Leading the Call Center: Flavor of the Month Philosophies

Chinese CrisisHaving just completed a project that saw me leading a team in a call center, I want to make something clear; quick fixes and flavor of the month philosophies do not work.  I cannot stress this enough; yet, the practice continues to the detriment of call center employees and the organizations served by call centers.  Flavor of the month philosophies is the latest bestseller to fix the problems in business.  We have all seen these programs including, FISH, WAIT, Strengths Quest, and so much more.  These ideas are good ideas, and they possess value, but when changed monthly, these programs, never do more than briefly mark the surface intellect of the call center.  I am not disparaging these ideas in the least; let me elaborate as to why the flavor of the month idea fails.

The project previously mentioned when concluded saw the call center director very much converted to a program of definite value in and using one’s strengths entitled Strengths Quest as presented by Clifton, Anderson, and Schreiner (2006).  The culture of strength promotes unity, and by extension, organizational power, when combined intellectually, becomes the corporate culture.  Integration in business, especially in call center operations, remains crucial to bottom-line health.  The call center director invested a lot of organizational resources to capture everyone’s strengths, publish these advantages, and use this information to measure the call center.  The problem was the staff has no idea why they are investing company time in completing the “Clifton Strength’s FinderÒ (CSF),” and many completed this assignment while taking calls and distracted.  How verifiable is the data if the attention of the person completing the task is diverted?

My assignment, as a call center supervisor, included gauging the employees in the call center about their strengths.  Of the 10-employees in the call center, two had forgotten and blatantly said they do not care.  Three expressed a desire to retake the CSF to more fully focus on the task instead of completing it between calls.  Four employees asked why and what is the purpose of taking the CSF.  Finally, all the employees, when asked how they use the CSF data in their daily actions, expressed the same answer, I do not know.

Let’s be clear; there is nothing wrong with the latest flavor of the month programs to improve an organization, provided the leaders understand change, embrace change, train and teach “the what” and “the why,” and then remain committed long after the excitement over the bright new object fades.  I had the misfortune of working in a call center where the entire corporate culture was expected to change with every fresh flavor of leadership, and the organization is a mental mess.  What is a leader to do when each new flavor-of-the-month is presented as a potential fix for organizational dilemmas?  I suggest the following as a launching point for corporate discovery and leadership support.

  • If the organization is going to invest resources in a particular program, do not change for a set period, which includes pre- and post- measurement and evaluation. If the organization does not know where they start, they can never know what happened or where to go in the future.blue-money-burning
  • Organizational change must be more than surface polish or potential money (Blue Money) is lost, never to be recovered. Organizational change needs to fundamentally affect the organization and be allowed to produce measured results.  Does this mean that if something is not working, we keep at it?  No!  It means to provide sufficient time and measurement to gauge the application and the organizational change.  Many times beta-testing the proposed change can identify the processes, procedures, and other trouble points to be mindful of, or correct in beta-testing, to ensure full organizational change may occur with a higher chance for success.
  • Get everyone involved, enthused, and a willing advocate for the change. Getting everyone involved is not producing marketing materials and desk references.  Getting everyone involved requires explaining why and detailing what in the organizational change.  Getting everyone involved means there will be feedback, pushback, and rebellion.  Expect pushback, but never allow pushback to derail reform.  Pushback is a healthy activity that provides essential opportunities for the leader to explore solutions, answer questions, and evaluate the results.
  • Teach and train; train and teach. Learning should be a constant and desirable outcome of organizational change.  Teaching is not training, training is not teaching; but, both are critical skills needed for leaders and learners.  Teaching is helping someone else acquire knowledge.  Training is teaching a behavior or ability.  Teaching is usually one-way communication using measurement tools, e.g., tests to gauge knowledge learned and retained.  Training should be two-directional communication, is completed through experience in closely monitored environments, and includes 360-degree feedback to improve the training environment.  Never allow teaching and training to become the same confused term; while the words are closely related, they are not the same action.
  • When was the last time you discussed what you are reading with front-line employees? When was the last time you engaged a front-line worker about what they are reading, thinking, and ask for suggestions to improve?  When was the last time you asked to be trained on a process, procedure, or organizational action by those who do it all day?  If recently, did you ask why, a lot?  I promise you will be surprised when you have these conversations, especially since they open up opportunities to explain and expound, learn, change, adapt, and engage with those you lead.
  • Organizational change requires enthusiasm from all parties to begin to engage and deepen the shift from surface polish to fundamental culture adaptation. Enthusiasm takes many shapes, sizes, and colors, including the loyal opposition of followers, opinions, and feedback.  The leader must exemplify and honor, or support, the enthusiasm around them as a tool for succeeding in changing the organization.
  • Clarify intentions. Clarify processes.  Clarify procedures.  Clarify by asking follow-up questions and reflectively listen to obtain mutual understanding.  Clarification remains one of the most critical tasks in organizational change.  When confusion rears its ugly head, respond with explanation and follow-up, as detailed in two-directional communication.  When the comprehension is doubted, ask for feedback as an opportunity to increase clarification.  Clarification is both a tool and an opportunity; do not waste this opportunity and tool by neglecting those needing clarification.
  • Organizational change needs a mechanism for gathering data from many sources, including the employees affected, the vendors, the suppliers, and the customers. Open the valve for data to flow back.  One of the most horrific organizational changes it has been my displeasure to witness was increased because the leaders operated in a vacuum and never allowed data flow that was contradictory to the previously agreed upon results.  The leaders in this organization worked hard to refuse hard data, which contradicted their bias, and this ruined the business, the employees, and the customers.

I cannot guarantee following all these points will make organizational change succeed, roses bloom, bottom lines inflate, rainbows dance, and all of life fall into organized lines leading ever upward.  I can guarantee that without these points, organizational change that promotes an environment of learning will never be more than polish.  Consider the axiom, “Lipstick on a pig.”  The lipstick is not bad, the pig is not bad, but placing lipstick on a pig is out of place and does nothing to improve the pig.  Flavor-of-the-month changes are lipstick on a pig, not bad, but out of place until the entire organization is on board and enthusiastically supporting the move, and proper measurements are in place to gauge, measure, and report the change.

Business theorist Chris Argyris put forth a model, later discussed by Senge (1994) explaining our thinking process as we interact with the world.  This seven-step method is called the Ladder of Inference; according to this model, as we move up the ladder our beliefs affect what we infer about what we observe and therefore become part of how we experience our interaction with other people.  Organizational change can be plotted along the same model or ladder of inference.

Leadership LadderOrganizational change begins with information output; then collect data, preferably through listening and observation while doing the work; interpreting the data includes obtaining data, evaluating meaning, deciphering intent, and understanding value.  Please note, the assumptions should not be made in a vacuum and could be wrong; thus, always return to the data producers and ask questions to ensure mutual understanding.  Once conclusions are mutually understood, they become beliefs; but, don’t stop until beliefs become actions.

