Q. At the company where I work as a middle-level manager, all managers are being forced to go to a course on customer service and sensitivity.

I believe in serving customers as much as the next person, and I don't mind going, but it bothers me that our top executives don't do anything to prove that they really value customer service.

If they think customer service is so important, why don't they take turns selling and serving our customers as front-line representatives, for instance? Don't you agree we should get leadership from the top?

A. It may be that your top managers don't really care much about customer service (or quality, or product development) and merely sends you to such courses as a substitute for their lack of conviction.

But it also may be that they do care about all of these things and that's why they send you to these courses. Don't fall into the trap of simplistically judging what your managers believe in by observing whether they engage in symbolic rituals. These days, symbols are being emphasized far too much for my taste.

The signature of your manager on some manifesto declaring his devotion to quality means far less than the much less visible nuances of how he does his own work -- and the latter is what counts. So go to your course, adopt and practice as much of what they teach there as possible, and don't wait for thunderous signals from above.

Q. We use some pretty fancy equipment in the department I manage. Although I know how to run these machines pretty well, having come up through the ranks, I don't know how to help my employees when they need to do work that involves some of the more sophisticated features of our machinery.

There are experts at our company, but they work in a technical center, and they are not responsive enough to be helpful.

I have decided that I need to hire a local "technical helper." My problem is that while I know what such a person needs to do, I can't describe his or her qualifications clearly enough, so I am afraid I'll hire the wrong person. How can I go about solving this problem?

A. Since you can't define the tasks of this "technical helper" all that clearly, why not take a pragmatic tack and develop -- instead of hiring -- such a person, one step at a time?

Observe your employees and select one who shows the most adaptability and independence in sorting out his or her own problems. Then arrange with leaders of your technical center to have this person trained by the people there. They should be glad to cooperate because such a departmental expert will mean fewer interruptions for them.

Let the training be guided by the real-life problems encountered by your employees -- this will ensure that your local expert will learn what you need even if you can't spell out exactly what those things are.

Q. My problem is that I am an introvert. It's really a handicap. When I look for a job, I seem to blow all of my job interviews because my shy and timid nature doesn't impress anyone.

At my current job, my reviews say that although my work is okay, I lack the "potential" to advance because I am not a go-getter -- here is my personality again. I have been the way I am all my life. I find it very, very hard to act like an extrovert. So, what can I do?

A. The reality is that people tend to be impressed by outgoing individuals. You can't change that any more than you can alter your personality. Try to get ahead of your problem by calling attention to it instead of trying to hide it.

In an interview, for instance, announce up-front that your main handicap has been your introverted nature and that you have had to work that much more effectively to overcome this. Then, document your accomplishments precisely and in detail so that most of the discussion can center on them.

Andrew Grove is chief executive of Intel Corp. of Santa Clara, Calif. Send questions to him in care of the San Jose Mercury News, Business News Department, 750 Ridder Park Drive, San Jose, Calif. 95190.