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I grieve for customer service under the guise of virtuality.
Call us on the phone. Text us your opinion. Tweet your photos. Follow us on Facebook.
When you want to speak to somebody to establish rapport, connection, demand attention, file a complaint, you are talking to a machine or not even a machine, nobody.
Nobody knows what’s the process once the form has been filled, the phone call is made, or anything for that matter that is called reaching out. You wait for your lucky stars if they are even going to get back to you.
The bigger the company, the bigger the bureaucracy and bureaucracies kill innovation and creativity. It creates pockets of fiefdom within organizations where lower-level staff or personnel are not empowered to delight and please the customer. All problems and issues get pushed to the middle management where the action is synonymous to wait out and see.
I went into a job fair recently to talk to companies and organizations that are hiring and get their pulse on their industries. I asked one lady for her card, and she said, I didn’t bring any, just go to the website. Well, lady, you are not there on the website. The website has a bunch of information that is not going to give me access to someone like you that I met in person, talked about the company, and made that vital connection.
The purpose of the job fair is to get to know your prospective hires, attract the best talent, and get them to know your company. Hiding behind the website is inane, and it shows how either you loathe what you do, or your company wants to be more secretive than FBI or CIA.
Honestly, I don’t think I want to work for your that company.
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A newly-minted CEO has a problem of changing practices within the organization. How do you do ensure the changes stick, what messages to say, what needs to be embedded, who needs to model these changes? As part of the management, these are the steps you can take.
1. Practice what you preach. You want things to be changed in the organization. It has to be communicated from the top and be modeled from the top. If people see otherwise, it is just lip service.
2. Model the changes in real-time. Don’t put that in a plan, procedure, policy, or manual, only to be left in a 3-ring binder somewhere. Changes in practices should be implemented on a regular, consistent basis, over time, ensuring clear alignment, focus, and synergy by all stakeholders.
3. Let the best employee model it! I say that, let their peers start to model those changes that the management seek. Employees learn from each other, and the best/or the most influential get to showcase that changes are their friends, not their enemies.
4. What’s in it for me? Do you need to change how people talk to their customers? How the organization plan for the future? How you do want to implement the services? The management has to showcase that with these changes, the organization will hit its targets, and targets being met means profitability and sustainability in the long run. A profitable and sustainable organization takes care of its employees and employees reciprocate the gesture.
5. The changes you want to see should manifest in their performance. Everyone’s performance needs to be evaluated by the outcomes you want to see. Without the measurement, who cares whether it gets done or not! And the CEOs and the management team’s performance needs to get evaluated too. No sacred cows.
These steps will ensure that changes stick and become the norm, not the aberration. You can’t change things over time, but you can start replacing old habits with good habits. It is the same with organizational entities
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A lot of organizations want to “wing” it all the time. Okay, for the first few years, it seems like the need to produce or demonstrate action is very important, but disorganized action leaves much to be desired. The disorganization becomes the bane of the organization. When things plateaued, then the conversation becomes “how can we make it better?”
There is a lot of romanticism regarding being ‘grounded up’ but what does it mean:
- Being participatory and democratic
- Being consultative and egalitarian
- Being able to pluck the low hanging fruit
- Being able to be flexible and nimble
- Being able to wing it!
While these are grand and noble things to pursue, they can be used as avoidance measures to accomplish the following, for example:
-Stretch the organization systems to focus on strategic rather than popular;
-Plan for long-term than short-term, including delaying short-term pleasures and gains for long-term stability and growth;
-Increase the commitment of Board, staff, or Steering Committee to aspire for the systems-wide thinking and deliberate attempt to take a stab on things, not just to wander from one initiative to another;
-Increase uncertainty but decrease the level of politics that is blocking any meaningful organizational change to happen;
-destabilize conservative views, offer new thinking, and increase executive leadership from that of being an administrative manager to a leader;
Innovation rarely occurs in the everyday problem-solving. Putting out fires increases your level of adrenalin but rarely gets you to your ultimate destination. Strategic focus is more needed when the times are tough, the money is low, friends have left, and there is a room for mistakes.
But I guess, it's not common sense.
Let me know what you think.
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You need an energizer or icebreaker in meetings.
It cuts the precious time for substantive issues that are needed to be discussed in the meeting. Who has a lot of time to sit down in meetings that take quite a long time to get to the real issues?
Mothers know best.
Not really. At a certain point, mothers gradually relinquish that role of a know-it-all and respect the independence of their children.
