How to Escape the Zeigarnik Effect


Have you ever found yourself unable to fall asleep during a trying time at work? Or distracted in the middle of a conversation or meeting by thoughts about other stuff you still need to do?

If so, you may be a victim of the Zeigarnik Effect. Its exotic name comes from the Russian researcher who discovered it in the 1920’s while observing the behavior of waiters in a restaurant. Their ability to recall pending orders, but not the ones they had just delivered, caught her attention.

The disparity relates to the effect which bears her last name. It’s the nagging feeling you get once you mentally create a “time demand”: an internal, individual commitment to complete an action in the future. Your subconscious, which stores each one for later retrieval, does more than sit back and wait for you to act. Instead, it begins to ping your conscious mind with a stream of reminders.

If this were to take place on rare occasions, it would be a cute phenomenon. However, if you are someone who is ambitious, you may find the reminders increasing until you start to experience a sense of overwhelm. After all, her research states that the way to get rid of the Zeigarnik Effect is to complete the task. For busy people, it’s impossible – they create hundreds. Like everyone else, they can only finish one at a time.

So, is there an escape? Fortunately, there is, according to recent research conducted at Baylor University.

Dr. Michael Scullin and his team compared two bedtime behaviors in laboratory experiments. Before falling asleep, one group of subjects wrote their to-do list for the next few days. The other recorded the tasks they accomplished during that

day. The result? This small change in technique helped the first group fall asleep faster by over 9 minutes. Why did this happen?

To understand the underlying reason, we must visit the University of Florida. Drs. Roy Baumeister and Ed Masicapmo added to Zeigarnik’s research, showing that the effect disappears when a person has a trusted system in place to manage time demands. This makes intuitive sense. There’s no need for your subconscious mind to interfere if it believes that all your tasks are being properly managed.

How does this apply to falling asleep faster? Well, offloading your tasks to a written to-do list is one way to assure your subconscious that you are on top of all your commitments. In other words, it trusts a piece of paper more than your ability to remember. Satisfied, it leaves you alone, allowing you to doze off.

But what if you possess a high IQ, genius-level memory? Can’t that be used? The answer is short but elegant – “Sure… if you happen to be a kid.” While I doubt that any readers of this column are under 12 years old, we should understand why they are an exception. The fact is, they only have a few time demands to recall. Plus, they have teachers, parents, friends, and siblings reminding them what to do.

It’s only later, when they get older, that problems occur. But they aren’t caused by age which is not a factor until their retirement years. Instead, long before then, the challenge is to find a method to cope with the relentless swell in time demands our generation faces.

What else can be used beside paper? Digital devices also work. In addition, some people offload their tasks to other folks, like their children. “Remind me to pick up your cake tomorrow, Junior.”

But the only approach which succeeds in the long term isn’t a single technique or tool but a mindset of continuous improvement, plus specific knowledge of how humans use such tools. Start by getting committed to implementing ongoing upgrades. Then, understand that your choices need to follow a pattern.

While researching the latest edition of my book I found that improvements happen in serial fashion, but they all start with an attempt to use mental reminders. When that technique fails, we graduate to better skills one step at a time, following this sequence.

Level 1 – Memory

Level 2 – Paper Lists of Tasks

Level 3 – Simple Digital Apps

Level 4 – Complex Task Management Apps

Level 5 – Digital Calendars of all Tasks

Level 6 – Administrative Assistants / Autoscheduling Programs

As you look over this list, identify your current level. With this knowledge, you can prepare yourself for the next upgrade – the one that will help you stay abreast of your dreams and aspirations.

However, be aware: the Zeigarnik Effect shows up at any level. It’s a fantastic warning mechanism which lets you know when a change is overdue. Unlike your friends, colleagues and even your conscious mind, it can’t be fooled. It will do its job, preventing you from falling asleep quickly until you wake up to its incessant, nagging call for greater personal productivity.

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

Is your company gaslighting its customers to accept poor service?


There are companies in which staff members are rightly embarrassed by the poor service offered to the public. But there are also badly-run organizations who operate without any sense of remorse: no apology ever offered, no-one willing to be responsible. Consider them to be gaslighting their customers.

The term isn’t normally applied to corporations, but to individuals. Perpetrators are often narcissists, abusers, dictators and religious leaders who say things which cause people to question their sanity. The victim’s norms are discarded or disputed. Universally accepted standards become individual proclivities to be ignored.

I have met personalities who fit the bill nicely but recently, my bank showed some disturbing signs. Unknown to me, it froze my account because I failed to respond to a posted letter from its Compliance Department…they say. I have no evidence such a correspondence was ever sent.

