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

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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.


Changing the World with a Thought.

Image result for being helpfulI just read a story about a consultant who was presenting a workshop to help teachers working with behaviorally challenged kids. During the workshop, the teachers talked about one particular child who was very disruptive. They described one incident where, after becoming increasingly unmanageable, the child ran out of the classroom and out into the schoolyard.

To deal with such things, the teachers had typically defaulted to using a “time out” room, a kind of isolation booth for the unruly. This, however, was proving not to work for everyone. In fact, it served in some cases to make things worse. They wanted to know what else could be done. What could the consultant add that they hadn’t thought of?

Well, the consultant knew that people do not respond so well to being pushed, they typically resist when attempts are made to control them, it is human nature. So they suggested that the teachers think differently. He asked them what would happen, if during one of these disruptions, they thought about how they could be helpful (a more selfless act of thinking about the child’s needs first) rather than to try to control (a more selfish act of thinking about the desire to maintain order)? What if they could move away from their assumptions about this child, and instead, think more about how they could help them? What, by thinking this way, might occur to them to do differently?

Two weeks later, the consultant came back for a follow-up session. The teachers were eager to share their experiences. In one particular story, a teacher recounted that the problem child had run into the gym and hid under blankets. In contrast to how they would have responded earlier, the teacher began to think about the needs/wants of a child in a classroom. They thought, “what if my assumption that this child is just acting out and trying to be a distraction is wrong? What if they just want to play instead of work in a classroom?” With this in mind, they gently approached the child and got down next to them and explained that they would be happy to play hide and seek later after the class. They then returned to their class without demanding that the child go with them.

When the class was over, true to their promise, they returned to the gym to find the child still under the blankets. They reached down and removed the blankets with a loud, “Found you!” From here, they continued the game until they had to go teach another class. Before leaving, they carefully explained that it was time for them to go work with the other students and that they enjoyed playing the game. Twenty minutes later, our disruptive child snuck back into the classroom and sat down.

Several teachers began doing similar things. They would treat their “problem” children as people rather than problems. They would ask the child questions, involve them more, and clearly explain why things had to be certain ways. And although the problems did not cease completely, the teachers all reported that things were different. They were different and the children were different.

What the teachers had found was that seeing the needs of the children made all of the difference. When they took the position of seeing the humanity of the kids (i.e. that they had needs and wants) rather than simply seeing them as a problem, they were able to act, in the moment, to do things for the children rather than to them, they were able to be helpful rather than controlling.

What is the lesson for all of us in the workplace? Well, how might you be seeing others as problems or obstacles rather than people with needs and challenges? How well do you know the objectives and pressures of your fellow team members? How well do you know the objectives and pressures of your customers? How might making these things your first consideration change how you manage those relationships? How might it make you more helpful rather than controlling? How might things be radically different at work … and maybe even at home? Try it and see. Think differently, think about others’ needs and challenges, think about how you can be more helpful, make it your go-to thought, a thought to change the world, your’s and others.’

Many businesses are sick, or at least unwell, but you can make your’s better.

Related imageSomebody asked me whether I thought business was sick referencing my use of the word wellness. I said that I thought some businesses, like people, were sick, some unfit, and some fit and working to stay that way. However, overall, much like the general population, today’s workplaces are largely unwell in one way or another. Since some of you might be wondering what I mean exactly, I’ll explain.

According to Gallup, only 13% of employees are engaged at work worldwide, and in another poll, when surveyed anonymously, 85% of employees report hating their jobs. Read that again, not just disliking their jobs, hating their jobs. Now, couple those ugly statistics with the fact that in 2017, New Voice Media and Forbes reported that $62 billion was lost to poor customer service. And if you’re asking why, some of the main reasons cited were that the customers felt unappreciated and encountered unhelpful, rude staff. And if you’re having trouble seeing a connection, think hard, unhappy employees aren’t exactly prone to deliver happy service.

So, do I think business is unwell? Yes! And it seems to be getting worse. Since 2013, we’ve seen a steady increase in lost dollars to bad service to the tune of about $5 billion per year. That’s a lot of loss. It’s like watching your weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol steadily increase over the years to the point where something has to be done or you’re going to have a heart attack or stroke … or both.

