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Tagged: management

Want better employee performance? Use benchmarks.

June 27, 2017

What should a manager do when an employee’s performance falls short? Consider the following scenario: An employee isn’t reaching his personal performance requirements. Maybe his sales are low, his ability to open new accounts is subpar or he receives weaker customer satisfaction scores than his colleagues. During a performance review, the employee is informed of his low performance, and feels pressure to improve. He worries about his job security and thinks if he simply tries harder, he’ll achieve better results. However, two weeks later, his willpower is drained and he resorts to the same ineffective behaviors.

In this scenario, the employee gets lost in a cloud of ambiguity and stress. Employees want to perform well, and when they don’t, managers need to treat the moment as an opportunity to teach, rather than to scold. Benchmarking makes this teaching moment possible.

Benchmarking is the process companies use to identify and establish key performance standards, or benchmarks, and measure their performance against those standards over time. These standards are usually achieved by quantifying performance based on customer feedback scores. Coaching employees to achieve benchmarks is highly effective for a few reasons:

Non-accusatory feedback

When a manager discusses poor performance with an employee, the conversation feels highly personal. However, the ability to look at a benchmarking score as an external performance metric helps things feel less personal, and shifts the conversation in a positive way. Rather than the manager telling the employee he’s underperforming, the manager speaks in terms of improving customer relationships through specific behaviors. The result of a non-personal conversation leaves the employee feeling supported, rather than attacked.

Clarity

Benchmarking helps managers give specific feedback and learn about their employee’s personality traits. Different personality types yield different performance strengths and weaknesses. For example, an extroverted, persuasive personality may do well to promote add-on purchases, but rub certain customers the wrong way by being too abrasive. Conversely, a perceptive and introverted personality may do well at highly analytical tasks for high-maintenance customers. Benchmarking illustrates performance strengths and weaknesses in clear terms the manager and employee can look at together. Additionally, this process gives an opportunity to talk about the employee’s highest scores. The manager learns about the behaviors which achieve stand-out scores, and the behaviors are taught across the company as a best practice.

Tangible goals

Benchmarking is done using scales, such as a numeric 1-10 scale. Seemingly small differences, like a customer giving a “7” versus an “8” in overall experience, have major implications in terms of the loyalty of the customer and the customer’s likelihood to recommend the brand to others. Therefore, employees should be encouraged with realistic and specific targets. When an employee is told he isn’t doing well enough, he might feel discouraged. A good manager offers specific strategies to employ, and encourages the individual to see if he can improve his score marginally over the next three months, maybe from a score of 7.5 to 7.8. Presented in this context, the goal feels realistic and achievable, easing the anxiety of the employee and inspiring hope that the strategies recommended by the manager will work.

Good managers should always consider the emotional impact of the feedback they give their employees, make sure their feedback is precise and give the employee a clearly defined path to success. CSP’s Manager Development and Training uses Voice of the Customer data to coach managers and employees on the specific behaviors that improve key drivers of both employees’ engagement and customers’ satisfaction.

3 Tips for a Positive Workplace & Positive Customer Relationships

April 26, 2017

While you’re hard at work trying to maintain lifelong customer relationships, it can be easy to overlook the relationships among your staff. It seems obvious that a friendly work environment leads to greater productivity, decreased stress, less turnover and increased satisfaction—and in fact, research shows that this assumption is true. Happier employees lead to a more positive customer experience, as well.

A positive workplace starts with a strong manager. Start by surveying your employees to gauge their satisfaction. What do they really think about their job? Then try to build in the tips found below.

Boundaries

Clearly communicating your ideas and expectations at the beginning of a project save you from a conflict later in the process.

  • Try replacing open-ended questions like, “Do you want to start or shall I?” with “I’d like to start with x and then get your opinion.”
  • Create a space or time wherein employees can feel free to express their ideas and concerns safely. If confidentiality is important, consider using a comment box and then reading entries anonymously at meetings.

Customers benefit from companies that enforce clear boundaries, because they know what to expect.  Consistent results from a well-communicated plan of action go a long way to build relationships with your customers, too.

Gratitude

Everyone likes to know that they’re valued and appreciated.  Cultivating an atmosphere of gratitude can encourage employees and help them understand their integral role in the office.

  • Begin conversations by recognizing something positive your employee has done recently. They’ll likely be more receptive to suggestions or critique if they know you’re aware of their successes too.
  • Make sure your praise is specific and/or spontaneous. Let your employees know you’re paying attention to their work.

Have you ever walked into a bank and the teller was clearly miserable?  Your customers associate the positive and negative emotions they experience with the brand itself.  By ensuring your employees have a smile on their face, your customers will be smiling too.

 

Fun

Dale Carnegie, a famous thought leader in corporate thinking, said “People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing.”

