How to Help Employees Exert Emotional Labour

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The challenge that organizations have is that they haven’t trained, rewarded or permitted their frontline employees to exert emotional labor to create human connection when it’s most needed. Seth Godin

Now and then I come across a quote which makes me stop and think. Here’s why this one brought the local customer experience to mind.

Most Jamaicans who travel to the United States are struck by how well-trained service workers are. At first blush, it appears that they really know how to smile, be polite and seem interested.

However, those who end up staying to live in North America tell a different tale. They recall a discovery: five minutes after a seemingly meaningful interaction the provider can’t remember your face or name. It was all an act.

Where it comes from is obvious – those who have peeked behind the scenes say it’s the result of thorough training tightly coupled with swift, harsh consequences for non-compliance. It gets the right behaviour, but does it produce genuine feelings?

Contrast that situation with the experience of tourists who visit Jamaica repeatedly for several years, making lifelong friendships which start with chance encounters on the beach, village or bus. These extraordinary, unscripted stories end up bonding entire families from different cultures. Sometimes, they even cross generations, in spite of the geographic distance.

How can these two contrasting experiences be reconciled by you, a manager who must develop staff to serve local customers? Godin’s quote offers a few clues.

1. Faking isn’t Creating

I suspect that frontline workers in the US have been trained to “fake human connection” on demand – to go through the motions, following a set of actions they have memorized and practiced. Unfortunately, they also haven’t learned to separate true emotion from fakery.

How to get past this obstacle?

If you believe that your front-line workers are acting the part but not actually creating authentic experiences, they may need deeper training. Noticing real emotions in the middle of a transaction isn’t easy, especially when the customer is upset. Most of us can’t: it takes a kind of emotional maturity few possess.

2. Doing Feeling Work

However, when we bump into someone who can regularly provide this experience in the worst of circumstances, we tend to think of their emotional maturity as a rare gift or talent. Unfortunately, this explanation puts them up on a pedestal, far beyond the reach of the unlucky majority.

Godin implies that this thinking is false.

“Emotional labour” is really what’s missing, he explains. It’s the trained effort most companies’ leaders just can’t be bothered to develop – the expense is too high. Their lack of care begins with haphazard hiring and continues with non-existent onboarding. Employees who receive this basic training are left to their own devices, never given the tools to produce emotional results. Then, when problems occur, most managers simply blame the employee: they fail to accept responsibility.

But Godin goes further: he hints that many companies don’t even “permit” their front-line employees to provide emotional labour. They actually make it hard.

Have you ever received a quiet act of kindness from an employee who put themselves in harm’s way to make an exception in your case? That’s someone who is working around the limits implemented by a blind, callous leadership.

3. Identifying Moments

These subversives are not only brave, but wise. They can tell when a human connection is most needed and act decisively to provide it.

But they aren’t just interesting: these moments are extraordinary opportunities to create lasting loyalty. Perhaps they explain why these tourists return to visit their newfound “family” in Jamaica. Their initial link was so positive, and so unexpectedly real, that they end up feeling closer to a Jamaican front-line worker than their actual neighbours or office colleagues.

Can workers be trained to identify these key moments in a customer’s experience?

They can, but if your employees have childhoods pock-marked with trauma, it’s much harder to do so. Unfortunately, given the low pay of our service providers, many have experienced such hardships and won’t get over them on their own.

If management steps in and provides the counselling, training and coaching needed to move past these obstacles, everyone benefits. The fact is, employees who are being trained to emotionally labour on behalf of customers who need a human connection need to deal with their own wounds first.

This puts them in the driver’s seat: able to respond to the customer without their history getting in the way. Now, they can deliberately create the kind of deep loyalty customers enjoy but rarely experience. It’s emotional labor which provides a win for all concerned.

The dilemma of the bored employee

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Why is it that your employees who start out excited about their jobs lose interest so quickly? Is it a problem with their age, a cultural phenomena

or just fate? Can their experience be enriched by savvy managers?

