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I have a confession to make.  I get anxiety…when ordering coffee.  I know how to make it, but I don’t really know the ins and outs of how to order it.  One time I was at Dunkin’ Donuts and I asked for a medium coffee.  They asked if I wanted cream and sugar, and I replied, “Sure.”  When I received my coffee, I took a sip, and was taken aback by how sweet it tasted.  I opened the lid, and was also surprised by how light it looked.  I turn the cup over, and see they wrote a “3” in the cream section, and another “3” in the sugar section.  Now I know everyone likes their coffee differently – but to me – 3 creams and 3 sugars in a medium coffee seems like a lot.  When I make it at home, I usually put either a 1/2 a packet to a full packet of Splenda, and then add 2 tablespoons of cream.

One time I went to Willoughby’s with a friend.  She ordered an “iced, nonfat, mocha latte”…Is that just a fancy way of asking for a chocolate milk?  What’s the difference between an latte and a frappe?

One other time I was at Starbucks.  The guy in front of me asked for a “Red Eye”.  What was that?  I stood behind him, frantically trying to find it on the menu.  It wasn’t there!  I looked it up when I got home.  I found out that Starbucks, as well as many other restaurants, has a hidden menu!  A “Red Eye” is a shot of espresso in your coffee.  How are we supposed to learn about this stuff?

I didn’t drink coffee for the first 25 years of my life.  Back then, I never really cared for it.  But one Christmas I received a Keurig as a present.  I’m sure you are all familiar with them.  You put in the little K-Cups and less than a minute later out pops a cup of coffee.

KeurigK75

I then embarked on my first mission:  ‘To find the perfect K-Cup.’  I tried different kinds of roasts.  I started out with the lighter ones, and eventually made my way over to the darker/bolder roasts.  I never really acquired a liking for the Italian or French roasts.  From a flavor standpoint I liked the Island Coconut and Rain Forest Nut.  For brands, Green Mountain Coffee makes good coffee.  Much like the coffee we have a work, I didn’t care much for the Starbucks blends.  They were a little too bitter and burnt tasting for me.  However, the K-Cup that I thought was consistently the best, was ‘Seattle’s Best House Blend.’  It has a nice full consistency, isn’t bitter, and tastes good.  At this point, I’d say I’d found the perfect K-Cup.

Seattle's Best House Blend.jpg

When I had first started drinking coffee, I noticed that my hands would shake a little.  Sometimes my eyelids would twitch.  After a quick search, I realized I didn’t have cancer, it was just my body adjusting to caffeine.  They eventually went away.

As I’ve mentioned before I listen to a lot of productivity podcasts.  I also stumbled upon this next topic in the Tim Ferriss book “The 4-Hour Chef.”  In both of those, I was noticing a trend in suggesting whole-bean coffee.  The “coffee snobs”, which I’ll refer to them from this point forward, mention that if you want to taste coffee how it’s meant to be tasted, you really need to make it fresh using whole beans.  K-Cup coffee is great and all, but they kept touting how much better whole-bean coffee would taste.  I embarked on my next adventure.

How was I going to brew these whole beans?  I’m the only coffee drinker in my house, so I didn’t want to buy one of those coffee makers that makes 12 cups of coffee.  I typically only have one cup a day.  That’s when I decided to go with the Aeropress.

Aeropress

The Aeropress is a pseudo french press that makes one cup of coffee.  You essentially take ground coffee, pour it in the Aeropress, dump some water in, and press it down into your mug.

But I still needed a way to grind the beans.  At first I thought, ‘Hey, I’ll just use what I already have.  I can use a Magic Bullet and grind the beans that way, then throw them into the Aeropress.  But the coffee snobs didn’t like that.  They said metal blades and coffee beans are a big no no.  Metal blades don’t grind beans consistently, and similar to a garlic press – people were recommending crushing the beans to get the full flavor out.  You had to grind them using a burr.  That’s when i stumbled on the Javapresse.
Javapresse

The Javapresse is a manual coffee grinder.  You can find it for about $24 on Amazon.  Fancier versions cost more, but this one gets the job done.  It’s portable.  If there’s a fancy coffee you like, and you don’t want to drink what the hotel is offering, you can make your own coffee using the Javapresse.  Since it’s not electrical, you can use it when camping.  It’s also adjustable.  Inside is a crank with 18 different settings to grind your beans from coarse to fine.  For the Aeroress, I usually keep it somewhere in the middle.  So while it is cheap, portable, and adjustable, I was also finding that it was time consuming.  I was adding 5-7 minutes to my morning routine grinding coffee.  That’s a lot when you’re also trying to get two kids ready for school.  There had to be a quicker way!

After some heavy analysis paralysis research, I finally settled on the Capresso electric burr grinder.

Capresso

In my research, I knew it wasn’t going to be ‘the best’.  But it was ‘the best value.’  It’s quieter than most.  It’s easy to use.  It’s adjustable.  And it grinds beans consistently.  On the downside, it can be a little messy.  When I take it apart to clean it when I’m switching coffee beans, there is a decent amount of ground coffee inside the machine that I need to use canned air to blow out.

Back to the present day.  I’m currently on a mission to find ‘the perfect whole bean coffee’ to grind in my Capresso, and brew in my Aeropress.  I’ve found a lot of Aeropress recipes online.  I really enjoy using the ‘inverted method’ where you turn the Aeropress upside-down and brew the coffee for a few minutes in the Aeropress before flipping it back over and pressing the coffee into your cup.  There are many different factors that come into play when using the Aeropress.  One of which, is how many beans you use.  Which of course, you’ll need to weigh in grams on a food scale.

Food Scale

You can adjust how fine you grind your beans, again using the burr grinder.  You can adjust how long you let it brew in the Aeropress before pushing it into your cup.  And last but not least, you can adjust the water temperature.  Which leads me to a possible future purchase.  You see, the coffee snobs say to make a really good cup of coffee, you have to get the water to about 205 degrees.  I currently use the Keurig to heat my water, and the max temperature on that is 192 degrees.  So my next purchase will likely be for some sort of electric kettle where I can set the water temperature.

In conclusion, I have one last confession to make.  If I’m being honest, at this point in my endeavor, it all tastes about the same.  Here’s hoping the perfect whole bean is still out there somewhere.

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Every now and then I listen to a podcast where the host is interviewing an author – and the question comes up as to why the interviewee wrote their book.  The reply is usually something along the lines of, “I had to write this book”, or “I felt compelled to write it”  or “Something inside me was bursting to get out….I couldn’t not write it.”  There are two topics for myself that come to mind when I hear that.  This post is one of them.

In full disclosure, the content for this speech was influenced by material that can be obtained in David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) book and methodology, as well as from the Asian Efficiency podcasts (Episode 1, Episode 2) on this topic.  I have yet to read Getting Things Done, but am familiar enough with the methodology.  Reading the book is on my Book To Do List.

While I didn’t feel 100% confident giving the speech prior to reading the book, I am a big proponent of Inbox Zero.  I work at a very large company, and when I saw someone write a blog post about how they manage their inbox, I had some concerns.  Their approach, while doable, involved a lot of categorizing and labeling.  I thought my approach was more efficient and time saving.  I don’t think it’s perfect, and I may have changes after reading the book.  So without further adieu, here is Toastmasters Speech #2:  Invest in Yourself: Own Your Inbox, Own Your Day:

There are those series of Capital one commercials where Samuel L. Jackson asks, “What’s in your wallet?”  Today, I’d like to take a spin on that and ask you, “What’s in your Inbox?”

A lot of my daily work revolves around email.  It’s the primary way I send and receive communications with colleagues.  Yet, I was finding that I was constantly struggling with ‘trying to keep up’ with the constant flurry of emails that come in.  I was having trouble getting back to people on critical emails, yet I was also doing ‘too good a job’ of keeping on top of emails that were, in retrospect, less important.  I had to find a way to plan, process, and prioritize my inbox.

Today, I’d like to share some advice on how I took control of Outlook, and explain how I focus on doing the right work at the right time.

Before I get into the details of my presentation, I wanted to share some quotes with you.  You can read them yourself, but the one that sticks out to me is “Email is a ‘To Do List’ that you let other people write on.”

Quotes

In today’s world, where we’re all too accessible, we let ourselves get carried away with the compelling need to respond to people right away – that we forget about what’s important – and that is making sure we’re working on the right things at the right time, and doing them the right way.

Before I go on, I wanted to provide a brief disclaimer.  The approach I am about to describe is what works for me.  This is not the one solution to your email problems.  These are some steps I’ve taken that help me manage my day better.  Feel free to apply one, some, or all of these concepts in different ways that fit to your daily routine.  At the end of the day, do what works best for you.

What does your inbox look like?  Would it look something like this?

InboxBefore

There are 20 unread emails sitting in our Inbox.  There are countless red flags spread throughout marked ‘For Follow Up’.  The main Inbox has a bunch of subfolders for categorizing emails, because, you know, we plan on looking them back up someday.  Last but not least, in the main Inbox, there are over 4,000 unread emails.  Let’s try to go from something like that, to something like this…

InboxAfter

Here, on the right hand side, there are no unread emails sitting in our Inbox.  No red flags marked for follow up.  We have one subfolder for archiving old emails.  And last but not least, when we’re done with our email management routine, there are zero emails sitting in our main Inbox.

The Foundation

How do we get there?  There are really only two main parts to get this going.  The first part is setting the foundation.  once this is set up, you’re good to follow the process.

IntroToSteps

In setting the foundation, there are a few things you would modify.  In the middle of the Outlook toolbar is a section called “Quick Steps”.  If you click the arrow in the lower right corner, it will bring up a window to “Mange Quick Steps”.

QuickStepToolbar

In that window,  you can re-arrange the content and order things appear in the Quick Steps toolbar.  In the screenshot above, ‘Archive’ is the first quick step.  I also have a shortcut key assigned to this action.  At the press of a few quick keystrokes (personally CTRL+SHIFT+1), I can quickly archive an email I am done with.  To the right of that, I also set up a quick step to Create a Task (with my shortcut key personally being CTRL+SHIFT+2) with the email as an attachment.  I’ll walk you through how this all works shortly, but in summary when an email requires some follow up action, I can quickly set up a task to track those actions, and attach the email inside that task.

OneArchiveFolder.JPG

The other thing that needs to be set up is to create one, and only one, archive folder.  Those of us that have been around email long enough have memories of the difficulties of finding old emails.  However, Outlook’s search capabilities have greatly improved over the years.  The other thing to think about is what is referred as the ‘search/sort tradeoff’.  How often do you actually pull up old emails?  Probably less often than you think.  Then why do you spend so much time trying to sort it in the right folder?  Dump it all in one archive folder, and have faith in the search tools.  Now that we’ve set the foundation, let’s talk about how to use it.

The Process

There’s something called the “Two Minute Rule”.  When reviewing your emails that come in, you want to ask yourself these 3 questions.

  1. Does this email require some action on my part? – If no, then archive the email.
  2. Does this email require an action that can be completed in less than two minutes?  – If yes, then do it now.  You’ll spend more time trying to figure out ‘what to do’ with it than the time it would take to actually complete the task.
  3. Does this email require an action that would take longer than two minutes to complete?  – If yes, it becomes a task.

Task1

In the screenshot above, we see an email (1) that has come in.  It requires an action that takes longer than two minutes to complete.  I can utilize the shortcut in the Quick Actions toolbar (2) that we set up earlier to automatically open a new task window and attach the email within the task itself (3).

Task2

There are some additional things to think about when adding details to your task.

  • Subject Name –  Put an action verb in the subject name.  Give it a meaningful title that clearly states what is being asked. (This will help later when looking at your list of tasks.)
  • Start Date/End Date – Feel free to utilize both.  Maybe you want to delay the start date of your task if it isn’t urgent.
  • Reminders – This may come in handy if you need to follow up with yourself or with others on tasks that require additional actions of others before you can mark it complete.
  • Prioritization – Self explanatory.   I personally keep most tasks at Normal, but you can set some to high if you wish.
  • Descriptions – Finally, in the body of the task window, enter any meaningful descriptions that will help you later on.  This could include action items that need to be completed prior to the task being fully complete, dates those action items are completed, and any additional information that might help you when working the task later on.  I tend to forget things easily so I take advantage of this area to help me remember details that would be useful when working the task.

AllTasks

The main Tasks window can be accessed by clicking the Tasks button on the far left in in Outlook.  Here, you can see a list of all outstanding tasks.  This window can be customized based on your preferences.

You have many options for sorting and/or grouping tasks.  One option is to sort/group by status.  One status that can be helpful is “Waiting on Someone Else”.  There may be a task that you are ultimately responsible for – but in order for you to continue you need a deliverable from someone else.  Be careful with this status however – although you are waiting on something from someone else, you are ultimately responsible for seeing the task through to completion.  I tend to set weekly calendar reminders for myself to check in with people associated with tasks that I am responsible for completing.

Tasks can also be sorted by any of the available date fields.  some may prefer to see tasks sorted by due date.  others may wish to look at them sorted by start date.  another option is to sort by category.  I personally don’t use this option, but others may find it helpful if they like to organize their tasks into categories.

Final Tips

Be sure to dedicate time to the process.  Develop a cadence that works for you, whether it be daily, a few times a week, or once a week to do a review of your inbox.  Avoid attraction to distraction.  Disable or decrease notifications.  Personally, I have my new email notifications set to 3 seconds at 20% transparency.  I forget what the default is, but I believe it is around 5-7 seconds, which feels like an eternity and can be a major distraction.

Don’t hesitate to go offline.  I promise you we’ll all be here when you get back.  And last but not least, don’t overdo it with the sorting/categorizing.  Remember the ‘search/sort tradeoff’ we spoke of earlier.

These tips have really helped me ensure that I get back to the right people, at the appropriate times, while at the same time reducing my sense of feeling overwhelmed.  I hope you’ll take some of the tips I’ve suggested to take control of your Inbox.  Thank you.

Extra Credit

This next slide wasn’t in my official speech.  However, this was one slide I wanted to include but had to ‘cut for time’.  I decided to place it at the very end of my presentation document, because I liked it a lot, but just couldn’t fit it in the 5-7 minutes I was given.  However, my speech ended up being well received, and one of the other Toastmasters asked for advice on how to separate urgent/non-urgent and important/non-important emails.  You would have thought I planted her in the audience.  I laughed, and brought up this slide in the Q&A that followed.  I couldn’t have been happier that she asked the question.
EisenhowerMatrix

Toastmasters: The Icebreaker

It has been a while since I’ve posted anything.  Family, work, and school have managed to take up most of my time.  At the time that I’m putting this together, one MBA course wrapped up, and the next one doesn’t start for a few more days. I thought it would be a good idea to transcribe my Toastmasters speech(es) as close as presented – but modified to fit this format.  I gave my first one back in August.  It went something like this…

Why I’m Here

The title of my speech is “Why I’m Here” and in the next few minutes I hope to clarify that point and explain exactly that – why I’m physically here, standing in front of you all, giving my ice breaker speech.  In order to do that, we need to travel back in time about 3.5 years.

So let’s hop into the DeLorean, and adjust our time circuits.  We need to travel back to March 24, 2014.

My First Year

TimeCircuit1

The Good

There were some good things that occurred during my first year.  I got to take part in some really important projects.  There are two that I’ll mention specifically.

The first was the EDC Evaluation project.  This allowed me to meet with a lot of stakeholders from various divisions across the organization and learn more about the industry.  We worked together to detail the difficulties they were experiencing in the current landscape with multiple EDC systems spread across multiple sites, hosted externally.  We defined what an ideal landscape would look like with one system – which would have the effect of giving better control of our data, in addition to significant cost and time savings.  We worked together to develop an RFI and sent it to multiple vendors.  We reviewed and scored the vendor responses, and shortlisted a subset of the vendors for onsite presentations.  The results of this evaluation effort can now be seen in some of the active projects going on today.

A second project I felt positively impacted my learning during my first year was the Data Quality Excellence project.  I worked with an experienced employee on a project that dealt with doing an in-depth end-to-end mapping of existing processes, identifying gaps and potential issues, and recommending possible solutions.  We held various meetings with many stakeholders across the organization and across the globe to complete this project.  This project had a double-benefit.  It provided me with a better understanding of how things are done at our company, as well as in our industry.  Also, by assisting this experienced employee, I learned extremely valuable lessons on how to effectively execute large projects with many stakeholders.

The Not So Good

During my first year, there were also a couple of things I struggled with, or in retrospect, could have done better.

NotSoGood

I had a boss that tended to let me be since I was involved on various projects.  Now when you know what you’re doing, that could be a good thing – they leave you alone.  When you’re new and don’t really know what you’re doing, it can be not so good – well, because – they leave you alone.  I felt like I was held back in growth opportunities and wasn’t sure where to go for guidance.  Because of that, I felt I was coasting along – and not really growing.

The Really Not So Good

But then there were some really not so good things that happened during my first year.  The company went through a reorg.  And while everyone in my former department was impacted in one way or another, I was one of the worst ones impacted where there wasn’t a role for me in the new organization.  I was notified that I was going to be put on a wave, which essentially means I will be let go at a future date – to be determined.

The Short-Term Plan: Stay at the Company

ShortTermGoal

I created a short-term goal for myself.  And that was – To stay at the company.  You’re probably asking yourself, “Why would you want to do that?  It doesn’t seem like they care much about you.”  I had a couple of reasons I wanted to stay.

First, I really like the culture at the company.  Everyone seems to get along well with one another.  There isn’t any passing the buck or blaming others like you see in other companies.  For the most part, everyone is genuinely interested in helping one another get things done.

Second, from a personal standpoint, I had concerns with the impact this could have on my resume.  I felt someone reading it might get a negative impression upon seeing that I was at a company for such a short period of time.

I reached out to others within the company for advice.  Some mentioned they’ve been impacted by reorgs in the past.  Interestingly, a few mentioned they had been impacted several times.  They all had the same advice.  It was along the lines of ‘if you want to stay with the company and you act strategically, you’ll find a way to stay.’

I got aggressive in my search.  I wasn’t looking externally yet, as I really hoped to find something internally.  But one of the consulting companies we contract with caught wind of what was going on and reached out to me.  I let them know of my desires to stay with the company, but let them know I would be interested if something internally didn’t work out.  It felt good that they saw me as valuable during this troubling time.

With my internal search, I had a few phone interviews, and one in-person interview.  Unfortunately, I eventually received notification of my wave date.  It was very short-notice, and my date was at the end of the week.  Following the wave date, I entered a ‘warming period’ which can be summed up by saying ‘you get paid as if you are working, but you get to stay home.’  Sounds glorious, right?  In reality, it’s not much fun.  You have a lot of free time, but don’t want to do anything that costs money, because well, your job prospects are unknown.  So you end up doing odd tasks around the house.  The rose bushes looked great that year.

Fortunately, during that warming period I received a phone call.  I got an offer.  Now let’s get back in the time machine and travel again – this time to two years ago.

TimeCircuit2.JPG

My Second Year

I had a job…I was safe…for now.  But what did I learn from my experience?  I needed to find ways to increase my value to the company.  I wanted to be seen as someone they wanted to keep around the next time they have a reorg.

ActionPlan

I wanted to enhance my existing strengths.  There were things I was good at that I wanted to improve.  I also wanted to build new strengths.  There were things I wasn’t good at at all – that I knew I needed to learn.  How could I accomplish these goals?  I decided to do four separate things.  First, I joined the mentoring program at work. This has been a great opportunity and I think everyone here should look into it.  It’s great to be able to bounce ideas off of someone outside of your department.  Second, I signed up for, studied, and got PMP certified.  My summer vacation last year wasn’t fun as it was spent studying.  Speaking of studying, third, I started my MBA.  I’m in my third and final semester – and I see the light at the end of the tunnel.  And finally, I signed up for Toastmasters.  Speaking of that, we need to get into the time machine one last time, and travel back to the present.

TimeCircuit3

This all leads me to why I am standing in front of you today.  I was originally going to say I’m here out of fear.  Fear of, ‘What if this all happens again?’  But I thought that sounded too dark.  So while there may still be some truth to that, I wanted to spin it in a positive light.

LevelUp

I’m here to level up.  I’m not really afraid of public speaking per-se, but I know I have a lot to improve upon.  I need to get better at controlling my speed, and making sure I speak slowly.  I know I could get better at eye contact, mumbling, fidgeting, and ending lists with ‘and things like that…’.  I want to get better at storytelling, and sounding confidant.  But what else am I missing?  What don’t I know, that I need to work on?

So while this is the end of my icebreaker speech, this is not the end of my Toastmaster’s Journey.  Thank you.

ToBeContinued

I recently watched the 1977 bodybuilding documentary Pumping Iron.  Towards the end of the film, Arnold says the following:

“I don’t have any weak points. I had weak points three years ago, but my main thing in mind is, my goal always was, to even out everything to the point… that everything is perfect. Which means if I want to increase one muscle a half inch, the rest of the body has to increase. I would never make one muscle increase or decrease, because everything fits together now, and all I have to do is get my posing routine down more perfect, which is almost impossible to do, you know. It’s perfect already.”

I could not think of a more fitting way to describe properly maintaining the asset allocation of a portfolio.  While everyone’s specific allocation may be different due to their age and/or risk tolerance – the maintenance of that allocation requires mental fortitude to stick with it.

I’m currently in the process of re-balancing my investments to match my desired allocation and had to make a difficult decision.  I try to maximize my Roth IRA contributions each year, and rather than re-arrange my holdings by selling shares, I try to update my allocation with new contributions.  The problem I ran into was one of my asset classes is doing extremely well in terms of percentage gains, yet was a smaller portion of my overall portfolio than my desired target allocation. (The cause of this is likely due to my 401k contributions that occur at regular intervals, whereas I make my Roth contributions at irregular intervals.)  I felt like I was battling “buy low, sell high” vs. having a properly diversified portfolio.

In the end, I thought about Arnold’s quote.  I didn’t want to have a weak point and remain under-allocated in one of my asset classes. I moved forward and invested more shares in the well performing asset class.  My portfolio allocation is now closer to my desired target.  Now I just need to work on my posing…

Many of you have probably made a resolution of getting into better shape.  (Personally I’m against such things…I think if you want to make a change there’s no time like the present,  but that’s a topic for another time.)  Below are excerpts from my running/workout playlist.  I don’t really have ‘an order’ on this playlist  – I usually shuffle the songs, so I grouped them into categories below.

Girl Power

Ladies first…I’m not ashamed to admit it, I have some kick-ass songs from female artists that are spread throughout my playlist.  Here are some good ones:

Keeps Getting Better – Christina Aguilera
Miss Independent – Kelly Clarkson – 
This one is good for interval training.  Every time she hits her chorus – run hard.
Hit Me Up – Gia Farrell – You’re may be wondering who Gia is.  Apparently she didn’t get very far, but this is still a good song.  It was in Happy Feet.  This song has a good tempo throughout and is probably best mid-workout.
Rumour Has it – Adele

90’s/2000’s Rock & Alternative

This section will probably grow over time.  I always mean to add more songs to it.  I don’t know if it’s because I was a child of this era or not, but this category and the next make up a large chunk of my list.

My Generation – Limp Bizkit
Bulls on Parade – Rage Against the Machine – 
The entire song is hard and good,but the last minute really pumps me up.
The Boys of Summer – The Ataris – Another good one for mid-workout.  No real high’s or low’s but a good one for keeping a good pace.
Rollin’ (Urban Assault Vehicle) – Limp Bizkit
Calling All Angels – Train – 
Save this for longer runs.  It’s got a slower pace but feels upbeat.
Bawitdaba – Kid Rock
Chop Suey – System of a Down

90’s/2000’s Techno

Again, not sure if it’s because I grew up in this era, but I feel this was the best time for electronic music.  Maybe it’s because I’m older, but a lot of the newer stuff all sounds the same to me.  The songs of this era were all unique and you could identify one song from another.

Tao of the Machine – BT – From the Blade 3 soundtrack.  Really good for the beginning of a workout.  Good for getting things going.
Song for Mutya – Groove Armada – Better for longer runs mid-workout.  The chorus can be good for interval training and the lyrics are upbeat/uplifting.
Hymn (This Is My Dream) – Moby – Another good one for longer runs.  It never really picks up but has a positive sound throughout the song.
Paranoid (The Crystal Method Remix) – Garbage – Hard throughout.  Good for when you need a pickup.
Apache (From On the Floor at the Boutique) – Fatboy Slim – Good for interval training. Run fast every time the ‘jump on it’ part plays.
(Can’t You)Trip Like I Do – Danny Saber Mix – There’s nothing like the original – but this remix is good for getting pumped up.
Hand Clap – Girl Talk – I stumbled across this somewhere and it’s an absolute gem.  This song is basically a mash up of a couple other songs which eventually blends into Hollaback Girl.  It’s very short but very good.
Firestarter – Prodigy – As heavy as this song is, it can be good for both interval training and getting pumped up.  Towards the middle and end the drums kick in and out.  It’s good for picking you back up.
One Man Army/No Man Army – Prodigy & Tom Morello – Great mix of hard rock and electronic.  Both versions are good.
Cowgirl – Underworld – When I first heard this while watching Hackers, I was hooked.  In the top 3 of my favorite songs of this genre.

Everything Else

These next few songs didn’t really fit into the categories above, so I gave them their own.

Light Suits – Blue Man Group – Along with “Tao of the Machine” this is a good one to listen to at the beginning of a workout/run.  It has a good buildup.
It’s Tricky – Run DMC
Turn Down for What – DJ Snake & Lil Jon
I Want it All/We Will Rock You (Suckerpunch Soundtrack) – Queen/Geddy – Aside from being visually appealing, this was one of the few good things that came out of the movie.
Wish Liszt – Trans Siberian Orchestra –Sure it’s a holiday song, but you can run to it all year round.  The last minute is great for the end of a run for pushing through when you feel like you have nothing left.
Les Fleur – 4 Hero – This is a really weird one.  However, for some reason I like it.  The original is from the 70’s and originally sung by Minnie Riperton.  This song has a lot of slow points, but whenever the chorus hits I run as fast I can.

This book review was originally going to be lighter than ones in the past.  Rather than go in depth I planned to highlight sections of a chapter that really stood out to me.  After going through my notes, I realized I had a lot to say about the some of the chapters.

I was influenced to buy this book when I noticed it on the desk of a new employee at a former company.  I was already in the process of leaving when she was coming in, and had high hopes for her.  I liked her way of thinking and was upset I would not be able to learn a lot from her with me joining a new company.  When I saw this book on her desk, I figured it was a good idea to get myself a copy.

Introduction: The First 90 Days: The Break-even point

This section of the introduction stood out to me the most because I thought it was a fresh approach to starting a new job.  In essence, a new employee’s goal is to get to a break-even point as early as possible.  To get to this point, they should contribute as much value to the new organization as they have consumed from it.  In theory, the book suggests this be done within the first 90 days of a new job.

There is one story and then my  personal take that I will make as to why this stood out to me.  The story:  I interviewed at one company for a position that was being created to fit a new role.  I did not get the job, but one question the CEO asked me was, “How long would it take for you to get in the swing of things?”  Because it was a new industry and the job was being created from scratch, I answered, “Six months.”  I wonder if I had said “90 Days” instead if it would have resonated better with him.  I’ll never know, and I moved on.  My take:  Sometimes you have to do hard things up front to get a reward later.  Save your money now, and you can retire early.  Spend a few extra hours learning a new skill, and you are more valuable.  Those types of things I think relate to consuming value early in the new job, and start adding value back once you’re capable of doing so.

Chapter 1: Assessing My Intrinsic Interests

There were two main pieces I enjoyed in Chapter 1.  The first had more to do with elements that I believe are some of my strengths.  It has to do with learning the new culture and making sure you observe how things are run at the new company.  To develop the right connections you need to expand your communications to those outside your vertical relationships.  I fully understand this concept, and have done a great job of it in the past and would continue to do so wherever I am.

The other part of this chapter that really stuck out to me was the self assessment of intrinsic interests.  There is a table in the chapter where there is a ‘problem’ and you have to rate from 1 to 10 how much that problem interests you.  On the adjacent page is a similar table that you transfer your numbers.  Where the first table appeared random with problems, the second table categorizes the columns into “Technical”, “Political”, and “Cultural”.  The rows are categorized as “Human Resources”, “Finance”, “Marketing”, “Operations”, and “Research and Development”.  After totaling all my results, I found that there was a significant difference in the “Technical” column as well as the “Financial” row.  All other columns and rows were within a few points of each other.  This combination however, was further off.  What it says about me, is that this may be an area of weakness for me that I should pay extra attention to in my new role.  The book refers to these areas as “blind spots”.

Chapter 2: Accelerate Your Learning

The key lesson I learned from this chapter is that you can’t always take ‘what worked in the past’ and apply it to your current situation.   The culture could be different, and people may not be receptive to your ideas.  You need to adapt your ideas to fit into the the culture of your new environment.  The chapter then goes on to create a “Learning Agenda” by figuring out answers to questions about past performance, determining root causes, and history of changes.  It lists questions about the company’s present vision and strategy, people, processes, land mines and early wins.  Finally it wraps up the learning plan with questions about the future revolving around challenges and opportunities, barriers and resources, and culture.

It goes on to list external sources of insight that you can identify.  Depending on your industry this could be customers, suppliers, analysts, etc.  Internal sources from various departments could also be used (Sales, R&D, other staff).

If you’re in a management position, it suggests meeting with your direct reports one-on-one and asking each person the same 5 questions.  This should be done in this structured manner so you can compare your results.

Chapter 3: Match Strategy to Situation

This chapter evaluates companies using a method called STARS.  A company typically falls into one of 5 situations in the model.  Without getting into as much detail as is listed in the book, a brief description:

Start-Up – Getting a business off the ground.  No strategy or clear framework established.  Gives you the opportunity to create things from scratch.
Turnaround – Business is in trouble.  Employees are demoralized.  Gives you the opportunity to improve because the need to fix is known.
Accelerated growth – Business is growing.  Structures need to be established and new employees brought on-board.  People are motivated.
Realignment – Don’t settle.  Employees need to stay motivated.  The organization can see it’s strengths.
Sustained success – Taking it to the next level.  Finding ways to do this.  The good news is a strong team is already in place.

If I had to grade the company I was previous at and compare it to the one I’m currently in, I would say the company I left was somewhere around Turnaround and Realignment.  (The book mentions that certain pieces of a company can be at different stages in the model.)  Table 3-3 does a good job explaining the key differences between turnaround and realignment and what actions should be taken depending on where the company fits.   The previous company has made a lot of changes without a clear vision to see what would stick.  Eventually they may figure it out but it will take time.  The company I am current in is likely in Realignment or Sustained Success.  They are aware of their problems, and what they need to improve processes.  Now they are in the execution mode to achieve their goals.

 Chapter 4:  Negotiate Success

The focusing on fundamentals section of this chapter was my key takeaway.  Areas they touch upon: Be careful of a boss who is hands off.  If the boss doesn’t reach out to you, you have to try harder and reach out to them.  Your boss needs to be aware of what you’re working on.  Don’t surprise them.  When you do approach your boss with  a problem, show that you’ve looked into it and help them address the problem.  Don’t tell them everything you’re working on, just the things they need or want to hear.  Lastly, don’t expect your boss to change.  Aim for early wins in areas important to your boss.  Get on the good side of those that are close to your boss.

There’s a section that outlines 5 conversations you should have with your boss surrounding situations, expectations, resources, style, and personal development.  Two in particular I liked:  In the expectations conversation the author recommends steering towards under-promising and over-delivering.  I always try to guide people in this direction, especially when giving high-level estimates.  My main reason is people tend to be too optimistic and over-promise and under-deliver.  At worst, my suggestion ends up being realistic.  At best, you exceed the deadline and look all the better.  The other piece I enjoyed was the section on knowing your boss’ style.  The example they gave was if you leave messages for your boss and they don’t respond but then later come and ask you about the subject, you realized your boss doesn’t use that mode of communication effectively.  You will need to find out how your boss prefers to communicate.

Chapter 5:  Secure Early Wins

The story that opened up the chapter was interesting.  A woman is promoted to head customer service at a leading retailer, and worked with her former peers (now direct reports) to gain consensus and build quality improvement goals in a participative culture.  She made other changes, but ultimately she worked with her team in creating goals and achieving results.

The chapter focuses on getting wins that are important to your boss.  This appears to be a recurring theme.  Obviously for a good reason – if you’re boss is happy you will likely be in a good place.  One section I found interesting was on building credibility.  The author mentions in your first few weeks you won’t be able make a measurable impact.  However you need to achieve small wins early because people are already forming opinions about you based on the little they know.  Your early moves will shape their perceptions.

Chapter 6: Achieve Alignment

The first part of this chapter that stuck out to me was  when they spoke about a common trap where companies try to restructure their way out of deeper problems.  Companies tend to change their org chart rather than deal with their real issues such as processes, skill bases, and culture.  Ignoring this could cause misalignment and lead to backtracking and damaged credibility.

The other piece I liked was the starting point (ironically) of the Getting Started section.  They emphasized looking at how your unit is positioned with respect to the larger organization’s goals and priorities.  Make sure your mission, vision, and strategy are thought out and integrated.

The reason these two topics stuck out to me is because of the company I came from, and the company I joined.  I think the company I left has process issues they should focus on to gain momentum.  The company I joined has department goals and objectives that relate and roll up to the organization’s goals, mission and vision.

 Chapter 7: Build Your Team

The “Avoid Common Traps” section at initial reading seems like obvious stuff, but when you evaluate it deeper you realize that many companies still face these issues.  I’ve heard stories of how new managers criticize  previous leadership.  They think they’re playing hero when in reality they’re building a brick wall against their new team. Instead, the author recommends assessing current behavior and making changes to support improved performance.  Another piece of this section I related with was in regards to keeping teams too long.  Inheriting teams can present a difficult situations especially based on the scenario in which the team was inherited.  You may also be constrained in your ability to make changes.  The hard advice to take is you need to set deadlines for reaching conclusions about the team and what actions should be taken, and you need to stick to the plan you created.  The last piece of this section I enjoyed was in regards losing good people.  A quote from the book, “When you shake the tree, good people can fall out, too.”  It’s tough losing good people and takes an extreme amount of effort to get back to the level you were at when you had them.  Time is lost in the search for a new person, they need to be on-boarded, etc.  While the author mentions this can’t always be avoided, the recommendation is to let the top performers know early and often that you recognize their capabilities.

The other section of the chapter I enjoyed was “Test Their Judgment”.  One statement I found interesting was “Some very bright people have lousy business judgment, and some people of average competence have extraordinary judgment.” Some smart people lack certain abilities you would think come naturally from them, and other people you might not expect to will surprise you with ideas.  The bottom line is you want to analyze the decisions people make.  It may be difficult to do in a work situation if you are new, so the author recommends feeling the person out for topics they are passionate about.  Once you find out what that is, ask them to make predictions on a given scenario.  See what choice they make and have them analyze why they made that choice.  Later, follow up to see what happens.  This allows you to test a person’s ability to exercise judgment in a particular area.  The skills they used can then be applied to the business domain.

Based on the length of this chapter’s review, you might be able to tell I enjoyed this chapter slightly more than the others thus far.

Chapter 8: Create Alliances

The further I got into this chapter, the more I enjoyed it.  It was also one of the main chapters where I felt I could stop thinking about the past and start thinking about the present.  One piece I really liked was in the section on mapping influence networks.  The author describes an influence network as a channel for communication and persuasion that operates in parallel with the formal structure.  When the author talks about having you connect to key stakeholders, he suggests you ask your boss for a list of key stakeholders they think you should get to know, and then suggests you set up meetings with them.  (The author also mentions ‘paying this forward’ and doing this for new employees that come after you, which I agree with.)  One thing I would add to this strategy, is feel free to expand that initial request to those around you.  In my present situation I’ve reached out to my peers, my boss, and levels above my boss when appropriate, as well as other people in the organization from other departments.  Use resources you have to find what other resources might be good for you to meet.

One piece I didn’t relate to right away but understood more as I read it was the section on drawing influence diagrams.  For me personally, I don’t think I’d physically draw them out as described in the book, I think I read people well enough to be able to make this connection in my head.  In summary you draw co-workers in a diagram and connect people via arrows.  The bolder the arrow, the more influence the person at the base of the arrow has over the person the arrow is pointed to.  Some people in your diagram will support your initiative, some will oppose it, and some will be neutral.  They will be labelled appropriately.

I particularly liked the section building ‘alliances of convenience’.  These are people you may not always see eye to eye with on a day to day basis but do come to agreement on specific areas.  You want to work with these people and educate them to your viewpoint.

There are various reasons people may disagree or oppose your goal.  They may believe you’re wrong, fear you, or they may just be comfortable with the status quo and be resistant to change.  Don’t treat these people as enemies.  Rather try and find out what it is that motivates them to oppose your point of view, and work on countering that argument.  The author mentions that success in winning over adversaries carries significant symbolic weight that will resonate with others.

Later in the chapter the author describes different strategies you can use to influence people.  Methods include: consultation, framing, choice-shaping, social influence, incrementalism, sequencing, and action forcing events.

During consultation you are engaged and actively listening.  You ask questions and encourage people to voice their concerns.  Finally you summarize and feedback what you have heard.  I took the benefit of this approach as showing mutual understanding and the other person realizing that you are treating them with respect.  It works well when you have someone who shares that same level of respect with you.

The framing technique mentions carefully crafting your persuasive arguments on a person-by-person basis.  Your argument needs to take an appropriate tone to resonate well with the other person.  The author goes into detail about Aristotle’s theoretical categories of logos (make logical arguments – using data, and facts), ethos (elevate principles that should be applied and values that should be upheld – fairness and building a culture of teamwork are used as an example), and pathos (making emotional connections).  You would use these categories to identify what types of arguments you would need to make in attempting to persuade people.  One very important piece that I completely agree with on this strategy is where the author mentions preparing for counterarguments you expect your opponents to make.  The author says, “Presenting and decisively refuting weak forms of expected counterarguments immunizes audiences against the same arguments when they’re advanced in more potent forms.”  I frequently use this technique when I know I will have to deal with difficult people.  In advance of an upcoming conversation, I think of typical counterarguments that they might have.  By being prepared, I find I have more success in the conversation and am able to work with the other person rather than have them become irrational.

Choice-shaping describes how you can influence how people perceive alternatives.  To me this all has to do with how you present options.

Social influence is about the impact of opinions of others and rules of societies in which they live.  This ties in with earlier pieces about influence groups.  Essentially if you get buy-in from a well respected person others are likely to follow.

Incrementalism is about taking baby steps to reach your goal rather than making once big change.

Sequencing is being strategic about the order in which you seek to influence people to build momentum.  This was another one I connected with.  If you meet with the right people in the right order, you can gradually build momentum and gain support.  For people into investing, I looked at this as interest compounding over time.  Your area of influence grows and grows.  In the book, the author mentions scheduling a series of one-on-one and group meetings to create this momentum.  These are techniques I use frequently when working on detailed projects.

Lastly action-forcing events deals with getting people to stop deferring decisions.  I think this technique should be used regularly in meetings with people.  In a typical meeting I have a section for action items that I assign to people with due dates for completing the action.

There was a lot in this chapter, I especially enjoyed the last section on influencing strategies.  To summarize, the strategies I really lean towards are:  consultation, framing, and sequencing.  At a smaller level I also like social influence.  While I think action-forcing events is important and required, I don’t see it as an influence strategy but more of a requirement for making change and ensuring actions are completed.  Based on the length of this chapter review you might be able to tell it was also one of the ones I enjoyed.

Chapter 9: Manage Yourself

This chapter focuses on evaluating your strengths and weaknesses.  There is a section on taking stock in yourself based on where you are in your transition.  On a scale of low to high it asks you to answer some questions.  I’ll highlight some below and provide my responses:

  • How excited are you?  Response:  High.  I’m motivated to perform well in my job.  I want to start strong out of the gate and set a good example upon initial impressions of me.
  • How confident are you?  Response:  Medium.  My confidence in my job is growing, but because it is a new segment in the healthcare industry, I feel I have a lot to learn before I can truly feel comfortable in what I do.
  • In control of your success?  Response:  Medium.  Again, I think I have to work with others to understand and achieve deliverables on my end.
  • With whom have you failed to connect?  Response:  Everyone I have worked with has been very friendly in reaching common goals.  Where there is conflict, people respect each other.  This is a positive change compared to what I have seen in the past.  However, I would like to build connections and get to know people at a more personal level.
  • Which interactions exceeded your expectations?  Response:  There have been some people I have worked with that have taken the extra step to make sure I understand something.  Experienced people at a company usually forget this when they are working with someone new and use acronyms and program names that are foreign to the new person.  It’s helpful when people go the extra mile and is something I would pay forward when training the next new person.

One comment in this section I connected with was when the author mentions that the difficulties we face may be the result of deeper personal vulnerabilities that could take us off track.  The book has some examples that follow (Know when to say no, defending a bad decision, being busy but avoiding the important work) and the one that I think I need to focus on is isolation.  I’d like to work on making and maintaining the right connections.  The book uses other examples that I don’t concern myself with, such has discouraging people from sharing information with myself, as I don’t think I’d let that occur.  In my case I think I would work on being more assertive, focus on communication efforts, and display confidence.

The next section covers the 3 pillars of self management.  Pillar 1 is adopting the 90-day plan.  Pillar 2 is developing personal disciplines.  “Knowing what you should be doing is not the same as doing it.”  Sometimes we know we have a difficult task in front of us and put off doing it.  Getting started is the hardest part.  Once you’re in it, it doesn’t seem so bad.  Devote time to planning.  Develop a plan-work-evaluate cycle.  Spend 10 minutes at the end of each day to evaluate what you did and plan what you want to do the following day.  Focus on what’s important.  Don’t let the urgent crowd out the important.  Don’t commit to things right away.  Take the time to make sure doing something a good idea.  Pillar 3 details building support systems internally and externally.  Make sure you have a good work-life balance.  Build an advice-and-counsel network of internal and external people.

Lastly and most importantly, stay on track.

Chapter 10: Accelerate Everyone

The first part of this chapter discusses different types of transitions and the support that may be needed.  Table 10-1 discusses some of the reasons for transition failures.  Some I thought to be interesting are:

  • Insufficient clarity about expectations and mandates – I’ve seen or heard about people getting ‘thrown in the trenches’ without much to go on.  They are then held accountable for results without really knowing what the organization’s goals are.
  • Having a Darwinian leadership culture – Similar to the bullet above, leaders don’t get enough support when cultures tend to have a sink-or-swim approach to development.  More organizations should do a better job of building leaders in house.
  • Leaders are expected to do their old job and their new job:  I’ve seen this as well.  Companies need to set a date of transition and honor it for the sake of the employee.  While the person in the new role can assist with tasks in their old role, they should not be held accountable for it.
  • Culture Adaptation – People are expected to figure out the culture on their own and can make early mistakes.  A company can do a great job describing what their culture is, but it can also be helpful to describe how they live it.

I also enjoyed the section titled “Deliver Support Just in Time”.  It describes how transitions evolve through a series of predictable stages.  People usually do investigative work to learn and gain clarity.  Then they define a strategic direction for the organization and then make key decisions around talent and processes.  The author mentions how leaders should be offered transition support in digestible blocks.  In their new role they only have so much time to devote to learning and planning.  Companies I have worked for accomplish this through online training courses and documentation organized in a way to bring new people on board and slowly immerse them into the topics that are new to them.  Another option the author recommends is to leverage the time before the new leader starts the official position.  Provide people with key documents and tools that might assist them before they start.  I really like this idea and would use it in the right situation.  As a new leader coming on board, it may be helpful to email your new supervisor and ask for this type of information up front.

In matching transition support to transition type, they focus on two types of transitions specifically.  In a promotion, leaders face a new set of challenges.  What is needed of them in this new role is very different from the skills that got them into the new role. Resources should be provided to help the new leader understand what new skills it takes to be successful at this new level.  With on-boarding, new leaders face many foreign challenges.  They have to learn a whole new set of processes, learn the company culture and subcultures, and create new relationships.  Resources should be available to help them understand what is needed to connect with key people to increase their productivity early on.

Final Thoughts

I thought this book was very good.  I wouldn’t go as far to say it was excellent.  I think it tried to target a wide audience.  In doing so, some parts or chapters focus on executive leaders while others are tailored towards middle managers.  Having said that, it is still a very good book.  Readers will have to take the time to focus on the pieces that could apply to them and take advantage of the learning opportunities available throughout the book.  I would recommend it to anyone starting at a new company who wants to make a strong first impression or anyone in an existing company about to take on a promotion.

If you read any recent business books, blogs, or articles, often they talk about the great service a company like Zappos provides.  Zappos is frequently mentioned for empowering their employees to make decisions which leads to the company being recognized for exceptional customer service.  Unfortunately for me, I had to climb some hurdles with my bank over $2.50.

A few months back I noticed a charge on my checking account.  I went to a branch and inquired with one of the tellers.  They said they notified all the members with my account type that the new minimum balance was changed from $5,000 to $7,500.  I mentioned that I received no such memo, and asked if they could give me a credit for that month.  I received my credit and  all was well.

Fast-forward to a few months later and add a child to the mix along with diapers, daycare, and Desitin,  and I was struggling each month to maintain the minimum balance.  I found myself having to wait an extra week for another paycheck to come in before I could pay the bills.  (Part of this is my fault, I like to pay them off as soon as I get a statement.)  I went back to the branch, and asked to change my account type to the next one down, that has many of the same perks, but only requires a $1,000 minimum balance.  I noticed in the brochure that one of the differences between the accounts was that this new one had an ATM card where the one I was switching from offered debit cards that contained a credit card logo.  I mentioned it to the teller and she said I could keep the debit card but they would charge me a fee.  I offered to surrender my debit card for an ATM card.  All seemed well.

Fast-forward to a few weeks later and I’m checking my account online.  I see two new service charges.  The descriptions are vague, but I can make one out to be  for the debit card that I no longer owned.  I had a check to deposit, so I figured I would go to the bank and speak to the teller about it.  As I’m filling out the deposit slip, I see an employee lurking in the queue.  In the past they’ve had a sales air about them letting you know of some promotion they are running where if you refer a friend you each get $50 or something similar.  Today however, I got the sense he was figuring out what types of transactions people were doing for the new employee behind the counter.  I mentioned to the lurker I was just making a deposit and he mentioned, “Oh John should be able to help you with that, right this way.”

So I proceed to the counter.  To my amusement, the new guy reminded me of the squeaky-voiced teen from the Simpsons (Jeremy Freedman is the name of the character on the show.)  So part of me goes, “Oh here we go, the new guy is going to have no clue how to answer my questions.”  But then another part of me went, “You know what, they have to learn somewhere.  Let me ask him anyway and see where this goes.”  So after he does the obligatory, “How’s the weather out there?  Did the sun come out yet?” and deposited my check, I get the “Is there anything else I can help you with today?”  I replied, “Why yes there is…I have these two charges on my account…”  He’s able to look up the descriptions that were cryptic online in a little more detail.  He replies, “Well the $1.00 charge was because you have a debit card..” and I quickly interrupted him to let him know I surrendered my debit card to the teller (ironically that same teller was helping out another customer to my right) the same day I switched my account.  He replied, “Hmm I see.  Well I will need to check with my manager.  She’s on vacation for another two days.  I can write down your account information and have her look at it when she gets back.”  I can see him writing my account information on a blank deposit slip.  I asked him if I could give him my cell phone number so the manager could call me with confirmation she got the message and give me an update, to which he replied sure.

I didn’t get a good sense that the manager was going to call, or that a credit was going to take place, so I decided to call the 800 number.  I spoke with customer service representative who reiterated everything Squeaks told me about the debit card vs. the ATM card.  However, she had a little more power, and was able to credit me the $1.00 service charge.  When I inquired about the $1.50 charge, she mentioned it was for an overdraft protection line of credit that I had, which was previously free with my other account type.  I told her I was not aware that this would result in fees with the new account type, and asked if she could close my line of credit account.  She said she would need to transfer me to the Loans department and they would be able to help.  Now I’m on the phone with someone from the Loans department, and he tells me in order to close my line of credit account I need to go back to the branch in order to sign a form.  I say it’s unfortunate since I had just returned from the branch.  He apologized but said that is what is needed to close the account.

Fast-forward to two days later, and I received no phone call from the squeaky-voiced guy’s manager.  I wasn’t surprised.  I decided to go to a different branch to see if I would have better luck.  This time, there was a senior-looking employee that looked like she would be able to help.  I started telling my story.  First she replies, “Well you know, you get so many perks with the other account type, and the interest bearing account type you’re in now pays so little interest, maybe you want to go back…”  I replied, “No no, it’s not that I didn’t like that account, I struggled to maintain the new minimum balance you guys changed to a few months back.”  She quickly backed down.  I thought to myself, “So far, so good.  Let’s keep this going.”  But then as luck would have it she goes, “Well I do see you were charged but then later refunded a $1.00.”  I said, “Yes but that’s not why I’m here.  I’m also charged $1.50 for a line of credit that I would like to close out.  I was told I had to come to a branch and sign a form.”  She replies, “Oh no you didn’t have to come here to do that.  You could have done it over the phone.  But anyway, I can put in a request to close it for you.  Please keep in mind I can’t close it myself, I’m only putting in a request to have it closed.  You should check back your account in a week to see if it’s actually closed.”  Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot!

As she is closing the account, I start my fight for my $1.50.  “Since I was unaware that the account change would incur this $1.50 service charge, is there any way you can provide a credit for it?”  To my amazement, I see her whip out a blank deposit slip.  “Well, I would need to check with my manager to get approval, but I can take down your information and send it to them.”  At this point, I started to feel like I was going to get far with this teller either.  However, I had another thought that concerned me.  “So to confirm, you’re not sure if you can credit the $1.50 for last month, and I’m closing the line of credit this month.  Am I going to see another $1.50 charge on my account for this month?”  She replied, “Well your billing cycle starts on the 6th, today is the 12th, so you technically  have had the protection for a few days in this cycle, so there is a chance they will bill you for this month. But I did just put in the request to close it, so you should check in a week or so to make sure it goes through.”  I thanked her and left.

Now, at this point, most people would say, “It’s $1.50.  It’s not worth your trouble to further.”  But to me it was a matter of principle.  I couldn’t give up.  I took to Twitter.  I have had good luck in the past reaching out to companies via Twitter.  For some reason, it has been a boon for customers in trying to get good service from many companies, myself included.  My tweet: “@BankName Whatever happened to empowering employees? Ive gone to 2 branches and a phone call to try and get a credit on a new charge.”  Four hours later, I get a request to direct message them my personal number and a good time to call.  I message them my information, and 90 minutes later, my cell phone rings.

I give her a summary version of the story you just read.  She was very helpful, agreed it’s silly not to credit the $1.50 and told me she would put it through, and that I would have to wait 24 hours to see it on my account.

So because this bank did good in the end, I chose not to name them.  However, this would be my advice to them, which is applicable to any company:  Empower your employees.  People are frustrated enough they get bounced around from Person A to Person B.  When I see them write information down on a piece of paper and follow up with “I need to check with my manager” I assume one or two things are happening.  1)  You have no power to do anything.  2)  You are being trained to pretend to care and write my information down but you don’t actually plan on doing anything with it.