Vol XI : Change Happens

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These past few weeks have been full of change for me, both personally and professionally. The changes I’m experiencing have caused me to reflect on the way I handle change, and the ways in which I’ve seen others handle change.

I think there are four categories of people in how they respond to change:

  • Change Agents
  • Early Adopters
  • Converters
  • Resisters

Change Agents

This is the group I consider myself a part of – someone who not only is open to change but thrives on it, encourages it, and embraces it. I’ve implemented changes, large and small, in organizations of different sizes, sometimes at someone else’s direction, sometimes at my own.

Early Adopters

Early adopters are open to changes, if asked they would say “I’m good with it” – they are fine with the changes, volunteer to help implement change, and even seem to encourage others to get on board. I look for these people and pull them close to the process because they help to convince others. Early adopters can become my biggest advocates when I’m implementing a change.

Converters

In my experience, most people fall into this category. They don’t love change, and cling to the status quo, or routine, it’s often difficult for them to contemplate the change in terms of the impact it will have on them. This person might seem defensive at first or even difficult but with good information, context, and a little bit of time, they often become advocates as well – and sometimes they become the most passionate once they believe in why change is happening. It’s important for these people to understand the context of a change, that a change is being made to improve something, not just change for the sake of change. One thing that I try to keep in mind is that everyone processes the information in their own way, on their own timetable, so sometimes the right way to bring about change is to let people “sleep on it” and internalize the information before trying to push through a change.

Resisters

The last category of people seems the same as the Converters at the beginning, but this group doesn’t actually come around. They often live in the past, quoting experiences that are long over, living in the past, unable to grasp even change that we all encounter, like technology, or new processes. They simply want things to be the way it used to be. Unfortunately, they often remember the ways of the past with rose-colored glasses, and not realistically, so you can spend a lot of time working against an unrealistic sense of reality – or memory. These folks may never accept or adapt to change. If you are implementing change into an organization, this is a group where finding compromise is best. Often, their history and work ethic make them valuable employees, and as change gets implemented they eventually “get on the bus” – but they may never truly buy in.

Implementing Change

Change is hard. Implementing change is definitely not easy, but understanding your audience is key. Hold your advocates close and embrace your converters because they can become your biggest supporters, and even acknowledge your resisters because they are part of the team. But understand their differences and give those around you the space, time, explanation and respect needed for them to get to where they need to get to on their own terms – you’ll have better buy in and much more success.

How To: Problem Solving

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Solving problems is something we expect leaders in an organization to do, but it is a skill often learned through trial and error on the job itself.

In my view, there are four important steps to solving any problem within an organization:

  • Investigation
  • Decision
  • Implementation
  • Evaluation

Let’s look at each of these steps in more detail.

 Investigation

While it may seem obvious to investigate the problem, conducting a proper investigation will make sure that you’re not just addressing symptoms of a problem, that you’re actually going to get to the root cause.

When investigating, I ask myself, “If I fix this problem, will it just come up again in a different form, or is there something more systemic that is causing this problem?” Sometimes, I need to ask myself that question a few times, digging deeper each time, before I am satisfied that I’ve gotten to the root cause of a problem. Solving for the root cause of a problem is a better use of time because you tend to be able to solve the problem once and for all.

Some questions I consider when investigating:

  • Am I listening to everyone affected by this problem? This might include not just managers, but employees and even customers.
  • Am I looking at the right data to diagnose the problem? For instance, if a problem occurs with customer satisfaction, I may dig deeper to look at internal metrics to help pinpoint the root cause of the problem.
  • Have I seen the problem first hand? Sometimes seeing is believing, and looking at a problem from the outside in will reveal a solution that may otherwise be overlooked.

Decision

Once the problem is clear, it’s time to decide on a solution. There may be multiple solutions, each with it’s own trade-offs. I try to do some or all of the following when deciding which solution to pursue:

  • Lay out the solutions on paper or a whiteboard to consider the impact (positive and negative) that each solution could result in.
    • Are there any foreseeable adverse affects?
    • Is there planning necessary to implement the solution?
    • Do we have the resources to make this solution work?
  • Bring all the stakeholders together to be a part of the process.
    • Having everyone feel included and part of the solution can be a key factor as to whether a solution will work.
  • Determine how to evaluate the success of the solution.
    • How do you know you’ve been successful? Sometimes data helps, or customer feedback, but make sure going into your solution that you know what success looks like, and that your plan includes anything necessary to evaluate it’s success.

