+Scott Watson

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Stop Moaning And Start Solving

Oh, don't some people moan?  And perhaps that's a good thing on some occasions.  Don't we all need to let off steam every now and then when we feel frustrated, disappointed, angry and even downright disillusioned?

Having colleagues we can have the occasional moan to is a good thing.  Externalising what's going on in our head can serve as a release for pent up emotions and emotional pressure.  The real problem arises when moaning is accepted as the norm rather than the exception in teams and in organisations.  Let me share an example.

When I facilitate leadership development training programmes, there's a clear standard set from the outset with, and in partnership with participants.  That standard goes something like this...

'Shall we all agree that this leadership training event will focus on developing solutions and, in the event of you wanting to have a moan, you're welcome to it - on the condition that you also generate at least one solution to the problem or issue you're moaning about?'

In written form, this invitation or standard may look quite unfriendly, even unhelpful.  But in reality its exactly the opposite.  It's very friendly and extremely helpful in the right context and partnered with a little empathy.  And that context is helping participants, good, decent human beings to take personal responsibility for themselves, their communication and, the problem situations they find themselves in at that moment in time.

My colleague and I have an unwritten rule whereby if either of us are feeling a little (or a lot) negative about a situation or predicament, we give each other permission to have a moan for up to ten minutes each.  And, that's the absolute maximum allowed.  If there's no focus on coming up with a solution, there's no permission to moan.  However inhumane this may sound - it actually works really well!

Why Do People Moan?

On most occasions, moaning is due to at least one of our personal values being transgressed.  For example, if your key personal value is trust, if a colleague makes a commitment to you on an important project and then, chooses to not keep that commitment - and doesn't let you know otherwise, trust can be damaged, the relationship soured and, it's emotionally healthy to find an outlet and share your disappointment with a trusted colleague.  Not too many mind you, or that can develop in to a pity party when you prove just how big a victim you are. And that's not healthy for anybody. Plus, if it develops to this stage, people will start avoiding you anyway.

A five minute moan can help to release stress and anxiety too.  Have you ever noticed one of your colleagues bounding around your office gesticulating and openly showing their captive audience (colleagues who care + those who don't) just how angry they are?  It seems that actively demonstrating disappointment, frustration, anger - and other related emotions is viewed by the perpetrator as a sign that their audience care. But it's exactly the opposite.  They don't care - and your shouting about the office is becoming an unwelcome interruption for them.

Breathe Deeply....

Just because you've calmed down and returned to your normal emotional state after a moan, or negative emotional experience doesn't mean you don't care.  It means that you are now able and ready to return to a more healthy, balanced emotional and mental state.  It means that you are better able to address the issue at hand without resorting to emotional blackmail or guilt tripping.  Tough Talks are most effective when undertaken in an emotionally balanced manner. And, do you know that after an 'emotional hijack, it can take your body up to 48 hours to return to its most balanced emotional state? So there are some potentially dangerous health issues to consider here.

A Question To Ask A Persistent Moaner

If your ear is being repeatedly bent by a constant moaner - and it doesn't matter where they sit or stand in the organisational structure, an effective way of helping them step out of their emotional state and think more clearly (or at worst, sod off and bother some other poor person) is to ask a good question.  And, good questions are not 'So how does that make you feel?' or 'Will s/he ever change?' A really good, snappy, solution focused question is this...

'And how are you maintaining this problem?'

With some people, such a question will push them to fly back at you on auto-pilot, pity party mode with a response such as 'I'M NOT DOING ANYTHING to maintain the problem.  It's not my fault...dah di dah di dah....'  You know how it goes. They're only telling you and moaning to you because they think that you'll listen, and listen sympathetically because you care.  Here's a news flash.  When you persistently moan - PEOPLE STOP CARING! They're just too polite to tell you.

For some people, such a challenging question will get them to pause for thought, look a little puzzled and then respond with something along the lines of 'Oh, I didn't know I was maintaining the problem...but now you mention it, I suppose I am.'

