Think for a moment about changing habits in how you sign your name on a check-try using your other hand. Why not go ahead and actually try it…right now. Experiment for a minute. What happened? For most of us the penmanship will be awful. Now, what do you think you will do the next time you write your name? We tend not to stick with changes. You will use the correct hand, right? What if you couldn’t use your other hand anymore? Now what? You would change…? You would not have a choice anymore. Instantly your thinking would begin to change about what is possible and what you want. At first it your writing would be bad, but in time it would get better.
You have a few habits you wish you could change, don’t you? You believe if you did life or your work would be better? Whether the list that comes to mind is personal or professional, most of us have dozens that fall into both categories. Most of the time when we attempt to change the habits the years have formed we can become frustrated, discouraged, and hopeless. The journey toward change is never easy, but it’s always possible.
4 Reflections for Changing Habits
Habit. You know, the word that otherwise means ‘acquired pattern of behavior,’ or ‘an addictive practice.’ Some of our habits, we’re proud of. Other habits, we’d rather not claim as our own vices. So, how do we even go about changing a habit when the power of the pattern seems to override every effort made?
Ovid, a Roman poet, brilliantly noted that “habits change into character.” Now, a statement like that simply adds to the already-present pressure that bad habits need to abandoned (ASAP!). But, how do we do it? How is it that everything else seems to trump our efforts to change when that’s our primary focus and goal?
As I’ve reflected on the powerful patterns we come to loathe in our lives, I came to four conclusions:
Oftentimes, we label a habit “good” or “bad” without looking at the outcomes.
The label we give it depends on the outcome it gives us, not the experience it offers.
Although we might enjoy the experience to some extent, we decide it’s a habit we want to rid, once the consequences of the outcome override the benefits of the experience.
All habits are interconnected. When deciding to make changes weigh the costs and benefits with other areas that may be affected.
Alright, a lot of that may be confusing. So, I’m going to illustrate these points by way of two examples: one professional and one personal; because as we all know, habits infiltrate each area of our lives.
Changing Habits: A Professional Example
Let’s say Julie, the manager of Team A, habitually cancels meetings. She schedules one team meeting a week for her 8 reports to attend. This time is set aside to allow her team to converse about that week’s priorities, so that as a unit, they could come together and tackle things strategically and effectively. Yet, every week, Julie seems to notice that her team members are swamped with work. So every week, she cancels the meeting, hoping that the extra hour of time added back onto their calendars, is helpful. Over time, her team seems frustrated. She notices that they are rude to one another and seem overworked. So, she continues to cancel meetings, hoping that their “overworked” selves will benefit from the time and hoping that they’ll be happy to avoid the unnecessary tension that a team meeting would entail. Julie starts to wonder if her habit of canceling is actually to blame.
The purpose behind Julie’s actions seemed well-intentioned: “I want to give my team more work time because they seem really busy.” But, it was the outcome that eventually caught her attention and made her question the value of her habit: “By removing this team time from their schedule, am I somehow contributing to the team tension that’s present?” If Julie were to change her habit, she’d more than likely make changes based on “the outcome” she’s observing.
Changing Habits: A Personal Example
Jeff has four kids, a loving wife, an incredible executive job, and Jeff serves on the board of three major community organizations in town. He loves to run, but due to his busy schedule, he’s put it on the back-burner. His purpose is to make more time for his family, but his outcome is that it’s adding to his waistline. Again, it’s not Jeff’s “experience” that’s causing him to label this a “bad” habit (because it allows him more free time). It is the “outcome” that’s caught his attention (because the added pounds aren’t adding value).
Pulling It All Together
Research shows that it takes a good two months to make a habit stick. By reviewing the consequences of a changed habit, we gain the feedback we need to continue or discontinue our efforts. Ask yourself these questions regularly:
What isn’t working?
What can I learn?
How do the results relate to the experience I want?
What do I need to do or am willing to do differently or better?
Done consistently, this kind of mental review leads to new thinking, the behavior your want and the experience you hope for.
The good news in all of this is that once we really crystallize the “experience” we’re after, we can hopefully find better avenues to pursue that experience without having to maintain our unhelpful habits that give us outcomes we don’t want. Too many of us keep trying to change through different methods (new diets for example). Most people don’t take the time to think through and clarify their real goal or honestly review the results obtained. Einstein declared, “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”
Have you ever been so frustrated with bad customer service that you wanted to scream? My family and I moved recently. I also moved my business. So we had to do all of the things required to change vendors for a variety of services. One company after another failed in their customer service. The companies included those related to the internet, mobile phones, utilities, newspaper, computer repair, mortgages and leasing, credit cards, delivery, CRM providers, supermarkets, the post office, and others. I consult with organizations in CX area and know of the challenges. Yet, by dealing with many companies at once as a customer, I was overwhelmingly shocked by how bad customer service it is out there! Too many people don’t do their damned jobs.
