Being the Calm in the Storm

Related imageHave you ever been in a situation where you felt like a service provider had no empathy at all?  I’m sure you have, it happens all the time.  Think about the number of times you’ve been on one of those dreaded Help Desk calls and the dull, monotone voice on the other end gives the impression that you are being ridiculous about such a minor issue.  It happens with mechanics, plumbers, electricians, and myriad other services.  The tone of voice and body language seem to say, “This isn’t that big of a deal, relax.”

This lack of empathy is largely a product of familiarity.  You see, as customers, we see many of the problems with things only once in a lifetime whereas professionals see them every day.  For example, when I go to the dentist and he says I have some issue that needs to be addressed, the nonchalant way he says it makes me think “I have to have all of my teeth yanked out but to you it’s just another day at the office.”  His initial language sounds so ominously serious and sets off a chain reaction of assumptions, rapid heartbeat, and worry.  Of course, once he slows down and explains it all in baby language, I calm down.

Think about your line of work, how many things do you see every day that customers rarely if ever see?  How many times have you dealt with someone freaking out over something that you know is not a big deal?  Why are they going crazy?  It’s not the end of the world and can be repaired.  We do it a lot more than you might think and it sends a horrible message to customers that they are overreacting, being childish, etc.

How do we change this? We need to be mindful that our world and the world of our customers are very different.  We, as professionals in our line of work, have a vantage point that is very different than that of our customers.  We see things they never do or maybe do once in their lives.  What to us is minor may, on first look to a customer, seem disastrous.  Being ever mindful of this and putting ourselves in their shoes can change the game.  Use of some honest language to communicate understanding and provide comfort can go a long way:  “I understand how you feel.  I know this looks bad but I’ve seen it many times and it can be fixed.  I want to help you and make it right.”  Talk like this can provide calm in what to a customer looks like a devastating storm.

Here are three steps for being the calm in the storm:

  1. See the customer not as someone overreacting but as a person who is fearful because they’ve never seen this problem before or may have had a bad experience with it before.
  2. Realize that although you’ve seen it many times, you need to show understanding, not superiority.
  3. Communicate your understanding and share that you’ve seen it before and you have options for making it better.
Advertisements

Why Coaching?

Image result for coach clip art

Coaching, coaching, coaching, it seems it’s all we hear these days. Why is coaching all the buzz right now?  What’s the big deal?  To answer this, let’s look at what coaching is and then how our landscape has changed to require more of it.

So, what is coaching? Counter to popular images, coaching is not barking out orders, suggestions, and advice, rather, it’s about helping people to focus on a specific challenge and then find solutions that they own and develop themselves.  Good coaches resist the urge to provide immediate answers, and instead, facilitate the discovery of solutions people have within them already.

Imagine a child struggling with their math homework. They’ve been taught how to add and subtract but get stuck when they are confronted with large numbers. What good would it do them for you to just figure it out and give them the answer? None. So you ask them questions. You start with basics. “How do you add 2+2?” Then you help them see that big numbers are really no different than small numbers.  “How is this big number any different? How can you take the same thing you did with 2+2 and apply it to this bigger number?” You guide them but they do the deep dig within to “remember” what they know. You guide them to be confident and realize they can do it.

Now, why is coaching so important in workplaces today? It has everything to do with the changing landscape of business and work in our time. We are at a key place in the evolution of management. The old, Industrial Age, command and demand styles of management are simply ineffective today. Controlling management worked when workers were less educated and customer demands for quick and immediate gratification were non-existent. In this era, employees were thought of as replaceable cogs in a machine that managers felt they had to control in order to get productivity. The standard thinking was that employees were producers, they were there to do not think. In addition, as a byproduct, given the slower pace and common belief that only managers were thinkers, customers would wait for answers because it was accepted that only managers had them.

