January 27, 2021

Who's on first. What's on second?

Article

Planning

There isn’t a sports team on the face of the earth that goes into a match without a plan. Whether the game is football, where plays are planned and drilled ahead of time, or the game is baseball, where the rules and motions remain relatively constant, players need to have faith in one another to do their part - and more importantly, to know what they’re doing. You don’t want someone out in left field who is twiddling their thumbs and not paying attention to what’s going on. Why would you want the teams you work with to be any different?

Good planning is essential to organizational productivity, efficiency, and success. It means that people know what to expect from their own teams, from other teams within their organization, and from external teams that they may be working with. It means that they know what is going to happen, or at least what is supposed to happen,  before it does. Most importantly, good planning means that customers don’t get lost or left behind, and it gives them confidence in the organization they are trusting (and paying) to help them achieve their goals.

Planning in action

Questions need Answers

As the famous Abbott & Costello joke goes, “Who’s on first, What’s on second, and ‘I don’t know,’ is on third.” The humor of the joke lies in how confused Costello gets whenever Abbott answers his questions about the players’ names & positions, as the names can be interpreted as non-responsive answers to the questions. Abbott grows increasingly frustrated with Costello for his confusion. Sound familiar?

In real life, no user of a product thinks its funny when they dial in to support and the team member they are dealing with is confused, or doesn’t know how to help them. Same thing goes earlier on in that customer’s journey: there’s nothing funny at all about a success team that can’t put a pin on where their customer is, or why their products aren’t up and running yet (queue the dreaded, “I want my money back!” Likewise, if you salesperson doesn’t know what’s going on, you’d lost that customer before they even got in the door.

No matter what team you are staffing, there are two questions they should constantly come back to if they are unsure about something. Those are “Who?” and “What?” Who is the customer I am dealing with? What problem are we trying to solve? Who do I need to get in touch with about this? What is it that needs to get done to move that customer along? The who and what questions will come up constantly, and teams need to be prepared to deal with them.

When you can't answer a question...

I don’t know is the Weakest Link

There’s one person who you definitely don’t want on your team, and that’s the person who says “I don’t know.” “I don’t know “ drops fly balls. When “I don’t know” is on third, he lets home-runs get scored against your team. “I don’t know” signals to your customers that he’s incompetent, and by extension, that his team and his organization are incompetent, too. Customers are allowed to not know - team members, by contrast, must search for resolutions. “I don’t know” is not an answer - it’s an admission of failure.

Whatever your organization does, whatever your team does, whatever your goals are - you need to dispense with anyone or any process that sends the message of “I don’t know” - because if you don’t know, then who does? It’s simply not an excuse for any customer or partner, and it doesn’t matter how complicated the process is, or how many players are involved. If third parties have processes that you are unaware of, but they are holding your customers back, it is your business to know.

Footage of "I don't know" in the outfield

Tools for Success

Nobody knows everything, and to expect that much of anyone would be unrealistic - but that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be equipped with the tools they need to find out. That means not just having any tools, but the right tools. You wouldn’t send a catcher into the outfield with a giant foam hand instead of a leather mitt - so why would you outfit your teams with anything other than the tools they need to succeed?

When your teams succeed, your customers succeed, and your organization succeeds. Having the right tools to get there is just part of the equation for success. If the questions of “who,” and “what,” come up along the way, that’s natural, but eliminating “I don’t know,” from your vocabulary is vital. When you’re playing to win, there’s no other option. Get in touch below if you’d like to find out how.

When you know.