Friday, November 19, 2010

The Value of Giving Immediate Feedback

Every manager knows he or she should give an employee immediate feedback when the worker performs below expectations. But sometimes managers fail to do what they know they should do because they are afraid of the reaction they may get when they confront the employee.

Managers who delay giving feedback to their employees do a disfavor to all concerned. They cause more problems by not confronting the employee than they would by confronting the employee immediately.

When a rocket goes off course the best time to give it feedback is as soon as the discrepancy occurs. If caught early, the course can be corrected with a short burst of the rocket thrusters. The longer the rocket goes off course the more fuel it will require to get it back on the right trajectory. And, if caught to late, there may not be enough fuel to correct the deviation. When this happens the rocket has to be destroyed.

The situation is the same regarding employee performance. When an employee goes off course the best time to give him or her feedback is as soon as the digression occurs. When caught early very little energy is required to make the correction. The longer the employee travels down the wrong path the more energy it will take to change the employee’s performance. Not only will the employee have to do more to change, but the manager also must exert a lot of energy to get the employee to make the course correction.

Managers who delay giving feedback to off-target employees cause problems for themselves. When an employee has been doing the wrong thing for an extended time, and then is finally confronted with the error, the worker is more likely to respond poorly to the feedback than they would have had the feedback been given earlier. Belated feedback incites a great deal of resistance. The employee typically retorts with such comments as: “How come you didn’t tell me this earlier”; “This is the way I’ve always done it”; “This is how I was trained to do it”; or “There’s nothing wrong with the way I’ve been doing it.”

When feedback is delayed it invariably causes the employee to focus on the path they have been on rather than the corrective path they need to follow. They argue about where they have been rather than accept where they need to go.

Late feedback also causes the employee to focus on the manager rather than focus on his or herself. They often accuse the manager of being wrong rather than accepting that their own performance is wrong. Instead of using their energy to make the course correction they waste time and energy fighting the feedback they’re given. Rather than immediately getting back on track they stand their ground and defend the course they are on.

Immediate feedback is much easier on both the employee and the manager. The earlier the feedback is given to the employee the easier it is to accept the correction and the less energy it takes to change one’s behavior.

The sooner the manager delivers the feedback the less likely the employee will respond negatively to the feedback and use their energy to attack the manager rather than attacking the problem. Immediate feedback gets immediate positive results.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Customers Will Pay a Premium Price for Great Customer Service


Nothing adds more value to a customer than great customer service

———

Anyone who knows me knows I am a cheapskate. I have a real hard time spending money on myself. I’m one of those people who will look for the lowest price and buy that item even if the quality isn’t quite what I want.


At least that’s what I’ve always thought. Then something happened to open my eyes to reality.


Since I travel so much I use a laundry service to wash and press my shirts, pants and suits. Fortunately there is a cleaner just around the corner from my home.


Several months ago I noticed this particular cleaner is fairly expensive. My wife told me I could get my shirts cleaned for almost 50% less than what I am paying. But I refuse to change, regardless of the cost savings. At first I thought my hesitancy to switch was out of convenience. The other cleaner is several blocks away, while this cleaner is just around the corner. But the other day when I went to my current cleaner it dawned on me why I am willing to pay more and stick with the cleaner I’m using.


As I walked toward the shop the owner had already pulled my ticket and had the conveyor belt spinning as she looked for my clean clothes. As I entered she smiled broadly and said: “Good morning, Mr. Mac.” She also had a new ticket ready for my dirty load of clothes and had written my name on the top of the ticket. She did all of this after recognizing my car as I pulled into the parking lot.


As I walked out of the cleaner I had a big smile on my face. I realized the way I was feeling at that moment was the reason why I am willing to pay more at my cleaner. I like the way they make me feel. They know me. They make me feel special. They act as if I’m an important customer and they want my business. I don’t know if they treat every customer like that (I like to think that it’s just me), but I certainly notice it and am willing to pay a premium price because of it.


It doesn’t take much to wow your customers. You just have to notice. Notice who they are and what they like. All you have to do is pay attention and do a few minor things that make a difference. It’s the little things that create loyal customers.


The other day, while on a business trip back East, I was in a restaurant waiting for my dinner. I normally order room service but the hotel where I was staying did not have this service. I hate eating alone in a restaurant because it’s boring sitting there staring at the empty table.


On this occasion another waiter (not my own) noticed that I was alone and that I had been waiting for some time for my food. He came over and, in a concerned voice, said: “One of our cooks called in sick today so our service is slower than usual. Can I get you a newspaper to read while you wait?”


Needless to say, I was impressed. I gave him a tip when he came back with the paper.


Several years ago I read a survey where people were asked to identify the one thing that would cause them to take their business elsewhere. The results were surprising. Only 20% of the respondents said they would take their business elsewhere if they were treated “rudely.” But 86% of those surveyed said they would stop doing business with a company if they were treated “indifferently” — as if their patronage was not important.


Most customers are more than willing to pay a premium price for service providers who simply notice them and then proactively respond to their needs without prompting. My cleaner has convinced me of this.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Your Company Could Be Driving Your Employees Crazy

Many years ago I worked at a mental health center in North Platte, Nebraska. I was a mental health educator and the public relations director for the facility.

While working there I spent a lot of time researching mental health issues so I could provide mental health information to the community. One day in my research I came across a model that identified why some people are more likely than others to become mentally or emotionally disturbed. This is the model:


Organic Factors + Stress
_____________________

Coping + Support + Self-
Skills Network Esteem


The model suggests that people who have strong organic factors and excessive stress are more likely to become emotionally or mentally ill than those who have a lesser portion of these two factors.

Organic Factors are such things as a chemical imbalance, a neurological disorder, a psychosis, a history of mental illness in one’s family, or some other similar malady.

Stress is the sum of any combination of things that place a strain on a person’s mental, emotional, physical, social, spiritual, or intellectual well-being.

According to the model, if a person has a history of organic problems and a high degree of stress in one’s life, chances are this individual will experience emotional or psychological problems at some point unless that person has developed effective ways to counterbalance the organic factors and stress.

The counterbalances to these two elements are: Coping Skills, a strong Support Network, and a healthy Self-Esteem.

Individuals who have developed ways to effectively cope with the stressors in their life are less likely to have emotional or psychological problems. People who have supportive relationships with their family, friends or work colleagues are also less likely to become mentally ill. And, as one might expect, individuals who possess a healthy self-esteem are less likely to experience mental or emotional dysfunction.

This model was a theory in the mental health field. But, surprisingly, after leaving the mental health world and becoming an organizational development consultant, I realized my mental health background was extremely helpful in diagnosing the ills and dysfunctions that often occur in businesses around the world. I quickly discovered there are significant parallels between crazy people and crazy companies.

Crazy companies can be identified by their dysfunctional Organizational Factors and the voluminous amount of Stress with which they burden their employees. The intensity of the organizational factors and stress in “crazy” companies is heightened by an inability internally to Cope with the organizational problems. Likewise, in dysfunctional companies there generally is a complete lack of an internal Support Network where employees can talk through or find successful resolution to their problems. Finally, employees in emotionally unbalanced companies seldom exude pride in their organization and, in fact, usually display all of the characteristics of an organization populated with employees who have low in Self-Esteem when it comes to work.

Unfortunately, throughout my 30 years as a consultant I’ve found there are a lot of crazy companies in this world. And inside those companies are a number of formerly sane employees who have become emotionally distraught from the stress of working for a dysfunctional company. The Postal Service is a perfect example of a company that somehow seems to create more than its share of mentally and emotionally disturbed employees.

Several years ago I worked with a large health insurance company in Florida. It was one of sickest and craziest places I’ve ever experienced in over 35 years of being a business consultant. The CEO literally had to be insane. His behavior was extremely bizarre and definitely over the edge. He was almost abusive in the way he treated the executives, managers, and employees of the company.

The organization itself was structured in a way that guaranteed failure. Every internal process was bureaucratic and cumbersome. The place swarmed with cross-functional “teams” that were supposed to fix things, but instead spent hours in countless meetings pointing fingers, blaming each other, and fighting over turf and trivial issues. Not once, in the whole time the CEO had been in his position, had a problem solving team actually solved the problem the team was chartered to fix. That’s because every time a team got close to resolving an issue the CEO would stir the pot and blow-up the team with some arcane directive. He seemed to derive pleasure from seeing people endlessly struggle in chaos.

