Are Your Customers Interrupting You?

Don’t you think the title question is ludicrous? Our purpose is to serve customers, right? When we start thinking they’re interruptions, we’ve become misguided. But what about employees who interrupt us? Do we treat them the same way we would treat customers?

Many leaders say that employees are their internal customers, but in too many cases that’s just empty language. When a direct report “interrupts” you, do you respond in the same way as if a customer asks for your attention? Do you stop what you’re doing (e.g., reviewing your numbers, writing an email) and give that person a warm welcome? Do you, by your actions, convey that he or she is more important than whatever you were working on?

Of course there are exceptions, such as when you’re dealing with an emergency. But let’s not focus on the exceptions. The basic issue here is whether you treat employees like valued customers. Be brutally honest with yourself. When an employee asks for your attention, do you really demonstrate the same sense of urgency to understand what that person needs and then act to fulfill that need? Whether you do this or not, you’re sending a message about how important that employee is to you.

What message do you want to send?

Thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

Can You, Do You Forgive Your Employees?

Last week my post was entitled, “Do You Owe Someone An Apology?” We looked at the benefits of seeking forgiveness. This week we look at the benefits of giving forgiveness. I’ve worked with leaders who have a very hard time with this.

The opportunity to forgive can only arise when an employee has screwed up. He’s done something perceived by the leader to be wrong or unacceptable. And let’s assume that this screw up was not trivial; it caused a problem. Here are a couple of real-life examples.

In the role of consultant, I was working with a Senior VP of HR  to implement a new company-wide HR initiative. We designed and executed a pilot to test our process. One step in the pilot process required me to consult by phone with the General Manager and HR Director at each location. The pilot worked quite well, and the Vice President decided to roll it out to all company locations. As we rolled it out, I took the initiative to set up consulting calls with each location. Well… that made the Vice President angry. A control freak,  she wanted to control these calls. My calling the locations directly was completely unacceptable to her, and she had me removed from the account. To this day she has not forgiven me. I’ve seen her do this to other people over the years. Someone does something she doesn’t like, and she writes them off. She has a very hard time forgiving.

This next example involves possibly the biggest screw up of my professional career. My boss and mentor at that time was Phil Lombardi, VP of HR for Hyatt Hotels. He gave me the assignment to create a video training program for employees, which he would present at the annual General Managers meeting. I hired outside experts to write, direct and produce this video and the accompanying training materials.

When Phil presented the program, the General Managers universally hated it. To a person, they stated emphatically that they would not implement this program in their hotels. When I recovered from the shock, at the earliest opportunity, I tendered my resignation to Phil. He told me he had just tendered his resignation to the president. The president did not accepted Phil’s resignation and Phil did not accept mine. He forgave me, and he never mentioned it again.

Leadership is all about relationships. If you don’t forgive, the negative feelings you retain will infect your relationship with that person and taint the way you treat each other, thereby undermining your success. Furthermore, there’s a lot of evidence that carrying those feelings around is very bad for your health. See this article by the Mayo Clinic.

Look, we’re all going to screw up at times. We’re human beings for goodness sake. We all need forgiveness. If you don’t forgive you’ll be seen as petty and mean spirited. You’ll drive up turnover, undermine your chances for success, and cause your health to deteriorate. Who needs that?

As a leader when you forgive you increase loyalty and appreciation from others, increase your moral authority, model truly exemplary behavior, improve your relationships, improve your health and increase your chances for success. Who wouldn’t want that?

Life is short. Whatever it is, get over it, let it go. Everyone will be glad you did.

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong.” Mahatma Gandhi

Thanks for reading. As always, I welcome your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

Do You Owe Someone An Apology?

I’ve worked with plenty of leaders who just can’t bring themselves to admit when they’ve screwed up in some way. And because they’re in a position of power, everyone who reports to them adjusts to it because they have no choice. These leaders just can’t say, “I’m sorry.”

