Category Archives: Communication

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

Coaching Virtual Teams

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Because of globalization and business projects that often span across the country or across the globe, coaching virtual teams can bring its own set of challenges. Here are some guidelines for effectively coaching a virtual team:

1. Develop a common focus or purpose that aligns with the organizational goals. This includes clarifying tasks, processes and milestones to ensure team and individual accountability.

2. Create a unique identity for the entire team such as a special name for the team, a logo, or a Facebook page that defines the overall team purpose.

3. Establish communication guidelines for the team. Be clear and disciplined about how the team will communicate given the dispersed locations of team members. For instance, holding team meetings at the same day and time each week provide some structure for all team members.

4. Establish frequent individual connections with each of your team members to show your engagement and involvement with them as individuals. This could include using Facetime or Skype to communicate with them.

5. Provide constructive feedback both to individuals and the team through regular virtual coaching sessions. Holding regular virtual team building exercises keeps the team engaged and helps to create a productive and fun environment.

6. Clarify and track individual and team commitments through project management software like Basecamp, Work Zone and Wrike , so everyone on the team can see how their efforts link with the rest of the overall project.

7. Be available after regular business hours for questions or concerns. Different time zones make this critically important.

Remember, coaching virtual teams brings both challenges and opportunities to connect in different ways. Effective coaches understand that frequent communication is critical to the success of the team and its goals.

Learning Dynamics’ popular “Managing Virtual Teams’ webinar expands upon these topics.
http://www.learningdynamics.com/training-ManagingVirtualTeams.htm

Servant Leadership

Now Can Be the Time for Servant Leadership
by Vice President Bill Florin

You want to do the right thing for your people, being there as a resource to help them do their best work. You want your team to be open, honest and engaged. Maybe you are trying to figure out how to lead Millennials and the next cohort of people hitting the job market, Generation Z. If any or all of these ideas resonate with you, it might be worth looking at Servant Leadership and what it can offer your organization.

Servant Leadership (SL) is a concept made popular by Robert K. Greenleaf. He realized, during his 38-year career at AT&T, that it is as important for the organization to serve people as it is for people to serve the organization. This was a revolutionary concept when he published his essay detailing the model in 1970. Since then, SL has grown in popularity. Learning Dynamics has been doing more work in this area as organizations seek ways to create inclusive, inspiring and engaging environments as a platform to growth.

Surveys have shown that the youngest generations of people in the workplace value authenticity, honest feedback, and an opportunity to be heard, respected and contribute. The leader who practices SL concepts makes this a part of her everyday work experience. More than a dictatorial, order-issuing boss, the SL manager works as a coach, creating a culture in which people can experiment, explore new ways of doing things, make mistakes, and innovate. Ultimately, work becomes a place where people feel supported and valued, a place where people can and want to do their best work.

One of our Connecticut-based Learning Dynamics clients recently engaged us to facilitate a workshop to review that organization’s SL journey since its official launch as a component of its operating platform more than a year ago. During this session, which hosted nearly 30 people, the entire management team engaged in discussion of their SL experiences. This conversation included the company president. The mood was relaxed; you would not know the president was the top person if we did not do introductions.

While there was much discussed during the three hours, one message was clear: The company is going through a transformation, becoming a place where trust, respect in every direction on the organizational chart, and open communication are reality, not some wish for the future.

Importantly, accountability is a critical part of the formula. The same culture that fosters collaboration also demands honesty and a coaching approach when an individual is falling behind. The leaders view open, honest, timely feedback as a vital component of their core roles. Servant Leadership is not soft.

It is true that changing culture is hard work. It can be a years-long journey. But for organizations that embrace the idea and align everyone it, from the part-time individual contributor to the CEO, Servant Leadership can be an energizing shift that boosts the company to new high-water marks for performance.

Learning Dynamics offers training, organization development and coaching services that can help your organization grow and excel. Contact us today to discover if Servant Leadership could be appropriate for your company.

Emotional Intelligence: Not Just a Buzz Word

The concept of emotional intelligence has been around since Aristotle. He wrote:

“Anyone can become angry – that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not easy.” ~ Aristotle

Even back then, the great philosophers understood the importance of managing your emotions.

Some people seem to have it to a greater degree and some people, well, not so much. We have all known a few bullies at work, yes? People, who when they are having a bad day, seem determined to pull everyone else down with them.

Leaders especially need to be in charge of their emotions. Take the time to raise your awareness on this important topic. If you master it, every area of your life will improve.

Emotional Intelligence is known as EQ (Emotional Quotient) and it is more than just self-regard or self-esteem.

It is also not about being nice or smiling all of the time. It is not about expressing every emotion you are feeling either.

A person with high EQ has the following qualities and awareness:

  • Empathy: The ability to pick up on emotional and social cues and respond appropriately. The ability to read body language and non-verbal communication to understand others better.
  • Self-honesty: The ability to know and accept your own qualities, faults, limitations and be able to recognize patterns of behavior that either help or hinder situations. (But don’t beat yourself up.)
  • Consciousness: Recognize that emotions you may be feeling can get in the way of accurately assessing emotions in others. Be aware of when you may be projecting your feelings onto others.

The way you work on and improve your EQ is to:

1.    Manage your feelings. You can begin with positive self-talk. Tell yourself that you have great coping skills. Tell yourself that everything is okay and not an emergency. Accept that: a) you have a choice, b) you make a difference, and c) you are an important part of the situation.

2.    Develop social behaviorsRespond to people’s needs instead of reacting and don’t take anything personal. When others are behaving or acting poorly it may have nothing to do with you. Build conflict resolution skills and be open to feedback.

3.    Identify and prioritize what is important. Understand why you may be feeling the way you feel and weigh your decisions based on what is really important (not the urgency you feel in the moment). Separate your feelings with your reaction. You can still be angry but react kindly. By doing this, sometimes we realize we are getting upset over nothing and it’s just NOT that important.

A few words about optimism . . .

“A pessimist is one who makes difficulties of his opportunities; and an optimist is one who makes opportunities of his difficulties.”

~ Reginald B. Mansell

Educate yourself and grow your EQ to increase your happiness, manage life’s challenges and be a better leader.

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This article was written by Maureen Ross Gemme, Senior Consultant with Learning Dynamics. Visit her personal profile page to learn more about Maureen’s career and expertise.

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Learning Dynamics offers an  Emotional Intelligence program designed to maximize the value of EI with leaders who are entrusted with motivating staff. Contact us today to learn how we can help your organization develop your supervisors and managers into EI conscious leaders.

Five Steps to Conference Call Success

Meetings that Drive Results is a popular training program with Learning Dynamics clients as many are working to find ways to have more effective meetings, fewer meetings, and different ways to communicate across teams. Conference calls are one option toward that end.

A participant at a recent session asked, “How do I help other managers who don’t trust the effectiveness of conference calls? This person wants to have in-person meetings, even when they are inconvenient for many. He doesn’t think conference calls work. He says that people don’t pay attention and no work gets done.”

While there are many ways to make conference calls more effective, we offered a five-step strategy to get everyone engaged in the calls and to ensure that work is accomplished.

Prepare an Agenda. This should be a part of every effective meeting, whether in-person or virtual, and it is especially valuable for conference calls. Let your participants know the start and end times, the topics to be discussed, and who is presenting what information. A compelling agenda will help get people on your call on time, ready to collaborate.

Track Participation. After you have taken attendance at the beginning of the call, keep a tally of who participates. Is Bob lurking in the shadows and staying quiet? Call on him for his insights and opinions. You will only have to do this a few times before people realize they can’t just dial in and go quiet.

Get Commitments. Make task assignments and clarification of next steps a non-negotiable part of every call. You cannot afford to let a call end without having a clear plan for what will happen next.

Follow Up. When the call is over, send out notes and a summary of commitments. Follow up individually with participants at appropriate times to ensure they are staying on track with their work.

Celebrate. Starting with the second conference call, recognize and celebrate the work accomplished to which your participants committed during the previous call. This positive feedback loop will help everyone understand the value of the conference calls and will keep them striving to fulfill the commitments they make during them.

While conference calls are not always ideal (sometimes the technology can be a big challenge!), they can save a lot of time and expense. The trick, of course, is to plan for the calls to be productive and successful, and then take the steps above to make the plan reality.

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Do you even need to have that meeting? Read this to decide for yourself.

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Learning Dynamics has been delivering customized employee training and development solutions to its clients for 35 years. Meetings that Drive Results is just one of many training initiatives that can help your organization improve efficiency and effectiveness. Contact Learning Dynamics today to learn more.

I Heard What You Didn’t Say

Your Smile Does a Lot of Good!

Your Smile Does a Lot of Good!

– By Bev Bahmanyari, Learning Dynamics Consultant

The next time you are waiting at an airport gate and passing the time by people watching, see yourself as a behavioral scientist conducting some research.  Check your thoughts for the first noun that pops into your head to describe your fellow travelers.  Even without the benefit of hearing them speak you’ll find you have no problem coming up with a descriptive noun for each person you observe.

A study of the communication process was written in 1972 by Albert Mehrabian, a behavioral psychologist, who determined that 55% of our communication is processed through nonverbals.  You will likely agree with this when you become aware of how strong your opinions of someone can be just by watching that person for a moment.

Our first impressions actually take only a few seconds.  Think of all the ways that happens: a handshake, appearance, walk, posture, hygiene, eye contact, gestures, and other traits.  All of these nonverbals are creating an instant turn-on or turn-off!

Most people are unaware of the importance of the unspoken messages they are sending.  The silent skills are critical; those who are aware of and hone their skills in this area are more likely to get the job, close the sale, establish strong relationships and create the needed networks for success.

So, how do we know how we come across to others?  You can do a self-check when you are walking through a mall or down the street and catch a glimpse of your reflection in a window or a mirror.  What do you see?  Do you look friendly and approachable?  Oftentimes, we are deep in thought, and we actually look a little mean and detached.

How are your handshake and eye contact?  There is an art and science to creating positive first impressions.  First of all, it takes awareness of what your reaction is to others (i.e. the airport experience) and the degree of your own self-awareness.  Remember, we rarely see ourselves as others see us.

Where can we start?  There is one universal nonverbal that seems to break down almost all barriers that many people don’t do often enough: a genuine and sincere SMILE.  That’s right; so simple, yet so powerful.  It’s the language that tells everyone “I’m approachable”, “I’m safe,” and “I’m kind.”  Sometimes we wonder why people don’t seem to be connected anymore.  How can we connect when we have our faces connected to technology the majority of our waking hours?  We appear cold and disconnected to our fellow humans.  Again, simple eye contact with a smile and perceptions can change in an instant.

When you are done with your airport experiment, be the guinea pig and try out the smile tactic.  See how it will resonate and change the atmosphere if only for a moment.  If you’re lucky, perhaps others will pay it forward.  In any case, it will do good things for you.  Scientists say that the muscles in our face that we use to smile actually release those good endorphins that make us feel better. Smiling actually creates a better mood; you can inspire your brain to be happier.  Give it a try.  What have you got to lose?

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Learning Dynamics can help your team communicate better by mastering the art of nonverbal communication. Ask us today how we can help your employees communicate more effectively to create better business results and teamwork with Learning Dynamics training programs.

Do You Need to Have that Meeting?

LD Logo ArtWe have been working with clients to help them avoid contributing to the wasted time that comes with unnecessary and poorly planned meetings. A recent estimate pegs the number at $37 billion in the US alone. That’s every year! As we’ve gotten out and interacted with groups, we have found that employees feel that some meetings just do not need to happen. That’s a great place to start cutting into the $37 billion.

The first place to start is to ask the tough question: What’s the worst thing that happens if we don’t have the meeting? If you cannot come up with a compelling answer, that can be a clue that the meeting should be cancelled.

Second, consider some options to communicate that do not require getting everyone together in a real or virtual room. Could more information be put in writing and shared via email, shared folders, or some other channel that would eliminate the need for the meeting?

Third, evaluate the effectiveness of past meetings. What were the results of the last meeting? Were the time and effort put into them rewarded with clear outcomes and benefits? If not, why not? Did you plan it well? Does your team agree on goals and follow up to keep progress moving?

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See Five Steps to Conference Call Success to get the most out of those calls.

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Importantly, there are some political and power issues at play when it comes to meetings and conference calls. The scary issue for many is, “How can I tell my boss that this meeting is a waste of time?” This is very common when organizations have standing meetings.

Each meeting should stand on its own, whether it is a standing meeting or an exception. If there is important work to be done, critical information to be shared, a plan, and follow up, go for it! If it is a meeting just because we always have a meeting at 10 on Tuesdays, do the critical thinking and analysis and consider killing it – even if for just this one time.

Managers who go through this thought process will do three things that immediately benefit themselves and their people. First, they will give productive time back to their teams (who doesn’t want that?). Second, they will send the message that the meetings we do have are important. Third, and maybe most importantly, they demonstrate that “this is the way we have always done it” doesn’t have a place in their company.

Get your productivity back. Kill the bad meetings and make the rest productive and goal-focused.

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Do you have ideas on how to boost the value of meetings? Have you ever cancelled a standing meeting? We would love to hear about it in our comments section.

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Learning Dynamics can help your company get the most out of its meeting investment. Visit the Learning Dynamics website to learn more about Meetings that Drive Results.

Time Management Starts at the Top

HourglassTime management – or task management, depending on your perspective – is a perennial hot topic in employee performance conversations. How can we get more productivity from the team? How can we deliver this huge project without adding people? How can we get more done with the resources we have?

These are all valuable questions, and success at improving productivity using smarter time management techniques can pay big rewards. Keeping talented team members engaged in the important, rather than diving into the trivial, is a big part of the discipline. It must be said that senior leaders have a critical role to play, as well, by giving teams every opportunity to succeed. Here are some points to consider about how you and your organization’s executives lead, and how they might be hurting results.

Meetings. Everyone complains, “We have too many meetings!” Yet, we all continue to have them, and they are not all worthwhile. To be more direct, many are a waste of time, burning mountains of money. One estimate places the tab at $37 billion in lost salaries spent on bad meetings in the US alone. Before you have a meeting, ask yourself some questions. Do we need to have it? What if we don’t have a meeting? What will happen? Is there a better and more efficient way to communicate?

Schedules. Some organizations have moved to a work anywhere, anytime model, or at least flexible scheduling that respects employees’ lives and priorities. Are your people spending their best times – prime time when they are most mentally on – commuting or working a schedule that does not meet any business need other than “that’s the way we’ve always done it”?

Technology. This might seem like a no-brainer, but is worth a moment. Does your company have the technology – hardware, software and infrastructure – to be as efficient as possible? Conversely, are you clinging to old technology to save the capital expense, when an investment today can pay dividends for years to come.

Prioritization. Do your performance evaluations and management actions keep employees focused on the most important things? Do your senior leaders have a clear vision of what those things are? Do they explain the reasons for priorities to get buy-in from followers? Sometimes, realignment of priorities can get talented people moving more directly toward the goal. Try this: ask an employee at random, “What are you paid to do here?” Listen for the first response. Is it what you expected? Did the employee struggle? If you aren’t happy with the answer, look in the mirror and ask yourself, “Why doesn’t my team know what is important?”