The stress in this company was so palpable one could almost see a black cloud hanging over every employee. Everyone looked and acted depressed. Managers barricaded themselves in their offices as a way to cope with the stress of their work environment. People smoked and drank coffee like there was no tomorrow. No one talked to anyone. There was nowhere to turn for support. People were actually criticized when they tried to share information or coordinate their efforts with other departments.

People hated working at this company. When asked by others where they worked, most employees were too ashamed to admit they were employed at this firm. The company’s reputation in the community was horrible. The negative company identity impacted how individuals perceived their personal identity and self-worth.

With no way to cope with the stress at work, nowhere to turn for support, and absolutely no pride in their company, it should be no surprise that many of the employees at this firm had severe emotional, psychological, and mental problems. Work problems went home with the employees and, in some cases, destroyed marriages. Once-confident managers frequently could be seen crying in their offices. Some became almost catatonic, incapable of making decisions. Many workers abused alcohol or other substances. The company and the employees were a mess.

I am amazed at how many managers use dysfunctionally crazy tactics in running their organization. I’ve seen executives who purposely pit managers against each other as a means to stimulate “creativity.” In actuality, all it usually creates is hostility, resentment, and ill-will in the workplace. I’ve also witnessed managers who use criticism, cynicism and insults as means to “motivate” their employees to perform better. It just makes them worse. Negative means never make people feel better about themselves, their boss, or their company. Negativity just destroys trust, respect, and confidence. It is impossible to bring about a positive outcome by negative means.

Just as one can predict whether or not a person will become mentally ill by using the mathematical equation in the mental health model outlined above, so too can it be determined which companies will drive their employees insane. You can diagnose the “sanity” of your company by asking these simple questions listed below:


Organizational Factors

  • Are there any organizational factors in your company that may be throwing the employees off balance emotionally?
  • Is the organization illogical in the way it is structured or run?
  • Do your strategies and tactics seem senseless or irrational?
  • Are the stated values and the company practices in disharmony with each other?
  • When changes occur, are they poorly thought-out and improperly executed?
  • Are the policies, procedures, processes and practices within the organization inefficient and ineffective? Do they make life tougher for the employees rather than easier?
  • Is the company organized in such a way that management cannot make fast, effective decisions?
  • Is there a lack of free-flowing information and correlation of work between departments?
  • Are there hierarchical barriers that inhibit a sense of unity and oneness in the organization?


Stress Factors

  • Do managers use an autocratic or dictatorial management style?
  • Are people confused about their roles and what it takes to succeed in their position?
  • Are employees over-burdened with a heavy workload because of insufficient staff?
  • Do employees lack the tools and resources necessary to do their jobs well?
  • Are there abnormal performance pressures and unrealistic production standards placed upon the employees?
  • Are there any other organizational pressures that may cause stress for employees?


Even if there are organizational issues and significant stressors within your company, it doesn’t necessarily mean your organization is dysfunctional or crazy. There are counterbalances to every organizational problem.

Unfortunately, some companies fail to develop the coping skills needed to deal with the stresses of the job. They neglect to foster a support network of cross-functional cooperation and collaboration. They allow employees to become isolated and territorial. Instead of reaching out and assisting one another, people in the organization hunker down, falsely believing, as do many mentally ill patients, that problem avoidance and shunning others will help them maintain their sanity in a stressful world.

There was a time when people’s self-esteem was strongly tied to their place of employment. They were proud to work at General Motors, IBM, Caesar’s Palace, or, perhaps, even your company. But many of today’s businesses have lost their positive self-image and strong employee affinity.

To truly succeed in today’s competitive markets, companies need to stabilize their enterprise in more than just the financial arena. They need to create a well-balanced, emotionally-healthy organization where employees want to and can commit themselves to being highly productive.

Companies can instill a renewed pride in their organization by having a clear vision of their future, by developing effective strategies and tactics to achieve that future, and by providing a secure role for their employees in that envisioned future.

Healthy companies create supportive networks within the enterprise by enhancing cross-functional communication, cooperation and collaboration. Managers within these companies do everything they can to make sure people talk to one another. Management is highly visible. They actively seek opportunities to solicit feedback from and “network” with employees.

Stable organizations help their employees cope with the pressures of work by properly orienting and training their workers so they don’t flounder in their positions. They make it clear what employees can do to succeed. They provide ongoing communication, support and feedback so employees know exactly where they stand and how they can improve if change is needed.

Finally, mature, well-adjusted companies know the importance of positive reinforcement in maintaining the confidence and self-esteem of their employees. They focus on achievement rather than failure. They state the positives rather than negatives. They build up rather than tear down.

People can tell when a company is healthy. Profitability is not the only barometer. Customers and employees can sense emotional balance and well-being in an organization. They can see, hear and feel the positive energy. They can see it in the workers appearance and behaviors. They can hear it when employees talk about their work. They can feel it as they walk into the business and interact with their fellow employees.

Positive companies produce positive employees, while negative, dysfunctional companies produce distraught and cynical workers. Where your company stands on the sanity-craziness scale is just a question of how it all adds up in the mental health equation.


----------

Mac McIntire, President of Innovative Management Group, a Las Vegas-based training and consulting firm has been creating healthy companies for over 35 years. If you would like more information about how we can help your company, please contact us at 702-258-8334, e-mail to mac@imglv.com, or visit us on the web at www.imglv.com.

Friday, May 28, 2010

How to Create a Customer-Focused Company

Several years ago I had the opportunity to sit around a table in a hotel room discussing customer service with several of the leading service gurus in the country. It was an amazing experience.

With me in the room were John Humphrey, chairman and CEO of The Forum Corporation; Don Munson, executive vice president of Lennox Industries; Craig Johnson, president of Frito Lay; Bob Oatley, executive vice president of American Airlines; and P.J. Boatwright, editor of Fortune Magazine.

Our five-hour exchange was free-flowing and intense. The discussion revolved around a premise espoused by Peter Drucker, who declared, “There is only one valid definition of a business purpose — to create a customer.”

We agreed that those companies that truly are customer focused are those who align their organization and employees in a manner that leads to a predictable positive experience for their customers. Customer focused companies ensure their main objective is to provide their customers with experiences over time that lead customers to view the company as the supplier of choice. Successful companies are those who build customer loyal by consistently delivering on their promise in order to create customer confidence and trust in the company’s products and services.

During our discussion we outlined three essential organizational ingredients that should be at the heart of every customer service effort:


Build Relationships Between Your Company and Your Customers


• Avoid the downward spiral that follows complacency with your current success.

• Work at retaining existing customers and developing new ones.

• Find numerous ways to “connect” with your customers to receive their feedback.

• Pay attention to the “little things” in your service quality.

• Focus on “reliability” versus “tangibles” (see my article called Five Things Customers Want)


Manage Your Employees Well

• Place a high value on your employees. Recognize them as the best source for new ideas.

• Set customer-focused standards of performance. Personalize your service.

• Select and train your people well.

• Ask for employee feedback. Listen and respond to what they say.


Run Your Company Effectively

• Gear everything toward customer expectations.

• Align the entire company to serve your customers effectively.

• Make sure all parts of your organization act in harmony and with consistency of purpose in serving your customers.

• Walk the talk. Model the way.


Over the years Innovative Management Group has created effective roadmaps, tools, methods and models to help businesses become more customer-focused. We show companies how to create an organizational culture that centers on the four interrelated goals of being customer-focused, market-driven, business-oriented and team-centered. Those companies who unify their workforce behind these four goals create greater customer loyalty and superior brand equity.

The Wyoming Two-Step: An Effective Way to Delicately Dance Around Difficult Work Issues and Still Get Results

Many years ago I developed a process that helps people be more receptive to receiving feedback. It also helps to fend off defensiveness when disagreements arise.

Typically when conflict flares the parties involved tend to go head to head, each stubbornly pressing his or her point, hoping forcefulness in tone will cause the other party to listen. But when neither side is willing to give way few issues get resolved.