American culture often does not include “fun” as a regular component of the work day.  Work shouldn’t be fun, right?  In fact, incorporating fun into the workplace used to be more common with company picnics, birthday parties, and friendly office wagers.

  • You can maintain a professional atmosphere while still having fun. The key is to designate a time and a place.  Scheduling a regular happy hour can give employees something to look forward to after a long day at the office.
  • Assign “birthday cake duty” to one of your employees to make sure birthdays are recognized and everyone can take a sugary break in the afternoon for a slice.

Your customers don’t want to feel like they’re a burden to your employees.  Let people know that you’re working hard and playing hard on their behalf.  This gesture also goes a long way in humanizing your brand and service, further cementing lifelong, loyal relationships with customers.

If you’re interested in reading a little more on this topic, check out our articles on how to boost employee morale:

https://www.csp.com/encouraging-cross-departmental-collaboration/#.WP9ysYgrJPY

https://www.csp.com/10-examples-of-employee-engagement-in-action/#.WP91oIgrJPY

4 Lessons in Employee Empowerment, Courtesy of Chick-fil-A

November 2, 2016

chick-fil-a official logoMost consumer-facing businesses could stand to learn a few things about customer experience and employee engagement from Chick-fil-A. I recently connected with a friend and colleague of mine, T.J. Hammond, who works in learning and development at Chick-fil-A. I’ve enjoyed a knowledge-sharing relationship with T.J. for several years based on our shared beliefs in what makes a superior customer experience, especially as it relates to a company’s culture.

So I was thrilled when he arranged for me to take a few tours behind the scenes of their Support Center operation and share with me the strategies this quick-service restaurant (QSR) has in place to support their franchisees. To say I was impressed by what I learned would be an understatement. If I were going to get into the QSR business, I’d seriously consider Chick-fil-A, because of their attention to detail. No wonder this brand often gets referred to as an example of great customer service. They leave nothing to chance.

Here are just a few things Chick-fil-A gets right about employee engagement and customer experience:

1 – They Put Control of the Experience in the Owners’ Hands

Chick-fil-A franchise owners are responsible for everything that happens under their roof, including the service climate unique to that restaurant. Owners hire and train their employees and are in charge of their engagement. And most importantly, each owner has the freedom to do different things for their own staff to make sure they’re engaged and motivated. Instead of “we can’t/don’t do this or that because it’s not Our Way,” Chick-fil-A Corporate asks their franchisees, “What do you think will work, and how can we support you?” Figuring out how to address your own challenges is part of their culture.

Chick-fil-A trusts the people on the ground doing the work, and empowers them to make decisions and try new things based on their own observations. For example, some owners offer tuition assistance as an employee benefit, to help attract the best hires. It’s not an organizational mandate, or even a suggestion from on high; it originates with the owners, and the organization makes it happen.

2 – They Encourage Collaboration & Transparency between Franchisees

Chick-fil-A is very transparent with their customer experience data – which they track, across multiple channels, on a daily basis. Rather than pit stores against each other to encourage competition, Chick-fil-A wants its franchisees to feel as though they are all on the same team. They’re more than willing to support those efforts with data and enable owners to learn from each other.

For example, let’s say a store in one part of the country is struggling with breakfast sales and unsure of how to turn the tide. Chick-fil-A will gladly fly one of its top breakfast performers out to that location to give the owners face time and allow them to coach each other. They’ll invest in these mentor/mentee relationships because they know they’ll see a return.

3 – They Have the Training Chops to Support Employee Excellence

Chick-fil-A’s employee training is thorough, customizable, and designed around the behaviors and operational aspects that really matter to customers. Individual owners are encouraged to put their own touches on how they train their teams. At the same time, the materials, resources, and methods supplied by the organization are top notch. For example, they hire actors and run simulations of all kinds of different customer scenarios and challenges. Their employees are ready for anything, from cleaning the coffee filter to building the perfect sandwich to handling customer grievances. They also have an excellent New Employee Onboarding process, as well as supporting new franchise owners with a “grand opening” team for weeks to help them get off the ground.

4 – They Value Their Employees

Unusual perks like tuition assistance are just one way that Chick-fil-A treats their employees like people, not just worker bees. One of the most striking things I noticed during my tour is something I’m not even sure Chick-fil-A realizes is so powerful. Rather than calling people “managers” and “customer service representatives” and other generic job titles, they use titles like Leader, Influencer, and Stakeholder. These aren’t just empty titles handed down through a memo: their practices demonstrate that they really believe in these titles and take them seriously.

What Banks (and Others) Can Learn from the Chick-fil-A Model

Chick-fil-A clearly understands the connection between building a customer-centric culture and what that takes from a support standpoint. What can you do today to be more like them?

