Sunday, December 12, 2010

Your Job: Customer Service

When service at a restaurant isn’t quite what we expect it to be, the general tendency is to blame the server. The wait staff is the restaurant’s front line and that is where we gain our perspective. However, if the kitchen is slow, the chef does not cook the food as instructed or management has not scheduled enough bus boys, the dining experience is going to be less than it otherwise could be. We express our discontent with the service through lowering the gratuity, focusing our consternation on the wait staff. Finally, we do not return to the establishment.

The restaurant is not unlike any other industry in this aspect. The customer service representative or field sales representative is the face the customer is going to see or the voice on the phone but the service and goods for which they are paying is affected by everyone at the company. Customer service is everyone’s responsibility. From the building engineer and maintenance crew to the CEO, the work each individual does has some affect on the customer’s perspective and feelings toward the company.

Customer service guru, Ken Blanchard asserts, “Customer service should not be a department, customer service is everyone's job.”

Yes, customer service is everyone’s job. Yes, we all serve customers of one sort or another. The customer we serve may be internal (IT services the needs of the company’s infrastructure and thus most of the employees are their customers) or the more traditional external customers and service partners who use the company’s products or services.

Ken Blanchard’s company conducted a study on customer service and customer loyalty, surveying nearly a thousand line managers, human resources and training executives:

“Blanchard research over the past five years places customer loyalty as the fourth most important management challenge. In the same studies, customer relationship skills were cited as the second most important employee development skill, ranking just behind managerial skills.

“Most participating organizations agree that customer loyalty is a powerful driver of organizational success and one that ties directly to the bottom line. Statistics show that it can cost six to seven times more to gain a new customer than to retain an existing one. Expenses related to customer losses cause many companies to recognize the need to channel resources toward retention.”
The research showed four skills that were in the most need of improvement:
  1. Developing systems and processes that make it easy to do business with the organization

  2. Improving the skills of customer-facing employees to diagnose the customer issue

  3. Improving problem solving skills

  4. Empowering people to utilize their scope of authority
This is a start. The customer is going to make their decision about a company after taking the entire experience into account. A good customer service representative cannot make up for problems in production and errors in deliverables. Every member of the staff must understand their role in making the customer feel loyalty for the organization.

The Blanchard survey further noted, “The findings from the customer loyalty survey support earlier Blanchard research which documented that there is a direct connection between leadership, employee passion, and customer devotion.”

Ian Miller, editor of, sat down with Ken Blanchard for a lunch interview. During the interview a couple points were made about how true leaders put others before themselves.

“What needs to happen is for the pyramid to be flipped over, so that frontline people - the people who are closest to the customers - are at the top. Leaders become servant leaders and are responsive to employee's needs and allow them to accomplish the company’s goals and create Raving Fans.

“... I had one final question for Ken: “I understand you deliver a voicemail each morning to every one of your three hundred employees. If I asked you to send a voicemail to the readers of this article, what would it say?” Ken thought for a moment, then left me with this message: “You become an adult when you learn to serve others not yourself. Look at the job you do and think, who can I serve today?”
Every employee affects the customer’s experience. Every employee has responsibility for how loyal a customer is to the company. The leadership has the responsibility to help the employees service the customers’ needs well. Through proper leadership and employee actions, the customers will continue to feel that strong loyalty and return to do more business.

Additional Link (Blanchard White Paper): “The Leadership-Profit Chain” outlines the close relationship leadership skills have to an organization’s P&L: “The key to organizational vitality is creating an environment that allows employees to win and be passionate about what they do. By taking care of employees, leaders establish an environment in which the employees take care of the customers at a level that causes the customer to want to return year after year.”

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The “Good Boss”

We’ve all shared the “worst boss” stories. There seems to be an unending supply. What, however, makes for the best boss? Everyone has a boss but not everyone is impressed with the way the job is done.

The standard by which an employer is held varies depending on who is making the judgment. There are some common traits to all the better bosses. They also share some basic attitudes and abilities. Additionally, effective managers utilize solid leadership skills. Keeping this in mind, here is a short list of skills, strategies and attributes of “The Good Boss”.

1) Not a just leader but a coach. A manager wears two general hats. One is the leader’s but the other is the coach’s hat. The coach teaches, encourages and, when appropriate, corrects employees. Employee development, as is personal development, is incredibly important. A “Good Boss” uses the unique perspective to develop and encourage the employees. Additionally, while the “Good Boss” will definitely point out and help correct employee mistakes, he will certainly admit when he’s made them too.