Bad Customer Service: A Torrential List
Here’s an abbreviated list of problems I experienced which I am sure you have encountered at one time or another. I lived them all, multiple times in one week:
Promised orders not fulfilled, needing to be redone 3 or 4 times
Put on hold forever, then being cut off
Listening to endless and repetitive robotic phone answering options
Product not delivered anywhere near the promised date
Threatening letters due to the company’s own mistakes
Being blamed for the problem
No follow-up phone call or email as promised
Employee’s lying about product discounts
Multiple phony confirmation numbers
Slow internal systems for taking orders or tracking problems causing lengthy phone calls
Departments that can’t, won’t or don’t talk to one another–so you must tell your problem repeatedly, frequently five times or more
Different employees saying different things about what a product or service can or cannot do
Cap this all off with rude employees who don’t listen, communicate well, or know how to empathize
Oh, and you can’t reach a supervisor or manager or executive for help
Calling out one of the WORST
Can you identify with these? I normally don’t criticize companies in public but in my personal experience one company has bad customer service across the board. It’s the absolute worst I experienced. Its employees demonstrated most of the mistakes above: CenturyLink. They tout themselves as a leading provider of internet service. Their industry is among the lowest rated in the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) survey. They are rated 58 on a scale of 1-100 (higher being better). Consumer Affairs concurs with this and rates them 1.3 on a scale of 1-5. Both of these numbers are an ‘F’ on a grading scale. Their Glassdoor rating is 2.9 which is low and an indication of employee dissatisfaction.
Other review sources show them as generally poor as well. I wasted 9-10 hours on the phone with these people this week trying to get them to do their basic jobs competently. If they’d do that, imagine how much less stressful life could be for themselves and their customers? Finally, after five failed attempts as well as interactions with over a dozen employees, I came across a couple of competent people to help.
Two Service Winners
In my recent interactions with companies, very few employees were accountable, responsible, or exhibited self-leadership to get the job done well, no matter what. However, Andrew K. and the rest of the crew out of the Woodbury, MN office of Men Two and Truckdid a great job, start to finish. They have a 4.9 rating on Google. Superb! And Tony at Geek Squad did fabulous work–excellent communicator! He knows more about customer service than any CEO I ever met!
Is Bad Customer Service Increasing?
It’s as if employees in many of these organizations are in a malaise, only going through the required steps to get their paycheck. Look, the evidence has been mounting for years and I have written about it in many of my posts.
Most companies have toxic or blasé workplaces. Their priority is profit, not people. It seems that they regard their employees as merely necessary evils. Few companies really invest in people or care about their success. Most managers certainly don’t get the support they need to create positive, high-performing teams. Therefore, record numbers of employees are annoyed, disengaged and disgruntled with good reason.
Also, if someone didn’t grow up with a strong work ethic, it is the responsibility of the manager and the company to support a culture that develops it. Besides enhancing the skills of the individual, it creates happier customers, and the company thrives.
As the result of all of the above, bad customer service is growing and that’s horrible news for you and me. Yet, the good news for us as customers is that WE HAVE THE POWER. We vote with our choices and money. Eventually these poor companies will join the ranks of the many recent bankruptcies or be bought out by a larger competitor.
Apparently, “a job well done” is a thing of the past for many. But it doesn’t have to be. Dr. Luther King Jr. said it so eloquently: “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michelangelo painted or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived the great street sweeper who did his job well.”
By the way, do you want to enhance your career by increasing the customer experience of your department or organization today? Download this complimentary eBook guide: The Customer has the Power.
Fatal CX flaws in thinking and strategy foretell the demise of most companies trying to improve their customers’ experience. Their efforts become an epic comedy of errors to the tune of the 3 Stooges or the Marx Brothers. It’s sadly unfortunate.
You see, these companies and their executives aren’t doing their due diligence. These and other studies demonstrate the power of a superb customer experience.
According to Harvard Business Review’s Employee-Customer-Profit Chain, a 1.3% improvement in customer satisfaction scores results in a revenue increase of .5%.
The Profit Impact of Market Strategy’s database found that companies who lead in service have 12 times the profitability and 9% greater growth than poor service providers.