If a model is needed, please benchmark Quicken Loans and Southwest Airlines, both organizations are doing a tremendous job with the ladder steps, especially moving organizational beliefs into motivated organizational action.  Remember, one does not climb a ladder to view the horizon and scenery, they climb a ladder to begin working, carrying the tools needed to perform the work, and possessing certain knowledge that the work can be accomplished.  Climb the ladder of success with the intent to work, achieve, and move forward.

References

Clifton, D. O., Anderson “Chip,” E., & Schreiner, L. A. (2016). Strengths quest: Discover and develop your strengths in academics, career, and beyond (2nd ed.).

Senge. P. M. (1994). The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. New York: Currency Doubleday.

© 2017 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved

The images used herein were obtained in the public domain, this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

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

Man’s Inhumanity Towards Man: Shifting the Leadership and Customer Service Paradigm

quote-mans-inhumanity

Recently, I was asked, “What does customer service mean to you?” The question continues to reverberate in my mind. Drawing upon several recent experiences, let’s discuss why customer service continues to be useless, debilitating, and demeaning. Finally, let’s imagine a way forward, a new paradigm for understanding the relationship between people as human beings, customers, and employees, who all deserve the best customer experience we, the professional customer-facers, can provide.

For the record, my wife considers the first example a genuine customer service success and remains a pleased customer. Since the first example concerns both of us, I see the customer service provided as a fail and will explain in greater detail below. According to my wife, this example is a win because of the treatment and ease of concluding her part in the customer service example. This separation of beliefs highlights another reason why voice-of-the-customer surveys (VoC) should not be a knowledge performance indicator (KPI) for service professionals. Service delivery is ambiguous, and as the disconnection between my wife and I represents, service value is in the eye of the beholder.

The first example begins with Amazon.com. The end user received their order for a product (the customer was served), which also contained two items not requested, not ordered, and not paid for (an additional hassle for the customer). The customer service department, at Amazon.com, was consulted and the agent informed the customer, “Since the cost to return the products did not justify shipping the products back to Amazon, the customer could keep the products” with Amazon’s blessing. This is not a good customer service experience for several reasons:

  1. The customer now has to dispose of new products not needed or wanted.
  2. The only justification for not returning the products was the cost, e.g. inconvenience, to Amazon.
  3. The underlying problem, receiving parts not requested, did not come with a solution that served the customer; nor, did the option to keep the parts improve the customer experience.

While the customer-facing agent was kind, considerate, and per the company guidelines acting in all good faith to the customer, in the interests of the company the customer was not served even though a solution was generated and the customer went away. Consider the person who was supposed to receive these parts. They will have to call and either receive a bill credit or the parts need to be shipped, thus delaying the other customer as well as not serving that customer by respecting their time, resources, and honoring the customer’s commitment to using the retailer Amazon.com. With both customers not being served, how can Amazon.com, or any business organization, dare refer to these customer interactions as “service.”

Regarding the next two examples, I am purposefully vague about the entities committing the customer “dis-service” at this moment, for a reason. I do not want distractions, e.g. reader bias, to interrupt or interfere with the focus upon the incidents by naming the organizations. The second example comes from an infamously poor government office that has a reputation for providing poor service to their customer base. The third example comes from a truly infamous retailer who is already struggling but generally has much better customer interactions. The second and third examples’ names will be provided later in this article.

While dealing with a large government entity, both in person and over the phone, three separate and divergent answers to the same problem were received over the period of five different opportunities to assist the customer. By stating this experience happened with a government entity, many people already are presuming the experience was bad. It was, and this is an acceptable and reasonable policy for bureaucrats to exemplify. I disagree most heartily that any government office can produce poor customer interactions and skate by blithely. Since all governments cannot operate without forced taxation, the government entity should be providing better, not worse, customer interactions than those found in the private sector and the need to hold the government to a higher standard is sorely lacking. More to the point, the original problem remains unresolved more than 15-days after the problem was promised a solution within 5-business days. What amazes me the most in this affair is the nonchalance, non-interest, and forthright noncommittal that government employees are allowed, nay encouraged, to get away with in customer interactions with those same taxpayers, who both need help and pay the taxes to keep the government employee employed.

Third, a recent example occurred during this now past holiday season; a customer approached a company representative for directions; the company representative did not have any pressing duties to occupy his/her time and can leave his/her assigned post to aid customers in improving the customer experience. I know this, as I checked with the manager and witnessed the customer service provider playing on a cell phone moments before being asked a question. The company representative gave a broad hand, and arm gestures yelled at the customer and appeared in all appearances to be inconvenienced by the customer’s request for directions. The company’s policy states the company representative is to walk the customer directly to their desired destination and await the customer’s pleasure to return to their original post as the only method to handle this type of service request. When this was brought to the manager’s attention, the manager acted shocked in front of the customer raising the complaint, and then took no action, as the additional action was deemed “not warranted” per the manager’s murmured comments to other employee’s in the vicinity. More to the point, the manager took the opportunity to bad mouth the customer raising the complaint and presented the complaint to other employees, who “snickered” at the language the manager used to describe those making complaints, while falsely thinking the customer who is raising the concerns was not paying attention.

Finally, a recent example from a major fast food franchise, while Burger King as a corporation should not be held accountable for the work the franchise performed, the customer service example remains priceless in showcasing the uselessness of serving the customer and the need for training customer interaction professionals. While using coupons, the customer became confused in the “legal print, ” and the order took longer to place and pay for than normal. The cashier at this point does three things: 1. Assumes the confused customer cannot hear; 2. Bad mouth the confused customer to the next three customers who were waiting patiently; and 3. Blames the customer for taking too long to order their food. Later, the cashier approached the confused customer, blamed the incident on him, offered a faux apology, and walked off muttering about stupid customers not understanding the reality of fast food restaurants.

In the third example, do not be distracted by the poor leadership being presented by the manager. Focus instead on the customer interactions: two different customer experiences, both deemed “acceptable customer service” by the powers that control the experiences. Neither customer was served nor was the problems solved. The first customer found a more helpful company representative who followed the company policy, and the second customer interaction with the manager only strengthened the customer’s resolve to continue to avoid the retailer. Two opportunities to grow a new relationship, enhance a new paradigm upon the customer, and promote goodwill and loyalty with the local customer base were missed. Customer interactions can and should be held to a higher standard, and the following defines my position that focusing solely on customer service is useless along with steps to improve.

Focusing solely on “serving the customer” is useless as all the customer receives is a meeting of their stated needs. In the third example, the customer received directions; thus, the customer’s need was met, and service was provided. In the first and second examples, the customer needed information and a plan of action to overcome the situation experienced. Even if the work resulted in the customer needing to take more action, the customer was “technically” served. In the fourth example, the confused customer received his food, was able to use a coupon, and was thus “served.” Is it apparent that merely serving the customer is useless?