And this is where solutions are found. When finger pointing and blaming stops, personal ownership and responsibility has a space to get involved and re-activated.  Think about it for a second.  Isn't it always easier to expect somebody else to change how they communicate, think, feel and behave?   Another News Flash - You could be waiting a very looooooooong time for that to happen! But waiting for somebody else to change, as well as becoming rather frustrating, can also absolve us of our role in the issue. And if we're involved in a 'Problem' don't we need to be involved in the 'Solution' too?

Getting Focused On Solutions

Another question that can prove helpful for people who are willing to explore solutions is this.

'What are three things you could do and would be happy to do to resolve this specific problem?'

Again, the moaners will quickly and smoothly absolve themselves of any responsibility, sticking with their well rehearsed story that someone else has to change before they themselves can feel better.  But the solution focused people will start to think of solutions.  And the beauty of this is - The Solutions Are Theirs - Not Yours! And this makes them far more likely and far more motivated to act upon their solutions.

Try this approach for 7 days and start to notice how things (and people's thinking) change - for the better!

Friday, 13 January 2012

What's So Different Between A Croissant And An Apple?

A strange question?  At first sight, maybe it's a little confusing, but when we explore the differences is more detail, it's quite easy to establish that an Apple a day is so much more nourishing, enjoyable and healthy than a croissant.  Here's the story...

This morning I visited Manchester to obtain guidance on how to run my Mac computer more effectively and easily. As I was travelling from Halifax which is 25 miles from Manchester and the rush-hour traffic can be rather unpredictable, I set off on my journey rather early.

Arriving at my destination an hour before my appointment with a 'Genius' (we'll come to that in a while) at the Apple Store, I decided to grab a coffee and croissant at a branch of a high-street chain of French cafes.  And here's where the challenge began.

My request for a chocolate croissant appeared to silently trouble the waitress who was taking my order.  A pursing of her lips and slight frown with her eyes gave me a hint that something wasn't quite right with my request.  I carried on reading my newspaper, the coffee arrived, but the croissant didn't.  A full ten minutes later I politely asked the waitress if my croissant would be arriving.  Her hesitance to any answer my straightforward question again gave a hint that something was awry.  She proceeded to nervously advise me that 'We're just warming it up for you now.'  My response of 'It's ok, I prefer my croissant cold please', was met with her reluctance to provide me (the customer...paying customer remember) with a cold croissant.

Long story short.  The croissant arrived, the tough pastry and hard chocolate on the inside clearly demonstrating that this was 'old stock' and not at all fresh.  As the waitress didn't return to my table to ask if everything was ok - because clearly it wasn't I left the croissant with only one bite out of it.  As the waitress passed I asked 'May I check with you, is this croissant actually fresh?'  She responded 'I'll take it off your bill sir'. I politely thanked her for her offer to remove the cost of the croissant from the bill and asked again, 'May I check, is this croissant fresh?' At which point the somewhat embarrassed waitress responded, 'Well...it was fresh YESTERDAY MORNING'. 

So what happened here?  The manager or person responsible for ordering 'Fresh' items over ordered? Perhaps the footfall wasn't as high as expected or predicted?  Maybe in an effort to cut costs in a tough marketplace, it's company policy to sell pastries that are more than 24 hours old?  Who knows?  Well, the manager should know.  But isn't it a poor reflection on the brand when they'll do everything they can (i.e. warm old stock up) to avoid detection?

This is a clear case of putting profits for the organisation way ahead of serving the trusting customer a decent product at a fair price. And, with the internet now being used as a feedback mechanism for such outlets - Tripadvisor.com being the most popular, what would drive a manager to mislead customers in such a way?  But that's why an Apple can save the day!

Having left the cafe a little disappointed, and a lot hungry, I entered the Apple Store in Manchester's Arndale Centre to meet a Genius.  'The Genius Bar' is the name given to the resident experts who supposedly, can resolve any issue a user may have with one of their products. However difficult or unusual your problem, they commit to resolving it for you, right there and then in most cases.

As I waited for my very own Genius to appear, an elderly gentleman who was booked in for a personal coaching session on his new Ipad struck up conversation with me.  He mentioned that at the tender age of 78 years young, he had decided to start learning again.  Retirement had become somewhat boring and he wanted to keep his brain busy.  But here's the stunning thing!

