Welcome All!

If you do not adapt, if you do not learn, you will wither, you will die.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Passing on Beliefs, Ideas, Practices

“To be a leader is to make others believe; in challenging times to convey that “everything will be okay,” and that together the team will find a way forward. As a leader, you must have confidence in your own ability, but most important in your team. Leadership is humbling, knowing that it is never about you, as the leader. Leadership is all about what others achieve.”

Gary Burnison is CEO of Korn/Ferry International, the world’s largest executive recruiting firm and a leader in talent management and author of the New York Times bestseller "No Fear of Failure" (2011) and  the bestselling "The Twelve Absolutes of Leadership" (2012).

“Every company touts their people as their greatest asset but very few actually believe it. Or act like it. Most spend the majority of their effort designing processes, tools, and methodology they hope are foolproof and then scale their operations by hiring poorly trained people to follow their flawless system. That creates mediocre results at best. It’s not flawless processes & tools that create powerful solutions. People do. Experts do. Experts who know how to apply their knowledge do.”
Peter Bregman, strategic advisor to CEO’s and their leadership teams, author, and regular contributor to HBR Bog Network.

“The best problem solvers see a complex problem through multiple lenses.” Authors Paul J. H. Schoemaker and John Austin list 4 critical thinking skills in their article on www.inc.com.:

1.   Slow down. Insist on multiple problem definitions before moving towards a choice.

2.   Break from the pack. Actively work to buck conventional wisdom when facing new challenges or slowly deteriorating situations. Don’t settle for incremental thinking.

3.   Encourage disagreement. Debate can foster insight, provided the conflict is among ideas and not among people.

4.   Engage with mavericks. Find credible mavericks, those lonely voices in the wilderness who many dismiss, and then engage with them. It is not enough to simply be comfortable with disagreement when it happens to occur. Critical thinkers seek out those who truly see the world differently and try hard to understand why.
Exactly my line of thinking as regular readers of this blog will know. Seek out non-like minded thinkers and seek to understand them. And use constructive disagreement and conflict to the benefit of your challenge or dilemma.

I highly recommend the complete article by Schoemaker and Austin, as I do many of the other writings on www.inc.com.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

As good as it gets: Different people thinking and talking differently

“Oh please, don’t be so weird, act normally, will you?” – How often do you hear parents utter something to this effect to their children, yourself (and myself!) included?

“What planet are you from? This is totally out of context!” – How often do you hear colleagues and managers say something to this effect to the employee who stepped out of the so-called box?
“There is totally no proof to this. We have not found any evidence supporting this hypothesis!” – How often is a phrase like this one used among scientists or (self-proclaimed) experts in whatever field of expertise?

“Don’t ask so many questions!”  I particularly cringe when I hear this one.

Unusual perspectives, off questions, unexpected approaches, ‘weird’ responses … I love them, most of the time. When our children start with “Mom, I have a question” I often respond with “I love questions”. I love questions because it lets me peak into their mindset, what they’re thinking about, what they’re struggling with, what they’re wondering about. I love it because it starts a conversation and a thinking process. And I love it even more if they surprise me with their question or if I don’t know the answer to their question. Because then we’ll fantasize, hypothesize, and wonder. This is how new ideas are born, often with old or known ingredients. Call it problem-solving, creativity, innovation or plain good conversation – I love it. Our son says I read a lot about philosophy or leadership (and he’s not far off). He jokes about it and at the same time seems to enjoy the many conversations about a variety of topics as well as wondering about the many things we can wonder about, which is anything really, including those things that seem set in stone but really are not. Often, there is no one answer to the question being posed, and I’ll deliver (and ask for!) as many different perspectives on the topic as we can come up with. 
So let me present to you some off questions and perspectives from people who think beyond, who combine the in-combinable , and who turn concepts upside down. 

n  The Jack Welch question: “What would you do differently if you had just been hired for the job?” No further introduction needed if you ask me. Just contemplate the question and be brutally honest and open-minded.

n  Ron Ashkenas: “Rejection is critical for success.” Rather than viewing rejection as that painful situation causing emotional doubts about our own competence and self-worth you can decide to take a more constructive approach to rejection: It can force you to come up with more ideas, it can redirect you to different paths, and it can keep you humble and open to learning.