Think about customers for a minute. When you’re dealing with an upset customer, and you’re trying to make them happy, you know that in many cases just saying, “I’m sorry” and meaning it is all the customer needs. Of course you want to fix whatever went wrong, but the point here is that sincerely apologizing almost always diffuses the situation. I’ve made numerous apologies to customers when we didn’t do anything wrong. I’m sure you’ve done this, too. Why? Not because the customer is always right. We do it to retain the customer. We want the relationship to continue. We want the customer to know we sincerely care about them.

In my former career, Horst Schulze taught me this, “Guest satisfaction is not about whether you spill the soup on the guest, it’s about what you do after you spill the soup.” A service recovery situation gives you the opportunity to demonstrate how much you care. In some cases, your relationship will actually be better after the unfortunate event.

Okay, now let’s think about employees. If you make a wrong decision, if you’re in error, do you own it? Do you apologize? Do you make amends? In other words, do you genuinely treat your people as you would treat a customer? That is, after all, the point of using the phrase “internal customers” to designate employees.

Or… are you the type of leader I described in the first paragraph? That type of leader wants to hold employees accountable, but won’t be accountable to his employees. I don’t know what’s gained by this behavior, but I know what’s lost. Respect. Your employees are not under the delusion that you have no flaws, that you don’t make errors. But if you don’t own your errors, they’ll draw the conclusion that YOU are under that delusion. Thus the loss of respect. If you’re that type of leader, apologizing is about power, not about caring.

It’s one thing to have power; it’s another thing how you use it.

Do you owe someone an apology?

Thanks for reading. As always, I welcome your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

Too Much Drama?

This morning I’m thinking about drama. It’s distracting, it’s time consuming, and it involves a lot of negativity. We’re certainly not going to get rid of it. Because we’re human. We have moods, we make mistakes, we mistreat each other, we judge each other, we make mountains out of mole hills, we catastrophize, and we worry. As leaders, we must be aware of how much drama we’re causing directly or enabling.

Here’s an example of time-wasting drama. I had a human resources director tell me that one of our waiters had HIV, but she couldn’t tell me the name due to the confidential nature of the information. I asked why she was telling me this, what did she hope to accomplish? She said, “I thought you needed to know.” She was just trying to create drama and cause me to worry. Our conversation was a distraction and a total waste of time. I did not follow up on it.

So raise your awareness. Recognize when you’re being sucked into a drama. Ask yourself whether it’s really a good investment of your time. Sometimes it is, by the way. I’ve worked with top performers who generate some drama. If I had ignored it, they would rightly have concluded that their concerns were unimportant to me. So in those cases I was happy to invest my time. Top performers always merit additional time, effort and tolerance. You might have a friend at work who’s going through a tough time, accompanied by some drama. This is another situation in which it’s a great decision to invest time even if all you can do is listen and express support.

But you might have people in your organization who generate more drama than work. You might even have a Drama Club. If you reinforce that behavior, you’ll get more of it. Refuse to participate. Ask yourself a tough question: Are they worth it? Would your organization be better off without them?

And for goodness sake, recognize when you’re the one generating the drama. Ask yourself why you feel like having this conversation, repeating this gossip, or whatever drama-related activity is. Ask yourself what you hope to accomplish. If you don’t find good answers, cut it out. Do something productive.

Remember this. As the leader, you set the standard. If you initiate drama or if you enable it, you’ll be certain to have more of it, distracting employees, wasting productive time, and damaging morale.

As always, thanks for reading. I’m interested to hear your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

Why Do You Care Where A New Idea Comes From?

Most of us (probably all of us) care where a new idea comes from. If it comes from someone we see as a respected authority on the topic, we immediately believe the idea is worthy of serious consideration. If it comes from a 21 year-old, brand-new employee we might not give it as much weight. Or, God forbid, it comes from a new-hire who just joined us from a competitor. In that case we might even be very defensive. So the subject of this post is: To what extent should the “where” or the “who” influence how we respond to an idea?

This topic comes up for me because I recently focused on the fact that in many organizations, experienced new-hires attract criticism when they say, “In my former company we did X, and it really worked well.” If that new-hire came from a highly successful company, they might discuss their former company frequently, particularly just after they’ve come on board. For some reason, many leaders find this annoying. Sometimes, in fact, these new-hires are told to quit mentioning their former company.

