Monday, September 26, 2011

Customers Will Pay a Premium Price for Exceptional Service

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


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. Each time I return from a trip I take my dirty clothes to this cleaner the next morning.

Several months ago I noticed this particular cleaner is fairly expensive. My wife told me I could get my shirts cleaned for almost 25% 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. Another 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’m 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 them. Notice who they are and what they like. Just 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 and 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. §

Innovative Management Group has helped companies create loyal customers for over twenty years. We know how to align the performance of your employees to the priorities of your customers. Our patented Consistent Service Model® shows how to create consistent service deliver within every department and from every employee at every level of your organization. We know how to ensure you stay focused on the things that matter most to your customers.

Friday, September 23, 2011

How to Maintain Employee Motivation and Commitment after a Layoff

More and more companies are forced to lay off employees as the world economy continues to tumble.

Downsizing the business is a fast and effective way to reduce expenses, maintain profitability, and ensure the continuation of the business. But how you lay people off will a have long-lasting effect on those who remain with your company. Poorly handled decisions today can impact productivity and morale now and for a long time in the future.

Employees who stay with your company after a layoff often have confused emotions as they wrestle with the changes brought about by the reorganization. A paradox of conflicting loyalties stirs within them. Feelings of concern for former colleagues are juxtaposed with feelings for oneself. Previous feelings of loyalty to the company now conflict with loyalty to oneself. Employees question their previous work effort as they worry about whether they have a future with your enterprise.

While employees are going through these internal emotional struggles several other factors impact their future motivation and commitment.

Invariably surviving employees are expected to take on more work. Normally they are asked to do more work for the same pay or, worse yet, for less pay because of the company’s declining financial position. Since most layoffs are undertaken to cut costs, the downsizing often results in salary freezes for those who stay with the company. Moreover, some former motivators may also have been eliminated, such as company cars, travel and entertainment budgets, or professional development expenses. Finally, there may be less career advancement opportunities after a downsizing, making one’s future with the organization less certain.

Importance of Open Communication

The most important thing you can do to maintain morale and commitment after a layoff is to openly communicate with your employees.

Many managers are hesitant to share information with employees after a reorganization, particularly if the information is of a negative nature. However, your workers expect you to bring up all relevant issues in a straightforward manner, especially any negatives that might impact them 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 after a layoff is to send a message to remaining employees that they are not important. The more information you share with your employees during difficult economic times, the more they will feel you are concerned about their future. Likewise, the more employees feel you are concerned about their future, the more they will be concerned about the future of the business.

One critical thing to remember during a reorganization 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 a downsizing by being up front with the employees.

There are three crucial objectives you should have for your communication with employees during a reorganization.

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

Second, you should view every employee contact as an opportunity to build rapport with your workers.

Finally, your message should be formulated and presented so well that 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 layoff.

What Employees Want to Know

Invariably there are five predictable questions employees will have during a company downsizing. 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 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.

Your answers to five critical questions will determine whether surviving employees will remain motivated and loyal to a company after a layoff.

The questions are: 1) Was the downsizing integral to the business’ overall strategy to survive?; 2) What does the future look like for the company?; 3) Is there still a place for me in the company with continued opportunities for advancement?; 4) Will those employees who are let go be treated fairly?; and 5) What is expected of the employees who remain at the company after a downsizing?

Integral to Business Survival

Employees want to know that the reorganization is not random or whimsical. Remaining employees have to be assured that the layoffs were necessary and not just done arbitrarily. A clear business need for the change must be supported by facts and figures. Employees need to know and understand the business reasons for the layoff and what the consequences would have been had the layoffs not occurred. The layoffs must be logically tied to the future business needs of the company and should have only affected those departments that were non-productive or no longer essential to the business.

At the same time employees must perceive there is a clearly identified and well-thought-out strategy to return the company to stability and long-term profitability. They need assurance that by downsizing and taking hits now the company will be much better off in the future. Perceptions of unnecessary or illogical reductions in staff cause employees to lose confidence in your ability to protect the future viability of the company. Fears of future layoffs persist when employees see no clear linkage between the reduction in staff and management’s plan to return the company to profitability.

You must be adept at understanding and explaining the business imperative for the change. Employees can buy-in to a reduction in staff, even the elimination of their own positions, given a reasonable business need for doing so. Managers who want to motivate surviving employees must take workers into their confidence and clearly outline the logic behind the downsizing decision.

Outlook for the Future

In a down economy when layoffs are necessary the future is often unknown. People generally are afraid of the unknown. To alleviate their own fears, the remaining employees will latch on to any information they can get about the company’s future plans to return the business to profitability. This is why rumors run rampant during a reorganization. It is the natural human need for information – any information – even if it is false. Surviving employees will remain fearful about the future until they have information that will assuage their fears.

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

Although you may not have a clear view of the future when economic conditions have not yet stabilized, you must share what you know, assume or hope for the future. You must help employees to 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 your employees.

Opportunities for Advancement

Surviving employees want to know what their future prospects are with the newly reorganized company. Since traditional career paths may have been eliminated, new opportunities for “advancement” must be created. These typically entail such things as compensation for performance rather than position, greater autonomy and decision making authority, or opportunities to improve one’s “employability” through exposure to more aspects of the business. Employees in the new organization will want to work on projects that develop their skills while achieving company goals.

You need to identify the advancement opportunities that will be in play after the reorganization prior to implementation of the change. Nothing demotivates employees faster than to have career options for which one has been striving to attain suddenly become unavailable because of elimination of positions or layers within the company.

