The Consultant's Desk

The Consultant's Desk
Poring over the details on your behalf

Monday, December 01, 2008

The Economy Is Here

It was officially announced around 1:30 PM my time. We are in an economic recession. We have been in it for at least the past year. According to the KNX 1070 website nugget:

It's official. The US is in a recession and has been since December. The price of oil slides below 50 dollars a barrel. Stocks sell off, giving back about half of last week's gains. Analysis from Jon Najarian, CNBS contributor and founder of, John Kilduff, VP at MF Global, Dr. Irwin Kellner, chief economist at Marketwatch.

What a revelation! That is essentially the same news (and information) I've been providing you for the past three years.

Backing up this realization is the economic forecast (still to be completely published) I made of the Employment Industry for this year. Pieces of that forecast managed to make it to the light of the Internet in February at sites such as, Associated,, Entrances Forum, and a few other places. The full forecast can be found on the Executive Recruiting Entrances in the Articles section. Watch for the links to go live on this four-part discussion. (Yes, blantant advertising and self promotion.)

KNX 1070 radio news is my sole source of entertainment these days. Therefore, it is also my sole source of audio news. The way they handled why there's been such American oblivion during this time was journalistically professional. They provided snippets of President Bush's statements to the nation over the course of selected time periods throughout these past 12 (to 15) months. At each juncture, Bush says we are doing fine and are not in an economic recession. The nation is economically sound and there is no reason to fear.

Can anyone recall the press conference Bush gave in March 2007? Bush made a statement about the strength of the nation as well as the ability of Americans to avail theirselves of going anywhere they wanted. One of the reporters interrupted the President to ask whether he was aware that gasoline was then nearly $3 per gallon. The President was not aware. In fact, he demanded to know who had put out such information as it simply was not true. Gasoline, on average, was about $2.50 per gallon. This past March Bush was still not willing to admit that gasoline prices were over $3 per gallon and prohibitive to those who are unemployed and seeking work. It was too costly to go to work!

This makes a strong statement about the type and style of leadership under which this nation has struggeled and strived for the past eight years. What's troubling is that as a nation, no one took steps to more than urge our national top employee to take a more cautious and informed look at the situation. No one insisted on better measures to pull things into safer waters. And finally, no one during any of these eight long and arduous years ever took steps to remove the leader who was methodically taking us to the last two inches of the edge of the precipice on which we hang.

It is now time for us to review history. We need to examine the many programs developed by the despised president of the 1930s and replicate some of the infusion methods used then. It is time to look at the person standing before you who wants to work, not the race, gender, sexual preference, neighborhood. Yes, it's definitely prudent to take into consideration education and intelligence. They should be considered in a fair and prudent manner, not with the historic bias that has led us in the past. As I said, it's more than time to look at the person standing before us and consider how many of the tasks that need to be performed, how many of the decisions that need knowledge, experience, and prudence can be performed by that person at an economic price -- that returns value and well being.

But then this reasoning is putting the cart before the horse. I've managed to move from the fact that the weather is a 10-hour hail storm to talking about how to rebuild our house. Time to sit down and catch my breath and thoughts for a moment.

But take heart, my dear readers. It was definitely not your imagination. We are truely in a recession (at best) but we've been in an economic depression for at least one year.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Perspectives on the Incident

Over the past several weeks to two months, it's been my privilege to watch the various reactions as people rush to judgment without investigating. It's amazing what people will do when they hear only one side of an issue and do not hold up to contrast the other person's side of the story and then compare those to what onlookers saw, heard, experienced, and felt. What's also interesting is what comes out when there is no investigation, when there is little investigation, and when there is documented protocol on how to handle things.

No Investigation

What a horrid state of affairs this begets. There's the "victim's" version of what happened. There's the "actor's" version of what they did. Mind you, either of these two roles in many instances can be reversed with regard to the identity of the very same two people. It just depends on who you're talking with first and at what point in time.

Let this situation go on with no investigation and what results is usually called "a mess." There are the hurt feelings of the one who could have been damaged (or was). The shock they endured from either having their privacy invaded or from an actual blow cannot be undone and the redress they seek and do not receive only makes things worse.

Let word of this incident get out (plus the fact that it's gone without resolution) and you've got one humdinger of a gossip mill. The tensions and ill will can mushroom from the gossip alone.