Their comeback? My mail system had to be faulty. Therefore, I was guilty and deserved the disruptive sentence I was handed.

Unlike the human gaslighters I have met who are easy to spot, I found this situation confounding. After all, the Customer Service Representatives (CSR’s) I spoke with were friendly, polite and helpful. They used my first name repeatedly as if we were old chums.

However, in retrospect, they all parrotted the company line: the multiple phone numbers and email addresses they have on file for me are “with another department” and “could not be used”. All that was needed to update their files were two pieces of updated information. With robotic efficiency, they assured me full restoration in five working days, in addition to the holiday weekend.

Incidentally, they didn’t mention the fact that they go overboard to “incentivize” customers to be paperless. Or that I was severely and stressfully inconvenienced because of their actions. Or that their explanations were ridiculous. None of them seemed to think these were real issues.

Instead, I was left wondering: “Is this just me? Am I the only one in this conversation who thinks this is crazy?”

Now, a week later, I can name the experience: corporate gaslighting. My definition? “When a company persistently disrupts the wellbeing of its customers in novel ways, then uses its staff to indirectly but politely attack complainants’ common sense.” It forces customers to question their sanity, while CSRs must shed their humanity in order to do the job.

If you work for an organization, let’s assume that gaslighting is a fact: the only question is how much of it is taking place each day. Ask the following questions to find out more.

  1. Are customers leaving without telling you why?

Don’t answer this looking at the loud complainers or those who write letters to the editor of newspapers. Instead, find those who quietly quit your brand and shift their behavior without warning.

Gaslighters convince themselves that customers leave because they have been enticed by the competition. In other words, it’s something they can’t control. Don’t believe your own story – find out the reasons why you are silently repelling people, forcing them to seek service elsewhere.

  1. Can customers find relief?

In a separate institution, I am forced to deal with someone who is incompetent. As my “point person”, she routinely ignores my emails and voicemails. Direct calls are useless. Desperate pleas to individuals in the organization, including her manager, produce no change in behavior or even positive acknowledgment.

As far as I can see, I have exhausted my appeals, so I’m actively searching for a new provider.

If you offer an essential service and your customers are at a dead-end with no further recourse, your company is gaslighting them. Fortunately, the answer could be simple: set up an easy to find, independent ombudsperson with enough resources to track any problem to its root cause. Have him/her report to an executive to avoid entanglement in your bureaucracy.

  1. Are you eager to uncover problems?

The best CEO’s I have ever worked with are quite demanding, especially in one way. They insist I tell them the stuff their colleagues won’t, focusing on areas I consider to be their blind spots.

Here’s a real-time test: if you bristled at the suggestion that your company is gaslighting its customers, you probably share some characteristics of the weakest leaders. They defend themselves lustily, even in the face of obvious evidence. To keep criticism at bay, they suppress people with outside opinions, while actively promoting bootlickers. As a result, it’s just a matter of time before an issue arises which blindsides their cabal, sometimes resulting in disaster.

Gaslighting in companies is hard to detect: it requires hyper-vigilance and a willingness to empathize with the abuse customers experience. Therefore, it takes supreme but uncommon courage and discipline for leaders to root out this organized form of corrupt service delivery.

Are you restoring lost motivation to your company’s culture?




Bob Marley famously jammed: “No bullet can stop us now, we’ll neither beg nor we won’t bow…” His aspiration called for bold and brave actions, in keeping with the highest standards. However, most corporate executives don’t believe their employees are Marleys, William-Gordons or Bogles.


Instead, they complain: “Is pure Bredda Anansi we have!”


As a result, these leaders scoff at Bob’s next line: “…Neither can be bought nor sold.” Long ago, they gave up on such lofty visions for their staff. Now, their primary concern is paying the lowest wage-price possible to purchase just enough employee motivation to make a profit. It’s usually more than they think they can afford, which keeps them up at night, worrying.


If you try to convince them their people are better than this, watch as they pull out surveys to “prove” that staff only wants one thing: more money.


As I have reported in this column, research shows that such reactions are misleading. In fact, the pat answers, so easily believed, don’t match daily behaviour. A 5% increase in pay doesn’t, by itself, produce a corresponding increase in productivity. Executives who really want to motivate employees must reach past flawed data, mistaken reasoning and their own incorrect instincts to find better information which illuminates the truth.


The newest revelation arrives in the form of a method to measure each employee’s current reasons for working. According to the authors of Primed to Perform, Neel Doshi and Lindsay McGregor, there are six motivations which lie on a continuum.