I suggest that leaders should welcome these statements. When we make people feel like these statements are unwelcome, we’re shutting out opportunities to learn. Do we think that we have nothing to learn from other organizations? These new-hires are sharing best practices (or at least practices that are better than the ones they’re seeing in our organization). What’s the danger? Where’s the harm?

Not only should we welcome these statements, we should give them serious consideration. Let’s not react with fear-based responses. Let’s not immediately dismiss them as, “Not a fit with our culture.” Let’s discuss these ideas on their merits. Let’s give them a try. If the actual practice is not a fit with our culture, is there a way to implement the fundamental idea in a way that does fit?

Here’s an example. I know of an organization that, as part of their initiation, gets new employees drunk. That doesn’t fit the culture of my organization. But properly done, a good-natured and fun initiation is a great way to welcome new hires. It can send the new-hire a positive statement, “You’re one of us.” I have some suggestions on the blog post How do you Welcome New Team Members.

Think of it this way. Suppose you’re just walking down the street and you find an idea written on a piece of paper. You’re with a couple of associates who work with you. There’s no way to know who or where this idea came from. Some of you immediately think the idea’s worth pursuing, and some of you don’t. Your only course of action is to discuss it on its merits.

We can approach ideas from any employee with the same mind set. Even though an employee might have no experience, we can still show respect by discussing it on its merits. In many cases we can give it a try. If we respond with statements like, “We tried that,” or “Based on my 20 year’s experience, that won’t work,” nobody learns anything. If we engage in open-minded discussion, or if we try the idea, somebody will learn something. It might be you.

Thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

Great Take Aways From GPTW 2014

I had the good fortune to attend the Great Place To Work (GPTW) Small and Medium Business Conference in Washington, D.C.. To see this year’s top fifty companies to work for, go to the Fortune Website by clicking here. The purpose of this post is to share some valuable takeaways. I could not attend every breakout session, but I can share lessons learned from the sessions I did attend.

Lori Perlstadt, U.S Managing Director, GPTW
Ms. Perlstadt helped us know that GPTW’s research shows that creating a great place to work is all about relationships, and she identified five key cultural elements:

  • Trust
  • Pride in one’s work and the organization’s work
  • Employees enjoy the people they work with
  • Great communication
  • Transparency

Organizations that continuously improve in these five elements will become better places to work.

Maria Proestou, President & CEO, DELTA Resources, Inc.
Ms. Proestou focused on workplace flexibility — enabling employees to work flexible schedules. In her organization a strong results orientation provides the foundation for flexible schedules. If an employee delivers the results for which he or she is accountable, then that employee is given a great deal of latitude about where and when he or she works. DELTA establishes detailed metrics to measure every important aspect of the deliverables so there is transparency about the employee’s success in fulfilling his or her responsibilities. Each employee is considered a special case, and the company goes to great lengths to create a flexible work plan that suites that employee’s unique situation.

This strategy increases customer satisfaction, increases employee satisfaction and loyalty, and reduces costs.

Marisa Stoltzfus, Senior Consultant at GPTW
Ms. Stoltzfus began her presentation by identifying some cultural commonalities among the top fifty companies:

  • Building a trusting work environment
  • Inclusiveness
  • Accessible leaders
  • Exemplary hiring practices
  • Fostering a fun work environment
  • Frequent celebrations of successes
  • Transparency
  • Fairness
  • Sincerely caring about employees as people

Any company that achieves excellence in these areas will be a great place to work. If you create intentional strategies to improve in even one or two of these areas, you’ll be a better organization.

Joe Chinn, Assistant City Manager, City of Rancho Cordova
Stacey Peterson, Chief People Officer, City of Rancho Cordova

The City of Rancho Cordova was the only government organization included in the top fifty best places to work. Mr. Chinn, and Ms. Peterson live the following principle: purpose moves people. They organize their employees and their work efforts around their mission. In addition, they emphasize empowerment. City employees are (astonishingly!) empowered to solve problems and respond to citizen needs immediately, which often eliminates red tape and significantly improves customer satisfaction. Their culture encourages creativity and innovation, and leaders make it safe for employees to try new approaches, understanding that not all of them will work. Furthermore, they encourage fun in the workplace through a variety of tactics.

