Leader Pragmatips #020

Take action. 

“I don’t have time to coach (or do anything else) because there’s so many escalated calls from my agents it ends up eating most of my time” – Said the average Supervisor.

Because the really great Leaders will track both (1) the agents that keep escalating and (2) the recurring or common reasons why they escalate. (3)They will then invest time and effort, ask these agents to stay an hour or two post shift and retrain/coach them on it, rinse and repeat and by the 2nd or 3rd day you begin to see progress.

Result: agents organically get better at handling the issues that used to be difficult for them. They no longer escalate as much.

The difference? The excellent Leaders took intelligent and objective action or at the very least, they will ask for help. Where the mediocre ones are content to whine and complain yet expect things to somehow magically change or improve. 

This is but one simple example but there are a lot of situations that are comparable to this that plague many leaders at any level. 

It is our responsibility to ensure we’re all focused on the actionable items and are actually seeing it through that the action is taken.

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Leader Pragmatips #019

Extensions and Summaries. Never ask for an extension on the day of the deadline. This is akin to cramming, poor planning and poor leadership. If you were doing the task ahead of time, you will know early on if you will hit the mark, and if you knew you will have delays and issues, you should ask for help, support and ultimately an extension ahead of time. Where there’s still time to do something about it.

 

A decent end of week or end of month summary is a great best practice. It allows you to look back, define the narrative of how the past period went. Provide lessons and insights that can be used for the road ahead. And should be super easy to do because any respectable leader and leadership team is looking at the data, the story and the trends daily (hourly for the really good ones) which means creating a summary for the week or month should not prove to be a heavy task to do because you’ve kept track in real time.

 

The same logic applies why prepping for an MBR or QBR should be effortless. It only becomes difficult if you didn’t do the work in real time the way any responsible leader would have. Don’t be “that guy”.

Leader Pragmatips #018

Sharpening the Axe. A quote that I learned several years ago that I carry with me today – “The moment you stop Learning is the moment that someone surpasses you.” There’s another one often attributed to Albert Einstein that says, “Once you stop Learning, you start dying.”

 

Even John Maxwell kind of covers this in The Law of the Lid. You have to keep learning, improving and getting better as this is the only way to increase the ability of your team to be successful. A fairly inexpensive way to do this is ensuring you have a Leadership Library. A collection of books, lessons, etc that each of your team is required to read, grow and share across the team.

 

There needs to be a constant reminder and encouragement to actually take the time to do this. We all get so busy sometimes that we often forget to Sharpen the Axe and it is our responsibility to remind our team to pause, breathe, and make sure our skills stay sharp.

Leader Pragmatips #017

There are 2 popular credos I’ve always stayed cognizant of:
1. Whatever gets talked about most, gets done
2. People follow what they see, not what you say

Think of these next time you want to drive a point within your teams using contentious or emotional means

Some believe this is how they can emphasize their passion about something which is absolutely the wrong way to go

E.g. Driving the point of Customer Experience by berating the frontline each time a mistake is made or punishing them for being unable to fix an issue due to process limitations. Reparations CAN be taken without being mean or disrespectful you know

Do you think any of this will translate to customers? Of course it will. At its worst, you frustrate them – they take it out on the customer. At best, you demotivate them – you drive your team out. Either way the customer loses.

You don’t need to be emotional to show or prove you’re passionate about something

Instead be a mentor, a positive example, be THE role model to your team. Whether the team is underperforming due to competency or a recent shift in focus or priorities, what they need is structure, training, support and guidance.

We ultimately reap what we sow, so make it a good one, each and every time.

Project: The Client Services Playbook

Been thinking about this over the last several months but similar to the Ops Version, this has been pushed back because of client visits, sales visits, business reviews, performance recoveries, account launches and a partridge in a pear tree. Choosing to use the hours caused by flight delays positively, here we have the next project with draft 2 very near completion.

What this is not – A Manual that will eventually gather dust whether literal or electronic. The Ops playbook was a living document that became massively successful with each account that customized and utilized their versions consistently. The intent here is the same if not better.

 

What this is (or trying to be) – where the Ops Playbook was predominantly tactical, this in turn will be a Strategic guide for every (CS) Client Services or (SBL) Strategic Business Leader. This not only serves as a reference for the minimum, basic standards of how to define the strategic arc and direction of your programs, but at the same time standardize the items for execution that gives your team best in class mindset and identity.

 

The Ops Playbook was my brainchild yes, but the end state framework was built with some key contributors who continue to drive innovation and value adds to this day. Excited to work with new contributors that will help us make another dent in our universe.

More to come soon!

Leader Pragmatips #016

Accountability V Solutions. When action plans appear to be ineffective, when traction seems to take forever to take hold, the most important thing to remember is to keep your cool and stay emotionally detached.

Without it, the focus obsessively goes towards WHO will be held accountable instead of – Fixing the problem for good.

Every team member needs to keep each other in check. Don’t assign or accept blind accountability because if that’s the only thing you’ll all do – What does that actually solve?

