Category Archives: Leadership

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.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

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.

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.

= = =

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.

= = =

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.

Performance Management: Beginning the Discussion

How many of us have heard…or uttered … these phrases in our professional lives?

“I haven’t had a performance review with my boss since I got here.”

“She couldn’t really tell me why I got the performance rating.”

“It’s not fair.  I know I did better than he says I did.”

“He said, I should ‘be happy’”

Are these the comments that stellar organizations and relations are built upon?  I think not.  If this is, or has been, a part of your journey, how can we as leaders make change?  Some believe that change can only occur from the top of an organization.  There is a grass roots component that I believe can enhance your work place and potentially have an impact on the larger organization.  It begins with first level leaders understanding key themes about managing employee performance to better the organization.  I have always thought of these as the key components of understanding outstanding employee performance management:

1.  WHY

2.  WHO

3.  WHAT

4.  HOW

5.  WHEN

Let’s address each of these in successive posts, starting with WHY.

WHY IS PERFORMANCE MANAGEMENT IMPORTANT TO THE WORKPLACE?

1.  Critical to Business Success.  Employees must have expectations for performance excellence tied to goals.  Without employee performance expectations aligned with company vision and mission, employees and leaders struggle with focus.  When employee expectations are aligned and met, it is a simple progression that leads to enhanced engagement.

2.  Improves Colleague Engagement.  Simply doing without understanding why limits employee engagement.  Imagine the motivation when an employee actually gets it.  Think of how that employee feels about him/herself and the work required on a project, when they are clear on the importance of how their role relates to the end product.

3.  Drives Individual Employee Development.  As the leader assigns goals and/or objectives, it can be done with an eye toward stretching the ability of the employee.  In so doing, a business-complementary stretch objective is introduced; the employee senses trust on the part of the leader and can more easily align with growth/development opportunities.  Success for both parties is derived from employee growth and business success. Of course, employee accountability for performance is an important part of development and growth.

4.  Enhances Rewards and Recognition Program.  With a clear, established performance program, employees understand what is happening to them.  Comments like those that opened this blog can be reduced and eliminated.

We may even get solid suggestions and recommendations from our employees concerning rewards and recognition.  Talk about engagement!

5.  Incentivizes Employees.  Now we have employees who understand and participate in the organization’s rewards and recognition program. They are bought-in to their individual development objectives. They are engaged because there is clarity and understanding about what they are doing and why.  Because they see the alignment with overall business vision and goals, these employees are now leaning forward, looking for additional opportunities.

Once we have clarity about WHY performance management is valuable, we need to next look at WHO is involved in our performance management process. That is the topic for our next blog.

= = =

This article was written by Gary Steele, Vice President with Learning Dynamics. Visit his personal profile page to learn more about Gary’s career and expertise.

= = =

Learning Dynamics offers several customizable leadership development programs including Coaching for Results. Contact us today to learn how we can help your organization develop your supervisors and managers into leaders.

The Thoughtful Leader

As leaders we often insert ourselves into situations to drive decisions.  Once engaged we want to solve them, quickly extricate ourselves, and move on to the next challenge.

If we haven’t thought these situations through – our involvement, the desired end state, and how we will get there – we can find ourselves caught in the ever-tightening grip of our problem.  How might we better manage our challenge?

WHY THE RUSH?

Are we victims of our push for speed?  For the great majority of situations we encounter, the “standard” speed to solution will work.  Certainly there are times when we must make fast decisions…and we do.  I heard a phrase once that goes, “If you want it bad, you’ll get it…BAD”!  How many times have we seen things get redone because of the pressure applied to reach a fast decision?  Time, people, resources, and profitability can be wasted.

A POSSIBLE SOLUTION

To create a framework for success, what can we do?  We pause, analyze, consider, decide, and execute.  If one thinks about all elements of a situation (WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, WHY) perhaps one might not find themselves imprisoned by their own good intentions.

Many years ago I learned a tool primarily used to create a document for the effective planning and execution of military operations.  I learned it as the Five Paragraph Field Order.  It consists of five paragraphs within which a leader captures the basic elements of a plan to successfully accomplish a mission.

Here is a quick look at the five elements:

SITUATION.  Before diving into creating a solution, the situation at hand must be accurately described.  This includes all positive and negative factors impacting decisions.

MISSION.  After understanding the situation, the leader can intelligently articulate the objective or goal.  This is a thoughtfully composed planning component that includes the WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, and WHY.

EXECUTION.  Here is where the leader clearly lays out how he/she sees the operation unfolding to accomplish the mission.

