With little notice Featured

5:08am EDT January 31, 2002
I went to a concert a few years ago featuring the eclectic song stylist k.d. lang.

For those not familiar with her, lang is a versatile singer who is difficult to classify, which is why I find her interesting and appealing as an artist. k.d. has a voice that is both powerful and subtle, with a wide range and distinctive expressiveness.

I was taking in lang's set, enjoying her performance of everything from Patsy Cline ballads to rock to cabaret tunes, when I found myself focusing on the drummer. Now, I'm a guitarist, so I usually pay attention mostly to what the guitar player is doing, often for the purpose of stealing a lick or a trick.

This time, though, I was impressed by the proficiency of the drummer, and I realized that for a good part of the performance, while he had been dutifully beating away on his kit, I hadn't much noticed him. Then I realized that was the idea, that the point was to not allow anyone to distract attention from the featured headliner. The musicians were there to support lang's efforts without diverting attention from her.

I also realized that if the drummer walked off the stage, he would have been conspicuous in his absence. I never experienced a live performance in the same way after that.

I learned a musical lesson that day, but believe there's a business lesson to be learned as well.

If you're a business owner, you know that much of your success is tied to how well you and your employees perform your jobs. Nothing much happens if sales people don't sell. Your customers won't be with you for long if your production people can't meet their schedules or your service reps aren't fast and efficient.

Surly or poorly trained customer service people will chase business elsewhere. Poor performance anywhere along the way will cost you money. If there's a problem in your organization, you're likely to find out about it because it will be hitting you on the top and bottom lines.

On the other hand, the most efficient and productive people can fade into the wallpaper. You figure they're doing a good job because they don't create problems for your customers or other employees. You probably have at least one of these people in your company.

Think about what would happen if that person walked out the door. What would it cost you in lost productivity? How much would you have to spend to recruit for the position, review applications and resumes, interview candidates and train a replacement?

Now think about what it will take to retain that person. Maybe it's simply a matter of paying attention to what she's doing -- especially when you don't notice her. Ray Marano (rmarano@sbnnet.com) is editor of SBN Magazine.