The service to the customer, while technically meeting the customer’s needs, remains not just poor but pointless; all because the focus of the organization is honed to simply provide “service” or meet the customer’s stated need at the lowest cost, the fastest interaction, and the least amount of effort for the company and those employed to provide customer service. Sometimes all that is wanted by the customer is to resolve the problem quickly and efficiently and courteously and move forward with their lives. This is yet another reason why freedom is needed in customer interactions to serve as needed for each customer making contact. Customer facing professionals deserve better from their leadership than simply “providing service to customers.” Customer facing professionals need leadership, guidance, and freedom to develop the rapport necessary to shine their personal, professional pride into the customer interaction, all with the intent of not merely “serving a customer’s needs,” but providing opportunities for the customer to be motivated to brag about their unique customer experience.

In practice, the following steps should be the underlying governing principles to move from service to professional pride.

  1. No matter the method for customer interaction, make the time to show genuine interest in the customer. This will require making conversation, employing reflective listening techniques to ensure mutual understanding of the customer’s position, and representing the company with professional pride. For the customer-facing employees to show pride in the company the company leaders need to ensure the “What” and the “Why” is known to the employees’ so the employee can exemplify the “What” and the “Why” to customers. Leadership is key to communicating with a purpose and promoting the spirit of reflective listening in an organization. Make the connection of mutual understanding and most of the customer problems shrink in size.
    1. Active listening is good, but it doesn’t make the grade anymore.
    2. Reflective listening is all about making sure mutual understanding has been achieved.
    3. Mutual understanding provides one interaction resolution, goes beyond simple servicing needs, and displays the pride and professionalism of the company’s commitment to customer interactions.
    4. Reflective listening can be employed in voice, email, instant message, and face-to-face customer interactions and reflects an easily attained step up from only actively listening.
  2. Promote the customer experience by not differentiating between external and internal customers, treat them all as valuable customers deserving attention, focus, eye contact, and validation that their concern is justified and worthy of attention. Act in a manner that the customer deserves the best, and the spirit of customer interactions will infuse all the customers with a commonality of desire, hope, and professionalism. As a customer interaction professional, how much better do you offer superior interactions with customers when you, receive excellent customer interactions from the company you spend time representing?
  3. Remember to make the human connection in human interactions. Using reflective listening, focus on the clues, the body language, the tone of voice, and acknowledge these communication streams through competent action. For example, if the customer is perceived as stressed and is speaking in a clipped and hurried manner, respond kindly, but through accurate and speedy action acknowledging the customer’s stress and meeting the customer’s need by respecting their time. Human interactions are improved through human connections that reflect respect and that embody this principle in every human interaction, and the customer-facing employee becomes a customer’s hero. Using the information above, are we not all customer-facing employees; yes, we certainly are!
  4. Freedom to think and act in the interest of the customer, based upon sound critical thinking skills, is exemplified at the time of the interaction without second-guessing after the interaction. This happens more often in call centers, but every customer-facing employee has had this occur to them. At the moment, the decision appeared the best course of action, but after the interaction/interference of a manager or a quality assurance (QA) employee has second-guessed and provided “advice” that does not provide value to future customer interactions, doubt is planted removing confidence in acting appropriately in the future. Does this mean allowing poor judgment to survive? Absolutely not; it does mean that the “advice” needs to model and reflect value for future decisions, not cast aspersions upon the previous decisions.
  5. SMART Training. Everyone knows the axiom for SMART Goals; training should also embody the principles of and reflect SMART, “Specific, Measurable, Applicable, Realistic, and Timely.” If the training does not meet SMART levels, the training is not valuable to the persons receiving the training. Make the training SMART, and the potential for improving professionalism in customer interactions grows exponentially.
  6. Never stop learning, never stop reaching, and never stop growing. How often does training cease for employees after the new hire training concludes? How is a new employee supposed to meet the demands of a constantly changing customer population without ongoing training? More specifically, should managers, team leaders, directors, VP’s, and the C-Level leaders also continue to learn and receive training in their positions, roles, and company? If the front-line customer-facing employees need constant refresher training, then every customer-facing employee needs constant refresher training that meets the SMART training guidelines and provides value to the individual using that training.
  7. Stop wasting resources on unproductive goals, e.g., serving customers with excellence. Serving customers, even with “excellence,” remains a useless and wasteful activity; eradicate the term “customer service” from the company vernacular and memory. Begin by realizing the opportunity provided in customer interactions to grow the business, supporting customer interactions through reflective listening where mutual understanding is the goal, and by acting upon the mutual understanding achieved.

We, the professional customer-facing providers, can and should be able to onboard these principles and lead the eradication efforts to remove customer service from our focus and professional labels. The importance of not serving the customer, but elevating the customer interaction, cannot be understated. The customer experience needs to be elevated with reflective listening and prompt action to mutual understanding and a sense of mutual growth as partners in using the company’s products and services. The customer is too important to continue to waste resources only to serve. Make the opportunity to deliver and elevate, and the bottom-line will take care of itself abundantly. The organization in the second example is the Department of Veteran Affairs. The organization in the third example is Target.

quote-mans-inhumanity-2

© 2017 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved – Image Copyrights used under Fair Use and are not included in the authors copyrighted materials.  AZ Quotes retains image copyrights.

The 3-E’s of the Employee/Employer Relationship: Is your Organization Practicing all Three?

The 3-E’s, early, eminently, and equality, thus forming the fundamental principles of the employee/employer relationship.  Too many times only early is practiced, and the problems emanating result in reduced employee morale, purposeful negative actions, and disruption of the business by both customers and employees acting in a resentful manner.  In order to fully understand the power of combining the 3-E’s, we must first detail, define, and describe.

Early is often considered as akin to new, fresh, and initial; yet, the better application for this topic is in timeliness, punctuality, and promptness.  For example, when a problem occurs, the earlier it is addressed the faster and less damaging the problem becomes to the business as a whole.  Not taking precipitous action leaves the problem festering and infecting eventually leading to organizational cancer (Dandira, 2012), low employee morale, and managerial inertia slowing business processes and increasing the damage.  Hence, prompt, punctual, and timely action to address a situation early enough to affect positively the outcome remains the order of the day and the strongest power business leaders can take with the 3-E’s, but early action is not enough.

Eminent is often considered as akin to celebrity, paramount, and superior; yet a more preferred definition for this topic is often conspicuous and influential.  When an eminent action is taken, the action tends to supersede current policies, procedures, and overlaps or drowns normal work.  Overlaps and superseding are dangerous actions leading to increased costs, lost work, customer complaints, and a general lack of trust in business leadership to properly prior plan and produce positive performances from the business structure.  These thoughts are fed with celebrity-like marketing on new policies, business leaders, and changes, which are not fully understood and appreciated by the employees most affected.  Hence, the need to be frequently engaged, seen being influential in the lives of employees, and known as a person who cares remains the key leadership quality developed by eminent action; yet eminent actions, even if conducted early, are insufficient to properly influence and meet the demands of business.

