Monday, February 23, 2009

The negative effects of fear

The Negative effects of fear
I just attended the National Speakers Association winter meeting in Orlando, Florida. It was held in the beautiful Coronado Springs Hotel and watching the whole Disney environment, how they treat people and how they have perfected the art and science of customer service to a new level, it is really a refreshing experience.
Just checking in, an elderly couple, checking in at the same time, wanted a king size bed because of health reasons. They were given two double beds and that wouldn’t work with them. The front desk people were trying to accommodate them and they even called the night manager to do so. They simply didn’t have any available, the hotel was full and what I did was to offer my king size bed to them because they needed it more than I did. I was alone in my room and a double bed works just as well as a king size.
It turned out that just as we were doing the room change, a room with a king bed showed up and I didn’t have to give up my own room. That evening I got a bouquet of fruits in my room as a thank you gesture.
There were three of us from Puerto Rico in the meeting, one of us, being a very distinguished lady I can’t reveal the name because I have not cleared it with her. It would be wonderful if this lady embraces the speaking profession because I am sure she can do lots of good in the world, especially in women’s issues. The point is, we need to find a way to get more people from Puerto Rico involved in TED and in NSA. To be involved in TED, you can be in any profession but in NSA, it is only open to people that speak and want to be professional speakers. So, let’s open an NSA chapter in Puerto Rico. Those interested, please email me so that we can get the ball rolling.
My term as a director of NSA is up in July and for next year’s board we don’t have a single Hispanic in the board. There is one African American and the rest are Caucasians. We need more balance in every single board of directors in the United States.
To spend three days with professional speakers is a refreshing experience. People are optimistic and they look at the bright side of things.
We were all talking and discussing possibilities, either using technology, new marketing techniques, customer service approaches and even how to manage your finances.
One speaker said that if people had read my marshmallow book and applied it, we would not be in the financial mess that we are in now. Very nice of that speaker to say that.
I have written before that we are in a recession and in PR we have been in one for the last three years. While recessions tend to generate bad news and a feeling that we may never get out of the recession and a deeper bottom is still in the near future, the same thing happens when things are good. When things were rosy and the stock market and real estate prices were going up, the press believed that the market was going to keep going up and real estate prices would go north too. Reporters and newscasters thought that we would never have a recession.
The same thing happens with humans. When we are high we believe it will never go away and the poor folks who suffer from depression will express that the dominant feeling of depression is that it will never go away. It must be accepted, though, that paying attention to the negative news may make us more likely to take actions that will help secure us.
Ironically, that behavior of saving, cutting back on expenses, watching carefully what you do with your money, makes the recession to prolong and go deeper. Yes, it is a complex situation and some say it is a catch 22.
From the employee’s point of view, this uncertainty engenders insecurity. What will happen to my bank? What will happen to my organization or to my business? Will I have a job if things get tougher? The reaction is that they continue plodding along, not taking risks and throwing creative thinking out of the window. Some will try to stay in the safety and sanctuary of their corporate jobs despite the fact that they hate their jobs or that security no longer exists even in the largest corporations in the world. Look at Citibank, GM, Chrysler, even Starbucks and almost all pharmaceuticals. Every one of them firing employees left and right.
A number of studies have confirmed that at least 35% of our workforce is unhappy. A social network analyst, Scott DeGraffenreid has labeled this phenomenon as “warm chair attrition”. The sad part is these employees collect paychecks, take up space and infect their fellow employees. Employers might think things are going well if they don’t lose employees but the bottom line is that disaffected employees are not productive and in the particular situation we find ourselves in now, we need, more than ever, creative, productive employees.
CEO’s and Presidents of companies are now more careful in their expansion plans, if any, and they go into a short thinking mentality. They want to protect next quarter’s bottom line but this is not conducive to long term profitability. The victims of their short term thinking, often, are the previously engaged employees, who are most of the time overworked and they will respond by not giving their one hundred per cent effort and leaving when a better opportunity shows up.
So, what is behind this volatility and how does the future look?
It is immaterial what I think. The cards are already on the table. President Obama already signed the 787 billion give away and now we have to wait to see if it works.
There are arguments in favor of what he did and arguments against. I am not too comfortable with this action; I am more of a free market mentality, harsher punishment for corruption and less intervention by the government.
But, just like if we were playing basketball, the coach decided on a play and we as the players must try to execute the play the best we can or the opponent will kick our butts.
Let’s go out and play our best in this economy, or we might lose the game and that will be very sad.

