Circling Back To The Power and Blessing of Conflict

Good TimberRecently I was asked an interesting question that needs further elaboration, than the 30-seconds I could devote to the answer.  The question, “As a disabled person, in a professional setting (workplace), do I expect others to accommodate me?”  At the time, I used pieces of Douglas Malloch’s poem “Good Timber” as an analogy to help answer this question, stating that a tree in a forest does not demand another tree stop growing in their direction for sunshine, air and water.  Thus becoming a forest giant through individual growth, adaptation, individual choice, time, goal setting, and working with other trees.

Here is Douglas Malloch’s poem “Good Timber” declaring the natural law, “Conflict is Good!

Good Timber
by Douglas Malloch

The tree that never had to fight
For sun and sky and air and light,
But stood out in the open plain
And always got its share of rain,
Never became a forest king
But lived and died a scrubby thing
.

The man who never had to toil
To gain and farm his patch of soil,
Who never had to win his share
Of sun and sky and light and air,
Never became a manly man
But lived and died as he began
.

Good timber does not grow with ease:
The stronger wind, the stronger trees;
The further sky, the greater length;
The more the storm, the more the strength.
By sun and cold, by rain and snow,
In trees and men good timbers grow
.

Where thickest lies the forest growth,
We find the patriarchs of both.
And they hold counsel with the stars
Whose broken branches show the scars
Of many winds and much of strife.
This is the common law of life
.

Discussion

?u=http3.bp.blogspot.com-CIl2VSm-mmgTZ0wMvH5UGIAAAAAAAAB20QA9_IiyVhYss1600showme_board3.jpg&f=1&nofb=1True story, I learned to swim by being thrown into the deep end of a lake and told to get back to shore on my own; my mother was never one for “easy lessons.”  The conflict made me understand and learn how to coordinate movement, and I learned to swim.  Not well, and to this day, I swim like I am beating the water into submission, not in a manner that is conducive to smooth and flowing coordinated movement.  The conflict of motion and resistance, movement and flow has taught me a lot about science, engineering, hydraulics, and much more; but I do not thank my mother for this “swimming” lesson!

Good timber does not grow with ease:
The stronger wind, the stronger trees;
The further sky, the greater length;
The more the storm, the more the strength.
By sun and cold, by rain and snow,
In trees and men good timbers grow
.

Conflict clipart resolved, Conflict resolved Transparent ...As a process of learning and developing, conflict has been the driving factor in all of our lives.  Conflict is a tool, and like all tools, when used appropriately, it can build, enhance, strengthen, and create.  Whereas, if the tool is improperly used, destruction, damage, and chaos are spawned.  Regardless, life lessons can be learned in both uses of conflict when two additional tools are added, self-reflection over time.  It took a long time to realize the value of science in the lessons of swimming taught in almost drowning.  Remember, the forest giant in Douglas Malloch’s poem did not become a forest king without scars.

Where thickest lies the forest growth,
We find the patriarchs of both.
And they hold counsel with the stars
Whose broken branches show the scars
Of many winds and much of strife.

Conflictpreventie en -management voor zorgverleners ...Conflict happens; what a person chooses to do with that conflict and how that person considers conflicting occurrences is how the labels “good,” “bad,” “valuable,” “beneficial,” etc., are applied.  McShane and Von Gilnow (2004, p. 390) postulated, “conflict as beneficial [when] intergroup conflict improves team dynamics, increase cohesiveness, and task orientation. … [C]onditions of moderate conflict, motivates team members to work more efficiently toward goals increasing productivity.”  The sentiment regarding conflict as a tool and beneficial is echoed throughout the research of Jehn (1995).  Jehn (1995) reflected that the groups researched labeled the conflict as beneficial, good, bad, etc. based on the group’s dynamics and the conflicts faced and settled, the groups formed an integrated model for organizational conflict.  Essentially, how the conflict is approached and used by the team members individually and collectively dictates how beneficial the conflict is for the team and the organization.

The stronger wind, the stronger trees;
The further sky, the greater length;
The more the storm, the more the strength.
By sun and cold, by rain and snow,
In trees and men good timbers grow
.

Rao (2017) built upon previous researchers’ shoulders, perceiving conflict being a tool, and provided vital strategies for leaders to employ if they choose to minimize conflict; however, if conflict is minimized, a caution is required.  Minimizing conflict just to minimize conflict is not the road to success, but the road to ruination.  Douglas Malloch was quite clear on this point and it must be understood.

The tree that never had to fight
For sun and sky and air and light,
But stood out in the open plain
And always got its share of rain,
Never became a forest king
But lived and died a scrubby thing
.

The man who never had to toil
To gain and farm his patch of soil,
Who never had to win his share
Of sun and sky and light and air,
Never became a manly man
But lived and died as he began
.

Good timber does not grow with ease:
The stronger wind, the stronger trees;
The further sky, the greater length;
The more the storm, the more the strength.
By sun and cold, by rain and snow,
In trees and men good timbers grow
.

PPT - Developing Your Conflict Competence PowerPoint ...Thus, it cannot be stated enough, nor without sufficient emphasis, the leader who chooses to minimize conflict is leading their team to destruction, ruination, and despair.  But, isn’t the path of less conflict more restful and peaceful?  What about all those people who claim conflict is bad, fighting and war are terrible things and should be avoided at all costs.  Let us examine Douglas Malloch further:

Whose broken branches show the scars
Of many winds and much of strife.

Good TimberAs a child, I had the privilege of examining up close and personal a forrest giant.  The closest branch to the ground was 35’ in the air, the trunk had a girth of more than 25’, and the tree stood on the edge of an embankment.  Gloriously large specimen of a maple tree.  The tree hosted several families of squirrels, birds, and who knows how many other woodland creatures.  When the tree was permanently damaged by a hurricane in 1989, a company paid my grandmother a princely sum to harvest this tree for the hardwood.  My brother and I counted the rings to know the age of the tree and got to over 200 years.  A true forrest giant indeed.  As the tree was harvested for lumber, it was discovered the tree had been shot and wounded, several branches had been damaged by fire, multiple branches had been broken off and healed over, barbed wire was embedded in the tree and some wood was poisioned by the iron, and the harvester told us a lot about what the tree had experienced during its lifetime.Managed Quotes | Managed Sayings | Managed Picture Quotes

Rao (2017) intimated that “conflict builds character, whereas crisis defines character” [p. 93].  Recognizing that conflict labels are an individual choice, and character building is a choice left to the individual to onboard or shun, one is left with several questions, when conflict occurs, and crisis happen, what do you choose, fold or grow?

