14 Rules on Leadership – Gen. George Washington: Shifting the Leadership Paradigm

General George Washington wrote “Rules on Civility” (1887) and helped to mold and model a growing social environment in America.  These 110 rules for civility also encapsulate good advice to leaders applicable still today and fourteen of them are discussed below as they bear direct application to the current societal ills.  The hope remains that in pointing out these rules leaders may become more of an example, business improves, and American Society as a whole begins to lift itself up to a higher level of performance.

Rule 19:

Let your countenance be pleasant but in serious matters somewhat grave.

I worked with a manager who made the following statement about the director we both answered to, “I never know whether he is joking, jesting, or simply being serious.”  This is a failure of leadership and can cause disharmony, chaos, and no end to trouble.  Model and exemplify pleasant emotions.  Never try to confuse your audience, never adopt an emotion without a purpose, and never make your audience to think or wonder about your emotional state or demeanor.  More importantly, looking pleasant builds confidence in those around you to act with pleasantness and harmony; so smile, speak softly, and generate pleasantness.

Rule 25:

Superfluous compliments and all affectation[s] of ceremonies are to be avoided, yet where due they are not to be neglected.

This speaks to offering sincere praise, showing gratitude, and returning credit to the source for things that are progressing well and accepting failure when poorly.  I had the displeasure of working with an officer who gave insincere praise making a great ceremony out of giving that insincere praise and then laughing at the person being singled out for the praise for not knowing how to proceed correctly.  The morale of the unit was disastrous and deadly.  Several members of that group held a deep desire for a “friendly fire incident” involving this officer as the victim.  The same problems arise in business and if left to fester potential is wasted, and money follows lost potential.

Don’t forget to limit ceremony, pomp, and procession to the level needed to honor the awardee without allowing the ceremony, pomp, or procession to exceed the degree of the award or the awardee’s comfort level.  Know the audience and limit the service to the comfort of the audience.  Thus allowing those being awarded and those in attendance to celebrate in a manner conducive to the award and their individual comfort level.

Rule 35:

Let your discourse with men of business be short and comprehensive.

We have all heard, and many live by the axiom, “Time is money.”  This rule from Gen. Washington speaks to the need for comprehension, timeliness, and specificity.  Limit the words, tone down the tone, restrict the emotional content, and get to the point; thus saving the audience’s attention and exemplifying respect for the other person in the communication.

Rule 39:

In writing or speaking, give to every person his due title according to his degree and the customs of the place.

Did you work hard for your title, yes; thus, reflect the respect for your title to others.  I met two different people in authority, 180-degrees apart from each other that saw this principle from opposing extremes.  One manager refused to use titles calling the whole thing meaningless while demanding respect for their personal rank and title.  20-year employees who had obtained great honor and respect amongst their peers received no respect from the leader who demanded respect.  The other leader cared a great deal for their title because of those who had held that title before them and respected others who had earned titles for the same reason.  The second leader had higher morale, less behavioral problems, and loyal people who achieved greatness.  The first leader had nothing but trouble, never could reach goals and objectives, and passed the failures to produce onto others.

In our global working environment, knowing the culture where titles and showing respect is critical to creating success.  More importantly, if you as a leader have not already cultivated respect for titles, the ability to show genuine respect for those of titles will place you at a disadvantage and harm the businesses you represent.  Make time to learn and practice showing proper respect for those with titles.

Rule 44:

When a man does all he can, though it succeed[s] not well, blame not him that did it.

How many times has success been snatched from the hands of those trying and the leader then berates, castigates, and derides those who tried?  Since measuring individual effort is not possible, first presume everyone did their best, then promote a spirit of learning from failure and build people.  Even if the actions were thought to be malicious and vengeful, praise and support people, you never know and in not knowing, do not assume!  I would also interject the following thought, Juran’s Rule details that when problems arise, 90% of the time the process is failing and only 10% of the time are people failing.  Thus, look to the processes, the procedures, the methods of work for answers, employ training, and only blame people as the ultimate last resort; this includes blaming yourself.

Rule 45:

Being to advise or reprehend anyone, consider whether it ought to be done in public or in private, and presently or at some other time; in what terms to do it; and in reproving show no signs of cholar but do it with all sweetness and mildness.

(Please note, the term “cholar” has had a spelling update and is now spelled “choler” and is defined as showing irascibility, anger, wrath, or irritability.  From Latin is the origin cholera.)

There is great truth hidden here; this rule mimics another axiom, “Praise in public and reprimand in private.”  While speaking to timeliness, this rule allows the leader to select when and where praise and reprimand occurs.  Do not forget Rule 19 emotion is a leadership tool, not a weapon; tools guide and instruct, weapons destroy and demoralize.  Use emotion wisely or choose to not use emotion at all per the rule above, but make emotion a conscious choice!

Rule 48:

Wherein you reprove another be unblameable yourself, — for example is more prevalent than precepts.

During my military service, I had a mid-level officer that hated and punished severely those who slept on watch, for a good reason.  The problem, the officer regularly slept on watch.  The example was more prevalent than the precepts taught and destroyed morale.  Rules 19, 45, and 48, all discuss powerful leadership principles along with a general theme and should be considered both individually and collectively to make the lessons more powerful.  First, know yourself, then know those you aspire to lead, and finally lead well.

