Stupid manager thinking. Is it infecting your business?

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How effective would your company be if none of your employees showed up tomorrow? The answer is clear, it would be a disaster, yet so many companies treat employees like they are machines in a wheel rather than people whose labor, decisions, and ideas are vital to existence.

Richard Branson puts it all in perspective…

“It should go without saying, if the person who works at your company is 100 percent proud of the brand and you give them tools to do a good job and they are treated well, they’re going to be happy.  If the person who works at your company is not appreciated, they are not going to do things with a smile.”

Doing things with a smile is really shorthand for delivering great service, which is, of course, the whole reason for your business, to help people, which is , again, the fundamental definition of service. And when your employees deliver great service, well, let’s take it from Branson again…

“Effectively, in the end shareholders do well, the customers do better.”

So, why is it that so many companies do not get this? Why do so many people go to miserable workplaces where they are merely tools for tasks instead of creative thinkers who can make the difference? Is it because leaders fear being shown up? Is it because leaders think they’re always right? Is it because it’s business and business is dog eat dog and not some rainbows-and-unicorns fantasyland?

All of this thinking is S-T-U-P-I-D. Yep, I said it, it’s stupid, ignorant, fill in the blank however you would like. And if you want to get in the groove and start seeing more success all around your business, take heed of these words from Ari Weinzweig of Zingerman’s Superfood Emporium…

“If you want staff to give great service, give great service to staff.”

Read it. Read it again – out loud!

Can you do it? Of course you can. Start TODAY by asking instead of telling, listening instead of talking, praising instead of criticizing, and appreciating instead of taking for granted. Take action to create a workplace where employees feel supported and served so they can support and serve your customers who will then support and serve your business.

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How can changing how you think about who’s on your team make you more successful?

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You have probably heard of the Twelfth Man which, in an American football game, refers to the impact of the fans in attendance. Their cheering can inspire the home team to great heights while at the same time making noise that can play a part in undoing the visiting side.

This is a great example of how what we call a team is actually more than just the players on the field.  In fact, when you think for a moment about a major sports franchise, there’s the medical staff, the trainers, the ticket takers, the office staff, the scouts, the vendors providing food in the stands, the list goes on.  And all of these contribute in big and small ways to team success.  If the food is bad, the fans are unhappy, if the scouts don’t do well, the team gets bad information on the other team, if the office staff doesn’t perform, the team may miss paychecks, if the ticket takers don’t do their job, fans get held up which impacts their excitement or some people might get in without paying which impacts revenue, you can see how it all adds up. All of these stakeholders are actually parts of the team, even if only from a distance.

So, think about it, who’s on your team?  What I mean is, who do you consider part of your business’s team? My experience is that many business leaders think of investors or shareholders as their team while line-level managers might think of the people who work for the business as their team like players on the field.  However, aren’t there others you should consider?

Before we answer that question, let’s first think about the endgame of your business. If you’re like most business people, you immediately think of making a profit. And while making a profit is important, it’s not the reason you exist.  Think of it this way, we all have to breathe to live but the purpose of life isn’t to breathe, it is, hopefully, a whole variety of other, nobler things. Likewise, the purpose of business isn’t to just profit, it’s to deliver value and help people achieve objectives. Without delivering something of value, there would be no profit. So, who values from your business? I can think of five parties.

  1. Investors/Shareholders: return on investment
  2. Suppliers: revenue and a market for their goods and services
  3. Employees: a place to do meaningful work, earn a livelihood, and have opportunities to grow and learn
  4. Community: tax base and contributor to the common good
  5. Customers: goods and services that help in achieving objectives

On the flip-side of this, each of these constituents also provide value for the business.

  1. Investors/Shareholders: provide capital
  2. Suppliers: provide resources and tools
  3. Employees: provide labor (physical, intellectual, creative)
  4. Community: provides infrastructure
  5. Customers: provide a market as well as revenue and marketing to spread the word about you

The point is this. Many of us in business think one dimensionally about all of the partnerships necessary for the success of our enterprise and many times that one dimension is investors or shareholders or maybe only our workforce, however, this thinking leaves out so many others who should be considered, so many others who are partners with you.  All of your decisions and the value you provide should take those others into account.  If one suffers, the entire team eventually suffers, or at best, struggles to overcome obstacles presented by the poor partner relationships.