Equality is often considered as sameness, fairness, and uniformity; yet, all of these definitions fail to capture what equality truly is and the power of equality.  For this topic, consider the following:  equipoise, parity, and concurrence.  Employees are individuals. They might have similar job titles and responsibilities, but the individual approach to the position provides power and separates the individuals and does not collect, compress, and concentrate into carbon copies.  Hence, the same approach of uniform application is not meeting the needs of the employees nor is it meeting the definition of fair.  Thus, the employee needs equality that treats them as individuals concurring in practice, but are individual in approach, and brings parity into treatment as an expression of equipoise.  While early is good and early mixed with eminence is better, but without early, eminent, and equal combined into an action, the employee and the employer suffer in an environment of disaster fed by chaos, corruption, and cancer as detailed by Dandira (2012).

Consistency remains key to employee/manager relationships.  While the principles of 3-E’s are important, all the work of the 3-E’s can be wasted if consistency is not honored and observed by the employees.  Consistency requires flexibility, firmness, and fungibility to meet the demands of creating success in using the 3-E’s appropriately.  The main factor in employee/employer relationships continues to be the individual nature of each employee, not the requirement to make all employees the same carbon copy of another employee or an “ideal” of the desired employee.

Putting these principles into practice requires asking questions, such as “Are employee communications being expressed early, eminently, and equally?”  “Are actions taken by business leaders being perceived as meeting the 3-E’s?”  “Do the trend lines in application indicate consistency or inconsistency?”  While employee perceptions can and often remain hidden, except through properly capturing actionable data in key performance indicators, the answers to these questions and more are evident.  Look at the employees, who show up to work excited, enthused, and enthralled.  Ask them why they possess these qualities.  Then, ask those employees not possessing them and hone in on the differences.  Will employees change from day-to-day; probably, but the answers continue to be important indicators as to whether communication in the organization is occurring.

Sinek (2009) offers that asking why and truly listening to the answers being returned remains the most effective question and action series employers can take from day-to-day as the pulse of the organization.  Gitomer (1998) adds that leaders after asking “why” should ask “what” to empower change and drive motivation.  Consider for a moment, an employee is asked “why” they feel the way they feel, then “what” would that employee like to see changed to aid in feeling differently, and project the employee’s reaction to having been heard.  Project that employee’s reaction if they see the changes they offered implemented into business practice.

Are all employee suggestions implemented; no, this is not feasible and the employees know this when making suggestions.  Yet, when employee suggestions are implemented, this changes the employee dynamic for all employees.  Ask yourself, when was the last time an employee suggestion was implemented and marketed to the other employees?  If the time is longer than 6-months, the program is not consistently being implemented and there is a problem with using the 3-E’s.

Steenhuysen (2009) reported on research discussing the power of praise.  Where praise is offered genuinely, praise has the power to change, and the research supports that the power of genuine praise operates on the same reward sections of the brain as cash. Anecdotal evidence shows many employees appreciate genuine praise, sometimes more than cash.  As a business leader or employer, ask yourself, “When was the last time I caught someone doing good and offered praise?”  If the answer was not yesterday, there is a problem with the 3-E’s, and consistency will be needed to rectify this problem.  Are you setting the goal to not leave the office without offering genuine praise?  Remember, Steenhuysen (2009) is reporting that praise is its own reward.  The research and anecdotal evidence present praise as being as good as cash to the brain.  Hence, praise is its own reward; can objects be added to potentially increase the reward, yes.  But start with praise, honestly provided and employing the 3-E’s.

Case in point, I have worked with a VP of Customer Service Operations who carries with them yellow and purple post-it notes.  The purple are for catching people in the act of good.  From simple actions to amazing calls, they all get recognition on purple post-it notes as a very noticeable action the business leader can take to catch and praise the good.  The yellow post-it notes go to the team leader when training is needed.  Consistent action over the years has developed a spirit of competition to earn and be caught doing an act of good.  The yellow notes are not remembered at bonus time; more serious infractions have a set process to follow, and the less serious yellow post-it notes are simply a means of providing timely feedback employing the spirit of the 3-E’s.  Upon starting this program, almost a full year passed before the employees caught on and the word of this action spread.  Let consistent action be seen, not marketed, and let the word spread by enthused employees.

The best part of the program from an employee perspective is the highest earners of purple post-it notes eventually began earning additional non-cash rewards also presented in a quiet manner.  The rewards ranged from leaving an hour early with pay, longer lunches or breaks with pay, to movie tickets and dinner cards.  These extra steps were implemented when trends reflected some employees were taking extra efforts to be caught thus necessitating a need for other levels of reward to keep the interest of the employees in acting and performing to a higher level.  Never are these employees recognized openly, e.g., at a company meeting, marketed to other employees, e.g., in a company newsletter, and receiving the purple notes is not a competition.

These purple post-it notes are an expression of gratitude from a person in leadership to an employee working hard.  Quiet, consistent, application of the 3-E’s provided a failing business unit new life in employee interactions with each other and the external customers.  The actions taken here should not be rare or the exception in employee/employer relationships, but the standard and personalized to each business and business leader.  What can we learn here to apply to all business units and organizations?

  1. Whatever is done consistent action remains critical.
  2. Simple, quiet, and direct remain key to affecting positive results on a personal level. Be brave!  Be honest!  Be courageous!  Be seen acting as you would see all employees act.  These will provide an impetus for others to emulate actions taken and good will develop.
  3. Know the 3-E’s, whether you are currently an employee or a business leader of hundreds or thousands. The 3-E’s are a two-directional action possessing power for positive results.  Use this power to drive a solution that can be consistently applied.
  4. If what is being tried is not working, do not act abruptly. Quietly adjust until positive actions can be seen and verified through trend lines.  What is being done currently might simply need more time or more quiet publicity to be discussed by the employees.  Make small adjustments and act for the interest of individuals; the whole population will catch on.
  5. A word of caution. Never use this program for self-aggrandizement; this will kill the program faster than a bullet to the 10-ring.  Do not enter into this program and offer non-genuine praise or false and ambiguous words and canned phrases.  Be specific and capture the incidents exactly, ask questions if needed, but be genuine and specific.

 

References

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

Gitomer, J. (1998). Customer satisfaction is worthless – Customer loyalty is priceless. Atlanta, GA: Bard Press.

Sinek, S. (2009). Start with why: How great leaders inspire everyone to take action. New York, NY: Penguin Group.

Steenhuysen, J.  Praise as good as cash to brain: study. (2009, February 26). Reuters. Science. Accessed from: http://www.reuters.com/article/scienceNews/idUSN2343219520080424?feedType=RSS&feedName=scienceNews

© 2016 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved

 

 

 

Customer Call Center Leader – Part 6: The Role of Technology in Creating a Culture of Adaptability

The role of technology is to act the neutral part in the human work relationship. Technology is a tool, like a hammer, designed for a specific role embodying potential for good or ill, delivering a specific role, and serving a specific function. Technology is not positive or negative and possesses no value matrix beyond addressing the concern, “does technology fill the role it was designed for or not” (Budworth and Cox, 2005; Ertmer, 1999; and Ropohl, 1999). Technological philosophy, detailed by Ropohl (1999), provides greater details into the underlying core issues leaders and organizations face daily when merging technology and people together. Yet, always in application do we find managers attempting to make technology more than what technology can ever be, the neutral variable in the human technology work relationship while thwarting culture and other organizational changes.