Rule 49:

Use no reproachful language against anyone; neither curse nor revile.

In the world today, many confuse reprimand (rebuke or admonition) with reproach (finding fault, upbraiding, blaming, censure, disgrace or discredit) and this has led to a lot of confusion in communication.  More to the point, the language of leaders has coarsened, hardened, and plasticized or transitioned into bluster and buffoonery instead of calm and controlled.  I know a brilliant person, photographic memory, incredible mental ability, no people skills, no technical expertise, and there is great pride in not having these skills.  This person was promoted to the level of senior officer in the US military.  Who, during an inspection, wept uncontrollably when the plan went to pieces, machinery broke down, and the inspection failed.  This brilliant person could not speak to inferiors without an attitude of superiority cursing and reproach everyone and anyone.  Leaders, especially those placed in command through rank, must understand this communication principle and the power of this principle for good and ill.  Failure to communicate remains the sole variable upon which organizational cancer metastasizes into a full-blown case of organizational chaos leading to destruction (Dandira, 2012).

Rule 58:

Let your conversation be without malice or envy, for ‘tis a sign of tractable and commendable nature, and in all causes of passion permit reason to govern.

The above “rule” is a choice, rather two options.  The first choice is choosing to speak without malice and envy as a sign of your personal nature.  The second choice is to restrict passion.  Leaders only show emotion as a tool, not a weapon.  Conversation requires restricted passion to convey to the audience logic and confidence in the leader.

Rule 59:

Never express anything unbecoming, nor act against the rules before your inferiors.

I used to think this was common sense, and then I met two Chief Petty Officers (CPO’s) in the US Navy and discovered that common sense is not very common.  These two CPO’s remarked upon everything they saw, verbally spewing whatever occurred between their two ears, and were always examples of what not to do and how not to act.  Feeling their rank and position secure, these CPO’s then punished those who did not act in their manner severely and those who replicated their actions were rewarded and protected from the consequences.  With the result being that the followers exceeded the examples displayed by the CPO’s with noticeable results for morale, good order, and discipline.

Rule 65:

Speak not injurious words neither in jest nor in earnest; scoff at none although they give occasion.

I worked with a brilliant and incredible person who took a little time to learn and was very clumsy.  Once the topic being taught was then known, this individual knew that task and performed it in an exemplary manner.  Because of the clumsiness and time, it took to learn, this person was always the butt of his command’s jokes, jibes, insults, and was on every single petty detail possible, and performed those tasks poorly.  When respected, honest and sincerely praised, this person performed incredible feats.  The difference amazed and shocked his command and division, but did not silence these voices of derision to the detriment of the quality of work performed.  Did my friend give occasion to be laughed at, certainly!  Did he deserve to be laughed at, certainly not!  Leaders need to be doing better at controlling themselves and exemplifying the behaviors they desire to see in others.

Rule 67:

Detract not from others, neither be excessive in commanding.

While much of this rule can be considered to be part of Rule 65, detracting from others goes beyond verbal haranguing of Rule 65.  Detract is to reduce in value usually with the intent of making yourself larger.  Managers detract from their workers by taking credit for all the good and passing off all the blame.  Leaders attract the blame and detract the praise to the source.

The final aspect of this rule is necessary to understand, excessive commanding.  Commanding with excessive commands is nothing more than dominating in an authoritarian manner to the destruction of others.  Even commanding without excessive commands but with an attitude of domination can destroy.  Commanding well is an attitude of servitude coupled with a desire to build, grow, and develop people to meet their individual potential and doesn’t generally need commands, but always needs guidance or if you prefer, coaching.  Consider the life of a tree planted in good level ground.  The tree spends the first 10-15 years of life with a guide wire to help the tree grow straight.  Not a command and forced growth, but a guided growth into growing straight and true.  People are like the tree; the leader is like the guide wire, build people through guidance or coaching, not commands.

Rule 73:

Think before you speak; pronounce not imperfectly, nor bring out your words too hastily, but orderly and distinctly.

I was raised in a home where pronunciation and annunciation were as critical to speaking as spelling, grammar is to writing well, and the rules included proper and logical thinking, before speaking.  The process of communication is aided and abetted by properly pronouncing and announcing your words when speaking, after carefully thinking and crafting your desires into coherent thoughts.  In the US Army, I did not have trouble with my upbringing interfering with communication.  In the US Navy, I had nothing but problems with how I was raised interfering with communications.  One day, I spent 45-minutes being verbally upbraided by a second-class petty officer that choose to speak with no regard for the rules of the English Language, no understanding of grammar, and no logic, where Ebonics were displayed as a symbol of pride intended to confuse the receiver.  I was then referred to the CPO for not listening and being disrespectful.  I explained I could not understand what was being said and was told that my understanding of language is not his understanding of language and that I am in the wrong for not working harder to show empathy to a higher-ranking person.  Remember, the second-class petty officer chose, while on duty, to speak in a manner that intentionally could not be understood and always spoke in an understandable style when off duty.  If placed into a position of authority, managerial or leadership, that role comes the expectation of communication using logic, common rules of English pronunciation and annunciation, and proper grammar to ensure mutual understanding has the potential to be achieved.  When confusion in language occurs, it is the leaders, or managers, job to then rephrase and change language to meet the understanding of the listener.

