Saturday, May 28, 2011

Too Big to Care?

Can a company get too big to care?

Lately, I've started to get some requests for Customer Service skills training. I take that as a positive sign. After many months of time management and stress management (definitely "signs o' the times," eh?), it's nice to be returning to the thing we ought to be most focused on, that is, The Customer.

In a recent seminar, when I asked the participants to reflect on their own experiences of good and not-so-good service, there were many (too many) stories shared about companies that had gotten too big to care:

- the cable company that kept transferring a customer from point to point without any resolution of the caller's question
- the financial services company that promised to kill a duplicate bill, but continued to send the double bill month after month
- the phone company that promised to stop billing a customer for a service he did not want (and had never asked for in the first place), but the service continued to appear on the monthly statement anyway

And more. The phrase that came to mind was "too big to care," inspired no doubt by the phrase that appeared just a couple of years ago during the financial meltdown, "too big to fail."

These well-known and well-established companies are huge, complex entities, running vast, global technology-driven operations. They are filled with very smart people, designers, engineers, marketers, and financial wizards, all watching their respective parts of the dashboard.

Yet, you have to ask, Is anyone remembering to care about the Customer? Caring for the customer is a basic skill. So basic that, if you lose sight of it, it could kill you.

What are some of the basics?

Communication = Are you communicating regularly with your customers? So much of a company's communication is one-way: emails, flyers, bills. When do you ever speak directly to the customer, to ask the customer how they like the service? To make genuine human contact.

Attention = Are you noticing your customer? They may be thinking of leaving. If they have a choice, and you aren't giving them reason enough to stay, chances are they are shopping around for a better deal.

Reward = Are you thanking your customer for doing business with you? Showing your customer that you appreciate their business is so unusual that, if you really did it, you would "knock their socks off," as the late great Ron Zemke once said.

Engagement = Are you engaging with your customer on a regular basis? Inviting them into your thinking process? Asking them for ideas on ways to improve service, or on new services?

Why do companies lose sight of these basics? I think that size might be the culprit. The bigger you get, the harder it is for you to respond, adapt, and change. The bigger the organization grows, the more differentiated the parts become. The result can be walls, silos, breakdowns in communication...and poor customer service.

It doesn't have to be this way. If the organization designs itself around the Customer, it will keep its focus on taking good care of the reason it exists. As Peter Drucker once famously said, "The purpose of a business is to create and keep a customer."

To keep a customer, you've got to care.

Posted by Terrence Seamon on Saturday May 28, 2011. Looking for more ideas on delivering excellent customer service to your customers? Terry Seamon is a Learning & Organization Development consultant with Facilitation Solutions, a training and organization effectiveness practice based in New Jersey. He has designed and delivered training for his clients on leadership, coaching, engagement, managing, communication, customer service, conflict, stress, teamwork, and change, and has written extensively on these and many other topics. Invite Terry to your organization to speak with your teams. Call today and discover how Terry can help you achieve your goals: 732-246-3014.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Learning Is A Lifelong Process

A great annual exodus is happening right now as many young people graduate from colleges and universities. My son, for example, just graduated from Rutgers this past Sunday.

For some, graduating feels like an ending, but it isn't really. The feeling of separation anxiety is natural. It means you're moving through one of life's passages.

Just because you've graduated from college doesn't mean the growing process has ended. It's just shifting to a new level. Now you enter the next phase of your life. Previously, as a student, the school provided the structure. Now, as your working life begins, the structure is up to you. Recognize this: You are still "in school," only now it's the workplace where your next lessons will happen. Be ready. Here are a few tips:

What courses will you take? - Since there is no course catalog anymore, you have to set your own learning goals and design your own learning projects. Be proactive about it. Ask yourself: What do I want to learn next? What do I need to learn to advance in my field? Keep reading. Continue to push yourself into new territory.

When will exams be held? - Tests and exams in school were part of the measurement apparatus that helped you gauge your own learning. The grades you received provided you with feedback. Now, in the workplace, you will be getting another sort of feedback, some of it regarding your performance, and some of it regarding your behavior, your attitude, and your impact on others. Feedback will come from your boss, but it can also come from your customers, your colleagues, and even from such unlikely sources as the executive secretary or the maintenance guy. Which brings us to point number three...

Who will teach you? - In the workplace, there are potential teachers just about everywhere. How will you recognize them? There is a Buddhist saying, "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear." In some cases, you will spot them and seek out their expertise or advice. In other cases, they will approach you and offer their share of wisdom. Be receptive. Sometimes the most unlikely teacher will be giving the lesson.

What if you flunk? - Yes, there may be difficult times, too, when setbacks make you feel like a failure. Rather than getting mad or giving up, it's better to get in the habit of asking yourself, What is the lesson in this experience? What is this snafu teaching me? What did I do (or not do) to get into such a mess? Experience can be a hard teacher. But if we don't learn the lessons in our experiences, we won't gain the self-awareness that leads to wisdom.

The commencement speaker, one of my son's classmates, said "Today is the perfect day to begin your future."