It's imperative that the incident be thoroughly investigated in order to crush the rumor mill and keep the healthy office morale that existed – or else determine what to do now to improve it.

Too Little Investigation

There can be an investigation. Unfortunately, some of these peremptory examinations are biased because the examiner knows one of the parties and is biased toward them in one way or another. The danger is when the examination is conducted without regard to pre-existing relationships. Make certain the potential conflict of interest is minimal to non-existent.

There is a tendency to try to find the most favorable reasoning for the actions of the actor. Very little due diligence is given with regard to the victim's version of what happened. In fact, the victim will be found at fault and very little research into the matter will be attempted.

There’s very little attempt to see the situation from a blank slate nor to reason through some of the explanation in order to see the holes. There is no checklist to remind the investigator of matters that should be check, photographs (or recordings) that should be taken, nor other forms of evidence that should be collected and preserved. Did anyone keep a journal or look for memos and emails that led up to the situation? Also remember the accounts of witnesses who were involved in the situation either marginally or were directly at the scene when something occurred.

Also remember to record whether the witness(es) have some type of pre-existing relationship with either of the parties. When the statements of your witnesses all seem to follow precisely the same theme, consider what the witnesses have in common.

What usually happens in this scenario is that the victim is found at fault. No one follows up with them and they are left in the dark with regard to whether the investigation is ongoing, completed, or whether new questions have been raised and need to be resolved in order to get closer to the truth of what happened.

This can prove to be costly in the long run. The actor will continue on their merry way, feeling completely vindicated and justified in repeating what they've done. They have the impression that they have license to act in the same manner with anyone to the same degree (or more). They have no remorse for their actions because it was not made manifest that they were the source of the wrongdoing.

Meanwhile, the victim is growing increasingly irate because their issues have not been addressed (nor will they ever be). In their estimation, they're being ignored and lessened as both a person and an employee of the company. They will hear only one side of the matter if anything was investigated and begin to wonder when exactly they began losing their mind in regard to seeing black and white because the "wanting" facts of the investigation are so inaccurate and slanted.

The company loses twice on this situation. It loses credibility with those who saw the situation for what it was and realize there was no thorough investigation. It also loses credibility with the victim who will ultimately decide to go to another firm. We will not consider the quality of work product nor goodwill that is lost.

Using Standard Protocol

An up-to-the-minute HR department has the tools it needs to make a thorough investigation. The examiner needs to be astute and thoughtful in regard to human nature (sometimes even psychology) as well as the laws that affect workplace security and safety. It is important to have a checklist of matters that should be discussed and investigated. This checklist has the desirability of leaving nothing to memory as far as what to ask of whom, what still needs to be investigated, as well as periodic (important) reminders of what is being investigated and the significance of what the parties are telling you as you work through the investigation.

This may have been a long-term situation that hit a boiling point. Did either of the parties keep some type of log of their interactions or a paper trail of them? If so, make certain to collect a copy of that log. An ideal situation is when both parties kept such a log or responded to the emails so that there is a record of both voices. Why is it ideal? Over and above the obvious, the log will show the communication styles of both parties. It will also show nuances of speech that can be misinterpreted and where misinterpretations were made, by which party, and when.

Remember the Follow-Up and Closure

There’s nothing quite like having someone square their shoulders to finally make a complaint about a situation and then find they’re getting zero feedback in regard to the progress of the investigation or whether anything at all is being done. It leaves them in a void. With the taint of the old fashioned version of HR (management’s henchman in nice clothing and honey coated voices) is still implanted in the minds of even those in their 30s. It will be quite understandable that when they are living and working in the cone of silence, there will be a sense that everyone in the office is annoyed with their work performance and complaining about it behind their back.

How much isn’t too much? Allow the person filing the complaint to know that the investigation is ongoing. Some additional information has come to light that still needs to be investigated to determine whether it is relevant to the situation and to what degree. If there’s need for additional information from the person who filed the complaint, they will be contacted.

Also provide the person with information about who to contact if they have questions about their performance review. Trust me, they’re wondering and their anxieties are causing their once productive and fertile mind to leap baseball fields with notions of what’s happening.

You may now be wondering where you can find resources to lead you through the clear path to success on this topic. Well, it just happens that I can provide a few for you (and I’d be more than willing to provide a presentation for your company).


Violence in the Workplace (General) - This policy statement article requires membership to the Business & Legal Reports site. I know the content you can expect from this site. It will pay off several times because of the range of information available through them.

