The Most Expensive Kind of Question Ever Asked

If you have ever supervised people, you have been on the receiving end of these questions. If you have ever been supervised, you have asked these kinds of questions. If you’ve had to answer these questions, it’s cost you time and focus, sometimes for hours every week. If you’ve asked these questions, you knew you were doing it, but it was so much easier than thinking.

What kind of questions? Lazy ones. They come in many forms. Some start out with, “Can you help me?” or maybe “I don’t know what to do.” Perhaps they end with, “I don’t want to make a mistake,” or “I looked it up on the Internet and there wasn’t any information.”

These questions can become the bane of a supervisor’s existence. Just when you have regained your concentration on the project at hand, someone leans in your door and says, “Got a second?” When you figure out that the question being asked should have been handled by the asker, your impulse might be to yell, “THINK FOR YOURSELF!” But then you conclude that it’s just easier to answer the question than dealing with the blank stare that comes with your demand for independent thinking. But that’s where you’re wrong!

There are three consequences to answering lazy questions: 1) Enablement – It is human nature to learn by observation. If employees observe you answering all their lazy questions, they will conclude that it is okay to keep asking.

2) Cost – Time is money and lazy questions drain your time and attention like nothing else. Answering ten lazy questions a day can run into thousands of dollars per month.

3) Turnover – Asking lazy questions demonstrates the lack of investment the person has in their job. If they don’t care enough to think, why would they care enough do good work or even stick around?

Now, I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. The issue is what to do about it. In my experience, it comes down to the word “compel.” Compel is defined as having a powerful or irresistible effect. In other words, the person feels like they have no choice except to comply. Notice I used the word “feel.” There is an emotional element to this. You’re not forcing them to do anything. You are convincing them that it is in their best interest to think rather than take the easy way out.

A number of years ago, I was introduced to an educational technique called a “think-aloud.” Imagine a student approaching a teacher to ask for help on something he’s already been shown before. Rather than showing him a second or even third time, the teacher says, “Let’s think this through together. How should we begin?” Then the teacher waits for a response.

The student may be hesitant or even say, “I don’t know how to begin.” In response, the teacher says, “Suppose I was not here and you had to solve this yourself. What’s the first step?” Then he or she remains quiet again.

After a few seconds, the student will suggest a first step and the teacher encourages him by saying, “That’s great. Now, where do we go from here?” This process continues until the student catches on. All the while, the teacher provides a mix of encouragement and guidance, but not answers.  At the end of this exchange, three positive things have happened.

First, the student has developed an understanding of how to solve the problem. Second, the teacher has observed how the student thinks. This informs how he or she should teach and coach the student in the future. Third, in learning this new skill or technique, the student develops additional confidence in his ability to think critically and independently.

The cool thing is that you can take this technique and transfer it directly into the workplace and use it to compel employees to think creatively and independently. Does it take some time and energy to employ this approach? Yes. Will it work every time? Not at first. But after a while employees will begin to understand that you will take them through this process whenever they ask questions they should be able to resolve themselves. This will compel them to think for themselves rather endure this kind of conversation each time. Once you have this practice in place, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how the number of lazy questions diminishes and everyone’s productivity rises. I know, I’ve tried it with the people who have worked for me.

So, here’s the bottom line. Unless you try this technique, you are not allowed to complain any more about people who ask lazy questions. I’m just sayin’.

Will Bob Be Ready When He Gets to You?

My daughter works for a university. This summer, she hired a student intern named Bo. Bo is a rising senior and graphic design major. He will be working twenty hours per week, creating video promotions and brochures for this year’s student events.

Erin is looking forward to seeing what he produces. But she’s concerned that he seems afraid to act without explicit instructions. Since she will be in and out of the office quite a bit this summer, she’s relying on him to take the topics and concepts they agree on and turn them into promotions that students will find engaging.

The day before Erin left for a few days of vacation last week, Bo was in her office five times in four hours. Each time, it was for a question he should really have been able to deal with himself. Finally, in a bit of exasperation, Erin told him to use his best judgment. “Okay,” he said, “If I need you, I’ll just text you while you’re traveling.”

