Archive for the ‘Training’ Category

Service of Practice

Monday, June 13th, 2011

high-school-soccer

Rick Wolff, host of WFAN’s “The Sports Edge” on Sunday mornings, interviewed Paul Tenorio of The Washington Post about high school soccer the other week. In comparing US and European youth sports programs, it’s clear that here, the emphasis is on playing and winning, not on practice. European youth soccer teams clock in at about three practices a week to one game, they said. The inverse is true for young soccer players in this country.

Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers” isn’t handy so I turned to Wikipedia which describes the author’s 10 thousand hour rule. “Throughout the publication, Gladwell repeatedly mentions the ‘10,000-Hour Rule’, claiming that the key to success in any field is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing a specific task for a total of around 10,000 hours.” I agree with the practice part. That’s about five years working a 40 hour week.

communicationsI’m a believer in on the job training but the smartest office workers and best athletes need to perfect some skills and learn the rules of a sport or culture of a business even in something as obvious as person-to-person contact. Regardless of the burgeoning number of ways we have of contacting one another these days, we don’t always do so. Many students in university mentoring programs and the members of industry association committees who have recently graduated–even those who’ve majored in communications–would be given a D in responsiveness and follow through. There are exceptions and the careers of these young people are soaring.

If nothing else, a person needs to learn to listen, follow instructions and remember them to successfully complete the simplest task. It can take a while, less time with practice.

I just dropped off and picked up dry cleaning at an outpost in a rural area. A senior staffer was showing the ropes to a young-woman-in-training. The nubie will be in charge of this drop-off store and alone. Jen, who preceded her and was fabulous, worked there for over three years. Jen just moved to Seattle with her boyfriend. She told me that she didn’t know how to use a computer, but she never made a mistake inputting our jackets, coats, slacks and sweaters to the dry cleaner’s computerized cash register that spun out descriptions of our clothes along with the price.

What’s the rush to play before we have basic skills? Do we have no time to train or to practice whether in sports or at work? Does this approach affect the quality and expectations of our young athletes and workforce?

rushing

Service of Compassion in Medical Care

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

doctorwhitecoat

Just how much empathy and compassion should a doctor feel and exhibit? I’m of two minds.

Dr. Sally Satel, who wrote “Physician, Humanize Thyself” in The Wall Street Journal, spoke of the White Coat Ceremony for medical students that she claimed Dr. Arnold P. Gold of the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons popularized. The symbolism of the ceremony, according to the Columbia University chaplain, is for doctors to consider their coats “cloaks of compassion.” Medical schools all over the country now conduct these ceremonies.

And I’m all for it. Having witnessed a top-rated specialist [according to a yearly listing in New York Magazine] treat my husband, who was suffering and weak, with less compassion than a plumber would feel for a pipe, I question the man’s reason for becoming a doctor. We see misfits in all sorts of professions, which is no excuse, but this fellow was all sorts of things he didn’t have to be: Rude, offhanded and wrong to the extreme in his approach to a diagnosis. Turned out my husband did have something in this person’s specialty, generated by a nasty tick bite, causing two+ months high fever and eventually the inability to get out of bed. [Husband is fine now.] A person like this doctor wouldn’t understand the significance of this or any other kind of compassion-related ceremony.

wheelchair1On the other hand, when confronted with horrendous disfigurement and frailty or facing a tricky operation with scalpel in hand, a doctor whose empathy makes him fall apart isn’t of much help, either. Referring to “respectful attentiveness and a genuine commitment to a patient’s welfare” Dr. Satel wrote: “It happens not in the classroom, of course, but ideally on the wards and in clinics under the watchful mentorship of seasoned physicians.” Maybe the nasty doctor spent all his time in the classroom.