Violence Prevention Checklist - From HR Tools, this will require registration with the site in order to access this excellent list of things to consider for workplace violence and many methods to prevent it.

Workplace Violence Checklist - Although it doesn’t directly address the topic of investigating some type of assault, this checklist from Louisiana State University is quite useful. - Produced by Knowledge Point, this press release provides access to some of the resources available on workplace violence, its impact in various terms, and information on how to handle and prevent it. You should check the other resources available on the site.

Friday, October 03, 2008

A Clearly Written, Accurate Report

Communications are extremely important among us. When they're verbal, our listening skills are tested to the nth degree. Our recall of what was said, the meaning of the terms used, and the order of any instructions given all have significance.

If the communication is written, it has even more enduring life and reference. Using the wrong term to identify someone or something could lead to a lot of misunderstanding, make follow-up actions go the wrong way, and even damage reputations for a very long time.

For those of you who are astrology aficianados, you already know that Mercury is in retrograde. Just to fill you in (in case you're not an astrology nut), when Mercury is in retrograde, communications are extremely poor. Contracts entered into at this time will be done improperly and need to be redone. Telephone tag is the name of the game. Electronic devices will malfunction. And communication life will be in chaos until Mercury goes direct -- about six weeks later.

With this in mind, imagine how interesting it was for me to find an official report written by a government employee. There seemed to be a sincere effort to bring truth and justice to those involved, but when the report was read with an active reader's mind, some major questions kept coming up and the credibility of the one giving the report was tolled. Here's an example:

"The vict and the susp were engaged in a verbal dispute."

I talked with someone at the scene. What was reported was that the victim was engaged in a conversation with a visitor and telling anecdotes about things that had happened at the residence over time. One anecdote involved the suspect. The suspect became annoyed at the revelation of the grossness of their behavior and made a threat. The victim challenged the suspect to follow through on the threat.

"The vict then began to strike the vict approx 10 times with her fists to victs face."

This sentence makes any reader want to know why the "victim" began striking herself and especially why so many times. Well, there are masochists and people who will do whatever is necessary in order to obtain pain killer medication. Perhaps that was the reason the victim was striking herself in the face so many times. According to the person who witnessed the incident, it was the suspect who began shouting threats; she was not being threatened. It was the suspect who began the verbal altercation. Instead of walking away from the challenge to live up to her boasts, the suspect decided to use brute force hit the victim.

"The vict fell down and the susp continued to punch and kick the vict."

At least there's helpfulness at this site. Wasn't it nice that even though the victim finally knocked herself down from pummeling herself, the suspect was willing to continue the beating, as well as kicking her. That is true generosity.

Well, it looks like things turned from being self flagellation to a multiple personality free-for-all. If that's the case, don't go to the place where this incident occurred. You won't know which personality you're dealing with nor which will be present. Not only that, if it's the masochistic one (or the multiple one), they're liable to pull you into the frey.

Unfortunately, this report was not written with care and little attention to accuracy. As you may gather, neither of the parties were in a position to proofread what was written and ask for corrections to the narrative. If the victim is looking for redress and credibility, her ability to get either are squelched. It isn't terribly clear who was assaulting whom. Except for the labels, it sounds as though only one person was attacked and a bystander was the one who perpetuated the it.

Mercury is in retrograde for six weeks. It went into this phase on September 17. Until it goes direct, double check your written reports, be careful of using run-on sentences, and strive to be as clear and accurate as is possible. Remember, your report will govern how others respond.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Outsourcing Considerations

Sometimes one small thing is the reason a great function will fail. Some of us remember the Challenger's fatal take-off. The ship, all of its crew and cargo were lost on the lift-off pad because of one loose screw. And the screw was left loose because there was no double check and no one thought it was that big of a deal. But it's the small things that are the fly in the pudding.

A fellow commuter was having more than the usual difficulties this weekend because his Transit Access Pass ("TAP") card wouldn't be accepted. He'd just loaded it with sufficient funds to last through Monday. Still, the card was repeatedly rejected on the last bus he attempted to ride. He had to debark and was determined to test the card on another bus.

However, while waiting for the next bus, he made several calls, one to the company that produces the TAP cards and then to Metropolitan Transit Authority ("MTA") Customer Service.