Now Erin faces a dilemma. If she responds to his texts, will she be encouraging his behavior? If she does not, will Bo get the work done or wait until she responds to each question? What would you do? After all, Bo could be working for you when he graduates next year.

I sometimes face pushback from young people when I mention this kind of behavior. But Erin’s dilemma another real-life example of the challenge so many managers face. So, what’s a supervisor to do to manage this issue successfully? Here are the three strategies I recommend:

Employ the use of simulations during selection – Let’s face it, interviews do not reveal the decision skills of most applicants. You need to observe them in action. These exercises do not have to be elaborate, but should be based on typical situations made in your workplace daily.

Take a few minutes to jot down five or so of these decisions. Then create a simulation that compels applicants to demonstrate their skills and confidence at handling those dilemmas. You shouldn’t be looking for correct answers. You should be watching to see how they think through each challenge. (In my next post, I’ll provide five illustrations that I’ve seen work.)

Meet new employees where they are – In these times of tight labor supply, I have managers saying to me, “I’m hiring every warm body I can find.” I get that. You can still hire people lacking decision skills. But if you do, you need to be prepared to coach them on decision making from day one.

One manager I know has a simple strategy. When hiring someone who’s lacking in certain skills, he says, “I’d like to bring you on. But I do have some concerns about how well you think on your feet. So, I’m going to put you through some decision skills training first thing. If we can have that agreement, I’d like to have you as a part of our team.” In this way, he establishes a bit of buy-in before the person starts. If the person responds negatively to this condition, he doesn’t want that person on the team, no matter how tight the labor market.

Place parameters around your access – In today’s digital environment, there has emerged an expectation that everyone needs to be available at all times for all questions. This is simply not necessary, but you need to set and enforce practical parameters.

Early in my career, I worked for a director named Don. Don had a tremendous amount on his plate. When I waltzed into his office to ask a question I could have resolved myself, it did not go well. After a few weeks of this, Don said to me, “Why don’t you wait until you’ve got a few of these questions you really need my help on. Then we’ll spend a few minutes resolving them all at once. This compelled me to re-prioritize what I was doing, solve the problems I could, and be well organized when I did approach him.

Over time, we got so in synch that he would hold up his index finger and say “one” when he saw me in his doorway. After we had resolved the first issue, he would hold up two fingers and say, “two,” and so on. This approach doesn’t work for everyone, but you get the idea. What will work for you?

So, those are my three recommendations. What are yours? I’d love to know. Respond to this post or shoot me an email at bobw@commonsenseenterprises.net.

The Future is Unknowable – Risk is Measurable

“Congratulations! You’ve won a package of sky-diving lessons.” Just the thought of this sends shivers down the spines of some people. A little informal research tells me that skydiving is five times as safe as flying commercially, which is five times as safe as driving a car, which is five times as safe as crossing the street in a big city. But for many, even the infinitesimal possibility of hitting the ground at 120mph overwhelms any thought of the experience being safe and exhilarating.

Economist Frank Knight observed that, “The future is unknowable, but risk is measurable.” In other words, it is best to ask “What are the chances?” when contemplating any decision of significance. By taking time to logically consider the risk of possible outcomes, we are able to manage the emotional discomfort that can distort our thinking.

As we come of age and mature through life, we are constantly influenced by those around us along with our experiences with success and failure. When something goes wrong, those around us help to interpret these consequences. Many times, unfortunately, these comments begin with sentences like, “I had a feeling this would happen,” or “That should teach you not to try something like that again.”

Listening to these laments engenders a fear of the unknown. When considering future opportunities, purchases, and relationships, these words of caution can come flooding into our minds and overwhelm any thoughts of excitement, anticipation and positive outcomes. Sadly, this cycle becomes a reinforcing expectation for most people. This results in their assuming the worst when considering opportunities. If they surround themselves with others who think this way, they begin to settle for certainty, even if it means sacrificing better jobs, better incomes, better relationships and a host of other opportunities. Even when they want to consider these endeavors, they are counseled by these risk-adverse friends to be careful and the cycle is reinforced.