Dr. Satel points to government intrusion, at junctures in recent history, as the cause for lack of compassion. As doctors are increasingly robbed of options by insurance companies and/or time–because of paperwork required by government regulation in combination with the numbers of patients they must treat in order to meet budgets and satisfy what Medicare will pay for-they can’t squeeze in anything else, much less compassion. [Medicaid seems to have an unlimited bank account and my advice is if you get really sick, sell everything and go on Medicaid, but I digress].

jugglingSatel concludes: “Juggling the timeless injunction to all doctors-be a mensch-with concepts like ‘Medicare metrics’ and ‘standardization’ (the new watchwords in health reform) will make it even harder for the newly coated students to become the kind of doctors that they themselves would like to have. An induction ritual acknowledging as much wouldn’t hurt.”

Wouldn’t a compassionate person still be compassionate under any circumstances? Is it the patient’s fault that a doctor must see 30 patients in the time she/he used to see eight to 10 or that the doctor has a pound of paperwork to fill out after every visit?

What can the public do about changing this increasingly unreasonable turn of events?

compassion

Service for Women and Children Last

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

menonly

Neither women nor children are welcome in some restaurants. We addressed the topic in March, 2009, in “Exclusion’s Service in Sales.” That incident, which involved a well behaved little girl, happened in New Jersey.  This isn’t a condition exclusive to New York City.

A reader and friend, Nancie Steinberg, shared this happening in a well known Manhattan restaurant. On a sweltering summer Saturday about a week ago, she arrived for lunch with her three and 12 year old sons and a stroller. Her sons have excellent restaurant manners–they travel extensively and frequently both overseas as well as around the US. In all the years I’ve known her, Nancie has never been so irritated by a restaurant experience with her children.

fancyrestaurantAs the three entered the restaurant, the first words out of the hostess were, “We don’t allow strollers inside the restaurant.” No “Hi,” or “Hello” or “How are you?” Nancie was then told they could eat outside where the stroller was welcome. [Sure-in 95° with high humidity?]

The hostess continued, “Can’t you store the stroller in the trunk of your car?” Jeanne and Nancie to hostess of this NYC restaurant, 1) Most New Yorkers don’t have cars. 2) Those that do wouldn’t have to be told to store the stroller in the trunk. Some might not want to because the stroller might not be there when they return. Others might not want to because they had to park 10 blocks away from the restaurant which might be too far for a 3 year old to walk on a boiling day.

strollerNancie’s husband soon joined them inside as Nancie, a very persuasive person, noted that the stroller was collapsible and took up little room. They were ordering dessert when a woman came in with a child in a stroller, sat at the bar–the child still seated in the stroller–and nobody said a word to her. Nancie pointed it out to the waiter and was told that the woman is a manager. Hmmmm. If you are thinking, “The restaurant doesn’t want a bunch of little people who don’t eat because they won’t spend enough money,” the bill for lunch was $90+.

Our conversation then veered to the fact that still today, when two women eat at certain restaurants, service slides precipitously. And ask women where they are often ushered to sit: Next to the bathroom or in some other undesirable spot.

twowomeneatingIt happens to me. At one place I used to visit several times a year either with other couples and/or my husband, I went with another woman who had been seated when I arrived. She was in an ugly part of the restaurant I didn’t know existed and our subsequent service was horrendous. I’ve never been back.

On a weekend afternoon, a friend was waiting for his host outside a trendy Madison Avenue bistro that opened to the street. Having nothing to do but observe what was going on around him, he saw a well-dressed woman, who had been made to wait forever for a table, eventually tucked way in the back [so as not to be seen]. She asked for a better table and there began an argument.

Wouldn’t it be easier if restaurants posted conspicuous signs that clearly note: “We invite men or women with men; Women alone or in pairs or with children would be happier elsewhere.”?

Is this attitude an east coast thing? Is it related only to fashionable establishments or wannabes?

no-children

Service of Home Office Vendors

Monday, May 24th, 2010

home-office

Catherine C., who wrote “Service at the High End” on this blog, today shared her frustrations as a thriving business writer who works from a home office.

Even though you travel to an office, you still may work at home to sit a sick child; get away from office interruptions to finish a project or let in painters, plumbers or appliance repair people. I’ve been on morning conference calls where unexpected background shrieks interrupt–and Catherine wasn’t on the phone! She’s not alone.

She wrote:

windowwasherI just had my windows cleaned by a company I inherited with the house 26 years ago.  It’s been a good relationship. When I made the appointment, I told them I’d be on a teleconference when they came and didn’t want to be disturbed.

