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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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Not a joiner? Join the club*

*Author’s Note: See what I did there? 

There’s been a lot written about the challenges of being an introvert in a workplace that tends to value the behaviors of extroverts (see: Susan Cain). From open floor plan workspaces to “collaborative” work styles (e.g., we all sit in a room and stare at the same document until magic somehow occurs), to a belief that you must speak up in meetings or you’re not adding value – the preferred work style of introverts seems contrary to how corporate America seems to want to operate.

Despite this clash of styles, introverts are doing (mostly) okay. Exhausted and fussy at times, but mostly okay. We’ve been figuring out how to adapt to, and influence, our work environments to find a way to not only exist but thrive. We have also made headway in busting the myth that introverts are anti-social heathens who hate people. (That’s only a few of us.) Most introverts actually like people…but individually, and for short periods of time. Or through social media, because this means we can meter the intensity of our interaction to match our energy. Which is nice. Slowly but surely, we’ve started to change the perception that you have to be “outgoing” to be a good leader.

Then out of the blue…someone asks you to join their “group.”

Maybe it’s a bowling league. Maybe it’s a work committee. Or maybe someone tries to throw you into a generalized reference to a “them” when telling a story.

If you just read that and felt your heartbeat climb and your anxiety increase, chances are you are NOT a joiner.

It’s okay…I’m one of you. (Which really is kind of funny when you think about it, because now we’re a group but we don’t really WANT to be a group, and now we hate ourselves for being part of a group. Ugh.)

I know I started this post talking about introverts, but I want to point out that extroverts can be “anti-join,” too. I think anyone who hates being labeled or put into a box (particularly by others) aren’t really a “joiner.” Because introverts recharge individually, though, maybe they’re more prone to not wanting to join the club. (I have no research to support this, but it seems like research doesn’t change people’s minds anyway, so let’s pretend I told a really emotional story and got you on my side on this one.) (And yes, I’m aware of the irony that I just used research to prove that research won’t change your mind.)

Anyway, back to not wanting to be a joiner.

The problem with not being a joiner at work is that it somehow puts a mark on you. People who don’t want to join the club are often labelled as difficult, or maybe they “aren’t a culture fit,” which is often code for “not like us.”  Unfortunately, that mark can be tough to shake. Most people want so desperately to belong, so it’s hard to understand why someone wouldn’t want to belong in a very public, assimilated way.

And that’s where the challenge lies – never try to tell a non-joiner they HAVE to join. They will become stubborn, angry, and most likely will act directly opposite from what you’re trying to get the group to buy into. (At least that’s what my mom says I do. I think she’s lying out of spite.) They will feel put upon, and more importantly, they will feel even more like an outsider because you have put their otherness on display. And now they will never join you.

This is a damn shame, too, because here’s the thing – non-joiners actually do join things. They just tend to be much more selective and only join things that really speak to them – causes, activities, awesome snacks at club meetings. Don’t think of them as non-joiners. Think of them as the Discerning Joiner.

Discerning Joiners recognize they only have so much time and tolerance for meetings, get togethers, busy work, etc. They focus instead on things that they care about. And when they decide to join that “club,” the Discerning Joiner is a juggernaut. They will devote time, energy, attention, resources – anything they need to do in order to make sure their decision makes a difference for someone.

You WANT Discerning Joiners – you just don’t realize it yet. They tend to be the people who can make a real difference in society. They see something they don’t like and refuse to “join the club.” Instead, they make a conscious decision to evaluate the situation and do something to turn people’s heads and make them uncomfortable. It could be something as simple as sitting in someone else’s “spot” in a meeting to break up the monotony. Or it could be something as public as kneeling. Whatever action they take, though, they take intentionally. Don’t discount the power of that. Harness it. Encourage it. See what you can do to create an environment that allows that to happen positively.

And if you ARE a Discerning Joiner, stay strong. Stay principled. Don’t feel pressured to join the crowd. Join when it makes sense. Feel comfortable in being an individual, too.

USE YOUR POWERS FOR GOOD.

Even if you do it alone.

 

I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will.
– Charlotte Bronte

 

 
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Posted by on October 9, 2017 in Authenticity, Personal Development

 

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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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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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If I were king of the forest: in praise of managerial courage

I’m one of those people who lacks a strong natural filter.

I know – shocking, right?

I mean, I can have a filter – a damn good one. I’m very good at spinning a story to make it seem like it’s a good idea, or at the very least, not a horrible one. I’ve worked in tech startups, for crying out loud. I had to write press releases to make a letter of intent sound amazing even though we didn’t really have a product that worked. And I’ve work in Human Resources, for crying out loud. Do you know how many times I’ve had to “sell” a new policy or change in benefits? I can filter, dammit. It just takes effort.

king-of-the-forest

With a woof and a woof and a royal growl – woof.

 

So why am I talking about filters when I so clearly stated in the headline that I’d be talking about managerial courage? Because I think that filters sometimes overtake our willingness to be bold. We are so concerned with not ruffling feathers or rocking the boat or saying the wrong thing or looking a little silly that we turn the filter up to 11 and refuse to speak up and let things happen that shouldn’t. [I used ‘and’ a lot in that sentence. Oops.]

