Friday, August 28, 2009

Ten Commitments of Personal Leadership

Anyone who has attended my Accountability Management Workshop knows I have ten expectations of those who work for me. They are extremely clear so there is no misunderstanding as to what I want. I share my expectations with potential employees in the hiring interview so they can decide whether they want to work for me.

Once hired, I give the new employee my expectations in the form of a granite plaque with my expectations carved into it. The symbolism of the plaque is never missed. My expectations are written in stone. They will not change. They are the ten commitments that must never be broken. Or, later, if in a moment of weakness one fails to perform, they must "repent" of their evil ways and recommit to being better next time.

Since my expectations are written in question format, each employee can evaluate his or her performance just be reading the plaque and answering the questions. An employee always knows where he or she stands with me performance-wise based upon how well one is living the "Ten Commitments of Personal Leadership".


TEN COMMITMENTS OF PERSONAL LEADERSHIP

1. Do you SEARCH for challenging opportunities to learn, change, grow,innovate and improve?


2. Do you EXPERIMENT by taking risks and learning from the accompanying mistakes?


3. Do you ENVISION an uplifting and enabling future?


4. Do you ENROLL others in a common vision by appealing to their values,interests, hopes and dreams?


5. Do you FOSTER collaboration, ownership, trust, respect and confidence?


6. Do you STRENGTHEN one another's abilities, will and sense of self-worth?


7. Do you EXEMPLIFY by behaving in ways that are consistent with your stated values?


8. Do you PLAN small wins which promote consistent and continuous progress?


9. Do you CELEBRATE team accomplishments regularly and dynamically?


10. Do you RECOGNIZE individual and team contributions to the success of every project?

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For more information about my Accountability Management Workshop call 702-258-8334 or email to mac@imglv.com

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Four Approaches to Corporate Diversity

There are four primary approaches to corporate diversity programs ranging from the mere image of being diverse to a culture that maximizes the full potential of all of its employees.

Here are the four approaches:

Brand Image

Desired Outcome: The purpose of this approach is to create a brand image of being a company that values the diversity of its employees. The focus is on getting name recognition and awards for the company’s diversity programs. The primary goal is to be viewed as a benchmark company when it comes to diversity programs. Under this scenario it is only necessary to achieve a perception that we are a diverse company. If customers, employees, vendors, suppliers, shareholders, and general public believe we are diversity champions, and hold us in high regard because of it, our diversity program can be considered a success.

Indicators of Success
: With this approach the key is getting the company’s name in the media, obtaining industry awards, and being at the top of mind regarding all diverse issues. The focus is on getting our name out as much as possible so people accept our message that we are a diverse company.

Achieving the Desired End Result: If a message is repeated loud enough and often enough, people begin to believe it. This approach requires a strong marketing and public relations component to make sure the company’s name is at the top of mind in all of the important venues of interest regarding diversity. The key to success is having anecdotal stories that show we are diverse. The more examples we can give of where we have provided opportunity and growth for diverse construction companies, vendors and employees, the better off we will be. Consequently, all we have to do is find a few powerful success stories of diversity, share those stories loudly and often, and we will be successful in creating the image that we want.

Affirmative Action

Desired Outcome: The goal of this approach is to create a company that truly does provide equal opportunity for people of diverse backgrounds and characteristics to be promoted, obtain supplier and vendor contracts, and/or to win construction projects. It entails more than just consideration for such things, but rather an affirmative and aggressive desire to achieve diversity in the managerial, supplier, vendor and construction company ranks. The goal of this approach is to have a representative number of people in key positions throughout the company that match the diverse demographics of the community.

Indicators of Success: The key to this approach is the typical EEO issue of making sure we have numbers that confirm we are affirmatively providing opportunities for people of diversity regarding pay, promotions, supplier contracts, and/or construction projects. Success is achieved when we have the right numbers and percentages that indicate we are a diverse company.

Achieving the Desired Results: This is a relatively simple approach to diversity. All it requires is identifying viable employee, supplier, and construction company candidates who can be hired or developed into qualified individuals for key management positions, supplier contracts, and/or construction projects. All that must be done is to search for candidates in the obvious places where they might be found (e.g.: black colleges, suppliers from minority communities, etc.). Or, even simpler, just identify the right diversity mix you want and hire it, regardless of qualifications.

Culture of Acceptance

Desired Outcome: This approach hopes to create a company that truly does value and appreciate the diverse nature of its workforce. It recognizes that people have different needs, different values, different characteristics, different styles and different desires in the workplace; and it seeks acceptance and tolerance for these differences in order to create a healthy and productive workplace. The key is to get everyone to be aware of and accept these differences in order to reduce conflict, maximize performance, and allow people to reach their full potential by removing diversity barriers in the workplace.

Indicators of Success: The key to this approach is helping everyone within the company to become more diversity conscious; to become aware of their personal believes, biases, and actions regarding people of diverse backgrounds; and to alter their actions in order to provide equal opportunity and a work culture that meets the needs of every employee in the company. It also includes removing the barriers that limit growth opportunities for certain people because of diversity issues.

Achieving the Desired Results: This approach requires people at all levels of the company to become introspective and aware of their belief-systems and actions regarding diversity issues. It requires specific policies, procedures, processes, practices and systems that create a culture that accepts and assertively values the diversity of its employees. This acceptance, then, must also lead to opportunities for diverse people to raise their potential, be promoted, and take on different roles and responsibilities that previously may not have been available to them in a less diverse-sensitive company.

Maximize Performance of All Employees (regardless of individual differences)

Desired Outcome: The purpose of this approach is to maximize the performance of each employee by removing barriers that limit their potential, regardless of whether those barriers are diversity issues (e.g.: race, culture, gender, etc.) or other barriers that hinder one’s progress (e.g.: language skills, education, work ethic, off-purpose work behaviors, social skills, etc.). The goal is to raise the productive output of each individual by understanding their unique differences and over-riding whatever keeps them from reaching their fullest potential. Likewise, this approach seeks suppliers, vendors and construction companies who can produce the desired quality products on time, on budget, and within scope.

Indicators of Success: The success of this approach is witnessed when each individual within the company has achieved the highest level of performance of which he or she is capable. It is also seen when barriers are removed and people go beyond what anyone had previously believed was possible because of what seemed to be insurmountable diversity issues. Success entails helping diversity suppliers, vendors and construction companies raise their productive output to a level where they are capable of winning company contracts and successfully delivering their goods and services as specified in the contracts without us lowering the requirements of the contracts. In other words, success of this approach is not in raising people up, but in raising their performance up so they are viable candidates for future promotions and contracts.

Achieving the Desired Result: This approach entails a mature and sophisticated approach to managing the business using proper management techniques. It entails an acceptance that diversity is a normal practice of good management wherein managers are charged with increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of all of their employees so they can produce more. This approach requires good management systems that create a productive work environment where all employees feel comfortable, confident, proud and included. It requires managers to deal with employees as individuals (rather than ethnic groups, genders, etc.) and to implement individual development plans so every employee can overcome barriers that inhibit the achievement of their highest potential. It also requires working with diverse vendors, suppliers and construction companies who currently do not qualify as acceptable resources to help them raise their performance capabilities so they can qualify for contracts with the company.

Which approach a company takes depends upon how serious the company is in its desire to create a truly diverse workforce that values the contribution of each and every employee.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Six Steps to Recover From Service Errors

No matter how well you design your products or refine the customer service skills of your employees there still will be times when your customers are dissatisfied with your company.

Even “five star” properties and companies known to produce superior quality merchandise have product defects and service lapses. No one can satisfy all of their customers all of the time. But the truly successful companies know how to recover from their service mistakes. They know how to turn around dissatisfied customers so they leave happy and remain loyal to the business.

There are six things you can do to recover from service mistakes.

First, apologize for the error. The more serious the infraction, the more profuse the apology should be. Express sincere regret for the difficulty or inconvenience the error has caused the customer. Accept responsibility, even if you are not personally responsible for the mistake. The customer does not care who is responsible. They expect you to make amends and fix it.

Unfortunately, some service providers see an apology as a sign of weakness or an admission of guilt. They hesitate to apologize for something someone else has done. Yet a sincere, first-person apology is the fastest and simplest way to minimize a customer’s irritation and recover from service mistakes.