What the commuter learned was MTA outsources production and maintenance of the TAP system to a vendor. That vendor does not have Customer Support on weekends nor during evening hours but MTA passengers commute at those times as well as during normal business hours. Since it was the weekend, the commuter had no one to turn to at the vendor’s office in order to gain information, support, and solutions. He called MTA's Customer Support as an alternative.

It was admirable how well the man handled each phone call. He asked critical thinking questions of each person with whom he spoke and then asked logical follow-up questions to ensure he had all of the correct information. But MTA did not have good news for him. Their Customer Support is not associated with the vendor and could not step into the vendor's shoes in order to remedy the customer's problem with the card.

This was proving to be a very frustrating situation for the customer. He needed assistance, he required instructions on how to remedy his state of affairs, and there was no one available during these "off hours" who could competently provide that support.

While MTA may have outsourced their TAP program and maintenance to this vendor for a really great up-front price, the costs of having MTA Customer Support explain to passengers that there is no support available during evenings and weekends for TAP need to be factored back into the cost equation. Another cost that needs to be factored back in is the cost of lost revenues from false rejections. And that in turn requires factoring in the cost of lost customers and goodwill. In the long run, this outsourced service could be extremely costly.

This shows us that even though we're busily thinking about the most cost effective way of doing business and saving dollars that can ultimately be passed on to customers in the form of lower prices, we also need to take into consideration when our customers will be using the product or service and whether they will be able to get support when they need it – not at the vendor's convenience.

You may want to add that to your checklist of questions:

"Do you have customer support for this product/service?"

"Is the support 24/7? If not, when is it available?"

Monday, June 16, 2008

Glorious Exits

Tim Russert died this past Friday. In spite of his hard work and the fact that he'd just commenced his 58th year of life, he looked pretty good. His death did not have the impact on me that some other journalists' had. But his tributes and memorials collect the same stories as his predecessors about being in the trenches, collecting the story that could not have been were it not for his/her conviction, the gripping interviews, attention to high journalistic standards, and so on.

I admired Tim Russert's skills as a journalist, TV moderator, speaker, and all the other attributes that went with his talents. But for the breadth of experience and talents, for the constant push toward a higher standard and the setting of new goals, for his desire to expand and increase the desire to know on the part of the information-consuming public, I still admire people such as Peter Jennings, and the legions of other journalist legends such as Walter Cronkite, Frank Reynolds, Charlayne Hunter-Gault, to name a few.

Knowing his ailment as intimately as I do, it is quite easy to identify with the footage his brain recorded in those last minutes, the thoughts and concerns about what he was doing and how to keep the flow of the work product moving to fruition. I know these things because Russert and I had the same standards. No matter what else, the product needs to be delivered. No matter what's happening, the public deserves to be as informed and educated as possible so that they are not making blind decisions.

Russert was also a journalist who stood his ground when he felt he was right about a particular slant. How well I remember the email that was sent to both his station (KNBC) as well as one of his competitors (KABC) that threatened to no longer watch his show if he continued to plunge viewers into yet another hour of Clinton horror reportage rather than cover the multifoliate issues impacting the U.S. domestic and foreign policy, and more. Russert chose to continue the Clinton coverage while his competitors re-integrated the political news of many perspectives back into their Sunday programming. It was his right to make the decision and it showed that he was a journalist who did not bend to pressure for the sake of pressure.

But the thing that most makes me want to stand and salute this excellent journalist is the one that many will take for granted. He died in one of the most glorious ways possible. He died while fully engaged in his greatest passion -- doing his work. How many of us will be able to say we died with a smile on our face because we were doing what we enjoyed most -- our work? That is definitely a glorious exit.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Case Study: The Nebulous Barista

One of the greatest challenges any person can experience is what to do when presented with a potential conflict of interest situation. It first has to be identified as a potential conflict of interest. If it can go either way, the consultant (or any other business person) must have a thorough and honest assessment of their own self in order to determine whether they are capable of putting aside their personal feelings in order to deliver a fair and balanced assessment of the situation and then make reliable recommendations.

I've never faced this sort of challenge in any of my business or consulting career until in the last six months or so. I was in a relationship with "Martin" and it had pretty much become public. Knowing my business identity as a management and career consultant, all three of his shift supervisors, during conversations on different days about various and sundry topics, broached the subject of Martin and what a great worker he is. The only perplexing issue for all three of them is what to do about him. He's max'd out on what he's qualified to do for the company yet he has talents that are not being tapped. Everyone is losing. They (all three) wanted to know what they can do to help Martin.