Start thinking of all of your stakeholder constituents as partners on your team and see what changes for you.  How does this thinking change how you treat them? Do you now want to help them to be successful in the same way you hope they help you? Imagine how this symbiotic thinking can change your business.

 

Book Review: Would You Do That to Your Mother?: The Make Mom Proud Standard for How to Treat Your Customers by Jeanne Bliss

Would You Do That to Your Mother?: The Make Mom Proud Standard for How to Treat Your Customers

Remember all those things your mom used to tell you, play nice, be polite, share, say please and thank you, help clean up? If companies would just think back and practice a lot of those things, they would provide incomparable customer service.

Well, this is the idea behind Jeanne Bliss’s new book, Would You Do That To Your Mother? being released this Tuesday, May 8. In this book, Bliss shares several of those things mom used to tell you and puts them into the context of how great companies pay heed to mom’s words to provide great customer experiences.

The book starts by getting you to think about mom and the lessons she taught you. Bliss tells stories about her own mom and her upbringing, an entertaining, humorous Italian upbringing from the sound of it.

Jeanne then asks us to imagine mom as your customer.  From there, she sets off in chapters 2 to 5 to discuss specific topics based on mom’s advice. The titles of these give clues as to what will follow: Be the Person I Raised You to Be, Don’t Make Me Feed You Soap, Put Others Before Yourself, and Take the High Road.

Much like her excellent previous book, I Love You More Than My Dog, Bliss presents ideas in a humorous, conversational style using great examples of real businesses who live the lessons being shared. In addition, at the end of each chapter, there are great questions to get readers moving to take action on what they are learning. Bliss challenges us to make changes that will not only better the customer experience but maybe even better our world.

At the end of the book in Chapter 6, Bliss gives us a litmus test to see how we are standing up to what momma taught us. She reviews the lessons shared in each previous chapter and poses questions to help us evaluate where we are today. Then, in Chapter 7, we are challenged to Join the Movement and influence our own business to “march toward becoming the kind of company that is a #MakeMomProud company.”

Thank you Jeanne for writing this great book which I highly recommend to anyone who wishes to change the game and create customer experiences that would #MakeMomProud.

Below are some favorite quotes (honestly, there are so many great quotes in this book you should consider these just the tiniest taste).

“When the focus is only on getting the job done, caring for the human at the center of it can get lost. Employees are not mere people movers or process handlers – they are care providers.”

“Every part of the organization is either caring directly for customers or supporting someone who is.”

“Treating customers with dignity and respect starts with treating employees the same way. In order to deliver customer dignity, employees need to feel it, and receive it themselves.”

“Do you show up as a “caring” company? Is everyone united to care for customers, regardless of role?”

“‘PLEASE GIVE ME TOP SCORES’ is the fourth most annoying interaction customers have with companies.”

“Not knowing what’s happening makes people nuts! Lack of communication is the root of customer unrest, worry, and fear.”

“Make-mom-proud companies would rather keep your business with service and value, not contract terms.”

“Do you deliver pain or pleasure? Do you make it easy and a joy for your customers to do business with you?”

“To achieve your goals, you need to help others to achieve theirs.”

“Be the company that always honors the person first. Before you do anything else, acknowledge the customer reaching out to you. Care genuinely. Know his or her name. This small acknowledgment paves the way for real relationships that go beyond transactions.”

 

A Lesson for Business from TV Networks

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How do the TV networks gauge what they decide to provide for their customers, the viewers?  It is simple, they listen to their customers.  They regularly look at what their customers are watching and make changes based on the results.

The system is relatively straightforward.  Nielsen Media Research, the company that has become the de facto measurement service for the TV industry, looks at the viewing habits of a representative sample of the TV audience.  The more people watch certain programs, the more valuable those programs become to the investors (advertisers) and the more the TV networks can charge for ads during those shows.  The formula is clear and simple, more viewers means more investment which means continued production of that show, and it is all based on the wants and needs of viewers (customers).