Implementation

You’ve investigated the problem, identified the root cause of the problem and decided on a solution. If you’ve included the stakeholders in the Decision process described above, you’ve already started down the path to implementing the solution.

Implementing a solution to a problem in a large organization is as much about communication as it is about actions.

  • Do I have buy-in from everyone involved?
    • People are more likely to support a solution they helped decide upon.
  • Do I have a clear plan for communicating the solution?
    • A plan for communication should be clear and include opportunities for questions.
    • Do I have the proper authority to implement the solution?
      • If approval is needed to implement a solution, having a well put together plan will help others understand what you are solving for, what needs to happen, and any costs or other impacts. It’s easier to say yes to something that you have confidence in so make sure your plan builds confidence by anticipating questions ahead of time.

Evaluation

I mentioned the need to evaluate the success of the solution back when deciding upon which solution to pursue. Here are some questions I use when evaluating a solution after it’s been implemented.

  • Did it solve the original problem?
    • Maybe an obvious question, but if it didn’t solve the original problem, I may need to start all over and figure out where I was wrong – did I identify the right root cause? Did circumstances change?
  • What data can I show that the problem has been resolved?
    • Sometimes even the best solutions require tweaking, if you are paying close attention you can make those adjustments without it throwing your plan off course.

Sometimes you have to fix problems quickly, and the outline above certainly has a lot of steps. But if you get in the habit of using these steps – even abbreviated – you become a very thorough and effective problem solver. Good luck!

Vol X: Accountability

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The final question I ask in the article, Setting the Stage is whether accountability exists within your organization, ensuring your employees feel fairly treated.

Accountability is being responsible for what you are expected to do and for the actions you take. Holding yourself and others accountable ensures that everyone fulfills their responsibility, and that there is fairness, making sure actions are applied consistently and without prejudice.

Understanding what you are accountable for.

The exact responsibilities will naturally vary based upon a persons role, but at a high level it breaks down into two categories:

Individual contributors or team members are responsible for their work and for supporting the rest of their team.

Leaders are responsible for the work of their entire team as well as for how they hold their team members accountable for their actions.

Understanding the expectations of one’s role sets the foundation for accountability. When your team members understand what you expect from them and what is expected of their peers, you’ve set the stage for creating consistent accountability. My article on Clarifying Expectations has some examples of things to consider when setting those expectations.

The next step, once expectations are clear, is to ensure your team members understand how they will be held accountable. There are two sides to accountability, most people think about the negative accountability – what happens when someone does not meet expectations; there is also a positive accountability – what happens when someone does a job well, or exceeds the expectations.

When employees do not meet the expectations that you’ve clearly defined, they should understand what that means in terms of coaching, feedback, and discipline.

For more ideas about positive accountability, I’d refer you to my last two articles: Motivation Through Recognition and Creating a Recognition Program.

The most important thing is that accountability, positive or negative, needs to be clearly communicated and applied consistently.

To evaluate your own accountability process, consider these questions:

  1. Does everyone have clear expectations of what their role is and what you need from them?

Without clear expectations, you have no foundation for accountability. Remember not to assume here, not everyone approaches situations the same way.

  1. Do you give feedback to employees? Do other leaders in the organization provide feedback? Do team members have an avenue for providing peer feedback?

Self-awareness is difficult for most people. If you are not giving feedback on performance, an employee can think they are doing something well, even if you do not agree.

  1. Do you have a consistent method of tracking employee performance? Is an employee’s performance transparent to them?

In environments where an employee may be supervised by several different leaders it is important that any coaching or feedback is documented so other leaders are aware and meaningful follow up can occur without being redundant.

  1. Is retraining or job shadowing available to help build performance for those who need it?

Not everyone gets it the first time. Having an opportunity to retrain employees after they’ve had some on the job experience might help an employee who didn’t quite connect the lessons of training with the real world environment.

  1. Are the steps that you take with one employee the same for all employees?

To be fair to all employees, the same steps should be taken, regardless of the person. For example, if with Mark you give several coaching opportunities and many chances but with Jane, her mistakes result in write-ups you are being unfair. That’s not to say that you need to write Mark up right away, but are you giving Jane the benefits of your time and feedback?