The automatic dishwasher is an example; if the dishes go in dirty and come out dirty, the blame is the technology instead of the human interaction in the technology work relationship. I was on a call to customer service recently and heard no less than five times in a 10-minute phone call, the “system is slow,” the “computer is not working right,” or some other similar excuse from the agent not being able to answer questions from the customer. How many times has human resources heard, “the car wouldn’t start,” “my GPS gave me wrong directions,” or my personal favorite, “the alarm clock failed.” The technology is not at fault as the neutral variable; human interaction with the technology is where the fault lies.

Application of technology to leadership and organizations may be summed by Wixom and Todd (2005) as they quote Fishbein and Ajzen (1975) for the specific principle espoused by Trist (1981) and applicable here, “For accurate prediction, beliefs and attitudes must be specified in a manner consistent in time, target, and context with behavior of interest” (Wixom and Todd, 2005, p. 89). Virtual and non-virtual teams are connected by the specific behaviors of those being led; the attitudes of the users predict beliefs and flow into production, especially into call centers and other front-line/customer-facing positions. Technology brings leadership into possibility, but the potential cannot be realized unless the leader knows how to harness negative beliefs, core out the actual problem, address user concerns, and then redirect the negative into either neutral or positive productivity.

The answer to leaders needing to harness user beliefs is found in proper communications aided by technology, as detailed by London and Beatty (1983). Empowering the users with 360-degree feedback, empowering the leader with another channel for 360-degree feedback, and operating a third channel for the organization in 360-degree feedback places the user in the driver seat to improve their technology beliefs and attitudes. Ropohl (1999) and Omar, Takim, and Nawawi (2012) combine to complete the puzzle in addressing how technology applies to leadership and virtual teams by underscoring the people element in the technological equation. Omar, et al. (2012) claim,

“…Technological capability refers to an organisation’s [sic] capacity to deploy, develop and utilise [sic] technological resources and integrate them with other complementary resources to supply the differentiated products and services. Technological capability is embodied not only in the employees’ knowledge and skills [combined with] the technical system, but also in the managerial system, values and norms” (Omar et al., 2012, p. 211).

360-Degree FeedbackAs the image reflects in the convergence of the three channels of 360-degree feedback, the power of communication is enhanced by the technology employed as a neutral variable in the human technology work relationship. If technology fails, the relationships in the channels remain and the relationships are not separated or closed. When discussing flexibility and adaptability in organizations, clearly understanding the roles of technology and communication empower the combined user, leader, and organization relationships.

The leader and organization need to understand and develop these principles to harness the innovative power of the human element where technology interacts with the human work relationship. If technology, especially technological improvement, is not thought through, planned, discussed, and elevated, Dandira (2012) claims the result is ‘Organizational Cancer.’ The power of technology as a force multiplier to unleash the power of humans cannot be understated, but the flip side of the technological coin is that as a force multiplier, if technology is not handled correctly, the negative aspects are as large as the positive aspects. Toor and Ofori (2008) detail how leaders need to understand and embody the differences between managers and leaders to contribute fully to the technology implementation and daily use in production. If leaders cannot lead physical teams, they will never understand virtual teams where technology must be understood more completely, and managers need not ever apply as the mindset is not conducive to creating success in the human technology work relationship.

A recent technological change was heralded, marketed, bragged, and positioned to the stakeholders in a company as akin to being better than “sliced bread.” The new system was discussed for three years before images of the new system began to be floated. Everything was prepared to have the technology play a more flexible and vital role in the organization. The problem was managers and programmers implemented the technology instead of users and leaders. User interfaces were ungainly, illogical, and made no sense in the completion of user work processes. More specifically, the impact for every single process and procedure in the current technology was not considered and revamped during the rollout of the new system. The result was chaos among users, failure to deliver the promised products and services, and a customer service disaster. Early in the rollout of the technology, managers directing the rollout were alerted that processes and procedures needed to be revamped, and the user was being left behind in how the system was “supposed to work” resulting in compounded chaos, increasing customer dissatisfaction, and further diminishing the company reputation. The managerial response was to “sit and wait” for the programmers to finish building the system and changing the technology to “fit.” Where a leader was needed, a plethora of managers existed and they actively worked to make the problems worse for the end user, the customer, and the other managers.

Creating a culture follows a basic set of principles, namely, the example of the leaders, including their words and actions, followed by repetition, and the passage of time (Tribus, n.d.). Tribus (n.d.) specifically places the core of culture in the example of the leaders regardless of whether the organizational leader is a leader or a manager as evidenced by action and word. To create a culture specific to adaptability, several other key components are required, namely, written instructions, freedom, and two-directional communication in the hierarchy (Aboelmaged, 2012; Bethencourt, 2012; Deci and Ryan, 2000; and Kuczmarski, 1996 & 2003). Two-directional communication has been warped into 360-degree communication. Regardless of name, the input from the workers and the customer is more critical than the voices of managers to organizational excellence.

Alvesson and Willmott (2002) add another component to this discussion. As the organizational culture takes hold of an individual employee, the employee begins to embody the culture, for good or ill, in their daily interactions both personally and professionally. This hold becomes an identity adding another level of control from the organization over the employee binding them to the organization. The identity control becomes a two-edged sword because the employee will form loyal opposition that can be misinterpreted to be intransigence, and the loss of that employee causes other employees to question their identity and the organizational culture. More to the point, the changed employee becomes habitualized into the current culture and then hardens into intransigency when changes are needed to help the organization survive.

Creating a culture attuned to adapting, the organizational leader needs to communicate, be seen exemplifying the organizational culture, and building that culture one employee at a time; until the changed employees can then begin to sponsor other employees into the organization’s new culture. The organizational leader must set clear goals, define the vision, and obtain employee buy-in prior to enacting change, then exemplify that vision after the change (Deci and Ryan, 1980, 1985, & 2000) while remaining open to the possibility of a need to change direction if indicated. Key to this process is Tribus’ (n.d.) [p. 3-4] “Learning Society” vs. “Knowing Society.” The distinction is crucial. The organizational culture must be learned and the process for continually learning honed and promoted to protect the culture while adapting to variables both internal and external. Learning societies know change occurs because of new thinking and inputs and remains adaptable to that change as a positive force in improvement. Knowing societies remain afraid of changes due to the fear of losing perks, benefits, or personal power and actively thwart change at every turn, usually while preaching the need to change.