Leaders should exhibit managerial courage if they want to be successful. I’ve got reasons:

  • Innovation doesn’t come from being meek: Change happens because someone stands on a desk – metaphorically or otherwise – and yells they are MAD AS HELL AND AREN’T GOING TO TAKE IT ANYMORE. Courage means sometimes you have to do something unpopular to move forward.
  • Feisty managers can instill pride in a team: Employees know when bullshit is going down. They might not have the best spin detectors in the world, but they know enough to be able to tell when a bad idea is implemented. Managers who speak up appropriately against the craziness in their world show their teams that not every leader accepts the crap that rolls downhill. (You’ll notice I said ‘appropriately’ – that’s important.) Teams like a manager who stands up for what’s “right” – whatever that looks like.
  • Speaking out can foster healthy conflict: Not enough organizations know how to fight. Too many people seem to think debate = anger = personal attack. Can we stop thinking this? Seriously. Managerial courage requires leaders to accept the momentary discomfort of conflict and start an exchange of ideas, which leads to better decisions because people have learned to talked about the issue and not each other. Healthy conflict – good. Artificial harmony – bad.
  • Safe is boring: Ever heard the line Fortune favors the bold? No? Well, now you have. If you have ambition to move up in an organization or want to gain influence with your stakeholders, you’ll need to speak up. It creates opportunities for you to be viewed as a thinker – as someone who thinks big and isn’t afraid to share their big ideas. I don’t mean that you should naysay everything. Then you’re just an asshole. I mean you should accept a little risk in order to gain a bigger reward.
  • You learn how to fail: Not every episode of managerial courage will end with you draped in glory. In fact, you’ll most likely fail more often than not – especially early on. Each time you will refine your timing, target your message, and fine tune your approach. The powers that be will start listening, and even if you don’t change their minds this time, you’re depositing influence for a later discussion. It’s kind of like when a star player argues a foul call or a called strike. They know they won’t reverse the call…but it just might get the ref to lean towards their point of view the next time.

Being a leader is exhausting. You often feel like you’re fighting an uphill battle and all you get is blame and you never get the recognition. You’re responsible for a team of people who may or may not trust you, and may or may not care to be engaged at work. Oh, and if you’re like most people, you’re a “working leader” – meaning you have a whole bunch of deliverables due, too.  I think that’s why so many leaders shut down and decide to go along to get along – they just don’t have the energy to fight anymore.

Well, I say – fight, dammit. Step up to the plate and display your courage. You’ll energize yourself. You’ll energize your team. You’ll energize your organization.

Success is not final; failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.
– Winston Churchill

 
 

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Leaders, remind your people they have value (no matter what those laws say)


NOTE: This post might be interpreted as “political.” That’s cool. Remember, my opinions are my own. And goodness knows…I have opinions.


You know which laws I’m talking about. This one. And this one. Thankfully, this one got vetoed.

There is plenty of material out there discussing the laws, the impact it will have on local communities (Paypal and Bruce Springsteen put their money where their mouths are…with more to come, I’m sure). I’ll leave the social discussion and moral outrage to others who can articulate it with such dexterity (like this incredible post by Jay Kuhns).

Through all this, I started thinking about everyday employees who had to hear that message from their government. And when Ed Tsyitee tweeted “HR people in Mississippi and North Carolina must be doing a collective facepalm right now,” I realized…he’s right. How messed up is this? Here we are – a nation of businesses supposedly obsessed with employee engagement, now confronting a message that we care about our people…as long as our people are exactly like we say they should be.

What a tough pill to swallow. valueadded

Employees are just trying to make a living. They want to live their lives. They want to fit in in a way that feels right to them. For god’s sake, they just want to go to the bathroom.

Leaders (true leaders) know how important it is to allow people to be authentic. And no…I don’t mean they have license to be assholes. I mean that people have the right to live as they are – male, female, gay, straight, furry, LARP-er, Star Wars nerd, Star Trek geek – whatever makes them who they are. Leaders sometimes face ridicule (or worse) for supporting their zany crew. These leaders are simply trying to keep their team motivated to do the work the business needs to do.

For those leaders of employees who face this challenge on a daily basis, here are some things you can say to impacted employees:

You matter.

You make a difference in the organization. You a person worthy of respect. You are a human being – with the same strengths, flaws, quirks, foibles, and greatness as everyone else.

You will be held to the same standard of work as others. You will be praised when you knock it out of the park. You will get a talking to when you goof up. After all – we have a job to do.

You can share who you are with this team, because we support you. And you are free to hum the theme song of ‘Dallas’ when the spirit moves you (unless it’s during a presentation to the executive team – that could be bad).

I’m so glad you’re on the team.

You. Are. Valued.

No matter what the outside world throws at your employees, you have the power to remind them they are PEOPLE first. They are YOUR people. They are the lifeblood of your team. They are the reason your business gets things done.

Leaders – you can set an example for others. You can show the fearful people that “different” isn’t something to punish. We’re all different.

And we all have value.

 

 

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