2) Don’t fear the reaper. We’ve all heard of the boss who would look perfectly comfortable wearing a cloak and carrying a sickle. So overbearing and over-reactive, their employees feel one mistake on the job is tantamount to death. Mistakes should not be career suicide. A truly effective leader will utilize the occasional blunder to effectively develop better performance on the job. Although it isn’t a matter of a teacher in front of a bunch of kids in high school, the “Good Boss” encourages learning from mistakes rather than generating an atmosphere of anxiety.

3) Keep everyone involved. The most successful managers help everyone feel like an equal and involved member of the team. Treating employees fairly is significantly more than just compensation. The “Good Boss” encourages feedback, innovation and creativity from each member of the team. This engenders a feeling of involvement and genuine ownership. Eventually, a cohesive team develops with sights set on the business’s long-term goals.

4) Movin’ on up! Employees are looking to their superiors to help them navigate the choppy waters of advancement. More than money, team members are genuinely interested in improving and creating meaningful careers. The “Good Boss” recognizes these aspirations and helps the employee work toward their own career driven aspirations. The “Good Boss” helps the employee develop in the areas that affect their career objectives.

5) Huston we have a problem. Although the businesses operating out of sheer altruism are few and far between, the bottom line should not be the primary philosophical or practical focus. Effective leaders recognize the importance of a business mission. The “Good Boss” establishes a clear mission that serves to motivate employees and give general direction. The team works better when the underlying motivation is bigger than money – keep them from feeling the wake-up, go to work, push button A, push button B, clock out, go home, rinse repeat feeling.

6) Old dogs do learn new tricks. The “Good Boss” should recognize that much of what makes a leader effective is learned behavior. Few are born with everything it takes to be the “Good Boss”. Many of the “Best” bosses got to be the “Good Boss” through attending management classes and seminars and reading books on effective leadership. The “Good Boss” is interested in developing and honing management skills. Remember the “Good Boss” attracts top-flight employees. Certainly, we all have innate traits on which we can lean that make us each the “Good Boss” but it is our responsibility to continue to develop becoming even better.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Help Them Understand

So, you’re trying to present a proposal and a lot is riding on getting everyone on board. You think long and hard about what you want to say. That is probably your first mistake. The focus of your presentation should not be what you want to say but what you want your audience to hear.

Whether placing an order at the drive-thru, training a new employee or writing a quick memo about a change in procedure, it is all about getting the right message understood. Say it so the listeners understand it. Sometimes the message is important enough, practice and pre-written speeches are common. This is so the right context and words provide the best chance of success.

Looking at the bookstore or a quick search on the internet will reveal hundreds of books and articles describing the importance of the right words and methods. They teach how to achieve this goal. Common to most of these resources: Be concise, precise, and specific in choosing your words, regardless of whether you write them or speak them.

A few weeks ago, I was asked to present the eulogy at a funeral. Most of what I knew about the deceased was from a very narrow perspective. I knew one aspect of the man very well and could have focused the comments on that. However, the audience was expecting more than that. Tailoring my remarks to the needs of the audience was key. This is true for every situation.

Proper communication recognizes the importance of knowing your audience. Describing the new cutting edge technology to the finance department requires a different set of objectives than when you’re presenting the same equipment to the sales force. The information is completely different when the operators need to be trained. The more the message is tailored to the audience the better the point will come across.

Although the message sent is important, the message received is far more important. If you understand your audience, you can consider how they will interpret and filter what you say.

We all know to avoid using “big words” when talking to five-year-olds. They simply do not understand what we’re trying to say unless we use terminology they grasp. This same concept is true in the business world. We want to keep our vocabulary on the same level as the listener. Do not explain technology concepts to accountants using technical terms. Do not use a financial analogy to demonstrate a point to the creative department. Do not send a memo to your sales force explaining the importance of “keeping the time interval between customer-interface opportunities to a minimum.”

The best way to establish proper communication with anyone is to recognize who they are and how they process information, tailoring the message to them – focus on the receiver more than on the sender.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Managing to Manage

A few days ago I was talking with some of my cousins. One of the blessings of funerals is the family reunion. It would be nice if the family was to get together for something other than weddings and funerals but we seem to have become slaves to our work schedules. In any case, numbered among the participants of this conversation were a CEO, two CFO’s and a couple division presidents. The only thing our careers really have in common, though, is that we’re all managers. For a brief moment the conversation turned to business naturally progressing from a short discussion on the economy and the various ways we are all coping with these difficult times. The economy has had a way of forcing some changes at each of the firms represented by the different family members.