Treatment of Downsized Employees

Surviving employees are greatly influenced by how downsized employees were treated when they were let go. Surviving employees want to be assured, should it happen to them, that laid off employees were “cared for” through severance pay, outplacement services, ample advanced notice, and fair and consistent treatment throughout the reorganization. Employees predict how they will be treated in the future based upon how the company treated displaced employees in the past. You will be wise to remember that employees have a long memory when it comes to company reorganizations. They recall exactly what was said back when and who did what to whom. Be very careful when making decisions about how to treat downsized employees.

Expectations of Remaining Employees

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 reorganization, 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 that the employees will conclude what you want them to conclude. You must tell them.

After you have gone through a downsizing you must give the surviving employees their charge. You should share with your employees the things that matter most in the new business model. 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 the future success of the company

People need hope in the future. Employees need to know that their future will once again be bright as they work to return the downsized company to profitability. Everything you do during a reorganization 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 focused on the customers instead of focused on themselves. §

Innovative Management Group is adept at bringing about successful organizational change, particularly on how to maintain employee commitment after a downsizing. We know how to engage your employees at every level of your company and get them to commit to the new organizational conditions. Please call us to learn how we can help focus your employees on the things that matter most.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Why Employees are Not Motivated

In motivating employees managers need to match the goal and the rewards based on the employees’ needs. They need to find out why employees are not motivated and remove the inhibiting factor.


Several years ago a Harvard Business Review study identified eight reasons why workers may not be motivated to work.

First, the goal is too distant. It’s difficult for people to be enthused about something that is too far in the future. Long-term goals should be broken into smaller, more immediate actions. Immediate goals with immediate payoff have the greatest odds of motivating employees.

Second, the payoff is too small. The reward is not worth the energy and effort required to perform the task. If employees feel the task is huge and the payoff is small, they will be reluctant to take on the responsibility.

Third, the path to the goal is too difficult. If it will take a Herculean effort to perform the work many employees will pass on the task. Again, it’s not worth the effort when one sees the hoops that must be jumped through to achieve the end result.

Fourth, the goal satisfies no personal need. There’s no clear benefit to the individual for accomplishing the task. Before starting a task, employees invariably want to know what is in it for them. Employees tune in closely to station WII-FM (what’s in it for me). If the accomplishment of the task does not fulfill a personal need, the employee may be less inclined to do it.

Fifth, the individual’s personal need can be satisfied by a different goal. For example, an employee who enjoys the recognition he or she receives while visiting excessively with colleagues in the break-room may not be motivated by supervisory recognition for staying on task.

Sixth, the employee denies the goal satisfies a personal need. Managers often use increased responsibility or greater company exposure as motivational tactics, only to discover the gesture had the opposite effective. Some employees fear the accountability that comes with new responsibilities. Others may be nervous in the presence of upper management. Although the employees may wish to advance, they decline a promotion because of these fears.

Seventh, the employee is focused on a lower level need. It’s often difficult to get excited about a new title or office if the anticipated pay raise does not come with it.

Finally, the employee lacks the skill to perform the task. If the employees do not feel confident performing the work, no amount of persuasion can get them to do it. People who do not have the skills to do the job cannot do them even if a gun were pointed at their heads.

In motivating employees managers need to match the goal and the rewards based on the employees’ needs. They need to find out why employees are not motivated and remove the inhibiting factor.


Innovative Management Group offers a variety of executive, manager and supervisor training programs on performance management issues. Please contact us for a list of our customized training courses.

Positioning Your Company for Success in a Yo-Yo Economy

Today’s economy is like a yo-yo. We have been dangling on a string in a “sleeper” recession for quite some time. The world economy continues to spin at the bottom. Everyone has been wondering how long the spin can continue at the abyss before experiencing a collapse of the market. Thriving in the new economy requires a business model that matches the values and spending habits of customers today. It could entail a complete change in the way you do business.


When I was a young boy I liked to play with my yo-yo. I became fairly proficient at performing fancy tricks with interesting names like “rock the baby,” “walk the dog” and “skin the cat.”

I also could do a yo-yo trick called “the sleeper.” This motion entailed throwing the yo-yo down without bringing it back up immediately. If the string tension was correct, the yo-yo would spin for several seconds at the bottom of the string. The difficulty of the trick was knowing when to pull the yo-yo back up before the spin petered out. If I left it down too long the yo-yo would collapse and die at the end of the string.

Today’s economy is like my yo-yo. We have been dangling on a string in a “sleeper” recession for quite some time. The world economy continues to spin at the bottom. Everyone has been wondering how long the spin can continue at the abyss before experiencing a collapse of the market. It’s hard to tell whether the economy is improving or not because the economic indicators keep yo-yoing between signs of improvement and signs of continued economic decline. The recent combative legislative debate over the debt ceiling just added to the economic confusion.

Survival Requires a New Business Model

Sadly, too many companies have been sleeping too long. At the beginning of the Great Recession some businesses refused to accept the notion that things could get this bad. They responded slowly to the crisis, hoping the downturn would be brief. A significant number of these companies no longer exist because they refused to take the necessary actions to save their enterprise.

Some companies did respond to the crash – typically by lowering prices to continue to attract customers – but they never changed their actual business model. Perhaps they thought the spin at the bottom would be short, and they could pull their prices back up when it looked like the sleeping economy was nearing an end.

Fortunately, a few insightful companies realized early on that the economic downturn was going to last a long time. They wisely learned the trick of keeping their company spinning strongly so there would be enough strength in their business after the long spin to pull the business back up. They changed their business model to survive in a sleeping economy. They adjusted what they do to match the conditions of the new world. And they realized that when the economic spin does come to an end, the world will be much different that it was before. Consequently, they repositioned their products and services to appeal to customer needs and expectations in this new market reality.

Changing Priorities of Customers

The world has changed and any company who refuses to change their business model to match the new world is in danger of petering out. Customer behaviors have changed forever and they will not return to where they were before the recession – at least not in this generation.