Move to today. Advances in technology have created a demand for a more educated, thinking workforce. Systems are complicated and require everyone to have problem-solving ability. And, as if that’s not enough, the ability to get information at the push of a button has moved customers from patient and considerate to impatient and demanding. They want answers now. Waiting for managers is unacceptable. Thus, in contrast to the man-machine of the past, today’s worker must, at minimum, be competent with ever-evolving systems and empowered to make immediate decisions for customers.

This should make it clear why the controlling management of the past is ineffective. The foundation of this approach is the belief that there are two groups of people, Leaders and Followers. Leaders are the thinkers and Followers are the doers. If you want answers, you have to speak to the leader. But this setup is slow and cumbersome, and today’s environment requires speed with leaders (thinkers) available to step up anytime throughout the organization. In other words, today’s needs require a team of leaders where everyone thinks and does which necessitates a management approach that expands rather than a controlling one that limits.

Our workplaces though have been slow to evolve. Many, many managers are still working with an Industrial Age mindset, a mindset that conflicts with today’s smarter employee who has a desire to contribute not to mention its incongruence with the ever-increasing expectations of today’s customers. If we think about the increasing prevalence of two of today’s biggest business challenges, 1) disengaged employees who feel undervalued and marginalized, and 2) dissatisfied, frustrated customers, and then consider the impact traditional management approaches have had in their creation, it is clear that we need to speed this evolution.

Enter coaching and our definition of it above.  Its value as a tool in this team-of-leaders evolution is starkly apparent.  Imagine managers asking employees for their ideas for improving problem areas instead of just telling them their way. Imagine managers committing to help their employees implement their ideas and recognizing them for their efforts. How would engagement increase? How much more would employees take interest in the business’s success? How might customers benefit from this more engaged and committed workforce?

Leader-follower mindsets focus on telling others what to do and are limited to one way. This is ineffective and inefficient for today’s needs. Team-of-leaders mindsets focus on asking questions to get insight from experience and fresh ideas.  And, as asking is the essence of good coaching, we have our answer to coaching’s extreme relevance to today’s environment.

Want to engage employees and delight customers? Learn to coach; ask instead of tell, engage instead of manage, build a team of leaders.

Don’t let your employees make any customers invisible.

Related imageI read a story in the paper about an elderly woman named Nancy who is largely bound to a wheelchair.  As she cannot manage the wheelchair alone, she tends to have a friend or relative push her in the chair.  In the article, she tells about how being elderly and in a wheelchair has somehow made her invisible.

By invisible, she is referring to the number of times she is assumed, due to her age and infirmity, to have no competence, physical or mental.  As it said in the article, she is edited out of the frame.

Here’s an example.  She tells the story of going into her doctor’s office and approaching the front desk.  The receptionist only acknowledged her friend behind the wheelchair.  And then, to add insult to injury, the receptionist’s language, “Does this lady have an appointment? Does this lady have her medical card?”  This lady?!  Really?  She’s elderly and in a wheelchair, not brain dead.  That’s all I could think as I read on.

Nancy goes on to tell us that it’s not just doctor’s offices, it’s everywhere from flight attendants to movie theaters, dismissive language and behaviors that make her feel unwelcome and marginalized.

With all of this in mind, what about your employees, have you ever had a discussion with them about how they need to treat customers, all customers?  Are they welcoming people regardless of ability or disability?  Are they showing respect by speaking directly to them and looking them in the eyes?  Have you ever thought about the language they use?  “This lady” is definitely not it.

As you lead your business, observe, look for behaviors that are marginalizing others, look for language that assumes things about people…and take action to raise awareness and make changes.  There’s a quote that I love from Plato, “Be kind, because everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”  These are great words and ones to heed if you really want to make a difference to people.  It’s good business, and just the right thing to do.

Think Like a Dog

Image result for plott hound

We have 3 cats in our family (we have a dog too for all you dog people).  One thing about cats is that they want things on their terms.  When my dog wants attention he will come in the room and I can pull him on my lap and he doesn’t mind a bit.  The cats are a different story, they will approach you, rub against your leg and even meow but if you pick them up and try to put them in your lap, they get up and walk away.  You didn’t do things on their terms; you made it about what you wanted instead of what they wanted, slow and careful.

