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Category Archives: General Rant about Leading

Customer service shouldn’t stop at middle management

I’m in Vegas this week for the Ultimate Connections 2018 conference and it’s at a VERY big hotel conference center (the Wynn/Encore, if you must know). I like to wander around a little bit the night before to try and get the lay of the land, which is a good idea when things are spread out like they are here. I stopped in front of a map to orient myself when one of the hotel maintenance workers noticed me and asked if I needed help figuring out where I was. He then helped me find some shortcuts to get around the property and made sure I was good before he continued on his way. I’m so mad I didn’t catch his name – he was so helpful. And he did it without anyone watching to make sure he did.

This, to me, was customer service at its finest. A person recognized a guest needed assistance and he gave it. It could be this person is just naturally helpful and friendly. It could also be that the Encore has a really good hiring and onboarding program. I think any service industry town like Vegas would try to focus on good customer service. My Lyft driver from the airport – Rodrigo (5 stars) – also works in one of the Strip hotels and he must have mentioned 3-4 times that it’s important you treat guests and people in general the right way. He got it. 

These two interactions got me thinking about how companies are always emphasizing the need for customer service – both internal and external customers. It seems to me that most front line employees totally get it – the interact with customers face-to-face (or phone-to-phone, even chat-to-chat), so there’s immediate feedback about their level of customer service. Then I think about the frontline supervisors – they’re typically on the ground with their people, so their customer service focus is usually pretty good, too.

 

But what about middle and upper leadership? How is THEIR customer service, typically? If you’re like me, your experience has been mixed – some are good, but so many seem to throw customer service (particularly with INTERNAL customers) completely out the window when they “need” something. How many of us have been working on a project for weeks, only to have the parameters change drastically at the last second because some executive had a thought? How many of us have witnessed inappropriate behavior at the middle to upper management level – whether it be unprofessionalism or outright bullying and harassment – only to hear it excused as “leadership ambition”?

None of this is okay.

If your organization says customer service is important, than it’s important at EVERY level with EVERY kind of customer. Don’t put all the pressure on your frontline employees – they’ve already got it. And if they don’t, they’re fired.

Maybe it’s time we hold our leadership – and ourselves – to the same standard.

 
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Posted by on March 13, 2018 in culture, General Rant about Leading

 

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Fasten your seatbelts: 2018 may be a bumpy ride (a NON-prediction prediction post)

I typically avoid writing predictive blog posts. What the hell do I know about the future? I mean, I watch a lot of Black Mirror and all, so clearly I’m aware that our technology is leading us to a dystopian landscape that will suck away our very souls, but leadership and HR trends? My guess is those will be the same as they’ve always been, only faster and more intense.

The thing is…I’m seeing some interesting behavior online and in real life (IRL for you cool kids out there) and it’s enough of a shift from what I’ve noticed in the past to make me want to write about it. (To be clear, it may be that I’m just more aware of this behavior, but whatever, it’s my blog. Hush, you.)

In the past, I think most people just read an article or post or tweet and were pretty passive about it. If they liked it, they may click the little button, or share a smiley face. If they didn’t like it, they moved on. Nowadays, people are pushing back and challenging more. I’m not talking about those out there who challenge EVERYTHING. Those people have been and always will be there. I’m talking more about those on the sidelines – the people who keep up on current trends and articles and follow the “influencers” but don’t necessarily post or tweet much. THESE people are speaking up. What they may have let slide in the past is no longer something they’re willing to ignore. 

This is where the #metoo movement came from. This is where we are being pushed to discuss inclusion and racism like never before. This is where we are humbled by our preconceptions. This is where we learn.

Frankly, I think it’s awesome – particularly in the leadership/HR world. We build cliques and comfort zones. We help promote each other, and are excellent resources for each other. These are the good things! But we also sometimes fail to push back on each other. We think, “that’s just so-and-so” and let a questionable statement stand unchallenged for fear of damaging a relationship. These are the bad things.