The dilemma begins with most leaders who compare employees to cars and their jobs to long-term parking spots. In other words, all they need to do is slot people into positions and leave them. From that point on, the person is expected to perform the role faithfully and occupy the position indefinitely.

Unfortunately, that‘s not how things work. As you may know, there are a startling number of staff who merely go through the motions: “It’s just a job.” Long gone are the challenges which kept them up at night. All that’s left is a routine they can now do without thinking.

Predictably, they turn their attention to other life demands. They raise children to pass exams with top grades. They sign up for marathons. They become deacons in their churches and volunteers in community organizations. While there’s a great deal of good they accomplish in all these other areas, their career remains stagnant: the same job from one day to the next. A few convince themselves that the steady salary is worth the deadening sacrifice. Others refuse. They walk away, quitting to find a different career or start their own company.

Meanwhile, executives in your firm probably remain clueless about the real depth of disengagement: the high percentage who give their work-life the bare minimum. Understanding why employees are more dissatisfied than ever can help you produce a breakthrough culture.

The New Employee

Today’s entering staff member is often surprised at the stale environment found inside most companies. The truth is, little has changed over the years. People at all levels are still stuck in the car-and-parking-spot frame of mind.

Why are they shocked? They have been raised in a world of high engagement in which social media, entertainment and games occupy a great deal of their personal energy. Each of these platforms is  engineered to grab hold of a user’s attention and keep it for extended periods of time.

Creators of highly engaged online environments realize they are in a competition with other experiences. With every bit and byte, they intend to keep users interested and use attention as a measure of success. The makers of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram don’t want you to slip away.

By comparison, most jobs in the workplace seem to be designed to lose, disrupt or even destroy attention. It’s tempting to think this has something to do with technology: instead, it’s all about intention.

Unfortunately, there are probably few managers in your company who see their challenge in the same way. They fail to recognize that “experience design” is part of their job, instead pretending as if nothing has changed over the years.

The outcome? Employees who can hardly last 15 minutes alone or in a meeting without reflexively searching their smartphones for something better.

A New Challenge

Most of your fellow managers probably just shrug their shoulders, complaining. For them, the point of engaging staff is not to entertain them, but make them productive.

Perhaps they could adapt the mindset of game designers. One of their leading thought leaders, Amy Jo Kim, asks: “How can we create experiences that get better as employees become more skilled?”

In most companies, the focus has been on the opposite. HR has been trying to keep employees’ experience the same once they reach a certain level of skill: the old car-and-long-term-parking-lot model. The result is boredom.

Behind this unwanted outcome is a lack of responsibility. Most manager’s don’t believe that their job is to engineer an outstanding experience. In their minds, work is not a place for intrinsic fulfillment or purpose: it’s a crude exchange of money for labour.

Fortunately, it doesn’t take much to tackle this issue head-on. As a new employee at AT&T Bell Laboratories in 1988, I joined a system which made room for technical employees who had no interest in becoming supervisors. A technical ladder allowed many to be promoted and recognized without having the burden of direct reporting relationships.

At a micro level, your company can train managers to develop detailed ladders of skills. Imagine if, at any moment in time, your employees could know exactly which rung they occupy. Furthermore, they would also be able to pinpoint which skills they are developing. This way, they know what their next personal improvement target happens to be and when it is due.

This form of career gamification can engage even long-term staff, blocking the default – boredom – which thwarts your company’s goals.

4 Steps to Help Employees Self-Train

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May 24, 2019

Are your employees taking their training into their own hands? If so, how can you stop the motivated learner from abandoning your good training for a five-minute YouTube video? Attend this session to discover ways to engage your learners in self-training experiences filled with expert content gleaned from your company or industry. Use it to win learners’ deep attention, defeating the appeal of superficial tips and tricks.

