Mental health – and business survival

Mental health – and business survival

Mental health in business has always been an important issue, but it’s taken a pandemic to deliver the focus it deserves.

Not surprising, really.

A few months in lockdown with your nearest and dearest can test the strength of even the best relationship. Add the extra pressure of compulsory home working (even if you like it). Sautee with an elegant mix of frustrated children (and the need to home school them), rampant pets, and a frazzled partner. Then bring to the boil with a relentless torrent of bad news. Result – the perfect recipe for a nervous breakdown!

Quite possibly. And quite certainly in some cases. So, what can you – as a business – do about it?

Thinking about that I was reminded of the blog post that Mary contributed back in August 2016.

She was writing about the specific problems a depressive can face with running a business. But the fact is that many of us are now trying to work under intense mental pressure. And with many of the same symptoms.

It may help to think about what’s ‘going wrong’ for people in this situation – the impact on what they perceive as ‘normal’. Regular routines haven’t been disrupted so much as shattered. Much that they’ve quite reasonably taken for granted is now unavailable at worst, or problematic at best. And any kind of planning has to face a haze of uncertainty.

For some that can be challenging. Even exciting. For others it can be simply terrifying, a complete loss of control that leaves them rudderless in a stormy ocean. And with no idea of how long that storm will last. Which is the classic recipe for suicidal thoughts.

Structure – a path to improving mental health.

When everything is unpredictable, the predictable becomes very attractive. Structure. Routine. Something that can be planned, scheduled and delivered.

Which means, of course, that we’re talking about a process.

But it does need to be the right kind of process. Something that offers support and encouragement rather than strictures and penalties. That makes allowances for the realities of working from home. And that is almost certainly different from the process that would be used in a physical workplace.

If that sounds like a bit of a challenge, it might help to discuss your specific needs. Just call me on 01359 240717 or send me an email. Your first hour is free, and right now you don’t even need to buy me a coffee…

The Christmas Creation Process

The Christmas Creation Process

Christmas – ever wondered how we got to where we are with it?

Like most other things that are even a little worthwhile, it’s the result of a long and complex process. Which goes something like this…

  1. It’s the middle of winter, and our (very) distant ancestors are feeling cold, hungry, and depressed. But at least the cold has preserved the meat from their most recent hunt. So they decide it’s time to thaw it out and eat it…
  2. Some less distant ancestors notice that fir trees stay green right the way through the winter. Clearly they are powerful…
  3. Christian missionaries appear in Iron Age Europe. They find there’s a pagan feast at Midwinter involving the worship of a tree. It’s a bit like the Roman feast of Saturnalia, which they’ve already grabbed and converted to a celebration of the birth of Christ. So they do the same up north…
  4. But try to eradicate the tree-worship bit…
  5. Martin Luther (so we are told)  is out walking one day and is captivated by the sight of stars twinkling among the branches of a fir tree. He cuts it down, takes it home, brings it into the house, and decorates it with candles.
  6. Thus inadvertently recreating a pagan festival.
  7. Which is just a tad ironic for a man who thinks the Catholic Church isn’t godly enough…
  8. Germans take the tradition further, decorating their trees with Christmas-themed food items.
  9. They also use silver wire for decoration.
  10. Yup, real silver….
  11. Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha – better known as Queen Victoria’s husband – decides that Windsor Castle needs its own Christmas tree.
  12. In 1846 a sketch showing the royal family gathered around their Christmas tree is widely distributed
  13. Suddenly everyone wants a Christmas tree.
  14. Thus demonstrating the power of social media.
  15. In 1895 Ralph Morris, an American telephone engineer, replaces Luther’s candles with electric lights.
  16. He gets a commendation from his Health and Safety advisor. (Or would have done, if they’d had them in 1895…)
  17. In December 2020 Aunty Pru is feeling cold, hungry and depressed because it’s the middle of winter. She’s also self-isolating, meaning no one else has been in the house since March. There’s a blizzard outside, and her helpers can’t get to the shops. But at least there’s a pile of stuff in the freezer.
  18. So she decides it’s time to thaw it out and eat it…

Looks as though the whole process is starting all over again…

Business communication – only connect?