Bain & Co. found that a 12-point increase in the net-promoter score doubles a company’s growth rate.
A report by the American Customer Satisfaction Index proved that the leading companies consistently outperformed the market. Customer service leaders outperformed the Dow by 93%, the Fortune 500 by 20% and the NASDAQ by 335%.
Instead these organizations slip into eleven CX flaws that destroy customer loyalty and their futures.
Which of these CX Flaws Sidetrack Your Company?
1. Blind leadership
Ego’s, arrogance, not invented here, ignorance of CX facts, and poor emotional intelligence skills devour the best intentions for improving CX. Leaders have to be willing to learn, make a commitment and get out of the way in order to transform results.
2. Frontline Fanatics
A major airline responded to customer complaints by notifying customers of their “Customer First” initiative for employees. (The problems was really the management.)The airline went bankrupt and eventually was merged with a larger competitor. According to service gurus, 85-95% of service problems are management related. Research shows that high employee engagement leads to better customer engagement. With employee disengagement at all time negative levels companies are in peril right in the starting gate.
3.Ignorance is Bliss
Recently, a company shared with us that they survey their customers twice a year. What if you only looked at sales or profit numbers that often? The company would probably go bankrupt! If you don’t measure the customers’ experience regularly and use the data to excel, you can’t manage it. The best you can achieve is mediocrity.
4. Vision Without Vitality
One company President said, “We don’t want to be the biggest company, only the best service provider.” The President gave a five-minute speech everywhere he went; however, no plan or action ever followed. The company floundered. His vision had no substance.
5. The Panacea Approach
One CEO learned how an executive he knew improved his company’s service using a certain method. So, he did it exactly the same way and failed. That’s like a doctor giving the same treatment plan and prescription to every patient with a problem. To be effective, you need an approach based on best practices but customized for the specifics of your company.
6. Do It All and Have It All
One leader happily explained to his team that they had 120 new service change initiatives. Unfortunately, employees were overwhelmed and business stalled and performance sank. People can only handle so much. You have to focus. Ask, what’s most important?
7. I am a Rock – I am an Island
A $25-billion company we know has tried to improve service for a decade. They have achieved no gains and have settled for low stock prices, profits and growth. Recently they started selling off parts of the company to survive. Unless a company begins at startup with a zealous customer focus, there is practically no chance for improvement without a consulting partner. Why? Because the company already has serious internal blind spots, a full plate of priorities, and limited expertise in improving CX.
8. Drive by Training
Training is not the answer– it’s only part of the solution. Many leaders send their employees to a class to get “fixed.” You also have to work on organizational design, systems, processes and cross-departmental collaboration. Even though training is a vital pit stop on the way to success, it’s not a one-stop solution. The best training effort starts with a vision involving an going commitment to employee development and learning.
9. The Secret is Technology
Too many companies figure that technology is the key to better service. This is one of the costliest CX flaws. The truth is – it can help, but it isn’t the answer. First of all, in today’s age, you need to be cutting edge in technology to be in the game, however, maybe not first. Many new technologies fail to deliver on their promises. One organization spent millions to improve customer retention through technology; unfortunately, their sales growth continued to spiral downward. Second, it’s people that make or break a customer experience transformation, rather than technology. Too often, people are an afterthought. Great service is an inside-out process that begins with employee satisfaction and loyalty.
10. The Tool-Chest Dilemma
Take your pick from new digital technologies, TQM, Six Sigma, GOALS, ISO, Kaizen and numerous other approaches to get better. Too often, these efforts cannot be executed well because employees are drowning in meetings, data and paperwork. Experience suggests that the best approach begins with a thoughtful and honest analysis of the customers’ needs and concerns. Next, it requires partnering with employees through a passionate and relentless drive to give customers what they need. This is a science and an art, which must be done with integrity and simplicity.
11. The Perils of Poor Execution
How often have you implemented a company strategy but failed to achieve the desired result because leadership changed direction or cut back on resources? Poor execution is deadly when attempting to improve the customer experience because it shows a lack of commitment from leaders to invest their time and resources. The promises become false exhortations, which of course demonstrate a lack of integrity. The trust within and around the organization dies. Now, there is an even bigger problem.
Bonus Flaw: CEO Don’t Walk the Talk
CEO’s agree that improving the customer experience gives a company its biggest competitive advantage. 73% of executives identify improving the customer experience as a top three priority. Yet, studies show that less than 13% of companies have strong CX cultures that drive better business results. The rest are mired in these CX flaws. It seems everyone is talking about improving, but few are getting anything of substance done.
