8 Skills Employees Need that Require Zero Talent

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

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

#1 – Being On Time

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

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

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

#2 – Work Ethic/Effort

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

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

#3 – Body Language

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

#4 – Energy

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

#5 – Attitude/Resilience

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

#6 – Passion

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

#7 – Being Coachable

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

#8 – Being Prepared (To Do Extra)

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

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

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

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

Why Super-Busy People Shouldn’t Take Average Advice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Use Flexible Tools to Combat Disruptions

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

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

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

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

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

Tune into the audio by clicking above.

Why Some Leaders Hate Long-Term Planning

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

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

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

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

Being Inspirational through the Details

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

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

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

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

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

Allowing Brutal Reality to Trim Dreams

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

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

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

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

Time and Discipline to Balance Both Activities

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

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

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

Tune into the podcast by clicking above.

Should someone who is bad at email be promoted?

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

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

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

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

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

 Email Skill Does Matter

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

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

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

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

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

Your Email Volume is Your Work Product

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

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

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

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

The Human Resource Department’s Role

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

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

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

 

Why Strategic Planning Offers Team-Building Opportunities

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Listen to this episode here.

Why is it said that a well-conducted strategic planning retreat can be the best executive team-building session ever? What elements should you include so that the time spent helps participants work better than before?

First, you must start by setting aside any recent, fluffy definition of “team-building”: it’s  become synonymous with “entertaining.” For many it means “changing out of work clothes to engage in an activity completely unrelated to the job”. Here in the Caribbean activities such as paintball, casino nights, church services and Soca parties have all earned the label, even as they deliver a “feel-good” experience.

However, many executives are not amused. They see it as unproductive, a way to bribe employees by giving them some fun (they supposedly want) in exchange for doing work (which they don’t really want.) This perverse logic represents old thinking. It comes from a time when productivity had to be coerced.

By contrast, the highest performers who typically make it to the executive ranks are already motivated. For them, team building shouldn’t be a break from work. Instead, it should enhance it by giving them a focused, intense opportunity to fix communication problems, deal with unresolved issues and learn new soft skills.

However, if you are designing such an outcome, don’t expect it to be easy. The best way to start is by focusing on observable behaviors which are missing. Once they are identified, provide your trainees the chance to practice them in a safe environment. Think of it as the equivalent of sparring with a partner in boxing, practicing in the nets in cricket or doing 100 free throws in basketball practice. Repetition, especially under the watchful eye of a demanding coach, works.

A strategic planning retreat, due to its intense nature, can be engineered to produce such outcomes. Here’s how you do it.

  1. Recast the Retreat as a Balance

The worst mental model to have of a strategic planning retreat is to think of it as a round-about way to develop a key document. In fact, it’s easier to get the CEO or consultant to just sit down over a weekend and type away until the task is done.

When convinced by others, some leaders condescend to conducting a full team retreat just to get other people to agree to their ideas. In these settings, the event is simply a rubber stamp. The goal of including colleagues is to sell them on the CEO’s or consultant’s brilliance.

By contrast, an authentic retreat which infuses team-building at every step views the process of developing the details as co-equal with the final product. When they are both respected, you can achieve a fine balance between engaging participants and upholding the quality of the end result.

  1. Use the Retreat to Engage and Train

The best process to create a group strategy involves two kinds of thinking activities. The first, “divergence”, means generating new ideas. The second, “convergence”, is the activity of bringing about agreement between different parties.

In a strategic planning retreat, it’s possible for you to emphasize these two opposite phases, teaching participants how to recognize each one. Now, they can learn the relevant skills within each activity and how to switch between them.

In particular, convergence is fraught with danger. In these phases, a good retreat should have moments when the fight for contending ideas becomes fierce. After all, the stakes are high and people from separate disciplines see the same facts with the special lenses they have been trained to use.