Intrinsic motivator #1 – Play. Employees at this level do their jobs primarily because they love the activity. They lose themselves in their work and enjoy moments when they can engage in it wholeheartedly. They are often your highest performers.


Intrinsic motivator #2 – Purpose. In this case, staff members may not care for the work but they are driven by the immediate impact they have on other people, society or country. They put service above self.


Intrinsic motivator #3 – Potential. If the major benefit employees derive builds personal skills or capacity, it belongs in this category. In other words, their role leaves them more capable or better-positioned for the future.


Extrinsic motivator #1 – Emotional Pressure. This level involves trying to alleviate unwanted feelings such as guilt, shame or fear. They don’t come from the work itself but are linked with merely having a job.


Extrinsic motivator #2 – Economic Pressure. If rewards and punishments are driving individuals to perform, they are probably motivated by a sense of tangible gain or loss.


Extrinsic motivator #3 – Inertia. The work is being performed today only because it repeats what was done yesterday and the day before. This is perhaps the most deadening, unconscious state to be in.


Take a moment to scan your workforce one staff member at a time, assigning each person to a level. What do the combined results tell you about your company’s culture?


If your conclusion alarms you, consider the two following interventions.


  1. Teach managers to notice


motivation levels and act accordingly. Start by advising them that part of their job is, over time, to shift the distribution to the better motivators. Give them the tools, training, and other elements they need to coach people effectively.


One of the obstacles they may have to overcome is an inability to relate: the chances are high that they were promoted because they were already self-motivated. They must learn to get past their own achievement to reach employees who aren’t like them.


  1. Train employees to enrich their own experience. Most people simply don’t know how to shift themselves to being consistently intrinsically motivated. Instead, they operate as if their moods are random, along with their attitudes toward their work.


You may be concerned about the training cost. Much can be done on a low budget: usually, it’s the clear commitment from the top that’s missing. Just pick an approach from one of the main schools of thought and implement it systematically, starting with the executive team.


All worthwhile transformations include organisational leaders. As a member of top management, you can start by accepting the part you have played in contributing to the current state of employee motivation. Even if you recently joined the firm, the faster you take responsibility, the quicker you’ll be on the side of those who are trying to effect change.


It’s never easy to own the influence you have in an area so fraught with misunderstanding. Many of your colleagues may not see things the way you do. However, go ahead and launch an attempt: it can make a big difference in the lives of everyone in your enterprise.



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


How Boards Innocently Get Themselves into Trouble


Members of company boards are accountable for solving a dilemma: how should they intervene when problems inside the organization crop up? Do they always give managers the benefit of their advice? Should they become coaches, perhaps even taking up operational roles to help implement solutions? My surprising suggestion: resist the temptation to aid, abet and enable weak individual performance.


Many board members unconsciously cling to the notion that their job should be an easy one. The perks are well known: a relatively small part-time commitment in exchange for the prestige of helping to run a communal entity. Sometimes, there is even remuneration.


What isn’t openly acknowledged is that the rules of the road are obscure. Most boards have enough turnover to prevent norms from becoming established. Instead, each new member brings with him/her fresh experiences. The benefit lies in their original contribution, but there’s a downside. Most companies don’t on-board such members very well, leaving them to learn how to be effective by the seat of their pants.


As a result, many boards may follow established conventions in their meeting rules, but not where it really counts: in their relationship with staff. If you are a board member, this represents an undefined, grey area.


Conversely, you know what to do with familiar challenges. In those cases, you can highlight early warnings and weigh in to prevent catastrophes. But if all board members do the same with staff, expect the following problems to occur, without fail.


Problem #1 – Becoming Individual Coaches

It all starts innocently, with a sincere plea for help. A manager in trouble reaches out to you, a board member who he or she trusts. You can’t say no… plus you get a quick ego-boost from showing the youngsters how things are done. After responding to additional calls you eventually slip quietly into the role of being an informal coach or mentor.


However, unknown to you, other board members are doing the same.


Before long, your meetings turn into trauma centres in which each member has their own compelling story of raging incompetence. Sometimes, the larger, unfortunate, truth emerges: you are all giving conflicting advice. By the time you meet, you have collectively sent the organization into a tailspin.


In summary, the board transforms into an uncoordinated coaching team. Now you are chasing small problems mistakenly elevating them from the bowels of the company where they truly belong. Over time, the big, hard challenges only a board can address go unattended.


Problem #2 – Being A Regular Presence vs. An Emergency Visitor

Some board members fancy themselves as an inexpensive alternative to management consultants and in fact, they might possess superior industry knowledge.