Many businesses, on the other hand, spend a great deal of time figuring out ways to fit customers into their needs and wants rather than asking what customers really want and fitting the business to those things.  They have processes and systems that are not easy or friendly to customers.  They create policies to save their skin with little thought to how it impacts customers.  They sell products that have add-ons that cause customers to have to purchase things they don’t really need.  If business had to rely on ratings based on customers’ real needs like TV networks, many would be cancelled like so many TV shows.

Here are three things businesses can do to get better ratings and not get cancelled:

  1. Go out and talk to customers. Get to know them and what they really want and need.  And don’t do this once, do it regularly to make sure you are keeping up with their changing desires.
  2. Sell solutions that actually solve customer problems rather than pad the bottom line.
  3. Provide support that is easy to reach and that fixes issues without hassles and policies that marginalize customers (always keep in mind who is serving who).

Repetition, not so good for business.

Image result for repeatHave you ever had to repeat a problem several times to a company?  Imagine calling your insurance company, you punch in your claim number, and then you go through an endless series of punch-in options for departments and different needs.  When you finally get to a person, they ask, “Can you give me your claim number?”  Didn’t I just punch that in?  You are dying to blurt that out.

Do businesses realize how stupid they appear when this kind of thing happens?  Do they realize how much of a pain they create when they do these things?  Ah, the frustration.  Is anyone out there listening, really listening…and taking notes?  Can they just remember my name, my number and my problem?  Do I even matter?  Customers are thinking these things, in fact, they’re truly bothered by them and they’re always looking for businesses that can do better.

Examine your business.  Are you causing pain with the hassle of repeating account numbers, name and address, service claim numbers, or problem details over and over?  How about designing systems that truly make it easy for customers, you know, the people who pay your bills, keep your lights on and put food on your table?  Design a way so that customers never have to repeat things.  Make it easy and effortless for them.  They’re the reason you exist.  Don’t forget that.

Slaying the Customer Discomfort Beast

Image result for dinosaur clip artHave you ever had a medical test and afterwards had to wait days or a week for the results?  How did it feel during that period?  If the test was to determine the seriousness of some pain or niggle, I know most of us experience some amount of anxiety, worry, or discomfort at minimum.

This same thing happens all of the time to customers.  A classic version is the old “We’ll be there between the hours of 12 and 4.”  Frustrated at the lack of certainty, you wait uncomfortably for someone to arrive.  It’s inconvenient and you’ve probably had to take time off from work or cancel some other engagement.

How about the times you’ve called some help desk and been assured that your issue will be resolved yet were given no idea of when or how long it will take?  You hang up the phone and then begin making up scenarios in your head, usually worst-case scenarios that create anxiety and discomfort.

What about the times when your power goes out, you report it, and hours or even a day later, nobody seems to have a clue when the lights will be back on?  The thought of all of your frozen food going bad and all of the money you’ll have to spend on eating out takes discomfort to anger.

These feelings are not just due to people being overly sensitive or having unreasonable expectations, it’s how we’re wired.  Our brains are built to look for threats, danger or risks, even ones that are small like not knowing when the cable repair person will arrive.  And because of the uncertainty and the feeling that we don’t matter enough to be a priority, the brain says, “Alert: threat, danger, risk!!!” To the brain, these little things can be as powerful as more definitive threats like a lion, tiger or bear, and can cause reactions that will not favor your business.

Funny though, the solution can be very simple.  The cable TV folks could simply schedule the repair for a definite time.  The help desk you called could tell you how long it will take to fix the problem.  The electric company could give realistic estimates on how long it will take to get your power restored.  All of these anxiety prone situations could be remedied by the service company setting some expectations so that customers don’t feel in the threatening darkness.

Where are places in the service you provide where you could set better expectations for the people you serve?  Where could you create more certainty?  Where could you soothe the nerves by proactively providing more information?

Coaching Success Requires Regular Follow Up

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In a recent post, we looked at a simple approach to coaching employees.  We talked about a coaching conversation model based on three themes – reflection, ideation, and commitment.  In this model, the coach and coacheee get focus on an area of opportunity for improvement and reflect on the current state of that focus area.  They then ideate to define and commit to action steps for moving forward.

This conversation is actually part of a larger process I call FoDAR (Focus, Define, Assess, Refine).  This process is a way to manage execution of moving from coaching to action to results.  Each part of this process has specific functions.  The Focus piece provides clarity on what we are trying to improve or fix.  The Define piece gives us direction on the steps we will take.  The Assess piece provides a sense of how we are progressing, and the Refine piece provides the chance to make our plan of attack even better.