These rules as mentioned form the bedrock upon which long and fruitful careers of leadership are built upon.  If weak in a particular rule, choose to obtain training and counsel in how to improve.  Find people exemplifying these rules and support them in their good works.  Train and develop those not employing these rules into better people, and our entire society improves.

References

Dandira, M. (2012). Dysfunctional leadership: Organizational cancer. Business Strategy Series, 13(4), 187-192. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/17515631211246267

Washington, G. (2009). George Washington’s Rules of Civility (and decent behavior in company and conversation). Retrieved December 30, 2016, from http://www.digireads.com

© 2017 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved

Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s): Shifting the Paradigm and Bringing Balance to Measuring Employees

kpi

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Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) continue to be a “buzz phrase” and a measuring tool, a flavor of the month managerial concern, and a disastrous issue in employee relations.  Why is this a disastrous issue in employee relations?   KPI’s have no meaning, no value, and are not grounded in reality.  For all the resources invested, KPI’s continue to reflect a bad investment at best.  Yet, hope remains for KPI’s if the paradigm is shifted and new thinking on an old topic is undertaken.

KPI’s are to reflect what is needed for an employee to be adequately measured for performing the role of the position hired.  This KPI definition is the simplest statement on this topic and forms the backbone of the discussion herein.  Since KPI’s are all about measurement, knowing what is being measured, and why this particular aspect is being measured, the specific actions required to improve must be clear, concise, and easily discussed.  Please consider a common thought:  when was the last time KPI’s were reviewed for accuracy and the information being produced evaluated for veracity and actionable application?  If the answer is “I don’t know” or longer than 24-months previous, this is the first problem.

KPI’s should be producing actionable data.  For example, Net Promoter Score (NPS) is a KPI in which a baseline is established.   What is the baseline?  What are the parameters for high/low?  What specific actions can an employee take to improve NPS to meet the parameters?  Does the KPI standard make sense to the new employee?  Can a seasoned employee easily explain improvement to a new employee?  Actionable data is crucial in KPI discussion.  If the KPI is not directly tied to actions, why is this a measurable KPI?

Here is another point regarding actionable data in measuring KPI’s. Active Issues (AI) is a general KPI in many service related call centers.  Can an employee receive a zero (0) as a measurement?  The most frustrating conversation I ever had on a project was being charged an AI because the measurement system could not accept a zero in this category, even though the company preached zero-AI to all employees.  Obtaining the desired KPI meant the employees had to be charged an issue and, in being charged the issue, were then held accountable for not reaching the desired AI goal of zero.  Actionable data must be able to accept the performance desired and achieved to meet the employee performance.

KPI veracity is found in the usefulness of the data to the individual employee and direct supervisor.  KPI actionable application is found in being able to specifically identify actions the employee can take to improve performance on a single indicator.  This actionable application hinges upon the need to understand what is being measured and being able to explain why it is being measured along with the value of that measurement to the overall organization.

For example, Average Handle Time (AHT) is a common call center KPI measurement.  Is AHT being measured because you do not want employees on the phone too long or what about too short handle time?  What value is AHT measuring and how does AHT benefit the company overall?  Can the direct supervisor specifically speak to actions the employee is making to improve performance?  All of these questions must be addressed to empower the employee in how to improve based upon KPI measurement.

During my first performance interview in a call center, I asked about KPI’s, specific actions to take, what the numbers meant and what did improvement look like for each of the 40 KPI’s being discussed.  The answer on the majority of the KPI’s, from my front-line supervisor, was “I don’t know.”  More egregious was the insistence that “it works” and to not “rock the boat.”  The supervisor refused to find out what the KPI’s meant because the supervisor had no idea where the measurements came from, who was responsible for the KPI’s, and did not want to “rock the boat.”

Another issue regarding actionable application and veracity is the power of surpassing expectations.  Should an employee surpass the expectation, is the employee harmed because of being better than the KPI dictates?  An example of this is found in another common call center KPI, After Call Work (ACW).  If the standard for ACW is 10 seconds and the diligent employee drives their ACW to zero (0), per the published company desired goals, can the KPI measurement accurately reflect the employee’s performance?  If not, the KPI process is having significant issues in delivering actionable and truthful data to organizational leaders.

Here is another real world example on KPI failure.  While working a project in a call center, I discovered how to obtain KPI excellence in ACW and taught managers and other employees how to obtain KPI excellence in ACW.  At the end-of-the-month meeting for KPI adherence, I won an award for obtaining 0 ACW, but the bonus check was based upon 1-second ACW because the KPI measurement system could not accept a 0.  More to the point, I also received a counseling statement for having time in ACW.  The award and counseling statement were delivered the same day, and the manager did not see the irony or problem with the KPI issue.  The insult to injury came when pointing out this error and being told by the VP of Customer Service that the business will not change to accommodate.

When working with KPI’s, the data must be able to be tied to specific actions of those being measured.  The actions are being measured and weighed, and the actions need to make sense by providing logic to the employee.  The KPI might make sense to an organizational leader or a high-level manager, but if the employee being measured cannot logically understand the KPI, the measurement cannot accurately reflect actionable data.