The majority of customers have changed their spending habits. They now perceive their discretionary money in a different light. They have a completely different view of the value they expect for the money they spend. Customers are putting a lot more thought into their purchases to make sure what they buy is the best possible value for the price. They are less impulsive and more cautious about how they spend their money. They want to be assured that they are spending their money wisely.
If your company wishes to survive in the new world you must change your focus to align with the changing priorities of your customers.

For the most part, companies in the past focused on providing tangible and intangible products that appealed to the excessive and indulgent nature of their customers. Manufacturing companies produced cell phones, computers and other electronic gadgets with more bells and whistles than a person could possibly use. Casinos built massive, opulent resorts with every amenity imaginable to immerse guests in a sensory experience that appealed to their base desires. Restaurants sold the sizzle instead of the steak, emphasizing presentation and ambiance over the quality of the food. Customers spent thousands of dollars for an “experience” or access to products that would make them feel hip or cool. People paid far too much for far too little and flashed their materialistic possessions as indicators of their social or economic status.

What Customers Want Today

Today’s value-conscious customers want more than window dressing. They want ASSURANCE that what they are buying is worth the expense. They must feel confident that the investment of their hard-earned money will provide something of significant value. They need justification – or an excuse – for spending their discretionary money at a time when saving their money may seem like a more prudent action.

No longer are name-brand products or the “premier resort destination” the automatic purchase choice of many customers. People are evaluating their options and scrutinizing which choice gives them the biggest bang for their buck. They’re reviewing previous customer comments for assurance they are making the right purchasing choice. They are seeking to connect on an emotional level with products and services that match their current values.

Customers also want assurance of the RELIABILITY of your products and services. They want to buy products that work. They want whatever they buy to perform at the level promised. And, as the old throw-away attitude diminishes, customers are looking for products that last longer and won’t have to be replaced in a few months with a new generation product.

Customers want service companies to actually deliver quality service. They expect your employees to be friendly, efficient, knowledgeable, attentive and helpful. They want their hot food hot and their cold food cold. In many cases customers expect even higher levels of service during tough times because they expect you to truly compete for their business.

They expect you to stand behind your products and services and guarantee you will deliver what you promise. And if, for some reason, there is a problem with your delivery, today’s customers expect RESPONSIVENESS from your employees who quickly address their concerns and to fix the problem.

In tough times customers expect you to have EMPATHY and understand what they are going through. Very few people in this country have been untouched by the tough economy. Many people have lost their jobs, their home and even their possessions. They’ve downsized their lifestyle significantly. They’ve postponed their retirement. Those who are still employed may be underemployed, having had their hours or their wages cut. Some families may have more than one wage earner who has been affected by the downturn.

Consequently, when these customers do spend their money on a vacation, at a restaurant, bar or theater, they expect your employees to show APPRECIATION for the investment the customer is making. Stressed out customers expect your employees to understand their need for escape, relaxation, rejuvenation and a life free from the hassles of their daily grind. If they purchase a product from you, they want that product to be easy to use and not add any additional burden to their life. If they have to interact with your employees, customers want the experience to be pleasant and problem-free. They expect your employees to be totally focused on ensuring they have a good experience patronizing your business.

Aligning Your Business Model to New Customer Demands

It’s time to pull the yoyo back up and regain control of your company’s economic future. Innovative Management Group can help position your company for success in the new economy based on the realities of the market conditions you can expect over the next 3-5 years. We will help you:

Define your strategic focus and outline your strategic intentions

• Reclaim your brand identity or redefine a new one based on the new market realities

• Identify your value premise and unique product differentiation

• Determine which of your current products and services match current customer needs

• Identify new products and services needed to create customer demand

• Align your marketing strategies and tactics with the new world

• Ensure consistent product and service delivery to create customer loyalty

• Engage your employees in making the changes necessary to succeed in today’s competitive world

• Ensure the commitment of your executives, managers and employees to focus on the things that matter most

During difficult times your company needs to stay focused, or refocus if your current strategies and tactics are ineffective or no longer appropriate. Now is the time to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Tough times require clear, creative thinking to minimize the weaknesses and threats and take advantage of the strengths and opportunities in order to drive value to your business. It is a time to rediscover the fundamentals of the business — the critical success factors that will keep your organization spinning successfully for many years to come.

Good leaders make good decisions in tough times. Call Innovative Management Group today to help you maintain or regain a strong competitive position in a weak economy. §

Satisfying Customers is Cheap and Easy

If you satisfied your dissatisfied customers when they are “Neutral”, you won’t have to atone for your errors when they are “Annoyed” or feel “Victimized.”


Have you ever received such horrible service you just wanted to scream at the top of your lungs?

Have you ever wished you could tell the whole world how poorly you were treated so no one would ever patronize that business again?

I recently took my relatively new car back to my “friendly Chevrolet dealer” to fix a horrible squeak in my front-end suspension. I was not looking forward to the experience. The last ordeal I had with this dealer was very unpleasant. I tend to become irritable when I sit in the dealer’s “customer courtesy lounge” for several hours on three separate occasions only to be told after the wait that they ordered the wrong part.

After my last blow-up I had with the service rep, service manager, and the general manager of the dealership, you’d think they would have flagged me as a difficult customer. You’d think they would have placed a statement in their computer saying, “Next time this guy comes in, whatever you do, don’t upset him. Fix his car right, and get him out of here.”

Apparently there were no red flags in their computer because they really out-did themselves this time in providing horrible service.

When the service manager asked me what was wrong with my car I pressed down on the hood of the vehicle so he could hear the squeak. His immediate response was, “You need a new fan belt.” That was an amazing diagnosis since the car wasn’t even running.

When I told him that I thought the problem was in the suspension and also mentioned that the car pulled strongly to the right, he told me they would give me an alignment too.

