Category Archives: Management

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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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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.