Kipling writes a “Just So Story” titled “The Tree and the Grass.”  The tree boasts about its strength, its height, its ability, and strength, and one day the tree falls prey to the wind and falls.  However, what is not clearly delineated, is that the tree is not in a forrest, but on a plain.  The moral according to Kipling was that, one should “never condemn others looking at your greatness as nothing exists for ever.”   While the moral is correct, and the lesson important, the fact that the conflict and crisis the tree faced, the wind, was on this occaision crippling and life shattering, is the cogent point for focus.  Douglas Malloch points out another very important point:

The tree that never had to fight
For sun and sky and air and light,
But stood out in the open plain
And always got its share of rain,
Never became a forest king
But lived and died a scrubby thing
.

The tree on the plain is never prepared for crisis and conflict, and falls prey to both due to a lack of preparation.  The tree that is born into conflict and crisis is prepared from day one to understand the role of conflict and crisis, and then face both as friends and tools.  Thus the problems with leaders who choose to avoid conflict and why these leaders will flail, fail, and lead their teams and businesses into failure and ruination.

Avoid Workplace Conflict Through Better Collaboration ...Thompson (2008) calls those who actively work to avoid conflict as those taking “trips to Abilene;” included in those making trips to Abilene are those who take conflict personally and choose to become offended, as well as those who choose not to see conflict, as a method of ignoring conflict.  Thomas (1992) captured how individual choices about the valuation of conflict open or close the door to the productive use of conflict.  Ignoring conflict, avoiding conflict, and other strategies to avoid conflict form the most dangerous people to be around, for when conflict grows beyond a point where it can no longer be ignored or avoided, that is the conflict that can destroy people, places, and things.

Thomas (1992) is echoe in Jehn (1995), Lencioni (2002), and Thompson (2008) declaring the distinction between conflict as a process and the structure in which the conflict process occurred is critical to how beneficial the conflict will be for the team, business, or society.  Conflict is the mental thinking, adherence to operating procedures, and individuals working become the instigating factor, which is a threat to what is known or done at the current time.  Hence, Thomas (1992) provided a keen insight into conflict as a tool, purposeful initiation of a process (conflict) to improve a structure (organizational environment).Cheryl Richardson Quote: "If you avoid conflict to keep ...

When people recognize the power of conflict and purposefully employ conflict, everyone receives the potential to improve through conflict (Lencioni, 2002).  Thus, conflict continues to be a tool, nothing more and nothing less.  The disparities between organizational conflict labels are critical to understanding the chasm between teams evaluating conflict as the process and business structure. The gap in understanding conflict’s results can create inhibitions to future organizational conflict and create unneeded additional conflict processes while undermining the organizational structure.Conflict Quotes - Famous Disagreement Quotations & Sayings

How will you choose to use conflict?  Will you grow or fold?  Will you break yourself to become better knowing that the deadwood you cast off is healthier long term than holding onto the past and pretending you are still able to hold onto everything?  Will you keep an open wound instead of allowing time and healing to form a scar and a callous to protect you from additional injury?  Is the injury worth growing or is the injury too much and it is time to fall and die?  Conflict and crisis will define or defeat based solely upon the choices you make.  How will you decide?

References

Amason, A. C. (1996). Distinguishing the effects of functional and dysfunctional conflict on strategic decision making: Resolving a paradox for top management teams. Academy of Management Journal, 39(1), 123-148. doi:http://dx.doi.org.contentproxy.phoenix.edu/10.2307/256633

Baron, R. A. (1991). Positive Effects of Conflict: A Cognitive Perspective. Employee Responsibilities & Rights Journal, 4(1), 25-36.

Brazzel, M. (2003). Chapter XIII: Diversity conflict and diversity conflict management. In D. L. Plummer (Ed.), Handbook of diversity management: Beyond awareness to competency based learning (pp. 363-406). Lanham, MD: University Press of America, Inc.

Du, F., Erkens, D. H., & Xu, K. (2018). How trust in subordinates affects service quality: Evidence from a large property management firm. Business.Illinois.edu. Retrieved from https://business.illinois.edu/accountancy/wp-content/uploads/sites/12/2018/03/Managerial-Symposium-2018-Session-IV-Du-Erkens-and-Xu.pdf

Jehn, K. A. (1995). A multi-method exanimation of the benefits and detriments of intragroup conflict. Administrative Science Quarterly, 40, 256-282.

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

Lumineau, F., Eckerd, S., & Handley, S. (2015). Inter-organizational conflicts. Journal of Strategic Contracting and Negotiation, 1(1), 42-64. doi:10.1177/2055563614568493

McShane, S. L., & Von Gilnow, M. A. (2004). Organizational Behavior, Third Edition. Boston: McGraw-Hill Companies.

Moeller, C., & Kwantes, C. T. (2015). Too Much of a Good Thing? Emotional Intelligence and Interpersonal Conflict Behaviors. Journal of Social Psychology, 155(4), 314-324. doi:10.1080/00224545.2015.1007029

Rao, M. (2017). Tools and techniques to resolve organizational conflicts amicably. Industrial and Commercial Training, 49(2), 93-97. doi:10.1108/ict-05-2016-0030

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

Thompson, L. L. (2008). Chapter 8: Conflict in teams – Leveraging differences to create opportunity. In Making the team: A guide for managers (3rd ed., pp. 201-220). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

© Copyright 2021 – M. Dave Salisbury
The author holds no claims for the art used herein, the pictures were obtained in the public domain, and the intellectual property belongs to those who created the images.

Buzzwords and Canned Phrases – More Tyranny From Plastic Language

Stretched WordsPlasticized words make the most trouble.  Unfortunately, public education in America does not appear to care; public educators are some of the worst abusers of words, disconnecting words from meanings to achieve an agenda, which is practicing mental terrorism.  Poerksen (1995) discusses this phenomenon in some detail, and the need to be more cognizant of the problem is a small part of the solution. For example, Poerksen (1995) brings up the term ‘strategy’; the context might not be clear. Without specifying the intention and meaning, the audience becomes lost quickly but lost with confidence and lost doing what they understand.

Hitler’s Germany was famous for plasticizing words to make socially unacceptable actions acceptable with no negative consequences. For example, consider how cattle cars were used in the transportation of Jewish Citizens and other humans deemed useless, by plasticizing the term “cattle,” the Jews could be eliminated, society could believe what they were doing as acceptable, and the political agenda of Hitler was pushed forward, because a human of different religion, handicap, and so forth has been dehumanized to the level of cattle.Non Sequitur - Plasticity of Language

Poerksen (1995) is correct in labeling those who intentionally destroy language through plastic words as tyrants and tyrannical actions.  Mao was an excellent speaker, but his deceiving methods included making words plastic to cover abuses of people, destruction of lives, and to help his followers feel good about what they were doing. Likewise, ex-President Obama used a TelePrompTer because extemporaneous speaking is not his forte and because of the plastic words which were bent, twisted, and molded to deceive.  We all remember the promises of Ex-President Obama where ObamaCare is concerned.  However, what is fading from the collective public memory are the plastic expressions lauded upon Bergdahl to justify nefarious actions.  Bergdahl is a tiny example of how Ex-President Obama manipulated language to hide, obfuscate, denigrate, and deride the American People.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)3-direectional-balance

If you are going to work in a department with such an auspicious title as “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Department (DEI), one might imagine that you have a clear and present understanding of the power of words. But, apparently, those working in DEI either have an agenda and desire to be tyrants or are uneducated in the power and ability of words.  Draw your own conclusion, but I present in totem an email received earlier this week while I was out of the office.

