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Chronicles from a Caribbean Cubicle


Response to Christmas Cards

There is no mistaking that the advice that I picked up from a website about writing greeting cards was critical.

Basically, it was very simple. Add a personal note to every card. A handwritten note, that is. And no, not just a signature either...

This was tough medicine, as it meant that I would be writing a personal note in each of the greeting cards I sent to some 300 people across the region.

But, I did it -- as painful as it felt. I got writer's cramp, I complained to myself, and I had a strong feeling that I was wasting my time, but I persisted.

In the cards I shared about the difficulty my wife and I had transitioning to Jamaica, and how the second half of the year with its hurricanes, rains, dengue, and elections made it full of chaos and change. I said that I was looking forward to a more stable 2008.

It took a few weeks for me to realize that something different was happening -- many, many more recipients of my card were responding. Some sent email, others send cards, and one even sent a gift.

I was blown away. It turns out to have been well worth the extra effort, and I am very glad I made it.

Here is the original article I read, and here is another one that I just found that also seems to be helpful.

Original article - Personal notes to clients

New article - Writing Greeting Card Messages

All in all, sending a greeting card is such an old-fashioned gesture that it appears to stand out from the majority who just cannot bother, or who can only send a generic e-card (although I was forced to send some after running out of US postage). I credit the 2time - time management approach for my ability to do it without it killing me!

P.S. I found the link I originally got these ideas from: http://longtermclients.hubspot.com/44254/Blog/bid/2333/Personal-notes-to-clients-tip-sheet


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Upgrading CaribHRForum

The first quarter of this year is going to see quite a few upgrades to one of my long-term social networking projects -- CaribHRForum.

Here is where we are today. The forum has 180 members, and has been around since 2003. All the interactions today take place around a single discussion list in which all members participate.

Unfortunately, a discussion list is a difficult thing to describe to someone who has never participated. It's virtual nature makes it tough to comprehend. A newcomer would have a hard time joining if they were an infrequent and unskilled user of internet technology.

This reality led me to think that the Forum needed a visual presence, and that a blog would fit the bill perfectly.

Perhaps the blog could be staffed by a rotating board of writers who all come from the Caribbean. They would write for 3-4 months stints, once per week.

Also, there could be other information that would be available including links to other sites, information on conferences, downloads of different kinds, message boards and other ways to assist in social networking.

Also, to fund all of this, CaribHRForum would need to start generating revenue of some kind, including paid advertising and information products sold for a price. While membership would continue to be free, the other activities that people use to reach members would not be.

Those are the ideas to date -- any others out there?


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Video of Orane Interview at HRMAJ

I made an excerpt of the one hour interview that was recorded at the HRMAJ Conference 2007, between myself and Grace Kennedy CEO Douglas Orane.

Click on the link below, or on the video to be taken to the 3 minute piece.


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"New Habits - New Goals" February Workshop Open

The first official "New Habits-New Goals" workshop is now open for registration.

It builds on the pilot class that was held in January with 13 participants and, once again, promises to give those who attend the tools to construct a time management system for themselves, built on the fundamentals of personal productivity that represent the newest thinking in the field.

It will be held on February 26-27, 2008 at the New Horizons Computer Learning Centre in Liguanea.

The class will be small, with less than 15 participants -- we still want to keep things small to give more individual attention.

For more information see http://fwconsulting.com/newhabits

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"Nice Lady"

It struck me recently that here in the Caribbean we relate to people who provide us with good service with some gratitude, and perhaps with too much gratitude.

Rarely does the fact that we get good service from an individual translate into a feeling that the company, as a whole, provides good service. Instead, we take it to mean that they have one good person, and that the service he/she gives is not a function of the company, but is due to something else like their personality, demeanor or positive frame of mind.

Little wonder that hardly any companies stand out for the quality of their service in the minds of average Jamaicans. They all seem to be offering more or less the same average, low standard fare, with the occasional person standing out now and again, against more examples of poor service that ruin the reputation the company is trying to build.

When we find that good person, we feel like we have found a friend, and are grateful to them, instead of being grateful to the company. It's a different dynamic than the one that pertains to U.S. companies, which are much less personal and more anonymous.

It seems as if its harder to build a brand when service is taken personally... but maybe it's easier, when positive experiences become the norm?

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"Tourist Service"

This video is funny -- and it has a serious message at the same time about the Caribbean tourism "product".

Don't skip over the guy's comment about the music at the end.


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Basic Experience Creation

On a recent project, my partner and I attempted to come up with a set of practices that we considered to be basic to the delivery of a good customer experience. While these practices would have to be tuned to produce any particular customer experience, they seemed to be basic enough to be broadly applicable.
  1. Start Strong
  2. Listen for the Target Experience
  3. Manage the Customer's Wait
  4. Create Flashpoints
  5. End Strong
I will explain each of these practices in an upcoming post.


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Saying "No Way" but Still Providing an Experience

In customer experience programmes across the region, a real difficulty lies in getting the job done, while creating the intended experience at the same time.

At the very low standards of service we experience across the Caribbean region, it's safe to say that the average service professional, in the process of delivering service to a local customer, does a poor job of creating any conscious experience.

On the other hand, the very best service professionals I have ever encountered are able to take even a denial of service, and turn it into a positive experience. How is that possible?

Well, I am no surgeon, but the idea of undergoing surgery freaks most people out. Yet, as undesirable as it is, a patient who survives can indeed regard the entire experience as a useful and important one in their lives. Childbirth is similar in this regard.

Not that this is easy. It takes practice, skill and awareness, and also the will to serve people in this most sacred of ways.

There are not too many fresh graduates of high schools and colleges who are able to perform this particular trick. Instead, they learn from their management how to disregard experience, and to use force to get the job done. Then, predictably, the professional can blame the circumstances for the customer's experience, and remove themselves from a position of any accountability.

They simply are providing the worst customer experience possible.

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80% + a story = 100%

A foreigner to the Caribbean remarked that it is acceptable to deliver less than complete results here in the Caribbean as long as a good story accompanies the failure.

In other words, we make the mistake to accept, say, 80% of what's needed plus a good story as equivalent to 100% of what's needed.

This may very well just be a human tendency that is pronounced in the region, or it might have its roots in plantation slavery -- who knows? I am not even sure that it is important to understand the origins, as it might be enough to know that the tendency exists, and this must be factored into the way that everyone from the CEO to first-line supervisors manages regional professionals.

It speaks to the unwillingness we have to confront each other over low performance, and the skill that's required to confront each other directly. Without it, there is discord, hurt feelings and even violence.


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The Fallacy of Achievement

The mistake that many make is to put achievement above all else.

I remember when I lived in the U.S. and I met people who would gladly do anything to get ahead, and effortlessly step on others' feet, heads or any other body part to get ahead. It seemed strange and out of place in my Caribbean-based reality where people were pushing hand-made carts to sell sky-juice and shaved ice for a few dollars each day.

This brilliant article at 43 Folders, a personal productivity focused blog, captures the feeling perfectly. It looks at the pointlessness that we call accomplishment and how hard it is for us to break out of the immediate world around us, and to realize the context that we in fact live in.

For example, the obvious poverty here in Jamaica constantly reminds me that I am lucky, especially at those moments when I think that my life should be as it was in South Florida.


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A Short Leash

An idea that I explored in a prior issue of FirstCuts (http://urlcut.com/FirstCuts9) addressed the idea of progressive delegation as a tool to develop a replacement management or executive.

I recently had the thought that it could be simply thought of as managing someone on a short leash -- giving them small items to do, and asking them to report back on them in short time frames.

In the most extreme cases I have seen this done with the trainee reporting back up to three times per day. Some would call this micro-managing, but I think a new manager who is getting their feet wet for the first time needs a lot of encouragement and assistance when they make mistakes as soon as they make them.

Also, once they know that the "short leash" will only increase in time, they realize that their freedom to do their own thing is something that they can earn over time, once their confidence in themselves and their reliability in getting things done improves.

Over time, their boss can trust them 100% to get the job done, but it does take time and effort to get to that point.


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I found the following quote to be so appropriate:

"An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes which can be made in a very narrow field" -- Physicist Niels Bohr.

I feel as if I am well on the way to making as many as I can, as quickly as I can!

The thing about making mistakes is that they are instructive, and teach us how not to approach certain issues and problems. In my line of work in assisting Caribbean companies, for example, it's easy to think that what works elsewhere in the world should work here.

This remains one of the easiest mistakes to make.


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Jack Welch at Recent B'dos Conference

Recently, Jack Welch, Dennis O'Brien of Digicel and Arthur Lok Jak of Neal and Massy presented at the Caribbean International Leadership Summit in Barbados.

What is remarkable is that there were over 200 attendees to the two day event, each paying some US$1800 per person.

This clearly shows me that there is an appetite for this kind of event here in the region, and that CEOs are willing to invest the time and money to hear top quality information.

It is also great to see that the audios and PDF files from the top presentations are available for download from the website.

Kudos to those who had the vision to bring this together, and I am only sorry that I missed it.

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