  • Empower your branch leaders to innovate. There is a time and a place for brand consistency. That ends when policies and procedures become so inflexible that branch managers feel their hands are tied, or like they can’t make suggestions for improvement or change. You’ll see a return on innovation if you actively support your managers to think for themselves.
  • Encourage collaboration over competition. Pool your resources – there’s more than enough to go around. Whether within a particular branch or between branches, managers and employees can all stand to benefit from mutual coaching and mentor/mentee relationships.
  • Keep your training engaging and current. Don’t be afraid to stray from the typical corporate training models. Be bold, be memorable, try new things. Be proactive, not reactive, and update your materials and resources regularly. Let employees make suggestions and lead initiatives instead of always handing things down from the top.
  • Give your employees what they want and deserve. There’s more to employee engagement than health insurance and retirement plans. Much more. If you want to attract and retain the top talent, and not just fill empty positions, go above and beyond the bare minimum that employees expect to find anywhere.

Not coincidentally, these are many of the same values and strategies we endorse at CSP. We’re proud to support our clients in creating and fostering a superior customer experience based on comprehensive, current customer data. Change isn’t easy, but it doesn’t have to be hard, either, with the right support and resources.

Jeff Dahms is Vice President of Research & Development at Customer Service Profiles. Jeff has over 12 years of experience managing and consulting to data for both internal and external clients, and has extensive experience in helping Executives focus on key indicators in order to achieve maximum results.


You may also want to read:

4 Strategies for Encouraging Cross-Departmental Collaboration

August 16, 2016

Cross-departmental collaboration is a reflection of a healthy internal culture. When employees feel comfortable working together, communicate effectively, and understand each other’s roles and functions within the system, your customer feels the difference.

common obstacles to cross-departmental collaboration and how to avoid them
What gets in the way of cross-departmental collaboration? 
Obstacle 1 – Tunnel Vision

When employees get too limited by the tunnel vision of their own job descriptions and team functions, frustration often ensues. This is often the root of communication breakdowns and interpersonal conflict. For example, an employee might make an unreasonable request from another team, assuming it was a simple request when it actually created a huge hassle.

Solution

Cross-train. Offer employees frequent opportunities to step into each other’s shoes, job-shadow each other, or train each other. The idea is not to make everyone essentially interchangeable, but to give employees a basic understanding of how each department functions, individually and as part of the bigger picture. This is especially important for regular processes that touch multiple departments.

Obstacle 2 – Ineffective Meetings
Employees would rather watch paint dry than attend ineffective meetings.

According to the same poll, 8% of employees would choose a root canal.

One poll found that 17 percent of employees would rather watch paint dry than attend a meeting. Ouch. Face-to-face time is essential to healthy collaboration – or at the very least, being on the same conference line or web conference. But meetings have a tendency to clog up calendars, disrupt the workday, go off-topic or off-schedule, or otherwise not accomplish their objectives.

Solution

Meet more mindfully. Before you schedule a meeting, think hard about how to make the most of that time. Meetings should have designated leaders, note-takers, and time-watchers. An agenda, prepared and provided in advance, can keep everyone on track. And there should be a plan in place to follow up on the meeting’s objectives and action steps before they are forgotten. Be mindful of scheduling, too – make sure employees have a chance between sessions to make meaningful progress. 

Obstacle 3 – Social Silos

Consciously or unconsciously, each department can wind up so isolated from the others that it’s effectively in its own silo. Its members only interact among themselves and rarely cross over to other territories. The result is a series of micro-cultures that aren’t always compatible. Much like the tunnel vision that prevents employees from understanding each other’s jobs, social silos prevent employees from understanding each other, period.

Solutions

Celebrate together. Create opportunities for employees to socialize with each other, during and after office hours. For example, you might consider a casual gathering on the final Friday of each month, and rotate the duty of “hosting” this gathering between departments or teams. You can use these opportunities to highlight positive progress and accomplishments from various teams – but unlike meetings, these gatherings don’t need a strict agenda.

Uniting around a common goal is one of the best ways to break down silo walls. So another way to get groups to mix up or interact could be to introduce a goal or project that isn’t directly related to work functions. Examples include: a charitable drive, a company 5K team, annual outings, regular “Happy Hours,” or some friendly competition like a costume contest around Halloween. All of these can break the ice and help employees see each other as people, not just co-workers.

Obstacle 4 – Top-Down Direction
cross-departmental collaboration can't happen without the right leadership

Cross-departmental collaboration can’t happen unless managers lead by example.

Direction and leadership are not the same. Cross-departmental collaboration requires buy-in from all involved, including and especially the designated leaders of any given group. Otherwise, the entire effort feels inauthentic. Managers, after all, are just as susceptible to social siloes and tunnel vision as their staff.

The other side of this coin is whether or not employees feel they have a voice in how their departments are run, and in how departments interact. If they don’t feel they have an opportunity to raise an issue, ask a question, or be proactive, there’s little motivation to simply follow orders.

