First a disclaimer: If you’re interested in trophies, the one at the left can be bought
online from Dinn Brothers for $72.00. A
Baldrige Award will cost you many, many times that amount. If you want to improve your business,
increase your profits, make your customers and employees happy, and get more
enjoyment out of life, read on. If you
want a trophy, save yourself some time and expense and check out Dinn Brothers’
web site.

Yesterday, we talked about some of the self-evaluation tools
available from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the
Baldrige Award people. Today, I’d like
to introduce you to the “Criteria for Performance Excellence”.

First, there’s no magic in the criteria book. It’s basically a series of questions,
covering seven categories of business management. When you answer the questions, you paint a
picture of your business. If you apply
for either a local award or the Baldrige itself, you will receive feedback from
experts in business excellence that you can use to improve. It’s the feedback, not the award, that gives
the program its value.

But, even if you never apply for an award, the process of
asking and answering the questions will give you more insight into your company
than anything you will ever do, short of hiring a professional consultant and
spending thousands of dollars.

 The seven Baldrige categories are:

  • Leadership
  • Strategic Planning
  • Customer and Market Focus
  • Measurement, Analysis, and Knowledge Management
  • Workforce Focus
  • Process Management
  • Results

In scoring for the award, the Results category is worth 450
out of a total 1,000 points, so obviously results are very important,
especially to you.

It’s important to mention that the Baldrige process, either
at the national or local level, doesn’t tell you how to run your business. They don’t care what your process is, they
just want to know that you have a process.

It takes time to look at your total business and identify
the processes, but once you do, improvements should come easily. Quality isn’t something that you do. It’s not something extra added to your daily
task list. In fact, good processes save
time and money and deliver a better product or service.

 The Organizational Profile

The first section of the Baldrige criteria is called “Preface: Organizational Profile”. If you looked at the EBaldrige Organizational Profile mentioned in yesterday’s post,
then you know the questions asked in the profile. In broad terms, the Organizational Profile
asks “What are your key organizational characteristics?”  and “What are your key challenges?” If you can answer these two questions, you’ll
have a pretty good handle on your business. If you can’t answer them, then finding the answers will be an education
all by itself.

If you haven’t already, download a copy of the Criteria for Performance Excellence from the Baldrige web site.  Print out the Organizational Profile section  and the  associated instructions.  Read them  while you’re at lunch, or in the evening while you watch TV.  Can you answer the questions?   If not,  where can you get the answers?   Some questions you’ll be able to answer off the top of your head.  Some may take some research.  Ask you staff for help.  Make it a fun project. 

If you can answer every question,  you will know more about  your business than  the majority of  business owners in the United States and you’ll have a huge advantage over your competition.   

And, it won’t cost you a dime.


Improving Your Game

Every weekend, millions of people watch professional golf on
television. The number of people who
compete in the pro tours is incredibly small and the number who actually ever
win a tournament is even smaller. Recently, on the men’s tour, the number has been just one.

If you do a book search on for the term “golf
instruction”, you will find 1,058 titles. If so few people ever win anything, why all the interest in instruction? The answer is simple. People want to improve their game. They want to be the best that they can be.

I was thinking about this because I recently received the
2007 edition of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award Criteria. The Baldrige Award, and the forty-four state
modeled after it, recognizes the best businesses in the United States. Like pro golfers, Baldrige winners are the best of the best. Since the program began in 1988, there have
been just 68 winners out of 1,139 applicants. 

In spite of this small number of winners, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the agency that administers the Baldrige program, has distributed more than 2 million copies of the award criteria since 1988.  It’s estimated that, on average, each book is copied once, and the criteria can be downloaded from the NIST web site.  Obviously there are millions of companies using the criteria for self-improvement with no intention of ever applying for the award.

Award winners are chosen because they can serve as
role-models for others. In fact, one of
the requirements for applying is that the winners must be willing to share
their expertise. Copies of winners applications are available for download.  The goal of the program
isn’t to hand out awards, the goal is to improve American business. Since you’re paying for the program(s) with
your tax dollars, it makes sense to take a look at what they have to offer.

NIST offers a number of no-charge
materials on its web site that can be very helpful in improving any
business. The first, and easiest to do
is the E-Baldrige Organizational Profile. It’s just 22 questions to identify what you know about your
business. You answer the questions
online and immediately receive a simple break-down of how you compare to other

A second tool is a questionnaire called “Are We Making
. It’s a questionnaire for your
employees that helps identify strengths and areas for improvement. It’s available from NIST in either paper or
electronic format. Again, the questions
are easy to answer and will help you understand what your employees are
thinking. You may be surprised!