To be clear, technology is a neutral force and can neither be a positive or a negative in an organization. The need for leaders cannot be overstated as the driving force in organizational change, or simply day-to-day leadership. Leaders must be seen and heard living the organizational culture. If, and when, changes are required, leaders must listen to user, customers, and the managers, but the weight and value are not the same and should never tilt in favor of the managers. Finally, if the organization needs to adapt, the organization must provide employees in front-line/customer-facing positions with freedom to act and the technology to record the actions, which are supported by back-office processes and procedures that respond to the front-line, not the other way round.

With the “.dot com” bubble burst in 2000, the world of business changed dramatically. As more baby-boomers leave the workforce and are replaced with millennial workers, the business culture is going to change more. To adapt, the engaged and determined business leader needs to embody a spirit of freedom and adaptability into the business culture, into the processes and procedures that define “work,” and into the customer relationship (internally and externally) or the business will continue to fail, struggle, and breed chaos.

References

Aboelmaged, M. (2012). Harvesting organizational knowledge and innovation practices: An empirical examination of their effects on operations strategy. Business Process Management Journal, 18(5), 712-734.

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.

Bethencourt, L. A. (2012). Employee engagement and self-determination theory. (Order No. 3552273, Northern Illinois University). ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 121. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1294580434?accountid=458. (prod.academic_MSTAR_1294580434).

Budworth, N., & Cox, S. (2005). Trusting tools. The Safety & Health Practitioner, 23(7), 46-48. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/201021810?accountid=458

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

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1980). The empirical exploration of intrinsic motivational processes. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 13, pp. 39–80). New York: Academic Press.

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York: Plenum.

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2000). The “what” and “why” of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behavior. Psychological Inquiry, 11, 227–268.

Ertmer, P. A. (1999). Addressing first- and second-order barriers to change: Strategies for technology integration. Educational Technology, Research and Development, 47(4), 47. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/218016186?accountid=458

Kuczmarski, T. (1996). What is innovation? The art of welcoming risk. Journal of Consumer Marketing, 13(5), 7-11.

Kuczmarski, T. (2003). What is innovation? And why aren’t companies doing more of it? What Is Innovation? And Why Aren’t Companies Doing More of It?” 20(6), 536-541.

London, M., & Beatty, R. W. (1993). 360-degree feedback as a competitive advantage. Human Resource Management (1986-1998), 32(2-3), 353. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/224341530?accountid=458

Omar, R., Takim, R., & Nawawi, A. H. (2012). Measuring of technological capabilities in technology transfer (TT) projects. Asian Social Science, 8(15), 211-221. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1338249931?accountid=458

Ropohl, G. (1999). Philosophy of Socio-Technical Systems. Society for Philosophy and Technology, 4. Retrieved June 29, 2014, from: http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/SPT/v4_n3html/ROPOHL.html

Toor, S., & Ofori, G. (2008). Leadership versus Management: How They Are Different, and Why. Leadership & Management in Engineering, 8(2), 61-71. doi:10.1061/(ASCE)1532-6748(2008)8:2(61)

Tribus, M. (n.d.). Changing the Corporate Culture Some Rules and Tools. Retrieved from: Changing the Corporate Culture Some Rules and Tools Web site: http://deming.eng.clemson.edu/den/change_cult.pdf

Trist, E. (1981). The evolution of socio-technical systems: A conceptual framework and an action program. Occasional Paper. Retrieved June 29, 2014, from: http://www.sociotech.net/wiki/images/9/94/Evolution_of_socio_technical_systems.pdf

© 2016 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved

 

The Call Center Leader Part 5 – Tacit Knowledge Combined with the Power of 4-C’s Produces Competitive Advantage

Tacit Knowledge, as a competitive advantage, remains a highly misunderstood topic in business due primarily to the difficulty in spotting, acknowledging, and then measuring this form of knowledge.  Because managers, who preempt application, see tacit knowledge as a threat, leadership is required to implement its benefits.  Tacit knowledge relies upon people implementing daily processes and procedures.  Tacit knowledge as a competitive advantage requires freedom to improve those processes and procedures of daily work to understand how to improve.  The principles of tacit knowledge are discussed and enhanced by Ambrosini and Bowman (2001) providing excellent discussion material for leaders to contemplate.

In detailing an operational definition of tacit knowledge, Ambrosini and Bowman (2001) designed a definitive definition for tacit knowledge as “context specific, … [generally] acquired on the job or in particular situations.”  Proceeding further, Nonaka (1991) reiterated that tacit knowledge is “… deeply rooted in [both] an individual’s action and commitment [to] a profession, product, market, work group, or team.”  Tacit knowledge contains elements of “practical knowledge” and remains “difficult to describe” unless the knowledge is described as a “process” to perform work.  Taken together, tacit knowledge is a person’s commitment and knowledge gained in experience to understand processes and improve the same.

Let’s use an analogy to drive this point home.  John works for call center A; Mark works for call center B.  The leadership in call center B is very demanding, but rewards those who meet the challenges and provides freedom for front-line personnel to meet customer needs.  Call center A does not demand much from front-line personnel except to perform their jobs as dictated, and managers are in place to ensure the job is done and nothing more.  Both call centers have high employee churn numbers, both call centers are matrix driven, and performance is measured in seconds; both call centers compete with each other for the same customer base.

Because Mark has freedom and call center B is willing to reward, Mark has been focused upon improving daily operations and customer support.  Mark sends several ideas to his manager and onto senior call center leadership.  Several of Mark’s ideas find their way into organizational change and are implemented.

John has a personal desire to see call center A succeed and develops ideas to improve customer support while decreasing organizational inertia.  John’s manager sees these ideas, discovers the ideas are good, and decides to take them as their own.  John is pressured to leave call center A over the next 8-10 months; by this time, the ideas are practically worthless and cannot be implemented due to shifts in business conditions.

Tacit knowledge was at play in both scenarios.  Call center B employed tacit knowledge to compete.  Call center A employed tacit knowledge to thwart and denigrate.  Herein also lies the leadership challenge and the need to understand and implement the principles of combining competition, collaboration, compromise, and cooperation, also referred to as the “Principle of 4-C’s” (4-C’s).  Thomas (1992) extols the virtues of combining competition, collaboration, cooperation, and compromise as a tool to achieve success in conflict resolution, organizational improvement, and people development.

The continued application of all four principles, cooperation, collaboration, compromise, and competition, provides fertile ground for resolving problems and advancing organizational objectives.  These 4-C’s must work together with no single principle more important than the other.  Like the four-legged stool my grandmother used to reach high cupboards, the stability of the stool depended upon all four legs to ensure strength and flexibility to work exactly.  Compromise and competition do not work without collaboration and cooperation.  They are all interconnected, and the business leader, wanting to lead well, would remember this relationship.

Collaboration is strengthened by cooperation, compromise, and competition.  Competition must end in collaboration, cooperation, and compromise; in fact, competition will breed collaboration and cooperation to reach a compromise, before those being competed against provide collaboration, cooperation, and compromise, and remain attached and honored as successful means to reach the desired win-win agreement.  The fires of competition are crucial to purifying those collaborating, compromising, and cooperating into a single honed unit that can more effectively work together.  Cooperation can do nothing without the shared responsibilities of collaboration and compromise; when competition is added, the cooperation is strengthened.  Compromise without cooperation or collaboration is ineffective, and competition is an added value to ensuring stronger compromise.  None of these can stand alone without elements of the others to support, edify, and multiply; along with the stated relationship comes the knowledge that if the agreement is not win-win the agreement is a straight lose scenario.