Solutions

This one is twofold. First, department heads should be modeling cross-departmental collaboration by regularly and visibly engaging with each other – and with each other’s teams. If they notice that their department is becoming too isolated or is hesitant to collaborate with others, these leaders should be the first to start building bridges, and not just directing others to do so. Second, you need a mechanism in place to effectively collect employee feedback, in a way that makes employees feel safe from any negative consequences for speaking up. CSP highly recommends a Voice of the Employee program to gather this kind of data.

 

Your culture is the result of your actions and your priorities. Cross-departmental collaboration is not the kind of thing that can be enforced upon your staff. It must be nurtured at all levels of the organization, with deliberate intention, even when other priorities seem more immediately urgent.


More reading on this topic:

How Manager Development & Training Benefits Your Business

May 4, 2016

Professional development is an ongoing responsibility shared by both employees and their employers. However, managers and human resources personnel are often tied up in handling the paperwork of employment – hiring, firing, benefits, and grievances – leaving little bandwidth to focus on developing employees’ resources, talents, and career journeys.

Most businesses conduct some kind of periodic employee performance review, but miss the opportunities and advantages of structured follow-up and support. “Crisis” cases may get the attention they need, but middling and high-achieving employees can be left without a clear path forward to continued improvement.

Here’s the truth: Continued employee development can’t fall off the priority list.

manager development trainingThis is true for employees at all levels of the company, and especially relevant for managers. Managers are the cornerstones of a company’s internal culture. Their behavior, attitude, and ability to lead and nurture their team are directly correlated with employee satisfaction and engagement, which in turn influences the customer experience.

Off-the-shelf training materials and one-time leadership seminars are appetizers at best. Unfortunately, they won’t fill you up, and the effects tend not to last once employees are immersed back in their day-to-day duties. There may be a temporary boost in morale, productivity, and performance, but without continued support and attention, it won’t be long before they slip back into their comfort zones until it’s time for their next review.

Manager development is manager empowerment.  

In order for managers to effectively lead, coach, and nurture their employees, they must be nurtured themselves. You wouldn’t expect someone who lives on fast food and soft drinks to suddenly get up and compete in the Tour de France. Likewise, without proper “nutrition,” managers lack the supportive structure to deliver their best performance.

manager development trainingCoaching and training are not just about learning and sharpening skills, they’re about empowering staff to excel in each and every position, to collaborate effectively as a team, and to effect positive change in the workplace.

Empowered managers and employees:

  • feel valued by their employers
  • enjoy coming to work each day
  • are genuinely invested in the success of the company
  • resist the distractions of workplace conflict and politicking
  • are unlikely to look for other jobs, and
  • regularly engage in proactive, positive behavior.

These attributes ripple out to all areas of job performance. Even customers will feel the effects: customer interactions tend to go more smoothly, and issues get resolved more easily, when employees feel empowered to take action.

Development starts with data.

Collecting and evaluating data is essential to measuring progress and determining the effectiveness of a development initiative. It’s the first step of CSP’s Manager Development Training solution, forming a baseline from which to move forward with a targeted coaching program.

manager development trainingData also allows CSP to customize each program to each business. Every customer service climate will differ, even between separate locations of the same business. Within those climates, customer expectations and needs will also vary, and thus the key drivers of satisfaction and success along with them. CSP uses each business’s data to illuminate what those key drivers are, and tailor the Manager Development Training program to empower managers and employees to have the optimal effect on those attributes.

Consistency creates accountability.

What these customized programs share in common is a consistent structure of ongoing support. Not only does CSP create a path forward toward organizational improvement, your team also benefits from our years of experience guiding companies through times of change. Obviously, we want the effects of this training to stick, so change management techniques are reinforced from the top down throughout the training process.

As the program takes shape, we supply materials, conduct workshops, and regularly check in to evaluate progress. This consistent, committed approach to development is critical. It’s unlikely that managers will slip back into their old ways when there are measures in place to hold them accountable. Without those measures, there’s always the risk that other priorities, responsibilities, deadlines and duties will wind up distracting their attention from their job performance. That’s why leadership books and seminars so often fade from memory before companies can see the benefits.

There’s also something to be said for third-party objectivity when it comes to in-house matters. Managers commonly fall victim to a type of tunnel vision when they can’t see beyond the walls of their own office. CSP has seen it all, and we capitalize on that 30,000-foot view of organizational management to help each business navigate its own journey forward.

To learn more about Manager Development & Training, contact CSP’s John Berigan by email or by calling 800.841.7954, ext. 101.

 

You may also want to read:

You Have Employee Engagement Analytics. Now What?

April 1, 2016

The ongoing cycle of customer experience success is comprised of four main influencers: Employees, Customers, Management, and Data. In this series, CSP examines the Employee segment of that cycle and the benefits of focusing on internal culture to drive success.