My friend Laurie Ruettimann wrote a fantastic post about healthy debate (go read it, really). We need to embrace that. We who choose to write or post or speak must be okay with people challenging us. We must also be willing to listen when we’re told a statement we made may be offensive. We must ALSO be willing to stand by some of our more controversial statements if we believe in them – which means taking the time to expand upon them or maybe state them differently to add clarity.

I screw up ALL THE TIME. I’m a fast typer, so I tweet at the speed of sarcasm. I’m flippant. I’m sassy. I don’t suffer fools. While I think this makes me charming, it also can get me in a lot of trouble. Unless I’m willing to back up and listen to someone who pushes back, I won’t know how to respond. Crazy person? Probably won’t spend much time on it. Person who’s trying to explain to me why my words hurt them? I owe it to them to try and understand why. I won’t necessarily agree (seldom do), but if someone is willing to share their pain with me, it seems like I should listen. If you want to know what this looks like, Sarah Silverman is your role model. I am not at that level – may never be. #lifegoals

If you share your thoughts with the universe, be prepared for the universe to “share” back. If you write controversial things specifically to spark discussion – which, by the way, is totally cool and a useful way to get people talking! – be willing to engage in that healthy debate.

By the way, this isn’t just for the online community. There are quiet folks in your organizations who typically keep their heads down who are starting to speak up. Their voices may be quiet. They may be asking for confidentiality. But they ARE speaking up. For those of you in HR, have you noticed an uptick in investigations and complaints lately? Visibility breeds awareness breeds action. I’m okay with this. It’s time that the vocal among us make room for those who haven’t felt like they were allowed to speak, or felt like they didn’t have something to say.

 

So here’s my prediction: If you’re not prepared to hear from those who typically haven’t spoken up until now…2018 is gonna be rough.

 

 

 
 

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I hate your sunshine.

During a recent #Nextchat, the conversation turned to making sure current employees were honest about what life was like at the company when talking to candidates. I think I said something clever like, “Life isn’t always sunshine and rainbows at any org, no matter how great it is.” Then Anne Tomkinson (a co-host of the chat) said something even MORE clever, “And you also never know what is positive or negative to someone. They might hate your sunshine.”

And while my life goal is to now have a situation in which I can turn to someone and yell, “I HATE YOUR SUNSHINE!”, I also love what Anne said. Because she’s right. Something you find fantastic at work, another person may hate.

Let’s take open floor plans.

Some people love them – they think they foster creativity, collaboration, and create a bright, open atmosphere that makes the office great to be in. And then there are normal people who just want to be able to close a door and get some damn work done every once in awhile.

See? Someone hated your sunshine.

Leadership styles aren’t immune from this, either. You may think a hands-off approach is the best way to work. All employees want a manager who stays away until needed, right? Believe it or not, there ARE employees out there who want a little more direction and guidance on their day-to-day work and wouldn’t see it as micromanaging. They’d see that as support.

Sunshine hated once again.

As leaders, we have to be careful that we aren’t forcefeeding sunshine to our employees. We have to be aware of the different preferences in our workforce. We can’t always accommodate them (sorry, you can’t really wear pajamas all day…), but we can at least stop trying to get them to love the same things we do. Be realistic, for goodness’ sake.

That whole credibility issue leadership seems to have in so many organizations can be tied to our inability to recognize how our people actually feel about things that are going on at work. It’s OKAY for you to think it’s awesome that the cafeteria is moving to healthy food only. You can even tell people that you think it’s awesome. But don’t try to persuade people who hate the idea. Just say, “I get it. It’s not for everyone.” And move on.

Sunshine is subjective. As soon as leadership recognizes that, we’ll be in a better position to build trust and credibility with our teams.

And that should bring a little sunshine to all of us.


Author’s Note: If, like me, you immediately started singing Len’s Don’t You Steal My Sunshine upon reading this article’s headline, I truly apologize. It will take you roughly 72 hours to remove it from your brain. 

 

 

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Crowdsourcing, best practice, and the reality of work

There’s a lot of chatter out there these days about the benefits of crowdsourcing and use of best practice.

On the one hand, this is a good thing. Technology has helped us shrink the world, allowing us to connect to each other more easily. Because of this, we can learn from each other through case studies, experiences, and measured benchmarks.

On the other hand…just because we can, does it really mean we should?

The answer to this question is best illustrated by a a post on LinkedIn that I’ve been following (and commented on). The post’s subject isn’t terribly important – someone shared that they’d had a unique request from a potential applicant and wanted to know if anyone had ever had the same thing happen to them. What is fascinating to me, though, is the variety of responses and the emotional investment some respondents displayed. Some thought the request was normal, others didn’t. And some were VERY judgemental about a potential candidate having the gall to make such a request. If you do read the comments in the LinkedIn post, pay attention to the language used – it’s incredibly eye-opening. And I can’t imagine it was very helpful for the person who posted the question in the first place.

This example is not unique. You’ve all probably heard similar examples of people looking for input to figure out the best thing to do. Industries regularly publish benchmark data on all sorts of KPIs. Experts write whitepapers. Speakers deliver keynotes about their success. But for every published benchmark is a person saying benchmarks make you average. For every whitepaper on “best practice,” there’s a pundit calling you behind the times for going after those. And for every keynote talking about their personal success, there’s me saying, “I’m glad that worked…FOR YOU.” The noise of opinion is loud and contradictory.

So what is a person to do? Honestly, it kind of depends on what you’re trying to accomplish and where you are in your business.

Are you just starting out in a certain area? Benchmarks and best practices may help you set a baseline from which you measure your progress. It may also help provide a framework for you as you build out your process and dashboard. The trick is to make sure you know the limitations of benchmarks and understand what they’re actually telling you. If you don’t understand a number or what the best practice results in, ask questions or don’t use it. Simply hitting a number because it’s a “benchmark” may not get you anywhere.

Are you being challenged on the prevalence of a certain problem, or are looking for anecdotal evidence of an emerging trend that hasn’t hit research yet? Crowdsourcing within trusted groups can be a helpful approach. Just be aware that the quality of answers is only as good as the group from which you seek input. Throwing a question out on Twitter will get you a MUCH different response than asking a closed group of experts on Facebook. Yes, both methods run the risk of sarcastic responses, but honestly that’s just spice that keeps the flavor in your life.

My point is, you’re going to get potentially crappy data no matter what approach you take. The key is understanding what it is you’re trying to accomplish with this data – what works for YOU in YOUR business RIGHT NOW? If you can’t define those parameters, you probably shouldn’t even be asking the questions in the first place.

 

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Why I cringe when people say “hire for fit”

Companies are constantly looking for differentiators. In the first tech bubble, it was all about stock options and perks like kegs in the breakroom. In the second tech bubble, it’s been all about….stock options and kegs in the breakroom. Huh. I thought we’d come further than that. Moving on…

What you hear about more and more now, though, is “culture.” Culture is the great differentiator. It will make or break your company! It will make you productive! It will cure cancer! (Okay, I made that last one up.)

Listen, I’m a big fan of being intentional about the culture you’re allowing to develop in your workplace. It DOES impact the way people work, their ability to be successful, and how your customers view you. Whether or not you personally like Southwest Airlines (and I love them, so there), you can’t argue with their success in a tough industry. And they attribute it to their “culture” – from how they operate, to how they hire, to how they make, spend, and save money.

It’s the “how they hire” piece that I think people screw up all the time. (And I’m not the only one who thinks that!)

Too many companies who are concerned about their culture focus on hiring as the way to “fix it.” They think that by hiring the “right people,” they’ll magically get the culture they’re looking for. They focus on pre-hire assessments like personality tests and quirky questions and conversations about “passion.” And the next time the employee survey results come back, employees still say they don’t like the culture and turnover proves it.