The inherent discussion above is condensed from Thomas (1992), who advocated this combined approach to organizational design as a masterstroke to getting people working together.  The same basic philosophy can be seen in the writings of Goldratt and Cox (2004), Lencioni (2002), Lundin, Paul, and Christensen (2000), Boynton and Fischer (2005), and Boylan (1995), among many others.  Notably, these principles have been understood throughout time.  Jucius (1963), in speaking of the broader issues in personnel management, understood the combined power of collaboration, cooperation, compromise, and competition and wrote extensively about how to use these effectively in the organization.  Cruickshank and Davis (1958) understood these principles to be a combined and more effective tool than separate strategies of the same general direction and strove to ensure business leaders understood the practical application and inherent need for the organization to adhere to these principles as a combined effort of all organizational members.  McNichols (1963) endeavored to keep these items combined in the minds of executives; thus, empowering them to discover solutions employing all the strengths in the consolidated collective use of competition, collaboration, compromise, and competition.  The empowerment felt combining these tools elevates the individual focus into a collected focus, and the solutions for an organization are improved dynamically.

Examples of the combined efforts of collaboration, competition, compromise, and cooperation are found in the writings and research of Collins (2001 & 2006), Collins and Hansen 2011), and Collins and Porras (1994).  These books contain many organizational examples of companies employing the combined strategy as outlined and collectively harnessing the power in cooperation, compromise, collaboration, and competition to make the long-lasting change from “Good to Great” organizations.  Collins (2001) discusses Walgreen’s transformation and employs the combined power into the new highly successful Walgreen’s store model.  Mitchell (2003) discusses the same principles as CEO of Mitchells/Richards Clothing Stores.  By embracing the combined power contained, this CEO has kept the family business growing.  Both organizations, Walgreen’s and Mitchells/Richards, embraced the energy of collaboration properly supported by compromise and collaboration and invested in internal and external competition to drive the needed organizational changes.  What Collins proves is that the collective power is not particular and rare, but available to all who choose to combine not separate, collect not disburse, connect and retain not divide, partition, and mutate.  Leadership demands higher practical performance than management (Robinson, 1999; Punia, 2004; and Mintzberg, 1980).

The ability to rise higher must include all the attributes, strengths, and collective power found in collaboration, competition, cooperation, and most especially compromise.  Having standards does not mean compromising personal or organizational standards for collaboration.  Having standards is the discovery of common ground in collaborating for a common goal, enhanced in the fires of competition.

How does a leader begin to take tacit knowledge and combine it with the power of cooperation, competition, collaboration, and compromise, to achieve positive results; the answers are quite simple.

  1. Allow and encourage idea submission. As a small business consultant, I am continually amazed at how many ideas are already in the minds of current employees to improve the organization.  Open lines of communication in the organizational hierarchy for ideas to percolate.  Train the employees to use these lines of communication.  I cannot count how many times I have heard frustrated employees say, “I do not know who to submit my ideas to.”
  2. Train people to think and improve. Quality control is not just for the quality group to monitor.  Quality assurance is a minute-by-minute process every employee should be engaged upon to help the company improve.  Train this principle from day one with new employees and revisit this idea at least quarterly and every time idea submission drops.
  3. Competition is for external forces, but the 4-C’s principle is for everyone internally. Why have customer service teams competing against each other creating division and chaos inside the company?  While sometimes healthy, many times petty in-house competition does nothing but destroy, denigrate, and deride already stressed and harried people.  Stop tearing the company down in the front-line; cease the petty competitions between teams.
  4. Rewards and awards must contain value to the individual or they are meaningless. I worked with an employee who had an award from a previous employer on his desk.  The award was a horse’s rear-end in bronze, and the employee was exceedingly proud of having been part of the team that won that particular award.  The employee had not worked for that company in 20-years, but remains proud of that award and the reward that came along with it.  I was also part of a call center that handed out awards that went into the trashcan before the end of the award ceremony.  Rewards and awards must be valuable to the recipient.  To make this happen, choose to build people by showing the award and reward.  Why is the Stanley Cup in the NHL so coveted? Individual teams and players are inscribed permanently as a reminder of greatness; more importantly, everyone in the NHL sees the cup.  This is a pattern that can be and should be replicated in the call center; just do not let the competition become chaotically competitive or meaningless and petty.  Remember, many teams in the NHL have never won the Stanley Cup.
  5. Tacit knowledge has value. Cherish this knowledge as the genetic power of the company to thrive.  Ask questions, listen to the answers, and remember the person providing input.  Too often the person providing input is not recognized, and this failure to recognize contributions does tremendous harm to morale, dampening desire to contribute, and removing further access to potentially amazing results.

Finally,

5.5 Let the tacit knowledge and award/reward systems live.  Tacit knowledge has a life cycle as sure as every product, service, work process, and daily procedure.  Allow change to live, allow knowledge to live, and allow the freedom to change to meet new needs.  This is probably the most important point in this list of actions leaders can take to employ tacit knowledge as a competitive strategy.  Recognize the life cycle of ideas and stop being afraid of employee freedom and change.

References

Ambrosini, V., & Bowman, C. (2001). Tacit knowledge: Some suggestions for operationalization. Journal of Management Studies, 38(6), doi: 0022-2380

Boler, J. (1968). Agency. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 29(2), 165-181.

Boylan, B. (1995). Get Everyone in Your Boat Rowing in the Same Direction. New York, New York: Barnes & Noble.

Boynton, A., & Fisher, B. (2005). Virtuoso teams: Lessons from teams that changed their worlds. FT Press

Collins, J. (2001). Good to great: Why some companies make the leap…and others don’t. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers.

Collins, J. (2006). Good to great and the social sectors: A monograph to accompany Good to great. London: Random House Business.

Collins, J., & Hansen, M. (2011). Great by choice: Uncertainty, chaos, and luck: Why some thrive despite them all. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

Collins, J., & Porras, J. (1994). Built to last: Successful habits of visionary companies. New York: Collins Business Essentials – A Collins Business Book: An Imprint of Harper Collins.

Cruickshank, H., & Davis, K. (1958). Cases in management (2nd ed.). Homewood, Ill.: R.D. Irwin.

Goldratt, E. M., & Cox, J. (2004). The goal: A process of ongoing improvement. (Third Revised ed.). Great Barrington, Massachusetts: North River Press.

Hickman, G. (2010). Leading organizations: Perspectives for a new era (Second ed.). Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications.

Jucius, M. (1963). Personnel management (5th ed.). Homewood, Ill.: R.D. Irwin.

Lencioni, P. (2002). The five dysfunctions of a team: A leadership fable. Hoboken, NJ. John Wiley & Sons.