Volunteer first before you can get a job in the organization.
Not true. If you want to volunteer, fine, but keep your expectations real. Sometimes, it is not going to happen in a million years.
Opportunity comes knocking once.
Not true. Opportunity is ever present in many things. Our challenge is to enhance our ability to see opportunities disguised as something else.
Don’t judge a book by its cover.
Not true. People spent thousands of dollars on book covers alone. We judge things by the cover/appearance.
Early bird gets the worm.
It doesn’t follow. Some early birds get eaten because they are too early for the event.
Not anymore. The society and its expectations about reward and recognition fall on those able to become a real asset to the organization, not just those who have been loyal but utterly useless.
There are many clichés about many things. Take time to analyze that they are not truths but sometimes meant to be excuses not to improve the situation.
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I was working one day when the phone rang. It was an unexpected phone call from someone I met in the course of my networking in the community.
Truly, of all people, those that you have connected will be the ones who will take the time to connect back with you. It is the stuff of humans.
It is great to receive those calls, saying hi, asking for an expert opinion, getting to know you as a person, not just a brain to pick, and being honest about their limits and constraints.
Being transparent, honest, and responsive are very important traits in any sector, industry, professional, and life, in general.
You cannot bring out something to the world and prosper from it unless there are real people that are supporting and believing in your project/work. It takes symbiosis to become a real asset to your network- the giving and receiving should be balanced.
If you are always on the receiving end of mercy, charity, and forgiveness, then, don’t ask why friends do not call or suddenly disappear, customers don’t return for purchases or donors stopped giving or volunteering their time.
Even non-profits should invest in maintaining their relationships with donors! Not to do that is suicidal.
The real connection comes from mutual respect, recognition, and responsiveness. A lot of people go through the motions being unresponsive (and inconsiderate!) to the situations, conditions, and predicaments of people, organizations, and groups.
Clerks that forget to change right;
Customer service personnel that forgets to call back;
Government employees that forget to put the document inside the envelope for mailing! (This is a true story!) ;
Doctors, pharmacists, nurses, and others in the medical profession that forget to ask the right questions to patients;
And many more examples.
Take time to nurture those personal connections. If they are genuine, it will stand the test of time. If it doesn’t, consider that some connections are brief, interest-based, and not meant to be that long.
Learn from connections that get you into trouble, and you will know how to value the authentic ones
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There are many ways that the customer is not always right.
They do not know what they want regarding a new product, if that product has not been out in the market yet, don’t know its functionality or how their lives can be made easier. Your FGD can’t salvage that.
They can be unruly, excessively demanding, and unfair towards service crews such as bellboys, servers, hotel clerks and cleaners, and telephone operators or customer service reps and other lower-level personnel who always, almost get the bad end of things.
They can be verbally and physically aggressive and hostile for no apparent reason and had to be dismissed either by security guards or marshals. That is game-over!
They can tell you they don’t like your products, services, offerings for whatever reason because they don’t need your product that much to look closer and spend some time investing in its usefulness. You don’t need this type of customers. Other customers want your product, services, and offerings because they deeply know that it can solve their problems. Learn how to smell which customers are serious versus who are just looking around.
They can give you insights as to what innovation you can do based on their experience of your products, but at the end of the day, it is your responsibility as the owner of the business to smell if it is the right opportunity for you.
Lastly, you can fire problematic clients and customers. You don’t want their business more than you don’t want troublesome vendors, suppliers, and other personalities that you don’t have to deal with because there are those that will gladly do business with you and take the effort to nurture the relationship.
Just because they can pay doesn’t mean that they are right for your venture as much as just because they are your neighbors doesn't mean you want to invite them for dinner and hang out with your family.
What do you think are the ways that customers aren't always right? Tell me your thoughts.
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I have sat in numerous collectives, coalitions, and partnership-based initiatives for many years. And while I have seen the great benefits of collaboration work, I also cringed at some of the dysfunction manifested in the name of collaboration. Here are some of the few observations around collaboration that show how conflicting motives can hijack its value.
· Some collectives are not collaboration at all. Some are pseudo-collaborations when they appear in the guise of collaboration but are not. Partnerships that are by nature tactical, one-off, short-term do not have to be labeled collaboration. It is a mere partnership for a specific set of projects, initiatives, and agenda. Collaboration focuses on long-term strategic objectives that no one organization can boast to overcome or solve. For example, eradicating poverty, homelessness, etc.
