Monday, March 21, 2005

Service behind the smile

I hate service that's insincere, inattentive and impersonal - and managed to receive all three wrapped in one beaming Aussie package yesterday.

Now we tend to drop into cultural stereotypes when looking at face-to-face service, be it in retail, restaurants or even in our own businesses: - Americans are buzzy but insincere, Germans are frosty and efficient, the French are superior (or at least think they're superior to those they're serving), and the Aussies score for being naturally warm and friendly.

Yesterday at a chain restaurant in Oxford, we were greeted with warmth in abundance - and left vowing not to return to this particular establishment for a fair while yet.

First thing: we explained we were in a hurry (daughter number one was playing in a concert and we were grabbing some dinner in between her rehearsal and the performance). So we waited 10 minutes to order. We asked for a jug of water, it never arrived.

Twenty minutes went by, no food arrived. Then beaming waitress announced to my daughter that they'd run out of popcorn chicken and could she make up her platter with more of the remaining offerings - we said yes. Time passed. Daughter number two's plain pasta arrived, drenched in sauce. Son's meatballs were cold, wife's prawn salad arrived with three prawns. They should have been hot; they were cold. One wasn't even cooked through. Daughter number one's chicken platter arrived with no chicken at all.

The waitress asked if everything was ok - I said no and explained what wasn't, said we'd run out of time and asked for the bill. Five minutes later it arrived - no deductions, so therefore no tip offered. Wife, son and daughter number one ran for the exit and the concert. Daughter number two mixed eating and wearing her ice cream. I was keen to go. Waitress asked if I wanted an ice cream. 'No thank you' through gritted teeth. 'Another drink?' 'No thank you' (with a sub text of 'piss off and let me get away NOW!'

She then waylaid us by the stairs to wish us a 'great evening'. I wonder if some people are thick skinned or just thick?

Anyway, rant over. The homily for the day, if there is one, is that if you're going to offer service with a smile, make sure you've got the skills, product and timing to deliver beyond the grin.

What do we want of our professional organisations?

I'm based in the UK and belong to the UK's largest internal communication professonal organisation. But it's dominated by publications professionals and is in danger of retreating up its own cul-de-sac if it doesn't grow up soon and embrace the real challenges affecting communicators today.

Now I find that the IABC - the American-dominated organisaton also for internal communicators is having a similar period of angst.

Is it time that organisations such as these realised that internal communication means much more than glossy magazines and the corporate intranet?

I want to be part of an organisation I can be proud of. I want it to challenge my thinking and give me opportunities to learn from the experts and debate with my peers. I want it to stretch my knowledge and engage me in debates around change and progression in organisations where great communication can make the difference between success and mediocrity. I want my organisation to be thought leading not self-serving. I've held out hopes that IABC may fill this spece - but now strangely it seems that CiB may take the lead if it can sideline a few dinosaurs who still stand in the way.

Of course I can carp from the oputside or work from the inside to make a difference. While there's a large part of me that absolutely hates to be part of a committee of any kind, maybe it's time to work within one or both of these organisations to effect change.

Monday, March 14, 2005

24 little hours

What a difference a day makes....and all that.

The first half of my weekend saw me have to break into my own shed to retreive my garden tools - I now have to hang a new shed door later today - just so that I could pick up the pulp of about 2000 apples that had fallen last Autumn and rotted nicely into the garden killing off the grass. I know I should have done this last November, and not in March, but sloth sometimes is my middle name.

Anyway, sack after sack after sack of mouldy apple pulp later, I headed off to the dump - where Mr. Jobsworth of Nether Jobsworthy engaged me in an argument as to whether I should be dumping my rubblish in the general bins when of course apple pulp is green waste. Now my 'green waste' had a nice high acid content and was mixed up with a ton of mud and crud left over from the building work done before we moved into Parkview. Weirdly, I won the day. I'm not sure how.

Anyway, this came after daughter no. 1's swimming lesson was cancelled (we found out after we'd run from home to the pool) and son had been grounded for being a little sod, but before daughter no.2 had a complete paddy meaning none of us got to go to football.

All in all Saturday was a pretty shitty day.

So Sunday dawned bright but cold and the thought of a two-hour plus drive to Wales for an U9s rugby match had never appealed less. I had the bare 10 players travelling - with a number of our 'stars' opting out. I soon heard our 10 was reduced to nine.....interesting as we were to play a 10-a-side game.

But the journey was easy. Shanahan junior was in the opposite of his Saturday head-spinning self, and the good folk of Croesyceiliog RFC were incredibly welcoming.

Things got better: adding a few U8 players to our mix, we stormed the Welsh bastions winning 45-5 - with Shanahan junior collecting a brace of tries.