Eliminating CX Flaws
Quite frankly, in order to avoid these CX Flaws leaders have to look in the mirror. Their values, experience and habits are often their own worst enemy. They got to the top with strengths of hard work, drive, and business analytics but it inhibits their vision. All of what they have accomplished may be good. but the game has changed. The customer has the power not the CEO. Competition is global, customers are more discerning, and employees less loyal. Now the emotional intelligence skills of empathy, open mindedness, listening, team-building, and innovation are needed. CX leadership requires a total company effort led by a committed executive, you can’t short cut it. Steve Jobs said it brilliantly, “Get closer than ever to your customers. So close that you tell them what they need well before they realize it themselves.”
By the way, do you want to enhance your career by increasing the customer experience of your department or organization today? Download this complimentary eBook guide: The Customer has the Power.
Managers coach better when they have been coached well. What happens if they haven’t experienced good coaching? Unfortunately, research indicates that only 75% of managers do more managing of tasks than they do coaching. In addition, they only invest 18% of their time in people management activities. In other words, good coaching doesn’t happen often for anyone.
People learn best through experience, right? That’s a fundamental lesson we know to be true about humanity. Watch any young child, and you’ll see her observe others, imitating behavior until she feels as though she’s as competent as she wants to be in that particular task. Adults go through the same process. We see someone doing something that we want to learn – and we practice or get training on it, and then we make it our own. So, there’s essentially 3 parts to the process:
Engage – we learn by watching, reading or listening to something, in order to determine if it’s skill, knowledge or a principle that will help us make a difference.
Practice – we take whatever we engaged, and repeatedly imitate it.
Inherit – by taking what someone else teaches or shares & making it our own through our learning process, it becomes less of an act and more of an art.
Learn to Coach Better from a Coach
That process is one of the main reasons why I believe hiring yourself a coach might be a good first step if you’re hoping to become one yourself. I’d even go as far as to suggest you ‘shop around’ a bit. Get a taste for the various types of coaching personalities, approaches and techniques that exist. You can learn what you like, determine what you don’t, and try it all on for size to find your own style. You see, chances are that your boss isn’t a good coach. If he or she is great! So seek out someone who is.
Empathy Leads You to Coach Better
Another reason I’d suggest finding your own coach is because it will help you to empathize with your employees and co-workers. You can’t know what it’s like if you haven’t sat on that side of the relationship. Empathy is the ability to understand how another feels, and to say it’s essential to good leadership and business is an understatement. It involves asking good questions, listening effectively and insightful feedback based on experience. Understanding how someone feels allows you to better answer their questions, console their concerns and exceed their expectations. Empathy is your way of saying to your employee, “this is about you, not me.” Empathy is the antithesis to selfishness and ego. These two things plague managers at all levels.
The final reason I recommend being coached by another before really coaching others is because it’s an act of humility. It’s our way of showing that we’re not above being helped. It’s our way of saying that we don’t have it all figured out. And although we’d all like to pretend we do. Sometimes we think it’s to our benefit to be that way. Yet, there’s something to be said about the person who’s willing to say, “I’m still learning, too.”
So, just think about it. A doctor is a better doctor when he understands his patient, and a teacher is a better teacher when he remembers what it was like to be a student. The experience, the empathy and the humility – help you to become a better coach.
Coaching well is paramount to a manager’s success. As John Maxwell said, “The best leaders are humble enough to realize their victories depend upon their people.”
Lately, habits are habitually on my mind. I hear so many people, and so many professionals, talk about their desire for personal change- change within themselves and change outside of themselves. (Controllable change & uncontrollable change) It seems uncomfortable-almost wrong-to settle for anything in its current state. So, if we’re that uncomfortable with being where we’re at, what keeps us from moving in the direction we hope to head?
Why Personal Change Fails
Are you ready for the answer?
We don’t commit to changing because no matter how uncomfortable we are with the idea of where we’re at – the reality is that we’re really rather comfortable when compared to the alternative. We don’t really want to stay where we are, and in fact, we blame our habits for keeping us there. But, when push comes to shove, it’s more comfortable to stay and less comfortable to leave our habits.
The situation looks like this: comfort of staying in current status > comfort of moving into mystery.
Until we become uncomfortable with what our comfort zone is costing us, we will not change. We can’t predict how things will feel once we achieve the change we desire, so at the end of the day, we choose familiarity over the unknown. And any change, inevitably, has a level of ambiguity to it. So, how important is change to us? At this point, are you convinced change is impossible?
