Category Archives: Culture

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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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.

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

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.

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.

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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.