We then slipped through a hole in the time-matter continuum to get back to Wycombe (130 miles away) just after 3pm, cruised straight into Adams Park, bagged a free parking space and watched Wasps defeat Tykes.

We finished the day as a family at the local Chinese buffet, replete and happy.

Today I'm smiling.

Friday, March 11, 2005

10 Commandments of Effective Communication

Someone on one of the US comms forums I frequent asked for the 10 commandments of effective communication.

Now I don't know if there is any right way to communicate (though there are plenty of wrongs). But the Shanahan communication commandments are:

Be honest
Focus on audience needs
Be straightforward
Be open to new ideas
Keep it simple

......and don't covet your neighbour's ox!

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Nostalgia ain't what it used to be

Saturday saw a Shanahan rite of passage as I took my son to his first match at Upton Park - some 32 years after I made that same pilgrimage with my dad. My early memories of watching West Ham are from precarious vantage points in the 'Boys Enclosure' or from a wooden seat, normally behind a pillar, in the old West Stand.

Growing up in Wembley, it was always a trek getting over to the East End to see the Irons and one often accomplished in secret in my early teenage years, as my parents would never have let me travel so far on the tube on my own.

My baptism into the Hammers brotherhood started when my mum and dad became friendly with Alan Stevenson - West Ham's centre half of the late '60s/early '70s. Autographs and a picture followed, and when Sarah Philips, my next door neighbour, got me a signed photo of Geoff Hurst, it was clear that there could be only one team for me.

For my fifth birthday I got my all-time favourite West Ham kit - the light blue one with two claret rings around the chest. From that day on, I was Bobby Moore, Billy Bonds, Harry Redknapp, Tommy Taylor and the rest!

I suffered the agonies when Stoke knocked us out of the League Cup in a semi-final replay in 1972; enjoyed the rapture when Alan Taylor's double salvo brought the FA Cup back to the Boleyn Ground in 1975 - and experienced one of the greatest days of my life when Billy Bonds lifted the Cup on a humid May day at Wembley in 1980. How do I remember it was humid? I know, 'cause I was there!

I was there again in '81 for the League Cup final and since then I've witnessed West Ham's shallow decline - no more Cup success and a position clinging on to the play-off coat tails in the Championship Division - division 2 in old money.

It was a pain once again getting over to Upton Park on Saturday. Once we got on the tube, it should have gone direct to Upton Park station. But signal problems necessitated three changes before we were strolling down Green Street, breathing in that heady whiff of half-cooked burgers, kebabs and burnt onions.

Sad to say that racism is alive and kicking on the streets of East Ham and there was an unpalatable undercurrent suffusing the atmosphere around the ground. Ok, only a tiny minority are actively and openly hostile on the multicultural streets surrounding the ground, but there appears a passive condoning of their bigotry.

But nostalgia was the order of the day as I steered Rory around the West Ham museum, revelling in the successes I'd witnessed in my youth, and learning more about the proud history of the club founded from the workforce of the Thames Ironworks.

It brought a smile to my face to hear Saturday's team running out to 'Knees up Mother Brown' and, of course, they kicked off to a rousing chorus of 'I'm forever blowing bubbles'. But for the 26,000 punters present, this was no east end party.

Long gone are the days of Brooking, Devonshire, Parkes and Martin - the last generation to bring silverware to the Hammers. McAvennie and Cottee are mere memories - and even the more recent heroes, Di Canio, Defoe, Cole, Carrick and Lampard junior are all plying their trade elsewher4.

Whereas my first Hammers team featured England's captain Bobby Morre, with Billy Bonds, Frank Lampard, Trevor Brooking, Clyde Best and Pop Robson, on Saturday, the Hammers' only 'star' was the ageing Teddy Sheringham, withdrawn at half-time, out of sorts and off the pace.

Preston were worthy winners.

My very first sight of West Ham live was a 0-0 draw at QPR on September 4, 1973. I was nine and a half and fell into life-long love for a bunch of underachievers. I've probably seen more games featuring Oxford and Wycombe over the years, but my heart lies at Upton Park.

Somehow, I can't see Rory being quite so besotted with the pride of the Boleyn when he's pushing 41!

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Living, thinking, feeling

It's funny that when business is going well 'people' are the most important asset to the organisation. Yet when there's a downturn, they suddenly become 'human capital assets'.

It's possible for businesses to manage redundancies compassionately - but it means looking beyond the balance sheets both at the individuals who lose their jobs, and also those who are left behind - often with a bigger workload, greater uncertainty and little to no recogniton for their efforts.

I wish more businesses spent time and money learning how to value their people at all stages of their working cycle rather than simply slash and burn every now and again because their diasaffected workforce isn't happily producing double digit growth.