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This process divides evenly into two conversations.  The first is called the Defining Conversation and was described above – get focus and define next steps.  The second is called the Refining Conversation and it acts as a regular follow up to keep all of the actions committed to in the defining conversation alive and on track.  Refining conversations are ongoing affairs that repeat regularly until results are reached.

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The Refining Conversation goes something like this.

Assuming we’ve already had a Defining Conversation with our coachee, we now must assess progress.  This step is another incarnation of the coaching theme of reflection because the coachee is being asked to reflect on the movement they’ve made.

MANAGER:  “Bill, a couple of weeks ago, we discussed restructuring your proposals, I was wondering, how is it going with that?”

BILL: “After you gave me the go ahead, I took a couple of proposals I had in the hopper and rebuilt them in the new format.  I sent them to customers, and in conversations with them, it seems they understand them better and like the overall look and feel.”

Now the coach invites the coachee to refine their plan and make further improvements if possible.

MANAGER:  “That sounds like things are moving along quite well.  Do you think there’s anything else that would make it even better?”

BILL: “I like the way things are going but I know there are further improvements I could make.  The more I speak with customers I am sure something will be mentioned to spark new ideas.  I will let you know as things progress.”

Finally, the coach must invite commitment to any new actions by demonstrating their commitment to help.

MANAGER:  “Is there anything I can do to help you?”

BILL:  “Not right now.  I just want to keep going and get more customer feedback.”

MANAGER:  “That’s great, Bill.  I will circle back around in a couple more weeks to keep on top of this.  Good work so far though, keep it up.”

That’s essentially how the Refining Conversation goes.

In summary, to start, the coach must ASSESS how things are proceeding.  If things are going well, the coach should be sure to praise the efforts.  If things have stalled, they will need to get some idea as to what’s standing in the way of progress.

  1. “A couple of weeks ago we talked about __________, how’s it going with that?”

REFINE the plan with improvements or additions if possible.  This is another manifestation of the ideation theme.

  1. “Is there anything else you could do to make it even better?”

Close the conversation by inviting their commitment to any new actions by renewing your commitment to help them.

  1. “How can I help you?”

As you can see, in one conversation, the Defining Conversation, we get focus and define how we will proceed.  In the Refining Conversations, we follow up regularly to assess progress and refine the plan to continually find better and better practices.

This whole FoDAR/Two-Conversation process accomplishes several things.

  1. It engages employees in improving results and practices rather than commanding them from top down. This approach gives employees ownership and allows leaders to hold them accountable for specific results.
  2. It demands follow up in order to work. Follow up is what is usually absent and a key reason why so many coaching efforts fail.
  3. It gives managers a new view of their operation since employees see things very differently given their unique roles. Managers learn things they never would viewing things from their position alone.
  4. It is simple and uncomplicated. You don’t need a time-consuming class or a psychology degree to get going.  Although training can help to clarify things and give you practice, this method and process can be successfully employed without it.
  5. Finally, it provides a framework that is structured enough to ensure consistent results yet flexible enough to allow coaches to make it fit their personality and timing.

An Experiment in Culture Change

Related imageI’m always surprised at the number of people I see behind counters at stores, banks, limited-service-restaurants, and airports that just seem miserable.  They make no eye contact, mumble, and go through the paces of their job just checking off the boxes on a list of company- required actions.  What can be done?

I tried an experiment.  I thought, what would happen if I made the “counter experience” more human by mentioning the employee’s name?  The first time I did this, I had to muster up the courage.  It seemed odd to read their name badge and call them by name.  I mean, we were not best friends or anything.  No matter, I did it.  What I experienced was a person transformed.  When I said their name, they looked up, smiled, and changed their whole demeanor.  The misery was gone even if only briefly.

Since that first foray into the world of using people’s names, I now do it almost without fail.  And in almost every interaction, the result is similar to the first time; people look up, smile and become human again.

What’s the point here?  Well, it makes me wonder what has dehumanized their workplace.  Why is it that the simple use of their names by someone they’ve never seen before can make them smile and brighten up?  Is it that the company culture has made them drones?  Are they just servants of a paycheck?  My guess is that, while it may not be the entire reason, it is certainly a large contributor.

