Monthly Archives: October 2017

Solve problems and report the results…

As a history buff, I found some real wisdom in a recent article about General George C. Marshall, a man highly revered for his management, wisdom, and consideration of others.

One week after Pearl Harbor, he placed then Col. Eisenhower in charge of military planning and operations. Here is Eisenhower’s recollection many years later.

Just before dismissing me, he gave me some brief instructions that I have never forgotten. I can repeat his words almost verbatim:

“Eisenhower,” he said, “the department is filled with able men who analyze their problems well but feel compelled always to bring them to me for a final solution. I must have assistants who will solve their own problems and tell me later what they have done.”

Although not at war, I had a similar experience in my career (before consulting.) Having just started a new job as a sales engineer, my new boss gave similar “marching orders.” Like Ike, I remember the words almost verbatim too:

“Daryl,” he said, “the only way you will get in trouble with me is if you sit on a problem too long. First, do whatever you need to do, but if you finally run into a brick wall, come get me. In the meantime, please take the ball and run with it and tell me about it later.”

My response was, “John, I think I’m going to like this job.”  And I did, only leaving the company to follow the dream of starting my consulting firm.

This is great advice for consultants too. It is not enough to merely identify problems. While you do need to keep the client “in the loop”, you must be ready to solve the problems and report the results!

© 2017, All rights reserved.

Apologize… and fix…

A critical test of a business is how it handles mistakes. Done right, you will have a customer for life. Done wrong, and you will lose them forever. 

That is what is so perplexing about Donald Trump – who never apologizes. As a “successful” businessman, you would think he would know better. But apparently not.

The latest fiasco with Sgt. LaDavid Johnson, the soldier killed in Niger, is just another in a string of self-inflicted wounds on his credibility, and that of the Republican party. It was only compounded with General Kelly’s added comments on Congresswoman Frederica Wilson.

The simple solution for both is to man up, apologize, and ask for understanding and forgiveness. Not “punch back” or lie about it. Simple apologies would solve the latest crisis.

This was not meant to be a political rant, but rather a learning moment. If you screw something up, apologize and fix it — fast — even if you feel you are not completely at fault, and even if it costs you. Think humility, not ego.

I’ve done so several times over the years. Here are three examples:

  • When we misspelled a company name on a report (not entirely our fault) we immediately reprinted several hundred copies at our expense. Lost money on the small project, but future work made up for it.
  • When a student was given the wrong hotel for a class (not even my mistake as I was a contract instructor), I arranged for a local room, transportation, and took him to dinner. He went from upset to grateful and happy.
  • When my company (as a sales engineer) shipped a lemon to a customer, I yanked it and replaced it. At first my boss was upset (we had “procedures”) but later praised me for the decisive action. The customer bought many more products from us.

As a consultant, your future business depends on your reputation. It’s easy — just follow the Golden Rule. If you make a mistake, don’t be a jerk — just apologize and fix it! 

P.S. Consider this a quick test. If you are upset that I stepped on your political toes, I suggest you forget about consulting. Ego will kill your business even before it starts.

© 2017, All rights reserved.

Happy Liberation Day!

It was 30 years ago today – the day the market crashed in 1987 – that I began consulting full time. Talk about timing! I’ve often mused the FIRST day in business was the WORST day in business. All that followed were better!

No, I don’t think Kimmel Gerke Associates caused the market to crash. But who knows? Maybe it was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Doesn’t matter anyway — what DOES matter is that we took the chance —  and better yet, succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.

Yes, it was scary. But we survived, thanks to preparation and planning. I stepped out first, and a few months later, so did my late business partner. That was the plan — we didn’t want to sink our little start-up, but it was soon apparent it could support two of us full-time.

There had been a false start several years earlier. After three months, it was obvious the timing was not right, and that there was a LOT more we needed to know about starting and running a full-time consulting business. This after nine years of moonlighting.

This time, however, the timing looked good. Thanks to the personal computer explosion and new government regulations, the opportunities were there for our specialty — designing for Electromagnetic Interference & Compatibility (EMI/EMC). Quite the mouthful, right?