So, how can someone break out of this rhythm? Here’s a good way to begin. Make a practice of asking yourself, “What are the chances” when considering decisions and opportunities. Then go about quantifying and qualifying the probability of each possible outcome. Next, ask yourself, “What’s the worst that could happen?” and “If the worst was to happen, would I be able to manage it?” Finally, ask, “Does the value of the positive outcome outweigh the possible loss of the negative outcome? If it does, proceed. Logic is the great mitigator of fear. As the saying goes, feel the fear and do it anyway.

 

Why New Year’s Resolutions Don’t Work

Are you one of the millions who will sit down later this month and layout your resolutions for the new year? I sure hope not. We value all kinds of traditions here in the United States. But this is one that should be abolished. Why? Because it doesn’t work and never will.

Here the simple reason. The brain hates change and uncertainty. Your brain’s first job is to keep you safe. Every time it perceives a possible threat to your well-being, it responds in two ways: 1) It introduces two stressor hormones into your nervous system, adrenaline and cortisol. This focuses your attention and prepares you for what it perceives as the threat. That’s why cortisol has been called “nature’s alarm clock. 2) Using systems neurologists still don’t understand, the brain brings to your attention all ways this perceived threat could harm you. (Granted, this is an oversimplified explanation.)

Here’s the problem. Your brain can’t tell the difference between a perceived physical threat and a perceived emotional threat. If a foul ball is barreling toward you, the brain is remarkably good at calling your attention to it so you can get out of the way. That’s a good thing. But when you’re faced with emotional unknown such as approaching a stranger, initiating a difficult conversation or making a presentation, it reacts the same way. It floods your nervous system with adrenaline and cortisol and calls to the front of your mind all the ways emotional catastrophe could strike.

The same thing is true of initiating a change of routine or habit. Routines and habits are predictable, even if some of them are harmful, such as smoking, eating too much and a dozen others we might list. But once a habit or routine is well established, the brain takes comfort in these predictable outcomes and sensations. Eating a quart of ice cream when you’re upset is not good for you, but it provides relief for the moment and that’s what the brain craves. That’s why they call it comfort food. So, if you attempt to resist these temptations, the brain actually increases the thoughts of these cravings to keep you focused on your desire for safety and comfort. You’re also surrounded, of course, by environmental triggers such as ice cream advertisements and the fact that they place ice cream right next to the frozen tofu in the freezer aisle.

The same thing is true if you try to initiate a new routine or habit. The brain says, “I don’t know. This could be a threat. So I’ll make you uncomfortable and compel you to think about all the ways you might feel bad if you try this new practice.” (Again, an oversimplification.)

This is the reason why new year’s resolutions don’t work. The average person sits down on December 31st and says, “Okay, I’m going to change the following six things. But on January 1st, what you’ve done is introduce six new sources of discomfort into your daily life all at the same time.

Is it any wonder that the average person gives up on their new year’s resolutions within a week or two? It’s better to start out with one and practice it and establish it for 30 days. Once you’ve established that practice, go on to the next habit you want to change. Doing this with six habits or routines over six months is much better strategy. Starting them all at once just initiates six new sources of stress into your life all on the first day of the year. Why would anyone do that?

Rather than sitting down later this month and listing all the routines and habits you’re going to change or establish beginning January first, list these habits and routines. Then prioritize them and schedule them for implementation throughout 2021. Your brain will still resist these attempts, but you’ll be able to overcome this resistance when you’re establishing these changes, one at a time.

Five Proven Ways to Sharpen Customer Service Decision-Making

When was the last time you heard the sentence, “Let me ask my manager?” It might have been on the phone. It might have been in a store. It might have been in a restaurant. Wherever it was, you probably wondered, “Why can’t this person just make a decision?”

Chances are, one of two things was going on. 1) The manager was such a control freak that no one wanted to break the rules, even for a request that seemed reasonable. 2) The employee lacked the confidence to make a decision that their common sense told them would be okay. As a result, they left you on hold or at the counter to ask for the permission they knew was coming. If we added up all the times this happens across the US marketplace every day, it would number in the millions.