Don’t be like members of weak teams which try to avoid such tussles by putting decisions to a vote. Effective groups work out their differences in an open discussion. Before doing so, take your participants through a self-evaluation of the specific skills needed when diverging or converging. As they make progress towards the end result, get them to reflect on how to improve them in real time.

The truth is that a strategic planning retreat is actually made up of everyday conversations. It’s just that you can seize the opportunity for participants to reflect on the quality of these discussions as well as the final output.

If you also provide an experienced coach to give feedback in the moment, that’s a huge bonus. She should encourage each person to take risks, to try out fresh skills. Expect some new behavior changes to occur in real-time that stick around for years to come.

The bottom line is that a strategic planning retreat is an ideal chance to practice and up-level everyday executive skills. By the end, the benefits the company gains far exceed that of the best party or outside exercise. That’s real team-building.

 

 

 

 

 

Why Effective Leaders Never Play It Safe

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The audio version of this article can be found here, plus an archive of past publications

What allows a few corporate leaders to take risks so effortlessly? And why are so many of the rest over-cautious, trapped in behaviors that leave staff uninspired and disengaged? These tough questions resist one-size-fits-all answers but much can be learned from the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King.

Few realize that he died with a disapproval rating of 75%, higher than any leader in modern times. At the time, many believed that his approach was not only wrong, but unnecessary. As a result, according to those close to him, he became increasingly disillusioned inside, but to outsiders, he just kept moving. He continued to put himself at physical risk, and today Americans revere him with a 90%+ approval rating.

However, King’s example isn’t only for CEO’s and Managing Directors. In fact, anyone who wants to make a difference must face similar challenges, regardless of their level. Here are two ways to remain motivated as a change agent in your company.

Fleeing Familiarity and Safety

Anyone who is inspired with the ability to see a shiny new vision is cursed by their good fortune. Why? Inspirational feelings soon wear off, revealing an opposing force which feeds on fear and pulls them backwards. It represents the familiar parts of their lives, the routines to which they have become accustomed, the comforts they have embraced. These were all-important right up until the moment when that new vision disrupted everything.

King was no different. He was living a comfortable, middle-class life as a pastor of a church and a father of young children when he was recruited as a spokesman for the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955. He was 26-years old.

Over the objections of others, he steadily abandoned the path other ministers in his circles had followed. This brought him into a sustained, dangerous confrontation with enemies intent on destroying his work and personhood.

However, at the very beginning he may not have perceived the upcoming threat to his life. Like many of us, it was probably more about giving up everyday middle-class certainty for a vision of the unknown.

In fact, a week before he was caught unawares by a nomination to lead the Montgomery Improvement Association he turned down an opportunity to head up the local NAACP chapter. He was too busy, he explained, taking care of this church to serve in a community position.

Thankfully, he accepted the new role in spite of the time pressure.

As a corporate change agent, you may know what it’s like to fail when the moment to step up to lead arrives at your doorstep, dressed in unfamiliar garb. Like Lot’s wife, you glance wistfully back at the fruits of your hard work, afraid to lose them. It pays to look ahead. Here’s why.

Being Willing to Be in Harm’s Way

As a first-time manager you may have been shocked to discover that the easy life you imagined after being promoted doesn’t exist. Now, you find yourself in harm’s way: the subject of criticism from employees below and executives above.

But it’s just the beginning. With every promotion it only gets worse: the risk increases, takes on new forms and arises in ways you never thought possible.

Seasoned executives will tell you that their perks pale in comparison to sleepless nights, undeserved attacks and targeted gossip that comes from any move into the limelight. They also share that leadership is about accepting such uncertainty, while consciously putting oneself in harm’s way. In other words, it’s a bad idea for the employee who has learned how to avoid risks at all costs.

Even King admitted that if he had been given time to think about becoming the leader of the new organization, he would have declined. It was a decision made in response to the moment.

Yet, we only understand it as a historic turning point in hindsight. On that critical occasion, the choice before him was similar to the ones you face each day. Like every other chance to lead, it eventually passes and life goes on, but the difference that you could have made is lost; sometimes forever.