So here we are with sick or at least unwell businesses marked by symptoms that are largely going unnoticed by the people in charge. However, things can be done to turn it around.

Much like individuals, wellness involves both mental health and physical health, and if we think of the culture and environment of the workplace as its mental health, the processes, systems, procedures, and policies can be likened to physical health. The well being and health of both is necessary to personal wellness as well as business wellness. And, as being well makes us happier people who are friendlier and more fun to be around, so it is with businesses. When the workforce that is impacted by environment, culture, processes, and systems, feels good, they can and are more prone to make customers feel good.

Now, before we go any further, fear not, I’m not going to tell you that your business needs to get some pool and ping-pong tables and that you’ll need to start providing daycare and free lunches with happy hour on Friday. Although these things would be pretty cool and I’m sure your employees wouldn’t object, wellness is not about that. It’s about making changes to how managers work with their teams and changing processes so that they are more beneficial to employees and customers.

Let’s begin with the “mental health” side of things which essentially focuses on the culture and environment. And where better to start than the key drivers of the environment, management. In well workplaces, managers lead people instead of trying to manage them. They engage their workforce in conversations where they get their thoughts and ideas on solving the problems. They empower their teams and trust them to get the jobs done that they know how to do, and they continuously encourage team members by praising the things they do right and helping them remove obstacles that hamper progress. Put simply, managers who lead build a team where employees with the right talent and experience can come to the front and be leaders themselves when the opportunities arise. In contrast to the traditional leader-follower model, businesses working toward wellness build teams of leaders where managers facilitate and celebrate instead of trying in vain to manage people with old-school command and control tactics. This is the key to healthier cultures and work environments. This is where better business mental health begins.

On the “physical health” side, well businesses regularly conduct a complete review of processes, systems, procedures, and policies. They look for steps that make employees’ and customers’ lives difficult. They look for things that are unnecessary. They look for where they are making it hard for workers to work, and subsequently, hard for customers to work with them. This requires them to listen to their employees and customers, and to get ideas from all who use and experience their systems. It requires redesigning things to make them easier and more relevant for users, customers, and all who touch them. It means getting rid of siloed activities that benefit the few but impede the many. And although it may potentially involve short-term cost, businesses working to be well focus on long-term benefits including efficiency, employee satisfaction, and ease for customers which will yield higher revenues and lowered costs. While none of this happens quickly and it can be complicated, following this road map for improvement is a must if you hope to have better business physical health.

Put simply, business wellness is ongoing work, it’s a lifestyle so to speak where managers lead by engaging, empowering, and encouraging while teams work together to create better systems that benefit them and customers. And if enough of you heed this and begin the work, maybe those ugly statistics that were cited above might just shift in a more hopeful direction. Ultimately, since all of us work and all of us are customers, maybe, just maybe, we might also make life in general just a little better too. All in all, not too bad an outcome when you think about it.

So, why not get to work on this today? Why not get in the business gym and start the workout that advocates managers leading and systems being more employee- and customer-friendly? Why not start today to create better workplace life, better customer life, and better life? Be well.

Start the Revolution

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Tom Peters, the iconic management guru, says, “Any/all businesses are people serving people.” He then goes on to say that leaders are “people serving people serving people.”

This would mean that the CEO of a company is a person serving people serving people serving people. However, most companies are built more like this, a CEO serving shareholders serving, well, themselves; leaders serving the company to make the numbers look good, and employees trying to serve customers but only halfheartedly because the models/leaders/managers they have are serving multiple interests. (And we wonder why the service we get as customers pretty much sucks.)

So how do we make changes? How can we start a revolution that puts people instead of numbers or shareholder value at the center?

Well, if we want better workplaces and better customer experiences, a revolution can and should happen but not in the way we think when we think of revolutions. It needs to start with one manager at a time making a decision to engage more with their teams in conversations where they ask for opinions and ideas and draw out the best their team members have to offer. Managers everywhere have the ability to dramatically influence the lives of the people in their charge for better or worse. When you think of that it could mean hundreds of people over the course of a career. That’s enough people to move the dial significantly and drive change in your workplace.

By this simple act of connecting with your team members and valuing their contributions, they will perform better, they will have better relationships in and out of work, and customers will interact with happier people who want to serve them. Put simply, you will have a happier, more engaged workforce who make your customers happier and more loyal. What could be better than that?

Then, with happier, more loyal customers, you will see your numbers reflecting this and corporate will see it too. People will start to wonder what’s going on at your location. Other managers will start wanting to make similar changes because they see your success. They’ll start asking you what you’re doing. One by one until … revolution. Okay, maybe I’m getting ahead of myself but perhaps there is some truth in the old adage that a big wind begins with the flapping wings of a butterfly on the other side of the world.

Managers can influence a lot and there is and should be nobility in that influence. This quote from Robert Altman upon receiving an Oscar sums it up, “The role of the Director is to create a space where the actors and actresses can become more than they’ve ever been before, more than they’ve dreamed of being.”

You can start today. Walk out and start talking to your team members, no, not your normal inner circle, I am talking about those people you rarely talk to. I am talking about those line-level, front-line employees who are in the trenches. Go out there and learn from them. Get their input on that new process you’re contemplating. Get them to tell you how they see it impacting customers. Find out how it will impact them and their jobs. Ask them if they have ideas for improving it or streamlining it. Ask and listen. Connect. Then … go out and do it again tomorrow. Keep it up until it becomes a regular part of your day.

And don’t stop there, bring what you learn into your management meetings. Bring the voice of those employees out on the fringe into the center of the room. In fact, invite some of them into the room. Get them to give their point of view. Build their leadership. Help them become, as Altman put it, “more than they’ve ever been before.”

Yes, a people-centered, workplace revolution. It doesn’t start with a mob, it starts with one manager at a time deciding to build a team of leaders who can think, do, and bring inestimable value. People serving people serving people, the essence of business. Start the movement in your workplace.

Overlooking longtime supporters in favor of new blood. What kind of strategy is that?

Image result for perksIs it just me or does anybody else get a little miffed that new customers sometimes get perks that longtime, loyal customers don’t?

I’ve been a longtime Discover card customer, and in recent ads they’ve been touting extra cash back for new customers. You see, Discover gives their cardholders a kickback percentage for using their card and now they’re giving first-time cardholders an additional amount. Okay, I get it, they want more customers, but to us old customers, this is a slap in the face. I guess my last 20 years of loyalty isn’t that important. Too bad for Discover because there are a lot of other cards I can use, all with perks of their own.

This isn’t my first experience with this kind of new-customer-perk strategy. Many years ago, I had a magazine subscription that was up for renewal and they had been promoting a special price for new subscribers. I wrote them and asked for the same rate thinking it was only reasonable given my years of loyalty. Wrong! I got no response. So, I did not renew…and I didn’t look back.

A business strategy that favors new customers over longtime supporters is just shortsighted. Attract new customers of course, but be mindful and offer your base something to match, that’s a strategy that makes sense.

How seeing people differently can change everything.

Image result for bicyclingBicyclists. They get in the way. They are unpredictable. They are just obstacles to get around.

Right now, you are reading this thinking I am a jerk for thinking such things. How can this guy be so insensitive? Bicyclists aren’t so bad, they’re allowed the road like anyone else.

But when you’re behind one and they’re slowing your journey, you’re probably thinking one of the sentiments listed above. That doesn’t make you a bad person, it makes you a human person.

What I’m getting at is how easy it is to dehumanize people and turn them into objects or problems instead of people with problems and needs. And this unfortunate capacity is one of the chief problems plaguing our world. We, myself included, are too quick to dehumanize.

Why is this such a big deal? Well, when we dehumanize, it’s easier to not care and to allow or do terrible things to others. In his great book, Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek says “[Here is] one of the shortcomings of using numbers to represent people. At some point, the numbers lose their connection to the people and become just numbers, void of meaning.” In other words, when we make people things, like numbers, they become expendable like an obstacle in the road to be tossed aside or removed.