Next time, we’ll take a look at the actual criteria and how
you can begin to use them in your business. For now, you can learn more by visiting the Baldrige web site. Download a copy of their “Getting Started”
booklet or a copy of the complete criteria.  You can check this list of state and local
programs to see what your state has to offer. Many state programs offer individualized help for companies who want to
improve their performance either free or at a nominal fee.  If you have any questions, you can email me.



Don’t Get Scammed ran an article last week that you should read.  It’s called Common Small-Business Scams and it describes a few of the current rip-offs that crooks are using to separate us from our hard-earned money. 

I have some personal experience with number four, the directory fraud scam.  The way it works is that the company calls to inform you that your first year’s listing in their business directory is about to expire and that it’s time to renew.  Of course, you don’t remember advertising in their directory because you didn’t.  At that point, they reluctantly agree to cancel your "listing" but there’s the matter of payment for the first year, which is almost over.  Whether you remember ordering the directory listing or not, you’ve had the advantage of the ad for an entire year so you’re expected to pay for it.  The caller(s) are quite persistent, even resorting to threats of legal action if you don’t pay.

I recently went through this process with them. They obviously got my name from an old business listing of some sort.  The trouble is that I haven’t had anything to do with advertising, directory or otherwise, for several years.  Had they called me when I was in sales/marketing, I might have fallen for the scam, particularly since I used to buy directory advertising.  But, even with my poor memory, I knew it was a scam because I just don’t work with ad companies anymore.  The calls stopped when I mentioned the word "fraud".  In fact, the caller hung up on me!

Check out the article.  You work too hard for your money to let someone steal it from you.  As they say, "when in doubt, check it out".  Some good sources of information on scams can be found at:

101 Dumbest Moments

So you think you’re having a bad day? has identified the 101 Dumbest Moments in Business.  For the responsible parties, these "moments" are a lot like the Southwest Airlines "Wanna get away?" commercials.

Some examples:

In August, McDonald’s gave away 10,000 portable MP3 players to customers in Japan.  Some of them contained a computer virus that steals personal information from the user’s PC.

In July, Northwest Airlines laid off thousands of workers.  To show their concern for the about-to-be former employees, the airline provided a book of ways to save money including retrieving usable items from other people’s trash and making cat litter out of shredded newspapers.

The country of Kazakhstan was portrayed as somewhat backward in the movie Borat.  While the country is in the process of trying to rebuild its image, the central bank issued new currency with the word "bank" misspelled. 

The number one "dumb moment" goes to Wal*Mart for hiring a public relations firm to improve its battered image and suffering the first quarterly profit drop in ten years.  In the process, Wally World managed to secure six spots in CNN’s list.  Just in case you’re interested, their other five boo boos were:

Speaking on behalf of Wal*Mart, former UN ambassador Andrew Young made a racist comment to an African American newspaper.

A former executive of the company whose income was well into the seven-figures was caught running an expense account fraud.

In September a new blog appeared called "Wal*Marting across America" written by a couple traveling the country in an RV, visiting Wal*Mart stores and meeting happy employees.   Unfortunately, the couple failed to mention that the whole thing was set up by Wal*Mart  who paid for the RV and paid the couple.

Just six weeks after hiring a new advertising agency, Wal*Mart fired both the agency and the employee who hired them.  Turns out the employee had violated the company’s gift policy by accepting an expensive dinner in New York.  Having to start a new search for an ad agency, the company’s planned change in advertising strategy was set back at a time when sales are slumping.

DVD customers on Wal*Mart’s web site are offered suggestions for other items they might be interested in, ala  Unfortunately some of the recommendations turned out to be less than appropriate.

The entire list of 101 may be a bit much to digest in one sitting, but it’s fun to see that you’re not the only one to do goofy things.

More on Entrepreneurship

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post on the qualities it takes to own your own business, offersEntrepreneur_qualities_1

some more insight. According to a recent survey by QuickBooks, 43% of business owners say that they were "loners" as kids.  25% describe themselves as "nerds", 20% were "clowns", 11% jocks, and just 1% admit to being "bullies." 

Other information turned up in the study:  85% of business owners are sole proprietors, 43% were the oldest child in the family and 77% do not have a business degree.

Immigrants as Entrepreneurs

Michelle at the Economic Edge makes an interesting comparison between the qualities needed to leave your homeland and start over in another country and the qualities you need to run your own business. 