· For one, when collaboration leads to co-dependencies between organizations, using collaboration partners to fill their capacity deficits and further discourage the organization from actually investing on specific organizational and technical capacity-building because they can get it ‘free’ through collaboration. It sounds pernicious, but this practice is very common. For example, the convenor will set up a research collective in the hope that the agenda, framework, and technical skills-set drawn from the group-those thing that they lack and cannot do on their own.
· When the convenor abdicates on its responsibilities to the whole group and delegates all the decision making, it makes the group more responsible than they should be. For example, a convenor who is legally responsible for setting the collaboration, having funding to administer and support it, abdicates its leadership role to the Chair, Vice Chair or certain organizations to decide on issues related to its functions.
· The role of the convenor is very tricky. The people in the group look to the convenor for guidance, inspiration, and smooth administration, as well as leadership. When there is no leader or sets of leaders in the group performing complementary functions, it begets the question: who is calling the shots here? How can the decision-makers contain risks in their decision-making?
· Supposedly the risks are shared equally by the whole group, but in fact, risks are shared by those who get to do more work for the group. Leaving some to do less while the rest of the group do more than what they bargained for. Studies show that the larger the group, slackers tend to arise and create more work for others.
· There seems to be no clarity why organizations and individuals are sitting on these groups and committees regarding their motivation and ‘what’s in it for them?” It is very rare when people get honest about it. Is it to get more funding? More prestige? Getting capacity when there is none in your organization? Is it for a good reputation? Is it because it aligns to your organizations’ purpose? Is it because you get more than you put in? Is it because it is easy to sit in without having more responsibilities? Being honest and candid about what you want out of these collaborations will give you an assessment in whether or not it is the right fit for your interests and motivations. It also gives everyone on the table an idea how these interests align with the groups’ aims.
· Simply getting what you want and offering to help is not the answer. Collaboration is not just the sum of all efforts if everyone likes what is going on. Any time, partners can pull out and say “we are not part of this,” because it happens more than you think. The self-interest is too high on the agenda to make it work for the group. Sacrificing your own organization’s self-interest for the collective common good may create a little discomfort or moderate pain as part of the equation, not a lot are prepared or have contemplated this. Ask yourself is being part of the collective enhances your ability to forge common agenda and interests or in short-term merely responding to your needs.
These and many more have become perplexing dilemmas. When everyone extols the values of collaboration, the practice of collaboration is nowhere near as impact-full and effectiveness as it should be. And everybody wonders why.
A few self-assessment questions will get you thinking about your role in the collaboration framework.
1. Have you clarified, explained, and demonstrated your motivation, interests, and organizational aims as part of the group?
2. Have you expressed the opinions, perspectives, and challenges that you face as part of the collective and understood each partner’s interests and motivations?
3. Have you benefited more than what you are intending to gain as part of the group or vice-versa ( meaning put more than what you expected to contribute?)
4. Have you contributed to advancing the collective good which you would not directly benefit as an organization but committed to doing it anyway?
Let us analyze; if you answer 4 out of 4, then it means that you understand the importance of honesty, candor, and exhibiting a certain level of vulnerability to achieve common goals, that at some point, will cause discomfort or pain to your organization. If you answer yes to 2-3 questions, you have a certain level of understanding of your role but not taking a proactive stance to the issues you are facing as part of the group. If you answer yes to 1, there is a great room to improve in your standing and perception of how collaboration works, gravitating on passivity, dependency, or confusion within your role in the group and vice versa.
Unraveling these issues is the start of empowering your position within a collaboration framework. It does not mean that you will not fail, it means that you can go back up again and revisit those thorny issues that get in the way of effective teaming up for success. The right frame of mind, expectations, and contributing attitude can set your organization up for greater collective impact.
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As Continuing on this essay on why strategy plans fail, I am sharing two most important reasons.
4. Focus on planning and not on implementation
Lots of monies, energies, team effort, and concentration were devoted to planning and consultations and reviews but the real work to be done does not even have a budget or people assigned to carry out proper implementation, monitoring, and performance measurement.
This happens more than regular. The initial sizzle and excitement about the plans get dissolve as time passes by and newer issues and challenge preoccupy the organization leaving the real tasks of implementation to lower-level staffers.