This is a live presentation made at the Association for Talent Development Conference 2019 held in Washington DC. The accompanying slides and online game from the session can be accessed here – http://2time-sys.com/atd

To listen to this podcast, visit Source

Why It‘s Time to Ban the SWOT from Your Next Retreat

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Does the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities  and Threats (SWOT) technique deserve it‘s accepted place in your next strategic planning retreat? Maybe not. There are more precise ways to understand the current state of the business that take less time and use more facts.

My recommendation: If you are leading your organization‘s next planning exercise, lift things up a notch by omitting the SWOT activity from the agenda. There are three reasons why this list-making activity needs to be transformed.

1. It’s just an opinion survey

When people cough up strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats they are merely offering opinions. While there are facts sitting in the background somewhere, the truth is that the exercise is based on opposable points of view, even allowing items to show up in multiple lists. For example, a reality such as “We have five employees” could fit into any of the four categories, construing it as either a “pro” or a “con”.

Given the fact that anyone can have an opinion about anything, merely accumulating these arbitrary points of view is a low-quality exercise. Discussing and debating them at length only reduces your meeting to a talk-shop.

2. It anchors the team in old thinking

The purpose of a well-designed retreat is to establish a clean break from the past. By contrast, the SWOT activity does the very opposite. Why? It merely asks people to rehash old, familiar lines of thinking. This reinforces the emotional link to whatever former strategy happened to be in place, which in turn, makes it harder to create a fresh one.

For example, imagine what happens when the team lists the fact that having five employees is a weakness. Now, it’s difficult to see it as a strength, which it may be in the context of a fast-changing industry. Stating the old concept as the solid truth only stands in the way of realizing a new paradigm.

3. It takes too much time

As the designer of the retreat, you are probably painfully aware that time is a scarce commodity. A SWOT survey gets people talking, but it requires several hours of precious space to collect the group’s point of view, collate and present it. This time could be better spent doing deeper dives into hard data.

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Given these three shortcomings (which many executives already quietly realize) why does the exercise continue to be so popular? As a retreat organizer, you may have the answer: because it‘s easy.

Not only is a choice to do the activity never challenged, those who participate are unlikely to challenge each other during the exercise. Unfortunately, this avoidance tactic violates research showing that a group must struggle to produce good, new ideas. Here are some recommendations I make to solve the dilemma of coming to agreement without taking a shortcut.

1. Do the SWOT Survey Online, Before the Retreat

My clients do these surveys before retreats, as part of our data gathering and include all employees. The most salient results are summarized in the meeting within 15 minutes, which saves time and effort.

2. Facilitate a Current Snapshot

Perhaps the original intent of the SWOT was to gain an understanding of the present state of the business. This picture is still needed, but it must be fact-based.

As I have explained in a prior column, your snapshot can be pulled together using different perspectives: financial, customer/competitor, operations and employees. Add in an analysis of the external environment with the PESTER views, (Political, Environmental, Sociological, Technological, Economic and Regulatory), taking special note that technology is emerging as the most critical outside factor.

At first glance, this may seem like a dull recitation of boring data. However, the point is to understand (as a team) the story the facts are telling. Inevitably, this will include a robust discussion of various strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats but there‘s no need to group them. Instead, let the information do the talking, rather than hasty opinions, and weave the four SWOT themes into the narrative.

Invariably, the tale the data tells is nuanced, filled with ups and downs, polarities, discrepancies and paradoxes. Only a team of insiders with a deep appreciation of the organization and their individual specialty can fully pull it together. Certainly, an outside consultant can’t.

Of course, there are companies which attempt to skip the snapshot altogether and jump right into planning the future. Unfortunately, doing so yields pipe dreams with no foundation in reality. It reduces the trust needed to make a risky move.

In summary, it takes a concerted effort to have everyone on the team see the company’s current position from a joined-up point of view. However, it’s more than a team-building activity: It’s also an evaluation of the status quo which is the first step to carving out a transformative strategy. Don’t block a big change which needs to happen with a costly SWOT mistake.