Already an esoteric niche, there were few other consultants, and most specialized in defense projects. We too shared a lot of defense experience, but decided to “go where the others ain’t.”  Pursuing an untapped market niche with needed experience spelled success.

Over the years we expanded into other niches – medical devices, industrial controls, vehicular electronics (planes/trains/automobiles/farm machinery), facilities, telecommunications, electrical power, and more. All the while expanding our computer (micros to super-computers) and defense niches (submarines to outer space.)

Eventually we also expanded from a local firm to a nationwide firm, even doing the occasional international project. This was aided by a book/supplement to a national engineering magazine, along with a seminar program teamed with a major test equipment company. The latter turned us into a training company too.

So how is the view looking back on 30 years? Absolutely beautiful, and I’d do it all again in a heartbeat. Not only was it great fun, we made many friends along the way. Including our financial advisor (another consultant) who manages the money we both socked away for our golden years. (Thanks, Tom.)

As many of you know, Bill Kimmel, my good friend and business partner passed away in 2015 from cancer. At my last visit with him, we reminisced about the good times and how satisfying it was to practice our engineering profession as independent consultants.

With tongue in cheek, Bill did wryly express one regret — maybe we should have made our JumpToConsulting even earlier!

So what next for me? I’ve cut back on consulting projects, and refer them to (mostly) younger colleagues. It helps them like I was helped 30 years ago. I still teach multi-day seminars, but at a reduced frequency. Next one in December.

Call it multi-person consulting, it is something I have always enjoyed.

I also stay involved with professional activities and other interests like the JumpToConsulting project. By year end, I hope to have an e-book on consulting available through my professional society, the IEEE (Institute of Electrical & Electronic Engineers.)

Small payback for the many benefits received over the years from this fine organization.

So please join me in celebrating my Liberation Day. And if you are so inclined, start planning yours!  Stick around here and I’ll do my best to help you out.

Peace — Uncle Daryl

© 2017, All rights reserved.

Good Advice from the “Million Dollar Consultant”

Good advice from a consulting newsletter by Dr. Alan Weiss, the “Million Dollar Consultant.”  He graciously allowed me to reprint it here. 

I remember working in my early years as a consultant with a company that had a defective product problem. They responded by sending two of the products for every one returned. That’s right, they sent two defective products to atone for the original defective product. My company told them to find the cause of the defect, but they got all tangled up in blame and politics, and the company went under.

We often pride ourselves on “contingent” action. That is, we’re proud that we corrected ourselves once we found we were lost. Or we spend a lot of money on fire insurance. Or we jury-rig something to work that wasn’t assembled correctly the first time. And those are, of course, important traits.

But they aren’t the most important traits. We waste time being lost and may be late or inconvenience people. We won’t prevent fires with insurance, especially if we have poor building codes or allow people to smoke in dangerous settings. The jury-rigged will never perform as well as the original assembly’s integrity.

It’s important to do things right the first time, or at least to find out why we didn’t so we don’t repeat the error. That’s important with raising children, forming relationships, and determining your future. You want to steer your kids away from trouble, not have to “rehabilitate” or treat them later. You want to deal with relationship issues without have to wind up in a therapist’s office. You hope that the sprinkler system and fire insurance is never needed because you’ve been attentive to preventing fires.

Contingent action—which address effects, not cause—is expensive, time consuming, and embarrassing. And it’s nowhere near as effective as preventive action—addressed at possible causes. After the sprinkler system does what it must, the furniture is ruined. After you get back on the right course after being lost, you’ve still squandered a lot of time.

Take a look around. Do you find yourself, at home or at work, spending a lot of time dealing with symptoms and effects you’d rather have avoided altogether? If so, change your focus to preventive action. Stop fighting fires and start preventing them.

Copyright 2017 – The Balancing Act (R) Newsletter – Alan Weiss PhD

I’ve followed Dr. Weiss for many years, and made him one of my first resource reviews in 2011. He has written over 30 books on consulting, has several newsletters and a blog, and conducts workshops around the world.

Although his primary focus is business/management consulting, his ideas are valuable to technical consultants too.  Like a Dutch uncle, he can be blunt but his advice is always sound. Thanks for sharing, Alan!

© 2017, All rights reserved.

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