Well, I’m here to tell you that your vision for how things can be, ought to be, should be – CAN become the reality. If you have a vision, that is step #1 to moving in the right direction. In fact, there are two ways you can look at this. Most of the time, if we are seeking to change something, we are either running FROM something [something we don’t want to be, something we’re afraid of becoming, something someone else has told us to fear, or anything that makes us feel just a wee bit anxious], or we are running TOWARD something different [something good, something positive, a better way of life, a new way of thinking].
If you run FROM something- it’s typically some level of fear that’s driving you forward. If you run TO something else- it takes courage, hope and a vision to keep you moving forward. It’s up to you which of the two motivations is your motive for moving.
Now, in whatever direction you head, for whatever reason you choose – it is inevitable that you will encounter some resistance. But, here’s the catch: if you are running to something that you believe in – it’s much more likely that you will see the value in overcoming the resistance. On the reverse, if you are running from something that you’re scared of – ultimately, your decision to keep going will depend on what’s scarier: the resistance you face or what you’re running from? Without this thinking process action steps to change fail because their is no emotional commitment.
To illustrate how these points can be put together, here’s a formula that models this process beautifully. Richard Beckhard and David Gleicher created The Formula for Change, which was later refined by Kathie Dannemiller and called Gleicher’s Formula. This equation helps to explain the process.
Personal Change Formula: D x V x F > R
Research shows that at least 40% of our daily activities-everyday-are always the same in similar situations because of our habits. Three factors must be present for meaningful personal change to take place:
D = Dissatisfaction with how things are now
V = Vision of what is possible
F = First, concrete steps that can be taken towards the vision
If the product of these three factors is greater than R [resistance] – then the chances there will be change – are high. If the product of these three factors is less than the amount of resistance that’s present – the likelihood for change – is low. So, if you’re hoping to head in the direction of your dreams… there are a few simple things that you can do to help set the stage for success:
1) Understand what you want to change & why you want to change it.
2) Envision what it would be like if you made this change. Think it, feel it and picture it.
3) Make a list of steps (just a few for starters) that would help you get where you want to go. Having a few reasonable ‘action steps’ in mind can make the prospect of change less overwhelming.
Studies show it takes 15-254 days to establish a new habit. So follow three steps above, and get additional support to stay persistent. Consider these approaches: personal coach, a mentor, training, written goals, meditation, exercise and the like. Viktor Frankl, author of a Man’s Search for Meaning, said it powerfully, “When we are no longer able to change the situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
Go here for proven methods for developing success habits, see our complimentary inventory and action planning guide: Success Practices.
Remember in the movie I, Robot, where the droids are activated as a group, and they begin to overtake the human population? It is a frightening idea with a lot of action. You could think of customers beginning to behave like that. Customers have the power, and they are demanding better service.
Market changes are already overwhelming nearly all organizations faster than predicted by futurists. This is especially true in the move to digital commerce. We are already witnessing the thinning of the ranks in retail companies. Those weak in customer service continue to bite the dust.
Customer service of the past was planned to be mostly personal attention. Today it’s vastly becoming digital. The internet and the younger generation that is growing up with it has changed everything. The customer service that we know from the past is gone. Most companies are scrambling to find the ‘secret sauce’ to get a market edge. For example, nearly 9 of 10 millennials use search engines to find customer service answers. In addition, over half of them use social media to ask customer service questions. With technological improvements, the expectations for better service are higher.
Few Companies Walk the Talk
According to Forrester, 73% of companies name ‘improving customer service’ as their top priority. More research shows that only two out of ten companies have a top notch customer service culture. An Accenture study shows poor customer service costs companies $1.6 trillion a year. That’s nearly six times more than a decade ago. Over 54% of customers stopped doing business with the company because of poor service, up 5% from a year ago.
While the concept of resurrecting customer service is in vogue, it has not yet evolved into practice. One report showed that customer service is improving, but it included satisfied customers as part of their barometer for gain. This is folly. Frederick F. Reichheld’s company has well researched the fact that a ‘just satisfied’ customer is not a loyal business-building customer. Customer service is actually getting worse in most places. How many times a week do you get great service? Poor service? Need any more be said?
In 2014, my post The Death of Customer Service showed that companies do now and will continue to invest in technology over people. Today, customer service has been highly dehumanized in many organizations. Some studies predict that 80% or more of customer interactions in the near future will be without human interaction. However, customer service feedback indicates that 83% of customers still prefer dealing with a person rather than digital options to take care of specific service needs or concerns.
