If you got hit by a bus …

Flatline Heart MonitorIf you got hit by a bus on your way to work one day, could your team, department or business run without you? How easy would it be for someone to step in and assume your responsibilities until you were able to return to work? Would the disruption and inconvenience to your internal and external customers be extreme or would it be a recoverable blip?

I believe we need to hope we never get hit by a bus, but put a plan in place in case we do. That means if you are responsible for payroll, someone else knows what needs to be done in case you are not there. That means a list of who to call for what needs to written down and shared with your team, instead of keeping that knowledge in your head. That means all that information that you ‘just know’ and share when training a new team member is documented and incorporated into a training document.

Hoarding knowledge and information may make us feel indispensable, but in the world of business, being indispensable is not a good thing. If we truly care about our internal and external customers, we need to ensure that the service they expect from our business will continue with or without us.

So … if you are the only person who knows how to (fill in the blank), go in to work today and identify one or two other people who have the ability to take that role or task on in the event you can’t. Train them, support them and then watch out for buses!

Agreeing to Disagree

tug of war“Why can’t they all just get along?”  I heard this question from a colleague. She is working for a company where the leadership team does not play nice.  They fight among themselves and there are a few “leaders” (I use the word loosely) who have no compunction about publicly bad-mouthing others on their team and in different departments.

As a parent, I very quickly learned that my children needed a team working together on their behalf. That meant, that in some cases, meetings were held behind closed doors, differences of opinion discussed and decisions made. Sometimes, one team leader had to make concessions, sometimes it meant agreeing to disagree but once the doors opened, a consistent, unified message was needed.

This holds true in the workplace as well.  Opinions, insight and suggestions from a broad range of stakeholders are important, but just as important is a consistent, unified message once a decision has been made and everyone, regardless of their original viewpoint, needs to own their role in the organization’s success.

Conflicting ideas and opinions are natural and to be expected when a diverse group of people, with different backgrounds, experiences and personalities work together. Those differences have the potential to create strength and diversity, but in many cases, are instead used as weapons and end up building walls.  When people do not know how, or choose not, to disagree respectfully, ideas stagnate, factions form and opposing camps battle against each other instead of working together to achieve success.

That negative energy is a very real weight felt by everyone in the organization.  Some of the people relying on these managers for guidance, support and direction pick a camp and the battle gets bigger. Other duck and run for cover; they hold on to ideas that could potentially benefit the organization. And others just leave, choosing to work for an organization with less mess and dysfunction.

The variety of ideas and opinions brought to the table when people with different backgrounds, experiences and personalities work together, is a gift.  Treasure it. Respect it.  Nourish it.

(This is a modified repost of a blog originally shared way back in July 2012.  As I held my first team meeting yesterday, I got a better sense as to the range of experience and knowledge around the table. Better yet, I got a sense of how well they work together … that is a gift and one to be nurtured.)

Two Service Lessons from Trying to Buy a Pair of Jeans

Neat Stack of Blue JeansI walked into a store last weekend looking for a new pair of jeans.  Three young sales people were working.  All were busy sorting or tidying up.  One greeted me immediately with a warm smile and welcome, followed by an immediate offer of assistance. When I told her I was just browsing, she told me about their ‘Buy One, Get One 1/2 off” special and invited me to let her know if I had any questions.  Nice ….

As I browsed, all three sales people started talking to each other about their manager and the staff meeting that had been held within the last few days.  In a nutshell … the manager had let the team know she felt they didn’t treat her with respect and one had shot back “when you start treating us with respect, we’ll respect you”. Discussion around that juicy tidbit went on for a bit. Then one of the sale people said something like “and then I told her, I don’t get paid enough to put up with this”.

Even though I had already made the decision not to buy jeans there, I stuck around a little longer eavesdropping on the conversation. I venture to guess a lot of you have overheard similar conversations.  There is no question that their conversation was taking place in an entirely inappropriate place, but getting past that, I had to wonder …

What kind of coaching / supervisory training did the manager have?  Poor service and inappropriate conversations like this are very often caused by low morale.  How the team is led contributes to how the team feels about themselves, their contribution and their place of employment.  Too many supervisors are promoted because they are good at their job, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they know how to supervise people. Many times poor supervisors simply lack confidence and training and they become bossy and demanding, or they try to hard to be liked and have no authority, or perhaps even worse, they swing between the two extremes.  Whichever way they go, it is not good for team morale and productivity and service suffer. Train and coach the people on your team that are responsible for training and coaching others.

