Ten Questions for Removing Complexity at Work

Related imageHave you ever had times when you went into a store to return something and the clerk helping you made it difficult? I’ve often wondered why something so simple could be made so problematic. I often think that one major possibility is that the process the clerk has to go through is so challenging that they want nothing more than to get you out of the way so they can avoid the complexity. I say this because I experienced it when I worked in retail many long years ago. The particular place had a return policy and procedure that was so cumbersome that it was easier to disappoint a customer than it was to perform the procedure. So, we, the employees, often did it, we pissed off a customer rather than having to go the through return-process hell.

Do you see this in your workplace? How many systems are simply out of alignment with employee and customer ease?

Some of you might be grumbling to yourself that work isn’t meant to be easy, it is work after all, but as our friends at FranklinCovey tell us, effective leaders create systems that make it easier to achieve results. When you make things easy for employees, you make it easier for customers as the product-return example illustrates, and if that’s not enough, making employees’ lives easier allows for more efficiency and less errors which means lower costs. You see, ease and lower complexity can make life better – for everyone including the boss.

So, when’s the last time you reviewed your systems and processes? Here are ten questions to help in this review.

  1. What are the key objectives of your team or work group?
  2. What are the systems necessary to reach those objectives?
  3. What are the steps necessary for each system to be successful?
  4. Are all those who touch each system necessary?
  5. Are there any unnecessary steps in any of the systems?
  6. Are there any redundant steps any of the systems?
  7. Is the sequence of steps in each system logical and uncomplicated?
  8. Is any training needed?
  9. Are any additional resources needed?
  10. How will changes to any of these systems improve the lives of those who use and are served by them?

Now, armed with answers and ideas, go and make change. Tear down the old and bring in the new so that employees’ and customers’ lives are improved.

Ask these questions regularly. Never stop getting better. Work doesn’t have to be hard, in fact, it should be as easy as possible for everyone involved. Why you ask? The better question is why not?


Three ways to see people differently and be a better leader.

Image result for see people As a leader, in each and every interaction with our team members, we all have opportunities to see them in one of two ways,  as people who have value or as things to try and control or dismiss. This distinction and the choice you make in how to see them has immense implications for the way you engage and work with them as well as to the culture of your workplace.

If leaders see people as things, specifically, a means to an end or an obstacle in the way, the possibility of kindness and understanding is considerably lessened because people are no longer humans with feelings, needs, and challenges, they’re just machines to complete tasks, or worse yet, objects to remove. This thinking leads to observable behavior that people feel which causes hesitation to willingly follow. This hesitation leads to not volunteering best efforts which ultimately results in people becoming dreaded clock punchers who do the very minimum to keep their jobs. Frustrated and in a quest for better performance, leaders apply more control only to see employees performing with even more mediocrity, and in some cases, active indifference. As this cycle continues all that’s really being accomplished is the creation of a have-to-go-to-work culture rather than a want-to-go-to-work culture.

However, if leaders choose to see and treat employees as people, they can get a better understanding of them. They can learn how to better accommodate their needs to maximize performance. They can learn about challenges and work with them to find solutions that may benefit not only the employee but also the business as a whole. When employees see that leaders care and have their best interest at heart, they’re inspired to use all of their potential to complete their work to the very best of their ability.

We all have the opportunity to choose the way we see others and making the choice to see them as people is sometimes difficult. Thus, this decision must become a habit if we hope to change our actions and behavior consistently. Here are three ways to help begin the seeing-people habit.

  1. Create a blank slate and don’t pass judgement: Give everyone the benefit of the doubt and don’t think of them with labels. Try to approach people with a blank slate in mind. Listen to understand, not to reply or find a reason why they are bad or any other label. Be kind to be kind, not to serve any controlling purpose.
  2. Remember you and others are alike at a fundamental level: Treat people as equals regardless of any position of authority because, at a fundamental level, we all have similar complex, messy issues, needs, wants, dreams, etc. Know that when people get angry, act up, or behave badly, they’re being human, just like you. Make your objective to make people feel comfortable and valued because you don’t see them as less than yourself.
  3. See their potential as a valuable contributor: Everyone has potential and much of it is untapped. As you listen, seek out that potential, that valuable contribution they have locked within. Ask questions and let them answer. See what you can learn, you might be surprised, they may have ideas that help solve, even in some small way, a large problem. Finally, ensure people leave you with a sense that they matter by thanking them for their thoughts no matter how big or small, remember, they contributed and more contribution leads to more success.

How are you interacting? How are you choosing to see people?

Book Review: Transform Your Company by Alex Vorobieff

Image result for transform your companyI just read Alex Vorobieff’s new book, Transform your Company, and it was definitely time well spent.