I begged him to please take a look at the suspension. He just shrugged and said, “No problem.”

I was told it would take several hours to fix my car, so I took their “courtesy van” home. At least the bus was there this time. Last time the courtesy van, that “leaves every 30 minutes,” didn’t leave for three hours.

They also told me they would call me to let me know what was wrong with my car prior to doing any work on it. But instead, I had to call them five times to see when my car would be done. Twice I was told it was “being lubed,” even though the car did not require this service. The third time they said, “Our service manager is test driving your car right now to check it out.”

Several hours later, on the fifth call, the service manager told me he had just driven my car and it now was ready. The squeak was fixed. After each of the four previous calls they told me they would call me when my car was ready. I guess my fifth call came just as it was finished.

I bet you can guess what happened when I went to pick up my car! When I opened the door and sat down in the driver’s seat I heard the horrible squeak. It was just as loud as before. They hadn’t fixed it. But they did replace my fan belt and align my car for $153.

This time I complained with gusto! You should have seen them jump. I had six service people around my car in seconds. Unfortunately it was quitting time. They wanted me to bring my car back in the morning. I refused and suggested they give me a loaner car instead. You would think I had just extracted teeth from the service manager’s mouth, but he did give me a car.

The next day they actually delivered my car to my home. They had washed and hand-waxed the exterior, put ArmorAll on the tires, shampooed the carpets and filled my gas tank with gas. I was almost sorry I had caused such a big fuss. That is until I got in the car and heard the squeak!!!


When customers receive poor service they usually react in one of three ways.

The typical response to poor customer service is NEUTRAL the first time it happens. Although the service may not have been as good as the customer expects, the poor service doesn’t really bother a person who responds neutrally. Neutral customers seldom complain. However, when they do complain, they typically follow their complaint by saying something like, “It’s alright. Don’t worry about it.”

Some customers become ANNOYED when they receive shoddy service. This normally occurs when service is particularly bad. Neutral customers can become annoyed when several service errors occur or when a problem is not fixed in a reasonable amount of time.

Finally, customers with severe service problems feel VICTIMIZED. They feel entrapped in a nightmare of poor service. Victimized customers get the impression the service provider is deliberately doing things to irritate them. At this point the service is so bad or flagrant the customer feels personally affronted by it.

Although most neutral customers seldom tell anyone about the poor service they received, people who are annoyed typically tell ten others. Those who are victimized tell everyone they can. They would shout it from the rooftops if they could.

The amazing thing is neutral customers can easily be satisfied just by an expression of surprise that the poor service occurred, the offering of a sincere apology, and a fast resolution of the problem.

With annoyed customers you need to show greater concern for the customer’s problem. You should display a sense of urgency, enlist the customer’s help to find an acceptable solution to the problem, and offer a value-added symbol of your regret.

To satisfy victimized customers you need to pull out all of the stops. The customer will expect to receive an apology from the highest levels of your organization. Get ready to grovel and pay for your transgression.

With victimized customers you need to express your understanding of and empathy for their situation. Allow the customer to vent for as long as it takes. Fully acknowledge their concerns. Listen actively. Address every issue and fix every problem.

Then you must atone for your error with a significant value-added symbol of your regret.

Finally, you must follow-up afterwards with a personal contact to ensure you have resolved the problem completely to the customer’s satisfaction.


My car has now been fixed. But I haven’t been.

The car dealer could have saved a lot of time and money merely by telling the truth, delivering what they promised, keeping me informed, and apologizing for their mistakes. They could have satisfied me with words.

Instead, the dealer has spent thousands of dollars and countless man-hours to finally fix my car. And, even though my car is fixed, I’m still irritated! So irritated in fact that I am writing an article about it, publishing it in my newsletter that goes out to thousands of businesses, and telling my story to everyone I meet.

I really don’t think you want to irritate me if I’m one of your customers! §


Innovative Management Group offers two-, four-, and eight-hour customer service training programs for executives, managers and employees. Please contact us for a list of our customized training programs.

Friday, September 16, 2011

70 Ways to Create Spare Time

It seems there’s never enough time in the day to get everything done. If only there was more time. Here are 70 ideas for creating more spare time in your life.


Wouldn’t it be nice if there was more time in the day so you could accomplish everything you want to get done?

Here are 70 suggestions of things you can do to create more spare time in your life.

1. Find a new technique every day to help you cut down the amount of time it takes you to do something.

2. Plan your schedule the first thing in the morning and set priorities for the day. Make a list and tick off the important items first.

3. Have a light lunch so you don't get sleepy in the afternoon.

4. Save up trivial matters for a short session once a week.

5. Consult your list of goals and priorities once a week (or month) and revise them as necessary. Identify activities that you can do each day that will accomplish your goals.

6. Carry blank 3x5 cards with you in order to jot down notes and ideas so you don’t have to take time to remember them later.

7. Delegate everything where you do not need to be personally involved. Use specialists to help with special problems.

8. Generate as little paperwork as possible. Throw away non essential papers as soon as you read them.

9. Avoid working on weekends or late at night. This time tends to be less productive because of fatigue or distractions.

10. Give yourself time off as a special reward when you've accomplished important tasks.

11. Concentrate your efforts on only one thing at a time. Eliminate distractions that may cause you to jump around.

12. Start off by working on the most important parts, or high pay off items, of a project first.

13. Focus on projects that provide the greatest long term benefits.

14. Try to handle each piece of paper only once.

15. Skim books quickly when looking for ideas.

16. Examine old habits for possible streamlining. Eliminate unnecessary ruts.

17. Put "waiting time" to good use relax, read, organize your work, do something you normally would not have done.

18. Don't waste time regretting failures or feeling guilty about what you didn't get done.

19. Remember: There is always enough time for the important things. People find time to do what they want to do.

20. Identify your prime time and then use it for the most difficult or most unrewarding tasks.

21. Rearrange your time to fit the task. There may be times of the day that are more appropriate to the task. For example, do tiring tasks first and "no brainers" when you have no energy.