Take this example and multiply it a few hundred times to get an idea of why change in your firm takes so long to bring about. Many company cultures are built on staff members clinging to familiar gains while habitually avoiding risks. They have learned to avoid the key moments when they could step up to lead.

As an agent of change, don’t run: instead, look for these rare opportunities. Prepare yourself to be in harm’s way. It’s not about being reckless, just understand the risk and accept it as part of the cost of leadership. The history of icons like Dr. King shows us that your decisive action in these key moments makes all the difference.

 

 

 

 

How to Reach Customers with Engaged Communities

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Click here for the audio version.

What can be done about the apparent high level of dissonance between local brands and their respective customers? Most executives and customers at companies like JPS, Digicel and NCB want a close, trusted relationship, but why do managers complain that this outcome is harder to deliver than ever?

As a consumer, I notice that the brands I frequent spend a lot of time and energy shouting (i.e. advertising) at me. They behave like someone who has become unhinged: yelling out unexpected things at inappropriate times, forgetting they know who I am and trying to interrupt to satisfy their insatiable need for me to “Buy Now.”

In their haste they forget that I once made a purchase and was probably satisfied. This dementia leads them to pool me with other strangers who have never spent a penny, treating us all alike.
This is an expensive error. Instead of having inexpensive, quiet conversations with frequent customers, they crank up their advertising budgets to an anonymous public that’s already complaining about too many distractions. They’d be much better off creating online communities that allow their customers to interact with each other in fruitful ways. In fact, they should know from experience why this is crucial.

Most companies have long abandoned the idea that an employee should never speak to someone outside their department without going through their immediate manager. It’s more productive to talk directly. Yet, firms are perfectly fine treating customers as if they are silos, doing nothing to encourage cross-talk. Consequently, they pay a high cost.

Not that your customers submit to this treatment and stay silent. They are too busy talking to each other about your brand via the latest technology. Behind your back, they are using WhatsApp, Messenger and other social networks that share news faster than any announcement, billboard or banner ad.

Some motivated fans go further, and set up their own Facebook pages, groups and Twitter hashtags. Case in point: West indies Cricket. There is one official Facebook page, but ten groups set up by individuals. Given the squad‘s poor performance, and the animosity felt towards its administrators, it’s not hard to imagine the content of these forums.

Unfortunately, in the case of the three major brands I mentioned, their Facebook pages are also filled with complaints. Hardly a complimentary note can be found. Why? People with strong feelings just want to know they are not alone and actively seek out others.

Fortunately, inexpensive technology now exists for your company to be proactive and turn the tide. Instead of waiting around, launch online communities that serve the needs of all stakeholders by giving customers a way to speak with, learn from and help each other.

In the past few months, I have set up a new (free) network for Human Resource professionals at CaribHRForum. To avoid making big mistakes, I did some research into online communities and was amazed: what used to be a hit-or-miss affair now has solid, recent resources and studies behind it. Here are the steps I recommend you take, condensing best practices I am learning to use.
1. Define Community Goals with Customer Input
Effective online communities are a partnership intended to satisfy the unmet needs of brands and their customers.
Your company should simultaneously develop objectives for the community while fostering a small group of customers. Give them access to a basic platform and get them talking to you and to each other about their needs.
2. Upgrade to a Scalable Platform
This is the point to make some tradeoffs. While Facebook is free, it’s noisy and distracting. The average person spends only a few seconds viewing their brands, according to data collected.
Paid community platforms allow members to be more focused and are built for growth. Select one of the many which exist that suits your needs and find someone to manage it.
3. Match hypothetical with actual behavior
Once you get up and running, put yourself in learning mode. Perform the following tests of your community member’s habitual behavior and your tactics.
Test #1 – Members should all be treated alike.
See what happens when you offer a feature or piece of content to different segments. They may not be real.
Test #2 – Members respond to incentives.
This assumption is the lazy manager’s default. In reality, people’s motivation can be complex, especially within communities with long-term relationships.
Test #3 – Members will recruit others.
Ask them to invite others and see how they respond.
Remember, your customers probably had an initial positive experience and desperately want to relive it. Your new online community is a structured way to bring them together to achieve a win-win: a meeting of your goals and theirs. Repeat the trick often enough and they’ll thank you for trading in your shouty ads for decent, engaging conversations.

