Using BPM to Solve Nagging Customer Complaints

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How to solve nagging customer complaints that never go away

 

If your company has over 100 employees and faces difficult customer service problems, it’s likely that they have become intractable. They aren’t fixed easily because the solution does not reside in the hands of front-line personnel. Instead, they exist because your organization is too big for small-scale solutions.

 

Every company which grows above a certain size discovers a new class of stubborn problems which can’t be solved by tinkering with Customer Service Representatives (CSR’s.)

Take the case of a call you make to complain about the inaccuracy of a bill. No matter how nice, empathetic or professional the CSR is, she is far removed from the source of the issue. All she can do is record the fact that it exists.

If you suspect that the fault originates deep in the bowels of the organization, you may be right. For example, the three departments who must cooperate to resolve the problem report to different people who each have their own agendas. From their personal point of view, you are collateral damage: not a priority. As far as they are concerned, their boss believes they are doing a great individual job.

In such a situation, further training of front-line staff makes no difference. Neither will hiring new CSR’s. How do the best companies go about resolving these issues systematically?

 

  1.      Illuminate the Customer Journey

 

By In a simple operation like a patty shop, it’s easy for managers to monitor the flow of experiences you have as a customer from entrance to exit. However, as companies become more complex, your “customer journey” grows to span multiple organizations and more people. Before long, no-one can see, let alone manage your end-to-end experience. It’s ignored.

As you get handed off from one department to another in a game of “Royal Runaround,” it’s possible to meet some very nice employees along the way. It’s just that no-one is responsible for the entire length of the abominable process you are stuck inside.

Unfortunately, most companies are only equipped to handle single fires. Process problems require a different approach.

I recall one of my clients who sincerely believed that it took a mere seven days to handle a new application. In fact, investigations revealed that the actual elapsed time from the customer’s point of view was closer to a shocking 15 days.

Companies who fix this particular kind of poor service start with an appreciation of your journey as a customer. It’s defined as the sequential flow of touchpoints you experience and it can only be discovered when employees walk in your shoes.  This is the first step, but these kinds of changes don’t happen in a single corrective intervention.

 

  1. Systematic Process Improvement

Only a few firms go further and set up a permanent, cross-functional team to manage the processes that make up the customer journey.

They undertake the following minimum Business Process Management (BPM) activities:

–          -Baseline the current process/customer journey.

–          -Find and execute quick wins.

–          -Establish and monitor performance metrics.

–          -Use the new data to implement process changes.

This cycle is repeated ad infinitum, often with the help of a coach. However, each change is limited in duration in the absence of proper governance outside the team.

 

  1. Making Improvement Permanent

Sometimes, the team makes terrific progress just by empowering itself. Unfortunately, their success hastens the moment when further time, money, technology and additional human resources are needed. Now, the endorsement of the company is required.

A good place to start is to establish a new position in the organization: a “Process Owner.”

This individual must possess a blend of technical, political and communication skills to lead the team through the four BPM steps shared earlier.

They also are held accountable for the ongoing improvement of the customer experience and process performance. To be successful, they pull together people from different departments who have competing interests.

Process Owners make sure that the company pays attention to the space between silos, tying the customer’s piecemeal experiences into a single whole.

 

It’s hard work. But their very existence is important as it highlights the precarious nature of the customer’s journey through a complex organization.

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These three changes may sound easy to implement but they fly in the face of cultures which promote loyalty to one’s manager over loyalty to the customer. As such, preventing service abominations and Royal Runarounds requires a shift in power from line managers to Process Owners. Most resist such changes.

The fact is, this process transformation is required if a company is to scale to the next level and meet its service aspirations. Now, it must think about the customer quite differently and embrace the challenge of being a complex but successful organization.

 

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 2010-2016, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com

 

 

Why great strategy retreats confront the ugliest truths

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Why a Great Strategy Retreat Starts by Confronting the Ugliest Truths

 

What’s the harm, in your next strategic planning retreat, of restricting the discussion to focus on the positives – the potential of the future? After all, everyone wants to walk away inspired by what can be accomplished, not bogged down by past losses and ugly failures. Should this sentiment be used to set the agenda to limit certain discussions while encouraging others?

 

If you are the meeting planner or sponsor, it’s a dilemma. For example, some may suggest renaming the meeting a “forward” to keep things positive.

 

This probably won’t make much of a difference, but here’s something that will. Before the retreat begins, clearly script the first few agenda items so that you achieve a balance between activities that look to the past with ones that carve out the future. Keeping this intention in mind is better than the alternative: leaving it entirely up to the participants to decide. In the heat of the moment, it’s easy to fall prey to groupthink, only to settle on a poor decision that ruins the quality of the outcome.

Google probably won’t help you find the right script for your event, or hint that a change is needed in mid-stream. If you only plan a single retreat per year, here are three inside secrets known only to experienced facilitators.