I think every business leader would agree that if you want your business to succeed, everyone in it needs to be rowing together on the same mission, and until that happens, frustration will be an ever-present partner. In Transform Your Company, Vorobieff shows leaders how to eliminate the chief behavior that keeps businesses from moving forward, and then shows how to find the right tools to reach true alignment.

Vorobieff begins by discussing the critical need for leaders to listen to feedback, both positive and negative, without bias and with humility. This is the first and possibly most important step to removing the frustration of misaligned employees, work groups, and departments going in their own directions instead of the direction of the company’s mission and purpose. Without an honest view of things, it is impossible to make real, long-lasting change. You have to know where the dark places are before you can shine a light on them.

From there, he uses a simple model of an upside down pyramid to explain exactly what alignment means and what, from the core beliefs and values of the organization to the intentions and motivations of the front-line employee, needs to be aligned. He then proceeds to help readers on this alignment journey by showing them how to define their organization’s unique place to begin, the best alignment tools for different situations, how to choose the best tool for each, when to ask for help from a business coach, and what to look for in that coach. And if that all sounds complicated, fear not, this book was an enjoyable read that got to the point and made things very practical.

Vorobieff makes it clear that this journey and process are not easy, but he gives a step-by-step framework to make it manageable. I highly recommend this book to anyone in a business leadership role particularly those starting their own business. But don’t skip it if you aren’t running your own company, any business leader would be well served by learning from this work and where it can lead to making an organization better.

One thing every service provider should do to improve their customer service.

Image result for one thingIn a recent conversation, I was asked for something that anyone can do to improve their customer service. I think I was being challenged to come up with a magic bullet. Well, this isn’t a magic bullet to solve all customer service problems, but it is simple and can improve things immensely.

This simple action is something that I call proactive helpfulness. This is when things are done for you without you having to ask. For me, it makes me feel taken care of and pampered. I feel like I don’t have to lift a finger … which is what great service should be as far as I am concerned. Anyway, I believe that any service provider can, by simply be more observant and mindful, make their customers’ experiences even better by demonstrating this one behavior.

These days, more and more customer problems are managed on phone calls that can and should be resolved in one interaction as much as possible. Getting a quick answer is exactly what customers want and it can be made even better with some proactive helpfulness. By providing suggestions for solving possible next challenges or by making their next step easier, you clearly communicate to the customer that you want to proactively save them time and set them up for success without them even asking for it. Imagine how refreshing it is to make a call to get a problem solved and not only get it solved but also get some proactive suggestions for ways to solve issues that might happen after you hang up the phone. Imagine getting a suggestion that would make something related to your current problem easier or make the next logical step you need to take less complicated. It’s customer nirvana.

An easy way to get team members to start doing this is to have them continually ask themselves, “How can I ensure this person does not have to call me again? How can I make their next step easier?” The point is, team members shouldn’t just solve the problem the person called about, they should give customers suggestions for solving an issue they might encounter when they get off the phone or share an idea for making their next logical step easier.

In other customer experiences that aren’t phone calls, where the customer is present, like hotel work or retail for example, team members should always be looking for opportunities to serve. If the customer looks curious or like they are searching for something, team members should ask how they can help. If the customer is standing in front of an information kiosk, team members should approach them and offer their assistance and provide the information directly. Being proactively helpful in the live, onsite environment is all about being observant and finding ways to help before the customer has to search for it.

Proactive helpfulness is an uncomplicated, cost-effective way to make the customer experience easy and comfortable. By asking before customers have to make a request, it shows a commitment to them and their needs as your priority, and, it’s something anyone providing service can do.



An Impromptu Leadership Lesson

Image result for helping climbers

Recently, I was approached by an acquaintance who is a manager in his workplace. He was having problems with his team members and their lack of engagement and enthusiasm. Although it wasn’t planned, the conversation turned into a leadership lesson. It went something like this.

MANAGER: I am so frustrated. I just heard one of my employees say, “That decision is above my pay grade.”

ME: Why is that so frustrating to you?

MANAGER: Well, to me it’s just another way of saying “that’s not my job.” It shows no ownership or desire to take responsibility.

ME: So, you see it as a lack of initiative, a lack of commitment, is that what I am hearing?

MANAGER: Yes, exactly. And it’s damned frustrating because I think people should step up when necessary.

ME: Why do you think he’s demonstrating this?

MANAGER: He’s probably gotten jaded or bored or just not that great of an employee.

ME: Is it possible that it’s not all him and that some other things may have contributed to it?

MANAGER: What do you mean?

ME: Well, do you let people take initiative? Do you let them make decisions?