So you’ve been convinced of the value of employee engagement metrics. You want to see what can happen when you prioritize employee engagement. You’ve enlisted the help of an objective outside party, such as CSP, to collect information from your staff and learn what the key drivers of engagement are in your unique environment. Now what?

Data is the essential foundation of any strategy aimed at improving the employee experience. When you make decisions based on hard evidence, rather than personal opinions or anecdotal success stories you’ve read about from other managers, you’re already on the right track to effecting positive change.

Making the numbers “talk” is the next part of the journey. This is where evidence meets intuition – where data meets with the human touch. With an experienced analytical eye, the raw data begins to tell the story of your organization from the employee’s point of view.

Visualizing the Data 
graph-963016_640

Our understanding of data is largely influenced by how that data is presented. A spreadsheet might contain all the necessary information, but often it takes a visual representation of that information for the insights within to become clear.

Bar charts, pie charts, scatter plots, and line graphs are among the most common, and most effective, ways of turning data into recognizable patterns. These days, it’s also not hard to find measurement tools that generate custom visualizations, such as CSP’s benchmarking dashboard gauges. 

BARLoyalty for websiteWhy does this matter? The exact same data can be conveyed in many different ways, and each will have an effect on how that data is interpreted. What you see is what you get; how you see it determines what you get out of it.

For example, pie charts convey percentages of a whole, while scatter plots convey the frequency of each possible response. You can neither get a bell curve out of a pie chart, nor deduce a percentage out of a scatter plot. And depending on what it is you’re measuring, a percentage may tell you more than the frequency, or vice versa. (We’ll be discussing the nuances of data visualization more in an upcoming post.)

Writing the End to the Story

Once the right match has been made between the data and the presentation, and patterns are revealed, the last thing you want to do is just sit on the intelligence you’ve gathered. Now is the time to start asking the questions that will bring this story to a satisfying conclusion:

  • What can be changed right now? While there is no “quick fix” to the overall employee experience, the data may point to one or two pain points where change can happen with the least investment of time and resources.
  • What needs more attention or discussion? Maybe the results of the survey were mixed enough that there is no obvious conclusion without a closer look, or the solution to resolve the pattern is more complex and involves input from other decision-makers.
  • Is there a larger scale cultural change that needs to happen? In some cases, the data may indicate that the internal culture of your workplace is in need of more than just a tune-up.
  • Is there anything that can’t be changed? Some things will inevitably be outside of your locus of control, or otherwise limited by the availability of resources to resolve them. What might need to change is how you address these sensitive issues with employees.

These questions can help you prioritize the drivers of engagement that need to be prioritized in your employee engagement strategy. With this information, you can begin to embrace change and reap the benefits.


More posts on internal culture and employee engagement:

How to Embrace Change and Reap the Benefits

January 6, 2016

Change is the only constant. It’s also one of the most pressing management challenges out there, and one of the most ambiguous and headache-causing.

Navigating the course of change is something CSP knows all too well. In our nearly 30 years in business, we’ve guided banks, credit unions, and other businesses through the process of change as they adapt to evolutions within their industries and among their customers. Our Voice of the Customer programs reveal opportunities and needs that often mean something needs to change internally to provide a better customer experience. That might mean minor tweaks and adjustments, or major overhauls.

changeAlong the way, we’ve seen what works and what doesn’t when it comes to change management. While every business’s journey is unique and requires deliberate and careful attention, you can keep these tips in mind to smooth out the road as you proceed.

Getting Focused in a Time of Change

Decide whom to invite to the table. Nothing can shake workplace morale like poor communication – or worse, lack of communication — during a transition. Most often, this means a meeting, or a series of meetings, where your leadership team can gather and devote the necessary time and consideration to the challenge at hand. It’s important to do this before you involve employees in the process, to lay a stable foundation with defined issues, expectations, goals, and tactics.

Get prepared. Before the first meeting, assign each person to research a particular topic that will be relevant to the discussion. This is not a meeting where anyone can just “wing it.” Each person is expected to do the necessary pre-work and bring their findings to share with the group.

Topics for research could include: current industry trends and recommendations around those trends; what your marketplace will look like in the future and how your business compares; internal strengths and weaknesses (the “SW” of SWOT analysis); external opportunities and threats (the “OT” of SWOT analysis); and what is revealed by the data you’ve collected on your customers about their satisfaction and needs. If there are additional components that are relevant to your specific situation, make sure they get time on the agenda, too.

Facilitate the discussion. With so much at stake, a meeting like this needs to be run carefully, or else potentially devolve into unorganized chatter or arguments. A designated facilitator and/or scribe not only keep the group on task, they actively foster the discussion and guide the group’s priorities.