What Do Customers Want?
Bottom line, a truly customer-focused company is continually changes to get better service. They gain greater profits and growth as a result. ACSI research backs this up. The following companies continually show they know what customers want because they regularly adapt and change: Wegmans, Amazon, Wistia, JetBlue, Publix, Disney, Ritz Carlson, USAA, Nordstrom, Trader Joes, Zappos and Apple.
Here’s what research shows most customers want:
Convenience is key! Make it easy to reach products or services anytime and anywhere, no confusion.
Faster service: long waits are death.
Helpful self-service options: they don’t want to be stuck in endless automation.
Competent service personnel availability online or in person; make it easy.
Positive and personalized engagement at each step of the service process online or in person. Incompetent people are unacceptable. Train and coach them!
Quality products along with service and quality guarantees without the fine print. Junk not allowed!
Competitive pricing, not necessarily the best price.
Don’t over promise and under deliver. Companies and service personnel must deliver, period.
A Revolution for Better Service
Each step of a customer’s interaction with a company is crucial. Each has to be designed with the customer in mind, not necessarily what’s easy or convenient for the company. This is where many leaders fail. They don’t think like customers. Instead, they think like executives, accountants or IT personnel. All departments of an organization need to be included, not just operations, sales and service. Everyone is responsible. This takes revolutionary thinking. Most companies fail here as well. The obvious objective is to serve the external customer extremely well, and do the same for those who are helping customers. This means employee engagement is essential. This is another failure of most companies. The balance between digital and human touchpoints are crucial. Be technical–specific–but demonstrate empathy. The goal is to establish multiple channels for easy access and with people support readily available as needed. This all takes teamwork, creativity and initiatives that are constant in focusing on creating value and customer loyalty.
The Customers 2020 report says the customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator in the near future. Those organizations that adapt will survive and thrive. Consumer discontent is a sleeping giant. It will take only so much, and today its wrath goes viral in minutes. As more companies begin to ail painfully, customer service must be resurrected since it becomes more important than ever. It will happen only if company leaders decide to put their customer service effort on life support. This also means investing heavily in bringing it back to robust health. This requires a steadfast customer-centric vision, and an employee-focused culture. Without these two ingredients, companies are doomed to fail and face annihilation. In summary, listen to this, business leaders: nearly 9 of 10 customers will pay more for better service.
By the way, do you want to enhance your career by increasing the customer experience of your department or organization today? Download this complimentary eBook guide: The Customer has the Power.
As soon as the word ‘coach’ enters the scene, subtly but seriously, an underlying tone is set for all coaching discussions. The coach has the expertise and the other persons needs the knowledge or skill. Power is divided. Authority is accomplished. And roles are recognized. The coach has all of the answers and dictates what has to be done and how. Right?
Now, I’m not even saying anyone in particular abuses this status. I’m just saying that whether we like it or not, or take advantage of it or not. The reality is that the coach and the “coachee” play varied roles in a two-part play. Too often the manager is dominant, and the employee is subservient. One is teaching, the other is learning. One is explaining, the other is absorbing. One is preaching, the other is practicing. Why not do your coaching discussions differently?
How to Level Set Your Coaching Discussions
So, how do you level-set things when the scenario sets itself up to be imbalanced from the beginning? You make your coaching discussions-conversations. You do this by making them a dialogue, not a monologue. You fill them with curiosity and discovery. Think about it. In any situation where you’re trying to build common ground and establish a relationship, what do you do? You initiate conversation. You ask more questions and listen with empathy. Well conveniently, that’s the simple solution for equalizing the coaching environment. Conversation creates mutuality. Mutuality encourages respect. Respect breeds trust. And trust forms relationships. Positive influence is the goal of the relationship.
Now, this sounds logical and linear. You might be asking yourself, “If it’s so easy, why don’t most coaches coach this way?” In my opinion, the reason is because it’s too obvious. We’d rather think that the most critical component to coaching is our skill level, IQ, personality, success, reputation, and experience. We want it to be all about us (most of the time). Yet, that’s the point, a conversation can’t be all about you. If it is, most of your clients or employees will leave running for the hills. I know all of those things matter, but they aren’t the most important detail. The relationship is the essential ingredient. I’d like to compare it to some sort of pasta dish. All of the other elements are the spices that make the sauce what it becomes. However, at the end of the day, it’s still just sauce, if you don’t have the pasta (i.e., the relationship). The dish doesn’t have substance without the staple ingredient. The same is true of a coaching relationship.