Employees want accountability to be consistent. By ensuring accountability is fair, employees can trust your actions and comfortably perform at higher levels.

Please join the conversation…

 

Vol IX: Empowerment

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In my article “Setting the Stage”, I asked whether employees feel empowered to help customers and whether they have the tools to do so. Empowerment manifests itself many different ways, in this article I’ll focus on empowering employees to successfully navigate service recovery.

When I was charged with the responsibility of a hotel front desk, there was an existing empowerment policy where agents could compensate a guest up to a certain dollar amount without a manager’s approval. There was nothing wrong with the guideline per se, but front desk agents were quick to compensate their allotted amount and avoided what the customer was really seeking: an apology, empathy, and compassion. Ultimately, while the customers got compensated, they weren’t satisfied, and while the agents stayed within the budget, they weren’t truly helping the company build customer loyalty.

I’ve always found that genuinely listening, apologizing regardless of fault, coming up with personalized solutions, and following up with a customer is the recipe for great service recovery.

Ensuring your staff feels empowered to help a customer is about more than money and tools, it’s about how much your employees feel like they can take responsibility for fixing mistakes and righting a wrong.

Here are some questions to think about when you consider if your team feels empowered:

  1. Does your team do a good job of listening to customers when they are dissatisfied? Are they able to act empathetically and compassionately to customer concerns?

Employees that are quick to jump to conclusions instead of truly listening may miss important details about what is important to that particular customer.  Service recovery is best when a customer feels like someone personally connected to them, if employees are rushed or made to feel like it’s not okay to spend time listening, they will likely not address the customer’s true concerns.

  1. If a mistake is made, do your employees take responsibility on behalf of the entire company even if they or their department did not make the mistake?

From a customer’s perspective, internal divisions within your company are irrelevant, and pointing fingers doesn’t help the customer.

  1. Do you have a policy that clarifies for your staff what compensation they are able to provide for given situations?

Letting employees know what they can and can’t do gives them the freedom to act without looking over their shoulders or worrying about being second guessed. Having too many layers of approvals necessary for an employee to provide compensation or other solutions to a customer may keep short term expenses down, but could ultimately wind up hurting long term revenue opportunities.

  1. When an employee goes above and beyond to help a customer, what is the response from leadership?

An empowered employee, if they are within the guidelines of your policy, should be thanked for helping the customer. If the employee made a decision that seems out of line with policy, treat it as a coaching opportunity, not an inquisition.

Empowered employees develop a sense of ownership and pride from doing their job, representing your company culture, and ensuring that your customers are satisfied.

Please join the conversation….

 

Vol VIII: Creating a Recognition Program

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In last week’s article, Motivating through Recognition, I discussed the importance of recognizing employees as a form of gratitude and a teaching tool. One of my suggestions was to personalize the recognition, to make it more meaningful for the person receiving it. This week, I’d like to share the guidelines I follow when setting up a recognition program that helps make it meaningful.

Do you even need a recognition program?

It’s OK to ask if it’s necessary, but ask yourself these questions:

  • Is recognition happening consistently?
  • Can others learn by example?
  • Do your employees FEEL like they are being recognized?

If each answer is not an immediate “yes” – then putting a recognition program in place could reinforce those behaviors until they become habit and are happening organically and consistently.

Is recognition sustained?

There is nothing worse than starting a great recognition program, making a few people feel really special, and then having it be forgotten or lost to other priorities. Having a process that is open and communicated will ensure recognition is sustained.

Here are some questions to ask about any process you set up:

  • Is it explicit that leaders look for opportunities to recognize as part of their normal routine?
  • Is recognition documented, staying with employees for future opportunities like promotion or annual evaluations?
  • Do employees know what your form of recognition looks like?
  • How is recognition shared with others so that they can learn from it?

Answering these questions can help lead you down a path to determine if your recognition program is sustainable, purposeful and deliberate.

Is recognition personalized?

Many companies use employee profile systems to allow for staff to express their personal preferences, whether it’s their favorite coffee order, their hobbies or any other information which you can use to personalize the recognition experience if they are to be recognized and thanked for a job well done.

A couple of low/no budget examples:

  • For an employee who likes to read, maybe instead of a traditional thank you card, you create a fun ‘thank you’ bookmark.
  • To recognize someone who takes a regular “coffee break” maybe you can accompany them to get their favorite coffee drink.
  • For someone who offers ideas at meetings, maybe providing some one-on-one time with decision makers so they know their ideas are being listened to.

