The Ultimate Question

Posted in Big Thought by Harsha on December 15, 2010

I was recently referred the book The Ultimate Question by a senior executive at my employer and found myself completely reprogrammed about customer service. That coupled with a few searches on and Tony Hseih made it clear that the ideal path to profit is through happiness.

Of course, there are other ways that may lead to bigger personal and corporate profits, as evidenced by the fat cats on Wall Street, but you know that I have already rejected that notion, at least for myself. The author of this book calls such profits as “Bad Profits”. He also states that one cannot distinguish between good and bad profits on a balance sheet, but that bad ones look great in the short-term and erode customer happiness and referrals in the medium to long term. The Net Promoter Score (NPS) helps one identify which profit is which and reduce the bad while increasing the good.

Ask yourself – how do you feel about the revenue that the airlines have raked in from every checked-in bag and other fees? Now think of how you feel about Southwest where you can check-in up to 2 bags per person for free! Is Southwest losing profit? SURE! But they are only losing “bad” profits. Delta is looking great now, but think of how many people love and recommend Southwest and how many love and recommend Delta?

By the way, two companies that I LOVE and always RECOMMEND are Enterprise Rent-a-Car and Valvoline. They reside in two highly commoditized worlds and their front-line employees are not exactly high-powered and highly-paid executives with a lot on the line! Will you believe me if I said I have never had even one bad interaction with either company over the past 8 years?

Accomplishing that level of customer happines is hard to do and takes a lot of discipline. But a large part of the challenge of implenting this idea is getting employees on the same page.

Richard Owen, CEO of Satmetrix – the company that built tools for the management of NPS – recently wrote about the reality of persevering with this strategy. He had a great quote on his post by Philip Dick (“Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away”) when talking about the resistance in understanding customer happiness because it is in the boggy world of “culture management”. Salespeople are especially resistant because either they don’t want to face reality because they’re optimists, or they do not care/want to understand this metric. has been wildly successful (enough to be bought by Amazon for $1.2b) with this metric in mind. I don’t know if they use it formally, but one look at their “core values” tells you that they really, really care about customer happiness. In my world of contingent staffing, I do not know if any agency out there thinks about customer happines in such a way, but it appears so far that none seem to care. Like every other industry, staffing is about chasing the next sale or the next deal. Agencies are so sales focused that it is easy to see why NPS implementation will be a challenge.

This is not to say that one agency will sweep the market by going the NPS way. But it would certainly mean that customers that work with that agency would love doing business. It would make their lives more meaningful and happy. Isn’t that enough for a staffing agency to build a great book of business?


Staffing Databases are Irrelevant

Posted in Big Thought, Business, People by Harsha on December 13, 2010

Staffing companies pride themselves in their “database”.

Ask ANY sales person that works in the industry and it will most definitely be one of the main selling points that they will make to you. They will shill for their vast database of resumes (1m, or 5m or whatever) giving you the impression that they know so many people that they can find you any skill set for any project or need that you have. Period.

I take a different approach.

I believe that owing a large database is highly overrated. When I started in this business, it was with a startup with barely any database. In fact, the founders has a set of 5,000 some names, none of which were ever used in my knowledge, at least by me. That company then went on to becoming one of the 500 fastest growing private companies in America in 2008, as ranked by Inc Magazine. So I came to the conclusion that owning a large database, or any database is highly overrated. There is one exception to this statement – a database is highly relevant in niche skill sets. At the same company, I have seen this in play. My constertation is with a generic across-the-board staffing agency sales person pounding the desk claiming to have a large database that includes tons of resumes across tons of skill sets.

It is never the database but the data mining tools and data mining strategies that are much more important. Oracle probably recognizes this through its various acquisitions. The database company is now almost ubiquitous in many other unrelated areas of software development and delivery. The art of mining for candidates is the true differentiator between one agency and another. More specifically, the abilities of individual recruiters and their tenacity in finding the right person for the open job outranks a database, in my humble opinion, by a million times to one.

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The STOP Construct

Posted in Big Thought, People, Pulpit by Harsha on November 8, 2010

Update: Added link to founder of the Summit’s website.

According to a video posted by Barry Posner, Professor of Leadership at the Leavey School of Business, Santa Clara University, for the Leadership Summit, everyone is a contributor whether they know or not. Video available at: Leadership and Influence Summit, hosted by Daniel Decker. Keeping that in mind, I embarked on a brief thought experiment.

I spent a few days thinking about the one thing I brought to the table at work. I realized that it is neither my communication ability nor job motivation or interpersonal skills. It was Urgency. I call this the STOP – Supreme Trait Of Performance. On a Value/Performance chart, this trait is in the first quadrant.