Don’t fall into the trap of blaming execution. And yes I know sometimes thats the root of the problem, but execution becomes the de facto “reason” when we’re emotional, because you no longer need to dig through what really happened.

Instead, focus on things we can measure and observe. Case in point, when CX Measures fail for the day:

– Did we check customer verbatim?

– Validated if other sites or teams saw the same issues?

– Why not conduct a meeting with key managers and sups?

Have real data in front of you when you discuss and dig through drivers instead of just automatically going to accountability or say that it was a will issue or execution issue.

Bottom line, SOLVE the problem. Not just determine where the blame/accountability falls.

Perpetual Problem with Policies

There was a news feature about a retail store in the US awhile back where you can return literally anything. They even cited an example where if you wanted to return a slab of plywood (which they don’t sell) they will ask how much you got it for and then give you your money back.

The interviewer asked why they choose to do this and if they’re not worried about people who may abuse the system and take advantage of their policy.
They replied with one of the BEST responses I have ever heard when it comes to a store return policy.

“We want our customers to build a relationship with us, We want our customers to feel safe and welcome here. This is why all our store policies are geared towards that ideal. Will there be people who might take advantage of that? Absolutely. But they will be a very tiny portion of the population and we will not create policies that will alienate the larger majority. Our policies, our identity is based on Trust and not on fear”

Beautiful right? Seriously, I wanted to cry.

 

Nordstrom continues to be one of the top retail stores today and well loved by both customers and employees. I already wrote about them here and if you want to see more reasons why I admire this company.

If you think about that and the signs I showed above, these signs (ergo policies) were likely the result of the complete opposite. They are funny on one end but the fact that they exist, leaves you with a lot to think about.

We have tons of examples of that at work and our everyday lives.

Why do we have to take off our shoes at the airport? Because some guy did something terrible that one time and now ALL travelers are inconvenienced by this.

In some companies, employees can no longer personalize their desks, have pictures of loved ones or things that motivate them, why? Because a few people did something awful that violated security/privacy rules and now everyone has to live with the consequences.

I could go on forever with examples of policies, procedures and processes that exist because of fear masking as practicality but I won’t. There are enough of those out there so instead, let’s use another great example.

 

I recently started working with another company who embody this Trusting ideal but because of “Privacy policies” I can’t divulge who.  🙂

 

I was fortunate enough to get exposure and spend some time in their Customer Service HQ and I was blown away from the start. This company from my time with them so far – Is the living, breathing epitome of simplicity and trust. They frown upon red tape, they dislike bureaucracy and prefer things to keep moving urgently and with laser like focus. That last statement is not unheard of, in fact I’ve worked with a lot of other companies that claim the same thing but there is just zero authenticity behind the claim. And by authenticity I mean Mr. Sinek’s definition “The things you say and do, you actually believe” and boy does this company, deliver. Here are some samples:

Their Statement of Work with us is 17 pages long. You did not misread that nor was it a typo, Seventeen pages. Their reasoning: We didn’t want to define too many parameters with you because anything not in the SOW, we can just discuss and agree upon like adults.

Their IVR system offers only 2 options versus some other companies that make you choose around 15 button presses. Their reasoning: If the customer is calling us it means there’s a problem and we just need to get them to an agent as soon as possible.

The visit to their HQ doesn’t require you to submit 2 ID’s and sign multiple documents, take your picture or go through some form of scanner. Their reasoning: We invited you here, you have a contact meeting you at the lobby, means we know who you are so no need to go through hoops.

The core reason why they don’t have QA as part of their contact center process compared to others that can’t do without them. Their reasoning: Because we trust our people. We believe in our hiring process, we believe in our training process. Both for our Leadership and Agent staff. If you get past both, means you’re the kind of people we want and we trust you to do the right thing for our customers.

The core reason why they REALLY don’t discuss metrics in their coaching process versus other companies that are driven by numbers. Their reasoning: Customers really do come first and you can only drive that through behaviors. Once you start pushing your vendors around the numbers, they push their agents around the numbers and the agents treat the customer as numbers, not people. It’s the same reason why we only care about issue resolution because at the end of the day, that is the true measure of satisfaction. Not these other fancy metrics that other companies seem to be obsessed with.

 

Now someone could say, maybe this company I am talking about is just a small, mom and pop shop type therefore can afford to be relaxed and trusting versus (other) big conglomerates that can’t afford to be like them. Well, they have a global presence and generate anywhere over $11 billion dollars per year, so not exactly small. So you big companies out there pay attention.

 

To be clear, I am not advocating for the removal of safeguards or guidelines. Rules and policies should absolutely exist. But like Nordstrom and other consistently successful companies, the policies should make sense, should not restrict creativity or motivation and most important of all, should be created with the majority of people in mind who are good and want to do good. Not the tiny, miniscule and select few who are out to do you wrong.

As Leaders it is our responsibility to ensure the rules are logical, sensible and highlights what is good and admirable about us and our people, but more importantly – to question, challenge and objectively change them if they don’t.

Leader Pragmatips #015

Who’s permission do you need?

