Initiative, Customer Service, and Your Browser Choice (NOT Election Results)

Posted by on Nov 8, 2016 in Change, Customer Service, Innovation |

We’ve heard enough about about selecting a president, so I’m writing about selecting a new employee. Have you ever thought of asking what internet browser they use at home?  I wouldn’t have.  But now I might. What is it we want in employees?  We want people who are productive, loyal, satisfied in their role, can take initiative, right?  I just read an interesting study investigating what might be correlated with all those qualities, and therefore what would be a predictor of the right applicant. I remember reading about a Met Life survey years ago looking at predictors of success in their agents that found optimism to be a key factor.  But a browser choice??? This research was on over 50,000 customer service and sales agents from many companies, all of whom had taken an online assessment as part of their application process, investigating why some agents stayed in their jobs longer than others.  The research  compared the applicants’ characteristics against data on the subsequent hires, trying to find a pattern for who ended up staying in their jobs the longest. They looked at expected factors such as a previous history of job hopping, which did not turn out to correlate with staying in the job longer.  They ran the question of internet browser sort of on a whim, since they happened to have had the data.  Paydirt! It turned out that those who had used Firefox or Chrome to fill out the online assessment stayed in their jobs 15% longer than those who used Safari or Internet Explorer.  Wondering if it was coincidence, they also looked at performance on sales, customer satisfaction and average call length.  The Firefox and Chrome users again surpassed the others.  They were even 19% less likely to be absent from work. Why?  Michael Housman, the head of the research team, surmised it might suggest the ability to take initiative.  Safari and Internet Explorer come loaded as the default when you buy your computer.  You have to be an informed consumer and take an extra step to switch to Firefox or Chrome. So maybe people who will take initiative in one area of their lives will also take initiative in other areas. For example, in the way they help their customers.  Or the way they configure their job or their perspective on their job so that they are more satisfied, rather than accepting the “default.” It makes me wonder how can we hire for initiative, and also cultivate initiative in our teams. Adam Grant in his book Originals describes his effort in helping Google design a brief class to teach their non-tech employees strategies to make their jobs better – ways they could take small or larger steps to make their jobs more interesting to them.  This 90 minute class turned out to make a huge difference in both their performance and their satisfaction.  Seems to me, they taught them how to take initiative. Change rarely happens in huge leaps, it happens in small steps.  Those small steps together become new patterns of behavior, especially when reinforced by leaders and by peers....

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Balance – Chaos Versus Structure

Posted by on Sep 3, 2014 in Change, Innovation, Leadership | 0 comments

  Too much chaos and nothing gets done, people lose faith and ultimately become apathetic.  Too much control and they feel stifled and want to revolt, or leave.  Where’s the sweet spot?  I was introduced to a concept called the Chaordic Model, which immediately resonated as a useful description of  many circumstances. The term was coined in the late 90’s by the former CEO of Visa, Dee Hock.  The idea is based on combining characteristics of chaos and characteristics of order, with neither dominating.  It applies to an organization, a team, a meeting, or even a relationship, and was said to have evolved from Hock’s fascination with the study of organic systems.  He described their dynamic state: “Life is eternal, perpetual becoming, or it is nothing.  Becoming is not a thing to be know, or controlled.  It is a magnificent, mysterious odyssey to be experienced.” This diagram explains the various system states and identifies the place where the system has enough strength to tolerate risk, and enough openness to respond to change.  The circle on the right is the old command and control, ask no questions type of leadership that creates an organization that can’t respond to change.  It’s useful in very specific situations, but not as a steady diet.  The circle on the left is the complete anarchy that occurs when there’s no leadership, either formal or informal. Instinctively, I gravitate toward that overlap in the middle of chaos and order, as a leader of an organization, as a facilitator of a meeting, and in the way I lead my life.  When I was younger, though, I needed more order, more control. Take a look at the way you lead – do you tend to lean one way or the other?  Is it right for your team, and for your...