For me, making a decision now or getting things done immediately outranks ever other task. My Urgency STOP has enabled me to become comfortable with ambiguity and to multi-task. If there was a top 10 list of people with a sense of Urgency, then I would numero uno.

This led me to consider the STOP for the individuals on my team. I wanted to identify the one Trait that each brought to the table. That same Trait powered their reason for professional existence as well performance. Some STOPs that emerged were Detection, Clarity and Repetition.

Detection: a detail oriented individual that covers every base imaginable while processing a transaction.

Clarity: a non-communicative person that works out solutions internally and understands the end goal well.

Repetition: a task oriented person that bangs away at a problem through sheer amount of work.

You may recognize these STOPs as either your own or as in someone you know at work. I realized that if you took everything else away from them, then they would still bring that Trait to work. It is part of their personality. I am quick to jump to conclusions or decisions, which may not always be a good idea. My Urgency STOP rules my head and heart, and if you took everything else I know or my other traits, then I will still continue to retain this one.

Communicating with people of different STOPs is complicated. When someone gives me a task, I am already executing on it in my mind and cannot wait to get to it. A Clarity STOP person may not know how to solve the problem right away, but they would be very clear about the end goal but just won’t tell you that.

As I continue building this construct, I would love to hear from your individual experience as you experiment with it.

Love is the killer app

Posted in Big Thought, People by Harsha on August 10, 2010

When I rebranded by blog many months ago, I did not realize that I was infact trending towards Tim Sander’s POV. The New Global We I now believe, is an expression of what connects us, all the way from India, China, to Uruguay, France and the United States.

I believed for so long that only the cut-throat survive, and that not being one of them blows. What compounded that thought was the fact that I am not one of them and never will be. Hailing from a country like India where brawn still many-a-times overrules the brain, I figured that my game was over.

Then I read Love is the killer app. Ah, the power of books, and especially the ones recommended by people you admire and love. The concept is not new, but the description is refreshing. You always knew the subject, but you did not know how to implement it and Tim tells you what to do.

There are days where I absolutely *hate* someone, and there are the months where I carry over such hatred. While it is certainly satisfying, to be seething under the surface about this-or-that wrong, it is pointless. If this was 1000 A.D, it would be worthwhile because I’d walk over and mete out justice the old fashioned way. Obviously that is not going to turn out well for me. I’m not a powerful overlord that can kill a cut-throat’s career with one bad recommendation (really, who can do that these days?) or voodoo their good luck away.

What I can do, is love them. The New Global We is as much collective love as collective consciousness. It is also pointless if we’re connected through global networks with people, if we don’t like or love them. What collective love can do for misfits like me, is carve a path through the world of business and life. The worst that can happen to me is you rejecting my love and friendship, which is OK by me.

In business, the word love is cliched and “inappropriate”. You’re not supposed to love your colleagues, vendors, clients or boss(es)! This myth is spread by the cut-throats that are threatened by a loving person’s meteoric rise in stature and importance. Cut-throats also know they can’t influence bizlovers through their usual strategies. They believe lovers are weak and they are probably right under certain circumstances. Lovers also tend to give others more chances, more opportunities to try again. Lovers will listen to your sob stories for much longer, even if it includes some grapevine material inserted on purpose. At that very point in time, the cut-throats will be laughing their way to the bank when the lover is listening to you and not making money for himself/herself.

Love as a killer app works for me because cut-throats and lovers are all terminal and cannot take anything with them when checking out. Being terminal is the Great Leveler of humanity. When you think like that, the hate you feel after every argument or against someone that has wronged you, just evaporates. Really, what else can you do? I choose to be a lover and I am glad I am not a cut-throat. The only response I have to cut-throats these days in any case, is love.

Hate doesn’t give you solutions. There is one simple take away from Tim’s book. If you forgot everything else you read in it, then this is it – replace the word “hate” with “love”. For example: “I hate it when my computer slows down” or “I hate it when clients ask for one thing and then change their mind”. Rephrase it like so: “I’d love it if my computer worked faster” or “I’d love it if they figured out what they want and then asked for it”.

The word “hate” ends conversation and “love” (re)starts it.

Scientists Find No Connection Between Religious Opinion and Healthcare

Posted in Big Thought by Harsha on October 9, 2009

Just a tongue-in-cheek title to get your attention. By the way, Christopher Hitchens is going to have a seizure.

I quote from a letter sent to the Members of Congress by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.:

We sincerely hope that the legislation will not fall short of our criteria.

Thank God (ironically) that we do not have to live our lives dictated by the morality standards of these religious leaders. This is the Social Media Age, not 2009 BC. We abort if needed. If these leaders overall earn the right to pontificate through their sacrifices and efforts, then women overall earn the right to abort through their sacrifices and efforts of pregnancy. The issue is not about a particular woman aborting, but of women aborting.