They told me what doors to leave open. So guess what:  I found a guy under one office window screaming into his cell phone and another on a ladder in the other window screaming into his. 

yelling-instructionsI cannot tell you how many times I’ve had to call a company and complain that the painters at my next door neighbors’ had their music up too loud and were shouting at each other.

Then there were the roofers who insisted on parking around my office to eat lunch while blasting their radios and stomping their boots.

I once had a tile guy who wouldn’t work unless he could blast his radio inside my house.

We live in a world where a home is also a place of business, for a large and growing number of people.  I can’t believe that window washers, plant caretakers, cleaning staff or maintenance people would enter a place of business during business hours and yell into their cell phones or to each other, or blast their radios. 

It’s bad enough that service people feel they can use your yard as their phone booth or dance studio, but when it’s your business as well as your home?  I’m not nice about it anymore.  I’ll call the company, go and get the foreman, or just yell myself.  Mi casa non su casa.

Has this happened to you? How do you handle it? Are you so relieved that a repair or maintenance person has come that you tolerate what you might not normally?

dancewithboombox

Service of Interns Part II

Thursday, April 8th, 2010

intern1

On this blog {January 25) we covered the subject of unpaid internships  in the “Service of Interns.”

On April 2, The New York Times ran an article, “The Unpaid Intern, Legal or Not,” in which Steven Greenhouse wrote, “The Labor Department says it is cracking down on firms that fail to pay interns properly and expanding efforts to educate companies, colleges and students on the law regarding internships.”

intern2Five days later, [yesterday] a Wall Street Journal editorial addressed the competitor’s article in “War on Interns.”  Wrote the Journal editor: “The labor market is still in recession, but for younger workers it feels more like a depression. In the last year, the unemployment rate among workers age 20 to 24 has risen to almost 16%, and among teenagers to 26%.”

So putting young people “to work” and not paying them makes them employed? Even during the 20th century depression a vendor was paid for his apples.

intern3The editorial continues: “You might therefore expect a federal effort to encourage employers to give unskilled youngsters a chance. You would be wrong. The feds have instead decided to launch a campaign to crack down on unpaid internships that regulators claim violate minimum wage laws.”

I think that the Journal editor misses the point made in the subhead, “making it illegal to work for free.” Nobody wants to punish students who are willing to work for free.  Through the New York Women in Communications Foundation scholarship committee, I’ve met amazing student candidates who juggle college-fulltime–free internships and paid jobs. I worry that they won’t make it to their 25th birthdays.

It’s the employers who sell a student’s time/labor to their clients and customers and who give nothing to the student that I object to.

We were all beginners. The first time I babysat, I was paid-weren’t you?–as I was for my first summer job. The first magazine I worked for gave me a salary as did the first PR firm and another PR firm paid me while I became acquainted with a new industry.

What kind of uproar would there be if restaurants didn’t pay busboys or dishwashers?

The Wall Street Journal editor notes that the director of career services at New York University [NYU] refused to play ball with “famous banks” that wanted to offer students free internships. Banks famous or not–now come on! The editorial notes “…workers are willing to trade free labor for a chance to demonstrate their skills and build a resume for the next job.” [Italics are the Journal’s.]

I typed “define job” in Google and the first thing that came up was “occupation: the principal activity in your life that you do to earn money.” [I underlined to earn money.] In my opinion, if you aren’t being paid, you don’t have a job. In this context, there is no “next job.”

intern4If a company has enough business to support an intern, then it should have sufficient income to pay minimum wage.

The Journal concludes, “This isn’t exploiting young people. It’s letting young people exploit an opportunity.” The Journal didn’t mention this student Greenhouse wrote about in his New York Times article: “At Little Airplane, a Manhattan children’s film company, an NYU student who hoped to work in animation during her unpaid internship said she was instead assigned to the facilities department and ordered to wipe the door handles each day to minimize the spread of swine flu.”