She was right on the money. Endings are followed by new beginnings. New possibilities.

The learning and the growing will go on. It's a lifelong process. Now the curriculum is up to you. Design it!

Posted by Terrence Seamon (Rutgers Class of 1977) on Thursday May 19, 2011. For more ideas on taking charge of your learning process, contact Terry and invite him to speak to your organization.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The 10 Things Leaders Do to Create the Conditions for Success

If it's true (as I argued in a prior blog post) that People deliver Results, then what must the leader do to ensure that the people can succeed?

Here are ten ideas leaders can implement now to create the conditions for success:

L = Look ahead. Listen to the input of your team. Learn continuously. Let go of fear.

E = Engage others in figuring out how to get there. Communicate your Expectations. Monitor the Energy level of your team.

A = Aspire to be the best. Ask for ideas. Adapt your leadership style to each situation.

D = Direct and guide the team toward the goals. Develop yourself and others. Delegate as much as possible.

E = Empower others to move ahead and deal with obstacles. Enable their success through team building, training, coaching, and mentoring.

R = Focus yourself and the team on Results. Recognize the contributions of others. Reward "on the spot" as much as possible.

S = Support risk taking. Supply them with whatever they need to get the job done. Make it Safe for your people to come to you with their needs; make sure they know that they can count on You.

H = Have Humility. Lead with Heart.

I = Inspire others to stay the course toward the Vision.

P = Play to strengths. Invite Participation.

At the end of the day, the ultimate litmus test a leader can use to see if he or she has created the conditions for success is to ask: Do my people feel good about themselves?

People feel good about themselves when they say "We did this ourselves."

Posted by Terrence Seamon on Saturday May 14, 2011. For more ideas on leadership, contact Terry and invite him to speak to your organization.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

The Three Things (+1) You Need to Know

In recent years, there has been a trend (in which I have fully participated) toward titling blog posts, articles and books with a number. For example, here are three posts that I've seen in the past week:

- 10 Things I Learned from Failure
- The Seven Signs of the Consulting Apocalypse
- Three Leadership Steps to Defuse Tense Situations
- The 2 Secrets to Creating Meaningful Change

Did this trend start with Stephen Covey's mega-seller The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People back in 1989? Who knows.

Why is it so popular? An online content editor once recommended it to me, saying that readers will be more likely to take the time to view your content if there is a number in the title. The thinking is, I guess, that if they know how many key points you will be covering, they will be able to quickly cut to the meat of the post, and save time.

Some people, I've discovered, question the practice. Recently, one person responded to a 10-point list of leadership practices with the reply, What if there were an 11th practice, or a 12th? Where would you put them if every letter is already taken?

In my mind, there is always an 11th or a 12th and so on. The value of numbering in your article is not to say that you've covered everything. Rather, it's the result of a selective thought process, of prioritizing and focusing on a vital few items.

So here is a little guide for bloggers that I call The Three Things you need to know about writing such lists:

It's your call: It's your blog so you can call it as you see it.

Someone's not going to like it: Your readers are entitled to their reaction and opinion. In fact, the stronger their reaction (pro or con), the better. Maybe they will leave a comment.

They can write their own list: As populated as the blogosphere is, there is plenty of room for more voices. Hopefully, they will start their own blog and have at it.

Oh! And one more:

You can always add another point: Even Stephen Covey came up with an 8th Habit years later!

I wonder when the 9th habit will surface...

Posted by Terrence Seamon on Sunday May 8, 2011.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Lead, Follow, Or Get Out of the Way

The late great Peter Drucker once observed that "Most of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to get their work done."

How can we put Drucker's wisdom into practice in today's organizations? Let's start with another piece of wisdom, this time from Thomas Paine who wrote, in a publication called The American Crisis in 1776:

~ Lead, follow, or get out of the way.

Whoa! Talk about plain speaking. Imagine the intellectual lightning that would spark from Drucker and Paine together on a TV talk show about management and leadership? (Now there's an idea for you cable TV programmers!)

So let's apply Paine's options to Drucker's call for improvement in management:

You can lead: Do managers need to be leaders? In my opinion, yes they do. Anyone on the management team, whatever their level in an organization, is responsible for "turning vision into reality" (as Warren Bennis once put it so well when he defined leadership). And how do they do that? They make the choice to lead. They step up to leadership. And that means summoning up the moxie to take risks and do whatever it takes to support your people so they can deliver results.

You can follow: Do managers need to be followers? Yes they do because they are part of a team in an organization. Each one is a member of the corporate body. And every member needs to pull in a common direction. Everyone has to play their part, do their share, and get with the program. And most importantly, "each one help one:" each member must look out for the others around them. Texan Sam Rayburn once said: "You cannot be a leader, and ask other people to follow you, unless you know how to follow, too."

You can get out of the way: Do managers need to get out of the way at times? Consider this. The goal of every manager should be "to work himself out of a job," so to speak. The concept dates back to the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu who once said "A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves." In a nutshell, it's not about You. It's about your People and the Results you desire.