Just 10 days previous he had purchased his first ever Apple product, an Ipad 2.  He spoke about how excited he was to be presented with an eye catching white box that he'd expected the Apple store rep to open and show him all he wanted to know, but he was surprised that he was invited to open the box himself, take out the Ipad and switch it on.  He called this the 'Getting to know you' experience.

Realising that he was a little hesitant in getting to know his Ipad, apparently the Apple store rep asked him what he'd like to know about first.  How cool is this? Involving the customer and entering their world rather than simply doling out information and babble whilst expecting the customer to enter Apple's world. As he grew steadily confident with his new machine, he began asking more questions to the in store expert. But, the happy, excited gentleman's Apple world was about to take a dramatic turn.  He told me 'I was just learning over the table to get a pen to make some notes and then it happened...in a flash.'

CRASH.  The Ipad fell off the table, hit the floor and landed face down.  Yikes! This isn't sounding too promising.  When he picked up his Ipad off the floor, the facia was smashed. His question to the Apple store rep of whether the Ipad could be repaired was met with 'No, it can't be repaired as it's all one single unit...BUT, it was an accident so let me get you another one and we'll take this one off your hands'.

And that's the story.  How ridiculously good customer service is this?  The store/brand treated him fairly and what does he do? He becomes an ambassador for Apple. He tells me, I tell you and Apple become even more trusted as a fair, socially responsible organisation.  And of course, they will probably sell a few more products if this elderly gentleman has anything to do with it.

Isn't it a shame that whilst Apple replace a £439 item at no cost, and little inconvenience to their customer, a chain of cafes can't serve a fresh £2.50 croissant or at the very least, let the customer know that other, fresher choices are available?

Customer (Dis)Service is becoming more and more accepted in the UK.  But if you the customer says nothing, you're just teaching these organisations how to treat you. And it's definitely not win-win.



Monday, 9 January 2012

Customer Service Or Customer Nightmare?

So many people in business view 'Customer Service' as a vital ingredient in their recipe for success.  And that's fair enough and completely understandable.

But, customer service is only a good starting point, and not a final destination.  Why so? Because what customer's really want, beyond 'service' is Customer Satisfaction.  Service is what your company believes it should, and in most cases, can provide to potential and existing customers.  It's your processes, standards, policies and even beliefs about 'what's right'.  As I said, it's a good start.  It's absolutely vital that you have some form of structured approach to serving your customers whatever your industry sector.  But customer satisfaction is what's going to get buyers to your web site, through your doors and telling their friends about you.  Here are a few real-life examples:

High Street Hairdressing Chain

I called my local salon to book an appointment for my hair to be cut.  I've been a customer (or 'client' as the organisation states) of this company for 5 years and have always been happy with the level of cut delivered.  Unfortunately, my hair is disappearing so perhaps I rather appreciate the stylist's ability to make my see through pat not so see through?

It's company policy for this chain to 'massage' your head as well as shampoo....and condition.  It's all rather trendy and somehow adds value to the 'client experience' - or so the manager told me!?

I spoke with the receptionist who advised me of a time slot which she could book me in for.  Due to the time slot not leaving me much time to return home and get ready for a business meeting I asked her 'May I just have a dry cut on this occasion as I have to be back home to get ready for a meeting?'  A straightforward request and one which I thought would not encounter resistance.

But that's not what happened.  Oh no, a dry cut?  No massage?  That couldn't be done. 'You can't have a dry cut, it's not possible and we don't do them' was the rather sharp response from the receptionist.  I responded, 'It's because I have a business meeting shortly after the appointment and I need to get back home, change and then drive to the client office....I'm not asking for any discount, I'm happy to pay the full fee. It would be really helpful if you could just book me in for a dry cut with Anna'. Can you do that please?'

Without a pause for breath, the receptionist advised me that 'Appointments HAVE TO last forty minutes, and as a dry cut will only take twenty minutes, we can't do it.'  Starting to notice where the nightmare is about to begin now?

I politely restated that it would be really helpful to me if she could book me in for the dry cut appointment, that I'd previously had 'the fully monty' and on many occasions, the appointment didn't last forty minutes, or anywhere near that duration for that matter.  'No, it's not our policy so you can't have it'. And that was most definitely her final answer.