For example, “Voice-of-the-Customer” (VOC) remains a favorite call center KPI, but many times, the VOC score does not make sense as the actions the employee is told to take often do not impact a VOC because the customer survey is all about the perception of the customer, not the work of the employee.  If the customer does not like the data presented and with spite and envy fills out the VOC survey with malice and vindication, how is the customer agent expected to make improvement inVOC?  The customer service representative cannot influence the customer after the call and before the survey is completed; the customer is making choices; providing the best service is irrelevant and the employee is punished for a low VOC.  If the agent delivering service does not control the actions, the KPI is both inaccurate and ineffective!

ACW and AHT bring up an excellent auxiliary topic, baselines.  Baselines are averages and beg the questions as to when and who established the basic data being averaged to measure performance?  How were the baselines established originally?  Have the baselines been reviewed for application in the current business environment?  Do the baselines still make sense?  More specifically, if the baselines and averages do not reflect current reality, why are they still a KPI?  If training to meet the KPI is insufficient, how can an employee meet the rigors the KPI demands?

On a call center project, I asked when the AHT/NPS/ACW/VOC and other KPI’s were established.  The front-line supervisor was part of the project in their first year of employment to establish KPI baselines.  The supervisor was a 15-year veteran of the company and I asked when the baselines would be reviewed due to new technology, new processes, new procedures, and business changes since inception of the original baselines.  The response remains classic, “Why should the baselines change.  This is why they are called baselines.”  Baselines should change as the KPI’s are reviewed.  When products and services change, the baselines need to be reviewed to ensure veracity and applicability.  More specifically, actionable data takes a downturn when baselines are insufficient to proper measurement of performance.

What does this mean for the paradigm?

  1. Plan to review the KPI as a process at a minimum of every 18 months and sooner if products and services change. Review sooner if technology shifts and every time a trigger in the company processes occurs, e.g., back office changes, legislation, etc.  Regardless, set in place plans to maintain KPI shelf life and allow the KPI process to live, change, and become a tool to improve people.
  1. Make a single person responsible for each KPI being measured. For example, if there are 15 KPI’s in an employee’s performance review, then 15 different people should have a collateral duty to be responsible for the life of that KPI.  These people should be approachable, knowledgeable, and have an in-depth knowledge of the job being done to adequately measure the performance of others and how this influences the company’s goals and objectives overall.  More specifically, if those in charge have not performed the job, why are they in charge of the KPI to measure the job?

I worked on a project where the senior leaders, team leaders, directors, etc., were required to spend 8-hours a month on the phone as a front-line customer-facing representative in an effort to keep the leaders knowledgeable of the front-line tasks, current customer environment, and to gage process and procedure application in a real-world.  The customers and the customer-facing employees appreciated seeing this, and it made the leaders more cognizant of what is happening in the business from a front-line perspective.

  1. Never allow the KPI to be a punishment tool. Training, yes; development, absolutely; punishment, never.  Should actions have consequences, yes; but these consequences must be separated from the KPI measuring system.  Triggers for front-line supervisors from the KPI’s need to be removed and placed into the hands of human resource managers and non-frontline superiors/directors.  This allows for the relationship of training to remain with the front-line supervisor and places the control for KPI consequences at a level where the employee can receive a neutral assessment of performance.
  1. Never allow a KPI to be measured if the employee does not have 100% control over how to improve that KPI. While NPS is a fine item to measure, do not allow NPS to be a performance item, use this as a bonus item at best or a team item for judging team performance, but individuals must have 100% control over their own performance for a KPI to be actionable.
  1. Simplify KPI’s. Remember the elevator speech.  Can the KPI measurement be discussed in an elevator speech?  If not, the KPI’s need to be simplified, honed, and focused.  Imperative to effective KPI’s remains actions the individual can control.
  1. Drop the canned phrases, key words, and other “flavor-of-the-month” managerial gimmick. KPI’s should never be based upon word adaptation.  Every person does not successfully use terms someone else uses to succeed.  Personalization helps the customer feel their problem is original.  Canned responses rob the customer of this feeling and the customer feels “shoehorned” into the one-size-fits-all answer.
  1. Remember the individuality of the employee when choosing which KPI is to be measured and how that measurement is created. For example, once a baseline is established, does the employee retain the freedom to control their own destiny in meeting the KPI or is the employee “shoe-horned” into one-size fits most measurement device?
  1. Action plans need KPI’s; KPI’s need action plans. As a measurement tool, gauging actions and placing a statistical variable onto that tangible, a non-static atmosphere enveloping the KPI conversation is needed.  If the plan needs measuring, there must be a KPI.  If the KPI is to achieve the most use, an implemented action plan to be measured must exist.
  1. Don’t settle for what every other business measures in the industry. If AHT does not fit your call center, remove it.  If a manufacturing employee cannot control cycle time, do not use it to gauge employee performance.  KPI’s should be a hybrid solution to measuring employee actions and not represent KPI measuring to an e3-direectional-balancentire industry.  Allow the KPI measuring system to be individual, explainable, and conducive to all employees being able to detail the “why” and the “what” in measurement.
  2. Do not forget to include the “how.” How does an employee improve?  How do the numbers directly represent actions?  How easy is the KPI measurement system explained to another person?  Once the “why” and the “what” are known, the “how” should be a simple extension of the logic in the KPI process.