By learning from and listening to your team members, you have the opportunity to personalize your recognition.

Is recognition fair?

People who are consistent high performers may get recognized multiple times, and you don’t want to play favorites, but it’s not true recognition if everyone “gets a turn” regardless of their contribution.

Here are a couple of ways I look to balance recognition:

  • Recognizing an improvement rather than an absolute contribution.
  • Recognize someone who was able to think outside their normal boundaries for a solution.
  • Recognize someone who is consistent and dependable.

If you have no reason to recognize an employee, you should consider whether they need coaching to get the behaviors you want to reward. The communication, attention, consistency, and support you provide will likely make a significant difference in their job performance.

Recognition connects people

People want to feel connected to people and personalizing recognition helps build relationships. In thinking about recognition, remember that not everything happens naturally and sometimes you have to be deliberate. By creating a program that is sustainable, consistent, personalized, and fair, you can ensure that your employees feel appreciated and valued.

Vol VII: Motivation Through Recognition

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Recognizing employee performance is one of the cornerstones of keeping employees motivated and engaged. In my article, “Setting the Stage”, I referenced positive recognition as being one of the key factors in creating a positive employee environment.

Recognizing your employees helps all your employees, the ones who are recognized feel appreciated and noticed by your thanking them for their level of effort and accomplishment. For other employees the recognition reinforces your corporate values by creating examples of the types of behaviors and efforts that you’ve rewarded.

In the best of environments, recognition will happen organically because managers pay attention to what their teams are doing and will notice which team members are excelling. In many situations, recognition can drop off of the radar as managers at all levels focus on efficiency or profitability, something the business is measuring explicitly. The importance of thanking people for doing their job well or going above and beyond expectations goes to the sidelines.

Recognition can take many forms, and not all employees will respond the same way to the same incentives. If you feel like you do praise and reward your employees but your employees don’t feel the same way, then you might not be recognizing them in a way that resonates with them. Once you understand who your employees are as individuals, you will know what’s important to them and what will make them feel recognized and motivated.

Here are some forms of recognition that can be used to personalize the experience for your employees based on what they are most comfortable with:

  • Public recognition – being positively recognized in front of peers and/or to other leaders
  • Monetary – bonuses, gifts or gift cards, increase in wage
  • Private moments – time with the boss – this could be one-on-one walking around the operation, coffee at a local shop, or even dedicated office time.
  • Added responsibility/empowerment – for some, added responsibility shows you trust them, so pile it on! They are ready, willing and able to show you they can succeed!

Understanding your employees as individuals will help you determine which form of recognition is appropriate for each person. For example, one person may take public recognition as form of motivation and continue to exceed expectations, while someone else may shy away from taking chances in the future out of fear of embarrassment.

Recognition is in the eye of the recipient, get to know what motivates your team and try to personalize your recognition to motivate and highlight to others what it means to be a high performer.

Please join the conversation….

Vol VI: Paying Attention to the Employee Environment

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The influence the workplace environment has on every aspect of your business can be significant. In my article, Setting the Stage, I referenced the environment, asking if there were opportunities for improvement or innovation. It’s natural to become complacent with our surroundings, things you see every day fade into the background. How often are you evaluating the workplace environment? Do your employees engage with their environment and the tools they have available to them? Does your team’s work environment contribute to a more successful employee and customer experience?

There are three areas I look to when evaluating a company’s environment: Space, Tools, and Technology.

Space

Look with fresh eyes – is your team’s workspace organized and inspiring? Does it represent your brand? Here are some things to look for:

  • Does clutter accumulate in corners or on countertops?
  • Do all the tools that employees need have a place in the workspace?
  • Are tools put back into place after use?
  • Do employees struggle to find what they need, or is everything readily at hand?
  • What’s the condition of the paint, flooring, countertops, and equipment?

Fixing the little stuff will make a big difference both to your employees and to your customers.

Tools

Examine the tools your employee use – most jobs need something more than the employee themselves.

  • Do your employees have the right tools for their job?
  • Are the tools in good working condition?
  • Are things “rigged together” – nothing inspires confidence like seeing a tool held together with duct tape or rubber bands.

Employees having appropriate tools will not only make them more efficient, but will reduce the stress of their jobs allowing them to focus on helping your customers and promoting your brand.