Some people, especially in Wall Street, just don

Some people, especially in Wall Street, just don’t get it

Everyone knows and you hear it every day, in elevators social clubs, in companies and in the street. Things are very tough, we are in a recession, we going down the tubes, and we won’t make it and all kinds of pessimistic comments.

You would think that under these conditions, people would work harder, longer hours, sacrifice more and do whatever is needed to make an extra buck. Is it happening?

I don’t think so; at least that has been my experience.

For example, yesterday I went at 2.30pm to a gas station in Loiza Street to get oil and filter change. The guy at the garage said that he couldn’t take more cars because it was Saturday and the employees had to leave.

I went to a tire store close to Pepin’s in Isla Verde and they told me the same thing. “No, we can’t do it today”.
On neither place was there an attempt to get my business or to satisfy my need as a client. They couldn’t care less if I needed the work to be done for whatever reason. As it turns out, I am leaving to Los Angeles tomorrow and I wanted the oil change done on Saturday.

Wouldn’t you expect some sense of urgency from people in the world of business especially when the economy is hurting?

I have a friend that just cancelled her cellular phone because the company she was with never treated her well, over charged her, didn’t want to explain in detail how they went about charging her and simply made no effort to keep the account.

Should we blame the employees, the managers or leaders for this kind of behavior?

Probably all three but the bulk of the responsibility lays in the leaders shoulders. You lead by example and by making clear what the expectations are and if in your outfit things are not getting done, or customers are not well taken care of, you need to find out why and do something about it.

On the national front, I need to make a few points in this article.

First of all, I have never been in favor of government intervention, I am a believer in free markets, global trade, freedom for people to do their thing without constraints.

I have great admiration for Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. Both of them were not perfect and had some personal flaws like all of us. But if we could reincarnate them into some of our leaders, I think we would be in much better shape.

Let’s take Thomas Jefferson as an example in today’s article.

He said, “The two enemies of the people are criminals and government, so let’s tie the second down with the chains of the constitution so the second will not become the legalized version of the first.”

I want all of you my dear readers to think about what he said and apply it to what is happening today.

How about this one: “I think we have more machinery of government than is necessary, too many parasites living on the labor of the industrious”.

And the last one: The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not”.

I am concerned that all the money being given away might not be the right prescription for our problems. I am not an economist so I am not the best judge of what is happening but it does concern me for obvious reasons.

I don’t know all the details or the reasons why, but it is upsetting at first glance that a company, a large bank that I don’t need to mention its name, that lost 19 billion dollars in a year could still pay its employees billions in bonuses and believe it or not, some of the employees are upset because they didn’t get a big enough bonus.

Since President Obama took office, more than 500,000 thousand people have lost their jobs. To be fair, he inherited this mess, it is not his fault. This week, US companies announced somewhere around 65,000 people getting fired. Even mighty, creative and successful Microsoft is cutting jobs.
Even those with jobs worry about their futures, their 401(k) plans have been reduced tremendously.
This is why companies that have taken money from the government can’t pay bonuses to their employees, it sends the wrong message.
Doesn’t Wall Street get it? Are they living in another world? Are they dumb or they simply can’t accept reality?

So, even though I don’t know if Thomas Jefferson would have approved, I agree with President Obama’s press conference where he looked at the camera and said to Wall Street referring to the bonuses, “This is the height of irresponsibility. It is shameful”.

After giving so much money to Wall Street after they asked for help, for fear that “the entire system could come down on top of our heads”, he said the government had a right to expect from Wall Street that they would “show some restraint and show some discipline and show some sense of responsibility”.

We are all in this boat together and we must all row in the right direction.
I hope that, although I have not agreed with what the government is doing, it works and I am proven wrong.

If what we are doing now doesn’t work, it will make things much worse and we should expect unemployment to climb to double digits in the US and high teens, maybe worse here in Puerto Rico. When government prints money for the sake of printing it and that money is not based on increased production, we might dig ourselves deeper in the hole.

The debt trap remains a major reason why poor countries remain poor and are unable to get out of poverty. What makes us think that rich countries can’t fall into this same trap and turn themselves into poor countries?

Simon Bolivar the liberator of the Andean Spanish colonies said “I despise debt more than I do the Spanish; it threatens the independence that cost so much in blood”.

On a positive note, people that control their expenses, have a liquid position, look for opportunities and take advantage of them will do well in the coming years. Timing is the name of the game, the right timing of course.

Innovate or die

Innovate or die

I am right now on board an American Airlines plane on my way to San Juan, Puerto Rico.
I am coming from Cancun, Mexico where I spoke at the annual convention of a well known insurance company serving the Latin American market.
This company understands the need to have their associates motivated and mentally alert in order to be able to seize opportunities in the market they service.
They were willing to fly 200 people to the HN Riviera Maya resort in Cancun, all expenses paid and to hire me to talk to their people.

This company understands that when things are tough, you need to, more than ever, be aggressive in the marketplace so as to increase market share left behind by timid companies that do the opposite, cut back, allow customer service to deteriorate and lose clients to the more proactive companies.

They introduced several very innovative products, with clearly differentiating features and benefits so as to help their salespeople approach clients serviced by competitors and yank them away.
I overheard a conversation by a couple of associates, one telling the other one that he was ready to go back to his country to sign up an account that he knew that their vendor couldn’t do what this new product would do for them.

I had long conversations with the CEO of this company and he is a man who feels passion for what he does and understands what needs to be done to be successful in an uncertain market.
He gave a welcoming address the day before I spoke where he told everyone that they should not be limited by their negative thoughts and that they should look at the mirror and that if the mirror doesn’t reflect a positive, full of energy person, you need to change and change fast.
He knows that now, more than ever, leaders must win not only the minds of their followers, but also their hearts. In other words, he must enter their hearts before he enters their mind.
At one point in the speech, he had his wife and six children go up in the stage and he introduced them one by one. He also has told his people that he really wants to have ten children in total, in other words, four more.
What is he accomplishing by doing this?
First of all, he is putting a human face to a company, he is communicating the fact that he has a family, that he wants his family to be well taken care of and that he will do anything within his means to reach his goals. The only way he can do this is if his people are successful, so right there and then, he has his people thinking that he will be fair, honest, trustworthy, creative and innovative in order for the company to be successful so that all involved can win.
Why did he tell them that he wanted four more children?
Subliminally he is selling the idea that the reason he wants to have more children is because he knows that the company will be successful and he will be able to provide for them. If he was pessimistic about the future, he would not have more children.

In the hallways I heard people talking about his speech and how they had been touched by his sincerity and his willingness to involve his family in the business.

By the way, it was the first time in my career that I have a three year old child, one of this gentleman’s children, sit for one and a half hour, and paying attention to everything I said. I was giving a speech for adults and yet this kid was soaking it all in, at the tender age of three.
I later made a comment to his father about this and he said that he was also surprised that his son had stayed until the end and that it seemed he was enjoying the speech quite a bit.

I had a chance to talk to some of the people that represented a few of the countries attending the convention.
The Venezuelans are scared to death with the situation in their country. They understand that they have a president that wants to stay in power forever and become a dictator. They were hopeful that their referendum on February 15th will be won by the opposition and that the president will not be able to stay forever. They are also feeling the new limit of $2500 dollars they can spend when they travel abroad. It used to be $5,000 just a few weeks ago. Oil prices are down, productivity has decreased quite a bit and they know that tough times are ahead. They have learned, though, to survive with what they have and to understand their reality.
The Ecuadorians are really worried about their country with oil prices coming down and their perception that their president is aligning himself with the left in Latin America instead of with the successful countries such as Chile and Colombia. They all believed the dollar should be the country’s currency.

The Panamanians feel that their economy is still strong but the bubble has finally hit them. The rampant speculation in real estate taking place these last few years has come to a halt and prices are coming down rather quickly. Lots of people that have deposits on properties hoping that they were going to sell those options for a higher price are going to have to let them go at a loss. Not the time to buy a property there yet.

In general, there is a lot of worry about the current state of affairs worldwide. However, after listening to the CEO and to myself, they had renewed hope and they understood that crises or no crises, they can be successful if they do what they need to do.

I landed in Miami to go through customs and to connect to this flight I am in now and it is the first time in my career, going back 30 years that I get to the immigration line in Miami and there wasn’t one single passenger in line. I was the first one out of my flight but there was no one from any other flight standing in line. This was very scary and I even mentioned it to the immigrations officer. He said that after the holidays, things had slowed down considerably. Keep in mind that Miami is one of the top 5 airports in the States in volume of passengers.

Yes, things are tough but if you understand the situation, look for ways to serve your clients that will differentiate you from the competition, eliminate unnecessary expenses and watch your cash flow carefully; you should be able to emerge from this crisis stronger than you were before.