 © 2016 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved – Note: I do not own the rights to the images used.

Leadership: Winning the External Customer Through Improving Internal Customer Development

Internal-CS-Attitude-Low-ResThe following situation drives home the need for every employee to become more cognizant of the power of internal customer service. A nurse approached an internal business unit officer. The internal business unit officer provided access so the nurse is more able to do his/her job effectively, timely, and serve external customers efficiently in the performance of nursing duties. The internal business unit’s sole customer base is the internal customer, especially other nurses and medical staff members. The nurse received half of the access he/she needed to perform his/her functions and told the simple process needed to finish granting access must wait for some amorphous time in the future. Finally, the nurse received instruction to chase down business unit representatives, who will ultimately visit the work environment to complete the process; the final action from the business unit to complete granting access, while simple, was not going to occur at that moment in time, the nurse’s sixth visit for access.

This is a perfect storm of internal customer service affecting external customers and potentially could be life threatening for the external customer, all because the business unit officer’s convenience was more important than internal customer service. Granting access occurs often enough that specific processes and procedures should be in place to make the granting of access smooth and efficient. The nurse had made five previous visits to this business unit before finally obtaining half of the access needed. The example provided proves both a lackadaisical attitude to internal customers and an organizational culture of failing external customers.

Here is another recent example displaying internal customer service destroying external customer relations. To obtain a credit for a customer deserving a credit, a front-line employee approached a supervisor for authorization. The front-line supervisor reviewed the problem, granted the needed approval, and both completed the business-mandated process to officially request the credit issued to the external customer. The granting authority, whose position is to support internal customers as a backroom office aiding internal customers, refused the request, multiple times, across several months. Higher and higher, the request for the credit moved through the organization’s monolithic leadership structure to no avail. The leaders could see the needed credit, see how the organization was at fault, and agreed to the credit approval. However, forcing action from the back-office support team to act was “too politically expensive,” which resulted in the company changing the official position so that the customer was at fault. The credit was ultimately denied since the external customer failed to follow the company’s rules.

At each stage of the request, to obtain relief for the customer throughout the lengthy process, the front-line employee informed the customer the service being provided was an outreach for customer satisfaction. With the final request for reprieve denied, who is to shoulder the customer anger, frustration, and hurt feelings; not the back office causing the problem, but the front-line customer support representative. The final nail in this horrible customer service example was the back office person refusing the request did so because he/she personally did not like the manager making the request and made this known to the business leaders approaching the back office for assistance. In fact, every time this back office representative could make life hard for that manager, he/she actively choose to impede, distract, deny, and hamper external customer service, through internal politicking. The manager, blamed for not being “polite enough” to the needs of the back office personnel, received a reprimand from the business leaders for causing hurt feelings. The internal investigation proved the manager and the back-office personnel never met, had never interacted outside of the business process requesting service, and the back office personnel simply expressed an opinion of dislike for this single manager.

It is time and past time for internal functionaries to realize this truth: if all your customers are internal, without the external customer, the first job cut or lost is yours. Without external customers, business fails. The daily actions supporting internal customers decide the war for external customers. This is a cold hard truth. Internal customers, e.g. fellow employees, not properly serviced, supported, and respected, directly cause external customers suffering exponentially. Regarding the nurse example, how many times will this nurse need access, not have it, and patients suffer needlessly? If the nurse has to ask another nurse for their time to grant access, more patients will suffer needlessly, all because an internal business unit failed internal customer support. If the manager in the second example is directly in charge of twenty service representatives, and those twenty service representatives write tickets requesting support through the business unit manned by the unprofessional staff member 300-times in a month, how fast has a simple unprofessional act snowballed into disaster for the external customers?

Leading to the question, “how does an organization begin to change internal customer support to win external customers?” Shown below are the five first steps:

  1. Start today, start with you, and start by changing how you see your fellow employees. When asked a question from a fellow employee, consider whether the question is an “interruption” or an “opportunity?” This simple choice powers the internal customer service culture and attitude.
  2. While reports and statistics are important, has the voice of the internal customer become lost in those reports and statistics? When was the last time a report included actual internal customer voices, not a survey with a sampling of voices specially selected, groomed, and cleansed to support a point, but actual voices from internal customers? VITarSS powered communication is the phenomenon of voices echoing in the halls of decision-making.
  3. When conflicts between processes or procedures and internal customers arise, who wins and why? If a process, a method of working, trumps an internal customer, this is going to reflect in how that person treats the next internal customer onto the destruction of external customers. If a procedure, even if the procedure speaks to compliance issues, trumps people, the external customer will suffer greatly. If the worst thing an external customer can hear from a company representative is, “This is policy,” how much more damaging is this to internal customers to hear and suffer? Why is it not company policy to find every option to say, “Yes,” before saying, “No” at every level of internal customer support, from the boardroom to the grounds keeping staff?
  4. It is okay to say, “I don’t know,” provided the next statement becomes, “Let me find out and get back to you by the close of business tomorrow.” This is good policy for external customer service. Why does internal customer service not use this more?
  5. “I am sorry.” This simple phrase carries power, provides respect, and opens opportunities. Yet, how often is power stripped from this phrase and the apology is left a vacuous non-entity, because action failed to follow the phrase? If a situation warrants an apology, apologize, discuss actions needed to rectify the situation, and then perform the actions.