Customers with problems are miffed. Although they eventually want action to be taken to rectify their problem, customers first need to feel that you understand and accept the “hassle” you’ve caused them. Even though they probably realize you personally may not have caused their problem, they see you as a representative of the enterprise that did. An honest, “I’m sorry that this has happened,” shows that you accept personal responsibility for the mistake, thereby speeding up the recovery process.

After having apologized, you need to listen with empathy and ask open-ended questions to get to the heart of the customer’s concern. Let the customer talk. Be extremely attentive when the customer is explaining the problem. Do not be quick to judge or be in a hurry to move to resolution. Let the customer vent. Sympathize with their situation and acknowledge their concern. Sometimes venting is all the customer needs in order to feel satisfied.

These first two steps in the service recovery process are extremely important. Too often service providers jump too quickly to resolution. For many customers, the resolution of their problem is less important than a simple acknowledgment of their concern. Usually you need to fix the customer before you can fix the problem. Sometimes an immediate apology and a sincere listening ear are all that a customer needs to turn the situation into a positive service experience.

After you’ve identified the customer’s concern, you need to do something about it. Solve the problem quickly and fairly. Find a resolution that is acceptable to the customer. For most service errors a simple apology or replacement of a faulty product is all that is required. Most customers complain merely to bring the problem to your attention so you – the company – can be better. In these cases the customer doesn’t expect anything from you other than your assurance that the problem will not happen again.

However, in more severe service failures, or with extremely difficult customers, you may need to atone for your service transgression. In some situations you must make amends – or suffer as the customer has suffered – before the customer will be satisfied. Your atonement may be a product upgrade, a small gift, a future discount, a free offering, or, in worse case situations, a complete write-off of the product or service.

After telling the customer what you will do to rectify the problem, be sure to keep your promise. Don’t make promises you cannot fulfill. Once you’ve made a promise make sure you carry it out fully. Be sure not to over-promise. It’s always best to under promise and over deliver.

Finally, you need to follow-up. Don’t assume the customer is satisfied just because you fixed the problem. Check with them. Ask if there is anything else that you can do to meet their needs. Don’t consider the situation closed until you know the customer is fully satisfied. If the customer seems content with the solution but still dissatisfied with your company, apologize again. Ask if there is anything else you can do to satisfy them. Listen again with empathy and try to identify other dissatisfiers that you can resolve.

Not all dissatisfied customers can be turned around. But by following these simple steps chances are even your most dissatisfied customers will leave feeling they were treated fairly.

Let me give you an example of two converse situations that happened to me that illustrate how important these steps are to creating loyal customers.

In the first example I had leased a car that turned out to be a lemon. I took the car into the dealership several times for repairs. Each time I returned to the dealership I became more and more dissatisfied as the repairs were not done properly. And each time I received more hassles from the dealership when I brought my car back to be fixed right. I eventually ended up writing a complaint letter to the president of the Chevrolet division in Detroit.

Not once did I receive an apology from the dealership. Not once did I feel the dealership cared about my problem or me. Nor did I receive a follow-up call. But boy, did they atone for their sins. Because of the intervention from Detroit I ended up not having to pay any of the payments on my lease agreement. Yet, even though I basically had a free car for two years, and this happened more than twelve years ago, I’m still peeved at the hassle I had to go through. And, consequently, I have never bought a Chevrolet since then and highly recommend that no one else does either.

An opposite experience occurred several years ago while I was vacationing with my family at Disney World in Florida. We had booked our stay in the apartment-like suites at Disney World Village. As we were getting settled into our suite I noticed the refrigerator in the kitchen did not work. I called the front desk and told them about the refrigerator. The front desk attendant immediately apologized for the inconvenience and said he would have a repairman to my room within 15 minutes. I told him we had not been inconvenienced because we didn’t need to use the refrigerator. I also told him we were leaving to go inside the park, so there was no rush to fix the refrigerator. We would be gone for many hours.

That night when we came back to our room after the park closed we found a fruit basket on our kitchen table next to a handwritten, personally-signed note from the hotel general manager. He first apologized for the inconvenience the broken refrigerator had caused. He then stated what action had been taken to fix the problem. He referenced a small gift-wrapped box that was next to the fruit basket and said it was a small token as an apology for the inconvenience of the broken refrigerator. Inside the box was a porcelain Mickey Mouse statue.

While my wife and I were marveling at all of this, the phone rang. It was the night manager. She said she was calling on behalf of the hotel general manager to apologize for the inconvenience our broken refrigerator had caused. She wanted to know if there was anything else she could do to overcome any dissatisfaction we might have.

How amazing! First, we were never dissatisfied. We weren’t even upset. We really didn’t care whether the refrigerator worked or not. We weren’t planning on using it. I had only called the front desk to let them know so they could fix the refrigerator for the next guest who might use the room.

Second, how did they know we were back in our room at one o’clock in the morning? Sure, the park closed at midnight. But we could have come back early and been long in bed. They must have had someone watching our room. Or they just kept calling every few minutes until they finally reached us. That is what I call amazing follow-up.

It's been almost 15 years since this incident and I still have that porcelain Mickey Mouse sitting prominently on my desk to remind me of the remarkable service we received that day.

In reality, you don’t have to provide the whiz-bang service I received at Disney World. It usually doesn’t take much to turn around dissatisfied customers and maintain their loyalty. You just have to follow six simple steps.

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Innovative Management Group offers a one, two and four-hour Customer Service Training courses that teaches customer service skills and service recovery techniques to managers and employees. IMG also offers a one-day “Creating Customer Loyalty” workshop that shows executive leaders how to create a strong service culture designed to attract and retain loyal customers. To find out how to apply these concepts in your business, please call IMG at 702-258-8334, or by e-mail at mac@imglv.com. Also visit our website at www.imglv.com

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Are You Riding a Dead Horse?

You might think that when someone discovers they’re riding a dead horse, they’d dismount and find another horse.

But often that’s not the case in the business world. Businesses typically try other strategies to keep the dead horse running — such as the following:

• Assure people “this is the way we’ve always ridden horses.”

• Explain that it’s not the horse, it’s the rider. So change out the rider, but keep the same horse.

• Appoint a committee or task force to study the dead horse.

• Visit other companies to see how they ride dead horses.

• Train people to ride dead horses more effectively.

• Lower the standards so the horse is no longer “dead.”

• Pay the dead horse more to give it incentive to perform at a higher level.

• Harness several dead horses together to increase their potential.

• Hire a consultant to help people understand and appreciate the value of the dead horse.

• Do a cost analysis to see if outsourced contractors can ride the horse more cheaply.

• Invest in new technology to revitalize the dead horse and make it run faster.

• Spin the dead horse in a more positive way so it doesn’t appear dead.

• Hold brainstorming sessions to find new ways to use a dead horse.

• Announce to the public and employees that the horse is not dead, it’s just in a “transition period” and will be revised in a restructure or reorganization.

• Shift resources from live horses to the dead horse so it has a better chance to succeed.

• Let the dead horse lie dormant for awhile and then bring it out again later as a new horse.

A dead horse is a dead horse, of course, of course; unless the horse of course is a famous company program.

Friday, August 21, 2009

So What If Your Products or Services Aren't Perfect

If 99.9% is good enough, then . . .

• Two million documents will be lost by the IRS this year.
• 811,000 faulty rolls of 35 mm film will be loaded into cameras this year.
• 22,000 checks will be deducted from the wrong checking account every 60 minutes.
• 1,314 phone calls will be misplaced by telecommunications services every minute.
• 12 babies will be given to the wrong parents each day.
• 268,500 defective tires will be shipped this year.
• 14,208 defective personal computers will be placed on desks.
• 103,260 income tax returns will be processed incorrectly this year.
• Almost 2.5 million books will be shipped in the next 12 months with the wrong cover.
• Two plane landings today at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport will be unsafe.
• 3,056 copies of tomorrow’s Wall Street Journal will be missing at least one section.
• 18,322 pieces of mail will be mishandled in the next hour.
• 291 pacemaker operations will be performed incorrectly this year.
• 880,000 credit cards in circulation will have incorrect cardholder information on their magnetic strips.
• $9,690 will be spent each day on defective, and often unsafe sporting equipment.
• 20,000 incorrect drug prescriptions will be written in the next twelve months.
• 114,500 mismatched pairs of socks will be purchased this year.
• $761,900 will be spent on compact discs and tapes that don’t work.
• 107 incorrect medical procedures will be done today.
• 315 entries in the Webster’s Third New International Dictionary will turn out to be misspelled.