How to Use Defects to Dramatically Improve Performance

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Why does your company appear to repeat simple mistakes so often? If you are a manager, it’s exhausting to chase one error after another, doing little more than fighting fires. There may be a better approach – use the principles of “defect management” borrowed from Total Quality Management.

In the late 1980’s the world came to recognize Japanese dominance in automotive manufacturing. The country had come a long way: back in the 1960’s the quality of its cars were sub-standard with numerous customer complaints. While the techniques they adopted to transform their situation weren’t new, they were the first to apply quality improvement and process management in a rigorous, systematic way. The resulting turnaround appeared miraculous to the rest of the world, resulting in manufacturers adopting their techniques on a large scale.

One of the innovations they introduced was a peculiar way to uncover operational problems that only occurr in small numbers. 

If your company has over 100 employees, it has the same challenge: it’s made up of intricate, cross-organizational processes which are hard to diagnose. In other words, tricky issues persist because the link between cause and effect isn’t easy to determine. Take, for example, two of my favorite problems: email and meetings. Your CEO might decide to order people to spend less time on these activities, but his command wouldn‘t work. The defects in both of these areas have multiple causes, which means that these forms of corporate waste are difficult to eradicate.

Here’s a way for your organization to use this technique to stop making the same mistakes over and over again.

1. “Defects” – A Re-Definition

In their solution, the Japanese pioneered a new way of looking at defects. They argued that companies are poor at distinguishing them due to bureaucracy, company

culture and internal politics. For example, managers who are trying to look good at all times are likely to disown their defects.

It’s not entirely their fault.

Most people who think of defects imagine visible and tangible errors, such as a car rolling off an assembly line with its steering wheel missing. However, you are probably a knowledge worker and the defects in your role are much harder to identify. The chances are high that they are not being noticed or measured.

For example, a meeting may be effective overall, but still full of defects. Let’s glance at the last gathering you called. Compare it against this checklist of possible defects.

– a late start or end

– a tardy attendee

– an agenda which was never assembled or followed

– each time someone used their smartphone to check email

– action items which weren‘t captured

– a lack of written feedback

By this definition, some managers have never attended a defect-free meeting. In fact, these problems may be the norm in your company, which is blind to these mistakes. Unfortunately, they add up and damage employee productivity.

2. Defects in Your Work

Now, let‘s switch to the everyday work you perform. If you are a manager, what are the defects you could be unwittingly producing with your direct reports? The way to identify them is to find the shortfalls; the places where standards aren’t being met.

For example, if a performance review conversation with your employee doesn‘t go well, consider that to be a defect. You probably aren‘t measuring the number of times this occurs, but if you were to do so, you could actually launch increasingly deep improvement efforts.

That would mean resisting the temptation to bury the defect inside a string of successes. This happens when you argue: “Yeah, but how about the other times when I don’t make mistakes. Shouldn’t I get credit for my 99% success-rate?”

In this context, the correct answer is “No”. There‘s no need to be defensive. Defects are not important because they make people feel bad. Instead, they are a critical part of your efforts to uncover the details which aren‘t working. They help you craft precise interventions which produce superior performance.

If you think that this isn‘t achievable in small increments, think again. The Japanese industrial miracle was built on steady tiny gains, accompanied by knowledge accumulated over time. It gave their companies a solid competitive advantage over others who were boasting to themselves about their “99% performance.”

It’s ironic: the way to continue improving is to start by calling out defects. This puts the focus where it belongs and prevents people from hiding behind the numbers. Fail to do so and it won’t be long before a comfortable mediocrity sets in which affects productivity at every level. Committing to removing defects takes great courage, but it’s one of the keys to competitive advantage.