ADMINISTRATION AND LOGISTICS.  This incudes the leader’s guidance on the use of all available resources for mission accomplishment.

COMMAND AND COMMUNICATION.  It is important that all involved parties are clear on individual and group responsibilities.  All must understand “who’s responsible for what,” and how we will communicate status.

In any environment – civilian, military, for profit, and non – collaboration and delegation must play a part, too. An intelligent leader will take the time to understand if she or he is even needed. Can the employees handling the situation do it on their own? Can we create a developmental opportunity through which others can learn and grow? Sometimes the top person doesn’t need to be involved at all.

FINDING THE BALANCE

Not every challenge faced by today’s and tomorrow’s leaders will necessarily require something of the magnitude of the Five Paragraph Field Order.  It is up to us, as thoughtful leaders, to discern the level of planning and execution required to drive our organizations to success. What’s important is that there is a thoughtful process used to navigate challenges.

= = =

This article was written by Gary Steele, Vice President with Learning Dynamics. Visit his personal profile page to learn more about Gary’s career and expertise.

= = =

Learning Dynamics offers several customizable leadership development programs including Coaching for Results. Contact us today to learn how we can help your organization develop your supervisors and managers into leaders.

Don’t Wait to Give This

Black Friday is just behind us, and Cyber Monday is off to a record-breaking pace as everyone searches for holiday gifts at the lowest possible price. Then we will wrap them up and give them to our family, friends, customers, and coworkers over the coming weeks. It’s a fun time of year, for sure.

Our employees are deserving of something, too. We aren’t talking about a box of chocolate or a gift card, but recognition. In nearly every survey and study of the workplace, employees say they wish for more recognition. Giving it, and meaning it, can make the difference between a healthy, vibrant team and a place of drudgery and high turnover.

Here are some of the keys to offering recognition:

Be Timely. The best time to give recognition is when it is earned. Don’t wait. As a leader who is working to generate energy and build a high performance team, you should take a moment to offer recognition while the positive behavior you have seen is still fresh and memorable. If you wait a day or a week, your recognition will be less powerful. The right words at the right time have impact.

Be Specific. They don’t give out the Oscars to actors, directors and the rest without mentioning the film that is being honored. That would be ridiculous. When offering recognition, mention something specific about the performance. “I really appreciate the dedication you showed by staying late to work on that customer issue.”

– – – –

For more on building high performance teams, see Hire It & Inspire It.

– – – –

Link It. Take your recognition to the next level by linking the positive behavior to some immediate or future benefit. Make the connection for your employee so she will understand not just the fact that you appreciate some specific behavior, but how it will affect the company and its customers in the future. To add on to the statement above, “I’m sure your work will improve our relationship with the customer and lead to future sales.”

Be Personal. When offering recognition, make it clear that you, as the employee’s supervisor, personally appreciate the effort made. This one-to-one relationship building will prove valuable over time, especially when you have to ask for some extra effort in the future. Your team members are more likely to perform in a pinch if you have this leadership equity with them.

Be Public. Leverage is the idea here. Public recognition makes the experience that much better for the person receiving it, and it helps others. They can learn what’s important in your firm and how to earn praise themselves. They might even be inspired to perform better. Your public recognition can be delivered in person – maybe a brief department meeting or a stand-up huddle – or any other way that works for you. If you have a multi-shift operation, written recognition on a bulletin board or electronic resource (e.g., email, intranet page) could be appropriate.

Recognition is powerful. It’s free, it’s meaningful, and it works. Give that gift of recognition right now. Make regular, consistent recognition part of your routine to build your high performance team.

= = =

Learning Dynamics helps leaders at every level learn to be better leaders. Bringing Out the Best in Others teaches participants leadership skills to enhance teamwork, morale, and organizational performance. Ask for more information today.

Sprint or Marathon?

Have you read the New York Times piece on the tough work environment at Amazon? There has been a huge amount of coverage about the article itself and the responses by CEO Jeff Bezos and his lieutenants. Stress, tears, and very long work hours – along with hefty compensation for top performers – are all part of that company’s culture, and it can be argued that it has worked for them.

The bigger questions raised by this discussion are important. What is the culture you want in your organization? What must your organization do to compete and thrive? What do you and your top leaders want the company to be known for?

While the Amazon story gives a clear description of a tough, combative work environment – some might label it a cold meritocracy – it also is one that gets results. If you are competing against Amazon – and that includes most every organization that sells and ships anything – its intense focus on taking market share is one that should cause concern. Your customers are likely buying from them sometimes. What can you do? Do you need to transform your organization by adopting the Amazon culture, or can you get results some other way?

The short answer is this: You can get results however you would like, but your team needs to understand expectations. This starts with the hiring and selection process, through onboarding, and during the employee’s entire stay with your company.

Is your company one that encourages long tenure and values loyalty? Will it settle for 90% effectiveness rather than demanding – often demonstrated with midnight emails and text messages – 110% over months? Do you see your organization made up of a team of people running a metaphorical marathon? If so, then create and nurture a performance management and rewards systems that is consistent with that desired culture.

Is yours an organization that runs at a flat-out sprint? Does it bring in people for a relatively short time, work them hard, and reward them well, fully prepared for short tenure and a constantly active hiring team? Then be sure all of the elements – selection, training, compensation, executive messages, and exit protocols – are consistent with that paradigm.

In the end, there are not necessarily any right or wrong ways to run your business. If everyone is honest, ethical, and in compliance with the law, it is your choice as a leader as to which way lead. Just be clear and consistent, ensuring  all know what to expect. Anything less is dishonest and a path to trouble.

===

Learning Dynamics can help your organization inspire great performance from its people. Visit us today to learn about our leadership programs that allow you to invest in people who will give you great results. Contact us today for more information.

Customer Service Glitches: Train for Recovery

Every company has customers, so every company must pay attention to customer service. In our increasingly connected culture, where every meal, hotel stay, attraction, and service can be rated and reviewed by the masses on yelp!, Trip Advisor, Google, or any of the other countless websites, organizations interested in growth have got to get it right. One bad interaction can lead to a review that lives forever on the Internet. Usually, it’s the little things – and how you recover from them – that make a big difference.

Most every organization looks at the big things. Airlines generally get their planes in the air on or close to schedule and most bags get to where they should go. Hotels will have a room for you if you have a reservation. The supermarket will be open, the lights will be on, and the registers will be ready. Big stuff is the price of admission; little things separate the elite from the rest. Here are a couple of examples of how little things can make for a bad experience.

One of our consultants shared this story: I needed to pick up some nutritional drink for my son. The product is sold in a four-pack for about 10 dollars. I went to the store, picked up two four-packs and went to pay. The cashier rang eight bottles as one item. When I corrected her, telling her she only charged me for one instead of two, she said, “Wow! That’s really expensive. I didn’t realize that was two packages. That’s really expensive.” In the end, I did the right thing by pointing out her error, and in return, I was reminded of the price tag and almost regretted pointing out the error.”

How could the cashier have done a better job? At the least, she could have thanked the customer for being honest by pointing out the error.

Another member of our team recently had a home repair done by a local company. The work was warranted for a year, and soon after it was completed, something went wrong, requiring the company to come back to redo the work. After two unreturned phone calls, a letter was sent that finally got a response.

Clearly, a process was needed to improve responsiveness to phone calls.

Here are some idea about boosting your company’s customer service performance by investing in your people who deliver it every day.

Hire people who care about customer service. What does your selection process include? If you are hiring customer-facing employees, consider including behavioral interview questions for which the candidate must give you an example of competent customer service recovery. Role play common scenarios. Those who have done it well before will do it again.

Lead with a customer service attitude. Everyone in the organization – from the CEO to the first-level supervisor – must embrace and model strong service delivery.

Train and empower your team. Customer service training combined with employee empowerment – allowing your people to fix problems on the spot – makes a huge difference. Online retailer Zappos is known for empowered people who can make decisions to solve problems without getting supervisor approval. If you have hired and trained the right people, why not trust them?

Recognize service champions. People generally repeat the behaviors that get rewarded. Does your organization have a formal program to recognize and reward its service superstars? If not, why not?

Train for recovery. Things go wrong. Prepare for it. Spend time training on problem clarification, solutions exploration, and satisfaction confirmation. Statistics show that customers who have had a problem that was quickly resolved are more likely to be loyal to your company than those customers who never had a problem at all. We don’t want there to be problems, but recognize them as opportunities to bolster loyalty, and your team will look forward to the chance to be the next service heroes.

Measure It. How do you know if your customers are happy? How likely are they to refer you to others? How are you performing over time? Are you better this year than last? Mystery shoppers, surveys, and calls to customers can give you insight that might not be possible otherwise.

Customer service will never go away as a top priority. Leaders who embrace the challenge and view it as a way to differentiate their organizations from the competition will win. What can you do right now to better position your company to deliver superiors service? Try some of the tips above and let us know how it goes.

===

Learning Dynamics offers powerful customer service training and mystery shopping services. Exceeding Customer Expectations can help your entire company enhance its service delivery efforts. Contact us today for more information.

 

 

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.

===

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.