So, how do you solve this problem in your corner of the world? Here are five suggestions, gleaned from my interviews with managers who have dealt with this challenge:

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Give them a spend – Richard manages an auto dealership. He authorizes every one of his employees to spend up to $500 to make a customer happy without checking with him. This relieves the burden of them checking with the manager and reassures customers that the person they’re dealing with is capable of making reasonable decisions. By the way, not one has ever spent anything close to $500. Mostly it’s coffees, car washes, and new floor mats.

Provide clear boundaries – LaWanda takes time during staff meetings to discuss unusual customer questions and issues that have come up in the past month. She presents the situation and asks for input on how it can best be handled. Then the group comes to consensus on what to do the next time the issue arises. This encourages her people to think for themselves rather than rely on her every time.

Refuse to give them an answer – Greg is the owner of a heating and cooling service company. His technicians were forever calling him from customer locations to ask if they could do this or that. It became so overwhelming that it was consuming an hour or two of each day. So he stopped answering their questions and told them to use their best judgment. “It was a bit rough at the beginning,” he said. “But once they figured out that I meant it and wasn’t going to penalize them for the occasional mistake, everything worked just fine.”

Process and reward the use of common sense – Jayme pulls her servers together before the restaurant opens every evening. She begins by briefing them on special menu items. Then most days, she recognizes someone for the way they handled a customer issue. She explains what happened, hands the server a $10 gift card, and reminds everyone to think for themselves. In return for a couple thousand dollars in gift cards, the restaurant has been receiving thousands of dollars in customer kudos and increased traffic.

How many of these ideas can you implement? The long-term boost in productivity and reputation will be enormous.

The Attributes of an Empowered Employee

Every day, each employee you supervise makes hundred decisions to order to resolve problems and complete tasks. Most are routine and have been executed many times before. This repetition becomes the mastery that’s necessary to navigate the daily work. Then there are those unexpected obstacles that can disrupt your momentum. We all fear making a wrong decision at times, even though we pretty much knew what to react. Most of us possess the confidence move on to a successful solution.

Some people, however, struggle to adapt. Some of this apprehension can be attributed to a lack of confidence to solve problems and make decisions. So, how can you help these individuals develop this confidence? The effort comes down to one word — empower.

The best performers in any work environment exude confidence. They fully believe they are capable of dealing with whatever issue comes up. What does it mean to feel empowered? First, it’s the ability to discern. This means examining the elements of a situation, evaluating what needs to be accomplished and determining the necessary steps. The ability to discern evolves over time as the result of trial and error.

Second, feeling empowered is the ability to manage uncertainty. Uncertainty produces discomfort. Top performers become comfortable with being uncomfortable. Any significant decision involves some uncertainty.

Third, people who feel empowered possess the confidence to recover from what goes wrong. Some decisions don’t work out. Top performers accept that you don’t go through life making the perfect decision every time. When things go wrong, they take a step back, evaluate what happened, and come up with an alternative.

Fourth, empowerment is the confidence to act independently. The best decision-makers take the initiative without asking for permission. They examine the environment for what needs to be done. They think three and four steps ahead. Because of this, they are more likely to be rewarded with positive outcomes. They have a sense of perspective in situations that others may find overwhelming.

The element that connects all of these attributes is confidence. More of society is focusing on blame these days when something goes wrong. As a result, more people hesitate before making decisions They don’t want to suffer embarrassment if a decision goes wrong. In the process, they seek permission before acting, even if they are clear on what to do. This is especially true of those just entering workplace.  So, how can you help people feel empowered? Here are three tactics to try:

Begin by providing clear parameters – Each time you delegate a responsibility, ask the person to explain the instructions back to you. While they’ll get most of it right, you’ll probably find gaps in their understanding. Go back and review what they missed. Reinforce the concept with a bit of practical application. This encourages them to ask questions. Remember, asking “What questions do you have?” is more effective than asking, “Do you have any questions?” Asking “what” lets them know that questions are expected.