22. Use normal periods of down time to attend to other people's needs. Use this time for appointments and meetings.

23. Set goals and objectives, with prioritized strategies to achieve them.

24. Audit how you spend your time each day in order to discover patterns that can be re-worked.

25. Tackle a task the first time an opportunity presents itself. Do not waste time thinking and rethinking about how to handle it.

26. Let subordinates handle and monitor the routine, unexceptional matters and make recurring decisions that do not require your input.

27. Respect the time of your subordinates. This includes saving your own time by not frequently checking up on subordinates.

28. Learn how to end conversations and discussions once the subject has been sufficiently covered.

29. Start meetings on time and end on time even if it means using an automatic timer.

30. Discourage unnecessary meetings. Eliminate unproductive meetings.

31. When calling others begin the conversation by telling them how much time the phone call will take; then take only that amount of time. When others call you give them a timeframe in which to control their conversation.

32. Work ahead when you're on a roll so you can ease back when you're feeling less efficient.

33. Break big jobs down into smaller increments, then perform some of these tasks each day so the project moves consistently forward.

34. Don't carry details in your head use calendars, lists, and reminders to get them off your mind.

35. End each day by outlining the priorities for the next day.

36. Find productive or pleasurable ways to use idle time. Carry reading material, a tape recorder, stationary, etc.

37. Set aside a specific day or evening each week for personal business.

38. Assign routine tasks to a regular daily or weekly time slot.

39. Spend the first hour of the day doing whatever will move the day's business forward phone calls, letters, meetings, scheduling, etc.

40. Do first what you dread the most.

41. Determine the end to your conversations in your opening remarks. For example: "I just need a couple of quick answers to a short question."

42. To keep visits in your office brief, tell the person early in the conversation how much time they have, meet the visitor in the doorway, put books and papers on your chairs so the visitor cannot sit down, continue standing after greeting the visitor, etc.

43. In order to keep from being distracted by people who pass by your office, place your desk so you sit with your back toward the door or so you are perpendicular to the door.

44. Keep your office and desk as clean as possible to keep your mind from being distracted.

45. There are four basic causes of procrastination: fear, being in awe of the immensity of the task, disliking the task, or boredom. Understanding the root of your procrastination can help you to determine how to overcome it.

46. When procrastination hits, do anything -- sharpen a pencil, dial the first digit of the number, write "Dear Sir", or anything related to completing the task. Once you have begun your momentum will build up and you will more than likely continue working.

47. When procrastination hits, do nothing. Physically remove your-self from the task and ask yourself a series of questions about the job you are procrastinating and what techniques you can use to begin the task. When you return to your desk you will very likely begin the item having once put it off. Typically, in the past you may have reached for some less important task to do just to feel busy. In this case, however, you confront your procrastination and behaviorally manipulate your-self into positive action.

48. When procrastination hits, create a deadline. No task has a sense of urgency unless it has a deadline. Put the deadline in writing and force yourself to become accountable to the deadline by publicly committing to it.

49. Create a game out of tasks that usually are boring. If it’s a repetitive task you're tired of doing, challenge yourself to break a speed record or focus on improving the quality of your efforts.

50. Set a definite "quiet time" for yourself. Let everyone know that you are not to be disturbed during this time. Use this time for planning and creative thinking.

51. If you do not make contact on the phone, leave a detailed message telling the other person what you want. This gives them time to gather the information you need or to leave a message for you with the answer to your question.

52. Group similar activities together for more efficient action.

53. Determine the value of what you do. Maybe it is not worth doing.

54. Eliminate any unnecessary activities or valueless tasks.

55. Use a desk and pocket calendar and plan your activities.

54. Prepare your discussion when using the phone or conducting meetings.

55. Handle all paperwork as soon as you get it at least to determine the priority it warrants.

56. Go someplace where you can get away from interruptions, but don't make it too comfortable. For some people, working at home is not a time saver.

57. Use small note pads to keep track of tasks.

58. Don't write a memo when a post it will do. Don’t schedule a meeting when an email will do.

59. Put all meetings and appointments on your calendar, both work and personal.

60. Go to work early in order to get organized and settled.

61. Group related items, such as telephone calls, errands, meetings, visits, etc.

62. Learn to determine between job-related socialization and personal socialization. Greatly reduce any personal socialization on the job.

63. Although planning your time takes time, in the long run it will save you time. Slowdown in order to speed up. Plan ahead, map out your approach, determine your objectives, etc. so you know exactly where you are going and how you will get there.

64. Turn recurring crises and fire-fighting into routine responses by developing a set procedure for how to respond to these type of situations.

65. Every now and then do the unexpected. If you plan to work on the weekend, relax instead. Sometimes a change of pace can energize you so you can get more done later.

66. Set a realistic schedule for your day. Don’t schedule for a perfect day without interruptions.

67. Find out other people’s time patterns. Know when they are normally in their office, in meetings, at home, etc.

68. Determine the consequences for not doing something. Stop doing those things that have no negative consequences.

69. Clean out your drawers and closets to make it easier and faster to find things.

70. Throw out everything you don’t need in order to eliminate distractions.

And now a bonus hint – SAY NO. Say it often, and mean it. You don’t have to do everything. Not everything is important. Some things don’t matter. Let it go by saying no.

And here’s the super bonus hint. If you don’t manage your time wisely by implementing some of these hints you’ve just wasted your time reading this article. §

Innovative Management Group offers several management and employee training programs on time management techniques. Please contact us for more information about these productive courses.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

How to Gain True Consensus on Team Tasks and Decisions

If human beings only use ten percent of their brain, then ten people have to be in a meeting to get whole-brain thinking. The problem is getting them all to agree.


Someone has postulated that most human beings only use ten percent of their brain. If that is true, then ten people have to be in a meeting to get whole-brain thinking. This explains the value of working in teams.

Everyone who has been in one of my management training sessions knows that I define a “team” as a group of individuals who “step forward together” to achieve a common goal. Teamwork requires individuals to pool information and consider different viewpoints to find solutions and make decisions. Seldom do all team members have the same view about an idea or issue. Polarized views, opposing opinions, and stubborn hold outs can often block the progress of a team. The success of a team relies heavily on how quickly the members can come to consensus on both what their goal is and how it will be achieved.

A significant portion of a team’s effectiveness and “health” is tied to how well the team members interact and make decisions. Too often the most powerful or outspoken member of a team dominates the team’s discussion and determines the team’s actions. Quieter or less assertive members are not heard, which negates the power of the collective thinking of the team.

What happens to the motivation of individuals whose ideas are not considered or whose suggestions are not adopted? How is team commitment impacted when team members are not personally vested? What is the impact when arguments and off-purpose behaviors disrupt the progress of the team?

Coming to true consensus among a group of individuals is hard to do. It takes great facilitative skills and effective process tools among the group to bring everyone to agreement. True consensus requires everyone to remain firmly grounded and completely committed to their consensus decision once the team discussion has ended.

Unfortunately, I’ve found that consensus in many companies is only consensus until everyone leaves the room. Once people get back into their work area or start to ponder the team’s decision outside the team room, some members tend to question the team’s decision and their commitment to it. The key, therefore, to achieving consensus is not just getting it, but also making sure it sticks once it is reached.


As I facilitate groups I find there are several misconceptions regarding what constitutes a consensus decision. Some people believe consensus is when everyone in the group is in agreement with an idea or proposal. This, of course, is not consensus. A decision that everyone agrees to is unanimous; which is better than consensus. Team commitment to a decision is seldom questioned when everyone on the team is in unanimous agreement.

Other people I’ve encountered have the misconception that consensus is achieved when the team votes on a proposal and the idea that gets the most votes wins. Majority rule is never consensus. Majority rule is where the dominant majority overrules the less convincing minority.

The problem with majority rule is the minority. Whenever the majority rules; someone is left out. And those who are left out seldom step forward with the rest of the team. Majority rule is not an effective group decision making method for a team.

Still others believe consensus is achieved when members of the team agree to compromise in order to get everyone’s buy-in. Compromise is not consensus either. Members on a team may have to compromise to come to consensus, but consensus does not necessarily require compromise. In fact, sometimes compromised decisions can be the worst possible decisions. Compromise usually means everyone had to lose something in order to win. But a lose-lose situation seldom is a win-win for the team.

So what is team consensus?

A consensus decision is an idea that results from the full input of all team members. Sometimes one suggestion is universally accepted as best, and sometimes the decision is a combination of the thoughts of several individuals. Consensus does not necessarily mean the decision is everyone's first choice.

Consensus is defined as . . .

A decision or position reflecting the collective thinking of the team that all members participated in developing, understand fully, believe is workable, can live with, and will actively support.

To reach consensus, every team member must express themselves and participate fully in the discussion. Each member should listen to and respect the input of others and remain open-minded. Disagreements need to be confronted and explored until every idea is out on the table and an acceptable solution is found. Everyone must feel they were heard and their viewpoint considered when making collective decisions.


True consensus cannot be reached until everyone on the team clearly understands what they are agreeing to. Pseudo-consensus – where people agree in the room and then disagree later – occurs when people think of something outside of the team room that was not understood or addressed during the team discussion. Team’s need to take the time during the team meeting to ensure everyone is fully on board before declaring consensus has been achieved.

Team members seldom accept a proposal that they feel is unworkable. Before consenting to an idea or solution people test the proposal in their mind to assess its viability. To achieve true consensus the team must work together to come up with decisions that everyone feels are feasible. If someone feels the proposed idea won’t work, the team should discuss how to make it work or come up with alternative solutions.

It is possible, however, to achieve consensus even if someone on the team feels a proposed solution won’t work. This happens when someone – usually a lone holdout – cannot justify their hesitation to consent with valid proof that the proposed decision is wrong. Accepting the possibility that the majority of the group may be right, and they may be wrong, the individual agrees to give their consensus to the group.

Please note that this constitutes consensus – and not majority rule – only if the last two elements of the definition of consensus apply. The hesitant individual must be able to live with the decision and actively support it. If they cannot live with it or actively support it, the team discussion must continue until real consensus is achieved.


These last two elements of consensus are the true tests of the team’s buy-in. Can everyone on the team live with the decision and will they actively support it? If any team member feels they cannot live with the implications and consequences of the team’s decision, the proposal must be addressed until everyone can. Actively supporting a decision means everyone on the team will put their full energy and effort into ensuring the team’s decision is carried out as designed. Half-hearted or disgruntled support is never acceptable on a team. Real consensus requires real commitment.

Consensus decision-making often requires more time and skilled facilitation to discuss the ideas and issues fully. Teams should not expect quick consensus on every issue. Failure to achieve true consensus usually can be traced back to the team’s failure around one or more of the consensus definition elements. For example, the team may have ignored the introverted or quiet members of the group and failed to solicit the collective thinking of the entire team. Or the team may not have explored the ideas fully enough for everyone to clearly understand what was being proposed. Maybe the team ran roughshod over someone who felt the idea was not workable. Perhaps someone on the team placated, giving in rather than fighting for what they believed was a better solution. Many factors contribute to a team’s failure to achieve true consensus.