While it is sad, it is not a surprise really.  Over hundreds of years, the business world has used management techniques to try and get the best out of people.  It is a failed strategy, particularly in our modern world where people are better educated and customers value speed and ease more than ever.  Today’s environment needs employees who can think not just do.  Today’s environment requires employees to step up and lead when the time is right – teams of leaders rather than followers.

Experiment for yourself.  Go to a counter and use the person’s name.  See if it makes a difference.  If you experience it, see how you can make a similar, humanizing difference in your workplace.  Think about how that difference will impact your customers and how that impact will positively impact your business overall. By simply including people as people and giving them the respect of thinking not just doing, it can change the entire game for you, your customers, and your business.  Start the experiment today.

Demystifying Workplace Coaching

Related imageRecently, a manager asked me how to start a coaching conversation that provides clarity and doesn’t sound preachy.  Here is how I replied.

First, it is important to understand what coaching is and isn’t.  Workplace coaching is not, as some of our sporting examples might lead us to believe, about barking out the game plan.  It is rather about asking questions to draw out what people know based on what they’ve learned and/or experienced.  You may be wondering why this is the best way.  When you think about adults, the majority of your workforce, research in the last 30 years regarding adult learning suggests that they learn best when they can contribute their own thoughts and ideas.  This is opposed to children who, due to their relative inexperience, are more like empty vessels to be filled with new knowledge.   To approach adults the way you would a child typically demotivates them and makes them feel their knowledge, experience, and skills are not valuable.  Thus, in order to be most effective, it is best to use a questioning approach to drive as much input as possible.  This makes the role of coach more about guidance and facilitation rather than direction of all of the action.

Does this mean that workplace coaches never offer their suggestions or even teach?  No, not at all.  It just means that a workplace coach’s primary mode of operation is asking questions to guide and steer rather than providing answers.  In addition, they use this platform as a way to build confidence, praise good work, and drive self-direction.

Given that, let’s look at the details.  To begin and to be most useful, you, as leader, will need to do some LBWA (leading by working alongside) to observe the performance of your team members.  Only then, once you have a good idea of how they perform, can you begin to effectively coach.

There are many good coaching models out there, all with positives, negatives, and different formulas, however, the coaching models I have studied and experienced have three similar overarching themes that sit at their foundation – reflection, ideation, and commitment.  Overlaid on these three themes are steps that differ from one model to the next but the underlying themes are largely the same.  After establishing the focus of the conversation, the coachee reflects on how things are right now, the current state, and then ideates or brainstorms on ways they might make change or move to a more desired result.  Finally, the coach and the coachee commit to work together on next steps.

With these basics, here is a  simple method:

Begin with an icebreaker that opens the door to conversation.  A good practice is to begin with three pat-on-the-backs for things done well and then move to a focus area for improvement in a way that invites them to reflect and provide input from their unique vantage point.

MANAGER:  “Bill, I have been observing your work lately and you are doing a great job with completing customer calls, sharing creative suggestions, and following up and I think that if we improved the structuring of your proposals, we could really improve the customer experience.  What do you think?”

BILL:  “I think you are right.  I could use a little work on proposal structure as I have never really felt comfortable with how I am doing it right now.”

Next, invite them to ideate ways to improve given their experience.

MANAGER:  “What do you think you could do to make it better?  Do you have any ideas you haven’t tried?”

BILL:  “Well, I have always wanted to separate things by product function rather than just by product.  I have this idea about showing the customer how each part of the product works in sequence rather than just a string of parts on a list.”

MANAGER:  “That’s interesting.  What else can you tell me about that?”

BILL:  “It seems to me our customers need more of an approach that tells a story that fits their objective rather than just a grocery list with pricing.  I have an example I played with if you’d like to see it.”

Finally, invite the team member to commit to action by first demonstrating your willingness to commit to help them.

MANAGER:  “I love the idea and would like to see your mock-up.  How can I help move this forward?”

BILL:  “First, I would like you input and approval on my approach. Then, I would like to create my next two or three proposals in this style, show them to you so we are aligned, and then try them on customers.”