This is how so many businesses operate, they think in their terms instead of customers’ terms.  Think about the rules, policies, and terms you’ve encountered as a customer, how many of those were to benefit you, or were they just there to protect the business?

I worked with a team recently who has a lot of policies for a variety of reasons and they regularly send out messages detailing things because people don’t seem to fall in line and do things properly.  One thing I noticed was how everything was put in terms of commands and demands resulting in a negative perception of the team.  The more I thought about it, it made sense.  The commanding tone of their messaging made them appear inflexible and only thinking about their needs instead of the needs of the people they served.  The lack of compliance with the rules was really just a subtle rebellion.

What I suggested was to start putting things in terms of how it actually helped people to follow the rules instead of just being rules that benefited the rule makers.  Now they talk about their delivery parameters for example as a way to ensure on-time delivery.  In the past, they would have just said it was something people had to do and that was that.

Where is your business doing similar things?  Where are you thinking from your perspective instead of the customer perspective?

Take a look around your workplace for evidence of doing things for the company’s benefit without thinking in terms of how it might impact those being served.  Where are rules, policies, or procedures that appear only to benefit the rule makers but do nothing for those on the receiving end?  Get rid of these obstacles if you can or at least replace the commanding messages with ones that describe how the rules make things easier, safer, timelier, etc. for the receivers.

As much as I love my cats, this is a place where dog thinking (getting what you want by giving others what they want) is the best thinking.

Let Your People Go

Related imageYou’ve probably seen the movie The Ten Commandments where Charlton Heston as Moses commands Yul Brynner as Pharaoh to release the Hebrews from their Egyptian captivity.  We need to do something similar in the workplace today.  Managers need to let their people go and empower self-direction.

I was in a store and asked an employee if I could take 4 items into the changing room (they only allowed 3).  They replied that they would need to ask their manager about it.  It took some time and I got impatient so I left.  Somebody else got my business.

I am always amazed at the number of businesses where employees are powerless to take action, even with the most trivial decisions.  Imagine watching a soccer game where players are continually yelling over to the coach to tell them where to pass the ball.  The game would be no contest.  The other team would win without any trouble.

If teams can’t make decisions and take action, the costs are high.  Lost games, lost customers, lost time, the list goes on.  The best teams do what they know needs to be done without waiting to be told what to do and their leaders give them the room to do it.

If you want your business to drive more revenue, cut costs, and provide better service, stop telling your people what to do. Instead, take a moment to let your team members think about the situation and come to some conclusions. Ask them, “What do you think? What would you do?” This is how you lead and develop their ability to make decisions.

Want service? You must do this.

If you want service, you have to ________, _______, _______.  Imagine if you saw that on a sign at the door of a business.  Would you want to go in?  Would you want to be a customer of theirs?  I feel confident you are saying no.  Yet, every day, we encounter and have to deal with this.

Now imagine going to a foreign country where they don’t speak your language and setting up a business.  Would you demand that your customers speak your language?  Again, I feel confident you are saying no to this too.  Yet, every day, businesses everywhere do things just like this without a second thought.

Customers regularly experience organizations that demand that they fit into their structures and processes.  Every day customers are asked to fill out forms and fall in line with deadlines, procedures, rules, regulations, exceptions, and policies.  Think about how many times you’ve heard “this is our policy.”  Think of all of the fine print you’ve encountered.  Think of how many times you’ve experienced an employee pointing to a sign that says things they don’t do or things you have to do.  Do you ever wonder who is serving who?

If you are a business leader, take a look at your operation.  How are you crunching customers into a box you’ve created?  How are you expecting customers to be what you want them to be rather than being what they need you to be?  What policies and rules can you remove to better make things easy, enjoyable, and a better fit to your customers?  Where do you need to learn their language instead of demanding they learn yours?