n  Barbara Kellerman: “Leaders are obsolete.” Kellerman argues that “the leadership industry has been peddling the idea that great leaders can change the world. This worked in a time when followers ac­tually believed in their leaders. .. Power has shifted decisively into the hands of followers rather than leaders. Followers –those of us who are not leaders – expect more in every way… Leaders are just not the stars they used to be. We know too much about them, and hold them to impossible standards. They do not have the same room for manoeuvre any more. We chase them down using social media, having started from the premise that they are all crooks anyway… So, what is the point of trying to teach leadership when leaders have become impotent, and what matters is the crowd?” Not much, concludes Kellerman. Her industry, she says, needs to rethink its purpose or become obsolete.

n  Marshall Goldsmith: Instead of asking or giving feedback, ask and give feedforward – Feedback is typically focused on the past, and on what someone did wrong. The problem is that most people don't like to give nor receive negative feedback. Uncomfortable topics—those that need the most attention—are either avoided or the feedback is neglected. With “feedforward” people can focus on hearing the suggestions without becoming defensive or worrying about their reply. People respond better to ideas they can still act on.

n  Charles Duhigg: A sharp awareness of the difference between a habit and a conscious decision can mean the difference between failure and success at a company: Is how your company functions truly the best course of action or did it develop simply because that’s the way it’s always been done? Asks Duhigg in his book The Power of Habit. He cites a study which found that nearly 45% of all daily behaviors are based on habit. By developing a keener sense of how — and why — someone chooses to take an action, you can start to develop a framework for predicting future patterns according to Duhigg.
How about you? Do you love questions, do you enjoy to turn things upside down? Do you appreciate ‘weird perspectives’?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Customer Service - Starting From Within

In preparation for a special occasion lunch I call a restaurant that I recently visited for a business lunch. I greatly enjoyed the fresh, locally grown ingredients and the contemporary atmosphere and I look forward to returning. Within 5 seconds into the phone call, right after providing my name, the first thing I hear is: “Welcome back Mrs. Moors. Thank you for calling us. What can I do for you?” The technology is available, the time investment is close to zero, so why don’t all restaurants and all their employees, handle every phone call this way? It of course goes way beyond this phone call, which, if not followed up with real care for me as a customer all through my experience in this restaurant, is just a tool that won't serve it's purpose unless it's imbedded in a customer-centered culture. I'm happy to say that in this restaurant they understand that their existence depends completely on their customers.

Customer service – a crucial topic any time, in any culture, for any industry. If it's not about the customer, if it's not about each and every employee working towards customer excellence, than what is it about, right? Twenty two years ago when I started my career as an organizational coach, trainer, and speaker I developed and implemented customer excellence programs in the hospitality industry. We assisted leadership in rethinking their vision, mission, strategic plan, and their goals related to customer service. We wrote programs and provided customer service training and coaching for personnel directly working with customers. This included attention for the internal customer: colleagues from other departments who all play their role in delivering excellence to the customer. The quality of collaboration between different departments is obviously part of the total customer excellence chain.

In the manufacturing industry we called these type of programs Total Quality Programs and even though they were different in several ways, they too related to customer excellence and they too included emphasis on the different departments and how they are all vital in delivering to each other and the customer, in supporting each other, and thereby playing a pivotal role in delivering a high quality end product to customers. And even though we worked with leadership as described above, I conclude that we paid too little attention to the beliefs and practices of leadership regarding employee engagement, effectiveness, and with what leadership styles and practices to bring out the best in your employees.

We paid a lot of attention to the implementation part of customer excellence programs, which is key as is the case with any program. The bookshelf program that is implemented poorly is not helping you achieve your goals. But for all the wonderful programs and implementation strategies in the world, it's my 22 year experience and my belief that it all starts with the assumptions, workplace habits, and behaviors of the leaders in our organizations. How do they view their internal customers i.e. their employees? What are the leaders' beliefs about employees, which are their habits and behaviors towards them? Trust, modeling, clear career paths, and helping employees understand their role in the success of the company are essential in customer excellence thinking. Customer excellence is nothing other than customer attention and focus which is nothing other than a passion for customers which starts with a passion for your employees. Without employees feeling the passion from the organization and its leaders, without employees’ passion for the organization and what it stands for, all is lost in striving for excellent customer service. It really starts from within, it starts with your employees. And it goes even further, because a leader only really has to manage three areas: they have to manage themselves, they have to manage their team/employees, and they have to manage their network, and in that order! So customer excellence doesn't just start within the organization and how leaders manage their employees, it starts with how the organization's leaders manage themselves.

As Deloitte’s John Hagel says, “The biggest challenge for businesses today is learning to think about their employees the way they think about their customers.”