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This Valuable Meeting Starts with Failure: The Pre-Mortem

Posted by on Jun 5, 2014 in Innovation, Meetings, Problem Solving | 0 comments

Hindsight is 20/20, right?  If we’re smart, we may learn more from failures than success.  So use that strategy in advance by scheduling a “pre-mortem.” In my year long quest to improve meetings, here’s one that’s really valuable.   The delightful curmugeonly author Oliver Burkeman wrote about the value of intentionally using  hindsight in advance in The Guardian last month. Why does it add value?  A meeting where you are told to imagine all the reasons behind a potential failure creates the safety for saying contrary things without fearing resistance.  It allows for multiple points of view.  It arouses our snarky competitive creativity. The technique was created by psychologist Gary Klein, who calls it the pre-mortem.  He wrote about it in his book  Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions. You get a group together and assume the project you’re embarking on has spectacularly failed.  You start from that failure.    Instead of imagining what might go wrong, you start from the assumption that something did go very wrong, and then ask WHY? It doesn’t have to take long, and it’s easy to run.  You present the plan and state it’s presumed horrible failure, then each team member individually lists all the reasons they can think of for failure.  They take turns sharing the reasons, until all the possibilities they can think of are captured.  Then the project managers have to go back and see how to improve their plan.  Gary Klein wrote about it in Harvard Business Review. This Innovation Excellence blog  describes support and additional thoughts from Daniel Kahneman, Nobel laureate in economics and Klein’s colleague.  Kahneman adds that the pre-mortem should assess the quality of information used, the validity of the decision making process, and the impact of group think and/or leadership pressure.  Kahneman mentions that he brought the idea to Davos and a Fortune 100 CEO said it was worth coming just for that idea. Klein says he focuses on failure because that is what people so actively try to avoid.  They don’t want to confront the possibility, so they can end up with blinders.  This can be even more true as the project is advancing and resources are being expended, so the pre-mortem can be used again and again – sometimes telling you you need to quit pouring good money after bad. I am committed trying this technique on my next project.  It’s one meeting I’ll make sure to hold!  If you try it, let me know how it...

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Workplaces, Meetings, & People Dry Up Without Play

Posted by on Feb 20, 2014 in Creativity, Innovation, Meetings, Sales | 1 comment

When is play appropriate at work or at meetings?  When dealing with challenges, encouraging innovation, wanting to celebrate success, or looking for ways to practice new skills, that’s when play is appropriate.  Instead, all too often we ignore the playful approaches listed below and instead get even more serious.  Right now I can imagine the hard-nosed executive with the long to-do list and metrics-to-meet reading this with disdain.  That’s too bad because play could be just what he and his organization needs.  What do I mean by play at work?  Stuart Brown, M.D. wrote a book on play based on his research and his seven characteristics of play are below.  But here are some examples of how I’ve seen play contributing to work success both directly and indirectly:  Directly:  Playing with possibilities:  One important characteristic of play is that it doesn’t contribute to our survival – it is purposeless in that sense – so it’s okay to fail.  Taking a playful attitude toward new improvements allows you to try and fail – first in conversation with wild ideas, then in reality with more prudent ideas.  It’s the rapid cycle change idea – try an idea in a small and quick experiment, see if it works, then ditch it if it doesn’t and move on to another idea.  I use play in meetings where I ask people to come up with a great quantity of ideas for something odd like used refrigerators and make it a game with prizes (usually candy) pitting one team against another.  It gets them thinking of what’s possible, instead of evaluating what’s not.  One scientist/inventor was asked for the secret to all his great ideas.  “A great big wastebasket,” was his answer.  Imaginative play for new perspectives:  When the founders of Intel, Andrew Grove and Gordon Moore had achieved early success manufacturing memory chips and the Japanese started undercutting them, they were stuck with an organization oriented around a failing product.  They knew if they didn’t solve the problem they’d be fired and replaced by the board of directors.  Apparently Grove looked at Moore and said “Why don’t we do it ourselves?”  They imagined themselves as fired, walked out the door, and then walked back in as the new and smarter executives hired to replace them and imagined what they’d do.  It gave them the visionary breakthrough they needed to change the direction of the company and make it the success it is today.  Playful environment to encourage creativity in meetings:  Recently I facilitated a meeting that needed to result in rapid creative output of new marketing and operational ideas.   We rolled newsprint out on the tables and scattered crayons across it for doodling and note taking.  Helium balloons decorated the breakout tables.  Poppers were available for punctuating great ideas.  Small groups were formed by the type of candy they picked from the candy jar.  Physical movement was encouraged by moving from the large group table to small group work tables and back.  And of...