Winning the internal customer is easier than winning external customers. Keeping internal customers is easier by magnitudes than keeping external customers. The power in achieving excellence in internal customers is that external customers notice and desire to remain customers to continue to experience great customer service.

Human Resource (HR) people talk of winning the “Talent Battle” to find and keep the best workers; yet, HR does not fight this battle; nor does HR have any power in the battle for talent; this battle is in the daily actions of internal customer service. The single most powerful action a business leader can take is to change how they approach internal customer loyalty building. Want more market share, a larger bottom-line, and promotions, win internal customer loyalty. Not psychopathic followership and not cult worship, but active internal customers working diligently to be the best worker they can be solely because you provide them the best service you can.

© 2016 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved

 

VITarSS – Follow Up On Communicating

Program Note: On my blog, I follow a strict rule, “Praise in Public, reprimand in private.” Thus, the organization in this example remains unidentified. While I believe in the public shaming of individuals to promote improved societal actions, reprimanding in public remains very unprofessional in my opinion. The organization mentioned knows about this blog and is provided the opportunity to review this post before posting. If a response ever comes forth, I will post, after sufficient scrubbing, the business response.

Disclaimer: I am heavily invested in the discussed organization and a full separation from this organization is not possible for personal and professional reasons. Thus, when discussing organizational concerns, organizational change, and organizational dilemmas, these problems are significant and personal to my future professionally. The continuing struggles of this organization are difficult to observe and many lessons on managers acting like leaders are being poignantly taught to other businesses.

It has been a sad experience to receive additional communications from a company I used to do a lot of business with, sad, because the organization refuses to provide even a modicum of customer service in all the communications received. With an eye to following up on how to use VITarSS to promote customer loyalty building experiences, the following provides a clear example. From the last emailed communication received from the organization comes the following that while technically and legally accurate lacks customer attention and does not employ VITarSS more specifically. The company recently adopted the program “Service of Excellence,” and this email, along with all the communication from this organization, lacks excellence along with short changing service. The email response was received after nine-days from the original submission requesting further assistance. No phone calls, no personal response, simply a rushed and hurried email message quoted directly:

“Thank you for taking the time to outline your concerns.  We are in receipt of your email.

We are reviewing this matter and conducting research into your file to address any new concerns that have not previously been addressed by our office.

We understand the urgency of this matter and will follow up with you expeditiously [sic].”

Notice the inflection upon “new” concerns. This suggests that previous concerns are not valid and only “new” concerns are important enough to generate a response. Instead of taking all the communications, all the concerns, and wrapping them together into an actionable item, only “new” concerns receive organizational attention. This is an intentional organizational action that automatically discounts previous concerns raised, dismisses the organization-wide problems detailed in previous communications, and narrows the focus of the intended future organizational response into a negligible sized portion. Think “water off a duck’s back” when considering the company response plans to discount the customer’s concerns. By breaking down the report of problems, the problems are easier to dispel and slides off into areas of non-importance, like water sliding off a duck’s back.

Failure to communicate remains a culture in this organization from internal customer relationships to external customer relationships. Communicating properly hinders operations and abilities, stifles creativity, thwarts organizational change, and destroys morale for both the customer and the front-line workers. Employees on the front-line do not seem to have much problems communicating with their equals, but from front line worker to front-line supervisor, communication trouble ensues. Front-line supervisor to director, more communication troubles become apparent, and fissures between these parties are obvious enough that external customers are aware of the problems. When communications go up the hierarchy, communication breaks down dramatically. Downward communications always delivered via email, conference call, and marketing schemes, with employee adherence, compliance, and understanding measured in statistics. The voice of internal customers is lost, intentionally glazed over, and drowned into silence controlled by layers of managers seeking to hold onto power.

VITarSS communications are primarily valuable to the audience, imaginatively communicate ideas, and target a specified audience, providing specifics and significance to the intended audience. Below is what the same passage quoted above, would look like with VITarSS:

Thank you for taking the time to outline your concerns. These concerns are important to us as a company and me personally, and we appreciate every opportunity to correct deficiencies.

We are reviewing this matter and conducting research into your customer file. Our customer response will address your specific concerns, and I will report to you promptly with the research results, along with a suggested plan of action to move forward.

I understand the urgency of this matter and it is my pleasure to follow up with you in a timely manner.

The difference is clear. By maintaining a customer first focus, the customer can then expect a proper response from the organization. Employing VITarSS promotes customer first communications, aids in communicating action, and delivers the power of communication in a two-directional manner. Significance of the customer’s concerns becomes important to the organization, and the entire response declares intent to act. Where in the first communication did any of this occur? The reason for failure continues to be simple; failure to communicate is creating organizational cancer leading to organizational suicide.