The Church with its pedophilia and “Father Oprah” is a drowned voice in the applause of reason. Whatever happened to personal responsibility? Have they not heard about “Practice what you preach”? How can you absolve pedophiles through financial settlements yet continue to uphold the rest of us on to unreal moral standards?

One word to sum that terrible quote: Arrogance.

Asking Someone to do the “Impossible”

Posted in Big Thought, People by Harsha on April 8, 2009

Ever heard the statement “I would never ask you to do something I cannot do myself.” Maybe you’ve said it yourself, as I have.

I now disagree with it.

There is no shame in admitting that you can’t do something and need someone else to do it for you. That is why you hire or get hired in the first place. If I am able to do your work, then you are redundant.

People think that statement makes it fair to you. Wrong. Instead, they should say “I am asking you because I cannot do it” so that you know that a lot is riding on you getting it right.

Next time someone says that to you, tell them “That is okay. I want to do something you cannot.”

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Employees Suck

Posted in Big Thought, Business, People by Harsha on March 28, 2009

A great presentation shared on SlideShare, my personal favorite!

While not all of us can become founders, owners, entrepreneurs (someone has to do the nitty-gritty work!), there is definite power in scaling up!

This presentation shows founders, owners and entrepreneurs on how they need to better manage their people: Please open up your minds. Stop boxing in innovation and cutting-edge ideas.

Think in short, small sentences and increments. It helps!

Over exposure, Extra! Extra!

Posted in Big Thought, People by Harsha on March 14, 2009


Talking about over exposure, the dutiful wife of a guy called Mike has put up a website and headlined on CNN.

I checked out the website and while on the outset it seems like a very creative idea, there are some fundamental issues with it.

  1. Guy got wife to look for a gig for him.
  2. Wife finds reason to spend tax refund on a cool computer
  3. More-than-what-I-need-to-know content
  4. Guy comes off looking like a d-bag
  5. Weird picture on “Contact Mike” page
  6. Inappropriate Q&A

So doing some great personal networking or posting resumes on websites and following is not enough exposure for Mike. We need CNN to find us gigs.

Sorry for the sarcasm, but just wrote a post on over-exposure, but I hope he finds a gig.

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Problems of Over-exposure

Posted in Big Thought, People by Harsha on March 14, 2009

Popularly delusional media hound, Ms. Ann Coulter is apparently losing the battle with her own hitherto success. Oops, America is starting to get it right! For a media-savvy, politically incorrect and almost-a-million-copies published, Ann is quite the bookworm!

Over exposure. Something none of us are worried about in today’s day and age.

When do you become too public for your own good?

When will Facebook’s 175 million users implode on each other because they are so tired of being so wired all the time? ESPECIALLY the gen-x segment!

With the risk of over-exposure comes the need to constantly give reason to remain in the spotlight. Even bloggers feel the pressure, hence the countless coaches and teachers on writing better blogs. Write more, say more, see more, do more.

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Being Laid Off is SO Much Better!

Posted in Big Thought, Business, People, Pulpit by Harsha on March 10, 2009

Time has a great article on the subject of finding out which is better – being laid off or being employed living in fear of being laid off. Here is an interesting quote:

It’s better to get the bad news and start doing something about it, rather than languishing in limbo.

The quote refers to patients waiting for their biopsy results feeling more stress at that time, rather than when they get the results, even if it meant they had cancer. Once they got the news, they could then take the necessary action either way.

Shame on companies that do not communicate enough, as I know from personal experience, to quench employee’s thirst to know more about the life of the business, about their own jobs, when the economy is in the crapper. I do not think you can over-communicate the issues. It does not mean having daily 9am meetings to talk about the “economy”, and “how it affects us”, but being open about sharing details about the business, I think, helps.

Most employees are not going to feel the same about the business as the founders or senior-level managers do. You need to communicate at their interest level. Telling them things are going to fine when you are firing others is the surest way to increase their stress.

While managers are spending time figuring out how to keep their own jobs and those of their employees, I believe the one thing that will calm everyone’s worries and put them in the frame of mind as that of the patients who got their biopsy results (even if it meant cancer) is to talk with each other openly as two equal human beings. A lot of us get caught up in the titles and pompousness of a “senior level position” or believe that “I am the owner of the business or the manager of this division and I know more”. Sorry, you do not. You are the same as I am. You may have more money than I do, but we both have the same amount of time in a day. That is what equals us.

I think once business owners intrinsicly feel this type of equality, then the communication lines will open up. That is the way I believe that these stress levels will go down.

I speak from experience.

I am way more relaxed now, by the way.

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