At this point…I’m over “hire for fit.” Don’t get me wrong – I think it’s important that an employee aligns with core elements of the organization whether it’s the work they do, the people they work with, the values experienced, or what the company represents. But I think we’re going at it wrong. And here’s why:

ILLUSION #1 : Hiring for fit = a cure for all our ills: Every organization I’ve ever worked at that struggles with a “challenging culture” focuses on hiring as the fix. Why? Because it’s the easiest process to change. You add a couple of assessments, change some interview questions, and voila! All done.  

REALITY:  Hiring’s not your problem: Culture consists of EVERYTHING within your workplace, not just the people. It’s your systems, your processes, your location, your parking habits, the industry, your policies, your leadership practices, the behaviors of managers, communication….get the point. If you’ve got issues with your culture, it’s going to take more than just hiring people who SEEM to be part of the culture you want. You have to be willing to dissect the WAY you work. If you’re not wiling to do that, all those “new culture” people you hired are going to leave as soon as they can.

ILLUSION #2: Culture is about attitude, so we’ll ask about that: After all, we want to make sure people share our “values” so let’s make sure the questions are all about how they feel and what they like and dislike. That way we’ll know that they’re the right person to match our culture.

REALITY: Culture is about activity, not attitude: When you read about how Southwest (and other strong “culture” organizations – like Disney) hire people, you’ll see that they focus on BEHAVIORS, not feelings. That’s because behaviors are measurable and you can see how they impact work. Disney records how candidates interact with others, how they treat the receptionist, their inherent curiosity when sitting in a room…all behaviors. Southwest asks candidates how they handled a tough customer situation, looking for examples of the actions taken and the results of those actions. If you want a “culture fit” hire, find people who embody the culture through action, not words.

ILLUSION #3: Our managers are skilled enough to decide if someone is a good fit: We gave them a set of questions and told them to follow the law, they should be fine. Besides, these people have been here FOREVER and totally know what a good hire would look like.

REALITY: At best, they’re guessing. At worst, they’re using “not a fit” as an excuse for discrimination: If you don’t require interview training and calibration before a person is allowed to interview candidates, you have little to no assurance they know what they’re doing. Even then, you’ve got unconscious bias that no amount of training can overcome. By allowing “not a fit” to become the reason a qualified, promising candidate doesn’t get hired, you’re making it okay for managers to make snap judgments. If you can say “not a fit because of x,y,z examples of behaviors,” you’ve got a better chance. Also…DO YOU EVEN REALLY KNOW WHAT YOUR CULTURE IS? Probably not. You think you know. But unless you’ve done a valid assessment, you’re just describing what YOU think the culture is. 

ILLUSION #4: Same is good: Companies believe that if everything acts the same, thinks the same, and looks the same, then the culture will be fabulous and the company will be 100% successful.

REALITY: Diversity is good: You need diversity of backgrounds, thought, experience, age, race, gender…all of it. It breeds innovation. It pushes the company forward. It helps reduce that unconscious bias that gets us into trouble. It’s not the friction that’s the problem – it’s how you function with friction that’s hurting you. Include and celebrate differences and learn to leverage that friction in a way that’s beneficial to the organization.

In a perfect world, I would want companies to share openly enough of who they are and how they operate so that potential candidates can make the educated choice about whether or not they might be a “fit.” There are also tools out there that can help identify alignment with company values/behaviors in such a way that both allows the candidate to decide if they want to proceed AND helps the hiring manager identify questions that will get at the heart of whether full alignment is good or if the team needs that friction.

So please….stop acting like all  you really need to do is “hire for fit.” There are bigger issues at stake. Tackle those and then MAYBE you can start hiring for fit.

Maybe.

 

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The world IS wide enough

I am an unabashed Broadway nerd. I’m not the most knowledgeable, and I have some very controversial views on Cats (Spoiler Alert: I can’t stand it.), but what I lack in knowledge, I more than make up for my love of certain shows. And one of my greatest loves is Hamilton. (Going out on a limb there, I know.)

The show overflows with themes, just pick one – love, ambition, politics, the disconnect between men who cried freedom but not really for all. In relistening to the soundtrack recently, another theme really stood out to me – the idea that there is enough room for more than one success story.

Too many of us think the only way for one person to rise is for another person to fall. That the key to protecting what you have gained is to ensure no one else has that same chance. This can be especially true among groups who have historically struggled to gain power – women, minorities, LGBTQ, the poor, the undereducated, the disadvantaged. 

I watch the dialogue happening in our country today and I’m struck by this theme returning again and again. And it troubles me because it seems we are approaching success like a zero-sum game, which is bad for society at large. Fair isn’t equal…but do we really think a zero-sum game is fair?

We see this play out on a smaller scale in our workplaces. We make some strides in diversion, but fall down with inclusion. We talk about “culture fit” without acknowledging it could easily be code for “look, think, and BE like me.” We subconsciously (and sometimes consciously) place a limit on how many of the “other” are allowed to be successful, and we create a system that ensures the few “other” who do succeed participate in keeping the new status quo to protect what little gains they’ve achieved.

How did we get here? And more importantly, how do we move on from here?

Maybe it’s as simple as realizing the world IS wide enough; that success is NOT a zero-sum game; that, in fact, when we support each other and help each other succeed, we raise ALL ships. We need to celebrate the honestly gained success of others, not knock them down. We need to stop comparing ourselves to an impossible standard we see online because so much of it is a lie anyway. We need to set a path that makes sense for us, and then support others who are seeking their own path.

At the recent WorkHuman conference, Former First Lady Michelle Obama and Steve Pemberton spoke about the Maasai tribe’s custom of asking not “how are you?” but “how are the children?” In their culture, if the children are well, then everyone is well. This resonated with me (and not because I like children – I’m not exactly maternal). It resonated because it’s another way of saying, “The world is wide enough.” Give every child a chance to succeed, and they will continue to expand the borders of our world as we know it.

There is so much room for success in this world. There is so much potential to be realized.

How will you help others expand their world?

Now I’m the villain in your history
I was too young and blind to see…
I should’ve known
I should’ve known
The world was wide enough for both Hamilton and me

– Aaron Burr, Hamilton: The Musical

 

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Fight the good fight

Let’s face it – no matter what our aspirations, most of us leaders will never ascend beyond middle management. That’s because unless we are a CEO of a company without a board (or we are ALSO the board chair), we all answer to somebody.

This perpetual state of “rock, meet hard place” means that leaders are constantly being asked to implement ideas, policies, projects, and other shenanigans they absolutely do not agree with. And even more, they know their employees will not agree with them, either.

The challenge is always knowing when to fight and when to support. In general, the rule of thumb has always been “fight up, complain across, support down.” Which…mostly works. It’s important that leaders know how to pick their battles and when to gain and spend political capital.

On the other hand…

There are times when your team really needs to see that you’re fighting for them. They need to believe you, their leader, has their back when they aren’t around to see it. They need to see that you are human, that you recognize when a policy from the higher ups seems contrary to the organization’s stated values, and that you are willing to stick your neck out for something that’s important.

Leaders, you won’t win on these. Most of the time the decision has already been made and you’re basically just fighting a whirlwind. You’ll be told you have your marching orders and that it’s happening with or without you, so it might has well be with you.

How you decide to react to that statement is up to you.

What I can tell you is that your team notices when you fight for them and with them. They know most of these issues are a losing battle. They know you’re putting your neck on the line. And because of that, they will be in that battle with you.

That means you have to be smart. That means you fight when it matters, not when you’re feeling petty. That means you explain why you’re fighting – so make sure the reason is worthy.

Being a leader means finding a balance in that gray area of supporting the organization’s mission and purpose and railing against anything that seems to be against the mission and purpose. Being a leader means knowing you will fight many times, and you will lose.

But being a leader also means showing your employees that with power comes responsibility, and being a manager sometimes means pushing back on authority now and then when the issue is important. It shows your employee you support them…and you expect them to also push back when the issue is important. Because informed dissent breeds innovation, and permission to dissent respectfully builds trust.

Yes, leaders. You will lose the occasional battle. But you just might win the war.

 
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Posted by on April 30, 2017 in General Rant about Leading

 

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