While VITarSS does help improve communication and can change the communication culture, VITarSS does not and cannot be the Band-Aid fixing deep organizational communication cancers. VITarSS simply begins to help change the culture, aids in improving the thoughts of individuals where communicating is concerned, and provides a standardized measuring device to bring all employees to the same standard in organizational communication. Dandira (2012) makes clear, poor communication is the root cause of organizational cancer. By failing to communicate, refusing to honor the agreement between external customer and the organization, open honest dialogue, and respect the customer, the organizational cancer has spread and metastasized into a massive and urgent problem that only the surgery and chemotherapy of solid leadership can fix. The failure to communicate with the external customer displays the organizational cancer and portrays information that the organization would rather not have seen by the external customers, vendors, investors, etc. Unlike most cancer situations, this cancer was self-inflicted.

Ten days from the original communication, the response received was nothing short of ambiguous, placed the organization into a favorable position, and denied all concerns raised by the customer. In total, 19-days were spent on an issue of organizational incompetence where the organization, through the customer service arm, failed to act, failed to communicate, and failed to even address the customer concerns.

By focusing upon several small items in the three-page original letter, the organization is justifying their actions while discounting the source, e.g. the customer making the claims of organizational impropriety. Please note there is no accusation of illegal or illicit actions. The actions taken by the company are technically within the law, but are not customer focused, do not satisfy customer service relationships, and allows the problems to be discounted instead of addressed and fixed. Again, organizational cancer grew instead of being faced squarely and a fix launched.

When organizational communication problems mix with managerial micro-networks, organizational change opportunities diminish significantly. Through micro-networking, managers gain power inside the organization and become the problem detailed as organizational cancer. Trouble in organizational communication identifies where organizational problems lie and provides leadership the opportunity to work on organizational change. A failure of leadership adds power to the micro networks established by these managers, who see change as a threat to their personal power base. Thus, true organizational change that entails correcting adverse culture and environmental problems stagnate. The leaders become frustrated and leave the organization. All these symptoms represent pieces of the root cause failure in organizational communications.

Grammar remains important in every communication between a customer and an organization. Proper formatting, knowledge between when to send a business letter or a business memo, and the differences in communication formats aid to combine to communicate more effectively. The original communication as a rushed and hurried email message and is not grammatically correct intensifies the organizational communication problem and the external customer frustration. Worse, the poor grammar sets the professional tone of the organization as one that will not address the customer’s concerns.

Grammar is a force multiplier in written communication, just as tone of voice is a communication multiplier in verbal communication, and clothing is a communication force multiplier in non-verbal visual communication. Proper grammar provides the opportunity to focus upon the written words without automatically discounting the sender.

Recently an email received from an associate was missing all punctuation, spelling was non-existent, and the email was mostly gibberish written from a smart phone. Natural human instinct is to delete the email or send a crushing reply. Hence, the continued importance in written communication of the sender’s grammar, time investment in editing, and the proper use of language, format, and style to communicate well. All of which VITarSS has the power to improve in all types and forms of communication.

Reference

Dandira, M. (2012). Dysfunctional leadership: Organizational cancer. Business Strategy Series, 13(4), 187-192. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/17515631211246267

© 2016 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved

 

Shifting the Organizational Communication Paradigm: VITarSS

VITarSS is an acronym I created to help focus the efforts of business communication during change processes, initial organizational design, and facilitating communication in the truest sense of the word. Too often, small and mid-sized businesses are functioning in communication like a large corporation. Confused communication plans, entrenched managers, inflexible processes and procedures, but worst of all, sending communication and employing statistics to measure adherence. It is time and past time to stop using statistics to replace actual voices for customers, especially internal customers, in business processes. This post is the introduction to VITarSS; coming shortly will be examples of how poor communication creates problems and how employing VITarSS would have helped the situation.

When considering organizational communication, several elements need to come together to create communication with power. These elements include: value, imagination, targeted audience, specific purpose, and significance for the audience and business as a whole, (VITarSS). Value: This refers to the receiver answering the concern, “Will the communication be valuable to me personally?” If not, value in the communication is lost and the sender fails to communicate. Knowing the audience remains key to building value; asking the audience what they want, the channel or mode they prefer, and what leaders can do to improve communication, helps to customize the communication experience. A desire to build value through knowing the audience and communicating in the same language style is critical to building value. Yet, communicating in the audience’s language often is perceived as condescending or paternalistic if verbs and tenses are not similar. Translating into the audience’s language occurs when leaders are engaged in listening and asking clarifying questions. Value builds when standards in sending and receiving same channel, two-directional messages improve.

Imagination: Communication should never settle for something that has previously worked well or worked well for another organization or department. This is the “lazy man’s” method to organizational communication. Imagination does not refer to marketing gimmicks and sales techniques or silly games to garner interest. Imagination refers to relying upon human-to-human knowledge transfer processes. Girdauskienė and Savanevičienė (2007) offer useful advice on the processes of knowledge transference by insisting upon the principles VITarSS is based upon. For example, when a problem is realized, listen to potential solutions, imagine them at work, maybe beta-test a couple, but keep imagining the future and communicate the future to solve the problem.

