfamiliar territory.
  3. Nobody else seems to be doing it.

It takes longer.

We area society of quick fixes. We want the answer now, the result now, the goal now. Diet and exercise aren't as interesting as a magic weight loss pill. Saving for something special isn't as easy as buying it now on credit. Getting rich over a long career isn't as compelling as getting rich quickly. Fully understanding and executing a business strategy is much more daunting than finding a few tips and tricks you can implement (albeit badly) this afternoon.

The hike up to Cowles Mountain is 1.5 miles. It is another 1.5 miles from Cowles to Pyles Peak. There are plenty of people that are spent when they get to the top of Cowles, but there are plenty more that could keep going. They simply choose not to or don't realize it is an option.

Last year, I had a promising new client that hired me to help them improve productivity. I soon discovered the client had a quick fix in mind -- he wanted me to do time management training. After spending a half-day with his team I showed him how a few operational changes would solve his team's time management problems and actually gain him the equivalent of two full-time employees in extra capacity. The consulting fees would cost roughly double the fee for the time management class, but the savings would be the salaries of two employees. We had to part ways because the client couldn't see past the quick fix.

Another client of mine recently embarked on a 3 year plan to improve customer service and employee engagement. She had me do some customer service training to help jump-start the initiative, but that was only the beginning. They are already getting great results, but my client won't be satisfied until they've achieved their overall objectives and we're already planning our next moves.

It's new, unfamiliar territory.

I know a lot of people who have hiked to the top of Cowles Mountain. I don't know anyone who has hiked to the top of Pyles Peak. That's not to say Pyles hasn't been hiked. It just means that the population of people who have is much smaller. For most people, Pyles is unfamiliar territory, even it the hill itself is just has visible as Cowles. 

I recently had a conversation with an executive who was searching for ways to cut payroll expense. Her organization was having cash flow issues and she knew cutting payroll was a sure way to cut costs. What she couldn't see was that her business model was antiquated and the organization offered several services that were losing money. Through the course of our discussion, it was clear that territory was too unfamiliar for her to venture into.

Another client of mine is doing the opposite. Yes, they are struggling with the current economy and have had to cut costs. They are also working hard to improve their operations, increase employee engagement, and enhance customer service in an effort to strengthen their margins and retain customers. This strategy reduces some expenses now, but it also puts them in a healthy position for the long-term. The only drawback is none of their competitors are doing what they're doing, so they've had to look outside their industry for guidance.

Nobody else seems to be doing it.

The parking lot at the foot of Cowles Mountain was full today. You could see the line of people trudging up or down the trail. Once at the top, there were breathless, sweat-soaked hikers everywhere. What you didn't see was anyone venturing around the bend to the Pyles Peak trail. It wasn't familiar.

I work with a few call center clients and have learned that "talk time", the average time it takes a rep to handle a call, is still one of the most popular performance metrics. Many call centers measure talk time because other call centers measure it and industry associations continue to promote it. It's also easy to understand that paying someone $10 per hour who can handle 20 calls per hour equates to a $.50 cost per call. Or does it?

Most of my clients are adamant about not measuring talk time. They know that pressuring their reps to get off the phone quickly may result in a $.50 cost per call, but it will also result in a $1.50 cost per problem because the customer will have to call back several times. Worse, the customer may choose to do business with someone else. These clients want to be leaders in their industries, so they are not afraid to break away from the herd.

Where to go from here?

We can all get more out of our company, our team, or our jobs if we take the road a little less traveled or go a little farther than we've gone before. If you don't know where to start, find a guide who can help you. If your challenge is customer service or employee performance, I can help you chart a course with a simple, cost-effective assessment.

The view today was definitely worth it!


Yes, this picture was taken in San Diego!