Recently, the first thing my cousin did when he promoted an accountant to Accounting Manager was to take away his calculator. It was his way of signally that as a manager he was not to be accounting anymore; his job was to manage. If a manager spends his time doing his subordinates’ work, he isn’t spending enough time planning, organizing, directing, and controlling. The conversation moved on to other family-centric subjects; however, the seed was planted.

Does a manager have to know how to do the all work he is managing? I think a general disconnect between what people understand of the roles between lead employees, supervisors and managers and effective use of these positions interferes with productivity and cost effectiveness of the organization

What is a manager and what does he do? There is both an art and a science to management. The art is making employees more effective than they would be without the manager. The science is in what it is you do to accomplish that. Stemming from this science of management are the four basic pillars of management, which are Planning, Organizing, Directing, and Monitoring.

If a group of employees can produce eight units of product x a day without a manager and production does not change after the manager enters the picture, what good is the manager? If productivity increases to 11 units a day, the manager has added value. The value of management is making the group more effective.


I was once told by one of my supervisors that a manager should spend 60% of his time planning. I don’t know if that is entirely true. What is true is that management starts with planning. Good management requires good planning. Proactive planning makes everything more efficient and helps avoid pitfalls that might negatively affect the business.

Without a plan, success will be hard fought, hardly attainable. In fact, achieving a goal without planning will be by luck or chance and can hardly be repeated. It is by establishing goals and planning - deciding the best course, correctly utilizing employee’s strengths and those of other resources - that success is recognized. A good plan recognizes many possible scenarios and provides alternatives. Work out the best possible scenario and plan for it but planning for the alternatives allows for quicker, less painful adjustments. Always remember one of the most overlooked and underused planning tool may also be your best – the people doing the work. Ask those who do the work for input.


Once you’ve completed the plan, it’s time to make it happen. Get everything ready so the group will have everything they need. Prepare the group. Prepare those receiving your work. Make sure everyone involved has the proper training. Help them be motivated. In short, do the legwork, making sure everything needed to execute the plan is in place or will be by the time it is needed. Check back regularly to make sure everyone understands their role and everything is still in place.


Once everything is planned and organized the manager’s job is much like that of an orchestra director. Everyone understands their part of the plan or has the sheet music in front of them and are ready for the direction, when to go. Like the conductor directs each section, the manager provides the cue that helps groups know when they start their part.


You have to keep your eye on everything to make sure everything is going according to plan. When reality doesn’t match the plan, make the necessary adjustments. Just like the conductor, you’ve got to adjust the tempo, make changes.

No matter how well planned and organized, problems will happen. This is why the plan included contingencies. As the manager, you need to maintain awareness so you can make the necessary adjustments. The Iterative Process is the plan established for bringing everything back into sync after problems arrive. Adjust the plan, organize the resources, direct the adjusted plan and continue to monitor.


Early in my career, a mentor told me a manager leads people and manages product or processes. Leading people and managing the processes established to help ensure good productivity is not easy. When done successfully, it is very fulfilling. Management is a skill that needs to be honed continuously through study and practice. It can be very rewarding.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Use an Employee Self Evaluation

Self Evaluation Enhances the Performance Evaluation Process

So, it is time for the most intriguing aspect of employee development – the evaluation. How can you encourage your employees to take a greater role in the evaluation and embrace some form of career planning? Whether you are using the traditional, annual performance appraisal or a more aggressive performance management process, an employee self evaluation should be an integral part.

What Does an Employee Self Evaluation Do

A self-evaluation provides an employee the opportunity to respond to a series of questions, helping to evaluate his or her performance during the evaluation period. The process sets the stage for open conversation between the employee and the supervisor during the performance appraisal meeting. It also helps the employee take the necessary time to introspectively review personal career goals, evaluate progress, and review areas for growth.

Why Evaluate Performance

The performance evaluation encourages communication with an employee about his or her performance. This is also an excellent opportunity to discuss the following with the employee:

  • Role related accomplishments,
  • Business goals for the quarter or evaluation period,
  • Goals for performance enhancement and improvement, and
  • The next steps for your personal and business development.

  • An Approach to Employee Self Evaluation

    Use questions to prepare for the performance review and evaluation meeting. This will help to ensure the employee does the following:

  • Spends time thoughtfully considering job performance since the previous performance evaluation.
  • Thinks about their work, career, and personal development progress since the last performance evaluation.
  • Thinks about work, career, and personal development goals the employee would like to achieve during this evaluation period.
  • Determines areas for improvement and growth
  • Prepares the for an interactive performance evaluation meeting – a conversation rather than judgement.

  • What Should a Self Evaluation Include

    The employee should review his or her job description to assess the following:

  • Identify any components of the job description that are no longer part of his or her job or that take additional time to accomplish.
  • Describe new responsibilities or additional challenges the employee feels has become a regular part of his or her job since the most recent performance evaluation – specifically identify additional decision making, responsibility, accountability or oversight of other employees’ work.
  • Identify what the employee likes most about his or her current position.
  • Identify the aspects of his or her job that he or she would most like to change or eliminate, giving reasons for why this is the case.

  • The employee should review his or her achievements. The following aspects of those achievements should be part of the review:

  • What achievements and contributions have been the most important.
  • What goals did the employee wish they had met but did not.
  • What interfered with meeting these goals.
  • What other major projects did the employee participate and contribute.
  • What work is the employee performing that is outside the scope of his or her current job description.

  • The Self Evaluation should also include goals the employee sets. The employee should include the following goal related information:

  • The job-related goals the employee would most like to accomplish in the next evaluation period.
  • How the employee’s supervisor can help him or her achieve those goals.
  • What additional support the organization should provide to accomplish the goals.

  • The employee’s self-evaluation should include an outline of professional development – what the employee plans for his or her future might include the following:

  • Professional career growth goals the employee hopes to achieve within three years.
  • Resources and support the employee wants from the organization to help meet the professional career growth goals.
  • Professional and personal goals the employee feels with help him or her improve or develop performance in his or her current job.
  • The additional support the organization can provide so the employee is able to accomplish these goals.

    What next?

    When the employee is finished with the self-evaluation, a copy of it should be sent to the supervisor and human resources prior to the performance evaluation meeting. The supervisor has an incredible tool to use for helping the employee develop into a better resource for the company. Including the insights the employee reveals as part of the performance review will give him or her a feeling of importance and worth. They have a stake in what is going on. The whole experience will be more meaningful.

  • Friday, October 29, 2010

    Manager: Chief Motivator

    A few years ago, Saturday Night Live's Chris Farley played the part of a Motivational Speaker, Matt Foley. I always smile when I think about how the guy living "in a van down by the river" was set up to help motivate others. Eventually, Matt Foley would fall over a piece of furniture, breaking it into peices. His efforts could be summed up in a single word: Fail.

    One of a manager’s most important tasks is to motivate his people. Sales, production, customer service, everything about the business relies on the people being motivated to do the job. Here are 10 tips that will help a manager motivate his people.

    #1 If you want more innovation from your people, they have to feel secure. Even when the job changes, the employee has to feel safe. If they are worried about losing their job, the tendency is to stretch out the work. This is so very contrary to an atmosphere of innovation.

    #2 Avoid being a Demotivator. As the leader, your job is to get and keep your people motivated and working toward that common goal. Demeaning them erodes their motivation. Do not be dismissive. Watching your own actions will help you be sure you’re not planting the landmines to sabotage your own efforts.

    #3 Any organization’s greatest resource is the people. With the best, high tech equipment available, if you don’t have the people, you don’t have the business. Treat your people with greater care as you would your most expensive equipment.

    #4 Do you remember that fire you felt on your first week, your first month on the job? Over time that feeling tends to fade and the enthusiasm dulls. It is important to fan the flames of your employees’ enthusiasm. Keep that flame bright and hot and the output will continue to amaze.

    #5 Listen. You spend all the effort to find and hire the best. It just doesn’t make sense to ignore them after they’ve started drawing a paycheck. Listen to your employees. They are your best resources (see #3).

    #6 Don’t Spray the Monkeys! Early in my relationship with any employee I share this little anecdote to help them understand how I feel about continuous improvement. I think it applies here as well.

    Imagine if you will a large enclosure with stairs going to the ceiling in the center of the cage. At the top of the stairs is a bunch of bananas. The cage is rigged with sprinklers. Place five monkeys into the cage and almost immediately one of the monkeys is going to go after those bananas. As soon as that monkey reaches for the bananas spray all the monkeys with cold water. Do this every time a monkey reaches for the bananas and soon they will all ignore them.

    Turn off the water and replace one of the monkeys with a new monkey. That monkey is going to see the bananas and head straight way for a nice banana treat. But before the monkey can touch the bananas, the others will beat the monkey, preventing him from getting too close to the bananas. After the second or, if the monkey is particularly stubborn, third attempt the new monkey stops going after the bananas.

    If you replace a second monkey with another new monkey, like the first replacement the new monkey is going to head straight for the bananas. This time the first replacement monkey is going to join in beating the new monkey – getting significant joy out of the experience. He doesn’t know why he is beating the monkey except that it is what everyone else is doing. The new replacement monkey is going to give up on the bananas after the second or third beating as well.

    If you replace the other three monkeys one at a time, a similar experience awaits the new monkeys. Soon, there are five monkeys sitting a cage with bananas at the top of the stairs that none of the monkeys will touch. They will not know why those bananas are no good but they will leave them alone, never to touch or eat them.

    Why won’t they? Because that is the way it has always been. This is how policy begins. It is also how we kill innovation. Blind devotion to old policies leads to stagnation and de-motivates the would be innovative employee.

    #7 Do not treat your employees like they are mushrooms. If you’ve ever gone to a mushroom farm, then you’d know mushrooms grow well when they are kept in the dark and fed horse manure. People aren’t like mushrooms. They thrive when they are kept in the loop and given the information.

    #8 Participation breeds acceptance. When employees have the opportunity to participate in the discussion, they are more likely to embrace the decision management makes.

    #9 Listen. Actively listen to your customers, your employees, your suppliers and anyone who may come in contact with your business. Objectively evaluate what they have to say. You’ll learn a lot, maybe even something that will benefit your business.

    #10 Respect, Value, Human Touch. The three essentials of effective customer service is just as applicable to how we lead our people. Interestingly, you can’t really apply these essentials to the customer until after you’ve successfully applied them to the way you lead people.

    Monday, October 11, 2010

    The Overqualified Candidate

    The business climate today is something that has many of us a little worried. It is easy to just sit back and watch as events unfold, worried to make certain moves, concerned that making just the wrong decision will backfire and move you from the precipice right over the edge into the unemployment line with so many of your peers. Well, don’t take the easy way out just because things are tough. This economy, like so many other things, will not continue on into perpetuity. Yes, it will end. Now is the time to do things that will position your organization for success in the future. Taking things too safely will endanger future success.

    The tight labor market is a perfect example of opportunity knocking on your door. You can benefit from this and hire better people so you will come out ahead when the recovery starts. HR might try to deprive you of these candidates since they are “overqualified”. Your own doubts about your own skills might stand as a barrier between you and these better people. Using these highly talented people will place you in a far better position in the future. Think of “overqualified” as just a new moniker for the best choice.

    Many of the current displaced workers are more willing to put forth efforts you’ll not find under any other circumstances. People with great backgrounds and exceptional skills are willing to put that talent to work in places they would never have considered only a few years ago. The benefits these individuals can bring to the table are significant.

    An “overqualified” candidate is simply someone whose resume is more extensive and more impressive than the hiring manager expected. That’s it. Since the Human Resourced department doesn’t know how much additional qualification is acceptable, the “overqualified” candidate is filtered out before the hiring manager even has a chance to see his resume or the candidate is given the opportunity to show he is the best for the position. This leaves the manager wasting resources training and developing less qualified personnel when another could have jumped into the position ready to work nearly from the start.

    Some reasons for not hiring the “overqualified” candidate are valid, while others are not. They are too expensive, hard to train, skills are not up-to-date, they may suffer boredom, or leave when things improve.

    Probably one of the more common reasons for not hiring an “overqualified” candidate is the cost involved. With more experience comes the higher demand for compensation. Sometimes, this is true. Most of the time, however, it is not. When posting the position, including a salary range provides enough screening to weed out most candidates who expect to be paid more. Certainly, the more experienced worker will probably seek a higher salary but might be willing to work for the lower pay knowing that it may be the best you can do. They will do it and do it well.

    A manager may worry that those whose experience exceeds the minimum might come to a job with some very ingrained responses and unwilling to change. This should be cleared up in the interview. If the candidate expresses they are not willing to change, dump them and move on to the next guy. Do not use the resume as a screening device based on this criterion, though.

    The manager should ascertain how recent the candidate’s skills are in the interview. An overqualified candidate’s skills are probably broader than the less experienced worker. He is probably significantly more advanced technologically and interpersonally. Taking advantage of this, the manager will have an easier time training this candidate and be able to rely on his ability to multi-task and work across functional roles.

    Worry about boredom is hardly a proper screening technique. Covering this possibility in the interview and seeking the candidate’s response to what their tendencies are in such situations might provide insight into how much more the candidate can help the organization. Boredom can spawn improvement if it is the right candidate.

    An overqualified candidate might leave when things improve but that is not any different than any other candidate. After the new hire begins working, retention becomes part of a good manager’s skill set. A good manager helps their personnel feel appreciated and motivated so they will remain with the company.

    The overqualified candidate might just be your best option. Reviewing the candidate’s experience and skills, seeking answers to your concerns in the interview process, and weighing that against potential gains for the company will lead the manager toward making the best decision for the long-term benefit for the organization while quite possibly saving significant costs short term.