Why Your Business Needs a Mature Relationship to Standards

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You can find the audio version of this article here.

We Jamaicans have a difficulty noticing high standards, even when they hit us right in the face. This habit ruins organizations when leaders are the worst culprits.

For example, even our savviest business leaders sometime fall for hucksters who promise miracle “opportunities” which provide instant, effortless riches.

Case in point: I recall intelligent friends trying to convince me that Olint and Cash Plus were legitimate ventures being made available to the common man “by God’s Grace”.  These weren‘t isolated con jobs. Apparently, we Jamaicans have a weakness for this kind of argument. We want to achieve success without giving in to the high standard which it demands.

In this context, I can think of two situations in which we are challenged.

1) The first occurs in the moment when we realize that we have just become part of a relationship which calls for higher standards than we have lived by. It’s often a shock. In one situation, a coach I hired threatened (in writing) to double her rates, then triple them, then fire me if I missed another appointment.

In another unrelated case, my late arrival at a meeting was met by a locked door.

As human beings, we don’t react well in these circumstances. “How dare they?” we exclaim, then indignantly try to beat down an “oppressive” standard. We look for weaknesses, loopholes and back doors. If there’s a bly or relationship we can find to free us from the obligation, we’ll use it. At the very least, we get everyone to agree: the upholders (like my coach) are Nazis, no better than Backra.

Paradoxically, we all love the end-result of high standards. Government and Rhodes Scholarships. Winners of Champs and Schools’ Challenge. The manicured lawns of the JCAA. Profits. The teacher we had in school who demanded greatness from us, and got it.

Perhaps we need to adopt a new personal maxim: “Whenever I am forced by a new environment to meet a higher standard, embrace the opportunity.”

2) But what should we do when the opposite situation occurs? Instead of being hit by a high external standard, we find ourselves in organizations where standards are eroding before our very eyes.

At Wolmers, I saw first-hand what happens when incompetent leadership suddenly replaces its opposite. Imagine a student being caned in the middle of prayers, interrupting a scripture reading. Eventually, teachers began to give up their role as disciplinarians. By the time I reached 6th form, prefects were giving twice as many detentions as teachers.

When standards deteriorate, most of us complain loudly. However, we may be disingenuous. Case in point: We desperately  want to have an effective JCF, but also want to be able to safely “let off a smalls.” (Arguably, the only reason the JDF remains relatively unsullied is because it has fewer contact hours with our citizens.)

In daily corporate life, it’s just as easy to abandon high principles. For example, when a CEO or MD displays low standards, few are willing to confront him/her.  Unlike our best police, soldiers or firemen, employees are unwilling to put themselves in harm’s way.

In fact, the propensity to play it safe is seen by many as a necessary skill for corporate survival. Sticking out your neck for an abstract ideal is judged as unrealistic.

If you find yourself in either of these two situations, resist the urge to walk away. Instead, follow these steps.

  1. Gain a deep understanding

Create a clear picture of the behaviors that comprise the standard. Break it down into small actions anyone can learn so that you can act accordingly to fix the problem.

  1. Look for colleagues who agree to the standard

While not everyone will see the situation the same, some may. Find others of like mind and strengthen each other’s resolve to take a stand and face the attendant risks.

  1. Campaign

This is no short skirmish. The battle to change a culture involves much introspection as protagonists struggle to either attain a high standard or keep one from disappearing. To succeed, they must find ways to speak truths on ever larger, more public stages. Do it well and you can create an internal change movement.