8 Skills Employees Need that Require Zero Talent

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How can a manager be promoted, only for others to discover that he lacks certain basic, foundation skills? Someone, somewhere dropped an easy ball that could have been corrected if the company had the right perspective on how to develop new employees.

There‘s an interesting meme floating around pointing out 10 skills that every employee needs to possess. It adds a zinger: they don‘t require a drop of talent, implying that no excuses are possible. While the list wasn‘t developed for Jamaican companies, here is a local version of this popular meme based on my experience.

#1 – Being On Time

In our environment, this is a huge challenge. Like many other firms in tropical climates, we allow lateness to run rampant, even in executive suites. Also, people who are punctual don‘t confront those who aren’t. Finally, our companies don’t develop a way to teach employees what “on time” means in their context.

For example, I had a friend who regularly told others she was “just around the corner” even when she hadn’t yet started the car. In her mind, she was “on time.” By contrast, I worked with a company in which “on-time” meant that you arrived early and prepared yourself to start on the exact, scheduled minute. Yet another organization translated the phrase to mean “any time before the most important person arrives.”

The point is that your firm must teach its own definition of “on time” plus all the detailed enabling behaviors, starting with the CEO and her direct reports.

#2 – Work Ethic/Effort

New employees are often slow to appreciate that for every corporate skill, there is a ladder of accomplishment. Unfortunately, those who are unaware, usually occupy the lowest rung. This is no matter of disrespect. The fact is, if they are taught the existence of higher skills and how to achieve them, they can become inspired.

Their objective, before they are confirmed as full-time staff, should be to show they have climbed the rungs of some key skills. For example, a summer student should be able the demonstrate an unbroken string of on-time arrivals at work. These may seem to be too easy, but don’t under-estimate the effort required to learn new behaviors and apply them consistently.

#3 – Body Language

Have you ever seen a young person slouch in his office chair, apparently ready to doze off? Newly hired workers just aren’t taught that their body language influences others. The impact on customers, colleagues and managers is part of what they will be held accountable for.

#4 – Energy

Whereas it may not have been cool to be an eager-beaver in their prior lives, young employees need to learn that the tables are now turned. How they get work done is vitally important, and they aren‘t “allowed” to have a bad day that drags down others. Every hour is intended to be an opportunity for enthusiasm and engagement, and they must learn to manage their sleep and nutrition to accomplish this goal. Habitually overcoming the “I-don‘t-feel-like-it” blues is a vital new capacity to develop.

#5 – Attitude/Resilience

This is perhaps a nebulous skill but companies need to go beyond the level of clichés and define it clearly. Science has shown that there are concrete steps in techniques like Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy which can be followed to transform a poor attitude. This will benefit them on the job and in every part of their lives.

#6 – Passion

With few exceptions, most employees are passionate about at least one thing in their lives. Companies do a poor job of nurturing these strong feelings, allowing new hires to slip into the ranks of the disaffected and disengaged within months. However, developing a love of one’s work is a skill that can be taught, even though it’s usually left to chance.

#7 – Being Coachable

Jamaican workplaces are rife with stories of new employees who are convinced that they “already know” everything. When this lack of self-esteem interferes with the development of a “Beginner’s Mind” it’s time for an intervention. A good one would interrupt their habits and show them how to accept coaching, a capacity which does not come naturally to high achievers.

#8 – Being Prepared (To Do Extra)

New hires must learn to over-prepare if they hope to succeed; they simply have fewer in-company experiences to draw from. Then, once projects start, they need to be ready to go the additional mile repeatedly. This behavior is a signal that they are taking their careers seriously.

Many of these eight practices can be tied to company standards enforced by your firm’s environment. Your organization must make them explicit: a strong start to a successful career. This ensures that when promotions occur, the recipients are fully trained.