12 Things You Should Never Say… And What To Say Instead

It’s easy to say the wrong thing when you’re under stress or a problem arises. Take a pause to reframe your response:

        1. That’s not my problem. ‘I recommend you speak to_____’
        2. But we’ve always done it that way. That’s a different approach, can you tell me why it’s better?’
        3. There’s nothing I can do. I’m a bit stuck, can you help me find other options?’
        4. This will only take a minute. ‘Let me get back to you on a timeframe.’
        5. That makes no sense.I’m not sure about that one – can you give me some more details on your thinking behind it?’
        6. You’re wrong. ‘I disagree and here’s why ______ what do you think?’
        7. I’m sorry, but…. I’m sorry about that… next time I will _____’
        8. I just assumed that. ‘Could you clarify what your expectations are for me?’
        9. I did my best. ‘What could I do better next time?’.
        10. You should have... ‘It didn’t’ work – here’s what I recommend next time…’
        11. I may be wrong, but... ‘Here’s an idea…’
        12. I haven’t had time. ‘I will be able to get this done by…’

And if you have said something you regret, here are three steps to quickly recover:

        1. Apologize. Be sincere for any upset or confusion you might have caused
        2. State what you didn’t mean. Admit your error, explain what you did not intend to do or say.
        3. Say what you actually meant. Explain what you really intended to say or do.

Please note, no grammar changes were made in copying and pasting this email; I changed the format to emulate the original. So now, let us carefully examine, without judging the grammar, the canned phrasing presented here along three lines: applicability, usefulness, and value.

ApplicabilityDetective 3

When discussing applicability, we are looking for situations where the canned phrasing offered is better than being natural, admitting error honestly, and moving forward from the current position in a constructive manner.  I fully appreciate that the 12 bolded phrases might not be the best way to state something.  However, the lack of applicability for the canned replacement phrases does not improve the situation.  Imagine a situation where the offered canned phrase would work, and I will show you a real-life scenario where it was tried and failed miserably.

Drawing upon more than 20 years of experience in and around call centers as a subject matter expert, as a customer relations expert, and published author, I can certify that canned phrases do not improve situations, nor can they cover mistakes.  Canned phrases stick out like a red dot on a white cloth!  The customer can hear the canned phrases, and the canned phrases will result in negative consequences!  Hence, this information from DEI fails the smell test before ever launching as a potential solution.

UsefulnessLook

When discussing the usefulness of a tool, the first aspect to always note is that any tool should feel comfortable, almost as if it was an extension of yourself.  Tools are intention incarnate; we select tools to perform tasks we cannot perform without the tool.  For example, hammering nails into house framing requires a hammer.   Not just any hammer, but a framing hammer, specifically designed for the job, framing, and because all framing hammers are not manufactured equally, should feel like an extension of your arm and hand.  The same is true for words; words are tools employed to communicate and should feel like an extension of yourself, be personal, and be helpful for the intent of delivering a message.

Again, we find the DEI email and canned phrases not passing the smell test.  Take any single item in the list above and try to use the exact phrase in a sentence with a friend or co-worker, and you will find yourself struggling to personalize that phrase.  Worse, saying it aloud makes you struggle with the offered grammar. So again, try personalizing that phrase; can you find any variation that feels natural to your method of speaking?  If so, you have used the offered phrase, but does it add or detract to the conversation when applying that phrase?  Herein lay the problem, some of the proposed phrases might work with individual variation but still cannot be used for a positive result.

ValueAndragogy - The Puzzle

Value is the sum of the application and usefulness of a tool to create opportunities to advance the situation to a solution positively.  More to the point, the value remains in the hands of the tool user, not the suggester of canned phrases. Thus, the tool’s value is not found in what has been created but in the usefulness and application to the tool’s user.

For example, while working in a call center, the agents were instructed to fit as many “keywords” into a conversation as possible.  The Quality Assurance Department (QA) was counting how often these keywords were used, so the pressure to perform was on the agent.  QA found that the offered words were often used in a single sentence to begin or end the call, and more often than not, when used during a call, led to call escalation.  Hence, the value of the terms was lost on the customer and worsened customer relationships.  Instead of releasing the agent from using keywords, the business managers doubled down.  The management team had no clue about the usefulness of the words as tools for communication and disregarded the need for tool personalization.  When negative results occurred, they compounded their error.  10-years after this disastrous decision, the agents are still forced to use tools that do not fit, the customers have continued to leave in droves, and the management team still struggles to understand why.

Knowledge Check!Application, usefulness, and value are how you measure tools, any tool.  From a tape measure to a hammer, from a computer to computer software, from words to headsets, the tools must meet these three criteria. Unfortunately, buzzwords and canned phrases do nothing to build value, enhance enthusiasm, or build cohesion into an impetus to motivate.  Often, buzzwords and canned phrases do the exact opposite, and failing to understand applicability, usefulness, and value is the problem of those insisting upon terminology, not the audience.  It cannot be stressed enough, plastic words lead to mental terrorism, and terrorism always leads to tyranny!

Reference

Poerksen, U. (1995). Plastic words: The tyranny of modular language (J. Mason, & D. Cayley, Trans.). University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press.

 © 2021 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.

NO MORE: “Constructive Criticism” – Killing The Lie!

Bird of PreyPoerksen (2010) provided sage counsel regarding how language plasticity leads to tyranny. Unfortunately, when discussing criticism, the tyranny of “constructive criticism” is displayed, and it is time for this lie to end, permanently!  Let me state, for the record and unequivocally, criticism never constructs positive behaviors!  Criticism doesn’t change simply because an adjective attempts to make criticism less harmful.

Criticism

Criticism defined, provides key insight from the common definition, “The expression of disapproval of someone or something based on perceived faults or mistakes.”  Disapproving based upon perception and expressed through words, looks, actions, and behaviors; this is criticism, and the best people in the world to criticize are the British.  IIf I call the British extremely critical and claim that is a compliment to the residents of the British Isles, those in Scotland and Ireland will understand, and no adjective in the world can make this criticism “constructive.”  As a point of reference, I draw this conclusion about the British from history, but knowing that does not make the criticism less accurate or less painful. On the contrary, I think the British have come a long way in changing their critical behaviors, actions, and manners and applauding them for their growth.