But that is only the start. The daily battle is to take risks in the face of disagreement and ridicule. It requires courage to live out of higher standards in both situations.

While we Jamaicans are usually not social cowards, our workplaces are staffed with people in play-it-safe cultures. They sincerely believe there is no alternative. They are wrong: there is. We just need to step up and accept the cost of high achievement. It’s no more than an inner resolve to take brave actions in service of higher standards.

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

How your business can sell a transformation

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It’s obvious in hindsight. Our very best customer service memories happened when something special left us different than we were before. As a result, when we approached the seller again, we were not the same person: we had been transformed.

Lest you think this is an impossible task for your business, take another look. This transformation can happen anywhere. For example, my local pan-chicken man offers more than food in each interaction. It helps that his product is superb, but to really understand what he’s doing that’s special, let’s contrast transactional versus transformational products and services.

Transactional products and services only involve an exchange of value. You pay your money and receive an item or action.

However, those which are transformational leave you in a difference place once the transaction is complete. It could be that the experience consistently improves your mood. Or you learn so much that you become informed. Perhaps you may be motivated differently.

The reality is that you enter the next transaction transformed. You have been changed on the inside.
By contrast, buying chicken from KFC, Popeye’s or Island Grill doesn’t have this effect. It’s an anonymous activity in which I only expect to be treated humanely, fairly and consistently. The seller is satisfied if they receive the funds, and I walk away with my meal.

However, when I buy from my pan-chicken man in Sterling Castle Square, he (perhaps unintentionally) offers more than barbecued meat. He knows my wife and I by name and I expect to hear about him, his friends and the community. He’ll tell me some of the inside scoop on the latest happenings, such as recent efforts to develop a football field for local youth. I’ll ask him for extra sauce and give him specific feedback on the last purchase.

When I get home, I sit with a bottle of wine and eat slowly to prolong the experience. Sometimes, it even gets cold because I take too long. My wife and I have a recurring conversation about the finer points of the food, such as its spiciness, or sweetness. Plus, whenever we see him in the neighborhood we stop for a few minutes and have a chat.

It’s tempting to believe that a big business can’t be transformational. However, I worked for a world-leading training company that delivered transformation in 200-person workshops in dozens of countries, making me think it can happen for your firm. Here are some strategies to adapt, regardless of size.

1. Define “The Transformed Customer”

This particular end-result is far beyond that of a satisfied or happy customer. It also does not occur simply because the buyer has received the product or service.

Instead, stand in the world of a customer and ask yourself what they would really want to have. Do they need to use your product in a unique way? Are they trying to improve the value-price equation? Are they hoping to get the service for free in the future on their own?

Make a list of these experiences, place them in rank order and brainstorm different ways to provide them.

To complete this exercise effectively, you must consider as many angles as possible without restraint. To feed your ideas, I recommend examining your personal, first-hand experiences for clues. Find those moments where you have received transformational value.

Then, study brands which are able to stack one transformation on top of another. Use them as inspiration to stretch beyond the edges of your thinking.

2. Look for Limits

Another way to define a transformation for your customer is to look past your limits. For example, start by stretching the time boundaries of each interaction.

Some who have done so, like Disney, offer “Backstage” tours of their operations. They help customers learn what happens before a product or service is delivered. (Some firms provide such experiences virtually, via Instagram.)

The mindset needed to create such a transformation sees value in educating customers so that they become better people, and therefore more loyal. It’s a low-cost way to offer a powerful kind of “Brawta.”

3. Plan for the Long-Term

If your company is currently transactional, don’t expect this shift to happen immediately. Instead, pick a number of smaller changes and spread them across several years.

Too many Jamaican companies are at war with their customers, giving as little as possible while keeping all they can. The few transformational firms are seen as aberrations, impossible to replicate.

This excuse just keeps brands stuck at low standards of customer delivery, turning their product or service into a commodity. This leaves their company ripe for disruption or displacement by customers who won’t hesitate to adopt a better solution (like Uber) when it becomes available.