If you do so, understand the issue you could create.


Professional consultants do more than give advice. They craft high-trust, short-term relationships in order to see problems permanently solved before departing. Consequently, they set up crystal clear, written agreements as a necessary pre-requisite.


However, as a board member, you may not appreciate the importance of this distinction. You are not a peer – you are always the Boss’s Boss. Furthermore, you don’t have a temporary relationship. It’s permanent.


Finally, when a consultant gives advice, the onus is on the client to use it. Unfortunately, your “suggestion” can be heard as a board directive, whether you intend it to be or not.


The net effect is that you cease playing your role as part of the governance structure and slip into another, which is less effective.


Problem #3 – Stop Being the Referee


Board members who take up these other roles eventually abandon their most important duty: to set standards and hold people accountable. After all, if you are involved in making operational decisions, at the next meeting you are likely to defend their success or failure.


In other words, you have become entangled.


Imagine a football game in which the goalie decides to play the role of centre-forward. That’s bad enough… imagine him also wanting to be the referee!


The source of all three problems is that boards often lack a rigorous definition of the practices to use when interacting with staff. In your commitment to be helpful, you end up doing more harm than good, running all over the field, leaving the mouth of your goal unattended.


As a board member, you are not a mentor, coach, consultant or friend. While it’s fine to show these competencies in quick bursts, your primary role is much too important to be abandoned. Do so long and often enough, and you leave the company short of the kind of far-sighted governance that might save it from ruin. Instead, stay out of trouble: define your practices with some rigour and stick to them no matter what.

N.B. This column has a companion webinar that accompanies it on YouTube. Click on the graphic below or this link.

Don’t put your creative makers on a manager’s schedule


Why do newly-promoted managers sometimes become obstacles to people with good ideas? Often, they don’t realize that their elevation to management puts them in a different world, with a new way of allocating time that interferes with the productivity of their best employees.


A few years ago, an investor by the name of Paul Graham wrote an article arguing that there are two different kinds of schedules professionals make. In his 2009 post entitled “Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule” he described a shift which takes place when people who have technical or artistic expertise are promoted into managerial positions.


They start attending lots of meetings, tackling one issue after another. Their “manager’s schedules” are marked by sharp switches from one topic to another, in a fairly unplanned, random manner. These schedules are ideal for people whose jobs involve putting out fires.


Unfortunately, managers often forget what it was like to be a “maker.” These employees are the ones who create new things, like computer programs, advertising copy or specialized customer solutions. Their job requires them to exercise creative powers on a daily basis.


By contrast, meetings are their worst enemy. When they are forced to attend them by an organization’s norms, it drags them away from their primary task: making new stuff. It ruins their productivity.


A manager may think that a single one-hour meeting in the middle of the morning or afternoon isn’t too much to ask of makers. However, it actually robs them of their most valuable assets: blocks of uninterrupted time. In their world, this resource allows them to enter the magical, deep state of concentration defined by experts like Mihalyi Csikszentmihaly, Anders Ericsson, and Cal Newport.


This is a tragedy that affects every Jamaican company’s productivity. After all, the goal of employing another human being is not merely to keep them busy. Instead, the best managers unleash creative power using the following three approaches.


#1 – Teach individuals how to guard focused time


If you are a manager, your employees may understand what excellent work looks like and how it should be measured, but they probably don’t know where it originates.


First, you need to show them that chasing around doing a manager’s bidding is not enough. (If such behavior happens to be a sad fact of life in your company, then you have a much scarier problem.)


Instead, teach them that working in blocks of focused time ranging from two to four hours is essential to high performance.


At the same time, warn them. The modern office does not support the maker’s needs. Sadly, with modern portable devices, expectations around email responsiveness and open seating plans, it’s designed to maximize distractions. Altogether, they make you less productive.


However, the responsibility to produce results lies with makers, not their circumstances. While many motivated employees compensate by arriving very early, leaving late, telecommuting and working on weekends, holidays, vacations and even sick days, this is not a sustainable strategy. They must learn to cordon off blocks of focused time in the regular working day if they hope to do their job effectively.


#2 – Get work groups involved


As a manager, you also have the power to create policies for your team which support maker time. Simply block out times during the week when meetings are not allowed, such as Monday and Friday from 9am-12pm.


Now, your makers can relax knowing that none of their colleagues will interrupt them during these periods or expect them to undertake non-creative activities. This tactic allows them to be fully focused even when they are outside of blocked-out times because they know that their time-slot for doing great work is already set for the near future.