(Taken from Insight, Syncrude Canada Ltd., Communications Division)

The Five Most Important Things Customers Want

A recent customer service survey conducted by The Forum Corporation identifies five essential things customers want from product manufacturers and service providers. These five elements are universal to all businesses and industries and refer both to your products and your services.

The first thing customers want is RELIABILITY. They want to dependably and accurately receive what has been promised. They expect your products to perform exactly as, or better than, stated in your advertisements or marketing materials. They want your products to withstand normal wear and tear. They expect your employees to provide exceptional customer service every time. They want to know that your staff will do the right things right the first time. They want to rely on and trust you will deliver on your promises each and every time they do business with you.

Second, your customers want RESPONSIVENESS. They expect your employees to be fast, timely and efficient. They especially want your workers to immediately notice them, and willingly help them when noticed. If there is a problem, customers expect it to be fixed promptly with no hassle. They want your employees to rectify problems and resolve concerns as quickly as possible with minimal impact on or effort from the customer. Most important, they expect a sense of urgency when it comes to delivering your services or rectifying a problem.

Next, customers seek ASSURANCE that dealing with your company will be a pleasant experience. Customers feel assured when your employees are well-informed, respond in a courteous manner, and convey respect in their demeanor. They also are assured when your employees are helpful and go out of their way to serve the customers. Customers can tell whether or not your employees are interested in serving them. Assurance, or confidence, in the consistency of your products and services is essential to creating customer loyalty.

Customers also want EMPATHY from your employees. This is exhibited in the degree of caring and individual attention provided to the customers by your employees. When customers have concerns they expect a prompt response and resolution to their problems. But they also wish to feel your employees care about and acknowledge their concerns. Resolution without empathy usually does not fully satisfy customers. People need to sense remorse from your staff for the inconvenience or difficulty the problem may have caused. Customers expect your employees to see things from the customer’s perspective and to be able to empathize with the customer experience. Patients want doctors who are not just technically proficient, but who also have a good bedside manner. Empathy can often compensate for errors in quality and service.

Finally, customers expect you to provide the TANGIBLES you promise. Tangibles are the things that create or represent your image and appearance to the customers. Tangibles are the physical properties of your products, facilities and employees. They are the way your enterprise and people look, sound and feel. Tangibles are the obvious characteristics of your products and services. Customers expect the tangible delivery of your products and services to match the image of your marketing and advertising.

These five elements are listed here in priority order from the customers’ perspective. Reliability is what customers want most. What they want least are tangibles. Yet the survey found that companies spend most of their energy focused on providing tangibles. They make their products physically appealing. They outfit their employees in pleasing attire. They ensure their facilities are ergonomically pleasing. But often these appearances are a fa├žade shrouding shoddy craftsmanship or poor customer service. Nothing frustrates customers more than to purchase products that look good, but function poorly.

Therefore, you can greatly enhance the loyalty of your customers by effectively focusing on the five things that matter most to the customers in the order the customers care about them most.

One's Beliefs Determines One's Willingness to Delegate

Perhaps one of the most difficult things for some managers to do is to delegate tasks to subordinates, particularly those tasks that are of high importance or entail great risk to the manager.

Delegation requires a manager to have trust, confidence and belief in the abilities of an employee to carry out a task to its successful completion. A manager must believe the person delegated to is fully capable of performing the task (competence) and that the task will actually be done (predictability). Managers often don’t delegate a task to someone else because they lack the confidence the task will be done as well as they could do it themselves.

To delegate a task to another person a manager must consciously understand the unconscious elements that play into every delegation. Before the manager can “let go” of an assignment, she must have certain “beliefs” about the person to whom she is delegating.

The first element is a Competence Belief. A manager must believe the person is capable of performing the task as directed at the level expected. This includes the assurance the individual has the skills, knowledge and ability to perform the expected result.

Having the skills to do a task, and having a willingness to do it, are two different things. Consequently, the manager must also have a Disposition Belief that the employee is not only able to perform the task, but disposed to perform as expected. The employee must be eager and willing to take on the responsibilities. If the employee is in any way hesitant or reluctant, the manager will be less inclined to believe the task will be completed properly.

Hence, the manager also needs a Fulfillment Belief that the individual will carry out the action by actually doing it. To fulfill a responsibility, an employee must have the ability, disposition, time, and resources to complete the task as expected.

This Persistence Belief gives the manager the added sense that the employee will stick to the task and do whatever is necessary to get it done in a timely manner.

Three additional beliefs that play into effective delegation are ones the employee must harbor in order to accept the delegated responsibility. Managers must consider these additional beliefs when delegating to an employee.

First, the employee must have a Self-Confidence Belief in his own abilities to perform the task as expected. He must confidently know, or believe, he can do it.

Second, there must be a Benefit Belief regarding the delegated task. The employee must perceive there is a personal benefit from his action. Some type of payoff must be dependent upon the satisfactory completion of the task and have significant enough appeal to the employee to generate his commitment to the task.

Finally, the employee must perceive, consciously or unconsciously, a No-Harm Belief. He must feel the task is within his scope of responsibility and that no harm will come to him, his boss, or his company if, for some reason, he fails in the successful completion of the task. Risk aversion is one of the primary reasons why employees fail to take on greater responsibility. Managers who can tolerate failure on the road to success have a greater propensity to delegate more.

True delegation might be better understood by using the term reliance in place of delegation. To delegate effectively a manager must be able to rely on another individual to perform the task as expected. A manager can only delegate to an employee when she feels he is reliable enough to do it right.

Three Keys to Prioritizing and Delegating

Some managers find two critical elements of management to be quite challenging -- knowing how to prioritize the work and knowing when to delegate.

Some managers become overwhelmed by the volume of issues they must address in a normal work day. They have difficulty determining the important from the unimportant, the urgent from the non-urgent. Then, once having established the priority of the tasks, they then have a hard time knowing whether the tasks should be delegated to others.

Here are three key questions you can ask yourself to determine the priority of a task and whether or not it can be delegated to someone else.

First, you need to ask yourself: Do I need to be personally involved because of my authority, skills, knowledge or perspective? Are you the only one who can perform the task because no one else has the skills, knowledge or ability to do it without your involvement?

Next, ask yourself: Does the task fall within my primary responsibility and/or does it significantly affect the financial performance of my work unit? Is this a task you should be doing because it IS your job? If you didn’t work on this task, could it significantly harm your company’s or your department’s bottom line?

Finally, ask yourself: Is a rapid response necessary? Could there be a serious negative consequence if you don’t address this task immediately? If you delayed your effort or did nothing at all, what would happen?

Once you’ve answered these three question you can determine the priority for the task using the following guidelines:

The task is a high priority if you answered “yes” to all three questions.

If you answered “yes” to question one — you need to be personally involved — plus a “yes” to either question two or question three, the task is a medium priority.

The task is a low priority if you answered “yes” to question one, but “no” to questions two and three.

Knowing when to delegate a task is simple. If you answered “no” to the first question — you don’t need to be personally involved — obviously you shouldn’t be involved. Delegate the task.

Characteristics of Effective Time Managers

In his book Time Is Money, Ross Webber identifies seven core behaviors that are characteristic of effective time managers (ETMs).

First, effective time managers project themselves into the future. They transcend present events and look into the future to anticipate tasks. They contemplate their weekly and monthly calendars. They identify upcoming events and plan ahead. They also avoid being ambushed by unforeseen events by anticipating deadlines and assessing potential crises that could arise.

ETMs have the capacity to convert the unique or exception into the routine. They examine the flow of events on the job to detect predictable crises that can be anticipated. They then implement standing policies and procedures to deal with conflicts before they appear. The U.S. Navy is a good example of this. Responses to predictable emergencies that might arise are rehearsed and practiced to convert the emergency into the routine. Similarly, businesses can create predictable responses to such things as the loss of a major customer, a plant accident, a product failure, or the usual rush to close out accounts at the end of each month or quarter.

The ability to anticipate is key to effective time management. Unfortunately, many managers view unplanned tasks as if they are unique crises. When events are handled as unique, priorities are not differentiated, crisis predominates and a great deal of time is consumed in reactive responses.