Regardless: How will the model of encouraging people to work for free help the economy and generate real opportunities for anybody?

 intern5

Service of Welcome

Monday, March 8th, 2010

 

We enjoyed an enchanting evening to celebrate a family birthday at a NYC restaurant located in a quiet enclave, Tudor City, near the UN. Food, ambiance and service were appropriately delicious, festive and charming, but our welcome wasn’t. 

In fact, the welcome was so out of sync with the rest of the otherwise perfect evening that the first thing I did on arriving at the office the next morning was to write the chef and his partner to tell them what happened. How would they know otherwise? And had the weather not been so bad, had we not been in an isolated part of the city and had this not been a happily anticipated birthday party a deux, we might very well have walked out and missed the rest of the evening.

After much Googling and web site scouring I could find no email address of either man, so I mailed a letter to the partners.

As Snoopy would start this chapter of the story, “It was a dark and stormy night.” And boy was it. Once inside, our eyes adjusted to light in the even dimmer entrance and dead silence ensued. We stood feeling awkward with our dripping umbrellas, coats and hat and had no idea what to do with it all or with ourselves. You get the picture. There was plenty of staff. Three people stood  like statues looking at us from down a hall, hanging out around the reception stand. I included both the great and the bad in my letter

I received an immediate response from the restaurant’s service director, Carolyn DeFir. Her letter was gracious and apologetic. She understood the importance of this detail which, for whatever reasons, the trilogy of greeters didn’t.

Maybe they or their parents never entertain at home. Why do I think this? Would anyone leave guests at the front door and not greet them, take their coats, relieve them of their soaked umbrellas, make them comfortable so that they wouldn’t ruin furniture or carpeting by having to toss these things somewhere?

Ms. DeFir wrote, in part: “I agree with you whole-heartedly that the first impression is a strong one and I am sincerely embarrassed and saddened that you had such a negative start to your evening with us. I do not want to make excuses but I will apologize and I think that perhaps you caught us at an off moment in ‘our game.'”  She also enclosed an extremely generous gift certificate to encourage us to return–or to give to a colleague–and asked that we let her know when we planned to come so that she could “take excellent care of you myself.”

Oh, the name of the restaurant? Convivio.

In a subsequent email correspondence responding to my query asking her if she wanted me to mention the name of the restaurant in my post, Ms. DeFir said she didn’t mind and continued, “I think the bigger lesson I wish people knew and understood is that there are 200 plus people eating in our restaurant a night. While myself and my management team strives to know how each person feels, we clearly cannot get to every single person.  I wish more people would speak up both positively and negatively while at the restaurant.  It gives me a chance to fix things or say thank you to guests while they are still in my care.  I would love to look someone in the eyes and apologize if needed or thank them for their praise.”

I understand her reasoning and her point, and I know plenty of people who wouldn’t mind speaking up about something negative, but unless I could figure out how to do it discretely, off in a corner, I’m not one of them. We always rave about the food, its presentation or compliment the service, if appropriate. But making a fuss, whining or complaining breaks the joyful mood not only for us, but for other guests around us.

When I explained my point of view to Ms. DeFir, she wrote, “I’m so glad you had the opportunity to bring this to my attention! I had sincerely never thought of it that way before.”

I recently wrote about the Service of Excuses where nobody is at fault or takes responsibility for what they have done or what has happened. Not Ms. DeFir. Her attitude and approach will insure our return.

Back to the unwelcoming welcome committee: There are so many critical jobs, such as the first person a guest sees at any restaurant, that some think are below them or are inconsequential when, in fact, the performance of these key people is as important as the chef’s or the cook’s.

Can you think of some other examples? How would you motivate people in unsung jobs or is understanding the importance of what they do instinctive, not taught?

Service of Maturity

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

 

I was listening to the radio a few weekends ago and after some patter between the host and the 20-something producer following an interview with an oldie but goodie entertainer, the producer groaned, “If I’m still around at 60, shoot me.” The on-air personality is nearing 60 and chuckled.  His audience, reputed to be even more ancient, no doubt rolled eyes.