Targeted: Targeted communication, especially when moving mass amounts of data, requires a personal touch. Specificity and knowledge combine to send and receive knowledge on a topic. In many ways, targeted communication remains similar to the United States Postal Service (USPS), massive amounts of data transferred to targeted destinations in small little packets to and from senders and receivers to meet communication standards; regardless of whether the message is a poster, an email, a face-to-face, etc., target the communication specifically to that audience. Even when a person receives 100 packets of information, the communication is targeted, specific, and honed to a single issue. Anonymous (1994 and 2006) both make similar appeals where communicating is concerned, and they represent a small minority of people begging business organizations to onboard the VITarSS principles of communication.

Specific: While similar in many ways to targeted communication, specificity is individually important to communication. Each audience member will receive the same message, but each audience member will perceive the message differently according to individualized value matrices, ability to employ the message, and questions about applicability. When specificity is lost, the message is lost, and Dandira’s (2012) counsel on organizational cancer is not far behind. Poor organizational communication remains a force multiplier: a problem develops, poor communication lacking VITarSS releases to employees, and instead of solving the problem, there are now 10-problems. Like biological cancer, these 10-problems metastasize into a much larger problem. “Work arounds” and “Band-Aid solutions” as “temporary measures” become a permanent way of avoiding the problem, and the cancer grows. Soon, another problem develops in a different area. The resources being sucked into the first problem makes handling the second problem more severe; VITarSS works as a tool in solving communication concerns. Without VITarSS, poor communication multiplies problems exponentially, and VITarSS must be applied with strong leadership, not additional “Band-Aid work arounds.”

Significant: Valuable communication focuses on application to the individual, but significant communication focuses upon long-term relationships between the message, the sender, and the receiver, along with the ability to move communication in a back and forth manner between the sender and receiver. In many ways, Brown (2011) along with Cable, Gino, and Staats (2013) intimate VITarSS is embedded in organizational design, focuses the efforts of many organizational leaders as senders and lower hierarchy employees as the audience onto the problems of communicating, and into actions as a single cohesive unit.

Alvesson and Willmott (2002) add additional caution and insight into the process of melding individuals into an organizational culture, which makes organizational communication a control mechanism. Alvesson and Willmott (2002) provide a unique counterpoint to the focal point of communication, the give and receive nature inherent in communication, e.g., two-directional on a single channel, when considering organizational identity each individual gives and receives from the organization. Thus, the question becomes why the reliance upon one-way communication strategies employing statistics to substitute actual voices of internal customers? Mintzberg (1980) discusses many of the key aspects required in designing organizations. The fundamental principles discussed regarding organizational design provide the needed backdrop to visualize how communication changes and becomes embedded upon every relationship in the organization.

The field of communication is not so much lacking as it is re-using principles and paradigms that do not work. The knowledge is there, and many examples exist displaying the principles of VITarSS in action, but the general usage of these principles is lacking due to various reasoning. The reasoning runs the gamut from internal risk control measures and organizational design, to cost effectiveness and lack of training, and into individual bias towards not interacting with other people or desiring to not interact with people as reports and meetings take precedence and are easier to shoe-horn into one’s professional day.

Without strong organizational communication plans, strong leadership, and less management, the hierarchy of the organization becomes less knowledgeable, which creates internal friction, reduces internal communication opportunities, and fulfills Dandira’s (2012) organizational cancer prophecy. VITarSS holds the elemental knowledge to construct the communication policy, design the organization, and create the needed hybrid solutions required for the current organization while planting the seeds for the future organization to grow. Researchers and business consultants continue to write on the direct line of congruence between managers controlling communication and lack of knowledge in the manager’s subordinates. This link is how genetic knowledge in an organization becomes lost, placing the business into perilous waters as employees retire and churn. Losing employees and deteriorating communication speeds employee churn and exasperates the communication problem. If your organization wants to save money on employee churn, improve communication, open doors and dialogue, listen, and follow VITarSS.

References

Alvesson M, & Willmott H. (2002, July) Identity regulation as organizational control: Producing the appropriate individual. Journal of Management Studies 39(5): 619-644. Available from: Business Source Complete, Ipswich, MA. Accessed July 27, 2014.

Anonymous. (1994). What is communication? The International Journal of Bank Marketing, 12(1), 19. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/231351871?accountid=458

Anonymous. (2006). Strategic communication. The Business Communicator, 6(7), 2. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/221153662?accountid=45

Brown, D. R. (2011) An experiential approach to organization development (8th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Cable, D. M., Gino, F., & Staats, B. R. (2013). Breaking them in or eliciting their best? Reframing socialization around newcomers’ authentic self-expression. Administrative Science Quarterly, 58(1), 1-36. doi: 10.1177/0001839213477098

Dandira, M. (2012). Dysfunctional leadership: Organizational cancer. Business Strategy Series, 13(4), 187-192. doi: 10.1108/17515631211246267

Girdauskienė, L., & Savanevičienė, A. (2007). Influence of knowledge culture on effective knowledge transfer. Engineering Economics, 4(54), 36-43.

Mintzberg, H. (1980). Structure in 5’s: A synthesis of the research on organization design. Management Science (Pre-1986), 26(3), 322. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/205849936?accountid=458

© 2015 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved