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Reducing your Employee Churn/Burn Rate & Getting Results

What is the most value asset you have in your company? You shouldn’t have to think too hard! It’s the people that execute on your strategy.

So why do you always seem to be “the last man left standing” in your organization?

I’ll share with you the answer, followed by two key lessons & one practical example/result as to the “why” of so many company’s having challenges in retaining staff these days. An especially complex issue to understand, given the current economical crisis, is the unemployment rates around the world are still incredibly high.

The Answer is that we, as leaders, typically do a very poor job of recruitment, induction, ongoing management & assessment of our most valuable assets. And the general root cause is through poor communication and lack of courage!

Personally, even though sometimes hard to swallow, I firmly believe in the 90/10 rule, which states that if one of your staff isn’t working out, it’s 90% YOUR fault.. & only 10% theirs!

Do you think I’m being harsh, unfair & unrealistic? Well, consider this.. who’s in the drivers seat?

  • Who (ultimately) did, or approved the hiring?
  • How clear were you in defining and communicating the Mission & Vision of the company?
    • Did you receive acknowledgment, or other form of undeniable proof that you were clearly understood?
  • How clear were you in defining the role to be fulfilled & the specific outcomes to be expected of the role?
    • Key words being “role & specific outcome”.. forget job description!
  • How clear were you in communicating the behaviors you expected whilst your team executed on your plan?
    • How did you manage the first signs of lack in performance or alignment with your vision, message and/or expectations?
  • How often did you sit down to agree S.M.A.R.T. objectives/goals?
    • How frequently did you follow-up to make necessary adjustments?
    • How quickly did you put someone on a performance plan when they didn’t deliver on what was agreed?
  • How much planning & thought went into the induction, education/training, mentoring or skills acquisition process the individual needed to succeed?
    • How much coaching or mentoring did you consider to be required from yourself, or senior/more experienced staff?
  • How quickly, and how brave were YOU in having “the difficult & uncomfortable conversations”?
    • Are you paying & rewarding your staff to perform?
      • Are you doing the opposite?
      • How are you motivating/encouraging non-performance/conformance?

I could go on & on.. but I think you get the point! It’s YOUR company, YOUR department or YOUR team, and therefore YOU are the ultimate responsible person for the outcome/output of everyone’s role. If things aren’t working out then look inward before you look outward, and once you’ve completed this assignment take responsibility to make the immediate & necessary adjustments.

Lesson #1

  • Be crystal clear on Your Vision & communicate it… communicate it… communicate it…
    • Who needs to do What, How & by When?
      • This requires acknowledgment & buy-in, however remember you’re the boss (90% responsibility), so make sure that “your team” buys into “your plan”, even if you need their help in constructing it, and not the opposite!
    • Where do you want your company, area or department to be?
    • When do you expect specific results?
      • When do you expect escalations when things are in danger, or aren’t going according to plan?
    • How do you want (expect) your employees to behave, handle themselves and handle adversity (which is sure to come)?
      • What are the rules of engagement?
    • What are the boundaries & non-boundaries that you expect people to respect & understand?
      • What are the focus areas they’re supposed to be focused on in order to achieve success?
  • Be crystal clear on Your Mission… & communicate it… communicate it… communicate it…
    • Why do you want your people to behave in a certain manner?
    • Why do you need your people to achieve certain results?
    • Why do you require specific results within specific time frames?
    • Why is the company in business to begin with?

I’ve embedded the Core Values, which are the “behaviors” or “rules for the road” within the context of the Who, What, Where, When, Why & How above. That, in short, is your Core Ideology!

Lesson #2

The next biggest lesson you might have to learn, is regarding COURAGE. Courage to stand-up to the “know-it all’s” who’ve never run an enterprise but have every theory in the book as to how your organization should run! I find these days far too many companies have “grayed the line” between “boss & employee” and between responsible for direction & responsible for execution. If you’re going to take 90% responsibility for the failure of an organization, you need to get straight, and clearly understand, who’s “experienced” and better still “paid to run the show”.

In order to deliver on the above, you need the right skill-set that’s for sure, and you also need to have the backbone to “listen first” and “act accordingly second”. Acknowledging someone’s perspective and giving them voice doesn’t mean that you have to take their advice or recommendations over your own experienced opinion or gut instinct/intuition. It only makes you more responsible and accountable to the eventual decisions you make.

Once you’ve guaranteed success, then you can stand back, be humble and allow your team to bask in the glory of having executed excellently on a plan. Take 90% of the responsibility, give 90% of the credit and you’ll have an effective & motivated team!

I’ve spent hours-upon-hours giving practical workshops to MBA students who have paid a pretty penny to gain a highly valuable education, just like I’ve spent hours-upon-hours with both managers and employees who’ve read the latest books containing magical and earth moving experiences. What I always share with them is that “now you have the logic, it’s time to go out into the real world to implement and execute”.

The execution of an idea is always more important than the brilliance of a thought, or even a strategy. A brilliant thought without effective execution is merely an illusion. A brilliant strategy, without effective execution, is merely a waste of everyone’s energy & time.

Practical Example/Result

I recently walked into an assignment that demanded many changes in a short period of time. Multiple colleagues had just been fired for non performance and conformance. I was walking into an understandably hostile environment!

I stood in front of a room and shared my “what” followed by my “why”. Then came my “how”, where I told them that I only expected  1/2 (!?!?) of the output, dedication and commitment that I was willing to put in myself! However, I also advised them that I typically give 300% to every assignment!!

I explained that I would give them 48 hours to go through the grieving process of having lost their colleagues, followed by 15 days to be at 80% or better, and showing signs they would be at 150% by day 30.

I committed myself to complete transparency & communication, just as I would to holding them as accountable (where & when) as I would hold myself. I shared with them that there would be 2 day, 15 day & 30 day milestones, at which time I would have conversations with non-performers & either implement a performance plan or retire them. I would also make it a regular habit to commend the good performances along the way.

I shared with them that in a 24 hour weekday, I’m hoping you have 8 hours of sleep, and I’ll guarantee you that more than 50% of the remaining 16h will be based on, or thinking about, “work”. Therefore, if you’re going to dedicate more than 50% of your “awake” time to “work” during a 5 day work week rather than to your loved ones & special interests, it’s absolute lunacy to work in a place where you’re not motivated and inspired. As a consequence, if I ask you or if you decide to leave, then we’re only doing each other a favor based on a general concern & well-being for all.

Result

One person left within 48 hours, a few more within the first 15 days, then a few more within the next 15 days. Along the way change happened, a pride which previously didn’t exist filled the department! Results, followed by customer satisfaction, started to sparkle where it didn’t exist before. THEY, the last ones standing, did all of the work. I merely gave them direction and the opportunity to be everything I already knew they could be.

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Top 3 things to focus on when fixing what’s broken

Having just finished up another successful assignment at a hyper growth enterprise, and noting that the core principles of success were again very similar to many other situations faced over the past +25 years, I thought I’d share my 3 areas of focus.

I should add to this that two days before I departed, an interested 2nd line manager/team leader asked if I could share with him some insights. He had witnessed remarkable changes in a very short period of time, and whilst I had been very busy with first line management, he recognized the possibility to learn some very practical & valuable lessons directly himself.

It inspired me that again we had been able to affect collateral interest, as well as a desire for change deeper within the organization, so I rallied the entire 2nd line leadership team and spent the next 2 hours giving them some day-to-day examples of the following:

  • Customer Centricity – Focus on the Customer
    • We have Internal Customers
      1. Every person in every department, in one way or another, facilitates the servicing of External Customers
      2. By serving the needs of our Internal Customers, we are either directly or indirectly addressing the needs of our External Customers
      3. Open up the lines of communication & ownership by first committing to, and then respecting, bi-lateral Service Level Agreements
    • We have External Customers
      1. Shift from a systems interoperability focus to a successful customer purchasing focus
      2. Now start to look for opportunities to enrich & enhance the customer purchasing experience
      3. Open up the lines of communication & ownership by first committing to, and then respecting, Service Level Agreements
  • Ownership – Never let go until you’re satisfied
    • Ownership is a like a hungry dog with a bone.. you never let go until you’re satisfied the hunger is quenched
      1. You can never assume the client, internal or external, is satisfied with a solution until you have direct confirmation/validation from/of the same
      2. Every obstacle is merely an opportunity for you to find another alternative path to a solution
      3. Don’t accept that a problem can’t be fixed until you’ve exhausted every means, including escalated your concern to the highest level within your organization
    • Ownership is like a football team moving forward to score a goal, just because you’ve passed the ball forward, your contribution to the goal isn’t over until the ball is in the net & you’re embracing your colleagues in celebration
      1. Just because you’ve forwarded a need or requirement, your job isn’t done until you’ve confirmed/validated that the next person is carrying out the necessary task(s) until the “client” is satisfied
      2. Trust is good..  but verification is proof.. & much.. much better!
      3. Confirm the goal! Confirm with the “client” that they’ve gotten the result they expected, and then celebrate the WIN/GOAL/SCORE & never just the great pass
  • Communication – “Engage with..” instead of “talking to..”
    • Communication is a bi-directional inter-activity & never a uni-lateral conversation
      1. Effective communication requires active empathetic listening
      2. Effective communication is never assuming that you know what the other person has just said, but repeating it for acknowledgment & confirmation of detail
      3. In effective communication, there is no such thing as “common sense”.. common sense is merely an accumulation of related experiences, and we all have different filters (interpretations & perceptions) based on our past influences
    • More than talking to someone, effective communication is when you confirm that an intention is understood, and the expected outcome has been agreed to by the “actioning party”
      1. To borrow from Engineering terms, effective communications requires an active & affective acknowledgment process (ACK/NAK or checksum), which is an infallible confirmation that what has been requested, has been acknowledge and understood
      2. Effective communications requires a S.M.A.R.T. conversation, with specific confirmation by all parties as to what has been requested vs. what will be delivered by when by whom to where & how

These might sound simple enough that you would actually overlook or underestimate the impact that they are already having on your organization, but the fact is, and I’m willing to be openly challenged on this, you show me a problem in your organization, and I’ll show you where one, if not all of the above are responsible for the lack of results that you know your enterprise is capable of.

2009 – My Year in Review

December 23, 2009 2 comments

It’s that time of year again.. time to look back at the year that’s about to end and measure what’s worked, what could have gone better, and what New Years Resolution’s are appropriate.

The professional highlights were..

  • an e-commerce business who experienced 59% Year-on-Year Revenue Growth
  • an Art Gallery who experienced 50% Revenue Growth 60 days after a Strategic Planning & Alignment workshop
  • a PR agency that gained focus on “what really matters” & improved their sales processes
  • an illustration business that improved their gross margin by an undisclosed amount
  • an internet start-up that launched it’s first real product within 45 days after many failed efforts during it’s first 18 months
  • and another business that’s 15% above budget after a Strategic Planning & Alignment workshop in late September
  • and a host of accolades

The personal highlights were..

  • watching my wife’s “start-up” get significant market validation and secure another round of funding
  • my kids from my first marriage turning around their falling grades to get serious recognition on their improvement
  • my eldest son gaining greater self confidence and implementing serious change after attending Landmark Forum for Teens in October
  • my youngest son getting over the complex of wearing glasses & thus improving his self confidence as well as behavior in school
  • back in OZ building stronger bonds with new friends
  • growing a new business and still being able to maintain a healthy dose of work-life balance
  • supporting at least 3 friends in making significant life-changing decisions leading to their dream-life-by-design

These are just a snap-shot and they’ve made me even more sensitive for the need to record what’s working so that I can continue to “spread the love”.

Sure I had my share of set-backs, and with each one I was able to take significant learning’s to apply toward my development & growth. As my wife likes to remind me; every disciplined effort reaps multiple rewards, and the stronger the wind the stronger the tree!

Actually, “reviewing” is an exercise I do on a daily & weekly basis, as that’s the best way I find to keep pushing myself to learn & grow. How does that work? Well, I actually block-out 60 minutes in my daily calender at 19h00 to reflect back on the highs & lows of the day just passed.

And ask myself challenging questions such as..

  • On a scale of 1-10, how do you feel about your day?
  • What worked well & why?
  • What didn’t work as well as you would have liked & why?
  • What could have worked better?
  • Were you busy or effective? (I actually ask myself this one throughout the day)
  • What could you have done differently to change the outcome of the day?
  • What are the key learning’s from today?

If you’re brutally honest with yourself & keep an open mind, seeking to understand, then this process becomes very powerful. Now, armed with this analysis of my day just passed, I’m ready to affect change into the planning of the day just ahead of me. I find this is the only way to consistently “up my game” from day-to-day. At the end of the week, on Friday afternoon, I do a very similar exercise, but broader in scope. More challenging questions reveal the underlying emotions that had me behave the way that I did, the results of which often reveal important patterns, some of which may even require 3rd party intervention to break. Typically however, a simple trusted circle of like-minded friends or professionals is enough to keep you honest & give you the necessary tools to “break through the glass ceiling” (a.k.a.. a good kick in the pants).

All-in-all I’m pretty satisfied with 2009. It’s had it’s ups & downs, highs & lows, but over-all, the year has been an overwhelming success! The biggest challenge I faced was the recent passing of my father just last week! Whilst it broke my heart to see him go, it also gave me even greater fervor to push myself even more, and continue to affect change & stay on purpose (to empower every relationship I touch)!

How about you? What’s the balance of your year? What do you need to do differently to make it a 10 out of 10?

Customer Service 2.0.. Where’s the service? Update!! Part 2

October 4, 2009 3 comments

OK, I’m a fair enough guy and whether in response to my added pressure, or a coincidence because they were about to get back to me, the fact is that, as you can see by the screen grab of my Tweetdeck just a few moments ago, the folks over at EasyJetCare do seem to be working on their Customer Service.

ScreenHunter_01 Oct. 04 12.52

So now I’ll follow their instructions, I’ll look forward to seeing my money refunded, I’ll be interested to understand what measures they’re taking based on their improved customer service strategies, and I hope that what was a convenient & economical airline, can transform itself past the growing pains and into a Customer Service reference!

YES, I’m always full of hope!

Customer Service 2.0.. Where’s the service?

October 3, 2009 2 comments

Do you remember the mid 80’s classic TV commercial from Wendy’s, the US fast-food chain, “Where’s the beef”? For more detailed information here is the Wikipedia link to this marketing mastery.

Before I go any further, let me set the boundaries for this blog post. I want to raise my concerns on (A) the basic execution and principles of Customer Service, as well as (B) unmask some of the Social Media strategies & hype that seem to be driving everyone onto the 2.0 bandwagon.

Having spent the first ¾ of my career improving customer service & retention at organizations such as Reuters (now Thomson Reuters), Sun Microsystems & Hewlett Packard, I consider myself credibly qualified to speak on this topic. Being married to the Social Media “wiz”, Maria Sipka, founder & CEO behind the first Social Network Marketplace, Linqia.com, to give power & voice to community groups through their leaders/influencers, and having facilitated various Social Media strategy kick-off sessions around the world in the past 3 years, I’d also consider myself pretty up-to-speed to talk about this topic. Lastly, as a Master Strategic Alignment, Planning & Executing Your Strategy facilitator on assignments around the world, I’ve seen enough to distinguish between authentic strategies (of any kind) & hype.