Business communication – only connect?

Good business communication is a much undervalued skill. For example, in an earlier post – Is your cashflow flowing? – I highlighted, as a joke, precisely how to frame an invoice to be absolutely sure that you wouldn’t get paid. And the examples I gave aren’t fictional – I’ve seen all of them at one time or another, on one invoice or another.

Though admittedly not all at the same time – as in this mockup

As you can see, the trick is to miss out vital information like your name and address, what you are actually invoicing for, and your bank details.

For extra security you can add items you didn’t say you were charging for, add VAT you didn’t include in the original quotation, omit any customer purchase order numbes or references, and wait to send your invoice as long as possible after the work has been done.

For a really sophisticated solution, make sure you don’t actually send the invoice to someone who will know anything about it – ideally on a different site.

But…

Having posted that some time ago I came across a real-life example of failed communication – and I can do no better than quote the friend who had the experience.

I have a hospital appointment this week, organised with admirable speed. Individual staff I have spoken to have been lovely. But… but…

They sent me a letter. “Please phone the Unit if…” etc. Did the letter include a phone number? No.

Does the Unit appear on the online list of hospital departments, so I can find the phone number? No.

Hospitals are big. I have been told to go to Entrance 3. Did they send a hospital map? No.

Does their website contain a clearly accessible hospital map? No.

I needed to have a pre-procedure Covid test at the hospital. Did they send me written instructions on how to find the testing site? No.

How hard is any of this, really?

Those who have eyes to see, let them see…

And if you’re even faintly worried about your own processes – or your own business communication – I’ll be happy to assist. Just call me on 01359 240717 or send me an email.

Communication failure: when systems collide…

Communication failure: when systems collide…

Communication is the key to successful business – yet all too often communication between businesses can fall at the first hurdle. Sometimes with potentially serious consequences.

A good friend, who chairs his village Parish Council, was told that a recent storm had damaged a tree overhanging one of the approach roads. A branch had broken, snapping a cable as it fell, and was now hanging down into the middle of the road.

He drove out to check for himself what had happened, took a few photographs, and phoned his county Highways department to report the issue.

A conversation…

‘There’s a broken cable, you say?’

‘Yes.’

‘We don’t deal with those. You’ll have to call whoever owns the cable. That’s our policy.’

So he called OpenReach, who were responsible for the cable.

‘There’s a broken branch, you say?’

‘Yes.’

‘Well, we don’t deal with trees. It’s company policy.’

At this point he confesses that he slightly lost his cool. ‘It’s dangerous. There’s a broken cable that Highways don’t want to know about, and the branch is a hazard to traffic.’

‘Sorry. Can’t do anything until that branch is sorted out. Like I said, it’s company policy. We’ve had too many problems dealing with trees.’

‘Seriously?’

‘Sorry…’

Communication breakdown – irresistible force and immovable object?

On reflection, my friend could understand the problem. He remembered seeing a crew coming to cut back trees that had grown to a point where they were fouling overhead cables. Doubtless their work led to a flood of calls from angry landowners, with the result that the company had decided not to do tree work at all. Which was logical – but unhelpful…

Luckily, as it turned out, the call handler at OpenReach was ready to go the extra mile, and rang back to say there was an engineer on site. The engineer, too, had gone the extra mile and called in a cherry-picker vehicle to repair the cable. And when my friend revisited the site, the cable had been fixed.

And the branch had been removed.

So – thanks to two people prepared to take the initiative – all was well. But his story did highlight an issue I’ve come across before. I’m reminded, for instance, of those familiar scenes in the early days of railway privatisation. You’d often see a group of people in a mixture of uniforms, suits, and safety gear gathered on a station platform to argue about who, precisely, was responsible for what in dealing with a problem. Sometimes, it would seem, without a satisfactory outcome…

And the conclusion?

It’s great to have logical systems. It’s sensible to protect yourself from unnecessary problems. But not, perhaps, at the cost of leaving clients and potential clients in danger – or simply in a place where no one will take responsibility for a potentially dangerous situation..

After all, good customer service has always involved going the extra mile…

And if you’d like to go the extra mile, you’re welcome to offer me a (virtual) cup of coffee while we have an hour’s consultation. No charge – just call me on 01359 240717 or drop me an email.

 

 

 

Are you listening?

Are you listening?

Listening?

Well of course you are, or you wouldn’t be reading this. But… is your business listening?

Consider that venerable comedy cliché, the old married couple:

“Are you even listening to me?”

“Of course I am. You asked me to fix the shelf.”

“Well?”

“And you’ve asked me the same darned thing every day this week.”

(Other domestic disputes are available…)

The problem here is two (very different) definitions of ‘listening’. You could call them ‘passive’ and ‘active’. It’s good to hear and understand what another person is saying – but real listening demands an active response.

Such as fixing the shelf. For example…

Listening – active or passive?

So – thinking about your business – is your ‘listening’ active or passive?

How, for example, do you respond to complaints? Do you write off the people who make them as ‘difficult customers’? Mutter ‘There’s no pleasing some people’? Or – worse still – ignore what they’re saying? Because your focus is somewhere else?

It happens – especially with a new and growing business. Because the bigger your enterprise becomes, the greater the distance between the people who talk to customers, and the people who make the decisions. And that can happen almost without your realising it. So what’s the answer?

In my book, it’s a simple one. Process.

Consider, for example, how much freedom your staff have when they’re talking to customers. If your process is too rigid, the results can be damaging. A friend is still talking about his conversation with an electricity supply company – eight years ago. He called them to help in winding up his late father’s estate. Told them what had happened, and what information he needed. And got a reply straight out of the manual. ‘Oh, I’m sorry.We can only give that information to the customer. Data protection, you know.’ Under the circumstances his answer was surprisingly reasonable. ‘That’ll be a little tricky, because he’s dead!’

Sadly, there are still companies that don’t have a process for dealing with the death of a client. But stories like that do show the risks involved in imposing overly strict protocols. Especially those which insist that customers change their way of working to accommodate your processes.

And that’s mission-critical when you’re talking about disabled customers.

A whole new ball game…

Do you listen to your disabled customers?  Are you legally compliant?

Because Covid-19 has created a whole new group of disabled people – those who are shielding for medical reasons.  And your current working practices may no longer fill the bill.

Just consider this extract from a social media post – from a vulnerable customer dealing with a (perfectly pleasant) staff member. The snag is that the perfectly pleasant staff member is working with a process set by a management team who don’t appear to care about their customers. .

We need to get an engineer out to check it is not the socket.

It wasn’t the socket a year ago, it’s not likely to be the socket now is it?

Well no, but then we would get BT out to check it wasn’t an external issue.

So, can’t we check external first?

That’s not the way we do it.

But the way you do it I can’t do, because I’m shielded.

I understand that. Shall I arrange a refund …

You can write a letter of complaint if you would like.

How would I get the letter to you with no stamps and not allowed out?

How many conversations like that are happening in your business?

Make yours a listening business

So – time for an action plan.

To make yours a listening business you need to take a long, hard look at all your processes. Are they fit for purpose? Properly inclusive? And legally compliant? And could you produce documentation that would prove it?

Do your staff understand any new ways of working? Have they been trained? Can they get the support they need when they’re faced with something unexpected? And do they ask for it?

But above all, do they understand – and deliver – the right behaviours when they’re dealing with customers? Because sometimes even the best processes aren’t quite enough.

The social media post above concluded with a telling comment from the frustrated customer:

At one stage he said “if I wasn’t happy for someone to come out” like this was a choice!

So – do your customers have the choices they need? Choices that actually meet their needs?

Time for a little active listening…?

And there’s no charge if you need some help right now…

These are challenging times – so I am happy to help you review what you do, how you do it, and how you might deal with any glitches. I can do it virtually, via phone calls and online conference software, and I am happy to do it FREE OF CHARGE to help any business in the current situation. Just call 01359 240717 or email kate@businessplumber.co.uk. (You can buy me a coffee some other time…)