 

Secret #1: Don’t Ignore Human Nature

 

The purpose of a strategic planning retreat is twofold. One is to make high-quality decisions which, when assembled, chart a favorable future for the company. The second is more subtle – to bring everyone together on the same page.

 

The fact is, anyone can write a strategy document – a CEO, Chairman or even an outside consultant. The main reason to do things differently, to use a team, is to ensure that there is wholehearted support from each individual. This is an emotional result, not a logical one.

To achieve it, understand that team-members are likely to share an unspoken question at the start: “What is known, and by whom?”

 

Even teams who work side-by-side every day face this quandry. It’s the reason a good marriage therapist begins by establishing a base of facts both parties can agree on.

 

In much the same way, participants have a profound need to create a “Joint View” of current business reality. In our retreats, we build it in real-time using past data.

The end result is composed of five perspectives. Four are borrowed from the Balanced Scorecard (Financial, Customer, Process, and People) and we also add a summary of external forces described by the acronym PESTER (Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Environmental and Regulatory.)

 

It’s human nature to want such a Joint View to emerge, alongside the warm feeling of fellowship that accompanies it.

Secret #2: Watch for Signs of Trouble

There are times, however, when this process is short-circuited. For example, someone powerful may “suggest” that a document they have written is a sufficient substitute for this particular exercise. If the team backs the potential shortcut, agreeing may be the only option.

 

If you do, stay alert for a sign of trouble.

 

As team-members articulate visionary ideas, observe if they are repeatedly requesting present-day information. If this occurs, they are being hampered in their efforts to create the future by a lack of understanding regarding today’s reality.

 

For example, a plan to double revenue in ten years is useless if the actual levels of current sales and the precise drivers are not known. Even the best-written document fails to provide the multi-perspective insight that a full group discussion generates.

 

This isn’t to say that it should be discarded. Instead, use it as a start: a point of departure.

 

Secret #3: Be Bold in Getting the Right Information

 

Sometimes, to help the team complete this real-time, Joint View, you must be bold to source the right data.

 

If Internet access is necessary, obtain it. If the employee with the information is at work or home on a weekend, call her. The issues being decided in the retreat are career-defining and require a certain level of urgency and commitment. It’s the perfect time to be unreasonable given how much is at stake.

 

Of course, you are better off anticipating the need for this data. For example, if your industry is undergoing business process automation, then having an expert on call is a great idea.

 

But you cannot fully predict which direction the discussion will go so be prepared to be resourceful.

 

The point here is to be ruthless in your pursuit of the truth as a necessary building block of a sound strategic plan. Once it’s accepted in mind and heart, the team is ready to create a new vision that inspires them and those whom they represent.

 

There is just no shortcut: a joint agreement around even the ugliest truths cannot be circumvented.

 

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 2010-2016, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20170910/francis-wade-great-strategy-retreats-confront-ugliest-truths

How New Managers Avoid Becoming Tyrants

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Perhaps you have observed what author, Dacher Keltner, calls “The Power Paradox”: a well-liked employee gets a promotion into management and shortly after, turns into a tyrant. If you are someone who aspires to lead others, how can you avoid a fall into this trap?

First, understand that this tendency to become a hard-nosed, selfish manager is universal, but also peculiar to our culture. It’s well documented in “Why Workers Won’t Work: The Case Study of Jamaica” by Kenneth Carter. He describes the way employees change their minds after entering the supervisory ranks.

Here’s an example. Before their promotion, they report that their colleagues are motivated by training, recognition, and participation. Afterwards, they complain about a lowly fixation on only one thing: money.

At first blush, this shift in perspective may seem to be a Jamaican problem, but it isn’t. According to Keltner, whenever someone gains power, they fall into a trap in which their habits become transformed.

Before being promoted, they demonstrate enduring skills related to empathy, enthusiasm, and giving: factors used in the decision to elevate them. Afterwards their behaviour changes  as they lose “the very skills that enabled <them> to gain power in the first place.”

At this point, he quotes numerous studies showing that people who feel powerful are more likely to lie, steal sweets from children and have affairs. They even give relatively less to charity and engage in more shoplifting. In the local workplace, with its lack of feedback, they can continue to exploit others for years without ever being confronted.

But how do you become the exception?

  1. Manage your busyness

In “The Good Samaritan Study” from 1973, even people who were committed to helping others became uncaring and unkind when they felt rushed. Update that finding and today, we have well-meaning managers with their heads buried in smartphones. They distract themselves, even as they assure an employee crying out for help: “Don’t worry, I am listening – I am a great multi-tasker.” (They aren’t, because no-one is.)

But the answer isn’t to try to do less. That’s not an option.

Instead, to escape the trap you must constantly upgrade your habits, practices and tools to surpass the mediocre standards which prevail in the Caribbean. It will help you approach world-class levels, which is the only way to add even more tasks while maintaining the same peace of mind you had before you were promoted.