The second trait of effective time managers is their ability to generate personal cues, momentum and artificial deadlines to govern their actions.

People who believe they have little control over their lives tend to look for external events to energize them. They want clear cues signaling when they should begin a difficult task. Such people may delay starting a diet until an appropriate time, like a Monday, or the first of the month, or after Christmas. They abdicate control over their life to chance.

Effective time managers have the courage to confront the difficult and unpleasant early. Instead of procrastinating, ETMs plunge into undesirable projects first. They develop momentum by beginning with some easy, programmed steps that lead to the accomplishment of the task. They seldom accept other people’s deadlines, creating artificial deadlines that are earlier. The self-imposed deadlines put them in control and create enough leeway to allow them to relax before the actual due date.

ETMs know when to say “no” or ignore certain cues they receive from others.

At an insurance company where I once worked the CEO was notorious for asking “what if” questions. With each query scores of his minions rushed off to collect data on his what if scenarios. After spending hundreds of man-hours researching the answer to his questions, they’d present their findings only to discover he was no longer interested in the answer. My staff was spared countless hours of wasted effort by NOT responding to the CEO’s requests unless he asked for something twice.

Developing tactics for selectively ignoring certain cues and determining what doesn’t have to be done is crucial to effective time management.

Saying “no” also extends to telling a superior when time demands are excessive or deadlines are impossible to meet. It includes assertively identifying which tasks are essential to getting the work done and which are administrivia. Large amounts of time are consumed in the workplace because managers are too passive to ignore demands that interfere with performance. For example, many people sit in hundreds of non-productive meetings simply because they feel helpless to say “no” to the norms or traditions of the company. Although some organizations do demand substantial conformity, most people are bound by ineffective chains they themselves forged.

Effective time managers know how important it is to withdraw and hide periodically. Most people actually do have spare time in their work lives. Unfortunately, the biggest problem with discretionary time is that it’s chopped up. They can’t get anything done because they’re interrupted every few minutes.

Progress on tough projects requires time periods long enough for concentration. The minimum usable time span required by most people to focus on complex issues is one to two hours. Anything less requires too many transitions. ETMs find ways to isolate themselves so they can work through tough issues.

After being interrupted several times while working on an important project, I installed a traffic signal on my door. A green light meant it was okay to enter my office for any reason. A yellow light signaled that the interrupter should pause before entering and think through how important their issue was before interrupting my work. When the red light was on I was not to be disturbed unless the building was on fire or some other dire emergency.

ETMs also find a “creative” location where they can consolidate chunks of uninterrupted time to relax and think more deeply about organizational problems and other important issues.

Most ETMs have learned the value of rewarding themselves for progress on their work. Note that effective time managers reward themselves for progress, not for effort or intention. All large, complex projects have smaller parts that can be celebrated as they are accomplished. Small rewards, like a coffee break or even an afternoon off, are justified if they mark significant progress on a lengthy project.

Effective time managers also know not to expect perfection. Perfectionists are especially prone to procrastination. Such people want to do things exactly right, so they delay working on the task until they are fully prepared. Most managerial tasks don’t lend themselves to perfect solutions. Thus managers need to be able to tolerate some uncertainty about how well the task has to be performed and be willing to enter into the task without a perfectly mapped-out plan of attack.

Finally, effective time managers confront ambiguity regularly. ETMs don’t allow themselves to get caught up in the inexhaustible supply of present details. They enthusiastically attack the ambiguities of the future. Because the future has the nasty habit of being unpredictable, managers need time to read and think, not just about their jobs, but about a wide variety of topics. Just as we never know where the next problem will come from, we can almost never predict where the next solution will come from. Consequently, ETMs relax the intensity of their work on present problems so they can focus more on future responsibilities. They value today less and tomorrow more.

Vision Statements That Have Meaning

As a consultant I get tired of being asked to help companies develop a vision or mission statement. It’s not that I don’t think a vision or mission statement is important. It’s just that in most companies the vision statement is not a vision and the mission statement is not a mission, they’re merely statements. Statements that usually are pasted up on a wall someplace and seldom referenced again.

A company’s vision is supposed to be a clear view of the future. The vision should be so lucid and tangible that everyone in the company can picture where the company is going and see perfectly the difference between where the company is today and where it wants to be in the future. If the company’s leaders cannot distinctly and prophetically foresee and communicate the company’s future, then a vision statement on a wall is not going to make any difference. It will not move people.

I like to say "a mission on the wall is no mission at all." If a person had a mission or purpose in his life he would not need a written statement to guide his actions. His mission would be so intrinsic to him that it would be “written” in his head, his heart, and his soul.

A company’s vision must be one that stirs people within and engages their support. It must appeal to the ideals and spirit of the employees. If prose can do that, then put your mission in a statement. Otherwise, the best mission and vision for a company is to help employees understand the business imperatives and the implied promises that everyone must achieve in order to secure a viable future for everyone who has a stake in the business.

So if you need help seeing the future, if you want to know what’s imperative to the survival of your business, if you need a clear view of the implied promises on which you must deliver to completely satisfy your customers — then call Innovative Management Group. We will help you define your true vision and mission. We’ll walk you through the steps necessary to identify your strategic intent and map out a very specific operational plan to achieve the vision you have for your company’s future.

However, on the other hand, if all you want is a vision or mission statement, then simply follow the guidelines below to come up with a sure-fire, knock-your-socks-off, humdinger that will sound great, but do absolutely nothing to move your organization forward.

Here’s how to write a worthless vision or mission statement:

The typical mission statement includes two semicolons, two dashes, and at least two business buzzwords, while a vision statement contains only one dash but makes up for it with at least one run-on sentence.

To be at all credible, a company’s mission and vision statements must include at least five of the following terms and phrases:

• world class
• premier
• high performance
• innovative
• leading edge
• benchmark
• innovation
• diverse
• empowers
• exceeds
• delights
• right the first time
• puts customers first
• puts employees first
• puts profits first

Thus, a high quality, but worthless, vision statement might read as follows:

“Our vision is to develop an innovative, high-performance mission statement — one that puts the customer first, puts the employees first, and does it right the first time in a way that delights anyone who has concerns that this mission statement would actually mean something; in order to show that employees can exceed expectations for how much unhealthy food they can consume in a single envisioning meeting; while spending an entire day in a freezing cold hotel meeting room churning out run-on sentences while real work piles up back at the office.”

Feel free to use this vision statement for your company. It's a lot more meaningful than many vision statements I've seen.

Must End the Old before Transitioning to the New

Before you can begin something new, you have to end what used to be.

Every change starts with an ending. The transition to the new change requires people to let go of the old realities of the past. Nothing so undermines organizational change as the failure to think through what people will lose in the change. It does little good to talk about how wonderful the outcome of the change will be if you haven’t prepared people for the losses and ending of what was before. People cannot leave the past until they accept the need to end it.

Here are some things you can do to make the passing of the old less painful:

Identify Who is Losing What. Describe the change in as much detail as possible. Tell them specifically what will be different when the dust clears. Make sure everyone knows specifically what will be continued and what will be stopped.

Accept the Reality and Importance of the Losses. Don’t argue with what you hear. Accept the anguish that people are going through. Allow people to go through the grieving process regarding what they are losing in the change.

Don’t Be Surprised at People’s Overreaction. People usually overreact to change. However, it’s the losses they are reacting to. A part of their world is being lost. Rather than trying to talk people out of their overreaction, show them which losses are real and which are merely speculation or rumor. Separate truth from fiction.

Acknowledge the Losses Openly and Sympathetically. Bring losses out into the open. Do it simply and directly. Everyone is losing something. Don’t try to sugar coat or wash over it. Be kind and understanding regarding what people are going through. They had a lot invested in their past, and now they are losing some of what they worked hard for.

Expect and Accept Signs of Grieving. When endings take place, people get angry, sad, frightened, depressed and confused. Treat these emotions seriously. Don’t get defensive or argumentative. Give people time to work through their loss and expect it to take awhile before they become accustomed to the new.

Give Something in Return to Compensate for the Losses. Many organizational change efforts fail because the affected people feel only the pain. Trying to talk people out of their feelings will get you nowhere. Instead, ask yourself what you can give back to balance what’s been taken away. Find ways to recognize and reward people for making a successful transition to the new ways of doing things.