NO FearThe remaining definitions in the term criticism expand nicely upon the point that criticism and being critical can never be “constructive.”  “The analysis and judgment of the merits and faults of work.”  “A person who expresses an unfavorable opinion of something.”  The etymology of critic, which is the root of criticism, comes to us from Latin criticus, from Greek Kritikos, from kritēs ‘a judge’, from krinein ‘judge, decide.’  Never forget criticism, or the act of being critical originates from personal perception, a choice to be judgmental and critical.  The intent is to pass judgment upon something, someone, or someplace with the intent to cause personal harm or sway the opinions of others.

Constructive

Being constructive is “serving a useful purpose, or tending to build up.”  As noted above, criticism cannot be constructive because the adjective “constructive” is the polar opposite of criticism, which tends to tear down, demean, and depress.  Yet, when business leaders begin to write annual reviews, they are told to constructively criticize their employees, to sandwich criticism between praise to make the criticism less painful, and to construct comments in a manner that showcases strengths while not dwelling on the criticism.  Why; because this is the “scientifically approved” method for leadership, provide “constructive criticism.”  Except, criticism is a personal opinion and can never construct anything!

Why are we discussing criticism?Why

09 June 2021, in my company email box, I received an email, considered a “Thought of the Day,” from no less an auspicious source as the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Department (DEI).  If anyone knew the damage of tyrannical language, I would think those in DEI would have a clue.  Yet, by their email, it is clear that DEI continues to drink the Kool-Aid and act the tyrant where language is concerned.  The email attempts to define destructive criticism and constructive criticism and then provides steps for distinguishing between the two forms of criticism.  Completely forgetting that criticism can never be constructive and will always be destructive.  From the email, we find these two fallacious concepts:

      • Destructive criticism: is undermining and can cause harm. There is no upside or way to positively spin what is said/written because the critic does not have your best interest at heart. It is destructive criticism that gives people fear of criticism in general.
      • Constructive criticism: is designed to be helpful and is based on valid facts/observations. It’s meant to help you grow and become stronger. It’s not always positive, but it can help you to see things in a new light. The critic almost always gives it based on their experience and genuinely wants to help out.Anton Ego 4

Using the definitions provided, can you see the tyranny?  Are the problems with plasticizing criticism behind the adjective “constructive” evident?  Do you understand the term plastic language and how plasticizing a word can destroy a person? Finally, ask yourself, does the professional critic write to “help the subject” of the criticism out, or do they criticize for another purpose entirely?

undefined1960, Doris Day’s movie, “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies,” has a character who moves from being a professor of acting at a college to being a theater critic.  The movie is a comedy and delightfully shows the problems with criticism.  Better, the film underscores how criticizing never leads to constructing a person, a reputation, or an industry.  A more recent example of the problems with criticism can be found in the Disney/Pixar animated movie “Ratatouille.”  Anton Ego is the critic of restaurants, and his name strikes fear and dread into the hearts of the cooks and chefs in a restaurant.  Anton Ego is a tyrant who employs criticism as a tool for his own ends.  The final criticism of Chef Gusteau’s Restaurant near the end of the movie is a stunning example of how criticism can never be constructive!

Bait & SwitchFrom the DEI email, we find something very interesting in the Constructive vs. Destructive questions; the lack of the term “criticism” in the constructive criticism questions. Instead, criticism has been subtly changed to “feedback” in every place the term criticism should reside. So, for example, the first item under constructive is stated, “Feedback and advice from others are essential for growth and success.  Look at criticism as a learning opportunity.”  Better still, the third item in the constructive list states, “Detach yourself from criticism.”

Your ability to understand and refuse to play word games promotes operational trust in an organization, brings stability to teams, and establishes you as a person willing to learn.  Learning thwarts tyranny, and the tyrant has to give ground.  Never lose the moral high ground!

Knowledge Check!Fighting tyrannical modular language, or the plastic word games people play to control an audience, I suggest the following:

        1. Question terms used—demand logical answers.
        2. Know words and definitions; if unsure, ask SIRI, look the terms up in multiple dictionaries, but don’t rely upon one source for an explanation.
        3. When in doubt, practice #2, then #1 until you are less confused. I have found those working to plasticize words cannot stand scrutiny.
        4. Sunshine disinfectant works when tyranny is found; put the tyrant in the sunshine and watch them emulate a vampire in the sunshine!

Freedom requires a willing mind and a courageous heart; you are never alone when you take a stand against tyranny. So stand and watch the tyranny begin to fall like a rock slide.  Be the tiny rock that starts something big!

Reference

Poerksen, U. (2010). Plastic words: The tyranny of a modular language. Penn State Press.

© 2021 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.

Employee Engagement

Knowledge Check!Recently this topic was raised in a town hall style meeting, and the comments from the leadership raised several concerns.  It appears that employee engagement is attempting to become a “buzzword” instead of an action item, and this bothers me greatly.  Worse, many people lead teams with vague ideas about what employee engagement means and then shape their own biases into the employee engagement program, making a pogrom of inanity and suffering out of a tool for benefiting and improving employee relations.

When discussing employee engagement, we must first begin with a fundamental truth; employees do not work for a company, do not work for a brand; they work for a manager.  An employee might like a company; they might enjoy having their professional brand aligned with a known branded organization. The employee might feel pride in associating with other employees under that brand.  When the road gets difficult at the end of the day, an employee works for a manager.  The relationship between a manager and an employee is one of trust operationalized and honed through shared experiences.

Employee Engagement – Defined

ProblemsAccording to several online sources, the definition of employee engagement is, “Employee engagement is a fundamental concept in the effort to understand and describe, both qualitatively and quantitatively, the nature of the relationship between an organization and its employees.”  If you believe this definition, you will miss the forest for the bark you are fixated upon!  Employee engagement is fundamental; it is not a concept, a theory, or a buzzword.  Employee engagement is a relationship between organizational leaders and the employees, but employee engagement is not about collecting qualitative or quantitative data for decision-making policy-based relationship guidance.  At the most basic level, employee engagement is the impetus an employee chooses to onboard because of the motivational actions of the manager they report to.