Organizing around mission, empowering employees, making it safe to try creative, new approaches, and fostering fun will make any organization a better place to work.

Carrie Dieterle — Chief People Officer, Insomniac Games
Ms. Dieterle shared many great ideas about thriving in an environment of constant change. Here are just a few that resonated with me. She emphasized trust and transparency, two recurring themes in this conference. To improve in both areas, the CEO asks each employee about their ideas to improve the company. And he issues a communication called, “Daily Decisions” (Carrie, please forgive me if I didn’t get the name precisely right) to create a high level of transparency. Just one more idea I find powerful. Insomniac Games is very intentional about understanding each person’s passions and giving assignments and responsibilities that allow each person to tap into their passions.

Improving our efforts to solicit ideas from employees, to be more transparent about decisions, and getting better at enabling each employee to express his or her passions through their work will make any organization a better place to work.

Eric Mosely, CEO, Globoforce
Mr. Mosely emphasized the power of innovation, recognition, culture, relationships and trust. Again, we can see some recurring themes here. To foster innovation, his company conducts innovation days, which include a wonderful aspect of transparency. At one point in their process, certain employee ideas become finalists and senior leadership debates the merits of these ideas, with an open phone line so that all employees can listen to these conversations. That, ladies and gentlemen, is transparency. Globoforce is also world class at crowdsourcing recognition in their world-wide organization (that’s what they do for a living). Recognition awards account for a full five percent of their annual payroll.

Are we giving enough recognition? Is it the right kind of recognition? Is it timely? Improving recognition programs increases both performance and engagement. What not to like?

The ideas highlighted in the post represent only a fraction of the great ideas presented at the conference. You can find even more by clicking on the Fortune Website.

Thanks for reading. I’d love to hear what you do to make your organization a great place to work.

Larry Sternberg

How Can The Eisenhower Decision Matrix Help You Reduce Time Stress?

Time management is getting more and more difficult, because attention management is getting more  difficult, because more things  demand our attention, which eats up our time. The principles and practices of effective time management are well known, but people still seem to suffer from stress related to not having enough time. The purpose of this post is to serve as a reminder.

Former President Dwight D. Eisenhower  classified tasks into four categories, which are often represented by a four box matrix:

1. Urgent and important                                                                    2. Not urgent, but important

3. Urgent, but not important                                                             4. Not urgent or important

I’m terrible with formatting, so please forgive the poor visual above. I couldn’t figure out how to do boxes. Imagine each numbered item is in a box and we can proceed.

Many readers will have seen this before. It’s easy to get stuck in quadrants 1 & 3. How often to you find yourself in these quadrants? They can suck up almost all your attention and time, leaving precious little time for items in quadrant 2. Quadrant 2 is the tough one. The well known solution is to proactively schedule time for items in quadrant two. Don’t just have a generalized intention to devote time to these things. Put them on your calendar. Do it every week.

Effective use of this matrix requires you to clearly articulate your values. Otherwise, how can you decide what’s important? Notice that the act of articulating your values is a quadrant 2 item :) Ideally, you should set goals only after you’ve articulate your values.

In setting goals, your time horizon plays a major role in determining what quadrant a particular activity falls into. If you only set goals for this quarter, you’ll make certain decisions about what to work on this week. If you set goals for 10 years from now you’ll probably make different decisions about what to work on this week.

The effective use of the Eisenhower matrix requires that you articulate your values, set goals based on those values, and schedule time for quadrant 2 activities. The more distant your time horizon, the better decisions you’ll make.

You must accept the fact that in these times you cannot get everything done. You just can’t. But you can reduce the time stress by knowing that the things you spent time on were more important than the other things vying for your attention. I think that’s the best any of us can do.

Thanks for reading. As always, I appreciate your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg