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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.

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.

The delicate art of consulting

March 28, 2010 1 comment

Wikipedia’s definition of a consultant states; “from the Latin consultare means “to discuss”, from which we also derive words such as consul and counsel, and is a professional who provides advice in a particular area of expertise“.

A Swedish friend of mine’s father likes to refer to consultants as “animals that have been neutered, because they have the “tools” but don’t know what to do with them”.

I’m sure that a long time before I started to exert my profession, the profession itself was much more than just “giving advice”. That it was actually about someone coming into your organization, rolling up their sleeves, and standing toe-to-toe with you as you faced your, at times, seemingly insurmountable challenges. That latter image is NOT what I’ve seen for the past two decades and therefore why I often become uneasy when I’m referred to as a “consultant”.

Much like “coaching”, the term “consultant” has been used and abused in so many circumstances, typically taking advantage of clients in desperate situations, or larger organizations looking for someone else to make the decisions they’re too afraid to make themselves.

Now allow me to introduce you to “Winston Wolf“, the “Non-Consultant Consultant”, the guy who solves problems! Now that’s what I’m talking about, that’s what I’m passionate about, and that’s what I believe clients should be paying for; “solving problems“.

The non-consultant consultant takes on an assignment, bringing to the table years of proven experience as a senior executive in some of the most challenging circumstances. He’s not fresh out of an MBA loaded with someone else’s case studies , nor is he theory heavy & practical results light. He rolls up his sleeves & stands shoulder to shoulder with his client fixing problems & creating new opportunities along the way. He’s the first one into the office & one of the last to leave!

At times, clients may find themselves in challenging situations, economically challenged to pay our fees, and that’s when the non-consultant consultant agrees with them “what success looks like as a consequence of their engagement“. Following which they schedule partially guaranteed fees, with the remaining payout ONLY taking place in-lieu of the agreed successful outcome.

Now that really makes the client feel you’re taking just as many risks as they are, taking ownership for your proposed solutions, that you personally implement, or over see, and when they experience the joy of achievement, it becomes a mutual celebration!

Another characteristic of the non-consultant consultants’ engagements are that they ingrain themselves so much into the fabric of their clients’ workforce, empowering as many of them as possible, passing along knowledge & practical experience as is relevant to their specific situations. In doing so, they’re quickly adopted as “one of the team” & no longer seen as an “outside consultant”. The ensuing trust that is deposited allows for greater results in a shorter period of time.

Finally, irregardless of the specifics of the assignment, the non-consultant consultant works for their clients as if it were their own company, vigilant & attentive to provide additional value in areas outside of their direct intervention, thus creating significant collateral benefit without ever asking for an additional cent!

Key outcomes of the delicate art of consulting:

  1. Problems Solved
  2. Opportunities Created
  3. Shared Risk / Shared Reward
  4. Practical Hands-on Experience
  5. Empowering
  6. Effective Results
  7. Ownership

How does that sound to you?

Customer Service Do’s & Don’ts

February 1, 2010 3 comments

This past weekend I blogged about my poor customer service experience with Vueling, a Spanish low-cost airline who up until recently, based on personal experience, had been a shining example of innovation & customer service. Having completed the weekend experience on last night’s 21h45 flight back to Barcelona, allow me to recap where they went wrong & what they could have done better..

  • Initial Booking & On-line Check-in
    • What didn’t work
      • Joint booking assigned seats in different rows when plane seats are 80% unassigned
    • How it could be improved
      • Reservation engine that assigns seats considering joint bookings when seats are free
      • * side-note; the flight ended up being only at 70% capacity when it took off, which made matters worse.. obviously we then moved to adjoining seats
  • Response to Customer Complaint
    • What didn’t work
      • Getting a response (to my blog) in the name of the Vueling CEO telling me to look at their Cost Savings Policy as a justification.. totally irrelevant (I hope!!) to the topic at hand..
    • How it could be improved
      • I wrote the complaint in English & therefore being responded to in English would have helped.. fortunately I’m fluent in Spanish as well
      • A Customer Service representative that actually read my complaint and responded with an appropriate/relevant solution or explanation, instead of just treating me “like another complaint” that they’re obviously not going to action or follow-up
      • A response directly to me via my twitter post, as EasyJet did, instead of a broadcast message
      • Sign as “Customer Service Representative” instead of “Vueling CEO”
  • Return flight experience
    • What didn’t work
      • Again sitting in seats which weren’t adjoined.. seated across the isle this time, and again, as flight was 90% full, we switched to adjoined seats after take-off
      • ** Interestingly enough, by my wife giving up her seat, we were able to reunite another family who had been broken up by the same irrational policy
      • During one of the worst turbulent flights I’ve ever experienced, there was (1) no warning, (2) no acknowledgment or (3) any information about how much longer the turbulence might last.. I guess our safety & well being are also part of their Cost Saving measures (?!?!)
      • ** Compare this to an Iberia flight from São Paulo earlier this month when before embarking on a +9h flight.. still on the tarmac, the pilot advised that there would be turbulence at about the 6h30 mark into the flight.. ironically enough, Iberia now has a majority shareholding in Vueling through their initial low-fare interest Clickair
    • How it could be improved
      • Same as above in what concerns seating reservation engine.. it’s a simple few lines of code in their booking engine software that automatically allocate the next two available adjoining seats within a policy of rear to front seating assignment policy to try & persuade passengers to buy their seating arrangement
      • The plane had just crossed the same flight path within the last 45 to 60 minutes as the same crew that landed in Ibiza at 21h00 took us back at 21h45.. therefore.. (1) a small warning before taken-off about the violent turbulence ahead that might have saved a few very frightened passengers the shock of their lives.. (2) a warning just before we hit the violent turbulence as unfortunately these days people don’t take much notice of “only” lighting up the seat-belt signs.. (3) an acknowledgment that this turbulence is going to last another 20 minutes, which at least reassures me that it’s “under control” instead of allowing my creative imagination to start thinking about my will which I haven’t updated!

I can’t accept the argument that just because it’s a low-fare airline nothing can be done about it! Back in October of last year I had an issue with EasyJet and they went about it in a completely different fashion.

What did they do right?

  • Acknowledged my complaint
  • Followed-up when I wasn’t satisfied with their first attempt
  • Did something (corrective action) about it
  • Subsequently followed up to keep me informed as to their continuing efforts to improve customer service

It’s not really all that hard folks! It’s just a matter of listening 1st, engaging 2nd & taking corrective action 3rd.. the follow-up (4th) is a nice “icing on the cake”, or “the cherry on top” depending on how you prefer your cake 😉

This was an obvious Customer Service Experience gone wrong, and a lost opportunity to set the record straight. I’m actually a very forgiving customer, unless I feel that I’ve been totally disrespected. For those of you out there with company’s of your own, how effective is your customer service? Don’t just assume & be happy when you’re not receiving complaints, silence is not necessarily a good sign! (see below)

Can you afford the non returning customers? Is it really more cost effective to pay 4 times more (common industry bench-mark) for new customer acquisition than customer retention?