ENGAGING HUMAN PERFORMANCE TO DRAMATICALLY IMPROVE STRATEGIC BUSINESS RESULTS
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February 2010

7 THINGS FOR LEADERS TO PONDER

 

  1. How do I help?

    How many of us have had attempts to help back-fire? People are either resentful, or they tell us they’ve already tried it and are clearly miffed by our presuming that something that obvious eluded them, or they listen respectfully or even appreciatively but still continue the same dysfunctional behavior. What’s going on?

    First, did you have permission to help, or were you presuming? Give others the power to empower you to help. Don’t trespass. Don’t tread on other people’s sensitivities.

    Second, do you know if what they actually wanted was “advice” as opposed to “empathy” or “support” or some help exploring options on their own? Someone who says “I don’t know what to wear,” may actually want to discuss their social butterflies relative to the upcoming event. A client says, “Why won’t they tell me the truth?” Let them teach you about the situation, before you volunteer a perspective. That way there is a balance of teaching and learning, and there is a peer to peer exchange and validation.

    Always in helping, know when to butt out when someone “gets” it and is clearly ready to move on their own. Or if someone really needs follow-up, try to volunteer that collaboratively and appropriately. Leave any savior complexes at the door.

  2. Having a “policy” in and of itself doesn’t make it smart

    How many companies when challenged at the stupidity of their processes say, “Well it’s written in our policy, or offer, or terms…” Okay, legally that gets you off the hook. But usually what you have is a potentially estranged customer, not someone looking for the presence or absence of exculpatory clauses in the documentation.

    During a period of British Airways strikes some years ago, I boarded to find they had no blankets on board, and no catering! Having paid full fare first class I was outraged. I asked why we weren’t contacted and either offered a refund, some discount, additional value, or a transfer to another carrier. “Well the strike is posted on our website.” Great! And on the off chance that a major strike might afflict the airline, I’m supposed to be regularly scanning it for breaking news? I finally made this point to someone “authorized” to think. The wear and tear and loss of loyalty was certainly mind-boggling.

    Virgin Atlantic gets kudos, many of which they deserve. But I redeemed an Upper Class ticket based on miles. They said redemption tickets don’t come with their complimentary limo drop and curb-side special check-in at Heathrow. I asked why. They said it was in the redemption booklet small print. I pointed out that this ISN’T what I was asking. If a redemption is a “thank you” and you only qualify for Upper Class redemption by being a loyal and profitable customer, why would you hold back the “full service” when saying “thank you”? I got a robotic repetition that full service is defined in the small print of their booklet. Rubbish. Full service is what the customer experiences. They said I could “buy” miles and get the chauffeur drive.

    Boy, do they know how to say thank you! Instead of grateful, I was resentful. Well done guys!

  3. Being told “it’s standard” isn’t an argument

    When someone tells you what they’re asking for is only what is “standard” be very careful to ensure that the comparison is apples to apples. So someone who books a Conference at a venue in Europe gets told they will get the “standard” package. Every attempt to customize is met with an attempt to “standardize” and homogenize the experience. Yet the openness to the very special event being sought, would lead to a more profitable, and exciting engagement. If someone says, “Give me a standard.” Let them know the standard for sure, but then explore what they actually want.

    Many consultants have business practices that I find ridiculous. For example they’ve trained clients to pay “upon completion”. That’s fine if the result they’re paying for is a market analysis report or an “item” and they need it by a deadline. But if they’re paying for the value of an ongoing relationship, it’s better for them to “commit” for a period…as one does to a personal trainer, a small luxury resort or annual subscription. That way they dive into getting value, not finding excuses if it becomes too daunting to make the adaptive leadership changes they are aspiring to.

    So when I’m told the practice is standard, I usually reply we try to raise standards, not kowtow to them, and indicate that I’d prefer to discuss the logic of various approaches of working together in context of what we’re trying to achieve, rather than applying prevailing norms that may make little sense in this situation.

    Business hotels allow you to cancel up to 6 pm on the day. Seasonal ski resorts have strict non-cancellation policies three to six months out as rooms are limited, and they are only open 4-6 months of the year. Context, relevance, value, not “standardization” makes the case.

  4. Companies are linking bonuses to sustainability and employee satisfaction.

    Okay, at last! In some companies, up to 50% of bonuses, reports the Financial Times, are going to leading or contributing to green initiatives and to fostering employee satisfaction.

    Some have questioned this, wondering if financial results shouldn’t predominate, as shareholder value is still the Holy Grail.

    It may be, but in “Balanced Scorecard” terms that’s a lag indicator, it’s a rear view mirror and tells you how you have done. We also need lead indicators.

    Employee satisfaction can be a good indicator if it measures more than “hygiene” factors and really looks at how well passion and performance are both being liberated by leaders. So “passionate employee engagement” might be the better rubric here. “High Passion/High Performance” as an Index is better yet.

    Such passion is best judged by volunteered commitment: energy and follow through, initiative and discretionary effort, applied at key moments to the right things that really make a difference to business value and results.

  5. Beware of professions who are incentivized to drag out your problems.

    So beware of consultants, lawyers and accountants who charge by the hour rather than by “agreed result”. They are therefore incentivized to take longer – ever wonder why lawsuits and medical treatment take so long and spend so much time going down blind alleys?

    Think of psychiatrists who charge by the hour, no wonder it takes “years” to treat neuroses. Or otherwise, those who spend no time, but charge outlandishly to drug you into a more settled if semi-somnambulant state. Then it becomes a “numbers game” rather than a “time game” — how many can you get through the door and how fast?

    Beware of large firms whose business model involves having hordes of people land and infiltrate your business for a long time. Distrust high labor intensity models.

    Don’t get me wrong, building a city, repairing a heart, dealing with a product launch before a competitor steals a march on you, are rightly labor-intensive. But the caliber of the outcome there matches the activity…and even there, if you can find ways to focus, streamline, prune, do the 20% that produces 80% greater likelihood of success, you’ll thrive!

    Always ask any service provider, “What’s your business model?” If it isn’t linked with your satisfaction, your value and the things you will want to prioritize (like results, speed, transfer of learning, real partnership, accountability)…run fast!

  6. A service mindset isn’t a serf mindset.

    As a service provider, our job is indeed to “serve”. But service is a position of power, it’s not a serf’s role. A service expert should educate a client on how to achieve what they are really after and then support them zealously in its achievement — not blindly perform functions that may or may not move the “results” needle in the right direction.

    People we serve may have emergent needs we don’t quite glimpse, they may have inscrutable preferences that we have to configure our service delivery to…up to a point, that’s fine.

    But we don’t help by being door mats. We’re professional peers, committed to client success. Deliver that and you won’t have to pander to obstinacy, irrationality, scope creep and many other related ills.

    Always challenge politely, “You know if we don’t keep our deadlines we’ll delay what you’ve said critically has to be on time.” Or, “Why do you think it’s fair to keep changing specifications and engendering panic in each other, rather than spending the time to really flesh out what we’re going to do together?” If said smugly or caustically, you can cause real offense. Said with all due solicitousness but also professional esteem and genuine concern for value delivery, you’ll instead create a basis for a robust and mutually respectful working relationship.

    Oh, and don’t feel bad asking to be paid on time. A three week delayed payment to you should be no more acceptable than a three month delayed project deadline would be to your client.

  7. Other side of the coin: defensiveness isn’t confidence

    When challenged on the merits, try to solve the problem, rather than defend the past. If you have to clarify a misconception so it doesn’t poison the well going forward, fine. But otherwise shift to how to make a future difference – the only thing you can possibly do to show you take the input seriously.

    We were at a world famous food and wine event. The red wine was far too cold, instead of being at European “room temperature” about 15 to 16 degrees Centigrade or 63 degrees Farenheit. When two guests complained, the Wine Director didn’t know they were professional sommeliers of considerable standing. He went into a “song and dance” about how he prefers wines at this temperature, how certain wines benefit from being colder (true in some instances, but not red wines of this type)…utter and complete horseradish. He lost face and credibility. I raised the same point, warming the glass with my palms, so a bouquet could actually be detected. His smile stayed frozen on his face…just a tad colder than the temperature of the wine!

    Mistakes happen…this was Asia, and wine storage has to be a bit more aggressive given the heat and humidity. Just admit it, and thereafter, on the next occasion, bring it to the proper temperature…done! Instead, other “opinions” from this Wine Director will always be suspect to us, as we’ll wonder how much “spin” is being applied.

    A confident person accepts the mistake, and gets busy fixing it. People remember our generative actions (generated often by ongoing input and aligned on ways to relevantly raise the bar) and respect those, rather than being “wooed” much less “wowed” by our capacity for rationalizations and the exuberance of our tap dancing.

SUMMING UP

If taken on, these will make for a bracing month’s course of action.

Here are some questions that track each of these insights.

  1. Who do I wish I could help better? How can I make sure I explore before I prescribe? How can I build the rapport such that “help” becomes a collaboration rather than something that diminishes autonomy or standing?
  2. What is the dumbest policy we have, that is either an external or internal passion killer? What is a “default setting” we should change?
  3. What could we do that is “non-standard” to improve our business effectiveness, our value delivery, our cash flow, our effectiveness or even our efficiency? How could we create a point of differentiation that makes a difference?
  4. Can we track lead indicators like passionate engagement, clarity of goals, quality of relationships externally and internally, tracking of high priority deliverables in real-time, presence of coaching and mentoring, team satisfaction and team results, and not just lag indicators? We all tend to know our own 2-3 weakest…start there.
  5. Does our business model add value? Can we ensure our partners and collaborators value what we do — making allowances for rational self-interest?
  6. How can we ensure we create helpful boundaries in our service relationships so expectations are clear, accountabilities appropriate, and we educate people in the relationship we would like to have with them — a peer to peer, value for value exchange?
  7. Can we make ourselves easier to coach and to guide? Can we ensure the quality of our response shows openness, willingness to create new possibilities and options, and where appropriate, judicious (rather than haughty) clarification?

A lot of this sounds like common sense.

“Common” sense is the most mistaken appellation on the planet.

Sense is uncommon. When applied compassionately, passionately and imaginatively, it could be one of the most powerful sources of competitive advantage any of us will ever discover. Let’s make it count!