  1. Act to give away power

Those who gain power often ignore the fact that it only exists because it’s granted by others. Ousted politicians know this fact all too well, even though it’s the first lesson they forget after winning an elected seat.

The irony is that the more power is given away, the more it is returned. Before you are promoted, you don’t need to know this fact. But once you assume a new management position, you step into the spotlight where everything you do (and don’t do) is now the subject of criticism.

Some new managers argue that it’s unfair. “But I haven’t changed,” they plead.  Unfortunately, as a holder of power, new expectations have instantly and permanently been conferred.

Now, you must work hard to understand how power works, then set about crafting appropriate behaviors. Empowering and enabling other people needs to become a regular, public act.

  1. Beg for Feedback

Given the fact that most managers are blind to the ways power warps them, they need external help to counteract the norm. Someone nearby must be in place to tell them the truth.

In medieval courts, the joker or jester played that role. Now the task falls to a coach or consultant paid to be the exceptional voice of truth: the John the Baptist.

If, as a manager, you find yourself surrounded by people who appear to be telling you stuff you like to hear, or advice which just happens to save their skins from criticism… well, I have bad news. It’s likely that you are only seeing the tip of the iceberg, courtesy of your entourage of bootlickers.

In my years as a consultant, the tendency of a manager to fool himself about the true thoughts of those around him is astounding. Consider it an occupational hazard.

To prevent disaster, you must push people hard to tell you the truths you fear the most. Whenever you aren’t doing that, safely assume that you are allowing power to turn you into someone who is less kind, less generous and less concerned with the common good.

Power corrupts. But that’s not the end of the story. With it, you have a tremendous capacity to be of service but the price you pay is a kind of rigorous vigilance that non-managers don’t need. It’s the only way to avoid becoming a Trump-like tyrant.

 

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 2010-2016, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com

How to Optimize Your Strategic Planning Retreat To Prevent Failure

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I was recently called by a company interested in having 60 attendees at their one-day strategic planning event. As they described the desired outcome I decided to give them the bad news up front: they had unwittingly put their goal in jeopardy.

In short, the design of their workshop was in opposition to their intent to produce a quality plan. Too many participants and too little time would guarantee it. In addition, they were increasing the odds of people walking away feeling as if the activity were a waste of their efforts and the company’s money.

Unfortunately, this is not a problem that fixes itself during the retreat. In fact, it’s possible to complete the event without hearing a single complaint.

How could this happen? In the Caribbean, we are polite, unlikely to create waves in the middle of a workshop unless things are going very badly. Compared to other work cultures, we give blighs instead of feedback. The empty-handed reality would only creep in later when everything has quieted down.

Unfortunately, based on the retreat’s “success”, the following year would be likely to see a repeat. Often, it’s easier to go with the flow than to make a fuss, allowing the company to slip into a strategic planning rut from which it cannot escape.

If you are the retreat sponsor, here are a few interventions you can launch to bring new life to your strategic planning meeting.

 

  1. Define What a Successful Retreat Looks Like

The main purpose of this kind of workshop is to make unprecedented decisions. It’s not business-as-usual. This event should be difference-making, not status-quo-reinforcing.

Some mistakenly define the gathering as an opportunity for a team to rubber-stamp the thoughts of a CEO, chairman or outside consultant. If that’s all your company wants to do, save your time and money and have a conference call or pass around a document.

Instead, you should be trying to make the most of everyone’s time, allowing participants to bring their best thinking to the occasion. In this unique space, the range of possibilities becomes dramatically expanded. A new vision for the company may be forged at will.

In a similar vein, you can catalyse complex decisions involving multiple tradeoffs. In the right context, each stakeholder shares his/her expertise, contributing a unique perspective. Together, they shape the firm’s journey from the present to the future, in an effort which requires everyone to be at their best throughout the entire exercise.

Imagine the creation of a fresh strategy which rescues the company from ruin, saving jobs. Or, endorses a new product that becomes a best-seller. Or, carves out a path for decades to come that preserves the organization for future shareholders. These are the kinds of results which make a strategic planning exercise a special opportunity.

  1. Encourage a Balance of Inquiry and Advocacy

 

In a retreat, there is a natural flow between generating more input (“diverging”) and driving towards a conclusion (“converging.”) This movement from one extreme to the other is unlikely to take place by itself, hence the need for someone to play the role of facilitator.

It does not have to be someone from the outside. But an internal employee cannot execute the position without deliberately setting aside their substantive role while they are leading the discussion.

If they do a good job, preserving the balance between inquiry and advocacy, the entire activity comes alive as the tempo shifts from one energy to the other in a structured way. Attendees feel as if they are being heard and no-one departs with an unexpressed thought. The empty space this creates is satisfying, even if it is intensely exhausting.