And then I thought to myself, none of the people working the floor that day knew who I was.  What if I was someone who was in a position to offer them a better job and they just blew it?  It happens. My son’s girlfriend, Kylie, worked retail for a number of years. There was a lady who regularly came into her store. One day she not only came in to buy some new clothes, she also came in to let Kylie that her company was looking to hire people, that Kylie should apply AND that she was in a position to highly recommend her. Kylie has been working at this new job now for just about a year and loves it.

So two lessons from this unsuccessful jean shopping excursion … train, coach and support the people who you expect to train, coach and support the front-line service team and two .. always remember to put your best service foot forward.

Upright and Breathing are not Key Qualities

Tired businesswomanIn the last four years, I have facilitated over 100 customer service training sessions.  By far, the majority of people in my sessions want to provide their customers with great service.  They are excited to learn about the concept of internal customer service; they want to learn how to present themselves as professionals and how to effectively manage unhappy, disappointed customers.  They are eager to share their experiences with others in the group.

But every once in a while, someone will show up in a session who simply does not understand why they should provide some of the basics, never mind go out of their way to make a customer feel valued.  They believe that unhappy, disappointed customers are rude and demanding and refuse to consider using techniques to manage difficult situations.

I had one participant openly admit to spitting in a customer’s burger when it was pointed out to her that the burger wasn’t cooked as ordered.  (I must admit to thinking that was an urban myth.  Nobody would do that, right?  Wrong!!)  Another participant told me he had absolutely no intention of ever apologizing to a customer or trying to find a solution to a problem because “Customers get what they get and if they aren’t happy, they can just deal with it.”

Each time this happens I am astounded at the negativity.  We need customers. Customers pay our bills for us; they pay for our new car, our dream vacation, our children’s education.  Yes, sometimes customers come to our businesses with unrealistic expectations.  Sometimes the customer is “wrong”, but that does not give service professionals the right to treat the customer with disdain and disrespect.

Why do some employers put up with this type of behaviour?

Here are two reasons I’ve been given.

1.  The employee is great at everything else. Because they are technically proficient, they are allowed to get away with atrocious behaviour.

2.  They fill a time slot in the schedule.  Sometimes labour shortages result in the “hey, a living, breathing person who shows up for work at least 80% of the time is better than nobody.”

I understand the temptation to let high customer service standards slide a bit in those situations, but don’t give in!  The reality is that an employee with this type of negative attitude damages your business.  Having toxic, negative, people-haters showing up for work damages your reputation, your current customer leave and potential customers stay away.  Not only that, but the work environment becomes increasingly toxic as the negativity starts infecting previously positive attitude employees who see bad behaviour not being addressed.

Attitude truly does count.  You can teach someone HOW to complete a task, but you can’t train them to complete it with professional and personal pride or to care about their co-workers or their customers.

Upright, breathing and technically proficient isn’t good enough!   Hire people that want to succeed.  Hire people that would not dream of settling for “barely good enough” .  Hire people that actually care about and like people.


Labels: Great for bins; not so great for people

Labels let us know where the pens, paper or staples are in the supply room.  Labels save time.  Labels mean we don’t need to look in the bin, box or the jar.   Labels allow us to quickly scan and reject until we find the right label.  The label tells us everything we need to know.

That’s a great concept if the goal is to take a messy, unorganized desk or closet and turn it into a Martha Stewart approved oasis of calm organization.

Labels don’t work so well with people.

Slapping labels on customer or co-workers, based on external appearance or behaviours, does help us categorize them and our response to them.  Unfortunately, the problem with labelling people is we so very often get them wrong.

When we label the loud, angry man as aggressive and obnoxious, we don’t acknowledge the possibility that he may have just had a horrible, terrible day and that he’s reached the end of his rope. We resort to managing the label instead of seeing the person.

When we label young people as impatient and ‘wet behind the ears’, we don’t acknowledge their desire to help make positive change a reality.

When we label old people as stubborn and set in their ways, we lose the opportunity to learn from their experience.

When accountants become ‘number crunchers’ and sales professionals become ‘paid to golf’, the ability to connect and work together becomes exceedingly difficult.

When we label someone as strong and independent, we may assume they don’t need the same level of support as others.  We may miss the signs that show they are struggling and need some help.

Labeling employee as lazy or unmotivated takes away our responsibility to create a positive work environment, built on respect and recognition for their contribution.

Labeling managers or owners as demanding and uncaring takes away our responsibility to bring our A-game to work.

The one benefit to an unlabeled, unorganized closet is the sense of joy and satisfaction when a previously unknown or lost item is found.  I believe the same possibility holds true when we chose to rip our labels off the people we interact with every day.

Ripping off the labels will make our life a little more chaotic and a little messier.  It means the easy answer or the neat solution may no longer work.  But I imagine that amongst the chaos, we may discover a treasure trove of undiscovered knowledge, possibilities and opportunities.

What do you think?