Save your brand an awful fate: find a way to use transformation to gain a competitive advantage.

 

How to Gamify Employee Engagement

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For most companies, staff engagement is just like a religious belief: Someone either has it or doesn’t. This separation between those who are blessed or cursed is familiar to any church-goer, but does it have a place in corporate Jamaica? There may a better way starting with a key assumption.

Many managers assume that high performance is an innate characteristic. “Is so dem stay!” is a retort that ends arguments. In their mind, it’s due to personality, culture, upbringing, ethnicity, or some other intangible factor which can’t be changed. They pass a final judgement that throws an employee, with all his potential, into a box…which is then locked from the outside.

Following this logic, the only resolution is to hire engaged staff-members from the start. However, that not only takes a long time, it hardly lasts. Why? The vast majority of new hires are honestly engaged for their first three to six months after which they slip into the same disaffection that afflicts their colleagues. After a while, they are as ordinary as everyone else.

A more fruitful approach throws out the old concept of engagement as a belief, replacing it with a higher standard. Let’s narrow it down to a collection of observable behaviors which can be captured on a video camera, thereby passing what I call “The Video Tape Test.”

Using this standard we can focus on the precise habits, practices and actions people take when they are engaged, or not. However, we must be careful – my work in the region shows that engaged behaviors vary widely between companies, and sometimes even between working groups. There are no cookie-cutter, universal answers.

This challenge means that you, as a manager, need to do some legwork in order to help your staff succeed. Follow these steps.

Step 1 – Group your employees’ jobs
Examine the positions which report to you and group them by the behaviors demonstrated to be engaged. In some rare cases, you may find that someone’s formal job description may be too narrowly defined. For example, their role in building positive relationships around them using engaged behaviours may be diminished. In these cases, redraft the job description to be more realistic and holistic.
Step 2 – Distinguish Low Engagement
Set aside hostile behaviors which are clearly antagonistic or simply a demonstration of “Bad Mind.” Then, define the level of low performance which is just enough to prevent someone from being fired but not enough for them to contribute more than a minimum. Start to detail the behaviors of this person.
What practices does she engage in each day? Which ones is she unlikely to initiate?
Break down complex behaviors into small, practical atoms which are easy to observe. For example. “Being a standoff” is not a detailed behavior. However, “skipping the Christmas Party”, “refusing lunch meetings” and “leaving at 4:30 on the dot every afternoon” might be.
Step 3 – Clarify High Engagement
Perform a similar tear-down of high engagement.
Step 4 – Identify interim behaviors
Between the two extremes, distinguish additional levels an employee would climb on her way to high engagement. Think of it as a ladder. Then, turn these steps into an assessment for people to apply for themselves.
Step 5 – Teach Employees to Self-Assess
As staff-members evaluate themselves, show them the benefit of conservative grading which allows for room to improve. Serious employees will be glad for the opportunity to improve, now that they have a clear yard-stick and direction.
Step 6 – Offer Coaching
Ask employees to take the initiative to improve performance. Most should be able to put together long-term improvement plans, but they will need your help to craft a strategy which isn‘t too aggressive – these skills always appear easier to implement than they are.
In fact, employees require a great deal of support to achieve their goals. You may not be the one to provide it, but you should help assemble a framework that makes it easy to make stepwise improvements.

If you suspect that this sounds a bit like self-gamification, you are correct. As the manager, you are actually providing a clear-cut game people can play to become more engaged, one step at a time.
In summary, it provides a huge win for both parties. Employees’ attention will be diverted towards the task of giving themselves the gift of focused energy – a life engaged in purposeful activity even at their workplace.

The problem your company faces is that employees who are bored and disengaged are comparing their work-life with other parts of their lives. The only way for it to measure up is for you, the manager, to play your part in helping them adopt a game they can win.

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20181216/francis-wade-how-gamify-employee-engagement