The One Skill That Most Managers Lack

Did you know that current research indicates that the No. 1 leadership skill most managers lack is communication with empathy?

The need to “create a communication-friendly environment” was the first choice listed on the top 10 skills and qualities of leaders by Officevibe, a fast-growing web-based tool for human resource and business leaders. And in 2015, an Interact/Harris Poll of approximately 1,000 U.S. workers illustrated the importance of opening those communication lines with empathy. In the poll, 91% of employees reported that communication is an area where executives need to improve, and a closer look at the results reveals a striking need for more empathy in the workplace. A failure to recognize employee achievements was cited by 63% of respondents, topping the list of specific communication issues. That list also included refusing to talk to subordinates (51%) and taking credit for others’ ideas (47%). Some in the survey even complained of bullying by management.  

All employees are entitled to a respectful work environment, but communication with empathy can impact more than that. As it raises team morale, it also can improve the bottom line.

According to Gallup’s 2015 State of the American Manager, disengaged employees cost up to $500 billion in lost productivity per year – with poor managers responsible for at least 70% of that employee disengagement. Liz Ryan, HR professional and author of the book Reinvention Roadmap, says the No. 1 skill these managers need is what she calls “perspective-taking.” In her column on that subject for Forbes.com, Ryan spells out a “working” definition of communication with empathy. “The more often you consciously step out of your own perspective to take someone else’s view, the more powerful you will become,” Ryan says.

So if you are trying to narrow the focus of any leadership training and development efforts you may be considering in the near term, this is one you may want to prioritize for anyone who manages people.

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Learning Dynamics offers training, organization development and coaching services that can help your organization grow and excel. Contact us today, call 203.265.7499 or email jdemaio@learningdynamics.com.

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Make Sure Your Systems are not Impediments to Stellar Service

The following passage is directly from Jim DeMaio’s book, Banking on Stellar Service: Strategies to Ensure Your Financial Institution Stands Out.

Customer-centric banks have systems that support, not impede, their customers’ experience with them.

Starting with their core system, banks must ensure that their core system provider remains state-of-the-art and not “user-hostile.” Often, every 5-7 years, a bank’s contract with its core service provider comes up for renewal. Many banks, because of their employees’ comfort with the system, will automatically renew, rather than determining whether there is a more state-of-the-art digital system available that enhances the customer experience.

The bank’s core system, coupled with its internal systems and procedures, will impact customer service. Take opening accounts, for example. This should not be a cumbersome process for the customer, or the bank employee, where it takes a half hour to open an account. We know of several banks where opening an account is so laborious that branch staff suggest customers or prospective customers set up appointments to do so.

A core system should also be evaluated on the ease of use and intuitiveness of back office, loan, and sales functions as well. Can it support ancillary systems, such as mortgage and loan origination? Does it incorporate the latest compliance and security measures?

With fewer customers coming into the bank, online banking needs to be easy to use. At one bank, the online banking system is so complicated, that branch staff hesitate to bring it up as an option to customers, for fear that the customer will ask for a demonstration by the employees, who will likely struggle with it!

Other internal systems, such as General Ledger, should be reviewed periodically for ways to streamline them.

A bank should also update its policies and procedures, and have them readily accessible for customer-facing employees. As previously noted, procedures using the Playscript format are easier to write and follow, as opposed to ones written as a lengthy paragraph narrative.

Blunder Bank

At Blunder Bank, the same core system has been used for decades. The system is outdated and difficult to use. Customer-facing employees even develop their own “work around” so that customers are not inconvenienced by it.

Better Bank

At Better Bank, senior management asks, “How can this enhance the customer experience?” when designing, revamping, or purchasing systems. The bank ensures that employees receive timely training on their systems and maintain up-to-date, easy-to-follow documentation.

Coaching Tip

When working with an employee who is struggling to use a new system, which can impede service to your customers, remember that everyone has their own learning style. It may be that the struggling employee is a visual learner, and needs to spend more time navigating the system to better comprehend it.

Question for Reflection

  1. Do your employees receive timely training on your internal systems?
  2. Is there up-to-date documentation for all of your systems?
  3. Does your core processing system enhance or impede the customer experience?

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Claim your complete copy of Banking on Stellar Service: Strategies to Ensure Your Financial Institution Stands Out.

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Learning Dynamics offers training, organization development and coaching services that can help your organization grow and excel. Contact us today, call 203.265.7499 or email jdemaio@learningdynamics.com.

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Leaders Listen

A recent Learning Dynamics training workshop with managers of a healthcare organization served as a reminder of the importance of listening at every level of the organization. The program, Leadership Communication, includes a discussion and exercise on active listening, and it was one of the most productive parts of the day’s effort.

Nearly everyone has heard the term “active listening,” but how many of us use the skill regularly? In Leadership Communication and other communication-themed programs, we highlight the value of asking questions, listening without interrupting, paraphrasing, and confirming understanding. We know that many people don’t use active listening techniques often; rather, they frequently are just waiting for their turn to talk.

On this day, we asked the participants to pair off and ask a simple question: “What can I do to help you be more successful in your job?” These were not people who reported to each other. They were managers who lead their respective work centers, so this is not a question they frequently present to each other. The results were thought-provoking.

Within minutes, one of the participants said, “This is great! We never have a chance to speak like this.” After several minutes of productive conversation using intelligent questions and active listening skills, all came away with ideas to help each other move the organization forward. The total invested time was ten minutes.

So, what can leaders take from this exercise? Here are some ideas:

Encourage idea-sharing vertically and horizontally within the organization. Schedule some high-value business partnership time to allow for activities like that described above.

Ask questions at all levels. Then listen. Employees in customer-facing and production roles likely have ideas to share. After all, they are the ones executing on management’s direction. What might they teach leaders who are willing to listen?

Managers don’t always have the best answers. Paraphrasing Steve Jobs, we hire smart people, so shouldn’t we listen to them?

Finally, employees become more engaged when they feel heard. A key engagement question concerns one’s ideas and opinions carrying weight. What better way to show an employee that her opinions count than by asking questions and actively listening?

It is not always easy to just listen. The potential benefits – new ideas, better team work, and more committed employees, to name a few – make it worth the effort. Be a better leader and listen.

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Learning Dynamics offers several instructor-led, webinar-based, and digitally-delivered learning and development solutions to help your team members become better communicators. Contact us today to discuss your priorities.

Leveraging the Benefits of an Age Diverse Workplace

Age diversity and inclusion are essential for success in today’s complex workplace. Most employers today recognize the need for diversity, making sure that people of different ethnicities, nationalities, race, sexual orientation, religion, disability status and age are critical to the future of an organization.

The argument for age diversity and inclusion is unrefuted and new research supports that premise. Currently 5 different generations are part of the workforce.

Age diversity improves performance and productivity in the workplace. Companies need to be aware that age is a number not a credential and outdated stereotypes still influence perceptions of age. Comments such as. “He’s too old to master a software program”. Or “she’s too young to…” only serve to dismiss their value. An employee’s knowledge and experience increases with age and a young person with strong skill sets should not be held back.

Research clearly demonstrates how age diversity improves an organization’s performance. Studies find that the productivity of both older and younger workers is higher in companies with mixed age work teams. More specifically, age diversity in teams is positively related to performance when groups tackle complex decision making tasks. Lastly, age diversity leads to greater engagement, teamwork and innovation.

The following are some practices to boost age diversity and inter-generational understanding:

  • Open apprenticeships for workers of all age.
  • Programs to help workers re-enter workforce after a long absence.
  • Facilitation of cross generational mentoring programs.
  • Raising awareness of inter generation differences through training and education.
  • Organizing employee resource groups for support.
  • Actively recruit talent across all ages.

Companies that adhere to these practices will certainly reap the benefits of age diversity and inclusion.

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Learning Dynamics offers training, organization development and coaching services that can help your organization grow and excel. Contact us today, call 203.265.7499 or email jdemaio@learningdynamics.com.

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The Most Important Question To Ask Yourself

“What did you learn today?”  It was a question I was often asked at the end of school days.  It was a question I heard often in my corporate years, after completing training or implementing a new process.  It has become a central question for me in undertaking any new endeavor, personal or professional.  It’s a key question to ask oneself when faced with successes or failures, achievements, or disappointments.  “What did you learn?” implies identification of what worked and what didn’t and defines the path forward.

The need to learn is a given.  Without learning, say goodbye to growth, evolution, personal and professional development, and constant improvement.  More importantly, say goodbye to your business if learning is not a constant.

Learning is a strategic initiative, and arguably the most critical component for a company’s growth and success.   And it can never stop.  Employee training and development is essential, but if training doesn’t result in demonstrated learning, it’s just lip service.  For a company or an individual, learning must be greater than or equal to the rate of change.

Educator Neil Postman stated that “children enter school as question marks and leave as periods.”  In many instances, the same can be said for adults entering the corporate world.  It is imperative to keep the question marks on the forefront.

So how does one go about making sure that employees are learning, learning, and learning without cessation?  This is where training comes in.   Training must be meaningful to the employee, not a formalistic exercise to satisfy a regulation or required hours.

All training programs have learning objectives, but every training program ever designed and conducted must include this objective:   To generate thought.  Thought leads to understanding and awareness, which leads to paradigm shifts and inevitable growth.  Growth is the greatest ROI there is for an individual or a company.  Think about the difference between a degree and an education.  Getting a degree means attending classes, obtaining the required credits, and passing tests.  Obtaining an education requires critical thinking and understanding.  Author Wallace Wattles stated: “There is no labor from which most people shrink as they do from that of sustained and consecutive thought; it is the hardest work in the world.”

In educating people on content, trainers must never lose sight of the intent, which is to generate thought and increase learning.  Learning needs to be integrated into all processes and outcomes.  Too often, training and subsequent learning is in reaction to something that failed.  If a valued customer is lost due to poor customer service, it’s easy to mandate customer service training . . but it’s also too late.

At Learning Dynamics, we customize each learning solution to ensure that participants are challenged to think, learn, and grow. Our goal is to have them answer a key question:  “What did you learn today?”

Visit us at www.learningdynamics.com

Employee Experience as the New Competitive Edge

Almost everyone today is familiar with the term “customer experience.” According to Gartner, a leading research and advisory company, 80 percent of businesses compete on the basis of customer experience.   But new research shows that customer experience alone is not enough. Progressive companies are now focusing on “employee experience” as the newest competitive edge.

So, what is “employee experience?”  It is the sum of everything an employee experiences throughout his or her connection to that organization – from recruiting to the end of their employment.  It is not perks, parties, employment branding or employee engagement. Mark Levy, former head of Airbnb, defines it as “anything that sets employees up for success and improves our culture.”   Those companies investing heavily in employee experience often find themselves on the Best Places to Work lists and also have improved profitability as well as two times the average revenue.  With social media commentary available to all, prospective employees review comments made about employee experiences in selecting which companies they wish to apply to.

So, in looking for a new competitive edge for your company, ask yourself how you can enhance and elevate the employee experience in your company.  What processes and practices are in place that set employees up for success and ensure an improved culture? It’s worth the time to ask.

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Learning Dynamics offers training, organization development and coaching services that can help your organization grow and excel. Contact us today, call 203.265.7499 or email jdemaio@learningdynamics.com.

An Organizational Workplace Conduct Assessment

1) Is everyone in your company aware of your company’s workplace conduct guidelines?
Yes
No
Unsure

2) Do all employees know what can constitute a hostile work environment?
Yes
No

3) Do all employees know the difference between quid pro quo sexual harassment and hostile work environment harassment?
Yes
No
Unsure

4) Is there a written and publicized policy for reporting workplace conduct violations?
Yes
No

5) When reporting a workplace violation, is there a defined process that is in place for investigating?
Yes
No
Unsure

6) Are egregious behaviors swiftly dealt with in your company?
Yes
No

7) Is your HR department highly regarded in terms of trust and integrity?
Yes
No
Unsure

8) Is upper management fully committed to a harassment free workplace?
Yes
No

If you’ve answered “No” or “Unsure” to any of the above questions then check out Common Decency®, our award-winning workplace conduct program.

 

The Value of Leadership Assessment Centers

Organizations, both small and large, are in the business of attracting, developing and retaining leadership talent. They continually ask the question, “Do we have the right talent in the right place at the right time?”

Leadership development is vitally important but, oftentimes, organizations don’t know how to handle it effectively. The key is to have a system in place to ensure that organizations can answer the question affirmatively, such as an effective succession plan. Such a system begins with identifying key talent, or those employees with high potential, in an organization. The talent is gauged by assessing individuals against the key leadership competencies vital to that organization or vital to a specific leadership role within the organization. Once those key individuals are identified, the next step is to determine the development plans necessary for those individuals to progress to more responsible leadership roles.

An effective method of assessing individuals against key leadership competencies is to conduct a leadership assessment center, which consists of a series of timed activities that may include interviews, simulations, and exercises designed to predict how well participants will perform in a specific role. Assessors independently observe, review and assess the participants’ actions and behaviors in each of these activities and then collaborate to provide a rating on each competency, together with a narrative on how the participant performed. The assessors then provide feedback to each participant on their performance relative to the competencies assessed and also provide a summary report to senior management.

A combination of well-designed exercises and the use of independent, objective assessors to gauge competency proficiency in a leadership assessment center is a win-win for both the individual and the organization. This combination, done effectively, yields a fairly accurate profile of the individual who, oftentimes, confirms the results. Together, the participant and assessors can highlight strengths and determine development plans for competencies needing improvement.

The leadership assessment center is a powerful tool that can provide both the individual and the organization with some answers to the question on what it takes to progress to a higher level of leadership.

Learning Dynamics has over 25 years of experience designing and facilitating leadership assessment centers. For more information, visit us at www.learningdynamics.com.

Enhancing the customer experience. Focus on a quality conversation, not just quantity.

Many customer contact centers are being challenged with enhancing the customer experience while at the same time managing their call volume and statistics. Reduced customer loyalty and expectations of high levels of service are becoming the norm. Our experience in working with customer contact centers has shown us there are three things to consider:

1. Determine the real reason for the call. Representatives fall into what’s called “automatic listening” as they hear a customer issue. When a representative thinks they know why a customer is calling they tend to jump right to the solution. Without knowing it, they may be cutting off the customer conversation leaving the customer feeling they haven’t been heard or valued. Even though they may have heard the issue 47 times this week, it is the first time for the customer. It is crucial to ask probing questions to gain a clear understanding of that specific customer’s situation so the customer feels like they’ve truly been heard.

2. Restate the issue. When you have to sign for a package, it indicates delivery. Communication happens the same way. The customer needs to know their communication has been delivered. One way to do this is to restate the customer issue. In general terms, restate something the customer told you so they know they’ve been heard and their communication has been delivered. You don’t have to restate every word of their story, just pick some highlights. I usually start with “So if I understand you correctly…” or “It sounds like you…” , then I restate their concern. If you’re off base, then it gives you the chance to clarify the issue before jumping to a solution.

3. Solve the problem and ask the key question, have I resolved the reason for your call? One way to track customer experience is to measure first call resolution. When a customer has to call in a second or third time, studies show the call actually takes longer to complete. The customer usually provides more and more detail while they vent their frustrations making the call take longer and more upsetting for everyone which ultimately ends up with reduced customer loyalty. It is easy to set up a tracking field or tick mark system to track your progress.

Customer experience is a differentiating factor for business. If you want to learn additional approaches, call us at 203.265.7499 or email bwalker@learningdynamics.com.

Learning & Development is More than a Class

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When our Consultants at Learning Dynamics meet with clients to discuss training initiatives, we always start by asking what the client wants to accomplish. Combined with a thorough understanding of the current conditions within the client’s company, sometimes down to the individual employee, we make recommendations that go beyond training alone. Here is the story of one client engagement that called for much more than instructor-led training.

Our client was a small specialty healthcare organization, and it saw some need to improve performance in its patient contact center. The department was made up of contact center agents and a supervisor tasked with training them, monitoring performance, coaching, and delivering on revenue objectives. Senior management’s opinion was that their people could be doing more.

Learning Dynamics engaged in a detailed review of the workflow, the talent, and obstacles to success. By bringing in a Consultant with contact center management as well as learning and development experience, we were able to identify several opportunities to help. Our proposed solution included instructor-led patient service training, follow-up written training materials (Learning Dynamics Skills Sharpeners), and performance coaching for the supervisor. Significantly, our solution also included developing a call monitoring and evaluation tool so the supervisor had a standard process and criteria to evaluate performance.

The process of creating the call monitoring tool was itself revealing. Our Consultant sat with the supervisor, listened to recorded calls, and identified immediately some opportunities for improvement. One issue – extended and unnecessary hold times – was addressed immediately. The tool continues to be used for agent coaching and has helped produce great results.

This engagement also allowed us to demonstrate flexibility to respond to the client’s needs. Toward the end of the coaching period, a senior manager identified agents’ time management and prioritization skills as needing further development. Knowing that pulling all agents off the phones for a long class was not practical, we created a 45-minute webinar, delivered before the contact center opened for the day, that delivered the essentials of what the agents needed. The feedback has been terrific.

This story is just one example of our ability and willingness to collaborate with our clients to customize a solution that meets your organization’s unique needs. Connect with us today to start the conversation about Investing in People™.

Call 203.265.7499 or email jdemaio@learningdynamics.com