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. Missed a column? To receive a free download with articles from 2010-2018, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com 

The audio version of this article can be heard here or at https://Framework.podbean.com/e/8-skills-employees-need-to-have-that-require-zero-talent/

Why Super-Busy People Shouldn’t Take Average Advice

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If you manage an extremely high number of tasks, it’s a mistake to accept productivity advice from just about anyone. Instead, you should use special solutions tailored for people like you.

CEO‘s I have worked with share a few distinct characteristics. They tend to be:
– High energy – Sometimes, they get a lot done by simply working harder than others.
– Driven – They don‘t need to be inspired by outsiders: They motivate themselves even under trying circumstances.- Creative – They routinely come up with novel solutions from disparate sources.

While this list may appear to be little more than a bunch of “good things”, these characteristics create a unique personality: an “Ultra-Busy“. She is someone who regularly places more tasks on her plate than she has the capacity to complete. In other words, she sets lofty aspirations which she sometimes can‘t meet.
She is also prone to live an unbalanced life. High blood pressure, overweight and lack of time with loved ones are common problems for her and others in this cohort.
Finally, she fails to account for her uniqueness. Believing that others are just like her, she mistakenly trusts them to deliver at the same level.

Perhaps you recognize these traits in yourself. While they may sound like profound weaknesses, they actually come from a positive place. You see, Ultra-Busys aren’t simply workaholics.

Instead, they love tackling big problems, both for the inherent challenge and for the underlying mission. They aren’t happy unless they use their brains, hearts, minds and souls for a worthy purpose. As such, they give everything they can, often losing track of time as they tackle and resolve one issue after another. These totally immersive moments are high points.

As such, their time is precious, making them fastidious in their choice of productivity habits and aids. Always on the lookout for the latest improvements they need to heed a word of caution: much of the advice floating around isn‘t actually meant for them. Here’s why.

During adolescence, each one of us starts to teach ourselves how to use our memory to manage our personal task-load. Then, as we grow older, we search for better methods to handle more tasks.
A few people – The Ultra-Busys – take this to an extreme. Their love of big results requires them to manage a monumental task-load. Unlike others who see added tasks as a burden, they willingly create lots of them in order to make quicker progress towards their life-goals.

However, most productivity advice doesn‘t account for this difference. Instead, it‘s geared for the average person who simply wants to survive each day using a few handy coping mechanisms.

But if you happen to be an Ultra-Busy, what methods should you use? My research reveals the following.
1. Use a Time-Scarcity Schedule
Most people adopt a calendar exclusively to track appointments, but this technique doesn‘t work for Ultra-Busys. Instead, you must use your calendar to plan all your hours, including sleep, weekends and holidays. In this way, it helps you confront the reality of a 24-hour day, especially when you reach the end of an activity and need to choose which one to do next.
Other folks don‘t experience your level of scarcity and have lots of spare time. You don’t, and a time-budget is your key to keeping yourself on track in every dimension of your life.

2. Use Flexible Tools to Combat Disruptions

As an Ultra-Busy, you deal with unexpected, daily disruptions. This means that you must use advanced task management software in place of either memory or paper tools.

It’s your answer to the problem of not having an administrative assistant who can re-juggle your schedule when the unplanned occurs. Instead, you are required to do everything on your own and the best choice of task manager is one that‘s cloud-based,  using the latest Artificial Intelligence.

3. Embrace Your Agency
If you‘re a real Ultra-Busy, you probably exhaust others around you with your pace and intensity. Some will pity you, thinking that you are a sorry case…a victim of your own success.
However, deep down you know that nothing could be further from the truth. You accept and appreciate your own agency – each task you undertake is one you created freely, from far inside your commitments.
So don‘t be alarmed when others fail to understand. Instead, find the few who are like you and learn from them. You can take the free training I offer to Ultra-Busys at ScheduleU.org – The School for Scheduling Everything.

Your job is to stay true to your calling and its consequence: the incredible time demands you put on yourself. Avoid average advice and uncover the thinking that fits your extraordinary commitments.

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20190407/francis-wade-time-schedules-super-busy-manager

Tune into the audio by clicking above.