Over the last 18 years, 80% of my career has been blessed with great mentors and here’s some learning from our MD who unfortunately for me I only got a few months when I briefly reported to him.

The 1 Minute Manager says that you only have a problem if you know the difference between what’s happening right now vs what you’d like to happen. If you don’t have the latter, then you’re just complaining. And no one wants that.

Here’s a typical rant scenario from me to him:

Bernie rants about a roadblock or something less than ideal that’s hampering performance.

MD will ask what I’d like to do about it, and I would proceed to explain my planned actions. He would then agree 80% of time and tell me it’s the right thing to do, and sometimes will offer to tweak some of my methods. He will then ask me the most happily frustrating and inspiring question each time: Who’s permission do you need to move forward?

Frustrating because it made me realize that the barriers that I thought existed actually didn’t.

Inspiring because at that moment, you knew your boss had your back.

So keep that in mind the next time you feel you hit a wall at work.

Leader Pragmatips #014

Trust your system to a degree. When you’re talking about process based, rudimentary, compliance based tasks or deliverables make sure you have and follow a systematic way of accomplishing it and stick to it. They’re called the basics for a reason. They work, they get you consistent results and outcomes.

 

However you need to consciously stop yourself from relying on it too much especially if you’re dealing with problem solving and analytics that goes beyond the execution of the basics. Meaning, you already ruled out compliance issues and yet you still failed.

 

These situations are where you apply Root Cause Analysis, Test and Learn, Pilots, etc. (there are others) which are essentially a framework of fact finding. It’s easy to get them confused. We sometimes use fact finding initiatives to solve basic problems without checking if the basics are actually being done. A big waste of time and resources, so be sure to know the difference.

Time After Time

Ok, so the title is only somewhat connected to the topic, but I thought it would grab your attention better than “Why you Think You Don’t Have Control Over Your time

True to the tradition of this blog, these will always be inspired by Leadership Lessons based on real life situations.

 

The last few weeks have been spent in conversations with peers and friends about the time they spend at work, specifically about the perception that they don’t have enough time to finish the things they need to. I say perception because as John Maxwell mentions “regardless of what anyone thinks, we all get 24 hours a day,  You can’t Manage time, what you can manage is yourself

And as I am sure most of you already know, It’s how we use the time given to us, the choices that are available to us, is where the problem sits.

Believe it or not, I’ve seen Managers and Senior Leaders driving slides for clients or senior execs, taking and writing minutes of meetings, attending meetings where they’re not really needed and the worst of all, absorbing deliverables that are not theirs to begin with.

And then we get to points where we complain that we’re stretched too thin. And then our health suffers because we lack sleep. And then the things we’re supposed to take care of, our actual deliverables, the ones with the biggest impact of ROI are the ones that suffer.

You need to Stop. Just stop.

There are many books and articles out there that teach time management, prioritization skills, even advanced methods like quartile task management, but they’re all useless until you make a decision that you can’t do it all. You’re not supposed to.

Sometimes things are difficult because we choose to make them so.

In my opinion and experience, it needs to start with a mindset shift and a conscious, almost religious reminder and affirmation of 2 things:

  • Understand WHY you do what you do.
  • Understand WHY your role exists in the team.

This will significantly help you in ensuring your time is where it needs to be. Once you have that, the rest literally becomes easy.

Here’s the top 3 tips of things you can do:

 

Delegate clearly and with purpose.


Especially the lower level, administrative tasks. In most cases these are tasks that entry-level peeps will die for because it gives them exposure, training and learning for things currently not in their scope. Things like minutes taking, organizing meetings for other people or departments etc. still happen today. It shouldn’t.

This should not be done by any manager level or senior-level person or higher especially if you’re struggling with bandwidth or workload challenges. Your time should be spent on more impactful things, where it matters most – with your team.

 

Divide and Conquer.

Whether it’s meetings and deliverables. There should be very little meetings where multiple manager level people or higher are required to attend. If there are conflicts, ask your peer or even your boss if you can split up and then catch up later to calibrate. If you have more than 1 meeting a day or more than 5 per week, where all senior Leaders are out of the floor, Stop it. Keep the time and valuable leadership guidance and influence always on your frontline.

The same applies to deliverables and reports. We each have a role, a load to carry. We need to ensure that everyone does their part and eliminate the need for rework.

 

Pushback and or Ask for Help.

Most of us don’t do this because we think it’s a sign of weakness or we’re afraid of upsetting our Clients or our Senior Leaders. This is simply not true. Any competent, tenured or rational Leader worth his salt will almost always understand when you pushback or ask for help. Just don’t make it a habit and don’t wait for the last minute when you do. Make it clear, concise and appropriately timed.

This is more than ok especially if you position it with a measured, well thought out reason and or a counter proposal. You’ll find that doing this not only ensures the quality of your output but also gives you back time and ability to focus better.

 

When all is said and done, you control your time. It doesn’t control you. When things become floopy as they sometimes will, remember – Understand WHY you do what you do and Understand WHY your role exists in the team

And it will set you straight.