Employees must choose to engage; when they choose not to engage, there is no enthusiasm in the employee, and this can be heard in every action taken by the employees on the company’s behalf.  Is this clear; employee engagement is an individual action, where impetus leads to motivated and enthused action.  While organizational leaders can and do influence motivation, they cannot force the employee to engage!  Thus, revealing another aspect of why the definition found online is NOT acceptable for use in any employee engagement effort!Leadership Cartoon

Employee engagement is the actions an employee is willing to take, indicating their motivation to perform their duties and extra-duties for a manager they like.  Employee engagement is the epitome of operational trust realized in daily attitudes, behaviors, and mannerisms of employees who choose to be engaged in solving problems for their employer.  While incentive programs can improve employee engagement, if the employee does not first choose to enjoy the incentive, the incentive program is wasted leadership efforts.  The same can be said for every single “employee benefit.”  If an employee cannot afford the employer’s benefits, those benefits are wasted money the employer needs elsewhere.  Hence, the final point in defining employee engagement is the individualization of incentives and the individual relationship between managers and employees.  Stop the one-size-fits-most offerings, and let’s get back to talking to people.Anton Ego 4

Reflective Listening

Listening has four distinct levels; currently, these are:

      • Inactive listening – Hearing words, seeing written communication, zero impact mentally. Mainly because your internal voices drown out the possibility of communication.
      • Selective listening – Hearing only that which confirms your own voices, opinions, and biases. While others are speaking, you are already forming your response.
      • Active listening – Show the other person you are paying attention to, engage with meaning in a reply. You are focused on removing barriers to get your point across.
      • Reflective listening – Paying attention to intent and content, reducing emotion, two-directional as both parties are engaged in achieving mutual understanding.

Chinese CrisisInactive and selective listening can be heard through phone lines, instant messaging, text messaging, and easily observed during face-to-face communication.  Worse, active listening launches trust, and when faked, destroys credibility, ruining relationships.  Reflective listening can only achieve mutual understanding when both parties are choosing to listen intently and with the purpose of reaching mutual understanding.  The most powerful tool in an organizational leader’s toolbox for quickly rectifying employee engagement is reflectively listening.

Communication occurs in two different modalities, verbal and non-verbal.  Good communicators adapt their message to the audience using reflective listening and careful observation.  Adapting the message requires first choosing, determining who the primary and secondary audience is, and then focusing the message on the primary audience.  Next, adaptation requires prior planning, which includes mental preparation, practice, and channels for feedback.  Finally, adaptation requires listening to achieve mutual understanding, careful observation, asking questions designed to lead to mutual understanding, and clarifying what is being said to achieve mutual understanding.  The pattern described can be the tool that begins employee engagement but is not an end-all solution all by itself.Anton Ego

Appreciative Inquiry

Appreciative inquiry is a growth mechanism that states that what a business organization needs, they already have enough of, provided they listen to their employees.  Appreciative inquiry and common sense tell leaders who want to know and change their organization and how and where to begin.  Appreciative inquiry-based leadership is 6-continuous steps that start small and cycle to more significant problems as momentum for excellence permeates through an organization.  But the first step, just like in defeating a disabling addiction, is admitting there is a problem.

Here are the six operational steps for appreciative inquiry:

      1. Admit there is a problem and commit to change.
      2. Define the problem.
      3. Discover the variables and stay focused on the positive.
      4. Dream BIG!
      5. Design the future and outline the steps to that future.
      6. Destiny, create the destination you desire.

Bait & SwitchFollow the instructions on a shampoo bottle, “Wash, Rinse, Repeat.”  The appreciative inquiry model can be scaled, repeated, implemented into small or large teams, and produce motivated members who become the force to create change.  Allow yourself and your team to learn, this takes time, but through building motivation for excellence, time can be captured to perform.

Of all the steps in appreciative inquiry, it must be stressed that focusing on the positive is the only way to improve people.  Even if you must make careful observations to catch people doing good, do it!  Focusing on the positive provides the proper culture for engaging as many people as possible.  Criticism, negativity, aspersions, and insults all feed a culture of “Not my problem,” and when the employee claims, “not my problem,” they will never engage until the culture changes.

Organization

Andragogy - LEARNEmployee engagement requires structural changes to the organizational design.  Employee engagement is going to bring immediate change to the organization.  If the leaders, directors, managers, supervisors, team leaders, etc., are not prepared for and willing to change, employee engagement will die as an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.  As a business consultant, I have witnessed the death of employee engagement, and the death is long, protracted, and disastrous to the entire business.  Worse, individuals refusing to change stand out like red dots on a white cloth as employee engagement dies.

Thus, the first step in employee engagement belongs not to the employee, but the employer, who must answer this question: “Are we a learning organization willing to change, or are we a knowing organization who does not need to change?”  How the leadership answers this question will speak volumes to the employees closely observing and making their decisions accordingly.  Depending upon how that question is answered will depend upon whether the business can move onto the second step or remain stuck on the first step.

Andragogy - The PuzzleThe second step in employee engagement is training the organization to accept change and failure as tools for learning, growing, and developing.  A toddler learning to walk will fall more than they stay up before they can run.  The same is true when initiating employee engagement.  Guess what; you are going to fail; can you as an organizational leader accept failing?  Are you willing to admit you failed, made a mistake, and publicly acknowledge the blame and consequences?  Are you willing to allow others to accept the praise for doing the right thing?  Will you as an organizational leader accept change?  How you answer these questions also speaks volumes to the employees you are trying to engage.  Depending upon how you individually and collectively as a team answer these leadership questions will decide if you fall back to step one or advance to step three.

The third step in organizing employee engagement is total commitment.  Are you onboard?  Are all the leaders onboard?  Being onboard means 100% commitment to the organization dreamed in the operational steps to appreciative inquiry.  If not, do not launch an employee engagement program, for it will fail spectacularly!  Never forget the cartoons where a character has one foot on a boat leaving the pier and one foot on the dock; they get wet and left behind!

Have FUN!

Semper GumbyEngaging with employees should be fun, it should be an enjoyable experience, and it should bring out the best in you!  All because you want to see others engage, grow professionally, learn, develop, and become.  Your efforts to teach engagement lead you to learn how to engage better.  Seize these learning opportunities, choose to grow, but never forget to have fun.  My best tool for engaging with employees, dad jokes!  Really, really, really, bad dad jokes!  For example, when Forrest Gump came to Amazon, what was his computer password?

1F@rr3st1

When you get that joke, laugh; but wait for others to get it as well!  Employee engagement is fun, exciting, and can be the best job you ever had as a professional.  Just believe in yourself, believe in and invest the time in appreciative inquiry, organize yourself and your business, and always reflectively listen.Never Give Up!

© 2021 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.

 

NO MORE BS: VA Leadership IS the Problem!!!

Angry Grizzly BearPSA:  If you have a weak stomach, please feel free to not read this report.  This article is discussing the ongoing and continual problems of the VA leadership to ensure clean medically reusable equipment is available for practitioners use.  While the YUCK factor is high, the issue remains a leadership failure, and worse, it was purposefully designed into the VA organization to spread infectious diseases between veterans!

The Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) conducted an investigation and reported its findings 16 June 2009.  While still not the first-time endoscopes and colonoscopes being dirty have caused patience significant risks, this report clearly details the failure of VA Leadership as an organizational design flaw.  From page i of the report, we find the following:

Facilities have not complied with management directives to ensure compliance with reprocessing of endoscopes, resulting in a risk of infectious disease to veterans. Reprocessing of endoscopes requires a standardized, monitored approach to ensure that these instruments are safe for use in patient care. The failure of medical facilities to comply on such a large scale with repeated alerts and directives suggests fundamental defects in organizational structure” [emphasis mine].VA 3

Also, from page i the scope of the investigation and those requesting the investigation are detailed:

The VA Office of Inspector General received requests from the Secretary, Chairmen and Ranking Members of VA oversight committees, along with individual members of Congress, regarding the reprocessing of endoscopic equipment at several specific VA medical centers (VAMCs), and to assess the extent of related problems throughout the Veterans Health Administration (VHA). The purpose of the review is to describe the pertinent events at VAMCs where problems were reported, assess VHA’s response to the events, and conduct a system-wide evaluation of current reprocessing practices” [emphasis mine].VA 3

Let us be perfectly clear, since 2009, the VA Federal Officers have been informed and kept abreast of the problems with properly cleaning, sanitizing, and documenting reusable medical equipment, specifically endoscopes and colonoscopes, and have done nothing to fundamentally correct the direction of the VA, the VHA, or the offending VAMC’s.  What good is a memo when it is not applied as a standard operating procedure, where consequences are involved?  How is a memo going to be effective against a culture trained to not do their jobs, no matter the cost to patient safety?  To fully comprehend the problem with reusable medical equipment not being properly cleaned and sterilized (repurposed) see pages seven and eight of the following report linked.  There are a lot of acronyms, but the general sentiment is clear, the VA has an enormous problem with properly cleaning reusable medical equipment!

In a VA-OIG report dated 06 May 2021, we find an employee, after having been caught once, still not being properly supervised, not doing their job, and remaining employed.  This employee was caught falsifying legal documents on the cleanliness of endoscopes, and dirty equipment was used on multiple patients.  The facility conducted an investigation, the VISN conducted another investigation, neither investigation led to any type of fundamental organizational change to protect the patient.  Even the VA-OIG investigation has not led to fundamental organizational changes and improvements in cleaning and sterilizing reusable medical equipment.  Frankly, this should scare the daylights out of every veteran going in for any type of care at the VA.VA 3

Trust is hard won and easily lost.  Right now, can any provider at the VA assure any patient that the reusable medical equipment has been properly cleaned and sterilized before being used on that patient?  Since the VA-OIG report in 2009, the direct answer to this question is a resounding NO!  Again, I ask only for emphasis, if a non-VA hospital, clinic, or provider’s office was caught not properly cleaning, sterilizing, and documenting medically reusable equipment, how could they remain in operation?  The short answer is, they could not; unless they are an abortion clinic, but that’s and entirely different subject.  The Federal Government and the lawyers would descend en masse to shut down the facility, hold the administration accountable, and demand retribution for the patients involved.  Why is the VA Administration and VHA Administration, and the VAMC and VISN Administrations able to escape culpability in risking a patient’s health with dirty medical equipment?

Angry Wet ChickenEvery single Federally elected politician should be up in arms about the double standards between VA hospitals and non-VA hospitals.  If a non-VA hospital is caught with dirty medically reusable equipment, can they use the VA as an example in court as a defense?  NO!  Yet, here is a legal double-standard and precedence that opens the door to more questions.

Returning to the 2009 VA-OIG report, we find how the investigation was methodologically carried out.  The methodology reveals just how widespread and in-depth the investigation is, and how deeply this problem is organizationally wide for the VA.

We visited the facilities which had been the subject of considerable media attention: the Bruce W. Carter VAMC (Miami) in Miami, FL; the Tennessee Valley Healthcare System-Murfreesboro campus (Murfreesboro); and the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center (Augusta) in Augusta, GA. We reviewed applicable regulations, policies, procedures, and guidelines. Furthermore, 26 inspectors conducted unannounced onsite visits for the total of 42 probability-based randomly selected VHA facilities to examine pertinent endoscope reprocessing documentation.

Because of the unannounced nature of the inspections and for cost-efficiency, a stratified clustering sample design was employed to maximize the number of facilities that could be inspected in a single day. Two probability-based random samples of VHA endoscope reprocessing facilities were selected from the study populations for the unannounced onsite inspection: one for colonoscope reprocessing and another for ENT endoscope reprocessing. With probability sampling, each unit in the study population has a known positive probability of selection. This property of probability sampling avoids selection bias and allows use of statistical theory to make valid inferences from the sample to the study population.”VA 3

Back in 2009, the media was very cognizant of VA issues, then the dead veteran scandal of 2012 and 2017, turned the media’s attention away from how the VA conducts business.  Let me direct your attention to the final sentence of the quoted material above.  As a researcher, this is a gold standard methodology statement for researching a complex organization like the VA, to pick proper probability samples, and to reduce individual inspector bias in the combined report of findings.  Thus, from this quoted material we can presume both that the methods of conducting the research were sound and conclude that the egregious behavior by administrators is VA wide!VA 3

If dirty medical equipment is how the VA defines excellence in the 21st Century, America’s veterans are in trouble deep!  I am now in my eleventh year of writing about the behavior of the VA and how they intentionally treat veterans.  I have witnessed detestable behavior by providers as an employee, and brought this behavior to the administrator’s attention, for which I was discharged without cause!  I have written about instances of negligence so terrible that there should have been a Congressional Blue-Ribbon panel assigned to demand correction and conduct and investigation, but nothing ever transpired.  I have personally experienced providers so inept, their qualifications should be questioned.  I have observed VA employees abuse, harass, threaten, and intentionally hinder treatment.  The behavior of the VA Administration where reusable medical equipment is concerned is so far beyond the pale, words escape me to describe.

Dont Tread On MeI believe in the little rocks that start landslides.  I know the power of tiny snowflakes that create an avalanche.  I know that if enough veterans, their families, friends, and communities rise up, the elected politicians responsible for scrutinizing the government will be forced to make veteran safety and health at the VA a priority and blessed change will finally arrive in the VA Administration and administrators.  Imagine how you would feel to learn a close friend or family member caught an infectious disease during treatment at the VA.  Please respond accordingly!

© 2021 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.

NO MORE BS: CHANGE! – Let me Explain

Bird of PreyAs a fourteen-year-old, I was wandering around an office supply store in Belfast, Maine, and came across a bookmark I thought had an interesting statement on it:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

I thought that saying was pretty neat, and it helped me begin a process in my own life of learning how to learn and challenging change.  Over time, I began to suspect something out of place in the pattern that quote/prayer was claiming; I do not believe there are things I cannot change!  I know that if a person refuses to change, I can do nothing until that person chooses to change.  But, I remain convinced that there is nothing man has made that cannot be changed.Leadership Cartoon

As a building contractor, I learned that the same tools I am using to destruct a building are the same tools I will employ to construct a building.  An important point where change is concerned, structures can come down, structures can be built, but the human element rests upon their own decision to change or not.  However, many times the structures can influence the individual to change.

