Thursday, October 21, 2010

Bonus Blog: Cheerleader Bum Rushing

When I took my first ever customer service job, my trainer was this beautiful older lady named Donna. Donna advised me that no matter how upset the customers got, you got nicer and nicer. "Not," she said, "Just because in customer service you should be nice. But because the nicer you are, the madder they get." Then she grinned with glee. I liked Donna.

Her point was a good one, though; people did not call my supervisor and complain that I was too nice to them. So my general philosophy for dealing with people and projects starts with nice (and typically ends there, too).

Nice, however, is not the only tool in my arsenal. I also have "annoyance." Ok, everyone, from the two year old having a tantrum on the floor to the guy next to you who wants the armrest has annoyance as a tool. My theory is "Don't be annoying unless you have to be." Basically, nice covers a lot of bases all by itself. However, nice + annoying = results.

Storming into the office of the developer who has dodged three meetings with you for information to finalize your release process so you can, you know, release your project, and then yelling at him might make you feel better. But it is unlikely to actually produce the information you're looking for, and he's not really going to respect your wishes about helping you the next time. In fact, the developer might not be very pleased with you at all depending on how creative you are and if you like to use existing or made-up swear words.

Walking into his office when he's there and being nice to him MIGHT get what you want; I like to bring some bribery with my to make things easier...chocolate, beer, Starbuck's card...I'm not proud. I want results.

However, if he takes your niceness and does nothing, well, that's when nice + annoying can help you. Typically after one or two simple "hey, how's going it, will you be showing up at my next meeting?" drop-ins, I only get nicer...and more persistent. I drop an email to the person in question that I can show up every hour as needed to provide any information required to get what I need to get done. And then I do. I am sweet as anything. I don't threaten. I just ask if he/she needs anything and offer candy or whatever. Then I go away. Only to return 45-60 minutes later. Repeat.

I have never met anyone that lasted longer than hour 4.

Now obviously the amount of times you do this, the amount of times between doing this, etc. depends on your relationship with the person in question; I have a PM friend who would bury herself and this was the only way to get her to remember she needed to give me stuff, whereas I've had testers that required 15 minute checks to make sure they were completing something I needed for the next day. Every person and position is different. The trick is to get nice, really, really, maddeningly nice, and to sustain it so that its easier to give me what I want rather than endure me any longer. It is a careful balance, of course, because some people who are onto your tactics may get piqued and just refuse to play ball at all.

At that point, you're moving away from nice, nice + annoying, and into escalation territory. I'll have a post about that later. Sufficing to say, I like to try every variant on nice I can manage before I escalate. Escalation is a land where repairing the damage is much harder than if you never did it in the first place. Use sparingly.

The title of this post comes from one of my "nice" techniques; I did not invent the "Cheerleader Bum Rush" approach, but I use it (as noted above, I'm not proud). It involves a lot of gratitude towards the intended victim, and lots of exclamation points! It also lays out the consequences of failing to achieve an action while you are absolutely certain that this person won't ever let you down! It sounds so happy that cc'ing that person's co-workers and/or boss isn't a blot on their reputation because you are praising them, and ends with the carrot (after the previous stick), that when they finish this thing you know they'll finish with flying colors, then something really good (like canceling a meeting) will happen!

Basically, you become a cheerleader for that person, someone that no excuse or previous lack of performance can destroy the belief of. It gives you an opportunity to bring in higher management because you are praising this person, not getting them in trouble, but it also points out to upper management expectations and when they should be met. Traditionally I use this technique if nice + annoying hasn't worked in the past, or in situations where I enter and I've never been there before, but I have an urgent deadline (such as, for example, the first week on the job when everyone's kicking the new manager's tires). This is a nice alternative to escalation.

This doesn't have to be used as sparingly as actual escalation, and traditionally can be used before trying nice + annoying (which is often a good idea to try to stick with my principle of being annoying only when necessary). People feel so, well, bum rushed by your positive attitude, they comply to avoid having to deflate your opinion of them...and having to deflate that opinion in writing, in front of their boss who is cc'd makes it a lot more palatable to them to just finish what they need to get done and get out with your sincere thanks.


  1. I've used nice, and annoyingly nice, but not the cheerleader thing. Hm....

  2. I've seen you use this.

    Oddly, it makes me very glad I'm a fulltime freelancer.

  3. Can you talk a bit about how you balance the annoyance factor with the resource requirements that your target identifies for the item that you need? For example, Bob says that the item you need will take him about four days (scope, not schedule) to create, plus input (review) from Sue, who doesn't report to Bob. Assuming no other tricky sauce (Sue doesn't work in a department that answers to a different VP, there isn't a blizzard requiring Bob to personally rescue Skippy, the CIO's beloved family gerbil), how might you apply the cheerleader bum rush to a scenario like this?