#3 –  Protect employees from outside intrusions


There’s more. If you are serious about giving makers the time they need, you must buffer them from organizational pressure to disrupt their best work.


This means running interference, making sure that no-one is pulling your employees into meetings which minimize their maker time. If this requires you to approve these gatherings beforehand, do it.


Until you educate the rest of the company on the difference between maker and manager time, you may just have to say “No” several times so that your organization’s most important objectives can be met.


If you use these three approaches you may be able to keep your makers not only productive but fulfilled. I have met many who quit or become deeply resigned because they cannot do their best work. Don’t wait. Intervene early before their frustration builds to the point of no return and you’ll no longer be an obstacle.



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

How to correct your company’s vague, cliché-ridden vision statement


Most leaders know how important it is to inspire employees. However, their favorite tool, a corporate vision statement, is fast becoming an artifact of a time when trite clichés used to work. Today, these statements all sound the same so everyone ignores them. Perhaps your company should supplement your own with a “backcasted” matrix developed during its next strategic planning retreat.

When vision statements became popular the intent of its proponents was pure. An organization needed to articulate exactly where it was going if it had a hope of gaining competitive advantage. Without it, stakeholders would act from their personal view of the future. In their pursuit of these mini-visions, they would create chaos.

Perhaps the first vision statements worked because when they were introduced, they were better than nothing. But today, employees need more specificity. Fortunately, backcasting offers executives a rigorous solution.

The term was coined by John Robinson in a 1990 paper. However, our clients know it as “The Merlin Process”, named after the wizard from King Arthur’s court. He claimed to be able to stand in the future and live back to the present. Today, you can use this power in your next planning retreat by following these three steps.

Step 1: The Way to Break Through Cliches

The problem with vision statements is that they are based on very broad ideas. Some try to make them more real by using media such as pictures, videos, drawings and even poetry.

However, you need not go to these lengths. Just pick a planning year far enough in the future to accomplish something big. Then, use it to describe your preferred scenario in not only words, but numbers.

For example, create a 2045 Vision in which company profit is $500 million, ROI is 15% and headcount is 450. When you add to this list of metrics and targets, a clear picture emerges.

As you may know, there is a delicate interplay between such metrics. As your team describes this preferred future state, some hard realities emerge due to the tradeoffs which must be made. For example, a client of ours realized that if it actually reached its long-term revenue goal, the headquarters of the company would have to be moved from the Caribbean to Miami. That was the only way to serve its changed focus on Latin American customers. Everyone refused and the target was reduced.

Detailing such futures takes hard work, yet it’s easy compared to the following required actions.

Step 2: Use the numbers to link your vision of tomorrow to past results

In our strategic planning retreats we ask a small task force to stay late, in order to complete the following exercise. Their job is to connect the output of Step 1 with today’s reality.

We recommend the use of a spreadsheet with rows of key metrics arrayed against columns of years connecting, for example, 2045 back to 2017.

The end result (a “Merlin Chart”) looks like a matrix. But these are not forecasts – they are “backcasts” which start from the future and work their way back.

This matrix is completed by adding projects, interventions, acquisitions and other unique activities at specific times in order to produce the desired end-result. Taken together, they describe a long-term plan.

However, the task force’s first draft is just that – a rough description. It must be verified with a wider audience because initial plans are often changed overnight.

For example, a client team discovered that its dream of having a bi-lingual workforce within 20 years was entirely unrealistic. It had to be scaled back. Another recognized that the owner of the institution was running it into the ground. To ensure its future, it needed new ownership, which it secured several years later.


Step 3: Get immediate buy-in by sharing an imperfect draft

Once the chart is drafted, it’s shared with a much larger team. Now, everyone has an opportunity to examine and suggest changes as they point out errors in judgment, mistaken assumptions, and mathematical inconsistencies. They also dispute where projects have been inserted, delayed or cancelled.

By the end, they have concluded a discussion which builds not only understanding but ownership and trust. The result is more than a windy talk shop, but a series of joint decisions intended to accomplish the vision.

They don’t come lightly. Several nerve-wracking moments ensue as the team drives to consensus. But this is a conversation worth having: it might save your company from destruction as it adjusts to a new technology, competitor or economy.

It may sound corny, but people want to be on a winning team. In this powerful activity lies a secret: it gets staff inspired because it tells a success story from start to finish which every employee understands and supports. It’s a transformation they can get behind with both their hearts and minds.


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






Using BPM to Solve Nagging Customer Complaints


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.


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



Why great strategy retreats confront the ugliest truths


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

How New Managers Avoid Becoming Tyrants


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