I wonder if the producer read The New York Times “Metropolitan” section last Sunday (February 21) and what he thought of two of the articles in it. The first, “Senior Counsel, Very Senior Counsel,” might have also been, “Life for Lawyers Begins at 90.” Successful lawyers have reputations for being canny so law firms must have good reason to keep seasoned colleagues on board or to add some. In fact, John Eligon’s article starts with immediate past Manhattan district attorney Robert Morgenthau who retired from that job at 90 and has since joined a law firm.

In a different field, one that also requires memory, in “A Bit Slower, but Still Throwing Lethal Punch Lines,” Phillip Lutz wrote about comedians Irwin Corey, Ben Stiller and Dick Gregory. They range in age from 77 to 95 and will soon collaborate in a gig in a NYC suburb. 

And then there’s Paul Volker whom Wikipedia reports was born in 1927. In spite of the 34 years between them, President Obama brought him in to chair his Economic Recovery Advisory Board and supports his recommendations.

 I wonder if the producer had a mentor. I’ve been one for years because I can see how helpful mentors can be and I also have mentors, though missed this opportunity as a student.

It’s clear: Some students and potential mentors don’t get the relationship. It’s far more than about introducing a student to his/her next employer; it shouldn’t end when the student gets a dream job and anyone, even nonagenarians, can benefit from having a mentor.

Do you have examples of older people who have had impact on a business, an initiative—on you? How old were you when you first grasped that this might be a possibility?

 

 

 

Service of Skilled Labor

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

HM Byington wrote this guest post. Byington is a retired international banker and an officer of J M Byington & Associates, Inc.

The respected British popular historian, Paul Johnson, is the author of many thoughtful, well selling commentaries on the modern world and what many consider to be the finest history of Judaism ever written by a non-Jew.

In reply to a question asked him during a recent C-Span interview, he admitted that the unemployment problem in the United States (and by inference in Western Europe) was certainly caused in part by our having exported many jobs requiring skilled labor to the Third World.

However, he also argued that our unemployment woes would best be cured by our focusing our considerable intellectual competence and expertise in capital formation on inventing and selling new products and ideas to the rest of the world, instead of trying to retain, whether by subsidies, tariffs or other means, our traditional leadership as a dominant manufacturing nation.

This is not a new idea, and is one often put forward by politicians and business leaders to explain away the problems that the dismantling and exportation abroad of much of this country’s industrial base over the past 30 years have caused.

I strongly disagree.

Almost all new products are refinements of existing products. They come about because someone skilled and proficient in their manufacture has a bright idea about how to make something better. They do not come like lightning bolts out of some academic think tank.

A fine violin must be played regularly to maintain the beauty of its tone, and the mind is not dissimilar. A sharp mind remains sharp if used, and if pushed usually becomes even sharper. A skilled laborer remains skilled if he uses his skills as anyone who has learned a foreign language can attest. If you don’t use a language, you lose it.

There is also the psychological issue. Someone who is un- or under-employed is likely to face debilitating anxiety or even depression. A craftsman who can no longer practice his craft is in danger of losing his will as well as his skill.

Some 50 years ago, along with other young Foreign Service officers, I took part in a seminar at the Department of State at which a futurist made the point that the gravest problem that the United States would be facing in the next century would be its need to manage the massive leisure time that its citizens would be enjoying. I never forgot his prediction, and he turned out to be right!

Just take a look at how much time and money so many of us devote to seeing the latest in films, on television and in spectator sports, playing computer games, surfing the internet, talking on cell phones, listening on iPods, poking BlackBerries, twittering and blogging, attending theme parks, going on cruises, shopping at malls, and on the darker side, consuming social drugs and alcohol, or just sitting around. If government is not our most formidable industry, then leisure must be. Unfortunately people at leisure are likely neither to be skilled nor productive, and even worse, our young have learned to mimic them. (Witness the decline in educational standards in this country.)

I suppose one could argue that this will not be a real problem as long as those skilled people abroad now providing us with much of what keeps us happy (and lending us the money to pay them for it) will continue to go on doing what they are doing.

However, I believe that we are in far greater peril than we dare imagine. It is an inevitability of nature that the most skilled will always come to dominate the least skilled, and we live in a world of diminishing resources and expanding populations.