Provide the authority – Sometimes, we delegate responsibility and just assume the person understands the parameters about spending money, making exceptions and so forth. Then we become frustrated when they ask lots of questions. Instead, express authority using these three steps:

  • First, explain that they may feel some uncertainty about making these decisions, at least initially. You might say something like, “You’re probably going to feel a little uncomfortable making these decisions at first. I know I did. But don’t worry, I’ve got your back.” This will ease their concern.
  • Second, provide examples of the decisions where they may hesitate. Show them the process for resolving them. If you have worked this job in the past, make a list of the typical decisions you made and explain how you made them. Create a matrix or cheat sheet they can consult when they’re working independently.
  • Third, step back and watch what happens. It is a natural urge to jump in when you see someone about to make a mistake. Resist that temptation. If they begin to believe that someone will save them every time something is about to go wrong, they will become fearful of acting or become careless.

Reinforce the process – Rehearsing and reinforcement are critical. Some people will embrace these principles right away. Others will take more time. This is generally more about emotion than intellect. In other words, they understand what they’re supposed to do, but uncertainty is holding them back. How do you get them to do this? Try these tactics:

  • Tell them that you understand their apprehension. Everybody’s been there. Reinforce that you’ve got their back. If something goes wrong, you’ll work together with them to resolve the situation.
  • Work with them on each of the processes they need to master. A good way to do this is by posing situations and case studies, based on their experiences and your experiences.
  • Observe as they start to implement. Check in periodically, but be careful not to make the decision. It is a good sign when they start pushing you away, because they have built the confidence to act on their own.

When the people around you feel empowered, they will make smarter decisions and feel inspired to work confidently and independently.

 

The Attributes of an Empowered Employee

On any given day, each person you supervise makes more than a hundred decisions to resolve problems and complete projects. Most are routine and have been executed many times before. This repetition evolves into the mastery necessary to navigate the daily workload. But then there are those unexpected challenges that can disrupt momentum in a heartbeat. We have all experienced the fear of making the wrong decision, even though we pretty much knew what to say or do. Most of us possess the confidence move past this initial apprehension and navigate to a successful solution.

Some, however, struggle to adapt. Much of this apprehension can be attributed to a lack of confidence in their ability to solve problems and make decisions, especially in the stress of the moment. So, how can you help these individuals develop more confidence in their daily decisions? The effort comes down to a simple word – empower. 

Top performers in any work environment exude confidence. They believe they are fully capable of dealing with whatever issue confronts them. In order other words. They feel empowered. So, what does it mean to feel empowered? First, it’s the ability to discern. In the workplace, this means being able to examine the elements of a situation, evaluate what needs to be accomplished and determine the steps for doing so. You can share all the universal truths you want about how to solve problems, but the ability to discern evolves over time as the result of trial and error.

Second, feeling empowered is the ability to manage uncertainty. Uncertainty produces stress. Top performers become comfortable with being uncomfortable. Any significant decision involves some uncertainty.

Third, those who feel empowered possess the skills to recover from what goes wrong. Some decisions don’t work out, even if you’ve made a thoughtful choice. Top performers accept that you don’t go through life making the best decision every time. When things go wrong, they take a step back, evaluate what happened, and come up with a fix.

Fourth, empowerment is the confidence to act independently. Top performers take initiative without asking for permission. They scan the environment for what needs to be done. They are always thinking three and four steps ahead. Because of this, they are more likely to be rewarded with positive outcomes. They have a sense of control over situations others may find overwhelming.

The element that connects all of these attributes is confidence. More and more of society is focusing on blame when something goes wrong. As a result, many people hesitate before making decisions, not wanting to suffer embarrassment, or even humiliation if a decision goes wrong. For this reason, many seek permission before acting, even if they are clear on what to do. This is especially true of those just entering workplace.

How can you help people feel empowered? Try these three strategies:

Provide clear parameters – Each time you delegate a responsibility, ask the person to explain back to you what they heard. Chances are, you’ll find gaps in their understanding. People don’t generally get an entire concept the first time. Go back and re-explain what they missed. Then reinforce the concept through a bit of practical application. This will also encourage them to ask questions about other concerns they have. By the way, asking, “What questions do you have?” is more effective than asking, “Do you have any questions?” Asking “what” communicates that questions are expected.

Provide the authority – Many times, we delegate responsibility and assume the person understands the parameters about spending money, making exceptions and so on. Then we become frustrated when they ask endless questions. To be effective, express authority using these three steps:

  • First, explain to the person that they may feel some uncertainty about making these decisions initially. Say something like, “You may feel uncomfortable making these decisions at first. I know I did. But don’t worry, I’ve got your back.” This will ease their concern.
  • Second, provide examples of decisions where they may hesitate. Then show them the process for resolving them. If you have performed this job in the past, make a list of the typical decisions you made and explain how you made them. You might even create a matrix or cheat sheet they can consult when they’re on their own. Recognize, however, that those individuals who are overly reliant on “rules” may require more coaching than those possessing confidence in their ability to think things through.
  • Third, step back and watch what happens. It is human nature to jump in when you see someone making a mistake. Resist the temptation. If they begin to believe that you will “save their butt” every time something is about to go wrong, they will become afraid to act or become careless.

Reinforce the process – Rehearsal and reinforcement are critical. Some will embrace these principles right away. Others will remain uncomfortable embracing their new authority. This is generally more about emotion than intellect. In other words, they understand what they’re supposed to do, but uncertainty and fear of failure or blame is holding them back. How do you get them to do this? Try these tactics:

  • Explain that you understand their apprehension. We’ve all been there. Reinforce that you’ve got their back. If something goes wrong, you’ll work together with them to resolve the situation.
  • Work together on each of the processes they will need to master. This means posing situations and case studies, based on their and your past experiences.
  • Stay close as they begin to implement. Check in regularly, but be careful not to make the decisions for them. It’s a good sign when they start pushing you away, because they have developed the confidence to act on their own.

When those around you feel empowered, they make better decisions and feel inspired to work confidently and independently.

The Inextricable Link Between Pride and Outcome

Back in the 1970s, the leadership of railway equipment manufacturer, Budd Company, invited a select group of their assemblers to take an overnight ride on a train composed of the cars they had built. The leadership simply wanted to provide a bit of fun and recognition for those toiling in the factory. But then an interesting thing happened. Those aboard the train began to examine the “product” they had produced. They discovered missing rivets, windows that didn’t seal properly and other details that left them irritated that the work had not been done to their standards. All of it was within the company’s tolerances, but that wasn’t good enough for them.

Upon returning to the factory, they established new processes to ensure the railway cars they were producing were something they could be proud of every single time. I suspect Budd’s leadership had no idea this was going to happen. They just wanted to provide a reward for some hardworking souls. But there’s a universal truth illustrated here – there is an inextricable link between pride and quality of outcome.

Now, you may be thinking, “Of course there is. There’s nothing new here.” But how do people feel about it on your front line? How much pride do your people feel in the work they do? Chances are, the answer is all over the map. Some are totally invested. Others may be simply there for the paycheck. Then there are a bunch in the middle. If you directly supervise them, you probably know where along the continuum each person falls.

So, how do you build pride in those who don’t display a lot of interest or investment? Make it real. How? Here are a couple of examples:

Recognize little extra efforts – Many times, people toil away without being recognized for how well they’re performing. The key is to let them know that you know. Several years, I became acquainted with the general manager of a resort in the southwest. With 2500 people on his team it was impossible to know how everyone was contributing. Knowing this, he put the word out to his supervisors that when they saw someone doing something right, they should let him know via e-mail or a note to his office. Then once a week, he sat down to write complementary notes to the individuals identified. But he went a step further by mailing these notes to each person’s home. After all, a housekeeper who receives one of these notes while on the job will probably just stick it in her uniform and forget it. A handwritten note from the general manager that arrives at home gets posted on the refrigerator so the entire family can see it.

Share more customer feedback – Too often, customers wanting to share positive comments end up filling out a form on the company website these days. These kudos are then posted on behalf of the entire company. That’s fine, but what about the person the customer actually had contact with? If someone mentions a name, why not track that person down and share the feedback personally? Chances are, they weren’t even aware it was submitted.

You can also do this personally. When someone provides me with good service, I make a point of complimenting them, even if we’re on live chat. I’m not trying to make a big difference, just making the effort to brighten someone’s day. But while it might a little thing to me, it might be the best thing they’ve heard all week. Pride and outcome go hand-in-hand. What can you and your colleagues do to foster more of this connection?

Pre-Mortem: One of the Essentials to Effective Decision Making

“If we had only thought about that ahead of time!” Have you ever heard someone say that after a decision went wrong?  Too often, we confront a problem, figure out how to deal with it and then are surprised when the outcome isn’t what we planned. One of the secrets to making better decisions is to consider in advance how different possible solutions may play out.

In the 1980’s management researcher, Gary Klein, coined the term pre-mortem in an article written for the Harvard Business Review. Klein argued that when making a decision, it is important to pre-suppose what could happen as a result of acting in a particular way. As Klein put it, a premortem is “imagining that an event has already occurred.  This increases the ability to correctly identify reasons for future outcomes . . . a premortem is the hypothetical opposite of a postmortem.” In other words, the person or team asks, “What could go wrong?” when considering how to act. Those possibilities are then factored into the decision-making process.

As much as this technique was created as a part of management strategy, a premortem can be a helpful method for making any decision requiring a modicum of judgment. In our haste to cross items off our to-do lists these days, it is tempting to identify the problem, come up with possible solutions and act without taking time to consider the downstream impact on people or how they might react.

Years ago, I was a newly-hired counselor in a university career center. While I kept my office nice and tidy, the common area was a mess – half-used reams of copier paper, full wastebaskets, books and magazines piled all over, dirty coffee cups and dishes. You get the idea. I got so fed up that one weekend I came in and organized the entire area. I cleaned off desks, emptied trash cans, washed coffee cups and even painted a wall that was all marked up. I thought my colleagues would be pleased. Instead, they didn’t speak to me for a week! How dare I straightened up their mess without asking. The one thing I had failed to do was consider how they might react if I did them this “favor.” Chances are, you’ve made at least one mistake like this as well. Conducting a pre-mortem, whether it’s personal or team-based can help you avoid mistakes and heartburn like these.

Remember to take each of these scenarios out three or four steps and consider the possible outcomes. Then make a decision as how to proceed and develop strategies for the different responses you might confront. Rather than using post-mortems to evaluate what went wrong, we should use pre-mortems to increase our chances of success.

Make Sure Your Systems and Service People are on the Same Page

The internet in our home died earlier this week. After cycling the modem a couple of times, I called the service provider’s toll-free number. The digital assistant told me to cycle the modem and it would text me in ten minutes. I did so once again and after ten minutes the system informed me that I did not have working internet. Well, duh!

It then offered me four appointment windows to have a technician come out to take a look. I chose the 9-11AM option. At 8:25, the system texted me that the technician was on his way. “Super,” I thought. At 8:49, the system texted me that the technician had arrived. My wife and I stopped what we were doing and I went to the front door. There sat the truck. I could see the technician inside, typing away on his tablet.

A couple of minutes passed. Then a few more. “He’s here,” I thought, “Why doesn’t he come to the door?” A few more minutes passed. Then, at exactly 9:00AM, he emerged from the truck and rang the bell. “Why,” I wondered, “did he sit in the truck while my wife and I stood there in limbo?” We could have been working on something for another ten minutes.

After stewing about this for a bit, I have come to three possible reasons: 1) The technician was finishing up his paperwork from the last call; 2) He said to himself, “I’m not on the clock until 9AM, so I’ll sit here and relax; 3) He and his colleagues have been given instructions not to knock on the door outside of the appointment window.

I don’t really care about the reason, except that the system texted me that he had arrived and set my expectation. Once the technician introduced himself, I found him competent and personable. But this was overshadowed by the eleven-minute gap in our lives. Sometimes a firm’s technology undermines the service and erases that extra polish you’re trying to achieve. Does this happen where you work? What are you doing about it?