I’ve found that before you can get others to be receptive to your opinions or ideas you first must be responsive to theirs. To put your ideas forward you must be willing to step back.

I call this technique The Wyoming Two-Step. I’m originally from Wyoming and the concept has two steps, so it seemed like a novel name to me.

The two critical steps of The Wyoming Two-Step are, first ACKNOWLEDGE and then INFORM.

Whenever anyone shares an idea or has an issue with you, first express awareness of the other person’s opinion, idea or perspective. Accept the fact that his or her opinion is valid, the idea has merit, and their perspective is accurate to them.

State up front where you agree with their opinion or idea. Certainly some of their points must be reasonable and valid. Identify the mutual ground first. Restate the other person’s salient points before expressing your personal views.

Once you’ve acknowledged the legitimacy of the other person’s concerns you will be in a better position to inform them of your stance.

There are several very important things you need to understand when you inform others of your views. In order for another person to be receptive to your ideas or opinions they obviously need to know what your position is. But, more important, before they can commit to your view they must fully understand WHY you perceive things the way you do. Provide the background information that led to the formulation of your unique perspective. Before others can see things as you see them they need to know what you know and discover how and why you know it.

They also need to know why they should accept your position. To sway people to your position you need to state the positive results that will be achieved by accepting your view. Help them buy-in to your position by stating the results they can expect if they do what you want.

After the whats, whys, and results have been stated, you should check to see if they accept and/or understand of your position. You may not always get people to accept your perspective. The best you may be able to do is get them to understand your position or idea. Sometimes people can’t agree but the issue still can be resolved if both parties understand each other.

Employees and teenagers don’t always accept what their boss or parents tell them. Arguments ensue when there are conflicting points of view. But there is no need to butt heads. As issues arise merely step back. Acknowledge the other person’s perspective. State where you are in agreement and rephrase those points to emphasize your mutual understanding.

When you have accepted, or at least understood, the other person’s view they will be more inclined to hear you out as you inform them about your perspective. This mutual give and take — stepping back and stepping forward — creates an atmosphere of listening and open communication. It leads to better understanding and a greater chance of real acceptance and real commitment to your ideas.

It may take some practice, but eventually you will master the Wyoming Two-Step. Once you do, you and others will be dancing to the same tune.


The Wyoming Two-Step:

ACKNOWLEDGE

Express awareness of the other person’s opinion, idea or perspective.

State where you are in agreement

Restate the valid points of the other person’s opinion, idea or perspective.


INFORM

State your own opinion, idea or perspective. Be sure to explain both what and WHY.

State the results the other person can expect from accepting your opinion, idea or perspective.

Check for acceptance and / or understanding of your position.

Five Factors Crucial to the Success of Your Business

During times of economic and organizational uncertainty companies need to focus on the things that matter most — the things that will ensure the viability of their business in the future.

Recently I was re-reading The Art of War by renowned Chinese military strategist, Sun Tzu (pronounced son eat sue). In his book he identifies “five constant factors” a military leader must focus on during a battle. These five factors determine who will succeed and who will fail in war. “He who masters them wins,” says Sun Tzu. “He who does not is defeated.”

The five constant factors in war that determine either survival or ruin are: 1) moral influence, 2) weather, 3) terrain, 4) commander, and 5) doctrine.

I see business parallels to these five military factors. I’m convinced he who masters the five constant factors of business will win; he who does not will be defeated — regardless of the economy or any other conditions.

The first constant factor of business, or moral influence, is a spirit of mission. To survive economic turmoil a company needs the strength of vision and sense of purpose that ignites a fighting spirit within its employees and generates a firestorm of commitment from them. The company’s battle plan must rally the employees in a unified front designed to achieve the organization’s strategic objectives. Those businesses that constantly keep the company’s purpose in the forefront of the minds of the employees will have a strategic advantage.

Sun Tzu’s weather constant equates to outside forces that affect the enterprise. The surge of mergers and consolidations sweeping through every industry is an outside force. So too are the realities of global competition, the influence of environmentalism, terrorism, and other world conditions. Companies who constantly monitor the shifting changes in the world around them, and then adjust their strategies accordingly, will win.

The “terrain” is the marketplace. Just as a general must know the terrain, so too business leaders must consider the scene of action – the place, people, products, pro-motions, price, and other factors that determine success. Strategies and tactics must align these elements so all resources are targeted to achieve the defined objective.

The commander, of course, is the leader of the company, division, or department. The attitude, philosophy and skill level of the leader greatly influences the performance of the employees. Effective leadership principles are the same even during a crisis. Too many companies jettison healthy management practices and lose their sense of direction when under fire from competitive challengers. Managers who maintain their stability and stay the course during tough times will lead their company to success.

The final constant, “doctrine,” is comparable to the guiding principles, core competencies, or critical success factors that are vital to a company’s current and future growth. The company’s core values should never be abandoned in tough times. Rather, they should be the rallying standard that drives everyone’s behavior and performance. When defined accurately, and implemented effectively, a company’s core values are the spirit that moves the organization.

The key to success during business uncertainty is to refocus the “troops” on the five constant factors that ensure a victorious outcome.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Four Ways to Show You Care About Your Customers

Simple words and actions go a long way to improving relationships with your customers.

You can demonstrate your concern and appreciation for your customers through four kind responses that send a message of caring friendliness. When used regularly these four things show how much you value your customers.

ACKNOWLEDGE

One of the best ways to send a message to your customers that they are important to you is to simply acknowledge them. Notice people when they enter your business. Be aware of those who are around you. Make eye contact and smile. As soon as you have an opportunity to speak, acknowledge the person and greet them in a friendly manner.

Several years ago I read a survey where people were asked to identify the one thing that would cause them to take their business elsewhere. The results were surprising. Only 20% of the respondents said they would take their business elsewhere if they were treated “rudely.” But 86% of those surveyed said they would stop doing business with a company if they were treated “indifferently” — as if their patronage was not important.

Another way to acknowledge the customer is to respond appropriately to their comments and inquiries. Acknowledge what people say. Never ignore a customer’s comment. If they say it, they want you to hear it. Find a way to acknowledge every comment from a customer.

Some comments call for a quick response, such as when a person mentions a new home, a grandchild, or an upcoming vacation. You can quickly acknowledge the comment with a response such as:

• Great!
• That’s terrific.
• Congratulations.
• That’s great news.
• How exciting.
• You must be thrilled.
• You deserve a vacation.

All customer concerns or complaints should immediately be acknowledged. Respond with an appropriate apology. Be sure to include in your response the reason for the concern or complaint and tell the person what you will do to help. Here are some examples of what you could say:

• I’m sorry you couldn’t get into your room. Let me make you a new key.
• I apologize for the delay. How can I assist you?
• I’m sorry we’re out of Clam Chowder. The Corn Chowder is equally good.
• I’m sorry you had to return your laptop. I can transfer your old hard drive to your new laptop if you’d like.


APPRECIATE

You can show appreciation to the customer during almost any interaction. At a minimum you should include a statement of appreciation at the end of a transaction. For example you might say:

• Thanks for calling. I enjoyed talking to you.
• Thanks for staying with us. Come see us again soon.
• Thanks for being so patient and understanding.
• I appreciate your willingness to work with me on this.
• It’s been wonderful seeing you again.
• You’re my favorite customer.


AFFIRM

Affirmations are positive statements you make that compliment others. Compliments are easy to make. Be sure you are sincere and really mean it. Don’t invent compliments, but look for the good in others. Find things to praise, such as:

• Wow! I love your car!
• Excellent choice, sir.
• You look cheerful this morning, Sir.
• What a nice looking family.
• Your kids are so well behaved.
• That was an amazing accomplishment.


ASSURE

Whenever a customer has a need or concern, he or she wants assurance that you will take personal responsibility to resolve the problem. After acknowledging the customer’s concern and expressing appreciation that the issue was brought to your attention, make a confidence building statement that assures the customer you will handle the situation.

• I’ll take care of that for you personally, sir.
• I will make sure it is in your room when you arrive.
• My name is Maria. I will call you back in a few minutes with an answer.
• I’ll do it myself to make sure it gets done properly.
• I’ll check into it immediately and contact you as soon as I find out what is going on.
• Let me take it and get it fixed for you. It will be done when you get back.