In Paine's time, the leadership quality in most demand was courage, that deep inner strength that comes from the heart. Along with courage, Paine and the other American revolutionary patriots had "the courage of conviction" about their cause, and with that confidence came the strength they needed to push ahead despite the odds against them.

What leadership quality is most in demand in today's world? In my opinion, we also need courage. In our modern situation, we need the courage to change. Additionally, we need humility.

CEO and philosopher Dee Hock once said: "If you don't understand that you work for your mislabeled 'subordinates,' then you know nothing of leadership. You know only tyranny."

Posted by Terrence Seamon on Wednesday May 4, 2011. For more ideas on leadership, managing, and courage, invite Terry to speak to your teams.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

The 2 Things Leaders Must Do

What is the secret to becoming an effective leader? If I were to cut to the chase, I'd say: The 2 Things Leaders Must Focus On are Results & People. Why? Because there is a vital connection between the two: your people deliver the results you desire.

This IS the secret to effective leadership.

Let's dissect this secret that Your People Deliver Results.

People: Leadership, by definition, requires Followers. You can't be a leader alone. Your people are the means, the strategic channels, by which your organization reaches its goals. Your job is to do everything in your power to help your people succeed. At a high level, do what John Maxwell advises when he says: "A leader knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way." And sometimes the leader gets out of the way.

Deliver: The verb "deliver" in this secret means "to do or carry out as promised; to give birth to." Results don't happen unless someone makes them happen. Interestingly, the origin of the word deliver means "to set free." Effective leaders unshackle their people and do everything in their power to facilitate successful performance.

Results: Every organization has a definition of success. When President John F. Kennedy said that America would put a man on the moon, he set in motion a great engine of success that unleashed tremendous creative energy...and changed the world. As General George S. Patton once famously said: "Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and why, and they will surprise you with their ingenuity."

What is the secret inside this secret that makes it so powerful? Look deeper at the origin of the term "deliver:" from the Latin dēlīberāre, meaning to set free, to liberate.

This concept of liberation is the breakthrough idea in Jack Welch's legendary pronouncement that "What we are looking for are leaders at every level who can energize, excite and inspire rather than enervate, depress and control."

The most effective leaders set their people free to do what they do best so that they can deliver the desired results.

So if you want to become a more effective leader, there are two things you must focus on, Results and People. And make the critical connection between them that Your People Deliver Results.

Posted by Terrence Seamon on Tuesday May 3, 2011. For more ideas on becoming an effective leader, contact Terry and invite him into your organization.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Courage to Change

Change is hard.

Sounds simplistic to say, but it's a profound human truth. We do not like change.

Change is upsetting, stressful. Change brings out our fear of the unknown.

Wouldn't life be great if we did not have to change? The truth is, though, we do change. We will change. It's inevitable. Life demands it.

So, turning our lens on organizational change, how do we lead and manage change? So much has been written and said, you may wonder if there is anything new that can be added. Perhaps the best path is to find and present the wisest sayings from those who have already blazed the trail. Giants such as:

John Kotter: Leaders establish the vision for the future and set the strategy for getting there. They cause change (by creating a sense of urgency). They motivate and inspire others to go in the right direction and they, along with everyone else, sacrifice to get there.

Margaret Wheatley: Successful organizations have learned that the higher the risk (and the greater the uncertainty), the more necessary it is to engage everyone's commitment and intelligence.

Reinhold Niebuhr: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Perhaps the most important piece of wisdom ever uttered about change is the famous line from Jack Welch: "Change before you have to."

Working with a client recently, one that wants to change but is encountering strong resistance among its own leaders, I had an aha moment. Even executive-level, well-paid, and successful men and women do not like to change.

Feeling like a Yoda of Change, I found myself saying: An earthquake and a tsunami sweep away the rich and poor alike.

Then, standing solidly on Welch's shoulders, I said "You must find the courage to change before you have to."

My client, a room full of managers from across the organization, was suddenly galvanized. They knew that courage was the key. But they wanted to know how to turn it into action steps?

I offer the following:

C = Conquer fear: Connect with everyone in the organization. Get everyone on board.

O = Open the kimono: Share the vision with everyone so they know where the company needs to go.

U = Upwardly influence: If your VP is wavering on the changes that are needed, call them on it.

R = Rally the hearts: The great Margaret Wheatley once observed that when people care, they can be counted on.

A = Appreciate the wisdom in the organization: Margaret Wheatley once wisely said that the wisdom resides in the organization. The people know what needs to be done and how to do it. Leaders must listen.

G = Get everyone in the room: The OD legend Marv Weisbord once wisely said that organizational change depends upon "getting everyone in the room," meaning that everyone knows that they have a voice and will be heard.

E = Engage and empower: Kotter says that everyone must be empowered to solve problems and move the change ahead.

With courage, change can be made. It will be hard. But it can be done.

Posted by Terrence Seamon. For more ideas on change and how to manage and lead it, contact Terry and schedule him to speak to your teams.