Citing the fact that every U.S. census since 1880 has shown that the percentage of immigrants who are self-employed has exceeded the percentage of self-employed native-born Americans, she lists six "characteristics of entrepreneurs" from a 1994 research study.  They are:

  • tolerance of risk, ambiguity and uncertainty
  • commitment and determination
  • creativity, self-reliance and ability to adapt
  • leadership
  • opportunity obsession
  • motivation to excel

These same qualities can be found in most, if not all, business owners. 

Obviously there are other factors in play, but the high numbers of immigrant entrepreneurs have spanned a period of history beginning when most newcomers to the U.S. were from Western Europe until today when a much higher percentage are arriving from Eastern Europe, Latin America, and Asia.  It seems logical that the qualities needed to make any major lifestyle change are pretty much the same.

Read Michelle’s post here.

You are Never Too Important to Please the Customers!

Today, we welcome a special guest blogger.  Bill Hinderer is President and Chief Operating Officer of Tacony Corporation.  He writes:

Two events this past weekend drove home to me that there are
little ways to make lasting impressions with your customers.

Ken Tacony, Amy, and I
attended the Lighting Show in Dallas
last Friday. Our Regency Fan division
has a permanent showroom in the World
Trade Center
and we spent the day visiting with customers as they came in with their sales
reps to look at our new fans.

Not surprisingly, one of the most popular places in the
showroom is the bar area (although Diet Coke may have been the most popular
drink). Without a designated bartender,
everyone just sort of takes turns serving the customers. Of course, that includes Ken. On being introduced to their CEO / Bartender,
more than one customer commented that the willingness of the chief executive to
work the bar is a further illustration of what sets Regency apart from the
competition — caring customer service. It didn’t cost anything extra to make a great impression.

On the flight back to St. Louis,
we saw another example. We flew
Southwest Airlines from Love Field in Dallas
to St. Louis. The people at Southwest like to have fun, so
occasionally they recruit passengers to help them pass out snacks during the
flight. Sure enough, I looked up and saw
an older gentlemen coming down the aisle with the snacks. However, I immediately recognized that this
was not any passenger, but was Herb Kelleher, the founder of Southwest Airlines. As he offered peanuts to everyone (“Would you
like those rare or well done?”), it was obvious that he was having a good
time. Needless to say, the flight
attendants were really impressed that their company founder was helping
them. The customers loved it, even
though no announcement was ever made of who this guy was. (The news did spread throughout the
cabin.) We later learned that also on
board were a group of the newest Southwest employees flying to St. Louis for their initial orientation.  What an impression it must have had on them!

So, although it’s true that we have to find ways to spend
more time “on our business” rather than “in our business” to set strategy and
plan for the future, we can’t forget the importance of showing the customer
that we really care for them and are willing to do whatever they need us to
do. Even serving drinks or peanuts!

(Does anyone have any other stories of unexpected caring
customer service to share?)

Can I Help You?

Here’s a test.  Fill in the blanks.

Q:  "Can I help you?"
A:  __ ______, ____ _______."

Jeffrey Gitomer writes today at about Bob, a true SALESperson who’s eliminated the ugly question, "Can I help you?" from his vocabulary and is obviously reaping the financial rewards.

Let’s take a look at this sad excuse for a selling technique.  "Can (or may) I help you?"  Of course you can help me.  You work here.  You know the merchandise.  You know where everything is.  You know the price of everything.  (Or you have the ability to find out.)  You know where the bathroom is.  If I’m in your store, there is certainly some way that you can help me.  Your job, the reason you’re there, is to find out how you can help me, and then do it. 

But years of conditioning, holding mom’s hand as she shopped the mall, going with dad to the auto parts store, learning the ways of the world, have taught me that there’s only one response to the CIHY? question: "NO THANKS, JUST LOOKING."   You aren’t going to find out how you can help me by asking how you can help me.  It takes more effort than that.

Who first asked the question and who first formulated the answer are lost in history but the two are forever linked in our psyche.  Like ham and eggs, peanut butter and jelly, and spaghetti and meatballs, they can’t be pried apart with a crowbar.  If you ask the question, you’re going to get the answer.  So why ask it?

I guess it’s because the same conditioning that’s taught us the proper response to the question has taught us that it’s the way every person in every retail selling situation ALWAYS starts the conversation.  But the chain CAN be broken.

Let’s be clear about something.  Except in very rare circumstances, the customer ISN’T JUST LOOKING!  In today’s busy world, normal people don’t just decide to leave home, get in the car and burn some expensive gasoline only to go spend an hour looking at merchandise that they have no intention of ever buying.  They just don’t.  There may be a few exceptions.  A frantic mom may run into your sporting goods store asking if little Junior can use the restroom and mom may browse the fishing rods while he does, just to pass a few minutes.  Under normal circumstances, mom wouldn’t touch a fishing rod with a ten foot pole.   That’s an exception.

If you’re in the car business, people may browse a bit when the new models come out just out of curiosity.  But even then, sooner or later they’re going to buy a car.  For such a big ticket purchase, it’s worth the time to answer their questions, get their contact information, and put them in your database.  But, none of that is likely to happen if the salesman approaches with "Can I help you?"

Specialty retailers cater to a narrow audience.  That’s how independents survive in today’s highly competitive environment.  Serving a narrow audience means that people come into your store with a purpose.  They’re not just looking!

Like our friend Bob, a creative greeting to every customer, one that shows that you’re actually interested in being of service, will get you the information you need and help you establish a relationship.  If nothing else, it will make you stand out in the customer’s mind.

You can subscribe to a weekly newsletter from Jeffrey Gitomer at his web site.

Time Management from Web MD

I’m guessing you’re familiar with WebMD.  If not, it’s a web site where you can go to for medical information presented in layman’s terms.  Here’s a link to an interesting WebMD article on time management.  "What’s time management got to do with your health?" you ask.  Everything, if you’re constantly overwhelmed with tasks that never seem to get done.

The article’s six tips for managing your time are pretty ordinary stuff, but there are a couple of new twists that make it worth your time.  Plus, the fact that the article appears on a health and wellness web site reinforces the fact that if you don’t master time management you can literally make yourself sick.

The six tips are:

1.  Make a time diary.  Record how much time you spend each day on your various activities.  This will probably be difficult to do, but it will give you a good idea of where you’re spending your time now.  You will probably be surprised at the results.

2.  Learn to say "No".

3.  Use time-based to-do lists. Many of us use to-do lists, but the idea of allocating a specific amount of time to each task is good.  If you add up your jobs for today and total comes to 25 hours, chances are you won’t get everything done.  On the other hand, if the total comes to just four hours, you can add things for the afternoon, catch up on your blog reading, or take the rest of the day off.

4.  Let your computer help.  There are a lot of very good, inexpensive or even free, tools to help you.

5.  Multitask. I hate buzzwords, but I didn’t write the list.  According to the article, women are better at this than men, but we can do it.  (Watch TV, read the sports section, eat a snack)  Productive examples that men and women can both do might be listening to a book on tape while you exercise.

6.  Don’t be a perfectionist. Some tasks just don’t require it.  Weigh the potential benefits versus the cost. 

7.  Reward yourself for success. I know that’s seven, but I guess this tip reinforces tip number 6.  The reward can be something as simple as using some of the time you save to do something you really enjoy (like watching TV, reading the sports section, and eating a snack).

Marketing Magic

I was sick at home yesterday and I was flipping the remote, trying to find something decent to watch on tv during the day.  I stumbled onto a show on the History Channel about Harry Houdini.  Everyone knows that Houdini was one of the most amazing magicians in the history of show business.  His escapes were legendary and even today, magicians study his work, trying to understand how he did some of his amazing tricks. 

During his heyday, around the turn of the twentieth century, he was the most famous, and the highest paid magician in the world.  He wasn’t just the best magician, he was also the best marketer of his time.  He attracted huge crowds to his paid performances by performing spectacular escapes in public places at no charge.  He gave free samples.  And, of course, he always made sure that the local press was informed, well in advance, of what he planned to do and where he planned to do it.  Very few people, before or since, had his flair for using the news media to spread the word about his performances (his product).

It was said that he also had an amazing ability to read his crowds (customers).  He performed his stage act so many times that he knew exactly what would happen and how long it would take.  But, he would work the crowd, prolonging his magical effects until his assistants and the musicians had worked the crowd into a fever pitch.

Because he played a new town every night and traveled all over the world, there was no great need for him to constantly come up with new tricks.  There was no television.  He could go for years before he would have to play the same city twice, yet he constantly worked on new illusions, perfecting his craft so he would continue to be the "world’s best magician".

So, what’s this have to do with your business?  Everything.  It goes without saying that you’re good at what you do, that is your core business.  You have the skill and you have the products to take care of your customer’s needs.  But you also need to use publicity, especially word-of-mouth, to build up your business.  And, you need to know your "audience".  What’s their hot-button?  What turns them on?  What can you do for them that will leave them wanting more?  And, what can you do to constantly improve, to get better?  It’s not magic.  It’s just good business.