Let me take you back to Thursday morning as my son & I are about to board an Easyjet flight from Barcelona to London. (1) My time is precious, and so I justified the extra 10 to 16 euro, per head, expenses for Speedy Boarding to ensure I’d have a comfortable enough seat that I could work from during the +2h flight. (2) That the gate changed at the last minute, and that the flight was delayed by approximately 20 minutes, neither surprised nor really inconvenienced me, however, (3) getting put on a bus, being told to stand at the wrong door of that bus to try & beat the mad scramble for “proper seats”, did bother me. (4) Finally walking onto the plane after at least another 30 passengers without Speedy Boarding, asking the steward for his customer complaints registry, and being told to go on-line on their website after I land REALLY bothered me. (5) And having twittered my negative experience before even taking off, linking my broadcast to my LinkedIn & Facebook profile, Easyjet’s social media customer service @easyjetcare outreach over twitter by the time I landed in London temporarily had my hopes raised of seeing my precious euros recovered. (6) Unfortunately, little more than 48h after having landed, and following up on the outreach by @easyjetcare, my hopes are once again dashed by the lack of response. (7) This experience makes it worthwhile for me to invest 30 more minutes and write this post.

In referencing point (4) above, I invite anyone here to go onto www.easyjet.com and tell me how long it takes you to figure out where the customer service area is. I gave up, but here is a tip.. Don’t Make Me Think! Guys (!!!) my time is precious, it’s expensive and that’s why I justified the Speedy Boarding fee in the first place!

So is Easyjet just one more company that has jumped on the Customer Service 2.0 bandwagon to publicize how much they care through their investment in web 2.0 technologies & strategies, but fail to act on their “stated intentions”?

This has me reflect how in recent Social Media strategy kick-off sessions I’ve struggled as clients don’t seem to understand that social media is just a tool, a means to facilitate an experience, and therefore you still have to do the old world basics of “listen first”, and than “act in accordance”. The rest is just hype!

That’s my “moral of the story” for Customer Service, Retention, or whatever you want to call it this week, just three easy steps; (1) STOP, (2) LOOK & LISTEN, and then (3) ACT IN ACCORDANCE. The rest, “strategy”, is just the means by which you go about reaching your desired outcome. Come on, let’s get off our high horse and un-mystify what every consultant from east to west will have you believe in order to justify their fees. A “strategy” is no more, and no less, than “a series of steps, actions or activities, strung together, with the purpose of achieving a previously contemplated outcome”. That’s it! Just like going to the supermarket to get that bottle of milk, string a bunch of activities together, this by now is 2nd nature ONLY because you’ve done it so many times.

What’s my “moral of the story” for Social Media strategies? It’s just a tool! Stop freaking out & forget the hype! Do what you always did successfully, if you can remember that far back, and just do it within a new dynamic. Sure there are different ways of approaching your audience, and any error can be magnified infinitely (and yadda, yadda, yadda), but it’s still the old basic principle of supply & demand. Your audience has a need, you have a solution, and social media empowers, enhances & facilitates the dialogue. Notice I didn’t say “monologue”, which means you have to be courageous enough to have a bi-directional conversation, forcing you to (1) STOP, (2) LOOK & LISTEN, and then (3) ACT IN ACCORDANCE.

So back to the beginning, and to my “friends” @easyjetcare, “where’s the service?” All I want is a refund of my Speedy Boarding fee (x2 for my son & I) which YOU royally stuffed up. I paid for a service that I didn’t get, and so I think that my request is only fair. Stay tuned to see how my return trip to Barcelona goes on Monday evening.

To anyone else out there in cyberspace contemplating customer service, customer retention, or about to spend thousands, if not millions (and I’ve seen them spent on multiple occasions), on social media consultants & technologies, please pay attention to the basics first! (1) STOP, (2) LOOK & LISTEN, and then (3) ACT IN ACCORDANCE.

Thoughts anyone?