Beware the trap of groupthink that can spring up in situations like these. As new issues and ideas are brought to the table, the facilitator shouldn’t be afraid to ask provocative questions that open the floor for debate: “How many of you agree? Who disagrees? What might be the downsides we should consider?” Everyone at the meeting should feel free to contribute their opinions, even dissenting ones, without repercussion. In doing so, the issue at hand can be examined from every angle, not just the perspective of the person who was assigned to it.

Identify the external and internal benefits of change. In addition to the pre-assigned topics, you’ll want to draw special attention to how evolution benefits everyone. How will the changes, or proposed ideas, make your business more customer-friendly, or attract new customers? How are these initiatives likely to increase revenues, or control costs? What’s in it for the employees?

By deliberately devoting time to the benefits of change, you can prevent the meeting from becoming a venting session that actually discourages change instead of helping to manage it.

Narrow down the priorities. Once everything has been introduced, explained, and discussed thoroughly, don’t leave the meeting without agreeing to the priorities and next steps to implement. This might be done by a show of hands, an anonymous vote on slips of paper, or placing dots on a written chart by the top 3 ideas they support.

 

How well does your organization adapt to changes or integrate new policies and procedures? Have you ever worked somewhere that was change-averse? Do you have tips of your own to share? Tweet us at @CSProfiles with your stories.

And if you need direct help in navigating your evolving industry, we’re just a call or click away: contact us at 800.841.7954 ext. 101 or send us a message through our website.

This post is adapted from an article in STARS, our exclusive library of customer experience management resources. CSP clients can download training material, exercises, and articles written around specific customer experience dilemmas and solutions from STARS. Learn more.

Leadership Skills: How to Tell if You’re Using Your Time Wisely

December 4, 2015

We start this lesson in leadership with a classic metaphor:

A professor stood before his class with some specific items in front of him. When class began, he wordlessly picked up a large empty glass jar and proceeded to fill it with rocks about three inches in diameter. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a bag of pebbles, poured them into the jar and lightly shook it. The pebbles, of course, rolled into the open areas between the rocks. The students laughed. He asked his students again if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

csp_rocksandsandThe professor then picked up a bag of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous, “Yes!”

“Now,” said the professor, “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The big rocks are the important things in your life —your family, your health, your friends, your favorite passions — anything that is so important to you that if it were lost, you would be nearly destroyed. These things will make you the most proud at the end of your days.”

“The pebbles are the other things in life that matter, but on a smaller scale. The pebbles represent the secondary things in life like your job, your house, your car. They give your life meaning, but perhaps aren’t the focus of your life’s work.”

“The sand is everything else—the small stuff. The sand represents everything that fills our days, but doesn’t add much value overall.”

“Consider this! What would happen if you started filling the empty jar with the sand? If you put the sand or the pebbles into the jar first, there is no room for all the rocks. The same goes for your life. If you spend all your energy and time on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are truly most important. Pay attention to the things that are critical in your life. If you start with the big goals of life, the smaller things will shift and move around to fill in the remaining space. But the reverse is not true.”

It’s difficult to be an effective leader if you’re not available to give proper attention to the “big rocks” because you’re mired in the sand.

This might sound obvious, but many leaders don’t do it in practice. There are only so many hours in the day that can quickly get eaten up by having to put out fires or burn energy on lower priorities.

Determining the Most Effective Use of Your Time

While the anonymous professor above was talking about the scale of life, you can use the big rock, pebble, and sand categories to assign weight to each of your responsibilities as a leader.

Try keeping a log of your activity over a given week, noting how much time you devote to each item that needs your attention. Take a look at the overall pattern of where the highest percentage of your energy is going, and then ask yourself these questions:

  1. What are your most important leadership responsibilities? Leaders often let critical tasks that impact the future slide off their radar. Consider tasks like: forecasting the future of your team, planning staffing needs and development, continuous improvement to processes, determining strategic direction, etc. Have you gotten sidetracked by daily interruptions that take you away from these leadership “rocks?”
  2. What “fires” are monopolizing your time day-to-day, forcing you to operate in a reactive mode? Note that these are often the pebbles and sand that we respond to, hour after hour. How can you preventatively invest more time to solve (or diminish) these issues, and consequently, free up time to address your prioritized rocks?
  3. Which goals do you dream about completing?
  4. What legacy do you want to create as a leader?

By contrasting how you’re actually spending your time with how you would ideally like to in order to accomplish your goals, some opportunities to make constructive changes might emerge. This could mean a conversation with management to make the case for how your time could be better spent, to everyone’s benefit.

When you set about reprioritizing how you spend your time, choose wisely and be disciplined. It’s not much different than starting a new diet or exercise plan – it’d be easy to slip back into old habits and let your jar fill up with sand and pebbles instead of rocks. In fact, that’s bound to happen some days, and that’s okay. Learn from it and come back the next day with even more determination.

This article is adapted from an activity in STARS, our exclusive library of customer experience management resources. CSP clients can download training material, exercises, and articles written around specific customer experience dilemmas and solutions from STARS. Learn more.