During the early stages of a team’s development the team should decide where consensus support is absolutely essential to the team’s success. On less important issues it’s often possible for the entire group to step forward together with a much simpler and faster decision making process than consensus. However, consensus decision making should always be used on team decisions regarding the team’s charter, ground rules, project plans, completion dates and other critical elements impacting the success of the team’s mission.


As a team strives to achieve consensus there will be times when it is difficult to get everyone on board. Invariably there may be one obstinate, hard-headed holdout who refuses to consent to what others on the team agree to. Sometimes this individual is a true roadblock, but often the person is merely trying to keep the team from falling into group think.

Group think occurs when the team cannot come up with alternatives to their ideas or solutions. Group think is particularly prevalent when a solution or decision seems obvious. Devil’s advocate dissidence among the team may be the very thing the team needs to keep the group from falling into the trap of collective blindness.

A perfect example of this is Galileo Galilei, the father of modern observational astronomy. Galileo's championing of Copernicanism – the view that the earth revolves around the sun – was controversial within his lifetime. The geocentric view that the sun revolved around the earth had been dominant since the time of Aristotle. The controversy engendered by Galileo's opposition to this view resulted in the Catholic Church's prohibiting his advocacy of heliocentrism. Galileo was brought before the Inquisition because of his views where he was forced to recant what he knew to be true. He spent the last years of his life under house arrest.

Like many lone voices on a team, Galileo was right. But more powerful voices in the group – in Galileo’s case, that of the ecclesiastical leaders – can dominate the team so strongly that anyone who actually agrees with the dissenting person quickly changes their position to avoid the “inquisition.” Group think often occurs when someone on the team is in a “power position” within the organization. Those on the team, not wishing to jeopardize their careers align themselves with the person who wields power over them. Sadly, consensus by decree or covert coercion is not real consensus.


This is why a team must take great care to ensure all voices are heard. Sometimes one person can sway the views of many. I saw this happen when I was facilitating a team of 27 scientists. As you might guess, trying to get 27 scientists to agree on anything is extremely difficult. There were many knock-down drag-out fights among the team before the group accomplished its mission.

During one of those fights 26 scientists were in agreement on a particular issue. Only one team member disagreed. No matter what everyone else on the team said to try to sway the one holdout to the position of the group, he refused to budge. He believed he was right. He stood his ground and fought for his idea. And, eventually, many hours later, he convinced the entire team to change their vote and consent to his idea. In the end his solution proved to be the right choice.


In that case the dissenting voice was correct. But sometimes there are dissenters within the team who are wrong and refuse to give in. They keep the team from moving forward because they stubbornly stand their ground. The nineteen techniques described below show the progressive steps to gaining consensus on a team. The steps start out easy and become increasingly adamant as obstinate team members refuse to consent.

1. The first step to gaining consensus is to make sure everyone understands the idea or issue fully. As stated above, the primary reason why people cannot agree is because they don’t fully understand what is being discussed. A dissenting opinion can often be easily swayed with more information about the proposed action. Ask the dissenting team member what they don’t understand and then address each of their concerns.

2. To solidify the team’s agreement you should “call for consensus” on the issue being discussed. This means you ask the team members to signify their consent. The fastest and easiest way to do this is to ask if anyone disagrees. If no one disagrees, the team is in consensus. However, this step only works if the team has established a ground rule stating that if anyone disagrees they must speak up. Otherwise someone could quietly disagree, but be too afraid or introverted to voice their descent. Passive aggressive individuals often use silence as a way of showing their disapproval. Therefore, if you use this technique, great care must be taken to ensure everyone on the team truly does agree.

3. If there is concern that someone might be silently disagreeing without speaking up, you should visualize the team members’ positions. Call for a visual vote to see where people stand. I’ve found the best way to do this is with thumbs. If a person agrees with the idea or proposal they should indicate their sanction with a thumb up signal. If a person disagrees with the idea being presented they should give it the thumbs down. And if a person is not sure whether they agree or disagree they should indicate their waffling with a sideways thumb. Now you can see where everyone stands.

4. Once everyone’s position has been identified, ask the minority if they can live with the decision of the majority. The purpose of this step is not majority rules but, rather, to speed up the process if dissenting members can actually live with the majority’s decision and will actively support it. It’s amazing how many people can easily accept the opinions of others when merely asked if they can do so. Minority members need to decide whether the proposal is significant enough to adamantly oppose it, or whether they can easily “live with” and “actively support” it so the team can move forward.

5. If any member with an opposing or waffling view cannot live with the majority’s position, always start with the majority first when opening up the issue for discussion. There is a strong possibility that the majority is right. If this is true, then a few additional explanations from the majority may easily sway the minority opinion and get opposing members to consent.

6. After allowing a few comments from the majority, ask if any of the dissenters have been swayed. If everyone’s thumb is now up, you now have the consensus of the group. If not, continue the discussion while continuing to ask if anyone has been swayed throughout the discussion.

7. If anyone on the team has not been swayed by the majority’s explanation, get the opposing opinion (those whose thumb was down) before hearing from the wafflers. Wafflers usually are swayed either by the thumbs up or thumbs down arguments. Allow the team to discuss the issue in a point and counter point fashion. Wafflers should also participate in the discussion if they have points to add to either side of the discussion.

8. Ask the team members to indicate when they have been swayed by showing the changed position of their thumb when they are swayed. When all thumbs are either up or down, you have consensus. Always keep in mind that consensus is when everyone on the team can live with the decision and will actively support it. They do not have to agree.

9. If someone on the team is having a hard time agreeing to something that everyone else seems to willingly accept, ask if they conceptually agree with the proposal. Sometimes a person may agree with the concept, but not with the particulars of an idea. In such cases they may appear to be in complete disagreement when, in reality, they are only stuck on a few minor points. Consequently, by getting them to agree conceptually (or in theory) first, you then can work out the kinks of the minor sticking points.

10. Another technique similar to the one above is to determine how close the person is to agreement. Ask the dissenter to state in a percentage how close they are to agreeing to the proposal. Someone who is “90% there” will be a lot easier to sway than someone who is “not even close – maybe 10%.” Usually the person who is close to agreement can be easily swayed by merely asking them what they need in order to give their 100% support. On the other hand, it may take a great deal of discussion or a revamping of the proposal to sway the person who is far from giving their consensus.

11. Another way to sway dissenters is to agree on the separate parts of the proposal. This is what I call “chunking down the issue.” The purpose of this technique is to separate out the various parts of the proposal to see which pieces a dissenter agrees with and which pieces they oppose. Quite often a team member appears to be in disagreement with an entire proposal when they really are only in disagreement with a specific part of it. For example, they may agree with points A, B, D and E; but be in complete disagreement with point C. In this case they actually are “80% there, yet seem to be in complete disagreement because no one chunked down the issue.

12. Sometimes a consensus discussion bogs down because people disagree with a step that comes much later in the process. Fearing a future roadblock, they feel the need to oppose the idea now. For example, they argue against a proposal because they feel it will be hard to implement. Rather than agreeing that the proposal is the right thing to do, they worry about how hard it will be to implement the decision even though its right, therefore they try to kill what is right because of their assumption of the difficult road ahead. In cases where there is a sequential step-by-step roadmap to follow, discuss and agree on the steps of the proposal in order. Only allow discussion about one step at a time and get consensus at each step. Don’t worry about step three until you get to step two. Don’t let the team take a detour on the right road just because they feel there may be bumps ahead.

13. Make the right decision first. Sometimes team members know a decision is right, but they fear the consequences of the decision. Once when I was facilitating a team discussing a significant reorganization within the company, it became obvious during the discussion that consensus on the proposal being discussed would require everyone in the room to relocate to a different state. Not wanting to uproot their families, some members on the team vehemently argued against the proposal. But it soon became obvious that their dissent was for personal reasons, not because they thought the decision was wrong for the business. Consequently, I had to get them to set aside their personal objections and make the right decision first. Afterwards we would discuss how to minimize the impact that decision would have on them personally.

14. If, after using all of the techniques listed above, the team cannot come to agreement, you may need to table the decision temporarily. This gives people time to think about the proposal and weigh out the points and counter-points in their minds in a less heated setting. However, be sure to come back to the issue at the first opportunity, typically the very next time the team meets together.

15. If someone continues to hold out with a dissenting view after everyone else on the team is fully convinced a proposal is right, there are only two reasons why they cannot give their consensus. They either have a valid or personal reason for not agreeing with the majority decision.

A “valid” reason is any explanation that validates the person’s opposition in the minds of the rest of the members of the team so they, too, agree with the dissenter’s point of view. The purpose of this technique is to allow the dissenter to sway the rest of the team over to their position by presenting reasonable and rational arguments regarding their opposition until the other members see the validity of that position. If they cannot sway the rest of the team with their arguments, then the dissenter’s view is not “valid.” The validity of the team member’s viewpoint is determined by the other members of the group. They decide what is valid and what isn’t by whether or not they have been swayed by the argument.

When the dissenter lacks a valid reason for their opposition, there resistance is for “personal” reasons. Invariably they are arguing against the proposal because of how it will impact them personally. In most cases, personal reasons are not valid, and therefore should not keep the team from making the right decision. Personal dissenters should set their personal feelings aside and make the right decision for the team.

There are times, however, when someone’s personal reasons could be valid if they revealed them to the group. Unfortunately, many team members hide their personal reasons (hidden agenda) because they fear the team’s reaction if their personal concerns were made known. A perfect example of this is a team member who has been given implicit instructions by their boss to oppose the team’s idea and directs the employee not to disclose it to the team. The employee now has a personal (career) reason not to agree with the team, but fears exposing that reason to the team and incurring the wrath of his or her boss for violating confidentiality. The best approach to this situation is to be honest with the team, make the right decision, and then use the team to help determine how best to handle the boss.

16. If a member continues to be a lone holdout, have the team leader or team sponsor meet with the member. The team leader should meet with the team member to discuss his or her opposition. Sometimes things come out in a one-on-one discussion that won’t come out in the group setting. If the team leader cannot get through to the member, then the person who formed the team (the team sponsor) should meet with the member to try to remove the roadblock.

17. If a person continues to resist and offers no valid reason for doing so, demand their consensus. Tell them they must agree with the consensus of the team and actively support it. If they have no valid reason for their opposition they must agree with the team if they want to be a member of the team.

18. If they refuse to give their consensus, ask them to withdraw from the team. The team cannot be held back from accomplishing their mission by one stubborn member. That person must leave the team if he or she can neither sway the team nor be swayed by the team.

19. Finally, if an obstinate member refuses to withdraw from the team, ask the team Sponsor to remove a non-valid dissenter from the team. The person who formed the team is the only person who can remove a member from the team. Unfortunately, sometimes the only way to get a team back on track is to remove the resisting member who is holding the team back.

Each of the steps outlined above are designed to get the team to true consensus. Once the team has come to agreement, I like to anchor the consensus by declaring: “So let it be written; so let it be done.” This signifies that, unless something in the world dramatically changes to alter the team’s decision, the team should stay true to its consensus and carry out their decision exactly as planned. §

Innovative Management Group
is renowned for our team facilitation skills. We know how to drive groups to consensus decisions on tough issues. We also know how to resolve conflict among struggling teams. We offer several results-oriented team building workshops that help teams stay focused on accomplishing their assigned tasks.