Plan SMART for Success This Year

Image result for exercise equipment clothes hanger

‘Tis a whole new year for opportunity, innovation, and new habits to improve health, business, relationships or whatever else comes to mind.  Sure, big talk, and it’s talk we hear a lot at this time of the year.  Unfortunately, most of us will fall flat in getting many of our goals accomplished.  Why is this and what can be done to remedy the situation?

NARROW YOUR FOCUS

There are so many things we want to do, so many goals, so many possibilities.  It’s like we walked into the greatest food-by-the-pound cafeteria on the planet.  There are so many choices.  We fill our plates with a little of everything, and, when it comes to actually eating, we cannot finish even half of it.  Our eyes were bigger than our stomachs as the saying goes.

This is exactly what so many of us do, we set goals for exercise, diet, our job and relationships and then with the best intentions to get it all done.  Then what happens?  We are overwhelmed, even though we thought compartmentalizing things into discreet parts of our lives would make it manageable, no go.  What gives?

Well, the human brain, as it turns out, is not so good at doing more than one thing at a time.  It deals with a trickle from the garden hose better than a blast from a fire hose.  The facts suggest that so-called multi-tasking is really just switching quickly between doing several “one things” at a time.  Our brains are simply not built for consciously doing more than one thing at a time well.  At best, we do several things with mediocrity.  Think about your success at eating, driving and talking on the phone for example. You probably made a mess, had to swerve, and held a largely rambling jumble of a conversation.

Lesson: Find one or two things you want to accomplish and really set your sights on them instead of the fifty-odd you initially had in mind.

SET EFFECTIVE GOALS AND PLAN IT OUT

I am a big believer in setting goals with plans that are clear and give you definition as to WHAT you’re trying to do, HOW you’ll do it, WHO you’ll need to include and involve, and WHEN things need to happen. A simple format for this is the tried and true SMART acronym.

I have a somewhat different take on SMART though that I’ve developed to fill in the What, How, Who, When blanks.  This take changes some of the acronym components and defines them as follows: Specific, Measureable, Actionable, Responsible, and Timely.  You can use these components as frames for questions that, when answered, clarify your goal and give you a complete plan.

  • Specific: What is it you specifically want to accomplish?
  • Measureable: What is the measure of success?  How will you know progress is being made and that you’ve reached the finish line?
  • Actionable: What needs to happen?  What are the steps?  What actions are required?
  • Responsible: Who will you need to include to be successful?  What are their roles and responsibilities?
  • Timely: What’s the timeline for everything that needs to be done and when do you plan on completing it?

Lesson:  Creating SMART plans to direct the action gives you much more likelihood of accomplishment because you know exactly what needs to happen and exactly what success should look like.

Get this year started off right.  Rather than 10 things done halfway or not at all, get two things done well and feel good about it.

 

Happy 2018!

Image result for happy new year

 

Have a very happy New Year!

Thanks to all of you who have contributed to making this past year meaningful to me and to so many others.  I look forward to another great year full of new adventures, challenges, successes, failures and things to learn.

Be safe, be grateful and enjoy yourself.

Bring out your best.

Image result for random acts of kindness

It’s been quite a year.  We’ve had a tweeting, self-obsessed President, tragic shootings and terrorist events, sexual harassment scandals, government impasse, protest at sporting events, racial tension, you name it, it seems we’ve had it this year, and so much of it infects us with negative energy and stress.  I heard someone the other day saying that the holidays feel difficult this year because of all of the negativity surrounding us.

My challenge for what’s left of this holiday season is to share something good with everyone you meet over the next few days.  It will be hard.  There will be things that get on your nerves and things that stretch your patience but do it, just do it.  When someone is pulling on your last nerve, find something kind to do.  Find the random act that will change everything.  Find a way to help.  Find a way to bring a smile.  Find what Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature” and just be the difference for someone.

These last few days of holiday shopping and socializing can be great times but they can also, ironically, bring out the worst in people.  Take the challenge and find the best in yourself to share no matter what.  Be someone’s reason to smile.