Technology

Changes in technology have affected every business, and the pace of change seems to keep accelerating. Choosing when and how to adopt new technologies presents a unique set of challenges. Investments in technology require looking at and beyond the financial implications.

  • Are you investing appropriately in technology?
  • What is the long term return on investment for the technologies you do invest in?
  • How much time will a new technology save your employees or your customers?
  • How much more can your employees do with the technology in terms of cross-selling, up-selling, or up-servicing? Something as straightforward as access to customer profiles and history can make a big difference.

When employees spend hours each day in the same environment inspiration may fade. If you have ever witnessed the opening of a new restaurant, the staff is charged up, proud, and engaged in the surroundings. That level of enthusiasm is hard to maintain, but keeping the workplace fresh and the tools relevant and working can make a significant difference to morale and can help solidify relationships between leaders and team members, as well as customers.

Please join the conversation….

 

Vol V: Building & Keeping Trust

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In last week’s article, Building Trust Means Being Trustworthy, I highlighted 6 attributes of trust. This week, I want to show some examples of how to put those attributes into action. Even with the best of intentions, if you don’t follow through on all the attributes in your decision making process, you can wind up hurting trust rather than improving it.

For our first example, suppose you are a team leader and one of your employees approaches you about their work assignment. They don’t like the area they’ve been assigned to. The easy decision would be to swap their area with a coworker. That might make that employee happy, but what happens when we look at our trustworthiness attributes, specifically, Fairness?

Making a swap for one employee may make that employee happy, but what about their co-workers? Are you showing favoritism for that employee? Even if you aren’t, will others perceive it as favoritism?

You could avoid any pitfalls by having a systematic way of assigning work and schedules that includes how employee requested transfers will be handled. This process would ensure that everyone knows the rules and they know the rules are being followed consistently – this builds trust.

Our second example highlights Transparency. In the airline business getting planes out on time is essential, there are a lot of factors that go into getting planes out on time, and not all of them are visible to customers. In one case, maintenance crews were finding that customers often flushed the paper towels used in the aircraft lavatories which created clogs and delayed flight departures in order to fix the problem. The problem was researched and the paper towels were replaced with a more biodegradable option, causing less clogs and less delays. Problem solved, right? Except… the biodegradable paper towels were thinner and lighter, and the flight attendants did not know why the change was made, they thought the change was a cost-savings initiative and saw it as the company being ‘cheap’. If the airline communicated transparently this change would have been viewed by all parties as a positive and not a negative.

In both of these examples, a few simple questions would have helped the outcome. Here’s my checklist of questions I use when making important decisions to ensure that I’m working toward building and keeping trust:

  1. How is this decision going to be perceived by employees?
  2. Am I looking at the big picture and how others will be affected?
  3. Am I communicating in a way that answers all potential questions proactively?
  4. Have I considered how this decision could appear to my customers?
  5. Is there a way my actions can ensure buy in and consensus without losing the intent of the decision?

The goal of these questions is to ensure that when making decisions, we look at the big picture. When taking other’s perception into account proactively, we can often build and maintain trust.

Please join the conversation….

Vol IV: Building Trust Means Being Trustworthy

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In my previous article, Setting the Stage, I highlighted trust as one of the keys to having a team work together successfully. I asked “Do your employees have trust in your leadership team?” – as an abstract question, it’s easy to answer “of course”, but delve a little bit deeper into what behaviors generate trust, and you may find areas of strength or areas to improve.

Here are 6 personal attributes that help others to see us as trustworthy:

  1. Reliability – you do what you say you’ll do and other people can depend on you to deliver when you make a commitment
  2. Sincerity – you are sincere and genuine – you mean what you say and you say what you mean
  3. Fairness – you don’t play favorites, you give everyone the same opportunities, and you are consistent in your actions and decision making
  4. Transparency – you are honest and open in your communications, you don’t lie or hold back important information, no hidden agendas. When you make decisions you are clear at communicating “why” as well as “what”
  5. Integrity – you understand what the right thing to do is and you do it, because its right
  6. Strength of Conviction – you do the right thing, even if it means you must take chances to do so.

If you consistently demonstrate these behaviors when working with your team and encourage others on the team to do so, you’ll find that your team will work confidently in the knowledge that they can trust your vision and each other in their ability to execute it.

Please join the conversation…