What does this mean in the everyday scheme of things? Where are there times when you dehumanize and forget that that person you are cussing is just like you, fragile, needy, unreasonable, and selfish? How does this influence how you lead or serve? How would changing this frailty change how you lead and/or serve?

To gain some clarity, let’s get back to our bicyclist. How do we go from seeing them as a pain to being people? The first thing to do is ask yourself some questions to get perspective. Is it possible that they are cycling for their health because they had a heart attack and want to live to see their children grow up? Is it  possible that they are cycling to raise money for a good cause? Is it possible that they are cycling because one of their values centers on the environment? When you think unselfishly giving others the benefit of having good intentions it is easier to see that they’re just people that love, live, and dream like all of us.

When we make a point of seeing others as people, it changes how we behave, it changes how we feel. As you move through today, make note of how you see others. See if consciously focusing on their humanity changes how you behave. See if this focus moves you to more reasonable responses. If it does, try it again the next day and the next. I can only hope it changes your world and the world of those you meet. Here’s to changing the world, one human at a time.

Don’t beg for scores, earn them.

Image result for service survey“’PLEASE GIVE ME TOP SCORES’ is the fourth most annoying interaction customers have with companies…” This quote is from Jeanne Bliss’s book Would You Do That To Your Mother?

Survey begging. I feel certain most of you have experienced it at some point. In simplest terms, survey begging is when employees of a business ask or suggest to customers that they give positive survey scores.  For example, I feel sure you’ve been on the receiving end of employees of some business telling you they’ll get in trouble if they don’t receive a good score, or informing you that anything other than all 10’s is considered a fail.  And while these are pretty blatant forms of the practice, even talking about scores at all can sound like begging, and regardless of how blatant or subliminal, survey begging or its surrogates cause several problems.

First, it’s annoying. Customers don’t like feeling that they are being cajoled into giving a survey score and the negative feelings that are engendered can actually work to your detriment as some customers will spitefully give lower scores.

Second, this practice often creates a perception that companies aren’t really using survey data to improve service; they’re only using it to for internal reward.  This can ultimately serve to decrease the number of responses since returning customers will stop participating because they see the survey as futile. Less responses means we learn less and improve less which can lead to increased customer dissatisfaction as well as increased employee frustration as they are forced to deal with more and more disgruntled customers.

Third, begging can cover up real service issues by artificially inflating scores. Customers might want to tell the truth about some weaker part of their experience, but they don’t, they just submit the inflated survey to ease their conscience.  The problem here is that the company never learns that something is wrong which will only lead to repeats of the poor performance and more and more customer unhappiness.

The lesson here is clear, survey begging defeats, in multiple ways, the primary purpose of your customer service or customer experience survey, namely, learning about weaknesses and using that knowledge to improve.

So what do you do?  How can you introduce the survey to customers without sounding like you are begging?

To begin, it’s important to be mindful of your objective in introducing them to the survey; you want customers to know that they will get a survey and that you use their input to help you make their experience better every time.  In other words, you don’t want the survey invitation to be a surprise and want them to know that it is really, ultimately, for their benefit.  Their honest views help you to get better for them.  You could even see the survey as a rather ironic form of service.

With that in mind, here is an example of one possible way to introduce your survey.  “Mr/Ms Customer, we will be sending you a survey to share your thoughts on our performance.  We value your views and use the feedback to improve your experience, so, if you would, please take a few minutes to complete the survey so we can continue learning and improving.  Thank you.”

As you can see, all I’ve done here is to introduce the survey to the customer, let them know why I want their input, make it clear that it is a benefit to them, and show appreciation for their taking the time to complete it.  No begging, no scores mentioned, just a request for their honest opinions and thoughts.

Begging doesn’t really work, in fact, it can work against you.  Getting honest customer feedback is of benefit to customers, and ultimately, your business.  So, if you want customers to say you gave them “excellent” service … inform them about the survey, and then focus on providing excellent service.