Are you building digital barriers?

phoneOne company embarked on a program to update the way it interacted with incoming customer requests. As a consulting firm, they employed a fairly large number of mentor/coaches with a wide range of experience in business. There were accountants, manufacturing experts, clothiers, restauranteurs, sales experts, marketing and PR people, and much more.

Their advertising is comprised of WOM (word of mouth), online websites and promotion, and affiliations with business and service organizations.  As the result of a dedicated effort at promotion, incoming requests escalated. That is, after all, the intended effect of advertising.

The company labored under an obsolete method of responding to requests for help and rightly wanted to modernize. But they proposed a method that, IMHO, just went a bit too far. They wanted to make access completely and solely digital and virtual. A phone call would get an inquirer only a message that said to go to the website.

You see, with a perfect hatred I hate to call a company with which I have to deal and be forced to negotiate a long and tedious series of menus and key punches. Please just let me talk to someone. And I really object to being forced to either key in account numbers or speak in identification information and then am asked to repeat them once a person finally comes on the line.

Now you may be asking just what that has to do with leadership. Well, I could plow on here discussing the merits of contact systems for business, but this is a practical leadership blog so I want to point out just why I am broaching this subject.

  1. What we do is not bettered or well-served by layering in digital doors. Leaders use tools of all types, including digital and virtual ones, to further our cause, but we do not enhance our effectiveness by forcing people to communicate with us by keypads or touchscreens. I recommend that we be connected, but I have written before about the value of face-to-face communication.
  2. We are in the business of building capable people which is made more effective by the personal connection. We want people to hear us, believe in us, and follow us. This demands a human connection. One suggestion that surfaced in the discussions of the company referred to at the beginning of this post was to eliminate an office telephone entirely and thereby force people to connect online. The idea promoted efficiency. After all, it would be faster and facilitate recordkeeping if clients and potential clients simply entered information digitally. But it would be far less effective. And it would readily and immediately eliminate those potential customers who are not wed to a smart phone.
  3. Digital and virtual gateways may make it easier for someone somewhere, but it frustrates the bejeesus out of most of us. In an excellent article by Alena Hall at The Huffington Post called “Technology Is Taking Over the Most Human of Jobs, And I Am Not Okay With It,” the author recounts the challenge of ordering an iced coffee at La Guardia Airport. It did not turn out all that well.
  4. Accessibility…and the ease and convenience of accessibility…is critical to a successful and productive encounter. The principles of business are as old as human habitation of the planet: Visibility, Accessibility, Credibility, Profitability. Being accessible means we take advantage of as many routes in as we can – phone, online, in-person. It is in the fulfillment of our mission to give every person the support they need to become successful partners in our enterprise.
  5. In the end, this is not about convenience for us, it is about convenience for and accessibility for the client and the people we lead. To do so, we must make it as simple and as easy as possible for people to find us and to connect with us. We need a human voice from start to finish especially because the company referred to offers mentoring services, a personal and human connection. The reason? Accessibility. Convenience for the client is the paramount motive and personalized customer service sets companies apart. Efficiency may please the stockholders but it annoys the hell out of the constituents.
  6. After a human connection is made and we dedicate ourselves to maintaining it, we can use digital and virtual devices to enhance it. We cannot build much upon digital or virtual real estate. We live in an imperfect and inefficient world in which it simply is impossible to get people to follow the system all the time. They should call each other or email each other or text each other, but what if they call the office instead? People respect an office and simply being a professional organization carries with it certain implications – that we are pros, that we act like pros, that we act like business pros, that we conduct ourselves ambitious anticipation. The difference between McDonalds and a five star restaurant is not just in the food it serves. It is in the way a customer interacts with it. In some fast food places, actually more and more all the time, ordering and payment is made through iPads only. I’m not sure anyone leaves a McDonalds remarking on how great the service was. But they do so with upscale establishments. Why? A personal touch. I return to restaurants who remember what I drink and eat, what I like and don’t like, and anticipate what I might need. They know me and I am comfortable there.
  7. The objective is never efficiency. It is always effectiveness. How do we accomplish that? We will not, indeed must not suggest, imply, or demand that a client cannot connect to us except by using a website. Mentoring is the act of caring people helping needy people. There is a disturbing and counterproductive trait among some gatekeepers (gatekeepers are those people who answer phones, receive initial inquiries, and sit at the portals of business) who seem to like saying no. No, you can’t do that here, you have to do that over there. No, we can’t do that now, maybe later, and on and on. Therefore take a yes approach. Yes, you can call. Yes, you can fill out this paper form. Yes, you can sign up online. Yes, we can meet with you after hours or at your place of business. Accessibility is the focus.
  8. If there are logistics to work out, well then, work them out. We exist to serve the people we lead. Building layers of access doors and putting distance between us and them cannot turn out well. Instead, let’s build a personal bridge between us and the people we intend to serve and make it as easy as possible for them to get to us.

Leadership is not about who you are but about where you’re going

Self-importance seems to go hand in hand with titles. Ascending to a position of power and importance can readily go to one’s head. One leader revealed that within hours of being appointed to a new job, one where he was in charge, he received two phone calls from colleagues encouraging him to show his power, to let people know there was a new sheriff in town.

Admittedly it is a tempting thought. After all, you’ve worked hard, proven yourself, and paid the price for success. Then getting the place of power and authority, it seems a shame not to use it. However, I’ve found that

JUST BECAUSE YOU CAN DOESN’T MEAN THAT YOU SHOULD.

If you have been reading The Practical Leader for long you may remember that post I wrote last year about restraint. Power brings with is many possibilities for good and for bad. Using power to demonstrate power is almost always counter-productive.

It is critical to remember that the object of power is not power nor the ability to use power unless it is qualified by purpose.

Just what is the motive behind and the intent ahead of the power we wield?

Methods might have to be changed or recharged to refocus the organization on its mission. The mission and vision of a company, if it has been well-considered before implementation, remains fixed and constant. The means to get there do not. Power, and your new position , is a great chance to refocus on the mission, remind everyone (yourself included) of the progress made, and refine methods you’re taking to get there.

Paradigms change, we have to as well. We start out using one map, a projected lay of the land and assumption about routes to be taken. But as our understanding changes with time and experience, so must our “maps.” Changes must be made, but they need to be logical (according to sound thinking and valid argument) and they must be reasonable (according to rational thought and trustworthy information and data). Anything less and confusion will result raising levels of anxiety in everyone working for you.  If they cannot see the reasons why changes are being made and if they cannot understand how they will fit in those changes, their sense of security will plummet.

Finally, employ the power and privilege of your position to clarify and explain what’s being done and why. People of power have earned the right to be heard. Do not squander that right by remaining silent. With the power and the privilege comes the responsibility to treat others with the respect they deserve as individuals and valued participants in the company’s purpose. Explain, explain, explain. And don’t limit your explanation to one announcement, an email, or a notice put on a bulletin board. Keep explaining until everyone gets it.

Simply throwing your weight around puts the spotlight and focus on you which is precisely on the wrong place.  You, the leader, want to be the calalyst for action and advancement, not the point of reaction and resentment.

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Seeds of Greatness

Like most of you, I am a collector and reader of books. My Kindle is filling up with downloaded editions. My bookshelves are full and getting fuller. But with over 400,000 books being published every year in every genre, it is impossible to keep up. On Amazon as of this morning, a search for books using the keyword “leadership” turned up over 130,000 books.

Some leadership books are more enduring than others. I must admit I am challenged to keep up, trying to select among the many new ones that compete for my attention. But there are some classics that have remained on my bookshelf for decades, volumes to which I refer and reread because their message is not so faddish and trendy. After all, great leadership has been around forever (for that matter so has really bad leadership), therefore the principles that are helpful keep re-emerging.

It is one such book I refer to today. This 30 year old book is as fresh today as it was when it first appeared in 1983. Not surprisingly, I like it because it resonates with me and what I propose makes for greatness – competence, character, confidence, clarity.

Finding its roots in the venerable perspectives of Napoleon Hill and Dale Carnegie, Denis Waitley’s approach brought him to the US Olympic team where he was able to give them the mental edge that creates winning athletes out of the ranks of the world’s best athletes.

So, you ask, what book is it?

Seeds of Greatness – The Ten Best Kept Secrets of Total Success

Not mere fluff piece, Waitley’s advice is rooted first in discovering your natural abilities then developing the right mental attitude to capitalize on who you are so that you do what you do better than ever.

I especially liked Seed #10 – Perspective. I won’t reveal the others. The book will probably be available at your local lending library or you can buy it by clicking on the link below.

 

The Spirit of Christmas – great quotes from the world’s greatest leaders

 

Spirit-of-ChristmasWhether you are religious or not, Christmas is a special time. The spirit of the holiday can be voiced in verses from the Bible and from the mouths of deep thinkers. Here are some of my favorites collected through the years:

“Christmas is a season not only of rejoicing but of reflection.” — Winston Churchill

“Christmas is not a time nor a season but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy is to have the real spirit of Christmas.” — Calvin Coolidge

“Don’t let the past steal your present. This is the message of Christmas: We are never alone.” — Taylor Caldwell

“It’s true, Christmas can feel like a lot of work, particularly for mothers. But when you look back on all the Christmases in your life, you’ll find you’ve created family traditions and lasting memories. Those memories, good and bad, are really what help to keep a family together over the long haul.” — Caroline Kennedy

“Christmas is a season for kindling the fire for hospitality in the hall, the genial flame of charity in the heart.” — Washington Irving

“Christmas is doing a little something extra for someone.” — Charles M. Schulz

“Christmas is the day that holds all time together.” — Alexander Smith

“The thing about Christmas is that it almost doesn’t matter what mood you’re in or what kind of a year you’ve had; it’s a fresh start.” — Kelly Clarkson

“Christmas, children, is not a date. It is a state of mind.” — Mary Ellen Chase

“Christmas gives us the opportunity to pause and reflect on the important things around us — a time when we can look back on the year that has passed and prepare for the year ahead.” — David Cameron

“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas … perhaps … means a little bit more.”  – Dr. Seuss

 

Choosing Effectiveness over Efficiency

 

Does your organizational structure look like this?

top_down_approachIn most places it probably does. At least that is the way the typical leader and almost every manager would diagram it. I did some contract work for an organization that looked like it. The person at the top, in that case a man, monitored and controlled everything. Everything.

The organization did run efficiently. He made sure that every effort, every decision, every project carried through with precise movements.  But it wasn’t very effective.

Curiously, the purpose of the organization was to develop and implement leadership seminars in countries outside North America that would teach leaders how to develop and release other leaders. The organization stated that they wanted to show others how to create capable people.

The problem was it did not do it in its home offices. No one was trained to do anything except follow orders. And no one was ever allowed independent thought or decision-making power. Everything was determined by a manual or a policy.

Efficiency was valued over effectiveness.

Take a look at the tagline at the top of this website. It says that you can “Extend your reach, multiply your effectiveness, and divide your work.” But I will be the first to tell you that this is neither simple nor easy for some people.

Developing capable people means letting go.

Letting go of power. Some of us just have to be in charge. We like being the man (or woman) in command. It makes us feel validated, fulfilled, and successful when we’re the central focus of the company. It may cut down on errors, at least for a time, but it also restricts productivity and seriously stifles creativity and innovation because all ideas must originate from and be connected to the person in charge.

Letting go of authority. This really troubles some leaders. They are fearful of releasing decision-making authority to others. Many don’t want to permit others to spend the company’s money or offer discounts to get a sale. But with proper training and by imparting an understanding of the big picture, leaders can and must learn to allow others the autonomy to carry on business without requiring them to find you before they make a decision. No, I am not suggesting we abdicate and a search of this blog will turn up several articles about this subject. However, I am suggesting that control easily morphs into over-control.

Letting go of control. This is a biggy. For whatever reasons, many leaders are terrified of letting go of control. But the process of growing up as children into teenagers and then adults is the process of appropriating more and more control. Parents learn to train their children and release more autonomy as the kids mature. At least the effective ones do. You simply cannot extend your reach, multiply your effectiveness, and divide your work if you insist on maintaining control.

More effective organizational structures look like the one below. I used this diagram to help a local consulting organization reorganize for greater effectiveness in their market. The teams in the large rings are the assemblies of people who take on the responsibility of making the organization more effective. In the tiny little intersection of the three rings sits the administrative board. They serve as coordinators and facilitators not managers or monitors.

new structureLeaders and managers function and coordinators and facilitators rather than controllers and directors. Ideas come from all over the place. Motivation rises because co-workers have autonomy and can enjoy the consequences of their responsible behavior. Thinking becomes more we and less me. The focus is on the overall mission and vision rather than personal task lists.

Yes, it is a bit less efficient, at least in the beginning. And it can seem chaotic. But to remain viable in today’s fast-paced marketplace, organizations must be nimble and agile. Higher degrees of responsiveness demand higher participation of independent thinkers who can come up with ideas and manifest the energy to bring them about.

Here is a list of my suggestions for building agility into your company, organization, or agency.

  1. Optimize processes – Streamline the way things have to work everywhere you can. Eliminate duplicate efforts. Increase customer satisfaction (thus cutting down on the time and effort it takes to solve customer complaints and issues). This implies a thorough examination of the way things are done.
  2. Enable “plug and play” as a company attitude. Make changes easier. Require fewer signatures to get authorization to do things. Integrate processes more efficiently and make it simpler to integrate new technologies.
  3. Make flexibility and agility a key requirement of any and all systems, methods, processes, and products. Simplify, simplify, simplify. Beware the people who make things more complicated. Reward and encourage straight-line efforts, discourage cluttering up things with many steps when fewer will do.

If any company or organization is going to remain relevant in the world’s marketplaces, it must learn to use all its resources. Too many leaders are very good at using tools and equipment but not so good at using the human resources around them. You’ve got good people with you. Let them do their job and stay out of the way.

 

Why do we work so hard for things we don’t really want?

 

 

It’s Thanksgiving Day here in the US. Perhaps the biggest holiday of the year, it is marked with feasts, football, and shopping. Tomorrow, Friday, is known as Black Friday for business. Many stores open tonight, many more open very, very early tomorrow morning.

The holiday used to be observed almost entirely in homes. It has become a major commercial enterprise these days. While it once was that our appetites were stimulated for sumptuous meals of roast turkey, cornbread stuffing, mashed potatoes, candied yams, and pumpkin pie, these days the major appetite stimulated is for things. Shopping is the object.

If I may, I am going to borrow from a piece I wrote for my personal blog – www.JackDunigan.com. It goes like this:

 

mad magazineSome of us remember Mad Magazine (actually it is still in publication after 60 years) and its resident mascot Alfred E. Newman. He is most famous for his “What, me worry?” line, but he had another epithet that is less well-known but revealing nonetheless. He said:

“Most people don’t know what they want, but they’re pretty sure they haven’t got it.”

Some years ago a survey was taken in Los Angeles asking people how much money they would really like to make per year. Nearly everyone said they would really like to earn 20% more. Whether one was a minimum wage earner or in the top 1%, they all wanted 20% more.

It is a condition of human nature to want more. The very biological nature of life is growth and it affects our thinking too. When we look at our own personal state and compare it to others, we almost always compare it to those whom we perceive as doing better than we are, who have more than we do.

Now, accumulation of things and earning more money is certainly not evil unless and until it becomes obsessive and establishes itself as the focus of living. But, to shamelessly borrow from Jesus’ admonitions, Life does not consist of the abundance of one’s possessions.

It is no wonder that, having been there and done that, so many seniors downsize, get rid of things, change the focus of life. I used to find it odd that seniors bought aluminum siding and lived in mobile home parks or condos. I thought they were just getting tired and lazy, but then as I approached that stage of life myself, I discovered why. With less to have to do we can do more of what we want to do. So we move into communities where someone else mows the lawn and we buy homes requiring a good deal less maintenance.

Now please do not think I am slamming an ambitious and full-tilt lifestyle. I am not. There is nothing wrong with wanting a better standard of living, more comfort, more money, greater success. You will discover though, that the new thing you want so badly is soon the old thing. A discontentment with the present can easily impel us to wish we had just a little bit more than we have.

If there is one benefit to an economic downturn is that it forces us to refocus our standards and revalue our life. If you want to be happy for the rest of your life, the next time you feel tempted to measure your life and living against someone, why not measure it against someone who has just a little bit less than you do? I mean, what could it hurt? You just might not feel so bad about that cell phone you carry, that tv you have to watch, that car you have to drive.

You see, the advertising people know the four components of sale are AIDA – Attention, Interest, Desire, Action. If they can get your attention, provoke interest in their product or service, and PROVOKE DESIRE, they can usually motivate you to action resulting in a sale.

Contentment is a rare virtue these days. But your life is much more that what you have and way much more than what you don’t have.

Don’t be so sure you don’t already have what you really want.

Have a great Thanksgiving! It’s a holiday weekend and I’m taking the time off. Hope you can too.