  1. Control the Number of People

Given the objectives and the flow which must be achieved, there are some limits to the total attendees in a typical two-day activity. (One day is too short to get past polite banter.)

We recommend that between 10-18 people attend. Smaller numbers are dangerous because a single, strong-willed individual can dominate other participants. By contrast, in larger groups, introverts and lower -level attendees get lost, their voices never heard.

However, there are times when a client insists on involving all 60. If you cannot veto the idea, there is a bypass. Simply recognize that the workshop is actually comprised of two distinct exercises: the “real” retreat in which decisions are made plus an additional activity which is intended to achieve other goals.

Act to ensure that the “real” exercise is conducted with high fidelity, using my recommendations. Then, handle the second activity as the engagement boost, fact-finding mission, rubber stamp or feel-good event it honestly is.

In this way, you can avoid the distractions and pitfalls which doom these interventions, and optimize the time spent. As a result, your strategic plan will meet the true needs of your company.

 

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 2010-2016, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com.

 

 

 

Why Leaders Need to Embrace Their Role As Best Performers

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Do your company’s top leaders need to be just like everyone else? Or should they publicly strive to achieve the highest levels of performance? Does it make a difference?

I recently advised a client: “Why don’t you try to run your meetings more efficiently?”

The manager viewed me suspiciously, then laughed. “How effective do you think Bob’s are?” (His CEO was infamous for poorly managed meetings.)
He continued: “And you want mine to be better than his?”

In three decades of work with executives, I have noticed leaders being ambivalent about their place at the center of attention.

Some are narcissistic, and revel in the limelight. Competitive extroverts, they prefer to be included in everything. To make sure they remain the primary focus of others, they push themselves into every available leadership position.

Others are reluctant. They are shy, avoid attention and fear the repercussions of a long fall from the top. They insist on equal treatment to other people and resist perks and benefits usually associated with their position of authority.
Neither of these extremes provides people with the one thing they crave: an obvious example of how they should act.

It’s a shame because our local employees routinely grant executives extra-special powers. Compared with their counterparts in Trinidad and the US, books like Why Workers Won’t Work make the difference clear. Jamaican employees greatly prefer the clarity of strong authority. In their minds, the big man (or woman) plays a role which cannot be abdicated, even if he is a next-door neighbour and also sits beside them in church.

Unfortunately, most leaders squander this unique opportunity. If you happen to be a manager, here are three ways to make the most of your leadership role. Each of them happens to bring out the best in you, your colleagues and your company.

1. Having The Clearest Vision
Many executives are weak at the skill of defining an inspiring future for others to step into. Even though they came of age at a time when Michael Manley provided a powerful example of how to do so, they mistakenly assume that it’s a capacity someone must be born with.

As a result, a local company which lacks a visionary at the top tends to drift into a vacuum: no-one else steps up to provide the necessary direction.

In part, it’s due to a lack of awareness. The truth is that visionary skills can be learned from companies like Landmark Education and others. In their workshops, leaders learn to be open, sharing their grandest aspirations for all concerned, while staying grounded in their daily experience.

2. Being The Most Productive
Many top leaders believe they have earned the privilege of operating beyond the level of the average employee. They don’t need to be punctual or reply to email. They are allowed to indulge in the worst multi-tasking behaviors. When their position dissuades challenges, they persist.
They fail to realise that they are, at all times, setting an example which others not only remember but repeat as gossip.
In this sense, their personal habits, practices and rituals are highly contagious, and so is their standard of productivity. They shouldn’t expect their employees to attain a higher level.
3. Being The Most Transformed
While employees may find the need for continuous, inside-out improvement exhausting, it’s the leader’s job to generate the required energy. The best ones also share their journey with others, including its ups and downs. They highlight the latter so colleagues can appreciate the difficulty of pursuing individual excellence.

In addition, they empower themselves by looking for their contribution to specific failures. For them, the discovery of a personal cause leads them to understand what can be changed to turn things around.

By contrast, the weakest leaders only focus on the changes required by others. As “expert” diagnosticians, they examine their colleagues’ faults in detail, thereby misunderstanding their role. Their ability to pick apart other people’s improvement needs is only a small part of their success. By comparison, their skill at clarifying their own personal transformation is huge.

The sad fact is that staff who are on the receiving end of a leader’s constant, punishing criticism only learn how to avoid blame and pick apart other people’s faults. On the other hand, the employee who witnesses the top leader identify a problem, search for his role in creating it, craft interventions and measure the difference, learns how to effectively deal with a wide range of issues.

Leaders who appreciate and honor the opportunity to be at the center of attention empower others to be their best. They offer their behavior as an inspiration… not just their words. It takes effort and training to become that kind of person, but it’s exactly what Jamaican companies need to make progress.

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 2010-2016, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com.