Why a Conversation is so Important
Here are four key reasons coaching conversations are so critical to the caliber of a relationship. First, the coach opens up the process for the employee. So the person thinks more independently to problem-solve his or her challenges. Hopefully doing it differently and for the better. The employee gives valuable input, too. After all, a coach won’t be there all the time. Second, coaching conversations generate opportunities for newness. Think about it. If you (the coach) are the only one doing the talking, the teaching, the helping and the training – nothing new can be discovered. But, if the two of you make it a dialogue, you are bound to raise new ideas, you are forced to challenge old ways. Then you gain new perspectives, and you are allowed to dream of different options. Third, the respect and trust mentioned above allows both people involved to talk honestly. This allows both try new things to perform at a higher level. Better choices are made because of commitment not compliance. This is what integrity based coaching discussions are all about. And, finally, according to Performance Coaching International, effective coaching conversations get better results.
In summary, business educator Marshall Goldsmith says, “People will do something—including changing their behavior—only if it can be demonstrated that doing so is in their own best interests as defined by their own values.”
In leadership, as with most things in life, working hard is often required to reap the rewards. To bench press 300 pounds, we must start lifting weights that are a bit smaller than we hope to one day handle. To bike 80 miles, we must practice pedaling shorter increments. To excel in calculus, we must fumble through foreign formulas until they become familiar. This same concepts relates to effective leadership.
Anytime we want to do something well – there’s an open invitation on the table to practice. There should also be a warning: “You are about to venture out of your comfort zone. Are you sure you’re ready?”
When you want to get in shape, and you’re determined to do it at any cost, you welcome the pains and strains. You expect them. In fact, sometimes, these aches are our way of acknowledging that we’re doing things differently with our bodies. When you look in the mirror or get on the scale, it all becomes worth it. The physical cost and the physical benefit are fairly easy to assess at all times. When you’re not getting the results you want, you have the opportunity to change course to see if another way will work better. And when you decide it’s not worth it, you sadly realize that positive results are really unlikely to show up on the scene any time soon. You stop expecting the rewards or the disappointment because you’ve stopped – altogether.
Becoming a Better Leader
So, why is it that when we decide we want to be a better manager or lead at a higher level, we don’t expect that the same hardship will be a part of the process? All too often, when individuals embark upon the journey of learning how to lead well, they stop dead in their tracks, surprised at the resistance they encounter. But, don’t we all know by now that going against the grain always requires more work? It builds strength. It establishes endurance. Neither is possible if effort isn’t part of the equation.
I think one of the best things someone can do if they start to dream of bigger and better things for him/herself – is to realistically assess the challenges that will come with the unfamiliar territory. By forming reasonable perspectives and expectations, you are less likely to get discouraged by the bumps in the road. If you anticipate the worst and prepare for the hardest, you can only be pleasantly surprised by the less-prominent potholes that get in the way. It’s not about maintaining a pessimistic perspective – no, no, no – it’s about being practically hopeful. On this note, this also means that if you think you’re an all-star leader, but you’ve never done a darn thing like working hard to improve… I’d reassess your all-star status.
Working Hard, Leading Well
Don’t let hard work discourage you. Managers can accelerate their results quickly by learning to communicate and coach well. You don’t have to know everything about leadership to rise to the top. You just have to know a little more than others about leading and motivating people. The difference between winning and losing is often slight (like in track and field events, hundredths of second) Let the challenge inspire you to become one of the elite who lead well. Good leaders aren’t a dime a dozen, and there’s a reason: the work isn’t always easy, and it’s only the dedicated nonpareils that persist and prevail. They also achieve superior results. Hard work increases your talent and beats talent that doesn’t work hard.
Many people harp on the all-too-disorderly whirlwind way of doing business these days. Today, even when we leave the office, we’re always accessible, we’re in constant contact with others and typically, we’re expected to be “on” all the time. If we don’t respond to an email or a text within a certain amount of minutes not hours, we know we’ll get a call. And well, we have to answer that (even in the evenings or on the weekends or vacations) because if we don’t… it’s going to look like we’re not hard workers. So, where do we draw the line? And what does all of this have to do with managing others? A LOT.
4 Considerations to Move from Whirlwind to Productivity
As a manager, even though you have a million things on your plate, it is your responsibility to know and understand what’s occupying your team’s time. (No, this does not give you an excuse to micromanage.) Here are four considerations that may help.