Self-Awareness: The Often-Overlooked Key Quality of Leadership

September 2, 2015

Think about the traits you most closely associate with an effective manager. They might include decisiveness, charisma, commitment, strategic thinking, and the ability to engage employees. These qualities all share a common root that is often invisible at first glance: self-awareness.

Self-awareness refers to a person’s perception of him/herself and how accurately it reflects the perceptions of his/her peers. It means knowing yourself, your strengths and weaknesses, your expertise and your blind spots, your good and bad habits, and viewing those attributes through an honest and objective lens.2015sept_awareness

Leadership searches give short shrift to “self-awareness,” which should actually be a top criterion. Interestingly, a high self-awareness score was the strongest predictor of overall success. – 2010 study by Green Peak Partners

Like many other so-called “soft skills,” self-awareness is most apparent when it is absent. A manager with low self-awareness might think of himself competent and motivating, while his employees think he is a micro-manager who doesn’t really know what he is doing. He misses opportunities to learn from his mistakes by not taking responsibility for them. He models poor behavior for his employees, and then criticizes them when they follow his lead. He feels threatened when others on his team have good ideas.

By contrast, a manager with high self-awareness accepts that he is not universally skilled at everything, and consciously builds his team with people who are strong in areas where he is not. He welcomes new ideas and feedback, and encourages his employees to take initiative rather than wait for his command. He owns up to his mistakes and uses them as teaching opportunities. He knows what resources, materials, and practices support him in being the best leader he can be and uses that knowledge to his advantage.

Which one would you rather work for? Which one do you want to be?

Achieving Self-Awareness

Self-awareness is better described as a practice than a permanent state. It is not something you just “unlock” or decide to become spontaneously. However, there are distinct steps or actions you can take to get to know yourself better. Follow these guidelines, and watch the results ripple out to the rest of your team:

Be mindful.

Mindfulness is the opposite of auto-pilot. It means being present to whatever it is you are doing – paying attention, observing, learning – and not letting yourself become distracted or so numbed by routine that you fail to notice what is happening. Importantly, mindfulness requires you to slow down rather than rush ahead to the next thing on your calendar or jump to conclusions. By doing this, you invite awareness and tune in with your intuition.

You can cultivate mindfulness through a number of different practices, including keeping a journal, exercising, meditating, engaging in a creative hobby, and practicing active listening during a conversation or presentation.

Establish boundaries.

Self-awareness means knowing where your abilities and capacities end and begin, or in other words, where your boundaries are. Often, people are not aware of their boundaries until those boundaries get crossed. You know when someone has stepped on your toes, when you feel overstretched or overworked, when you run into a task that’s beyond your reach, or when you’re not feeling challenged enough to stay motivated. To be self-aware means to know your limits and to guard them fiercely.

In practice, you might start with establishing boundaries around your time. Resist the urge to overschedule yourself or to commit to too many people or projects, and prioritize your need for rest and recuperation. If you notice yourself feeling burned out or put-upon, that’s a red flag that you are not honoring your boundaries.

Teach yourself about yourself.

Self-awareness is knowledge, which means you must be open to learning more about yourself – and accepting that there are things about yourself that you may be blind to. Put aside your ego and approach your own mind and personality with a sense of curiosity. No matter how well you think you know yourself, there is always more to learn.

There are a number of self-assessment tools, tests, and methodologies out there in the leadership education world, including the Myers-Briggs test, the enneagram, the John Maxwell Leadership Assessment, the DiSC profile, and many more. Each has its merits and its holes, but each is also an opportunity for some insightful introspection.

Ask for feedback.

Remember, self-awareness is not just about how well you know yourself, but how well that self-perception measures up to others’ perceptions of you, especially when you’re in charge of managing or coaching other employees. Just because you don’t think of yourself as a micro-manager doesn’t mean your employees don’t feel micro-managed. When you can see yourself through their eyes, and when that vision aligns with what you see in the mirror, your self-awareness comes into focus.

Give your team the opportunity to provide honest feedback about your managerial style, your effectiveness, and what you are like to work with. Employees will generally feel more comfortable providing this feedback anonymously, without fear of reprisal or negative attention if they have something less-than-flattering to say. But if they see you taking criticism in stride along with praise, they will trust you enough to be honest and forthcoming with any issues that may arise.


Related reading on our blog: 15 Qualities of a Good Coach in the Workplace

More articles about effective leadership and coaching techniques can be found in our STARS library, available to current CSP clients as part of our full-service delivery. Contact us to find out how we support effective coaching and training in pursuit of the optimal customer experience. 

15 Qualities of a Good Coach in the Workplace

August 26, 2015

Think back to the people in your life who have recognized your potential and used their talents to help you discover and shape your own. When a coach like this is present in the workplace, his or her influence can have a profound impact on the professional development of the entire team as well as the individuals within it. Most people would rather work under a manager who behaves as a coach than one who dictates and directs from above.