MANAGER: Of course I let people make decisions. They just have to run them by me first. Then I tell them whether it will work or not. If I think it’s going to be a problem, I tell them what to do. It’s pretty straightforward management stuff.

ME: How do you think what you just described might have planted the seed for this commitment and initiative problem?

MANAGER: I’m not sure. I mean, I told you that I let them make some decisions, I’m not a dictator, I leave my door open.

ME: Can I share an observation?

MANAGER: Sure, go right ahead.

ME: Well, it sounds to me like you have created an environment where your employees can’t actually make decisions because you have to be part of all of them. For them, it’s a bit like being a kid with a hovering parent who won’t let them do anything on their own, they just want to go away so they can spread their wings. I don’t want to sound too presumptuous but I can only imagine Fridays here are like the last day of school and Mondays are like the first day in jail.

MANAGER: Okay, wait a minute. I’m a manager, I manage, that’s my job, and I can’t just let them make decisions and do things without putting my stamp on it, it would be chaos. Oh, and of course Fridays are happier, aren’t they everywhere? I mean, you’ve got a couple of days off coming.

ME: Yeah, you’re right, everybody looks forward to the weekend but we can make the workplace better so that the week is fulfilling too.

Now, as far as being a manager, manager is a title and everything a manager does isn’t about managing, especially when it comes to people. You see, management is about control and while there are many things in the workplace that need controlling, like schedules, budgets, systems, processes, etc., things change drastically when we talk about people. You can’t control people. Try as you might, people can think and decide to do things differently no matter how much you tell them what you want. People have tried very hard over thousands of years to control people and they just can’t do it. Some people would rather die than be controlled, literally, look at the history books. What people need is leadership, and leadership requires influence, inspiration, and guidance not monitoring and telling them what to do.

MANAGER: Oh, here we go, a leadership lesson.

ME: Yes it is, but I asked and you said yes. Besides, what harm can it do to try a different approach?

MANAGER: Okay, I get that. What should I do?

ME: It’s just a minor adjustment, I am going to suggest something small but something that could make a big difference. First, when a problem comes up, instead of giving your employees your view, start by asking them what they think is causing it. Get their opinions and observations. I mean, they’re the ones out there fighting the fires, they know best why things are the way they are. Next, ask them what they think would fix it. Get their ideas and if they have good ones, sing their praises and tell them to get on with it. If they have a bad idea that might cause problems, point it out, just do it as a question like, “How do you think that might impact ‘blank’?” You can fill in the blank with customers or a system or whatever you think might be negatively impacted. If they don’t see the connection or are not getting it, ask them if you can share your thinking. The point here is that, as much as possible, you want to get them to think and see the bigger picture not just wait for you to jump in every time something comes up.

You see, your job as a manager isn’t so much about telling people what to do, it’s really about leading them by helping them think and do for themselves. Just think about it, if all of your team members could think and do more themselves without you, you could spend more time on all of the other things you have to do. And, they would be more productive and more engaged. They might just start coming to work because they want to not just because they have to.

How generosity makes us better at work, home, and life.

Related imageService requires generosity, or at least it comes from that spirit. But being generous isn’t such a natural thing. It’s a choice, and it’s a choice that has some risk involved. I mean, you are giving away something of value even if it’s only some of your time. Maybe it will all be for naught and have little or no effect. Maybe it will be the wrong thing. Maybe it will not actually help in the way you thought it would. Maybe the other person doesn’t want any help. Yes, with generosity comes risk.

Thus, generosity requires courage. And if you really want to serve, you must step up to the challenge.

Fortunately, Mother Nature provides us with some help here because generosity makes you feel good, both physically and emotionally. And that little hit of feel-good chemicals is just enough to make it worth any of the jitters that might come from our doubts.

Additionally, Mother Nature also provides us with chemicals that make generosity contagious. When you demonstrate a generous spirit, others get a little chemical hit that influences them to want to do it too. It’s amazing. Our wiring is such that just seeing someone being generous makes us feel good, and that good feeling makes us more likely to act. So although it may seem idealistic, your simple act of courageous generosity can, like the flapping of a butterfly’s wings, start a puff of air that can become a wind. It’s really an act of leadership.

So, as you go forth today, think about being generous.  Maybe it’s just some extra time spent with your family or a team member. Maybe it’s just some small act of kindness to that person you bump into at the supermarket. Or maybe it’s walking that customer to the right aisle instead of just pointing the way. Regardless of the act, generosity can have a big positive impact, a big influence on making our world just a tiny bit better. Take up the generosity challenge. Be of service. Be a leader. Start the wind blowing. Do it and see how you feel.