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20170730/francis-wade-why-leaders-need-embrace-their-role-best-performers

 

How to Get IT and HR to Cooperate on Change Initiatives

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Many top executives find themselves in a tricky spot. Human beings and technology, two essential ingredients for a company to thrive, don’t naturally work well together. Here is one way to tackle the issue, using the case of Business Process Management (BPM).

A recent McKinsey Journal article described the advent of a new role: a “Chief Transformation Officer.” Operating with the trust of the board, this change-agent operates like an extension of the CEO, holding top managers to account.

As a CTO, your mandate would be simple: cause the organization to change itself, even as it continues to do business. With excellent emotional quotient and technology skills, you would be able to join the expertise of two organizations which usually avoid each other: Human Resources (HR) and Information Technology (IT).

In most Jamaican companies, these functions operate in silos. As a result, HR is slow to adopt (let alone envision) new technologies, while IT is ill-equipped to implement the human side of digital solutions.

Case in point: the introduction of email in the mid-1990’s. This happened to be the single biggest culture changing intervention since the advent of personal computing over a decade earlier. Unfortunately, HR never saw it coming and was often the last department to be trained in its use. It’s counterpart, IT, still has a hard time predicting and managing the behavior changes ensuing from newly introduced technology. The smartphone is a ubiquitous example.

More recently, CEO’s are demanding that executives implement another change: enterprise-wide Business Process transformation. They want to see the benefit of continuous improvement on a massive scale, in preparation for disruptive innovations which are just around the corner. At the same time, they understand that new technology cannot simply be bolted onto old methods of doing business.

Plus, BPM projects don’t take place on the sidelines: they affect core operations and, with them, the bottom line. Local companies have responded to this imperative in two ways.

 

The Human Resources Leadership Option

When HR is placed in charge of a firm’s BPM program there’s an immediate credibility problem. Usually, HR business partners are lacking critical technology depth and just haven’t studied the combined impact of inventions such as cloud computing, mobility and security.

Furthermore, they often lack the engineering skills to lead such an effort. Most HR professionals have no exposure to process baselining, measurement, analysis, improvement and automation. By contrast, these are skills taught in most IT programs, albeit at an abstract level.

The Information Technology Leadership Option

Based on this realization, it might be obvious that IT should take the lead. However, even though professionals in this unit have all the technical skills needed, they are often short of interpersonal, political and change management capacity.

To worsen matters, most local companies have manual processes which have never been baselined. Therefore, incumbent staff must be appropriately engaged in order to continue daily operations which they, and only they, understand.

Their lack of experience on BPM projects drives up resistance, forcing IT professionals to start by launching trust-building exercises, an unfamiliar tactic for them. Furthermore, the first round of changes only requires common sense, not newfangled robotics. When this fact is discovered, the business case for fancy automation is often found to be inflated, due to poor, improper information.

 

Lastly, the IT professional who ends up in charge of implementing behavior changes which don’t require new technology is likely to struggle: it’s just not his/her cup of tea.

 

Given the shortcomings of both these approaches, McKinsey’s ideas offer a third way.

 

How to Install a Chief Transformation Officer

A CTO is not simply another functional role in the usual lineup of corporate officers. Instead, if you were in the job, you would be the driver of behavior change, the one who makes a difference in the practices, habits and tools used to do daily work. Pulling on all resources, you would need the trust of other executives to share their people’s expertise. As you form cross business unit teams, you would help them implement process changes across silos.

You would be the advocate of the customer’s journey – the moments of truth the customer faces as they interact with different touchpoints.  Spanning the enterprise, you would be one to see where revenue generation and service levels are being thwarted by organizational gaps.

In BPM efforts, it’s critical that HR and IT continue to play their roles but don’t make the mistake of saddling them with responsibilities they aren’t capable of implementing. It sets them up for failure, minimizes their impact and reduces their role to enablers of small improvements.

 

When a company needs to be prepared to make big changes, only a CTO-like function can succeed. Combining human and technological expertise, it’s the only way to drive practical, large-scale change.

 

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 2010-2016, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com.

 

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20170716/francis-wade-getting-it-and-hr-cooperate-change

Why a huge email inbox means low productivity, not high popularity

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How many items of email do you have sitting in your inbox? Are there 20 messages? 20,000? What difference does it make?

Perhaps you are already suspicious of others who oversee a permanent pile of unprocessed email. Remember that recent message you sent them? They don’t remember seeing it. It annoys you because it included a critical question. Now, you stand next to them, forced to repeat the request in person while they complain about “people who send them too much stuff.”

In their minds they are too popular, or too important.  To them, it’s not their fault. They cannot be expected to get back to all the people who ask for an answer.

If you suspect that something else is afoot, you aren’t crazy. Their inability to reply to your message reveals a lack of productivity. The other explanations are excuses.

 

The fact is, most people dislike email management with good cause. It takes up to 20% of the average employee’s work day, partly because the techniques they use are self-taught. Their lack of sophistication is more than a curiosity – it’s a drag on your organization. How do you make sure you don’t become just like them? Start by understanding the problems an unsorted email inbox causes you and others.

 

Confusion that Keeps You Paralyzed

If you fail to completely empty your inbox for several weeks (or even years), the messages held within fall into three categories:

  1. Usually, there are some messages you have not read at all. They contain demands on your time, including emergencies, requests from other people, warnings of trouble, useful information you need to use plus other potential dangers. Lurking in the shadows like duppies, they nag you all day with quiet but distracting reminders
  2. Inevitably, you glance at a few messages which indicate tasks to do later. Often, you mark them as unread: a signal that you must return to attend to them. Unfortunately, this tactic makes these old messages look just like new ones, which leads to them becoming lost. Now you have a mountain of stuff you know is important, but you can’t quite remember what or where it is in your stack of messages.
  3. Most of the messages remaining are ones you glanced at but decided to leave until later. Why didn’t you get rid of them? You didn’t immediately know what to do so rather than make a decision, you took the path of least resistance and left the message right where you found it.

 

If you receive a tiny number of messages each day, these tactics may actually work. However, they just don’t scale for the average person. Instead, if your inbox contains more than 20 items, you are really attempting to use your memory to track too many ill-defined commitments. The end result is a mental avalanche of confusion.

 

Commitments which overwhelm your calendar

These unprocessed messages have a cumulative effect: they make you feel as if you don’t have enough time. Each one requires a few moments to re-read and decide what to do next. Altogether they lead you to feel extremely busy, even overwhelmed. Each time you glance at your inbox you experience a sense of dread… it’s no wonder why, according to one study, 33% of people would rather clean a toilet than clear out their email inbox.

The truth would be: “I’m not really busy, just disorganized” but no-one ever admits to this fact. Instead, they complain about not having 25 hours in each day.

 

Adverse impact on your reputation

Even here in 2017, email management is seen by some as an exotic skill which a person is either born with or not. It’s accompanied by the myth that it has something do with your age. It’s almost never viewed as a result of poor habits which can be unlearned.

This mistake leaves individuals to flounder, even as their colleagues exclude them from the best teams. After all, they can’t manage their email messages, let alone a high-priority assignment.

Companies shouldn’t allow employees to ruin their professional reputations because of ineffective email habits. Instead, they should teach them best practices such as limiting their visits to their inboxes to the times of day when they can empty them completely. Studies show when everyone agrees to this habit, productivity soars.

This training should start on the first day of employment. It’s the only way to prevent a mess.

 

Even if the implementation is clumsy at first, this approach is the only way to cope with the increased message-volume we can all expect in the future. For the sake of your organization, time spent processing email must be minimized by modifying employees’ unproductive behavior.

 

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 2010-2016, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com.

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20170702/francis-wade-overfull-inbox-means-low-productivity-not-high-popularity

 

How to Intervene When an Executive Starts Acting Like a Victim

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We Jamaicans take many of our cues from leaders. This is never truer than when a leader acts like a victim, blaming everyone else for sub-par results. Eventually, employees join the blame game, actively avoiding responsibility before fingers turn on them. Things worsen to the point where only an intervention can save the company from ruin.

In a recent meeting with a CEO, I listened as he blamed his colleagues and staff for the predicament his organization was in. He had a long list of factual observations. Their actions were saddening, and I had no reason to doubt his veracity.

However, when I suggested that, from my prior experience in many client firms, “The fish stinks the worst at the head” he visibly bristled. Dismissing my suggestion, he doubled down, adding further stories to prove that I was incorrect: he was the victim. The others needed to have their heads examined.

What made the situation maddening were the facts: he had risen to the top after 30+ years. Also, profits were a thing of the past: for the prior decade, the company had barely broken even. Yet, in his mind, he had nothing to do with its poor performance.

As a manager, what can you do to prevent this kind of terrible end-result? How can you make sure it never happens in your organization?

Pay Attention to Hard-to-See Angles

Companies slip into having a culture of complaints gradually. Complaining, normally a rare habit, becomes a team sport played by a critical mass of staff. When you find that valuable meeting time is being spent in old, familiar gripes which never reach resolution, be suspicious.

Start by appreciating that a single complaint is quite different from a culture of complaining. The first requires action, perhaps produced by a fruitful discussion. The latter requires an intervention by someone who understands the peculiarities of dysfunctional corporate cultures. They tend to be bad in many of the same ways.

The intervenor must explain to managers that the behavior is like an addictive drug which carries both a short-term benefit and a long-term cost.

The benefit derives from an avoidance of responsibility. Complainers paint themselves as the weak, helpless recipients of injustice. In the eyes of the CEO mentioned earlier, he had nothing to do with the state of affairs and was permanently innocent of any blame or fault.