Let's Review

Here is a long-standing customer (oops, client) doing his best to give a company cold hard cash and they simply won't accept it.  Why not? Because the customers request is deemed 'unreasonable' and doesn't fit nicely with their 'policy'.

Here's the real bonus.  It is the stylists job to keep the client in the seat for no less than forty minutes.  Why? Because it's company policy!  Even if it adds no value at all to the customer (oops, client), you need to keep him or her seated, right there in your salon.

After all, why let excellent customer service and customer satisfaction get in the way of a company policy?

Having advised the Head Office Customer Service Manager at the company of the situation she offered me a free haircut at the salon in question to resolve the issue.  Will I be going back?  Not a chance!

The Travel Agent Who Doesn't Deliver What He Offers

I listened to a regional news channel this morning and heard an interview with a Yorkshire based travel agent.  The interview was designed to help listeners understand that, despite the turbulent economy and a need to watch the pennies, it was still possible for family's to get away from it all and bathe themselves in sunshine in some faraway land.

The interviewer asked the travel agent what special offers were available during January and the agent responded with deals including 'Australia for just £199' along with many other unbelievable deals.  And that's just what they were, un-believable! I called the travel agent who advised me that his phone had been 'ringing off the hook' since the radio interview. And, upon further investigation, I wasn't surprised. He quoted me a £50 return journey from Manchester to Dubai, the only catch being, it was an indirect flight that would require a transfer of plane in Amsterdam.

But that really wasn't the only catch.  The 'special offers' this crafty businessman had quoted on air, and to me on the phone were all net of taxes.  Really, my wonderful £50 flight was over £450 when taxes were included. And shouldn't they be?  After all, isn't this travel agent intentionally misleading listeners into getting in touch with him?

The old saying of 'If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is', springs to mind here. But why mislead in the first place? Surely this approach erodes the very thing you want to develop with potential customers? Trust!

How Are You Doing?

So, these are a couple of quick examples where customer service, and indeed customer satisfaction have failed to materialise. How is your organisation doing in terms of delivering customer service that supports your organisation and its potential and actual customers? And, do you ever check to see if your customer satisfaction record is worthwhile and meaningful?

If you choose to ignore the very real problems that inept and/or inferior customer service can cause your organisation, you may have performed rather well during the economic boom, but, as many organisations are finding to their cost, this is the 'Bust' time and you need all hands on deck in attracting and retaining customers.

Scott Watson

Would You Hire A Whistleblower?

We've had Enron, Worldcom, Parmalat and even the MP's expenses fiddle.  And, each of these scandals only came to light because someone chose to communicate the wrong-doings of their leaders to either the relevant authorities, or the general public at large.

The people who uncover a scandal or cover-up are commonly known as a 'whistleblower'. Someone who 'blows the whistle' or calls time on a certain behaviour, standard or communication.  And, whilst their decision to tell all may at first appear commendable, it can have consequences that are more severe, and perhaps unjust, for them than it can for the perpetrators of the crime.

Recently, the business news media has covered the story of Japanese manufacturer, Olympus.  A well-estblished, apparently well trusted organisation that fired its Chief Executive, Michael Woodford, apparently for blowing the whistle on alleged accounting fraud within the business.

Isn't this a turn up for the books?  When have we ever heard of a top leader willingly unveiling a history of corporate deception and fraud within their own business?  It's all about leading teams you can TRUST.  Reports in the UK media detail the accounting scandal to be in the region of £1.2 billion. Not a number to be scoffed at, but one that has been willingly overlooked, ignored or perhaps even covered up by the very leaders who are/were trusted to lead Olympus honestly.  What's more shocking is the fact that Olympus is a Japanese company.  A nation that prides itself on trust and integrity.

The fact that Michael Woodford has been removed from his post is perhaps a reflection of the standards and beliefs the institutional investors of Olympus have about transparency, honesty and integrity.  With, at present, many of the executives who oversaw the accounting issue still in place, where is there to go for its ousted CEO?

The reasons for his choosing to uncover the accounting fraud have yet to be reported.  Perhaps he saw it as the right thing to do.  Perhaps, he didn't want his name to be associated with such an outrageous policy, which appears to have been actively endorsed by members of its most senior leaders.  Whatever his reasons for outing Olympus, who will want to hire Michael Woodford next?

Will he become an independent consultant to government departments across  the globe to improve standards, transparency and accountability?  Or will a private equity company snap him up to oversee their public and investor relations team? After all, if there has to be somebody watching over your business/es, it may as well be someone who is happy and willing to uncover supposed dodgy dealings.

Good on Michael Woodford for bringing the fraudulent practices of his company to the world.  Don't we all need someone we can trust in our organisation?


A Few Top Tips To Manage Remote Teams More Effectively

Managing Remote Teams can be a real challenge.  And a challenge that can easily turn into a real problem if not managed effectively.

Our clients tell us that the lack of person to person contact with their team members, whether it be their manager or subordinates is the most difficult issue when working in remote teams.  Remember, face to face contact over Skype or video conferencing is very different to person to person coaching or contact where you're in the same location.

Here are a few top tips on how to manage remote teams more effectively.  Try them for 10 days - consistently- and notice the positive difference that begins to develop.  Nope, just reading these tips won't add any value to you, your team or your organisation which is ultimately trusting, and paying you to do your best for them. And, neither will the 'I've tried that and it didn't work' attitude either.

You know as well as I do that a little practice and focus is all it takes to make improvements.  And a 10 day timescale is absolutely adequate (as long as you remind yourself to use these tips). So, here goes:

Understand Your Role In Delivering The Goods

It's all too easy to unwittingly abdicate responsibility for the level of results achieved when managing a remote team. Yes, when all is going wonderfully well, bring on the plaudits and raving fans, especially if they're your boss, or even your boss's boss! But what about when it all goes badly wrong?  Will you willingly acknowledge your role in failure?  Much like success, failure is rarely achieved alone and this is where your mettle as a manager is really tested.  Too many times I've heard examples of where a manager has stated something along the lines of 'I delegated the task to them and s/he said it was going well and on track. I guess I need to be less trusting and more careful next time.'

Too right you need to be more careful.  Where were you in providing ongoing coaching support, asking for updates on progress and challenges, checking quality and evaluating risks?  If you were too busy managing other team members and/or activities, it's still your responsibility to ensure that the outcomes you and your team commit to, are actually achieved. On time, on budget and spot on in terms of quality.

Your Role In Communicating Effectively

The ongoing developments in the world of technology were supposed to help managers and teams perform even more effectively.  Sometimes I'm not so sure that this goal has been achieved.  Super cool Iphones, tablets and Blackberry's have become more of a hindrance than a help to many.  Come on, you've experienced it. You're sat in a meeting with colleagues and your phone buzzes, vibrates or plays an alert sound to grab your attention.  And what happens?  You look at your phone, pick it up and read whatever email or text message has been received.  What message does this send to your team in that very meeting with you?  Yep, 'You're not as important as my phone'. Madness, complete Madness!

How do you plan when and how to communicate with your team members?

Do you have a process in place which allows your team members to happily accept delegated authority without them feeling they've been dumped on?  If you think you do, cool. But, I'd check what your team members think anyway.

Do you delegate in a manner that reflects trust, collaboration and shared ownership for the achievement of the required outcomes? Or do you 'delegate' by sending an email with an outline of expectations (with crazy deadlines even?) and then sit and wait to see what questions come back to you?

However well you think you communicate, you're probably nowhere near as effective as you believe.  And, one really easy way to work around this is to ASK YOUR TEAM MEMBERS WHAT THEY NEED FROM YOU.

So much information gets 'lost in translation' and your team members will really value the opportunity to have some structured communication support from you.  It will really help them perform even better for you.  Just sit down over a coffee and ask them 'In terms of how I communicate with you and manage you, please will you give me three points I can improve on?'

Your question may scare the daylights out of some team members, as such questions are rarely asked.  A high-trust relationship is required for this form of approach to be taken of course.

The long and short of managing remote teams is that YOU the manager need to take absolute responsibility for the delivery of the outcomes required, in the timescales agreed (not imposed) and ensure that your team members are adequately equipped to deliver what you're trusting them to deliver.  If you don't communicate effectively, there could be tears at bedtime!