5. Lack of proper controls and measurements
A lot of strategy plans fall by the wayside because there are no systems set to monitor, control, and measure performance in a regular fashion. A high-level executive should set clear guidelines in terms of how the implementation will be reported, checked, controlled for slippage, delays, and inaccuracies, and measured for effectiveness and efficiencies.
There is also a need to have a regular check-in rhythms with all critical team members to provide corrective actions to lagging and ineffective performance, set up standards of excellence, and increase the confidence of implementers to report early signs of detours from original plans, and account for new realities in the environment where plans need to be tweaked here and there. This is a major part of the commitment of management to see the plans through and make it work.
I hope these give you a sense of the critical misses around strategies and how these can be avoided by creating contingencies and systems in place to avoid the common implementation and planning errors that most organizations make.
Critical strategic thinking does not end when the plans are written out and publicly acclaimed. The real test of strategic thinking is when management takes the plans and makes it work in an environment where it is easy to abandon the plans that have become obsolete as a result of changes in the operating environment. Avoiding the plans obsolescence is critical, and this shows how the management can be more intentional, strategically focused, and adaptive through the implementation and its successful wrap-up.
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These and some other important questions will be discussed in my Strategy Development Workshop in Red Deer, Alberta this week.
80% of plans do not get implemented because of many reasons. Here I enumerate the top 5 obstacles to effective implementation.
•Management needs to ‘own’ the plan
A lot of organizations invest in planning but forget that the strategy is implementation. Management needs to own the plan, create contingencies when there is a major shift in external environment making the plans unworkable, and instill performance measurement at all points of the implementation. Management should consult the stakeholders concerned but the end of the day, it rests on management that knows the business from inside-out and are not afraid to take responsibility for its success or failures.
•Confused planning with strategy
When management started planning, they confuse it with strategy. Planning is done at the lower end of the organization, while setting strategy is primarily a management function. It cannot be delegated to staff or mere customers dictating how the company should be run. A decisive, informed, and well-represented management team should undertake their biggest function- which is to set the general strategic direction of the company. This biggest function is what creates the impetus for the company in the next 3-5 years aligning all resources, assets, culture, and processes to meet the goals, and forsaking other fruitless pursuits.
•INERTIA, ATROPHY, & FALL-BACK ON PAST PERFORMANCE
Organizations who are undergoing maturity or who are the in peak of their organizational or product success would have the mentality that they are invincible and unassailable. When in fact, past performance does not lead to future success. The market volatility and disruptive nature of businesses and megabrands call for adaptability and nimbleness that can prevent massive investment on futile and unproductive projects. Inertia is what prevents innovation from happening. When there is ego or greed or plain stupid management that does not listen to customers, clients, or stakeholders, it is on its way to its own demise. Take the case of Sears.
When companies become too comfortable with their success or good fortunes and don't have the predilection to move to the next level or raise the bar notch higher, the writing on the wall will be there pretty soon. If they are not afflicted enough to move to plan and manage risks, competitors that have faster sprint and stronger kick will rush in and eat their market share. Competition is not just the next vendor like your business, it is also the changing trends, mores, norms, and behaviors of society that may have a profound impact in your business.
(more on this, next time!)
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I met an acquaintance again after six years. While meeting her, it brought back memories to the time where I was thinking of doing a strategic pivot in my career. My mentor would say to make a ‘sharp right turn’ as part of evolving my professional contribution. It gave me a sense of fulfillment in what I found.
How far had I come from 6 years ago to this year?
What happened if you looked back at your past and asked yourself, how did I do it? It was a mix of serendipity, courage, and doing everyday work that led me to opened doors of opportunities in the last five years. These were very instructive for me. I have seen a lot of growth in those five years that I could not believe that I have accomplished, more or less completed!
We have some metrics in our minds as to what constitutes success, having arrived, being ‘there, on fulfillment, happiness, and never-ending joy. These metrics can be people we meet and hold to high esteem, situations where we deemed that’s “it,” the spotlight we crave, and the validation that we seek from others. These are all ephemeral after all.
The real metrics that matter are the metrics that we create for ourselves. It is not what others impose on us and those that we copy and use from other people’s lives. We alone can create the path to real and genuine joy and fulfillment that we seek out in our lives not what others in Facebook or the guru in TV proclaim to work.
Do not be a copycat of some persona. Famous on the outside, hollow on the inside. Do not be a slave to the life that you created. The life you created should produce the abundance, freedom, and meaning that can be discovered through reflection, focus, and perseverance. It is possible.
Live your life you dream everyday - one that is uniquely yours