First and foremost, you can’t truly help your team if you don’t have a clue what’s consuming their calendars. As a manager, one of your responsibilities is to remove obstacles and barriers – and an easy way to do this is to “trim the fat” off your team’s schedule. Identify the meetings that can be eliminated, take tasks that you ought to tackle, and shift things around that make sense. Talk to your team members individually. Do a series of team planning meetings. Clarify roles, goals and expectations. Discuss ways to avoid redundancies, delegate where you can and use team activities to get some things done. Track how as a team you are spending time. (see this assessment by HBR) Ask, what can we learn? These kinds of conversations with your team alleviates the pressure build up and often generates creative ways to be more effective.
Secondly, your ability to recognize team members for their contributions greatly depends on your awareness of the details. One of the main employee frustrations described in engagement surveys is that managers don’t know or recognize them for the hard work they do. So, get enough information to award and affirm your team regularly. See this for more ideas recognition-employees crave recognition.
Third, if you don’t know, they’ll know. Case in point: have you (in your personal experience) ever received an email from a boss (late at night or on the weekend) that asks something of you, something so significant, that you leave your inbox thinking… do they even know what’s on my plate right now? (This post is also not an excuse for employees to gripe or be idle.) Sometimes managers don’t even know the whirlwind of their teams: deadlines, priorities and stressors that their reports are facing, and so they don’t consider the competing factors – they just consider what’s convenient. So, do your best to balance your latest priorities with your team’s current challenges. So, take the time to engage your team on an on-going basis. Be involved and accessible.
Finally, remember to coach all employees one on one regularly. This will help you focus them and you on priorities. You will also gain a dialogue with good coaching that’s invaluable for generating input and ideas that lead to better employee engagement. In addition, you will improve performance because of the clarity of expectations. But also, you will know what is happening with your team and how well it is happening. This puts you in a better position to proactively deal with problems. See this brief training video: 5 Superstar Coaching Steps.
All in all, it’s important to keep a gauge on how overwhelmed your team is feeling. If you don’t have any idea what’s keeping them busy, you can’t help them make the most of their time. And that’s the point: it all comes down to productivity. By considering the above and taking the appropriate action steps, you are helping your team members increase their performance, which inevitably will translate into more success for them and you! As summary, think of this quote by Golda Meir, “I must govern the clock, not be governed by it.”
Here are two real examples and very contrasting ways to deal with death in the workplace. Have you experienced these? Which do you prefer?
The Death of a Colleague: No Grieving Allowed
Pete worked for his company 40 plus years. He worked his way up to executive. He continued to work into his 70’s as a troubleshooter for the company. I remember meeting him when I started working there. I asked him why he was successful, and he leaned back in his chair and laughed. “I didn’t go to college!” Then he told how he’d spend time with the employees every morning, talking to and listening to what was going on with them. After a while, we didn’t see him much. began hearing rumors about his whereabouts: on the golf course, a secret assignment etc. Finally, the real answer came out that he had died. There was no meeting, email, or announcement. We had to dig around to find out the arrangements. The bottom line was that it’s done, he’s gone. “Next!”
The Death of a Colleague: Compassion and Caring
Contrast the above behavior with another company. One Friday evening, one of the owners of a successful smaller company, Bill, died unexpectedly. Upon learning of this, his business partner quickly contacted the management team and had a phone conference that weekend. Monday morning, all managers held meetings with their teams to share this shocking news. Another manager meeting was held after that, to check in on them and their employees. An all-employee meeting was organized later that Monday morning, including a luncheon for everyone, to gather, grieve together and talk. At the luncheon, the business partner talked with compassion about the person who had died and with empathy for all those at home and work. The grieving process was discussed and support was provided to all that needed it. Questions were handled about ‘what’s next’? As much as possible, fears, anxieties, and concerns were handled delicately. Later, serious and funny stories were shared about Bill’s commitment to their mission/vision/values. Assistance was given throughout the week until the visitation and funeral. Communication was delivered openly with understanding and care.
Co-workers are our extended families. Coping with loss is a very personal thing. It affects all of us in different ways. It can’t be ignored. Psychologists say it’s important for people to share their feelings about the person that died, and use employee assistance or other programs to talk about things. (if they are available)
It seems to me that in too many organizations employees are regarded as cogs in the wheel, to be discarded casually and often without recognition. The emotional side of people’s lives is sorely overlooked. Companies can learn to do much better. In a few companies and with some leaders, employees are valued partners. Compassion and empathy are part of their culture. Wouldn’t it be honorable if it was the rule of corporate behavior instead of the exception? Let me know your thoughts. Thanks.