As complainers perpetuate this frame of mind, they exact a terrible price. Their feigned weakness renders them inactive. Lacking creativity, they lose their capacity to implement real solutions to problems. They turn themselves into bystanders.

When the complainer happens to be the CEO, it turns the corporation into a battlefield between him and the rest of his company. It’s no surprise that poor results ensue because the behavior is also highly contagious. When employees compete with each other for the right to be seen as the biggest victim, everyone ends up hating their jobs.

These are hard-to-see angles, so few distinguish persistent complaining for what it really is—the start of real trouble.

 

Resist the Temptation to Withdraw

However, seeing the true problem isn’t enough. If you have joined a team which already has a complaining culture, it’s only human to hide out; to make sure you are far away from the gripers-in-chief. If you get caught in a situation where you can’t escape their presence, you go completely silent.

Obviously, this won’t work in the end. In fact, it is a sly mirror-image of the same refusal to accept responsibility.

Instead, fixing the problem calls for the very opposite. When colleagues refuse to assume ownership, the most helpful action is not to retreat, but to expand. Only those who choose to step up and take greater responsibility have a chance of making a difference.

Managers who do so empower themselves. Without waiting for someone to give them permission, they make a private decision to act which is likely to produce noticeable, public results.

Get Help from Others

One of the end results might be a group intervention conducted with the complainers. In this kind of carefully managed confrontation, each person plays a predetermined role in a group discussion designed to call a stop to the behavior. It’s a last ditch, high-stakes effort: oftentimes, an outsider is included to prepare the team or even play the part of referee.

What makes the risk worthwhile is the possibility of succeeding.  In the very worst situations, it’s the best the team can do, and it’s better than cowering in fear. In the end, it benefits everyone concerned and can pull the company out of a bad spot.

There’s no guarantee whatsoever, but a top executive who stops being a victim can make a tremendous difference to the health of the bottom-line and the company’s culture.

 

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 2010-2016, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com.

 

 

 

Don’t write off stupid employees – here’s how they can deliver smart outcomes

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Are you stuck with employees who don’t have what it takes to make necessary improvements to the way work is done? If so, avoid the mistake of believing they can’t improve your company’s processes. Here’s why.
As you analyze your operations, you may already recognize there are processes which need to be dramatically improved. If high unit costs, poor customer service, long lead times and bad quality are some of the problems you face daily, consider these to be signs confirming the need for an urgent change.
But as you survey the situation, your heart sinks. Your staff appears to be unable to implement even the most obvious improvements. They are happy to repeat the same broken processes each day, producing identical, poor results.
In response, you may be tempted to take a shortcut, by following the three steps of Method A:
1. 1. Find an expert to define better processes, preferably automated.
2. 2. Train people how to use the new process.
3. 3. Measure the results.
It looks simple and commonsensical. By itself, it’s hard to imagine any other approach. But there is another, Method B:
1. 1. Select a team of in-process employees to improve the process.
2. 2. Heavily facilitate their improvement efforts.
3. 3. Measure the results.
By comparison, the second approach looks to be more difficult, and take longer. Yet, it’s the better method to follow under the following three conditions.
#1 – When current knowledge is lacking
Most local companies don’t have documented processes. This leads to an inevitable gap between the way a process is supposed to work and the way it actually functions. To survive, staff members develop shortcuts and workarounds, then pass them from one person to another by word-of-mouth.
Outside experts cannot understand these nuances by conducting a few informational interviews. Their attempts fail because an unmanaged process falls apart in unpredictable ways. Some of these failures are rare, with remedies known only to a few insiders. While sitting in an interview, they forget to mention these errors, blinded by their unconscious competence.
 
To make things worse, in people-intensive processes, knowledge is widely distributed. Discovering the true nature of a process’ performance has to be a group activity where knowledge is combined and documented in real time. Usually, such sessions raise a host of surprising issues. Together, these reasons support Method B.
Reason #2 – You may require more buy-in than you think
Implementers of automation often believe in Method A due to its simplicity. However, they overlook the fact that there must be a time of overlap and transition between old and new processes. During this period, which is required to keep the business running, staff must undertake behavior changes.
However, if they see the new process as “The Enemy”, a foreign object to be expelled at all costs, prepare yourself for passive-resistance.
In extreme cases where the new process cuts jobs, be ready for sabotage. Critical information is withheld as mistakes multiply, causing the overlap to drag on. By the end, if the transition ever takes place, the savings are minimal, the pain maximal.
Once again, Method B is the remedy.
Reason #3 – Future improvements require people
Often, when the new system is implemented, project leaders walk away, thinking their job is done. Unfortunately, the effort has just started.
Ideally, the future should be filled with further improvements. But there’s no such thing as a process which improves itself – it involves people reexamining it to make additional changes. When outsiders are the ones who decide what must be tackled (Method A,) it leaves insiders without the skills to make additional upgrades.
Therefore, the dominant rule is: include people executing the process early and often. But there is an exception.
When the underlying process to be improved is short and simple, like boiling an egg, Method A works. However, with a complex process which cannot easily be automated, like making a soufflé, only Method B succeeds.
Sometimes, leaders create problems for themselves by arguing that they have complex processes, but they are staffed by “stupid” people. Craving Method A, they say “employees cannot be trusted” because they either “won’t take ownership” or “lack the skills”.
This is a grave mistake. Often, from the heights of the executive suite, every process looks simple. If your company has little history of process management, it’s safe to assume there is hidden complexity, and therefore a high risk involved. You must use Method B, giving employees the tools and expertise needed. This includes team-building activities so that together, they can function far better than they can working separately. This is why a team of “stupid” employees can outperform smart individuals acting separately.
Including employees is more challenging in the short term, but it hews far closer to reality. In most cases, it’s the best approach to implement the lasting change your organization needs.
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 2010-2016, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com.
 
 

Why leaders need to develop productive superpowers

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Recently another negative report came out confirming the continued decline of Jamaica’s productivity. In a recent speech, IDB official Therese Turner-Jones understated that “firms in Jamaica are not particularly efficient” and “private sector workers are as inefficient as the Government.”

As a business leader, this is a song whose tune is probably familiar. But it is frustrating, because as far as you know, you are working as hard as you can. However, it’s obviously not enough because there is considerable empirical evidence that we are almost as far as we can be from being the Usain Bolts of productivity in the world.

To state the obvious: closing the gap means doing things differently from ways we have ever done before

It won’t be easy. There are only a handful of local companies who treat their operations like finely tuned machines. They are vigilant: always looking for first indicators of an incipient problem. In addition, their leaders treat their own individual systems in the same way. Seeking to be as personally effective as possible, they perform like Formula One Drivers.

Why We Need a Change of Mind

Culturally, we prefer to favour the underdog. Just listen to us re-tell the story of the “likkle guy on his push-cart” flying down Mount Diablo past a “big man in a Benz”, skating on just two wheels the whole way. However, this propensity to “big up” the unsophisticated shouldn’t be taken too far. Lewis Hamilton, multiple Formula One Champion, didn’t become a winner by luck. He spent years perfecting his craft and mastering his equipment, continuing to develop his skills every day.

During a 100 mile per hour race, he has learned to track a tremendous number of changing variables using sophisticated instruments. Off-track, he’s trying to find ways to save a few grams here and there, or cut wind resistance with the slightest of alterations.

Too many of our executives settle for much less in their personal productivity, as if they are push-cart men or women. They run late, forget commitments, allow their email to pile up and let their lives drift dangerously out of balance. In other words, their employees view them as cautionary tales rather than role models. While they may dress the part, speak well or have the house and car which befit their status, they don’t view personal productivity in the same vein.

It’s optional.

In this respect, our local executives are satisfied being moderately better than the worst employees. They fail to hold themselves to a high personal standard; instead they are happy to barely beat a low social standard.

However, the best executives view their personal productivity as an extension of their company’s operations. As a result, they tackle it with high effort and rigour, developing two superpowers along the way.

Superpower #1—Detect Early Warning Signs of Trouble

The most productive leaders have a kind of “spidey-sense”: the ability Spiderman has to sense trouble before it occurs. In like manner, they can detect the moment when their personal system first starts to fail.

For example, if you had this skill, you would be able to see when it’s time to upgrade your technique for managing email. All it would take is the disappearance of one or two messages into the proverbial cracks; long before an actual complaint is received.

This ability to detect early warning signs of trouble is rare, much in the way Hamilton has the kind of foresight other drivers cannot even imagine. It gives him an edge in a close race.

In a tough economy, companies need leaders who demonstrate these abilities while actively teaching them to others.

Superpower #2 – Develop Diagnostic Skills

Once a problem is detected that’s just a start. Few take the next step: discovering why the issue exists in the first place.

For example, the challenge of email overwhelm is hardly solved by purchasing an expensive smartphone. In fact, it often makes the situation worse. The person with weak diagnostic skills would commit this error without understanding why.

The few who have developed superpowers waste little time scouring the internet, talking to friends or polling their colleagues. Instead, they know how to scrutinize their current practices and tools. If you have ever watched an episode of “House,” the television show about a doctor with fantastic diagnostic expertise, you may understand. These skills are hard to develop, but they save tremendous amounts of time and energy, enabling someone to make precise interventions.

When Jamaican executives start behaving like Formula One Drivers, we may produce role models with superpowers. Rather than Parliamentarians who are perpetually late, or CEO’s whose lives are unhealthy and unbalanced, we would live to see something new: leaders who take their personal productivity as seriously as their most recent haircut, watch or shopping trip to Miami.

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 2010-2016, contact columns@fwconsulting.com.

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20170521/francis-wade-why-leaders-need-develop-productive-superpowers