In the first two conversations, I promised I would think about the situation and get back to them. With the third, I began to question myself on the conflict of interest matter. "Can I put aside my personal feelings in order to deliver a reliable, independent recommendation about this?" I asked myself. It was a legitimate concern and one on which my reputation as a person capable of doing an accurate assessment and analysis rode.

One of my strong suits is taking a clinical look at a situation in order to see the various issues impacting it. A colleague recently commented on how careful and detailed my analyses of situations are and how well they make plain the issues that are buried in the tangle of each situation. Even when it's something about my own personality, I'm very strict with my assessment, analysis, and corrective measures. I finally responded to the third supervisor that I could do the assessment (that is, I could maintain an independent perspective of the subject) but it would need to be on a consultative basis, not as one-on-one training. She was satisfied with that response but we did not explore any other details.


Martin started with the company in the lowest entry position possible. He is smart. He knows the way to keep a job is to do one's work well, thoroughly and in a timely fashion, without being told to do so two or three times.

He is a willing worker. No matter what the task, he is available to carry out the steps to bring it to fruition. He does not grouse or grumble. But he is bored. Thus, when I met him two years ago, nearly anything could distract him -- mostly the women. He began to find my table on a frequent basis. He began providing little extra services. Eventually, he was given a timer so that he could remember when it was time to recommence his cycle of duties. The timer worked.

All three of his shift supervisors agreed on one aspect of Martin. He's reliable. "I know that if I assign something to Martin, I don't have to think about it again. I can rely on him to get it done and done the right way." It was as though the three had read these words from a script because each one said exactly the same thing about him.

But the company had determined that in fairness to all employees, it was no longer going to have a custodial position. Instead, everyone would pitch in on maintenance; everyone would have their day at the bar. Therefore, Martin's world broadened because he needed to learn names and preparation of drinks. He became more engaged in his work, happier and more productive. His ceiling was raised.

Previous Work Experience

About a year ago, Martin shared with me information about his education and work he did in his native country. He talked about some of his personal responsibilities and his interests; he shared several of his interests with me. Unfortunately, what he spoke of as his previous occupation and education did not match the capabilities he exhibited. I have reservations about his representations in this regard. It seems to me he was attempting to impress me in order to gain more favorable attention and reception.

His lack of facility in English was plainly why he had not followed his previous alleged profession here in the United States. If he was telling the truth, he is drastically under employed and doing himself a mortal disservice by staying in his present position without seeking some type of promotion. However, this is by personal choice and necessity. During private conversations (before the meetings with the supervisors), I suggested to him that he consider taking one or two evening classes, even an ESL class. He declined the suggestions by saying he did not have enough time to attend the classes.

Martin enjoys reading. He is a wealth of information that he yearns to share with others but is constrained from doing so because of his position and his language deficiency. He would do well in training others. In fact, he is usually the one who trains the new employees about the various housekeeping duties of the store. He is conscientious and thorough. Unfortunately, he gets a little confused about co-worker congeniality compared with romantic overtures and requires constant reminders that "it's called training."

Another thing that didn't match his purported past with his current environment was the ability to deal with people. True enough, he serves people with courtesy. And in accordance with the theme of the company, he makes you feel as though you're at home.

However, Martin's previous occupation involved explaining concepts to others, making plain those concepts that are difficult to grasp, and getting people to talk to one another. He would have been responsible for negotiating deals and bargaining with others. He would have been deeply immersed in long and complicated conversations about complex subjects. These conversations would have droned on until there was resolution, the parties saw eye to eye, and all was plain.

Martin is good at talking to people but not in confrontational situations and not when negotiations are required. When hostility rears its ugly head, Martin backs down and looks for an ally to come to his defense. In the past, Martin has shared stories with me about the hostile customer who did not receive their drink as quickly as they desired or the drink did not meet with their approval. Although we attempted to rehearse some of the scenarios, he declined on the basis that rehearsal was unnecessary. Likewise, we attempted to come up with negotiated resolutions. These failed because he was seeking someone to step on his behalf rather than seeking a way to amicably resolve the situation on his own.

This reticence to discuss and resolve carries over into other situations. In the long run, it is ultimately discovered that the reason for the conflict (lack of seeing eye to eye) is because of a misinterpretation from one language to the other. Clarifying questions and answers would have resolved the tension.

Assessment and Recommendations

Even though Martin's representations about his background and work experience do not match his current behavior, he is a dedicated, diligent, and reliable worker. He will continue in his present position (or some form of it) for as long as he desires to work for the company.

If Martin wants to advance in the company, there are requirements for reaching each new position in order to qualify for it. It is mandatory that he fulfill those prerequisites and stop avoiding them. He constrains his own opportunities with his reticence to face new and greater challenges. He also retards his growth with his refusal to accept responsibility for his acts.

Martin needs to realize that flirting is not a synonym for customer cordiality. He would do well to continue to offer a pleasant smile and attentive service. But outright flirting with the female customers is not necessary.

Although AB 1855 only requires training supervisorial staff on the issues of sexual harassment, it would be well for all personnel to receive some training so that they have some concept of where the line is and when they may be crossing it or inviting someone to do so. Again, a person with the previous work experience that Martin represents he has would appreciate the differences and be capable of accurately identifying the behavior, no matter where the source that gives rise to it.

He would do well to learn more about the names and attributes of products, correct spellings, prices, and proper display. He should be trained on all aspects of front counter service and become involved in delivering service in that area so that he becomes a completely well-rounded employee.

It would be wise to train Martin on how to handle hostility in the workplace whether it occurs between employees, employees and customers, between customers. It would also be helpful to train him on how to handle the scene when it appears there will be an attempted robbery and how to recognize a developing dangerous condition.

Martin's greatest shortcoming is communication skills. He needs training in how to have a conversation about misunderstandings rather than blame others for mistakes or allow problems to fester because of lack of communication. Still, communication skills is a broad term and only scratches at the surface of the root issue. Martin's skill in spoken English is poor and retards his progress in everything he endeavors to do. He should be supported in taking an English as a Second Language course so that he may master his vocabulary recall and fluidity of speech.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Case Study: The Sleaze Factory

What does the atmosphere of your business say about your environment? In fact, it's worthwhile to consider what you want it to convey to those who use it. Some businesses want to project a very conservative and professional image. Consider a law office, dental practice, or a traditional university as examples. Others want to provide a comfortable environment, some sparked with a little fun and liveliness, others just a relaxing spot to be while attending to the many things that need attention.

In the past, I've spoken of Starbucks as "the pub." I saw it as the place where a great cross-section of humanity congregates for various types of social activities, as well as drinking coffee. It's a community where all of the occupants can interact with one another or not. It's intent is to project comfort and a home away from home atmosphere. But I saw Starbucks as more on the equivalent of the pub because of the myriad of things that go on there.

Dates are had there, without the need to tidy up the living room. Study sessions are fantastic at Starbucks because of the convenience of the amenities. It's the break-up place and the place to go before or after a special event -- or to celebrate an event. The community entrepreneurs come to one of my regular spots and hawk their wares by way of allowing the "prospects" to play the game and then take home their own package for more fun. The community oddity (there are actually about three or four who are at various grades of) also shows up each day and does whatever it is he does. I call him "Cousin Randy" (given name is artificial for privacy) because we all have one at home. Families come for an evening's treat and to relax. It's a pub.

For a time, I enjoyed my regular haunts and the personalities that populated them. But one in particular started changing last year. It was probably due to the fact that much of the regular crowd graduated, got jobs, and no longer needed Starbucks as a place to study. The new crop began to filter in and develop their habits. The remnants of the previous existence absorbed and accepted and kept ploughing through their own particular endeavors. The comfortable yet serious atmosphere began being pushed aside in deference to men (more than usual) who came -- on the prowl for single women. In addition, the more coarse part of the population grew. Along with their numbers, so grew the amount of vandalism and small children who were out of control. But back to the salivating men.

Some were outrageously obvious about their intent. The unrefined compliments were very thinly veiled. They interrupted reading in order to make mindless conversation. They flirted while ignoring the earplugs worn by their target. Even after the significance of the earplugs was explained, they persisted in raising a conversation with the woman wearing earplugs who was studying for the next class or test. Some boasted about the size of their laptop and then wondered whether anyone else would be intimidated by the size. There was an obvious subliminal message there and being the closest who could comment, I soundly assured the speaker that his size was definitely not the put-off.

On some evenings, the house had three or four of these Romeos plying their way through the sheaves of single women -- make that "young, single" women, knocking anything and everything near them over so that they could collect the email address or phone number that was not to be produced, and ignoring all forms of professionalism as well as common courtesy. And it seemed this was the atmosphere that Starbucks wanted to project because by Thanksgiving and Christmas, the partners roamed among the patrons asking them what they were going to be doing for the holiday. It's an innocent enough question. But when it comes out of the blue or not in context with anything else that's happening, it definitely makes a person wonder why the subject should come up at all (and was the young man asking for a date?). So the lounge lizard activities were being supported by the proprietors.

The lack of professionalism in The Pub grew. The acts of vandalism grew. The unruly children, the shrieking babies and toddlers being allowed to be out of control, the uncivilized acts, grew like rising yeast bread. It was finally obvious that the particular Starbucks had become the haven for the lower middle class that attempted to fool theirselves into believing their behavior was refined. But it was apparent that the class of people were going nowhere except down with the ship.

Distain for others wasn't even thinly veiled. Cutting and insulting observations were vocalized. Certain ones were treated as though their time was not valued and could be frittered away with inpunity. And why not? These were only old people who had too much time on their hands and lots of time to waste while they waited for something better.

This is a toxic environment. It will either consume everyone in it or it will be cleansed. Things came to a head about two weeks ago when one of the prowlers was asked about his business. He coughed a response, trying not to admit that his business is not doing well. But when a mature woman asked him about his business and a brochure, he spat back bile, his brochures were only given to those who could use them and who were likely to do business with him.

Yes, it was a teaching moment. He was told that the person asking the second question was in a position to make him a speaker for their group (potential business contacts). There was a clarifying moment when, after being carefully questioned, he admitted that he had no regard for the person who addressed him. In fact, in his opinion, they were only at Starbucks to waste time. He was told his attitude showed.

Now it may seem that this is turning into a he said/she said. But it isn't. That was an epiphanatic moment. No one else had taken the time to defend their selves or acts. And in addition to stating their capacity and capabilities, the speaker made the trowler aware of just how coarse his behavior had been -- but with tact.

I've been away from Starbucks for about 1.5 weeks since that night. What a difference in atmosphere since then! The sleaze factor has dissipated. Although it does come up in the evening, it isn't as strong a previously observed. In fact, the house has returned to its previous ambiance of serious individuals focused on work and work- or study-related endeavors. Familial chit chat and proper conversations flow. The families still find it a refuge for an evening's macchiato, latte, mocha, frappucino (with extra caramel and whipped cream, please). But the children are well behaved, disciplined, and supervised.

No longer are chairs whipped away from tables because the individual wants it for their own purposes. Asking whether the chair is available, or the space at the table has returned to being the practice. People are treated with respect and mindfulness of the value of other's time is taken into consideration. There is no longer continuous pounding on the only bathroom door and snide comments about how long the person inside the room is taking have abated. An air of civilization has returned. This is healthy. After all, this particular Starbucks is just up the street from Galen Center.

Perhaps management didn't notice that the little things were slipping in, like small rocks and pebbles, to erode what was a very good thing. Since there was a gap in time, there's no telling what happened that pressed the evolution back into the normalcy of a year and a half before. But it is no longer the ghetto Starbucks that it was becoming. And I believe, considering its position next to such a prestigious university, that is exactly the change that management wanted to achieve.

There was news that Starbucks is laying off 600 of its office employees in order to cut costs. It is implementing other strategic competitive moves to emphasize its dedication to serving a great cup of coffee to its patrons and delivering good customer service. Given that good customer service does not include pick-up lines such as "What are you doing this evening?" I'd say this refocus is healthy.

The other thing that happened in that 1.5 week interval was the countrywide training Starbucks did on February 26. The partners were excited for days after and twittered about how it was the first time they had an opportunity to actually sit with their co-workers at the same table and talk with them. They enjoyed learning the essentials of brewing and roasting, serving and combining in order to deliver a good cup of coffee. Somewhere, I heard a supervisor say something about learning how to actually wash the implements rather than merely rinse. All will be part of the training process.

Maybe that was what happened -- a refocus. But the refocus would not have touched the customers to the point of behavioral change. There was more that happened that caused the metamorphosis. And at this point in time, I'm glad to say it's once again the type of Starbucks a professional would want to use for studying, fine tuning a report, getting work done, or just going to The Pub.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Thriving on Challenges

It's time to be reflective and introspective. It's also time to be retrospective, that is to say, look back on the events of these past 365 days and put together the pieces so that there is a rhyme and reason to all of the activity, the comings and goings, the planning and executing, being accepted or not.

The single most continuous factor in this year has been challenge. In this instance, I speak of challenge in the context of a difficulty in a job or undertaking that is stimulating to one engaged in it. It forces us to meet the test or else fail. But Life is like a wheel in regard to challenges. Although we will reach an apex at one point, we will then sink from that height, whether from falling action or from failure, and continue to rotate until we come upon the same situation again in a new way and in another place, but still basically the same test to challenge our skills. And it is our ability to survive and pass the test that spells success as well as moving on to another level of challenges that will push our thinking, creativity, resourcefulness in order to claim a new victory with the arsenal of skills and talents that we amass as we move along our Life path.

The interesting thing about failing a challenge is that most of us get curious about what might have occurred had we succeeded. What's on the other side of the challenge and what is in the reward? Sometimes it's intangible. It lends itself to being able to communicate with others more effectively or to see the circumstances of others in an enlightened manner. We no longer need to judge another because we've developed an empathy with the person or the situation. There's better comprehension of more that's involved and we have a flavor of the dynamics against which the other is contending.

That taste of the potential victory spurs us to try again. We are in a position to appreciate the challenge we just faced because of the initial involvement. We realize how much more was involved in order to achieve success, even though we may not yet have a full sense of all that is necessary for that final conquer. Some of us analyze what we experienced, step by step, piece by piece, to determine what happened at each juncture, looking at what the various alternatives would have yielded had we moved in one direction rather than another. Just imagining this tends to get us excited, spurring us to leap to the next opening with enthusiasm. Just one more chance and it can be done. There'll be success!

And the curiosity spurs another aspect that can lead to development of even more skills -- creating alternatives. We create alternative methods of regaining the opportunity to face the challenge that will lend opportunity to do the next level of functions. Alternatives can be more than just maneuvering to be in the right place at the right time. Alternatives can also build new ways of overcoming old situations. Perhaps instead of climbing over the mountain, it is possible to tunnel through or under it, or simply go around it. Having executed any of the alternatives, even more perspectives are revealed to us. We learn more about the available terrain and its attributes -- the advantages and the recourses.

Welcome the Challenges

You expect me to say we should welcome challenges. I won't disappoint you. Without challenge, there's a life led in a static state. Challenges inspire and teach. Yes, to be certain, they are difficult. But what good comes from something that's a constant cake walk? We take the fruit for granted and don't appreciate any of what went into the development and gaining of the reward. We don't appreciate the knowledge that resulted from the experience. In fact, it's tossed aside like a gum wrapper so we can latch onto something that seems to hold more value in many ways. The resulting aptitude is something that is put off for another day. We don't stay as far ahead of the pack as we could without the challenges; we don't inspire others to push to be their full and best selves.

It's also important to enjoy the results of the challenge -- the victory. It's imperative to take the time to absorb who we were before the challenge and what we have become, what we have accomplished because of it. Most importantly, it'/////s absolutely necessary to see what we have done if physical representation is possible. Otherwise, it will feel as though we've simply been taking one step after a mindless next one. Sense and see the change in order to allow it to become part of who you are and spur even more growth.

Perhaps that one word is what challenge is all about -- growth. With everything in this and all other universes, the other constant is growth in order to extend the civilization, species, existence, and progress. To stop growing is to stop living. To stop growing is to stagnate and die because you become useless and rusty.

Desire for growth is healthy. Its seed is the curiosity that was addressed earlier. Repetition isn't necessary. Just a reminder that it behooves us to get curious about things and challenge ourselves to find the answer, find a new way, a better way, an improved way. And once those new things are developed, we should be mindful to evaluate all of them individually and against one another to determine whether there was in fact improvement or just a lot of flurry and activity for the sake of being in a state of agitation. Purposefulness is important to curiosity and growth.

Opening Doors

At the end of all of these activities and efforts, we should find that we are able to open more doors -- doors to Opportunity. Additionally, as we open one door of opportunity, it should then lead to another challenge that contains the seeds of the unknown and the budding of curiosity about the potentials that lead to success and yet another door to another opportunity.


So as we begin this year 2008, may you have many challenges that you meet with success by satisfying your curiosity about the potentials and alternatives. And may those challenges be filled with an endless hall of Doors of Opportunity.