Why Some Leaders Hate Long-Term Planning

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Why do some executives resist making long-term plans for their business? The hidden secret is a deep fear of failure but there’s a way to be confident about the top team’s quality of visionary thinking.

Vague aspirations to “Become World-Class” will always drive some portion of your employees crazy. Even if it happens on a grand scale, the answer isn’t to abandon inspirational goals

Fortunately, the Jamaican Government’s Vision 2030 avoids these perils by having both clear measurable targets and a specific end-date. Without these two components, it would be just be a bunch of wishful thoughts…fairy tales with no basis in reality.

However, most managers under-estimate the effort to produce such detailed targets. They struggle, but don’t understand why. One reason relates to a lack of harmony between two opposing camps: Dreamers and Realists. Your team is best served when a drive for inspiration (i.e. Dreaming) is balanced by a need to be practical (i.e. being Realistic). Here are three steps to include in your next planning meeting.

Being Inspirational through the Details

If you have noticed that most of your employees have lost the zest for Dreamer-led Rah-Rah / “Being Number One” chest-beating, you may ask: “Why did it become passe?” In short, it doesn’t do well in today‘s world where authenticity is the main currency.

They see such lofty goals as inauthentic because they lack specific, measurable characteristics. As a result, these targets lack credibility, reducing them to having no more significance than an idle knock in table tennis, or a meaningless game of solitaire played just to kill time.

Today, your employees expect real engagement which must be linked to clear performance feedback which is objectively measured. Such black and white targets tell them whether they have won or lost, not only individually, but on a corporate scale.

In the case of Vision 2030 there was, I imagine, a long hard distance to go from becoming “the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business” to defining multiple, explicit targets for specific sectors. It’s exactly the tough task many executive teams are unwilling to do. Instead, they try to take lazy shortcuts. For example, it’s popular to get each department to come up with its own goals, then ask a clerk to pull them together in a final document.

At first blush, this approach may seem logical, or efficient. However, the end-product ends up being little more than a grab-bag of bits and pieces. This Frankenstein plan is exactly what Realists fear the most because the lack of practical coherence dooms it to failure.

Allowing Brutal Reality to Trim Dreams

Some Realists have such strong feelings that they block or boycott planning retreats altogether. Instead, they argue that today is the best guide to tomorrow and advocate no more than annual budgeting. Implicit in this approach is the assumption that competitive advantage was decided in the past, and won’t change.

This dangerous idea is usually not spoken out aloud…until it’s too late. Like Cable and Wireless of old, they deny the arrival of an impending Digicel, thereby facilitating their competition’s success.

Unfortunately, most executive teams never resolve the difficult tension between Dreamers and Realists, preferring to allow one side to “win”.

The way out of this zero-sum game is to balance the time devoted to each camp during your next strategic planning retreat. When you create your agenda, build this in: ask everyone to Dream, then stop. Pause, and then provoke participants to trim the vision by making it Real. In other words, allow each approach to run its full course before switching from one to the other. The fact is, both are important, but they are impossible to reconcile simultaneously in a workshop setting.

Time and Discipline to Balance Both Activities

Most executives don’t appreciate this delicate balance. Instead, if you belong to one group, you are likely to point fingers at the other, complaining that time spent in their preferred zone is wasted. As a result, I often find myself in the middle, arguing for a balance. This means pointing out the pitfalls of “short” retreats. I explain why we no longer offer them: they inevitably favor one camp over the other, producing a weak strategy which is neither rigorous nor durable.

In other words, trying to focus exclusively on Dreamers or Realists defeats the purpose. The point of such sessions is to make the most difficult decisions regarding the future of the company. Bringing both camps together is just one of the critical end-products.

Teams who realize this fact produce miracles: building inspiring long-term plans based on realistic short-term commitments. While it’s a hard result to generate in a mixed group, this balanced approach is the best way to craft sustainable competitive advantage.

Tune into the podcast by clicking above.

Should someone who is bad at email be promoted?

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 Is there such a thing as email prowess? And is it important enough to be one of the core criteria for promotion? Many would disagree, but there’s evidence which suggests that electronic messaging is no longer a diversion from your work, but an essential component.

It’s fair to say that most managers see email as a nuisance, an activity they would gladly do without. Professionals from an older generation can remember a simpler age when it didn’t exist. They recall the false promise made that it would save time, a goal it certainly has never achieved.

Now, it’s become an obligation – a burden which distracts and takes attention away from the real jobs managers are supposed to be doing. If it were to disappear or be banished, many would cheer with relief.

Of course, that’s wishful thinking. Asynchronous electronic messaging isn’t going anywhere, even if it gets a slight makeover via tools like WhatsApp. The benefits it brings are far too great and there’s not a single company which has avoided the culture change it’s wrought.

Amidst this transformation, managers don’t understand their role as a skillful user of email. Here are three research-based conclusions which illuminate the need to develop this skill long before a promotion is contemplated.

 Email Skill Does Matter

Researchers at Microsoft have been mining email usage data for several large companies for many years. Their expert analyses can predict how well a team performs. A key factor in measuring employee satisfaction is how quickly managers respond to messages sent by their direct reports.

This makes perfect sense. Managers who become the bottleneck to their team’s proper functioning can create havoc, bringing all work to a standstill.

Further research shows that the size of a manager’s email network also has an impact. Those with small networks tend to wield little influence, thereby putting the unit’s mission at risk.

Finally, managers who send email outside of working hours while insisting on immediate responses have an adverse effect on work-life balance. They merely have to forward a single short message to upset a subordinate’s weekend, vacation, holiday, sick-day…or labor pains. Ask around in your company and you may hear some real horror stories.

Collectively, these findings put to bed the notion that a manager’s email skills don’t matter. Unfortunately, many who are promoted fail to understand the centrality of these skills to their new role and never become proficient. As managers they lament: “Sorry…I’m really bad at email.”

Your Email Volume is Your Work Product

The quantity of managers who complain about their email volume is startling. To hear them tell it, they have nothing to do with the number of messages they are obliged to process each day. They are victims.

While this particular nonsense has no place in the managerial ranks, the company that fails to teach the right lessons to its staff fosters its continuance. In the cases where the executive are the worst complainers (and offenders) the entire firm suffers. All firms must therefore give staff the skills to manage ever-increasing volumes of email.

In a June 2012 Gleaner column entitled “How executives unwittingly turn employees into morons”, I shared a true story. A Vice President consistently and blindly ruined the productivity of those around him by insisting on replies to his messages within an hour. His ignorance and the ripple effect it produced could have been avoided with the right intervention customized for his level.

That training would have reshaped the common understanding. Email messaging is a multi-faceted activity that requires a number of simultaneous skills: operational effectiveness, writing, call-to-action crafting, reading between lines, tone management, plus others. They don’t come without effort and practice, yet most companies are blind to studies showing that the average manager spends 20% of his day on this task. The cumulative time spent producing and processing poor quality messages is immense.

The Human Resource Department’s Role

Traditionally, HR has been one of the least productive units in this area. When email was first rolled out, the department was often the last to adopt the new technology. Playing catchup ever since, many Human Resource professionals live in a perpetual email backlog, use poor techniques and never move beyond the basics. As a result, they aren’t role models.

Instead, most staff members are left to fend for themselves. This means that promotions occur without these skills being taken into account. If the 20% statistic is true, and email has the multiplier effect we just described, then the problem in your company is probably expanding as volumes increase.

In most firms, this logjam can only be broken by top leadership, which must start by taking responsibility for its own lack of skill. After a good intervention, the frequent complaints about email should be replaced by positive, collective action and include everyone who sends electronic messages.