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Think little! Micro changes for process improvements or personal habits

Posted by on Feb 6, 2014 in Change, Influence, Innovation, Meetings | 1 comment

 We often go for big change and end up disappointed.  Whether it’s a New Year’s resolution to get fit or the initiative to improve customer satisfaction.  We start with a bang and end with a whimper.  Instead, I’m getting interested in micro-changes as a more successful approach. I’m including an idea below for a micro-change for meeting productivity. Minimum Key Behavior:  Several months ago I heard a podcast on using technology to change behavior.  BJ Fogg, head of Stanford University’s Persuasive Technology Lab, talked about finding the minimum key behavior for something you want to change.  It has to be extremely narrow focused, relatively easy, familiar and triggered or cued (by technology, in his case).   For example, he was hired to begin to build a culture of wellness to combat stress in a healthcare organization – a really big abstract goal.  So he narrowed it and looked at the single behavior that people already knew how to do, were willing to do, that would contribute to lowering stress.  He chose 20 seconds of stretching, triggered by a message to people’s cell phones (which they always carried.)  Click to read an article about it:  Rules of Persuasion  Simplicity:  He says simplicity is a key, but also takes courage because it seems too minimal.  In teaching a class on designing Facebook apps he instills the rule of simplicity for success  – it has to be very easy to adopt at first.  When it’s a truly simple app, the designer makes money.  Rules for Success:  This past weekend I read the book  Small Move, Big Change; Using Microresolutions to Tranform Your Life Permanently by Caroline L. Arnold.  She successfully applies the idea of tiny key behaviors to changing her personal & work life, and offers up seven rules of success in making micro change: ·      It has to be easy.  ·      It has to be explicit and measurable. ·      It has to offer up a quick win – the benefit comes right away and each time. ·      It’s sticky – it resonates with you. ·      It is cued by something in your environment. ·      You make no more than two at a time.  Getting Organized:  Her first win was a way to get more organized. Instead of instituting a complex system she looked for a key behavior by examining what was driving her crazy about her disorganization and getting in her way.She made lots of notes but was frustrated to be always hunting for details like phone numbers, wasting time and energy, because she used such an assortment of books and loose papers to scribble on.   Her one simple microresolution was to put all her notes in one notebook.  Easy, right?  After all, she already wrote things down.  However, she struggled with just remembering to bring that notebook with her, or even where she’d put it.  But she gave herself zero-tolerance and kept at it. Before long it became a behavior on auto-pilot.  She felt far more in control.   Success comes from...

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Gratitude, Vulnerability and Upping Your Risk Tolerance

Posted by on Nov 25, 2013 in Customer Service, Innovation, Self-awareness | 0 comments

Gratitude is an obvious topic this time of year, but surprising coupled with vulnerability. Being actively grateful for your customers, your staff etc. is good for your heart AND good for your business, and can prepare you to dare to take good risks. Here are some ideas for customer and staff gratitude and  three ways to develop a practice of gratitude at work. CUSTOMERS:  I love when companies appreciate my business – something beyond the perfunctory thank you, or pre-printed Thanksgiving card.  A personal note from the owner of the car dealership where I purchased my Prius. A follow up phone call from a new restaurant. Small businesses can really outplay the big guys where this is concerned. STAFF:  Back when I was an employee, I really noticed if I got a sincere thank you – whether for going way above and beyond or just for a small job well done.  A small gesture like a high quality chocolate bar with a sticky note attached that said “thanks for staying to finish yesterday.”  It made me do even more. RISKS:  You won’t take risks if you can’t be vulnerable.   In her book Daring Greatly, Brene Brown reports that her research on vulnerability showed that our desire for safety presents us from anticipating joy.  She calls it foreboding joy.   If we won’t anticipate the joy of being loved for fear of being hurt, we won’t risk a relationship.  If we can’t anticipate the joy of success for fear of the shame of failure, we won’t risk trying for that next big goal at work. Brown reports the most “surprising” antidote to shutting down the potential of joy is the willingness and practice of gratitude.   “Scarcity and fear drive foreboding joy.  We’re afraid the feeling of joy won’t last or that there won’t be enough, or that the transition to disappointment will be too difficult….”  She goes on to explain that if scarcity drives fear, then practicing gratitude is “how we acknowledge that there’s enough and that we’re enough.” PRACTICE OF GRATITUDE:  Apparently her research showed that the results came from tangible gratitude practices, more than merely having an attitude of gratitude or feeling grateful. So here are three ideas of creating a practice of gratitude to choose from, and just like any other habit or skill, practice means using some discipline to do it regularly, even if uncomfortable or without any seeming benefit at first Before you leave your office, write down three to five things you are grateful for that day.  Keep an ongoing file and just add the items each day, watching the list of things you are grateful for mount up. Make a point to express your gratitude out loud to one person (staff, vendor, customer, colleague, boss) daily. Once a week, send a note of gratitude to someone with whom you’ve interacted. I’ll leave you with my gratitude for reading my words today, and with this quote from Lucius Annaeus Seneca (ca. 4 BC–AD 65), who...

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