Detective 4In the US Army, I noticed something powerful; when living in a Korean War-built Quonset hut, my fellow soldiers and I had moral problems, experienced depression, and struggled.  But,  when we moved into new barracks, many of these problems ceased almost immediately.  Thus cementing a lesson, the environment plays a role in personal feelings and influences desires to change.  In the US Navy, this was more poignantly learned.  I slept in Crew Berthing Three, the rest of the engineering department slept in Crew Berthing Two, and I hated going in there.  Between the smell, the lackadaisical attitude towards maintenance, and the general disorderliness of the compartment always left me feeling depressed.  So, even though I slept in the same berthing as Deck Department, which included the Boatswains mates, the berthing spaces were neater, cleaner, and better all around.  Environment matters and influences personal desire to change or not to change.

As my injuries have worsened with age, my ability to rebuild engines, build or destruct structures, and operate heavy equipment has been reduced dramatically.  But, the lessons taught have remained, there are people I cannot change, but there is nothing that I cannot change.  My wife asks me all the time why do I write articles for a blog.  My answer is rooted in the Serenity Prayer quoted above; there is nothing I cannot influence to change.

Andragogy - LEARNToolsThere are people who I have met who will never change.  One comes readily to mind, I was homeless on the streets of Auburn, Washington, after leaving the US Army in S. Korea.  I had a job but no place to stay.  One night while wandering to keep warm, I met a homeless man who refused to change.  He was homeless by choice, not because of any drinking or drug problem, not because he was not smart enough to get a job and improve his living conditions, but because he chose to be homeless.  He said, “I am who I am, and I refuse to change just to please society.”  A very intriguing thought occurred to me then and has repeated often, am I choosing to be homeless, or am I choosing to grow?

I choose to be a lifelong learner; this commitment sprang from this conversation with this homeless man in Auburn, Washington.  I committed to several principles knowing that I could more greatly influence my environment as I changed myself.

      1. Be Curious
      2. Focus on Active Looking
      3. Review and Redraft
      4. Improve memory and recall
      5. Change your perception

Because there is nothing I cannot change, I know the power of small pebbles in a landslide.  I know the power of tiny snowflakes in an avalanche.  I understand how a small rudder can turn an enormous ship for good or ill.  Nothing man has made that man cannot unmake, remake, fix, correct, or influence change.  There are people no one will ever influence due to moral agency, individual perception, and the valuation of consequences.  But, the environment around that person can be changed, and opportunities provided to encourage a different mindset.

GearsCase in point, an engineering shipmate of mine, was kicked out of Crew Berthing Two for smelly feet, which led to smelly shoes, which upset a lot of people in Crew 2.  He was forced to come live in Crew Berthing Three.  Why did he have stinky feet, a fungus was growing on his feet, and he had never been taught how to care for his feet.  He could wash them 100 times a day, but because he did not know how to care properly for his feet, nothing would change, and his feet would stink.  When my shipmate chose to change, we taught him about foot care, he went to medical and got some fungal cream, and he purchased new shoes and socks.  Why were his feet not a problem in Crew Three; we had better, and took better care, of the ventilation system than Crew two.Courage

Those engineers in Crew Two could not understand that the environment influences behavior, and the influence of behavior led to negative consequences.  The move to Crew Three changed the environment physically and led to an eventual change in mindset for the person.  Could Crew Two have had better ventilation; absolutely, if the members living there desired it.  Since they individually decided not to have better ventilation, the consequence was a smellier and more nasty berthing space.  Environment plays a role in behavior and influences people for good or ill.  We can affect the environment, but we cannot force change upon people who refuse to change.Behavior-Change

Leading to the final thought, why do we need “wisdom to know the difference?”  I  can change the environment around me.  I can change me.  I cannot change other people, but I can change other things and influence the people after changing those things in the environment, causing problems.  Let us examine this from the viewpoint of the Department of Veterans Affairs.  The administrators (people) are causing moral issues and distress in the employees.  Some of the employees like being morally repugnant. Others are ethically obtuse because of job security. Others remain true to themselves and stay in the system to help affect change.

Life ValuedHow does a person change a system built by man; start with the environment, which in this situation are the processes, procedures, and methods of conducting work.  A leader arrives and begins influencing people through how they perform their work.  Then begins the fundamental operations of training to new standards, including ethical, moral, and logical processes and procedures written down.  Then, that leader begins holding people, not written processes, accountable for their actions.  Shortly every person will be faced with a choice, change or leave.  Hence, cleaning and correction become a natural function of the environment, and change is made where many have claimed; change will never happen.

Knowledge Check!As an industrial and organizational psychologist, I know this is the path forward as I have applied these lessons in my own life.  Changing people, like destructing and constructing buildings, does not occur magically.  Plans are made, planning is carried out, and fundamental change occurs through the environment.  Use the pattern:

      1. Be Curious
      2. Focus on Active Looking
      3. Review and Redraft
      4. Improve memory and recall
      5. Change your perception

Watch what happens!  It is amazing to see and possible to change.  Nothing cannot be changed; only people choosing not to change cannot be changed.  But people are not the environment, and the environment can influence people!

© 2021 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.

What “Going the Extra Mile” means in Customer Service: A Call Center Labyrinth

cropped-snow-leopard.jpgI met a unique call center representative, who when asked by management to “go the extra mile for the customer,” remarked, “I go the extra mile for the customer by simply answering the phone.”  Recently, “going the extra mile” has resurfaced as a customer service topic, and I think we need some parameters for understanding the term to really appreciate what it means to “go the extra mile.”

The saying, “go the extra mile,” has origins in the beatitudes as discussed in the New Testament, which includes a discourse on when asked to walk a mile with a person, go with them two.  Obviously, the customer service representative, especially in a call center, cannot walk with the customer two miles.  Thus, what exactly and specifically is intended when management wants the representative to “go the extra mile?”  Think about this for a moment.  In a metrics measured call center, does the representative have the time to engage the customer in idle chit-chat and remain productive per the parameters?  Is the representative expected to perform an account analysis for the customer while answering the customer’s questions and extend the call to ensure each customer is taking the fullest advantage of the available products and services offered?

In a related question, what organizational policies are prohibiting, interfering, or downright anathema to the agent “going the extra mile?”  As an agent, I worked in a call center with this exact problem; the company instructed agents “go the extra mile” for every customer, but then discouraged agents with policies, procedures, and back office personnel whose sole purpose, it seemed to the front-line agents, was to always say no before yes.  When these issues were brought to the attention of the business leaders, the solution was to add more bureaucracy and another person to the back office, which further complicated delivering upon the customer service commitment.

Raising the first point for “going the extra mile” organizational support for delivering a higher level of customer service.  If the front-line agents are being asked to “go the extra mile,” the entire organization already needs to be delivering a higher level of support to the front-line agents.  Business leaders, “going the extra mile,” begins with you exemplifying the “go the extra mile” attitude.  Then, get into the “how” of work performance including the logic of processes and procedures, the reasons “why” business is done in the manner and style of your organization, and smooth the transitions between the front and back office.  The best approach for this is to take each business process from origination in customer service and walk it through every whistle stop in your business to completion, and at every stop asking “why.”  I guarantee you will find ways and means to improve the process every single time.Kindness Quote

Second, when someone is asked to “go the extra mile,” it is human nature for that person to ask or think, “What is in it for me?”  If there is no discernable value in “going the extra mile,” the person asked to put forth more effort could become hostile, depressed, and/or simply put less quality into the action wasting potential and defeating the purpose of “going the extra mile.”  There will always be a psychological value aspect to this discussion.  As a business leader looking to deliver a higher level of quality service, are you prepared to reward agents for “going the extra mile?”

Third, be specific, detailed, and precise in communicating what is meant by “going the extra mile.”  My unique colleague has a point.  If the agent considers answering the phone “going the extra mile,” how will you as the business leader address the need to act differently?  Some might think my colleague was flippant in answering as he did, but the callers at this time were more hostile than normal, technology was changing and customers were experiencing more problems than normal with the services provided, and due to employee churn, all the agents were being asked to work longer hours.  It takes real courage in these difficult circumstances just to answer the phone, let alone resolve customer problems; forget “going the extra mile!”  As a business leader, are you fully cognizant of the issues in the front office?  When asking for an agent to “go the extra mile,” have you specifically defined what this means, detailing actions that fit the description, and do you know it is possible for others to accomplish?

Speaking of accomplishing an action, on the day I was hired as a call center agent, the call center had a six-month backlog of work in the back office, meaning six months prior to my date of hire a customer had requested a bill credit or some other change, and the issue remained open on my date of hire.  After 60+ hour weeks, for three months, the backlog had been reduced to 45-days, and this was considered acceptable by the business leaders.  Thus, the front-line agents had to be prepared to explain why it would take a minimum of one and a half billing cycles for the change to become visible to the customer and encourage the customer to continue to make the payments as shown on the bill to keep from suffering any adverse consequences.  Being possible to accomplish requires business leaders to know what is happening in the front-office and the back-office simultaneously and understand from the customer’s point of view the “why” behind business processes.

Fourth, training as an ongoing, regular, and value-added action is necessary.  Too often training is considered “one and done,” and then annual compliance training is required that everyone suffers through.  If this is the attitude of training in your call center and the training is not value-added, as in “is the training useful immediately” and the value apparent, there is a failure in training, a failure in leadership, and the failure is visible to customers.

The Extra Mile Just Ahead Green Road Sign Over Dramatic Clouds and Sky.I worked as an agent for a great call center that believed in ongoing training at the team level where front-line managers held daily training and the trainers held monthly refresher and targeted performance training.  The problem was that no one measured the training for value, and the agents began to see the time off the phone for training as an exercise in futility.  Value-added is a critical component of ongoing training and begins with asking where are you, as an agent, struggling?  Value-added training ends with an agent overcoming that specific struggle and growing to find another struggle and knowing that training is there to aid them in finding a solution to the new struggle.  Build value-added training as an ongoing conversation, which will be visible to the customer, and the agent is prepared to make the opportunity to “go the extra mile.”

Is the difference clear?  Be specific, clear, and concise when directing “going the extra mile,” and agents will begin testing the waters for organizational support based upon their current levels of knowledge.  Agents will want to make opportunities to “go the extra mile” when they are properly trained and are confident in the training to help them meet the customer’s request and desires.  Agents will make opportunities to “go the extra mile” for customers when they are confident that the business stands behind them in processing, in a timely manner, the agent’s requests made on behalf of that customer.  Agents will make opportunities to “go the extra mile” when their leaders are exemplifying “going the extra mile” for internal customers.Extra Mile  Agents will create opportunities to “go the extra mile” when there is value to them personally for the extra effort and when “going the extra mile” does not harm their scores in a metric based call center.  Finally, agents will create opportunities to “go the extra mile” when they know specifically what “go the extra mile” entails; remember, amorphous feel-good lines do not clear instructions make.

© 2018 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.

 

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

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

A Consideration for Organizational Leaders

            Kahneman (2011) in discussing decision-making expounds upon heuristics and biases in showing how intuitively reached decisions usually are not intuitive at all. This process of decision-making advances through understanding Miles and Snow (1978) discussion regarding how structure and process constrain strategy. Miles and Snow (1978), quote fellow researchers March and Simon (1958) and Cyert and March (1963), on how organizations limit uncertainty in decision-making through the structure of the organization and the processes in the organization. This is a bedrock principle to understanding how any organization reaches a decision, whether the decision is to produce a certain product or hire a particular employee, Miles and Snow (1978) suggest that decision makers are so influenced by the structure and processes that limits and boundaries become more important than the idea. Miles and Snow (1978) begin their work with a discussion, based upon Chandler’s (1962) work, that strategy and structure link eternally and that the structure of the organization imposes both an adaptive cycle and strategic-choices upon an organization. These principles of strategy, discovered before leaps forward in desktop computing, have not changed with the human interaction to high technology, only enhanced by human technology. Thus, a bias in decision-making is the organizational structure and if the organization desires to improve decision-making by lower level managers and employees’, reducing the bias influence of the organizational processes remains crucial. At this point, many might claim, the dated materials from Miles and Snow (1978) render the argument null and void, except when examples emerge of this philosophy in action. For example, ENRON, the organizational structure purposefully changes to fit the new leadership style of the incoming CEO. Shortly after the new CEO takes the helm, lower-level employees begin making decisions based upon the new organizational structure mimicking the decisions of higher-level managers, directors, vice presidents, and the CEO. When this occurs, ENRON begins to come apart at the seams as an organization and ethical practice replaced for the flaunting of rules and regulations. The organizational rot or organizational cancer spread from the CEO to every employee along the organizational structure, until the problem became so big and engrained that only complete destruction of the organization could save the employees, the community, and the customers (Dandira, 2012; & Miles and Snow, 1978).

References

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

Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Miles, R. & Snow, C. (1978) Organizational Strategy, Structure, and Process. New York: McGraw-Hill

 

© 2014 M. Dave Salisbury

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