We could generate a much longer list of time management traps, but this will get you started. Look at time management success as a priority for leadership and consider how your top people can make everyone more productive. It will be worth the effort.

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Learning Dynamics offers custom learning and development programs on topics including time management and effective communication. Contact us today or visit our programs page to learn more.

Verbal Communication: What Are You Talking About?

We deliver many communication skills training programs at Learning Dynamics. We can point to clients that have recognized this as a priority in every industry and niche. This doesn’t happen because Learning Dynamics has an army of sales people out pushing these programs. Instead, communication skills – especially verbal interpersonal communication – have been recognized as a key component of professional effectiveness by employers of every stripe.

The Center for Professional Excellence at York College of Pennsylvania conducts an annual survey of over 600 human resources professionals to get an understanding of their opinions and perceptions of their new employees. These HR leaders view good interpersonal communication skill as being an important component of employee professionalism. Those viewed as unprofessional often have, as you might expect, communication skill shortfalls.

Verbal communication is ranked the second most important professional skill.

The National Association of Colleges and Employers, in its Job Outlook 2012 report, also found that organizations rank interpersonal communication skills as being one of the most important workplace skills. Verbal communication skills ranked #2 on the report, compared with #9: the ability to write reports.

The good news is that verbal communication skills can be taught and are very coachable. This development goal could be even more important than ever as some have suggested that the widespread increase in texting and other non-verbal communication tools have stunted the skill of conversation for many.

An engaged and caring leader can help a team member plan for communication and offer valuable after-action feedback. Here are some coachable points:

Did you deliver the key information: the who, what, where, when, why, and how?

Were you concise enough?

Did your tone and non-verbal actions (body language) support or hinder the effectiveness of your message?

Extensive research proves that interpersonal communication is a key contributor to professionalism. Isn’t it worth investing energy and time into this critically important skill?

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Learning Dynamics offers many customized learning and development solutions to help your team communicate better. Communicating for Success and Personally Speaking™ are two options. Contact Learning Dynamics today to learn how we can help your organization excel with better professional skills.

7 Tips for Emotional Conversations

Emotional Conversations

How do you prepare for a potentially emotional conversation? Many inexperienced leaders –  and others, too – struggle with this common scenario. Some avoid it. In most every case, reticence to have these discussions leads to stress, anxiety rooted in procrastination and fear, and lost team productivity and effectiveness.

It is in everyone’s best interest to handle these conversations as quickly as possible. Here are some tips that you can use yourself, or to coach others as they prepare.

Have a Plan: Detail everything about the conversation. What will be discussed? When and where will it happen? What is the goal of the conversation?

Deal with it Now: Unnecessary delay has many negative effects. Continued poor performance, the stress that comes from artificial team harmony, and the opportunity cost of spending time thinking about something that should have already been addressed are just the beginning. Deal with it and move on.

Choose Your Setting: Potentially emotional and negative conversations must be held in private. No exceptions. Ensure that privacy is a top priority. Avoid distractions like phones, computers and visitors.

Have a Clear Goal: What does the supervisor expect to change as a result of the talk? While this is part of the plan, it is worthy of its own bullet here because it is that important.

Have Your Facts Ready: Are you having a performance discussion? Use the reports and other tools that you need to make your case. Preparation will lead to an efficient and effective conversation based on facts, rather than a painful and vague discussion built on the sands of assumption.

Don’t Take it Personally: Keep the conversation professional and as dispassionate as possible. People can be naturally defensive, so expect it. This isn’t about you; it’s about the other person.

Keep it Focused and Concise: Don’t try to ease into the conversation with small talk. Greet the person, invite her or him to sit down, and explain why you are initiating the conversation.

Recognize that tough conversations are a part of all our work experiences. Learning how to manage them effectively and calmly can make this unwelcome part of our work lives less onerous.

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Learning Dynamics offers learning and development solutions to help your team members become better communicators. Contact us today to discuss your needs.