Coaching your employees is an important step in developing an internal culture that supports the customer experience. Sometimes coaching can happen “on the fly” when learning opportunities present themselves, but formal coaching sessions provide a great benefit to employees, who get the chance to ask questions, practice skills, and set goals against which they can measure their progress over time.

CSP believes strongly in the power of a good coach, so we’re here to offer you a little coaching ourselves on how to effectively guide the development of your team.

The Measurements of a Good Coach

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There is no exact blueprint for a good coach, as each coach will have their own strengths and weaknesses. However, there are some distinct qualities that good coaches have in common.

As you read this list, ask yourself how you measure up against each of these qualities and identify which areas could use more of your attention. If you have been receiving coaching yourself and feel like it could be more effective, this list might give you a window to a constructive conversation with your mentor to improve the relationship.

1. A good coach is self-aware.
To understand oneself, one’s coaching style, and how it is perceived and received by employees, is a critical first step to becoming a valuable and effective coach. Self-awareness is a journey unto itself, so we’ll be writing more about that in the coming weeks.

2. A good coach brings specific and well-defined issues to the attention of others.
Being unspecific about problem areas, or failing to bring them up with the appropriate parties, suggests a reluctance to affect positive change and a lack of leadership.

3. A good coach prepares for each session with information, examples, ideas, etc., and is ready for discussion.
Coaching sessions should be scheduled in advance, and the coach should have a solid agenda for each session that lays out the mission for the day. Without structure, the coaching session can devolve into a casual conversation with no real substance or direction.

4. A good coach treats individuals as partners in the organization, encouraging their input and trusting them to carry out assignments.
Some coaches are fans of “tough love,” while others are more lenient, but what all good coaches have in common is respect for their mentees. Contempt and resentment have no place in an effective coaching relationship, and only breed further conflict.

5. A good coach knows the strengths and weaknesses of his or her employees.
Much like the coach of a sports team, he or she knows how to tap into the individual strengths of employees to get the most out of them and to get the greatest amount of productivity from the team, collectively and individually.

6. A good coach makes expectations clear at the beginning of the coaching session.
Both the coach and the employee must have a sense that this meeting has a distinct purpose, and must agree on what that purpose is, for the session to proceed smoothly.

7. A good coach allows enough time to adequately discuss issues and concerns.
Blocking out enough time for a solid session, rather than squeezing it in and rushing through, shows respect for the employee’s time and allows them to participate more thoughtfully.

8. A good coach seeks out ideas and makes those ideas part of the solution.
Take it as a red flag if a coach is not willing to hear ideas, suggestions, or thoughts from other members of the team. A coach is there to serve the employees, not for the employees to serve his or her ego.

9. A good coach listens to others and tries to understand their points of view.
Rather than assigning blame or delivering unhelpful criticism, he or she allows the employee to explain things from the other side, which can often uncover the root of a misunderstanding or miscommunication.

10. A good coach expresses encouragement and optimism when both easy and difficult issues are discussed.
Sometimes an issue can be the elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about. It’s the coach’s job to make this issue less intimidating by modeling a constructive attitude that brings the team together to address it.

11. A good coach directly asks for a commitment to solutions that have been agreed upon.
Coaches can’t be wishy-washy about their expectations. If the employee isn’t held accountable for improving, it becomes a waste of everyone’s time to continue coaching.

12. A good coach provides the resources, authority, training and support necessary for others to carry out solutions.
Coaching doesn’t end when the session ends. It is up to the coach to follow through with any additional guidance the employee might need to move forward.

13. A good coach offers support and assistance to those he or she is coaching to help them implement change and achieve desired goals.
Professional development is a team effort. It’s usually not wise to simply cut the employee free after a session and expect him or her to achieve everything on their own.

14. A good coach follows up on coaching sessions in a timely manner.
It’s all too easy for coaching to fall down the priority ladder among all the other demands of a manager’s day-to-day job duties. At the end of each coaching session, it’s a good idea to go ahead and schedule the next one, and to hold to that commitment when the time comes around.

15. When solutions do not turn out as expected, a good coach proactively helps to define alternative actions.
If at first the employee does not succeed, it could be that there was a misunderstanding, or it could be that the original solution was a mismatch for that particular employee. A good coach is open to having a backup plan (or two).

The theme running beneath many of these qualities is this: When coaching is done in the spirit of mutual respect, the rewards and benefits for your employees and your customers are endless. What is important is to establish a positive coaching relationship between the coach and the employees that incorporates all parties’ strengths.

Read more: What are the differences between training and coaching?

More articles like this one can be found in our STARS library, available to current CSP clients as part of our full-service delivery. Contact us to find out how we support effective coaching and training in pursuit of the optimal customer experience.