Lundin, S. C., Paul, H., & Christensen, J. (1996). Fish! A remarkable way to boost morale and improve results. New York, New York: Hyperion.

McNichols, T. (1963). Policy making and executive action; cases on business policy (2nd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

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

Mitchell, J. (2003). Hug your customers: The proven way to personalize sales and achieve astounding results. New York, NY: Hyperion.

Punia, B. K. (2004). Employee empowerment and retention strategies in diverse corporate culture: A prognostic study. Vision: The Journal of Business Perspective, 8(81), 81-91. doi: 10.1177/097226290400800107

Robinson, G. (1999). Leadership vs management. The British Journal of Administrative Management, 20-21. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/224620071?accountid=458

Thomas, K. W. (1992). Conflict and conflict management: Reflections and update. Journal Of Organizational Behavior, 13(3), 265-274.

© 2016 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved

 

 

Hopelessly Confused: “Peace Be Still.”

I was casting around for a topic to write about and came across regarding leadership and decision-making when two topics, combined into the same single strand, thought, came into focus. Addressing the question, “how does one change their mind?” From one of my favorite authors, Robert Fulghum, author of “Everything I need to know I learned in Kindergarten, Uh-Oh, and several other books” comes a thought, “Hopelessly Confused.” This was a sign a woman was holding in Mr. Fulghum’s neighborhood witnessed by the author several times over a period of days/weeks and discussed the book referenced.

The other topic comes from the final phrase in James Allen’s “As a Man Thinketh” (1903) treatise on the mind, how the mind matters, and philosophy of thinking. Mr. Allen discussed the “tempest-tossed souls,” “whose thoughts are controlled” by the winds and storms of life instead of the other way round where control of thinking improves the steadiness and serenity of the individual. The idea is that one’s thoughts influence outcomes and becomes reality.

For many months, I have had as a status on my student profile at the University of Phoenix, the following, “Thoughts become things. QED how we think determines success.” I taught a class where we discussed this exact topic. Thoughts leading to words, words becoming actions, actions producing a product, and that product in turn, generating more thinking, thus fulfilling the cycle and moving the soul further down a path, regardless of whether that path is valued as good.

James Allen adds another interesting aspect to this puzzle, “Serenity is the last lesson of culture; it is the flowering of life, the fruitage of the soul.” “Peace be still!” Bringing to point the idea, choices and thinking remain relevant to the one who would enjoy serenity. Peace is a choice; thoughts, properly controlled, are choices; developing that choice, protecting, harboring, and controlling the ability to choose drives the choice and the result is serenity.

If the thoughts driving action are based upon choice, then “hopelessly confused” was a choice. The woman holding the sign chose to be confused, and the endless running of that thought placed her in a position to become “hopeless.” Let us take a moment to explore these two words for a moment. “Hopeless” as defined by Webster includes the terms “inadequate; incompetent; feeling despair.” Confusion as defined by Webster, contains the following: “the state of being unclear in one’s mind, lacking understanding, and embodying uncertainty.” Hence, the reader is left with a state of mind regarding personal inadequacies or incompetence leading to despair.

Since confusion is a state of mind, correcting thinking on the individual’s part remains a concrete action to be personally undertaken to end the current state of mind and discover a new state of thinking and acting. Yet, what would be the impetus for beginning this process of mental change, choice. Some religions would call this agency or the individual’s personal ability to choose. Many choices remain transactional in nature; we as individuals see value in a different track or course of action, and from that desire for increased value comes the motivation to exercise agency and choose.

At this moment in the choice cycle, the individual does not know that value will come and improve the current situation. The individual has simply completed a mathematical formula and discovered potential for a higher value in a different course of action. The next step moves from inaction to action, from thinking to doing, taking the information gleaned and applying it in a fundamentally different way to realize the desired, but still elusive, potential. By taking action, the individual has shifted slightly and this shift, while ever so slight, over time has energy to achieve greatness.

A religious leader, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf (2008), himself a pilot, described the change as “a matter of a few degrees.” Using an airplane analogy, the young pilot is only off a minor tenth of a degree, then corrects the course, then drifts ever so slightly to a new heading. Over time, the plane is now several hundred miles off course and the young pilot in serious trouble. The same can be said for the confused person, the slight change in position, over time, brings innumerable changes in thinking, understanding, and action into a life. While failure to change, drives the same individual further and further down the path of “hopelessly confused.”

Regarding highways, the degrees needed to change from one highway to another without a cloverleaf is generally 10-15 degrees. Starting small, tenths of a degree, time and distance become the variables of great change. Provided proper planning for the lane changes are made, the movement from one highway to another can be done quickly, easily, and safely, without undue wear and tear on the vehicle at highway speeds, which places the next step firmly into the thinking process, planning. Proper prior planning of thoughts takes understanding the variables, naming the problems, and plotting change.

Planning new thinking entails knowing what the end goal should look like. For example, if the starting point is “hopelessly confused” and serenity is desired, then serenity is the end goal or state of mind. This holds true for all desired end states; to plot and plan effectively, one must first know where to go. The second step in planning is knowing that which motivates the change. For example, what condition is driving a desired change in thinking; name the variables or individual desires feeding the change. Planning requires understanding these motivators on a level deeper than intimacy. Finally, the best plans remain flexible but fixed. While this might sound like a paradox, it is not.

Fixed but flexible speaks to the desired end state, not the journey to that end state. While the desired end goal remains serenity, understanding that the journey will involve and necessarily require setbacks, reroutes, and difficulties. The end desired goal thus remains fixed, and the journey to that end desire will fluctuate. This is the same thinking military commanders use when attempting to overcome obstacles. Fluidity in planning and flexibility in application provides for making mistakes, for opposition, and is a learned thinking trait that must be trained into operational thinking.

Finally, James Allen provides the concluding actions in changing mental states. “Self-control is strength; right thought is mastery [of self]; calmness is power [to break the mental chains which bind]. Say unto your heart, “Peace be still.” The mental change does not happen overnight, rarely occurs with the first attempt, and will always resemble the pattern of an hourglass, but like the hourglass, moving between areas is possible, requiring both effort and time. As the narrow neck that limits change becomes closer, understand this constriction, sometimes experienced as restriction of choice, and lack of growth is only temporary. Change is coming and with change comes freedom. This hope for additional freedom is required to maintain that effort to change. Agency starts the adventure of change, hope sustains the journey, motivation and desire feed the fires of hope, and the power generated by hope’s fuel propels the change. To thy heart, “Peace be still.”

 © 2016 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved

 

References

Allen, J. (1903). As a man thinketh. New York, NY: Grosset & Dunlap.

Fulghum, R. (2007). What on earth have I done? Stories, observations, and affirmations. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press.

Uchtdorf, D. F. (2008, April). A Matter of a Few Degrees. Retrieved June 20, 2016, from https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2008/04/a-matter-of-a-few-degrees?lang=eng&_r=1