If we are to survive at least with some of the freedoms we still enjoy, we must at all cost rebuild our skilled labor force and defend it against the inroads of those who would put the making of short term profits before the long term well being of our society.

Does anyone agree with me?

 

Service of Jobs with Many Layers

Monday, February 8th, 2010

I used to take a Brooklyn to Manhattan subway to work from a station that was the first stop in and the last one out of the borough. One rush-hour morning the subway heading to Manhattan arrived at the same time as the station filled with smoke. Soon, across the platform, an empty train came from Manhattan and I jumped in it just to get out of what was an alarmingly dangerous situation.

This wasn’t a standard station in which you could run up some stairs to get out on the street. This station was so deep down that it required stairs plus a very slow elevator to get out. We could all have been trapped.

Neither the conductor nor the motorman in the middle of the train used the loudspeaker to advise passengers to get on the other train. It seemed as though they didn’t understand that their job also consisted of communicating with passengers about safety issues. Perhaps they saw their function was simply to get the train from station to station.

How many other people we work or conduct business with or count on have the same lack of understanding about the depth of their jobs and responsibilities? A doorman does more than open the door, accept packages and sort mail. A pleasant greeting is essential and reacting with common sense to emergencies are just as important as the obvious parts of a job.

Even though we increasingly specialize, nobody is exempt: There are many layers of responsibility and expectation with every job. People who don’t get this [should] lose theirs.

A fabulous PR writer I know couldn’t juggle projects or cover various topics simultaneously, key to working at an agency. Another former colleague wrote brilliant PR proposals and press releases but fell down on client contact. His arrogant attitude with heavy doses of–  “if you don’t work in NYC you aren’t worth my time”– turned off clients most of whom were far smarter than he and from elsewhere.

Contractors who don’t get that the updates about disruptions to a remodeling schedule are as important as impeccable workmanship; haughty or disinterested restaurant wait staff; collaborators who don’t share and customer service people with chips on their shoulders have all missed important layers.

What are some less conspicuous aspects of the job you have–or the jobs you’ve observed–that must be done as well as the obvious and in a timely fashion? Do you think employers don’t always point them out? Should they have to?

Service of What Were They Thinking?

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

Case I. A middle aged postman delivers the office mail. Although there are seven businesses here, some with several employees, we get little USPS mail. Envelopes and junk mail are usually scrunched together by several thick, tight rubber bands. One of the pieces in this particular pack was a 9×12 envelope, with cardboard to keep the contents flat. To accommodate the mailman, it was folded along with the rest of the stuff and the contents were ruined.

 

Case II. As a result of my stolen wallet, [reported here on January 21 in “Service of Opportunity“], I received a letter from the fraud department of one of the credit card issuers. The bank’s missive asked me to sign and return the letter. I could do it only after changing the sentence in which I was asked to swear that I had never used the credit card. Well, I had used it–until it was stolen. So I amended the letter to say I had not used it “since it was stolen on January 17.”

The letter also listed as fraudulent a charge I’d approved when reporting the theft. [This meant my taking time to warn the recipient about the situation and to ask them to let me know if the money bounced.]

The letter did not list the online purchase I was told had been made after the card was stolen. I’ve just learned that nothing was stolen. The amount quoted as spent, by the clerk to whom I reported the stolen card, was my total expenditure of the previous month.

Lastly, it became a game for me to figure out where to return the signed form. The paper was plain–no letterhead–and the address elements were sprinkled here and there over the sheet.  No return envelope came with the query.

Case III. One of this blog’s readers, graphic designer Iris Bell, sent in this malfunction. A drugstore chain in New York, Duane Reade, has a new website as part of its redesign, she noted. She wrote that she was “just told by their Customer Service department that: ‘Unfortunately, our website is not Mac-compatible.'” And Iris concluded: “Amazing. I don’t know if their site works on smartphones.”

I wonder how many slipshod moves are made because of lack of training, thinking, caring or supervision or maybe plain stupidity or boredom? Shouldn’t folly be caught by a supervisor, or have all the supervisors been fired?

 

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