MANAGER: “Bill, that sounds fantastic.  I look forward to seeing your example and then to moving ahead.”

To summarize, here is the model:

  1. Get focus on an improvement opportunity and invite the coachee to REFLECT on the current state:

“I’ve observed your work and you do very well with 1, 2, and 3, and I think if we improved 4 it would make a big difference.  What do you think?”

  1. Define action steps by inviting the coachee to IDEATE possible solutions.

“What could you do to make it better?”

  1. COMMIT to help, and invite the coachee to commit to action.

“How can I help you make this happen?”

There it is, coaching demystified and uncomplicated with a few questions built on the three key themes of coaching.  Try it.

Customer Experience Isn’t About Thrill Rides

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“People don’t want experiences, that’s the stuff of Disney or cruise ships.  People just want what they want and they want it to work.”  I read that in a comment to a post on LinkedIn the other day and while I wasn’t overly surprised by the comment, I was surprised that it came from the CEO of a company.  It clearly reminded me of the fact that there are still people, and some in high places, who believe that only product concerns really matter. I am continually surprised by the ignorance of many business leaders who dismiss customer experience as a fad, however, dismissing it doesn’t remove the fact that experiences matter because they happen whether you think they matter or not.  They have since the inception of business and always will.

Imagine you have a leaky faucet in your kitchen and you call a plumber.  The plumber comes in grumbling about something or another, barely acknowledges you and simply asks where the problem is.  You usher them to you kitchen sink and they begin looking around.  They open the cupboard under the sink and begin pulling out everything while commenting that they have to get underneath to get it fixed.  Now sitting with your stuff littering the kitchen floor and the plumber sprawled under your sink you await some news as to exactly what to expect.  To no avail though, that conversation never happens, you just see the plumber madly working away and making a bit of a mess.

After an hour or so, your plumber announces that they have had to replace your faucet and the job is finished.  They pack up their tools and leave.  Of course, none of your under-the-sink items have been replaced, no, that’s up to you to get done.  In addition, your floor is a mess and you later find a small leak right around where the faucet attaches to the sink.  Now the product doesn’t work properly and you have to make another call.

Contrast that to this.

You call a plumber and they arrive.  They greet you professionally with a smile.  They are wearing those little “booties” to protect your floor.  They ask if it’s alright if they open the cupboard under the sink and explain that they will need to move everything.  However, before that begins, they take a picture and let you know they are doing that so they can replace everything the way it was when they came in.  Following that, they place small mats around the work area to keep things clean.

After surveying everything, they explain exactly what they will do, the costs and how long it will take.  When they are finished, they show you the completed work, test the faucet with you, encourage you to use it, and then replace all of your under-sink items exactly as they were per the picture they took.  Before leaving, they wipe up all around the work area and let you know they will be following up the next day to ensure everything is to your satisfaction.

Both plumber stories are examples of a stark reality, like it or not, for all of you disbelievers out there, customers have experiences whether they are designed or just happen by default.  And those experiences can be good or bad – and, by the way, they are all memorable, our brains don’t just dismiss them because the product is great and fault-free.

The comments by the CEO above show just how ignorant many business leaders are to the reality that the hubbub about experiences isn’t about making every customer interaction a thrill ride at a theme park, it’s about making the interaction with your business easy and pleasant while providing products and services that make customers successful.  Essentially, the experience is about getting customers what they need, how they want to get it.  It’s a two-pronged thing that involves product (what customers need) and interaction (how they want to get it), and again, like it or not, both of these elements have existed and will continue to exist forever, it’s just that business is only now coming to terms with the interactive piece and giving it the attention that has been neglected.

If you think about your business, how is your customers’ experience?  Is it easy, are your processes thoughtful of what the customer must endure?  How is the interactive, human element?  Do you welcome customers?  Do you accommodate their preferences?  Do you listen and allow customers to have input?  Do you provide information that keeps customers in the loop as far as what they can expect, pros and cons, how long things will take, etc.?

We don’t live in a product-centric world anymore, perhaps we never did.  Customers need things to be successful and they want them delivered in ways that make them feel good, confident and safe.  Is your business sitting in ignorance or is it moving forward with enlightenment?  Consider more than your product, consider the experience, improve it, and make the memory of your business something positive and noteworthy.