These four kind responses go along way toward the development of lasting relationships with you customers. Practice using them with your customers (and your family). Both they and you will be glad you did.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Why Some People Become Jerks the Moment They are Promoted to Management

Have you ever known someone who seemed to turn into a jerk the moment they were promoted to management?

If you ask employees if they know any managers who are jerks, they’ll tell you there are a lot of them. But don’t worry; I’m sure you are not a jerk! In fact most of the managers who employees think are “jerks” aren’t jerks either. They just appear that way to the employees.

This article explains why some managers seem to turn into jerks the moment they are promoted to management.

Several years ago I was consulting with a large casino property in Las Vegas. I was asked to come in and assess why they were having such significant customer service problems in their coffee shop. The employees had bad attitudes and it reflected heavily in their service. To my surprise the primary cause of the service problem in the restaurant was a toaster — or, rather, the lack of one. The employees were upset with management because there was only one toaster in the coffee shop, which wasn’t enough. They needed another toaster. But management refused to buy an additional toaster.

Having only one toaster meant the food servers had to compete for the use of the single toaster. The food servers were responsible for making the toast while the cooks prepared their food order. Usually, however, the food was cooked before the toast was done because the food servers were still waiting in line around the crowded toaster. Consequently, the food would get cold while the food servers prepared the toast. Then when the customers complained about the food being cold, the food servers had to take the food back to be re-cooked. This made the cooks angry. The cooks often yelled at the food servers for not getting the food out fast enough. The food servers yelled at the cooks to stop yelling at them. The food servers also yelled at each other as they once again started the cycle of competing for the toaster. This, of course, made everyone want to yell at management.

Full-scale battles broke out around the toaster as food servers accused other food servers of crowding in before them, or, worse yet, stealing their toast. The employees hated coming to work. They hated cooks who were angry at them all the time. They hated their fellow employees who would stoop so low as to steal toast. But mostly they hated management for being “too cheap” to buy a new toaster.

BETTY GETS PROMOTED

Now imagine the following scene. One day a management position becomes available in this coffee shop and one of the food servers, Betty, gets promoted. All of the other food servers are happy for Betty. They congratulate her. They tell her what a wonderful job she will do. They throw a celebration party in her honor. They are happy for her.

But mostly the employees are happy for themselves because they know that now that Betty is in management, she’ll finally get them a new toaster. Betty knows how bad they need the toaster. She’s a former food server. She’s one of them. She knows what it is like to work in the trenches. She won’t forget her friends! She’ll get them what they need.

But then something eerie happens to Betty. Somehow, overnight, she changes. Like the victim of an unseen vampire, bitten by management’s bite, she instantly becomes one of “them.” She becomes a manager. Betty turns into a jerk!

A week after Betty’s promotion there is no new toaster. The employees are antsy. They expected Betty to get them a new toaster right away. They’re surprised Betty hasn’t done it already, but they’re confident Betty will get the toaster soon.

Another week goes by. Still no toaster.

“What about the toaster?” the employees ask.

Betty gives them the typical management answer: “I’m working on it.”

More weeks pass. The workers are becoming disgruntled.

“Hey, when are we going to get a toaster?” they query. “You haven't forgotten us, have you?”

“Leave me alone!” Betty huffs. “I’m doing the best I can.”

It’s now months later and still there is no new toaster. The employees gather in small groups and talk about Betty behind her back.

“I can’t believe it,” one says. “I never thought Betty would become one of them. Now that she’s a big-wig she’s forgotten us peons. She hardly even talks to us anymore. Have you noticed how she always hangs out with other managers?”

Suddenly Betty walks in. The workers scatter. Finally one out-spoken employee inquires sarcastically, “So, Betty, do you think you’ll ever get us a toaster?”

“Look!” Betty snaps back. “You just do your job and let me do mine!”

The disgusted employee quickly turns and stomps off. “What a jerk,” he mumbles under his breath.

BETTY HAS CHANGED

What happened to Betty? Why doesn’t she buy the toaster? Why has she isolated herself from people who used to be her friends? Why is she so curt when she speaks to them? Why does she act like such a jerk?

Why? Because something did happen to Betty when she was promoted to management. She didn’t notice it, but it happened almost immediately. And it happens to every new manager.

The moment Betty took on her new role as a supervisor, her PERSPECTIVE changed. Instantly she began to see things from a different view — from a management perspective. She learned how much industrial-grade toasters cost. She found out how minuscule the profit margin is in a restaurant. She was informed of expensive capital improvements that had to be made at the restaurant because of legislated ADA requirements. And she learned of other big-ticket items that needed to be purchased for the coffee shop. Since she was now responsible for balancing her budget, she began to prioritize her expenditures. The toaster was still on her priority list, it just wasn’t as important as it used to seem.

She also was reminded that management had purchased three brand new toasters over the past twelve months. Those toasters needed to be repaired numerous times because the food servers kept breaking them. In their impatience to get their food orders out faster, the employees pushed the conveyor chain on the toaster with a knife, trying to speed it up. This broke the heating element in the toaster. The food servers only had one toaster because they broke the other three.

Betty was reminded that management had warned the food servers several times that management would not continue to replace the toasters if the employees kept breaking them. The employees would have to take better care of the toasters they already had. Now Betty understood why management refused to buy new ones.

Betty’s GOALS also changed when she became a supervisor. As a food server her goals had been pretty simple. She needed to get the food out on time, serve her customers well, and earn enough tips to pay her personal bills.

But as a supervisor, Betty now struggled to ensure the restaurant made a profit. She became concerned about portion control, pilferage, turning the tables, work schedules, inventory levels, equipment maintenance, and numerous other financial matters. The employees were shocked that she now seemed more interested in the bottom-line than in employee morale. To them, she was just like all the other managers. She had become a jerk.

BETTY IS NO LONGER ONE OF US

Betty used to be one of the gang. When Betty was a food server she was just like all the other food servers. She occasionally became silly and played around in the kitchen area. During slow periods she hung out and gossiped with the other workers.

But now whenever Betty saw employees standing around she told them to find something to do. She expected them to clean their duty stations, fill the salt and pepper shakers, stock the supplies, or, even worse, punch out early and go home. Apparently now that she was making supervisor’s pay, she’d forgotten what it was like to have to work every scheduled hour just to make ends meet.

But Betty hadn’t forgotten. It’s just that she now realized she had to focus on other RESPONSIBILITIES and place them above her own personal needs. Now it was her job to make sure the work got done. She expected the employees to work a full eight hours, since that was what they were being paid to do. She was constantly amazed that the employees stood around when there was obvious work to be done. Why did she have to tell them what to do all the time? If they didn’t want to work, they should go home. Betty couldn’t believe how lazy the employees had become. They seemed to be standing around all the time. She wondered whether they were acting this way just to get back at her because she had become the manager instead of one of them. Maybe they were jealous.

BETTY BECOMES ISOLATED

The employees felt Betty had become a snob after she got promoted. She used to be a lot of fun. She joked around with the customers and other workers. Back then, whenever the employees stood around and complained about management, she was right there with them. In fact, she had promised that if she ever became a supervisor she would never act like management did.

But now Betty spent most of her time with those same managers whom she used to joke about. She formed new RELATIONSHIPS and didn’t associate with her old coworkers much any more. When she wasn’t in a meeting with other managers somewhere, or sitting in her office talking to another manager, she was having lunch with them in an area reserved for management only. The food servers couldn’t remember the last time they saw her in the employee cafeteria or break room.

Betty has heard the employees complain about her never being around. But they just don’t realize how busy she is. She doesn’t like going to all of those management meetings, but she has to be there because that’s where she gets the information she needs in order to do her job. She’d like to be able to just stand around like the employees, but she doesn’t have time. Every night she takes work home with her. The employees don’t do that. Maybe if they’d walk in her shoes for awhile they’d realize how hard managers work.

Actually, it’s difficult for Betty to talk to the employees anymore. It’s as if they don’t even speak the same LANGUAGE. The employees only talk about their personal lives and personal problems. They seem totally focused on money. No matter how big their tips are, they never seem satisfied. They complain about their pay and are constantly critical of management.

Betty can’t listen to these criticisms. If she listens but remains silent, the employees will think she agrees with them. And if she tries to explain management’s perspective, the employees will see her as being defensive. Anyway, there are more important things to talk about with the employees — such as customer service, the quality of the food, work station cleanliness, performance standards, and worker tardiness. Betty wonders why she seems to be the only one worried about these things. After all, isn’t that the employees’ job?

BETTY ISN'T HAPPY WITH US

Betty doesn’t get a lot of SATISFACTION from being around the workers. In fact, having to deal with the employees is the least satisfying aspect of her job. She finds that most of her job satisfaction comes from seeing just how productive and profitable she can make her restaurant. She enjoys solving problems and discovering ways to improve the work processes. She likes manipulating the work schedules and monitoring the purchase orders to get the most bangs for the buck. Her personal REWARDS come at the end of each week when she reviews the week’s financial statements and production figures. She loves to see an upward trend and knows that if things continue the way they’re going, she’s likely to get a big bonus at the end of the year.

As Betty sits back and evaluates how she is doing as a new manager she’s pleased with how well she has adjusted to her new role. Almost all of the performance indicators in the coffee shop have gone up since she became the manager. Certainly this was due, in part, to her leadership abilities.

At the same time, she’s surprised at how poorly the employees have responded to her management style. They seemed so happy when she was first promoted. She never expected them to give her so much grief. She is shocked at how quickly their behavior changed after she was promoted. It seemed that the moment she entered management, most of the employees became jerks!

HOW NOT TO BECOME A JERK

Making the transition to management is often difficult no matter how prepared a person believes he or she is for the job. As shown above, the moment a worker is promoted to management, their perspective and goals change. Without realizing it, and with almost no effort on their part, they start thinking less as an employee and more as a manager. Almost automatically they feel personally responsible to ensure the work gets done. Production and financial performance becomes very important to them.

New managers naturally gravitate in their interpersonal relationships toward other managers. They even start to look and sound like them. Some even take up similar recreational activities, such as golf. They dress like managers and talk about the things that are important to managers. Their language changes as they use jargon and acronyms that are foreign to most employees.

New managers usually don’t notice how quickly their job satisfaction shifts away from receiving pleasure while serving customers to being most happy when budget and production goals are met. They subtly change from a people-focus to an emphasis on numbers.

Finally, not only is dealing with employees less satisfying to the manager, but he or she quickly realizes a manager’s rewards usually come not from good employee relations, but from good productivity scores. A good bottom line can hide a multitude of a manager’s employee relations weakness in many organizations. Most managers naturally gravitate to that which gets rewarded, and in most businesses financial performance is the most important indicator of a manager’s worth to the company.

Since this transformation is mostly unconscious and occurs naturally with little or no effort on the part of the new manager, the new supervisor may not recognize how obvious the changes appear to the employees. The manager may feel like he or she hasn’t changed at all. Invariably, to the new manager it seems the employees have changed.

Since most managers are not jerks (they just appear to be), they need to be aware of two important characteristics that will help overcome any false perceptions employees may have about them. These qualities are 1) personal introspection and, 2) the ability to be open and honest in their communication with their employees.

THE ABILITY TO LOOK WITHIN

I believe one of the greatest personal qualities a manager must have is the gift of introspection — the ability to look within oneself to honestly assess how he or she is responding to their new supervisory role.

When a worker becomes a manager, this role change impacts them intellectually, emotionally, and socially. It also may affect them physically and spiritually (one’s personal values and guiding principles).

Some new managers believe once they enter management they are supposed to be smarter than their employees. They feel they should know and understand everything that is going on in the organization. They think they are required to know how to do everyone’s job. They’re supposed to solve any problems that may arise.

When the new manager realizes they don’t know all these things, some managers may become emotionally distressed. Some may unconsciously use an authoritarian tone to mask their insecurities. Others may retreat to previously familiar ground that is more comfortable to them. They may try to retain their “friendship” relationship with their former colleagues.

The change in their relationship with their former coworkers often causes stress for many new managers. They don’t know how to act. They’re afraid if they talk to their former friends, or take them to lunch, it will be viewed as favoritism. So they avoid any contact. This, of course, makes them appear distant or snobbish.

For some new managers, the intellectual, emotional and social conflict of their new role causes physical problems as well. The mental and emotional stress of being a manager may produce anger, fatigue, or even depression. These internal conflicts may also impact their spiritual well-being and challenge long-held values or beliefs. These feelings are difficult to mask and often come out in negative ways as the new manager interacts with the employees.

THE ABILITY TO COMMUNICATE OPENLY

New managers can minimize the unwanted affects of their management role by communicating openly with their employees. Through introspection they can become aware of how their role change is affecting them. This will help them understand and, if necessary, challenge their perspectives and beliefs about their role as a manger.

For example, they can challenge the assumption that a manager must be the expert in every situation. They can overcome their fear of fraternizing with employees by being conscious about deep-seeded biases or favoritism. They can become more aware of how they are responding emotionally as they face the many management challenges that arise.

For the most part, employees generally respond well when managers openly talk to them about the struggles they’re facing in their new role. Managers who are honest will tell their employees when they don’t know something and will solicit the expertise of the workers. Mature managers don’t expect to know everything, but, rather, utilize the vast talents of their employees to achieve the goals of their work unit. If the manager is open with his or employees, normally the employees will help the manager determine the best way to interact with them to avoid showing favoritism.

By far the worst thing new managers can do is to become isolated from their employees. Unfortunately, this natural isolation begins when the manager takes on his or her new role. New managers immediately feel different than and apart from the employees. This difference keeps them from talking to the workers and causes a gulf between management and the employees.

Sadly, there is a natural tendency in human beings to move in the opposite direction from that which is right. For example, the time when a married couple is in conflict and their marriage seems to be in jeopardy is when they should move toward each other the most. They obviously need to communicate more and spend more time with each other in order to resolve their differences. They need to be more open and listen to each other more. But instead of getting closer to each other, most struggling couples naturally move away from each other, refuse to talk to one another, and close themselves off in separate rooms. Consequently their marriage fails because they moved in the opposite direction from that which was right.

Likewise, when an employee on a work team is struggling, the other members of the team invariably know about it. But instead of moving toward the employee to offer constructive feedback that might help the struggling worker improve, colleagues withdraw as far away as possible from the employee. They isolate the employee and refuse to associate with them, lest they be guilty by association. Eventually the employee fails because they did not receive the support of their fellow workers.

New managers need to fight this natural tendency to withdraw. They need to step toward their employees. They need to spend more time with them, to talk to them more, to listen to them more, and to value the worker’s input more.

New managers who are introspective enough to understand how they and their employees are responding to the manager’s new role will know that open and honest communication is the key to their future success. They’ll realize that soliciting help from their employees and being receptive to the employees’ feedback is one of the best ways to ensure they succeed in their managerial role.

Managers who do this are respected and trusted by their subordinates. These managers are not seen as jerks. They eventually gain the support and commitment of their employees and accomplish the significant results they were expected to achieve when they were promoted. In other words, they get the satisfaction and rewards of management without isolating themselves from their employees.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Customers Will Pay a Premium Price for Superior Service

Anyone who knows me knows I am a cheapskate. I have a real hard time spending money on myself. I’m one of those people who will look for the lowest price and buy that item even if the quality isn’t quite what I want.

At least that’s what I’ve always thought. Then something happened to open my eyes to an interesting concept.

Since I travel so much I use a laundry service to wash and press my shirts, pants and suits. Fortunately there is a cleaner just around the corner from my home.

Several months ago I realized this particular cleaner is fairly expensive. My wife told me I could get my shirts cleaned for almost 50% less than what I am paying. But I refuse to change, regardless of the cost savings. At first I thought my hesitancy to switch was out of convenience. The other cleaner is several blocks away, while this cleaner is just around the corner. But when I went to my current cleaner the other day it dawned on me why I am willing to pay more and stick with the cleaner I’m using.

As I pulled up to the cleaners the shop owner saw me, pulled my ticket, and started spinning the conveyor belt looking for my clean clothes. When I came through the door she smiled broadly and said: “Good morning, Mr. Mac.” She also had a new ticket ready for my dirty load of clothes and had written my name on the top of the ticket. She did all of this after recognizing my car when I pulled into the parking lot.

When I walked out of the cleaner I had a big smile on my face. I knew the way I was feeling at that moment was the reason why I'm willing to pay more for my cleaning. I like the way they make me feel. They know me. They know how I like my clothes cleaned. They make me feel special. They act as if I’m an important customer and that they want my business. I don’t know if they treat every customer like that (I like to think that it’s just me), but I certainly notice it and am willing to pay a premium price because of it.

It doesn’t take much to wow your customers. You just have to notice. Notice who they are and what they like. All you have to do to earn their loyalty is pay attention and do a few minor things that make a difference. It’s the little things that make people want to come back.

The other day, while on a business trip back East, I was in a restaurant waiting for my dinner. I normally order room service when I travel alone but the hotel where I was staying did not have this service. I hate eating alone in a restaurant because it’s boring sitting there staring at the empty table.

On this occasion another waiter (not my own) noticed that I was alone and that I had been waiting for some time for my food. He came over and, in a concerned voice, said: “One of our cooks called in sick today so our service is slower than usual. Can I get you a newspaper to read while you wait?”

Needless to say, I was impressed. I gave him a tip when he came back with the paper.

Several years ago I read a survey where people were asked to identify the one thing that would cause them to take their business elsewhere. The results were surprising. Only 20% of the respondents said they would take their business elsewhere if they were treated “rudely.” But 86% of those surveyed said they would stop doing business with a company if they were treated “indifferently” — as if their patronage was not important.

Most customers are more than willing to pay a premium price for service providers who simply notice them and then proactively respond to their needs without prompting. My cleaner has convinced me that this is true.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Why Feedback Needs to be Immediate

Every manager knows he or she should give an employee immediate feedback when the worker performs below expectations. But sometimes managers fail to do what they know they should do because they are afraid of the reaction they may get when they confront the employee.

Managers who delay giving feedback to their employees do a disfavor to all concerned. They cause more problems by not confronting the employee than they would by confronting the employee immediately.

When a rocket goes off course the best time to give it feedback is as soon as the discrepancy occurs. If caught early, the course can be corrected with a short burst of the rocket thrusters. The longer the rocket goes off course the more fuel it will require to get it back on the right trajectory. And, if caught to late, there may not be enough fuel to correct the deviation. When this happens the rocket has to be destroyed.

The situation is the same regarding employee performance. When an employee goes off course the best time to give him or her feedback is as soon as the digression occurs. When caught early very little energy is required to make the correction. The longer the employee travels down the wrong path the more energy it will take to change the employee’s performance. Not only will the employee have to do more to change, but the manager also must exert a lot of energy to get the employee to make the course correction.

Managers who delay giving feedback to off-target employees cause problems for themselves. When an employee has been doing the wrong thing for an extended time, and then is finally confronted with the error, the worker is more likely to respond poorly to the feedback than they would have had the feedback been given earlier. Belated feedback incites a great deal of resistance. The employee typically retorts with such comments as: “How come you didn’t tell me this earlier”; “This is the way I’ve always done it”; “This is how I was trained to do it”; or “There’s nothing wrong with the way I’ve been doing it.”

When feedback is delayed it invariably causes the employee to focus on the path they have been on rather than the corrective path they need to follow. They argue about where they have been rather than accept where they need to go.

Late feedback also causes the employee to focus on the manager rather than focus on his or herself. They often accuse the manager of being wrong rather than accepting that their own performance is wrong. Instead of using their energy to make the course correction they waste time and energy fighting the feedback they’re given. Rather than immediately getting back on track they stand their ground and defend the course they are on.

Immediate feedback is much easier on both the employee and the manager. The earlier the feedback is given to the employee the easier it is to accept the correction and the less energy it takes to change one’s behavior.

The sooner the manager delivers the feedback the less likely the employee will respond negatively to the feedback and use their energy to attack the manager rather than attacking the problem. Immediate feedback gets immediate positive results.

Friday, March 12, 2010

You Cannot Lead From Behind

My wife likes me to go grocery shopping with her. Since I travel so much as a consultant any time we can spend together is quality time.

I really enjoy going to the store with my wife. She lets me push the cart. It gives me that false sense that I’m in charge. But I know who the real boss is. She’s the one who has the list. She knows what we need to buy. She knows where we are going in the store.

For some reason, however, my wife insists on following me behind the cart. I keep telling her she cannot lead from behind. I cannot follow her if she is not out in front. Every time she tries to lead from behind I have to stop, turn around, and ask her where to go next. This stop and go shopping is very inefficient. And that can really irritate someone like me who is an efficiency expert.

Just as my wife cannot lead from behind at the grocery store, so too managers cannot lead from behind their desk. It is impossible to lead from the back office or behind the wizard’s curtain. Leaders cannot lead from behind. Leaders must be out in front of their people. Leaders must be ahead of those they intend to lead. Leaders must show their followers the way by stepping out in front and leading by example.

True leaders know where they are going. They can see the path ahead because they are out front on point. They know the hurdles and barriers that must be surmounted. They also know where others must go to achieve the desired objective.

Leading is not the same as managing. Much has been written about the differences between managing and leading. There are different competencies for a leader than for a manager. But one major difference that separates leaders from managers is where their activities take place.

Managers can manage from their office. They can plan, organize, direct, delegate, control, communicate, and make decisions from behind a desk. Managers can do administrative tasks and even manage the performance of their employees from behind a closed door. It’s entirely possible to manage a business without ever leaving the office. But it’s not possible to lead people, or a business, from behind a desk.

Leadership requires being on the front-line. True leaders want to be out on the shop floor among the workers. They want to talk to customers and employees. Real leaders place high value on face-to-face, personal contact with the people that matter most -- customers and employees.

Leaders don’t rely on reports or formal communication channels alone to get information. They leave their office as often as possible so they can see and hear things for themselves. They learn a lot by mingling with the “troops.” They position themselves out in the trenches where they can better sense how the battle is progressing.

Real leaders understand the motivational value of visible management. They pitch in, help out, and carry their own load when needed. They know employees respect leaders who work on the front-line rather than work in an ivory tower. That's how you can tell who the real leaders are in an organization. They are the ones who are out front leading the way.

Monday, March 1, 2010

How to Develop Competent Employees

One of the great challenges for managers is how to separate the competent workers from the incompetent, the capable from the incapable, and the willing workers from the unwilling. A manager cannot manage an employee's performance until they know in which category the employee falls.

Managers may feel that they know which workers are the good ones based upon their observations of the employees’ performance, behavior and attitude. But highly competent workers sometimes mask their goodness in off-purpose conduct. Conversely, totally incompetent employees can often fool managers with a behavioral fa├žade that makes them look like they are doing the right things.

My experience has been that most employees have the ability (or could have the ability) to be totally competent performers. Only a very small percentage of employees are incompetent. Unfortunately, some managers actually create incompetent employees because of their own actions or inactions. Sometimes good employees become bad employees because of bad managers.

The key to creating competent employees is to determine where to focus one’s intervention. When employees are not performing to standard as expected, the manager must discover the root cause of the performance failure. The supervisor must have the ability to separate symptoms from the real cause of the incompetence.

Several years ago I worked for a company that created internal “consulting” groups consisting of experts from each functional area within the company. There were teams of consultants from operations, finance, marketing, information technology, human resources and other areas of the company. These internal consultants were organized into what were called Strategic Strike Teams (SST). Like airline crash investigators, SSTs were sent out at a moment’s notice whenever and wherever there were problems in the company that fell within that team’s specialty. The job of the SST was to quickly troubleshoot the problem, find a solution, and fix the problem so it didn’t happen again.

I was the leader of one of those SSTs. My team was the “human performance” SST. Whenever there was a mass failure of human performance in any department at any level in any of our company subsidiaries, my team was sent out to turn the situation around. We literally had our bags packed, ready to go the minute we were notified there was a performance problem somewhere in the company.

The Six Block Model

After many months investigating human performance “crashes,” I noticed a pattern develop as to why those performance failures occurred. I discovered the root of human performance problems was consistent from company to company, department to department, or person to person. It didn’t matter which type of business the company was in, where it was located, the skill or education level of the employees, or any other characteristics. Human performance failure always seemed to be caused by the same root issues.

From these experiences I developed a model that identifies the root cause of human performance failure. I call my tool the Six Block Model because there are only six primary reasons why people fail to perform to standard. The Six Block Model lists these root causes in the priority order in which the cause of the performance problem can be found.

Invariably the primary cause of most human incompetence can be found in block one. By far the greatest percentage of performance failures (80% to 90%) are caused by block one issues. Therefore managers should always look first in block one to find the root cause of an employee’s performance failure.

If the performance discrepancy is not found after assessing all of the issues in block one, the manager next should look for the cause in block two, then block three, and so on to block six. The probability of finding the real cause of the performance problem is greatest in the first block and decreases exponentially through the five other blocks. Very few performance problems are actually caused by block six issues. Yet, historically, block six is where most managers begin their search for the problem.

Block six issues include the MOTIVATION, MORALE, ATTITUDE, or WORK ETHIC of the employee.

The vast majority of managers attribute poor performance to motivation problems. They typically describe the reason for a performance failure by saying such things as, “the employee is not motivated,” “they don’t care,” “they have a bad attitude,” “people don’t want to work hard these days,” or “you just can’t find good employees today.” Invariably these statements are wrong. Low motivation or morale, a lousy attitude or a poor work ethic usually are symptoms of a problem, not the problem itself.

When I hear managers make statements like these I ask the manager to identify the employee in their work area who they feel has the poorest motivation, the lowest morale, the worst attitude, or the laziest work ethic. I then ask them to describe what that employee’s behavior was like on the first day they were employed at the company. I ask if the employee seemed excited about their job when they came to work on that first day. Did they seem to have a good attitude about being there? Were they anxious to prove themselves as a good worker? Did they want to perform well? In most cases I receive and affirmative answer to these questions.

If that is the case, I point out, obviously at one time the now poor performing employee was motivated, did have high morale and a positive attitude, and was willing to work hard. Consequently, if the employee now lacks motivation, has low morale or a negative attitude, or doesn’t seem to want to work, something must have happened to the employee since coming to work in the manager’s department. In other words, the root cause can be found in something that happened after the first day the employee came to work. Whatever caused the employee to lose his or her motivation, morale, attitude, or work ethic happened at work. The root cause is more likely to be found somewhere at work rather than somewhere inside the employee. In other words, the employee doesn't have a problem; the company has a problem! It is not a motivation, morale, attitude or work ethic problem intrinsic to the employee.

Once I point out the employee's behavior changed after they started work at the company, most managers reluctantly accept the idea that the cause of the employee’s performance failure is not motivation, morale, attitude, or a poor work ethic. Grudgingly they accept that the root cause of the employee’s “incompetence” is not in block six.

Invariably the managers then will shift the reason for the performance failure to issues that can be found in the fifth block.

“Okay. You may be right,” the managers usually concede. “It may not be a motivation problem. I just think the employee is stupid. They can’t seem to do anything right. They don’t have any common sense.”

These statements describe causes that would be found in block five – CAPACITY. Capacity issues deal with whether or not the employee has the physical or mental capacity to perform at acceptable levels.

In reality few employees lack the physical abilities or mental capacity to do the job for which they were hired. I usually can stop managers from using capacity as the excuse for poor performance by asking them how many employees they have hired who actually fall into the “idiot” category on an IQ test. Fearing being accused of falling into that category themselves for hiring the employee, few managers admit to hiring idiots.

Most employees are intelligent enough to do the job they were hired to do. Otherwise they would not have passed the job interview. Likewise, most employees are physically capable of doing the job as well.

Blocks five and six are the last two places managers should look for causes of incompetence simply because they are rarely the primary cause of the problem. Managers should concentrate their performance improvement assessment in the first four blocks, starting with block one. These four blocks focus on the conditions surrounding the employee. Managers will be more successful in finding the root cause of the performance problem by looking at the work environment, rather than trying to perform some type of psychotherapy regarding the employee’s motives or capacity.

Block One

The fact is most performance problems are found in block one. The number one reason why people fail to perform to the manager's expectations is because they lack the INFORMATION necessary to perform well. They don’t know what performance is wanted.

To achieve exceptional results employees must know exactly what is expected of them. They need to clearly understand their job and what results they’re expected to achieve. They need to know the goals and direction of the company, as well as the goals of their specific position in the company. They need clarity of their role, their boundaries and their authority level. They also need feedback regarding both how to perform well and how well they are performing.

Unfortunately many managers actually create incompetent employees by not providing their workers with the information they need to do their jobs well. Too often they fail to tell employees what is expected of them or fail to hold them accountable for specified results. They don’t tell their employees how well (or poorly) they are performing. Or, worse yet, they give people misleading or unclear information about their performance.

Clear direction and expectations combined with reliable performance feedback are the best indicators of whether or not employees will exhibit competent performance. To perform well employees need significant, informative, and reliable guidance both as to how one should perform and how well one is performing.

Block one, the information block, includes everything that deals with guiding employee performance and providing feedback on that performance. The simple act of providing workers with clear information about the goals of their job has more potential for creating competent employees than any other tactic. When goals are clearly defined, objectives set, and work parameters established, employees confidently step forward and accomplish valuable results.

A stated before, the root cause of an employee’s incompetence can be found in block one more than 80% of the time. Managers will have greater success turning employee performance around by focusing on the information provided to the employee.

Block Two

If the root cause of the performance failure is not an information problem, the manager next should look for the cause to the problem in block two.

If an employee has all of the information she needs to perform well and still is not performing to standard, the reason may be because she lacks the TOOLS or RESOURCES needed to achieve satisfactory results.

A worker is only as good as the tools one has at their disposal. A Front Desk Clerk in a hotel cannot serve the customers in line any faster than the speed of one's computer or the time it takes to program the room key on the key-coding machine. A Pot Washer cannot work any faster or clean the dishes any better than the dishwashing machine he uses. A Secretary is limited by the capacity of the software on his computer. A Car Rental Agent can be no faster than the speed of the printer she is using, regardless of her efficiency level.

Resources entail such things as staff, time, facilities, materials, and the dollars need to obtain the resources. If there isn’t enough staff to perform the work to satisfactory levels, the work will not get done no matter how motivated the few employees might be. When there are seven teller windows in the bank and only two tellers, the line will be long even if the two tellers are exemplars of customer service.

Likewise, a manager who is overwhelmed with work will not take the time to write well-thought-out and thorough performance appraisals of her employees when she has no time, regardless of how well the manager is trained on the proper way to do performance evaluations. People who do not have time to do something seldom do it, even if they have the good intention to do so.

Companies who lack the money to hire the appropriate amount of staff or provide the tools and materials needed to do the job will find their workers perform at lower production levels than those companies who do provide proper tools and resources.

Employees who are overworked or working in cramped quarters with faulty or non-existent equipment may initially have the internal motivation to perform well despite these shortcomings. But over time their enthusiasm will decrease unless the situation is rectified. Eventually the struggle to perform well in unsatisfactory conditions will lead to low motivation, poor morale, a negative attitude, and a diminished work ethic (block six).

Block Three

If employees have the information, tools, and resources necessary to perform well and yet still are performing below satisfactory levels, chances are they lack the INCENTIVE to do so. This is the third block.

Incentives constitute the monetary and non-monetary rewards that cause people to move toward a specified behavior. Even though an employee may have the information, tools and resources one needs to perform competently, there may not be significant enough incentive to induce the employee to perform to standard. Employees must sense that work-related rewards and recognition are directly connected to and contingent upon good performance. Workers who are paid poorly perform poorly. Salaries and wages do not have to be high, but they must be adequate and appropriate to the labor performed. There also needs to be ongoing rewards and recognition to keep people motivated. Inequitable wages or insufficient rewards are a disincentive to those who wish to work hard.

Sometimes natural disincentives in the workplace can override a manager’s positive effort in the other blocks of the model. For example, high potential employees often are disincented by slothful fellow workers who tell them to slow down because they’re making the less productive employees look bad. Marginal workers may tell motivated workers that hard work will get them nowhere. Bad workers often tell good workers their effort will not be recognized or appreciated by management. Unions, in many instances, disincent workers from maximizing their effort in order to create the illusion that more union laborers are needed.

Managers themselves can disincent their workers by failing to recognize the contributions of their employees. The greatest motivator of people is verbal praise. Yet too many managers fail to effectively utilize this easy and inexpensive communication tool.

Managers can also dampen the enthusiasm of their employees when they give blanket praise or across-the-board pay raises that reward poor performers as well as the good. Managers make lose the commitment of good workers when the exemplary employees see slothful performers go unchecked or undisciplined.

Incentives need to be directly related to performance. Exemplary performance should be praised and recognized, while poor performance should be corrected. Non-monetary rewards and recognition should be used copiously. Career development and other advancement opportunities also should be tied to performance. Nothing disincents employees faster than seeing poor performing or incompetent employees promoted to higher levels of responsibility. Incompetent managers are the greatest disincentive to competent employees.

One might wonder why incentives are listed in the third position instead of first. Unions declare that the only way to get workers to produce more is to pay them more. But this is contrary to human behavior. There are countless examples of employees who have left a company to go work for another company for less money. Likewise, there are numerous stories of employees who have stayed with a company even though they were offered more money to go somewhere else. In both cases the employees worked for less money when they could have made more. When asked why they left a company or stayed with a company the answer often has nothing to do with money. It usually has to do with block one and/or block two issues. They left because they could not get the information, tools or resources they needed to succeed -- and they felt demotivated because of it. Or they stayed because they had all of the information, tools and resources they needed to win at work -- and they felt motivated because of it. Their motivation, morale, attitude and work ethic was affected by the preponderance of, or lack thereof, of the information, tools and resources needed to perform well.

Looking at it another way, managers can offer to triple the salary of workers without adding tools and resources in order to get short-staffed employees to work longer and harder. And, initially, employees may jump at the offer. However the employees will eventually become exhausted and burned out from the lack of staff, the added hours, and the time spent away from their families. In such circumstances employees quickly learn that time off and quality time with their family is far more important than the incentive of three times their pay.

Block Four

Now on to the fourth block. If an employee has the information, tools, resources and adequate incentive to perform well, yet they still are not performing to standard, perhaps the worker doesn't know how to do the job right. In such case the employee requires the proper TRAINING to perform to standard.

Amazingly, sending employees to training seems to be management's solution to every performance problem. Whenever employees are not performing well, management cries, “Send them to training.” Yet, more often than not employees return from training without being “fixed.” This is because very few performance problems are caused by a lack of skill in the employees. Most performance problems can be found in the previous three blocks. In such cases training is a waste of time.

Customer service training is an excellent example of people being sent to training when training is not the cause of the performance problem. Many companies send their employees to customer service training because they’ve discovered their employees are not smiling or being friendly around the customers. The managers think that by sending the employees to training they will come back from the session smiling more and acting friendlier. But lack of training is not the problem. How does one know? If the non-smiling and non-friendly employees have ever smiled or been friendly anywhere at anytime, then they already know how to smile and be friendly. They don’t need to go to training to learn how to do what they already know how to do. Since they can smile and be friendly, the question isn’t one of skill; it’s a question of why they are not doing what they already know how to do.

Perhaps they are not smiling or being friendly because they did not know it was expected of them. This would be a block one (information) issue. Maybe they’re not smiling because they’re frustrated because of a slow computer or other faulty equipment (tools). Possibly they’re overworked because of staff shortages. Maybe they lack the motivation to work because of deplorable working conditions (resources). Perhaps the never-ending high volume of customers makes them too tired to maintain a constant friendly attitude (incentive). Or they may have financial problems at home that are causing them to be distressed and distracted (incentive). Any number of higher level problems could be the real cause of the performance failure rather than a lack of skill. Thus training is not the solution.

Too often companies invest huge amounts of money to provide training that is totally unnecessary or poorly targeted. Companies send people to training to learn how to do things they already know how to do, but are not doing because no one told them it was wanted or expected (information). Training is often used to rectify a problem when the delivery of simple information could resolve it.

Training sometimes is given to people who cannot perform at a higher level, regardless of newly taught skills, because they lack the tools or resources needed to perform at exemplary levels. I’m often amused at companies who send employees to computer training to learn how to use computer equipment to which they don’t have access (tools). At the same time, supervisory training programs that teach complex management methods requiring a lot of time to implement will find the tools are seldom used by overwhelmed managers who are to busy already (resources). In the same fashion, employees who go unnoticed or unrecognized for altering their behavior after they’ve been trained (incentive), may soon abandon those behaviors that don’t receive supportive feedback.

Interestingly, training is one of the least valuable interventions for fixing performance problems. Training should only be provided when an actual deficiency in skills has been identified. When there are actual skill deficiencies it is imperative to determine the best type of training and the best method of delivery for the specific skills that are lacking. Classroom training often is the least effective method of training, while on-the-job training usually is the most valuable way to transfer skills.

Block Five

As mentioned above, the fifth block is CAPACITY. Capacity is the physical and mental ability to perform the job to satisfaction.

Some employees may lack the mental or physical capacity to perform to standard, but capacity issues seldom are a problem. Even if an employee has a specific disability, most capacity failures can be overridden with a tool or resource. Equipment can be altered so an employee with a disability can operate it effectively. A prosthesis can replicate the performance of an incapacitated limb. The work environment also can be adapted or reshaped to meet the physical requirements of an employee with a disability. For example, flexible scheduling may help by matching the peak physical or mental capacity periods of an employee.

There are a plethora of tools available to help overcome mental deficiencies such as memory lapses, poor math skills, poor decision making abilities, or other perceived mental inadequacies. For example, a checklist helps people remember things they may forget. A calculator accurately computes the math for those who have problems with numbers. A decision tree takes a person through the logical process for devising an acceptable solution to a problem.

If a tool or resource is unavailable to overcome a capacity failure, either the job requirements can be adapted to the capacity of the employee or the employee can be moved to a job that better suits one's capacity. In many companies there is a job that matches the physical and mental capacity of most people.

Block Six

As can be seen, most employee performance problems are caused by a lack of information, tools, resources, incentive, proper training, or the alteration of the job to match the capacity of the employee. When all of the elements from the first five boxes are provided by management, the odds are great that employee will be motivated to perform to standard.

However, if, after a manager has done all he or she can do in the first five boxes, an employee still exhibits a deficiency in MOTIVATION, MORALE, ATTITUDE or WORK ETHIC (block six), then there is only one action the manager can take to rectify the situation. The employee is not motivated because he doesn’t want to be motivated. He has a bad attitude because that is the type of attitude he has. The employee has a poor work ethic because he does not want to work.

If this truly is the case, the manager should make it so the employee doesn’t have to worry about coming to work each day. The employee should be deselected. (Meaning: “I selected you to work here because I thought you would work. Since you are not working, I no longer select you.”)

If an employee really is not motivated or has low morale, truly does have a poor attitude, or doesn’t want to work, then the manager should help that employee achieve their objective to not work. The manager should remove them from the place that is causing them to have a bad attitude or to feel unmotivated.

Managers that truly have done everything within their power to establish a productive work environment wherein employees could be motivated if they wanted to be motivated should not hesitate or feel bad about terminating employees who are not motivated.

The key question, of course, is whether or not the manager has done everything possible to help the employee to perform well. Getting productive work from people is not so much a matter of having motivated employees as it is one of having supportive management. Managers can help employees become more competent when the managers view their job as largely manipulating the work environment (rather than the motivations of the employees) in order to achieve greater employee competence.

Managers themselves increase their own competency when they let their employees know what is expected of them, give them adequate guidance to perform well, supply them with the finest tools and resources, reward them well, and give them useful training. Competent employees are a result of competent management.

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Innovative Management Group offers a highly effective management course designed around the Six Block Model. If you would like more information about how you can use the Six Block Model to create competent employees in your company, or for a free Troubleshooting Guide that identifies the real cause of performance problems, please contact Innovative Management Group at 702-258-8334 or by e-mail at mac@imglv.com Also visit our website at www.imglv.com

If you would like to find out how to create competent managers, please request a copy of the article entitled: “How to Create Competent Managers.”