Treat the Past With Respect. Never denigrate the past. Honor the past for what it has accomplished. Present changes and innovations as developments that build upon the successes of the past. Show how the change is a natural progression or evolution from what has been done in the past.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Your Business May Need More L.O.V.E

Several years ago Ken Blanchard, author of The One Minute Manager, said, “People who feel good about themselves produce good results.” He suggested managers could help employees feel good about themselves by catching them doing things right.

I’d like to suggest they can make employees feel even better (and produce much more) by helping them to feel loved. Here are four ways we can show people they are loved:

First, as managers we should Listen unconditionally. We need to clear our minds of any judgments or preconceived notions we may have about the person or their ideas. We need to hear them out fully before drawing conclusions or taking action. And, if we disagree, we should teach them instead of reprimand.

Second, we need to Overlook flaws and faults. We need to look for the good in people. Most people only see the exceptions, the discrepancies, the negatives. It is much more difficult to notice the every day or routine successes people experience. We take for granted their good performance and only point out the bad. We need to “catch people doing things right.”

Next we should Voice our approval regularly. People want to be acknowledged. They need recognition. They want to know they are valued and appreciated for what they do. No matter how long we’ve worked for a company or how old we become, we still covet the approval of our boss, our peers, our friends, and, yes, even our mothers. It motivates us and makes us feel good when we know our actions meet the approval of others.

Finally, we need to Extend ourselves by spending time and showing interest. There is no greater motivator of people, whether workers or our children, than to spend quality time with them.

The best management tool a manager can have is to get out among the workers. Go to where they are. Talk on their level. Show interest in what they are doing and how they do it. Find out what is important to them and take a genuine interest in it. Ask meaningful questions. Listen to the answers and respond appropriately. Focus on them. Don’t have somewhere else you need to go. Nothing you could do is more important than talking to your employees. Show them how much you really L.O.V.E. them.

EGO Keeps Some People from Being Good Managers

Perhaps one of the saddest experiences in the work place is to see a manager or employee who is so intelligent and who has so much potential, yet their personality gets in the way of true success.

Unfortunately almost everyone at some time in their career has come into contact with bosses or colleagues whose inflated ego limited their potential. Sadly, most ego-centric people don’t see how their ego inhibits their progress. Egotists usually think someone else is at fault.

People with strong egos usually are self-centered, self-absorbed, and me-focused. They believe their ideas or opinions are more valid, more important, or superior to those of others. They turn to themselves for answers, rather than seeking input from those around them.

It’s easy to tell who has an ego problem. Egotists are those who Edge the Group Out. They project an image that they can do things on their own. They don’t need others. They act as if they are smart enough, good enough, or strong enough to solve any problem or conquer any challenge on their own. When others try to interject their ideas or offer to help, the egotist rejects or devalues the gesture. The egotist wrongly believes his or her own intelligence is greater than the collective intelligence of the group.

You can check the strength of your own ego by assessing the level of trust, respect and confidence you have in those with whom you work. The higher the trust and respect you feel for others, the lower your ego.

How to Get Employees to Commit to Your Company's Values

Emotional intelligence means there is value in being an “emotional” manager
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Several weeks ago I had lunch with the Senior Vice President of Human Resources from a large Las Vegas Strip casino. She shared with me the concerns of the casino’s CEO who lamented that too many of the company’s managers had not internalized or actualized the company’s stated values.

The CEO said many managers seemed to understand the company values intellectually, but they don’t get them emotionally.

“How do you get people to internalize the company values?” the HR professional asked. This led to a deep, profound discussion about what companies can do to help their managers “get it.”

In our discussion we first explored the differences between intellectually understanding something and emotionally, or internally, understanding it.

INTELLECTUAL UNDERSTANDING

Managers who intellectually understand a company’s values generally can grasp the actions or behaviors that ought to correspond to the stated company values. However, they tend to view these behaviors as a list of do’s and don'ts of appropriate or inappropriate behaviors. They judge their own and others’ actions as either right or wrong. Things are black or white. They are either in harmony with the values or they are contrary to the values.

Those who rely on an intellectual understanding of the stated values usually desire clarity in direction and expectations so they’ll know how to focus their actions. They want policies and procedures that tell people exactly what to do and how to act. They prefer consistent enforcement of rules to ensure everyone behaves appropriately.

Managers who intellectually live the company’s values get out on the shop floor or solicit employee input because they know they should — not because they want to. They know certain managerial behaviors will promote the desired employee performance, so they use these learned techniques as a means to an end. Many intellectual managers tenaciously read the latest management books looking for new techniques to motivate their employees. When intellectual managers attend training they want specific “how to’s.” They get frustrated with ethereal philosophical discussions about management principles. They particularly get turned off by suggestions that they manage from the heart, rather than the head.

EMOTIONAL UNDERSTANDING

Managers who emotionally understand the company’s values do so because they know those values are right. They feel the values deep within their soul. They believe in them. The values are a part of who they are; and they live them.

Values to the emotional manager are not “stated” values; they are real. They are meaningful because they are viewed as universal “truths,” rather than managerial techniques.

Emotional managers talk to their employees and respond to their ideas because they value the input. Employee involvement is an end, not a means. These managers show respect to employees because they actually respect them. This leads to a true bond and real rapport between the manager and the employees.

Managers who internally “get it” manage from the heart, not by the book; because the book by nature is too general and doesn’t trust the manager’s judgment.

Emotional managers are situational managers. They take into consideration extenuating conditions and circumstances. They judge by people, not by policies. Consistency is less important to an emotional manager than fairness.

Emotional managers only appear ambiguous to intellectual managers. Employees of value-based managers have no problem seeing consistency in the manager’s actions, since these managers seldom violate their values.

Emotional managers are not swayed by the latest management theories. They stick to the core practices of open communication, working shoulder to shoulder with their employees, and promoting a positive work environment. They show genuine concern for their employees. And employees can tell it comes from the manger’s heart.

DISCERNING THE TYPE OF MANAGER

It’s not difficult to discern the intellectual manager from the emotional manager. You can feel the difference.

Intellectual managers seem distant and detached from their employees. Although they may do the right things, one can sense that the actions are planned or programmed, rather than felt. When challenged or stressed by business pressures, intellectual managers tend to become irritable or angry. When faced with declining profits or failing performance, they emotionally distance themselves from their employees. Their anger causes them to blame the employees for the failure and often leads them to use scare tactics or intimidation to try to turn the situation around. When the world is dark, they think adding more darkness will brighten up the room.

Emotional managers realize even a flicker of light, no matter how small, offers hope. They instinctively know positive results cannot be achieved by negative means. They focus on the good, discerning that one beam can light other beams until the whole room is transformed from darkness into light.

Emotional managers move toward their employees in troubled times. They trust the collective intelligence of the workers rather than bearing the burden alone. Instead of blaming the employees for problems, they enlist the employees in finding a solution.

One can sense the genuine concern, and even love, of an emotional manager. They manage with care and compassion. They feel close to their employees and have a “spirit” about them that draws employees toward them. Those who serve under or work with emotional managers can feel the dedication and commitment of the manager; and they, likewise, dedicate and commit themselves in return.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

My Book, For Sale on the Internet



I'm pleased to announce my book, Stepping Forward Together: How to Create Trust and Commitment in the Workplace, is now for sale directly on Innovative Management Group's website at www.imglv.com. The book can be purchased for $24.95 plus $5.00 shipping and handling.

Recently a company executive told me the book was "one of the top ten business books I've ever read." Another company Chief Executive Officer placed the book at the top of his list of management books. It is an easy read with management concepts that every manager can quickly learn and apply in the workplace.

The book provides a step-by-step guide for motivating employees within your company to work together as a team. It shows how to gain the full commitment of your staff to achieve common goals. It walks you through my patented LADDER OF COMMITMENT model, which shows the process people go through before they will commit to course of action, individual or entity. It explains the seven things that matter most in business and describes how to develop mutual and reciprocal trust, respect, confidence and support at every level of your organization.

One manager, who has used the book as a key management tool in his department, said: "The synergy that has resulted in my management team by climbing the Ladder of Commitment together has helped us maintain our focus and momentum during tumultuous times in our industry. Our whole company would benefit from the content of this book."

For more information about the book, please visit Innovative Management Group's website at www.imglv.com.

How to Create Trust and Commitment in the Workplace

Perhaps one of the greatest challenges in the workplace today, particularly in a down economy, is maintaining the trust and commitment of your employees. Workers have become increasingly cynical and no longer believe management has their best interests at heart. The greed and mismanagement of top American firms has caused many employees to turn inward in an ever stronger resolve to “look out for number one.” Teamwork in America has dissolved as companies and individuals hunker down rather than stepping forward together to ensure their company’s long-term profitability and growth.

Never before has there been a greater need for people to work together as a team to resolve the problems in the workplace. Now, more than ever, managers must reverse the “every-man-for-himself” trend and unite the team around a common goal. The fastest way to do this is to understand the process people go though internally before they will commit to a specific action, person or entity. By knowing the steps of the commitment process, you can accelerate that process and quickly reacquire the loyalty and commitment of your workforce.

Many years ago I developed a model, called the LADDER OF COMMITMENT®, that explains how to build trust and commitment in the workplace.




The commitment process is depicted as a ladder because people have to climb up to “commitment.” Unfortunately, people do not start out committed in any element of life, although it may appear otherwise on the surface. For example, even though one might expect a new employee to be committed to a job he or she willingly accepted when hired, this usually is not the case. Commitment is not automatic. Most people are reluctant to commit themselves to a task until they fully understand it. Typically, people do not openly share their opinions or ideas at work until they’ve assessed whether or not it is safe to do so. New employees invariably hold back until they’ve achieved a level of comfort and confidence before they completely commit themselves to an organization or process. This initial hesitancy to commit, signals the employee is in the CLOSED area at the bottom of the ladder.

Similarly, although newlywed couples make vows of commitment at the altar when they get married, the fact that 52% of marriages in the United States end in divorce shows vows of commitment are a far cry from true commitment, just as accepting a new job doesn’t mean the worker is willing to do that job. Newlywed couples and new employees start at the same place in the commitment process – a state of “hope” where one hopes the marriage or the new job will work out.

To become truly committed one must climb the Ladder of Commitment and go through each successive rung on the Ladder. Deep, lasting commitment only results when relationships have been solidified as one climbs up the Ladder.

The most vital step in the commitment process is to get people out of their “Closed” posture and up to the OPEN rung on the Ladder. The most successful companies are those that have a culture of open communication between their managers and employees. Successful companies do not leave communication to chance or assume effective communication has occurred. They ensure every employee has the information needed to succeed at work. Successful companies over-communicate. They use several different modes and methods to get their message out. They know the decisions made in the workplace are only as good as the information from which those decisions are made.

For effective communication to occur, people must be willing to speak openly. The strongest determining factor of whether someone will open up is the reaction they get once they do. If the reaction is positive, they’ll be more inclined to speak openly again. However, if the reaction is negative, most people will close down. Extreme negative reactions to employee input can cause workers to permanently close down.

Employee performance is strongly tied to the reactions employee’s experience in the workplace. Positive reactions typically generate positive results, causing employees to open up. Negative reactions produce negative results, causing employees to close down. Consequently, you need to realize that most of what a manager does is manage reactions. If you want your employees to become committed, you need to control the negative reactions in the workplace that cause people to close down.

The first, and most important, reactions you have to manage are your own. If you react poorly to what you perceive to be stupid or silly ideas or comments from your employees – and cause the employees to close down because of your reaction – you may never hear their good ideas or comments later as they keep their thoughts to themselves.

As a manager you also have to control the reactions of others. You must manage the reactions of your employees. Employees often react poorly toward the customers or toward their fellow employees, causing those people to close down. Customers, too, can react poorly, causing employees to close down. You may even have to control the reactions of your boss, whose reactions often trickle down and stifle the commitment of the workforce.

Open communication occurs when managers and employees react well to each others' input, ideas, and perspectives. Department cooperation and coordination is most effective when people learn not to over-react to departmental requests or procedural requirements.

Once reactions are under control and people have moved into the “Open,” there are specific and important things that must be discussed in the Open area. To achieve high levels of understanding and commitment, employees need complete information about what is required of them. They need to know what the goals of their tasks are and why they are important. They also need a clear understanding of their role, what the expectations are of them, their authority level, and the boundaries in which they must perform their tasks. Additionally they require regular, honest, helpful feedback that recognizes their accomplishments or provides constructive coaching when improvement is needed.

Companies that communicate effectively usually are more likely to develop working relationships among their staff that are infused with TRUST, RESPECT and CONFIDENCE. The trust, respect and confidence rung of the ladder is where real progress is made in a company. Tremendous levels of production can be achieved in organizations where management trusts the employees and the employees trust management. When management respects the opinions, ideas, decisions and judgments of the employees and the employees feel likewise toward management, wonderful things happen. People confidently go about their tasks without fear or concern over the political machinations that take up far too much energy and time in many organizations. They also are more inclined to take risks or think outside of the box in order to improve their part of the business.

More importantly, people who trust, respect, and have confidence in others are supportive of those people. The tangible indicator of whether or not an organization has a culture replete with trust, respect and confidence is witnessed by the level of support one can sense throughout the organization. This is denoted in how management supports the employees, how the employees support management, how employees support each other, and the evidence of support between departments.

When people trust, respect, have confidence in, and are supportive of one another; it is easy for them to BELIEVE each other. It is easy to accept input or feedback from others, even feedback of a personal nature, when they believe the person delivering the feedback is interested in a common good. Likewise, when those in the business are at a level of belief, it is easy to respond favorably to changes that may come along within the organization because people know the changes are necessary to the success of the business.

Once people step up to the Belief rung on the ladder, COMMITMENT usually follows. The difference between belief and commitment is what a committed person does with, or because of, their belief. Committed people sink their whole heart and soul into what they believe. They offer their time, talents, resources, energy and anything else required to succeed for that to which they are committed.

Unfortunately, real commitment in too many organizations seldom occurs because the company never rises to the level where the employees believe management or where management believes the employees. The reason for this lack of belief is because neither party trusts, respects or has confidence in the other. The trust, respect, and confidence is missing because they have not spent the time openly communicating about the things that matter most in the company. Sadly, closed organizations may get employees to comply when directed by management to perform a task, but compliance doesn’t equate to commitment.

Companies that actively encourage their employees to honestly and openly communicate up and down the ranks will find their employees to be more enthusiastically committed to performing their tasks at expected levels.

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You can purchase my book, "Stepping Forward Together: Creating Trust and Commitment in the Workplace", on my website (www.imglv.com) for $24.95 plus S&H.

How to Regain the Commitment of Your Employees After a Merger or Acquisition

More and more we see companies using mergers and acquisitions as their primary growth strategy. This is a fast and effective way to boost sales volume or gain market share. Difficulties can arise, however, as the parent company tries to bring the newly acquired business into the corporate family.

Many books and articles have been written offering insight into how to mesh divergent cultures of merging companies. These literary works often provide very precise transition plans that outline the steps a company can take to achieve the synergistic goals sought in the acquisition.

Often overlooked in these comprehensive plans is the criticality of the first communication the parent company has with the employees of the acquired business. This initial contact is crucial to getting employees to transfer their commitment from the previous owner to the new parent company. Wise companies plan their employee communication strategies very carefully. They know how important these messages are to the ultimate success of the acquisition.

Once a takeover has been announced at the acquired company, the employees immediately start looking for subtle signals that will alert them to what the parent company is all about. Sensory acuity is greatly enhanced in the early months of a takeover. Everyone raises their antenna to pick up whatever message one can. Employees are hyper-sensitive to every nuance and change. The imaginations of some workers go into overdrive. Everything the parent company does communicates. Every action and comment has meaning. Employees pay close attention to what is being said and, perhaps more importantly, what is not being said.

During the initial stage of an acquisition the employees are watching you carefully. How you come across and what you say in these early moments establishes almost irreversible impressions in the minds of the employees. The first interaction you have with these new employees sets the stage for future interactions. This meeting establishes who you are, how you will operate, and how people should deal with you and your company on an on-going basis. It sets a precedent for the future.

Takeover companies typically are hesitant to share certain information with newly acquired employees, particularly if the information is of a negative nature. But people expect you to bring up all relevant issues in a straightforward manner, especially any negatives that might impact the employees directly. Avoiding these issues sends a message that either the issues are not important or, worse yet, the employees themselves are not important enough for you to share information with them. The absolute worst thing you can do in the early stage of an acquisition is to send a message to new employees they are not important.

One critical thing to remember throughout the acquisition is that when people lack real data, they make up their own. Usually what people make up is far worse than reality. You can stop the rumor-mills that typically run rampant during mergers by being up front with the employees.

There are three crucial objectives you should have for your initial communication with employees of an acquired company.

First, you should do everything you can to mitigate the usual fears employees have when an organization is in transition.

Second, you should view this initial contact as one of your best opportunities to build rapport with your new workers.

Finally, your message should be formulated and presented so well it focuses the energy and effort of the employees where you want it – on the customers -- rather than on the company. What you say must eliminate from the employees all doubt, worry, gossip, wondering, and hesitancy. At the conclusion of your message you want the workers worrying about their work, not worrying about their jobs or their employer. To do this you must understand the psyche of the employees and address the concerns they worry about the most during a takeover.

Invariably there are four predictable questions employees will have during an acquisition or merger. Although the specific verbiage of the questions highlighted here may not be exactly how the employees would articulate their concerns, the answers to these questions will address most of the issues the employees will be wondering about. When you know these questions in advance you can target your communication to address the employees’ concerns before they come up. This in turn shows the workers you are empathetic to their needs, thereby building rapport between you and them.


VISION OF THE FUTURE

The first concern employees have after an acquisition is: What Does the Future Look Like?

In a takeover the future is unknown. People generally are afraid of the unknown. To alleviate their own fears, the acquired employees will latch on to any information they can about the parent company’s future plans for the acquired business. This is why rumors run rampant during a takeover. It is the natural human need for information – any information – even if it is false. Acquired employees will remain fearful about the future until they have information that will assuage their fears.

The primary objective for your initial communication at an acquired business is to instill within the employees confidence in the future viability of the business, particularly their business as currently constituted.

Before addressing the employees you should have a clear vision of where you want to take the acquired company. Leaders who possess and can communicate a confident view of the future can infuse confidence within the new employees by sharing their vision. Employees are more apt to follow those leaders who have a clear view of what the future entails.

Tell people your vision for the company. Help them to clearly see the future themselves. Let employees know what they can expect to see and experience in the months ahead. Explain what changes or non-changes the company anticipates over the next one, three, six or twelve months. Share your plans. Be as open, specific and precise as possible. Any hesitancy or waffling from you will damage the confidence and commitment you will receive from the employees.

Some of the topics you should address in your communication are outlined below. You specifically should highlight any changes or alterations to what the employees are currently used to. This includes such things as the following:

• The current product mix and how these products are offered or delivered. Employees are very protective of products they perceive to be linked to their job security. They normally will be receptive to renovations, improvements or upgrades to the organization, but less enthralled by talk of eliminating a product or a particular business line. Downsizing or significantly altering the company’s product mix often translates to the employees as a downsizing of the organization.

• The current customer mix and who currently is viewed as targeted customers. Changes in the type of customer the company is targeting may signal to employees possible changes in the quality or quantity of the performance required of them.

• The current competitive strategies and who currently is viewed as primary competitors. A shift in competitive focus may indicate either an upgrading or down-grading of the products the company offers. This in turn may signal either a raising or lowering of performance standards.

• The current marketing strategies and tactics. Employees on the front-line are very interested in the acquiring company’s marketing philosophy. They want to know how committed the parent company is to growing and expanding the current enterprise. Perhaps this, more than anything else, tells the employees whether or not there will be future job security at the company.

• The current economic expectations for the business. Employees want to know what economic pressure the new company will put on the enterprise and how it will affect current production and cost containment strategies. This, of course, will signal what pressure will be placed on the employees themselves.

• The current manner in which the business is being run. This includes the operating style and business practices within the parent company. Workers usually are comfortable with their daily routine. They want to know what policy, procedure or process changes the parent company will implement after the takeover. This will tell them the degree to which their worklife will change in the future.

Employees also have a lot of questions about the management philosophies and practices of the parent company. They may not feel comfortable expressing their concerns about these issues, but you can be assured they are wondering what it will be like to work within the new company.

The items mentioned in the bullets above can be categorized as “we” issues. They deal with what “we” as a company are going to do to ensure the future success of the business. However, the concerns expressed in the next series of bullets revolve around the “me” issues employees typically have in an acquisition. They deal with how the new company will treat “me” or what the company expects from “me” as an employee. Wise leaders will be well-prepared with their answers to all of these questions. They will answer them before the employees bring them up.

Workers at an acquired company want to know:

• The history of the parent company and what growth opportunities this offers for the acquired employees. They are particularly interested in any career opportunities that are now opened to them because of their association with the parent company.

• The vision, values and guiding principles by which the parent company operates. These qualities explain a great deal of what might be expected of the employees by the parent company. They also give an indication of the quality of worklife in the new organization.

• The overarching emphasis or driving focus of the company (i.e., emphasis on profits, emphasis on customers, emphasis on employees, etc.) This may or may not indicate a significant shift in focus or change in culture for the employees.

• The cultural norms and mores of the company. These are the subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, tangible and intangible things that express most to employees what it is like to work for the acquiring company.

• The management style of the company and how management typically interacts with the employees. Again, this is a great indicator of whether or not a person would want to work for the parent company.


MY PLACE IN THE NEW COMPANY

After you have shown the employees what the future looks like, the next thing people want to know is: Is there a place for me in the new company? In other words, now that you’ve explained what the future looks like, employees want to know if they are in that future.

Your answers to the issues outlined in the bullets above will help the employees decide whether or not they want to work for the new company. Your answer to this second question tells the workers whether or not there will be a position for them in the new company.

People need to know if their position is secure or if they should start looking for another job. They also want to know if the new company is the type of company that looks out for the interests of its employees.

No doubt these are the most important concerns to the employees. They want to know about your human resource and labor relation philosophies. They are very interested in your compensation practices and your benefit packages, particularly how your benefits compare to what they have had in the past. They want to know what orientation, training, and developmental opportunities you will provide them. They seek information concerning how they will be recognized and rewarded for their work and whether there will be career development opportunities for them in the future.

Even more important, however, they want to know if they will have a job in the future. They listen for clues that express what your attitude is toward the current employees of the company. Will you bring in your own leadership team? Will you get rid of any of the current management? (This could either be viewed negatively or positively depending on the employees’ perspective of the current managers in the organization.) Will you alter the mix of employees or do anything that might jeopardize a person’s job.

Employees want to know whether or not there will be any downsizing or elimination of jobs in the organization. Does the company anticipate combining or eliminating any functions? Will the company reduce any positions to part-time that are currently full-time? Are there any parts of the business that the company is thinking of bundling, unbundling, selling or closing?

The worse thing you can do at this early stage of the transition is lie, deceive, mislead, or remain silent on these extremely important and very personal issues. If you anticipate any cuts or changes in the organizational structure, tell people the truth. Tell them quickly. People need to know. Knowing gives people control over their situation. It allows them to take appropriate action to find a new position either within or outside the company. Not knowing causes people to wonder. When workers wonder they spend their energy trying to mitigate their fears rather than serve the customers.

If you don’t know whether or not there will be reductions in staff, you cannot respond by saying you don’t know. “I don’t know” is a horrible answer to important questions. It is never believable. Rather it almost always appears as if management is hiding something. It is highly doubtful you really don’t know what organizational changes are needed at the acquired enterprise. Even given the benefit of doubt, you certainly must have some informed assumptions based upon your assessment of the business during your due diligence before the takeover. Logic or basic intuition already will have given you some inkling of changes needed in the acquired organization. Consequently, more than likely you will have some preliminary assumptions about the business.

Employees can sense, or logically deduce, that you have already made some assumptions about the business. This is why “I don’t know” is an unacceptable answer. If you really don’t know, employees still expect you to tell them about your assumptions. Again, to avoid causing people to draw their own false or distorted conclusions and lose their commitment, it is imperative you share what you know, assume, hope, wish or desire for the acquired enterprise.

Most managers have a hard time accepting the notion they should share their assumptions, because their assumptions may be wrong. But when a person’s job security is on the line, employees expect you to be “honest” and share any negative consequences that are being contemplated. People have a tendency to assume the worst. Many of your assumptions will be far better than the worse assumptions the employees have already drawn. Therefore sharing the assumptions might be a positive instead of a negative.

One of the greatest ways to build rapport and express your trust in the new employees is to freely share information with them. Take people into your confidence. People may not want to hear that their position is being eliminated, but they will appreciate the fact you respected them enough to tell them the truth upfront.

Again, people expect you to share all information, particularly negative information, in a straightforward manner. This also is the most humane thing to do. It is analogous to receiving bad news about the health of a family member. When a person is infected with a terminal illness, most people want to know the truth as soon as possible so they can get their affairs in order. Nothing is more frustrating, disheartening, or demoralizing than to learn too late about something for which one could have been prepared had they been forewarned. People who have advance notice of an extremely negative situation may momentarily be taken aback by the information, but they soon refocus. They turn their attention away from the things that are out of their control and channel their energy toward the things that matter most.

If there are staff reductions anticipated in your takeover plans and you immediately inform the employees, as you should, then the next question becomes very important.


FAIR TREATMENT OF ELIMINATED STAFF

In an acquisition that includes a reduction in staff the surviving employees wonder: Will the new company treat fairly those employees who are let go?

Employees pay close attention to the way you treat departing workers. It cannot be over-emphasized how important this is to gaining the commitment of the employees who remain with the company. Your actions toward displaced workers declare very loudly the value you place on your employees. Your actions strongly signal how employees will be treated in the future. They indicate how you feel about people and whether or not, when making decisions, you take into consideration the impact those decisions will have on your employees.

Employees are concerned about your treatment of displaced workers for two reasons.

First, surviving employees may have considered many of those displaced workers to be their friends. They are saddened that their friends are leaving and expect you to treat their friends in a kind and considerate manner.

Second, and perhaps more important, the perception that you have treated the downsized workers in a fair an equitable manner will give the remaining employees confidence that, should their position be eliminated in the future, they too will be treated well. This will allow them to stop worrying about their own job security and refocus on the customers.

Prior to announcing a takeover you must develop well-thought-out policies and procedures regarding how you will eliminate staff if displacement is necessary. These policies should be favorable toward the employees. This is not a time to be miserly. Company generosity exhibited in the initial stage of a takeover will reap huge returns later in employee commitment. Good displacement practices can keep your company from experiencing the typical decline in production that usually follows a takeover.


ROLE IN THE FUTURE

Finally, although employees may not know they have this last need, and therefore generally may never articulate it, workers who stay with the company have an inherent desire to know: What is my charge?

Once employees have decided they want to stay with the company after a takeover, they need clarity on what the company expects of them. What do you want them to do? Should they carry on as they have been doing in the past, or should they do something different? What are their new marching orders? If you expect employees to change, you must tell them so. If you expect employees to continue doing what they have been doing in the past, you must tell them this also. Never assume the employees will conclude what you want them to conclude. You must tell them.

Your initial communication with the employees must close by giving the employees their charge. You should end by stating very clearly to the employees the things that matter most to both the company and to them. Tell them:

• What it takes to win in the new company.

• What they can do to contribute to the success of the company, as well as to their own success.

• What is in it for them if they do contribute to this success.

People need hope in the future. Employees need to know their future is brighter with the new company than what they have experienced in the past. Everything you do during a merger or acquisition must be designed to build hope, not destroy it. When you answer point-by-point every question outlined in this article, you mitigate the fears of the employees, you build tremendous rapport with them, and you refocus their energy and effort on the future success of the business. You get people thinking about the customers, instead of worrying about themselves.

Four Types of Feedback

Most people have a typical feedback style. They tend to use the same approach whenever they give someone feedback. Some feedback styles are highly effective, while other styles tend to leave “debris” after the feedback. If an employee leaves the feedback session feeling bad or negative – either toward you or about the information they received – that is an indicator the feedback session did not go well.

The purpose of feedback is to either reinforce good performance and appropriate behavior or to correct bad performance and inappropriate behavior. You give feedback to increase the value of those employees who do well, or to keep poor performing employees from decreasing their value by continuing on a downward path. In other words, feedback is supposed to build people up, not tear them down. The intent of all feedback, both positive and negative, is to either help people stay on course or correct whatever deficiencies are keeping them from performing well. Consequently, any feedback that does not build people up or cause employees to improve their performance is not helpful. Feedback that decreases employee morale, causes ill-will, or actually leads to less productivity instead of more, is ineffective feedback.

There are four primary types of feedback. The first two types of feedback tend to be highly ineffective, yet they are used far too frequently by many managers. The last two types of feedback are the most effective.

The first negative feedback style is PUNISHMENT. Punishment almost always includes some type of threat or penalty if the employee does not change his or her behavior. “You do that one more time and I will have you out of here so fast your head will spin!” is a punishing phrase I’ve heard managers use. Here are some other punishment-type statements I’ve heard: “I’ll fire your butt for that,” “You break it and you’ll pay for it,” “You idiots quit standing around and get back to work or I’ll give you a permanent vacation,” “One more screw up like that and you’re history,” or “Don’t make me come down there!”

Threatening to punish someone doesn’t necessarily motivate them to do what you want; it just makes them want to steer clear of you. Punishment usually causes people to become defensive, since they must shield themselves from your chastisement. If employees feel the punishment is undeserved or too severe for the infraction, some people may harbor a desire to get even and look for ways to equalize the situation. Employees hell-bent for retribution have been known to sabotage the work effort.

CRITICISM is another negative feedback style that is ineffective, yet also used frequently. Criticism is where you constantly harp at people for every little infraction. You look for the exceptions and point out every weakness. Of course, the reason why you do this is because you want your employees to improve. You feel that by identifying where the employees are not performing well they will want to perform better. Unfortunately, this often is not how employees respond. The cynical, sarcastic, degrading or derogatory tone that usually accompanies criticism seldom causes people to react well to the feedback.

People who are criticized tend to go in the opposite direction from where the feedback is supposed to lead. People feel bad when they are criticized, not good. When employees are criticized they tend to react negatively and become withdrawn rather than stepping forward confidently to change their behavior. Criticism tears people down; it does not build them up. It wounds pride and takes away dignity. It diminishes the very self-esteem the employees need in order to improve their situation.

Although there may be times when punishment and criticism might be used in giving employees feedback, the long-term effectiveness of these two feedback styles is questionable. However, there are two feedback styles that work well.

ADVICE is where you gently offer suggestions for improvement. You present options to the employees so they can determine the best course of action to take. When you give advice you spend very little time scrutinizing the deficiency and instead focus on ways the employees can improve.

Advice is always offered in a positive tone and from an approach of how the employee can best be helped. Unlike punishment and criticism, which usually are delivered in a one-way manager-telling-the-employee-what-to-do approach, advice is given during a two-way give-and-take discussion with the employee. During the discussion various options are explored and the employee is allowed to discuss each option and choose how best to correct one’s performance.

During the normal course of the workday, particularly when employees are performing well, the feedback style you should use most is REINFORCEMENT. Your primary role as a manager is to reinforce and support the day-to-day accomplishments of your employees. Reinforcement is the best way to ensure you get what you want from your employees. It lets them know you noticed what they are doing and are pleased with their efforts. It is one of the best ways to help your employees feel comfortable, confident, proud and included at work. Reinforcement signifies your employees have value. It builds them up and inspires them to do more.

Whenever your employees are in training or learning new policies, procedures or processes, they need reinforcing support or advice, not criticism or punishment. Never use criticism, punishment, sarcasm or any other demeaning behavior as a training method — it does not work. You cannot achieve a positive outcome by negative means. Everything you do and say when teaching, mentoring, or training your employees should be done in reinforcing words and tones.

Most employees need generous doses of reinforcement. Reinforcement is the fuel that keeps employees moving in the right direction. You should do everything you can to find ways to regularly and dynamically recognize and celebrate individual and team accomplishments in your work areas. The more reinforcing and supportive your work environment, the greater the odds your employees will stay focused and perform the way you want.

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(Special Note: There is a fifth feedback style — none at all. Failing to give feedback or withholding feedback from employees never works. You will never get the performance you want from your employees without giving them feedback, so if you are not adept at giving feedback you need to practice and perfect your reinforcing and advice giving skills so you can get what you want.)