What Happens When Leaders Don’t Care

Idon'tcareindex

I’ve just spent the last week with my family at an extended-stay establishment. We are in the midst of repairing our home as a result of water damage. This kind of thing happens all of the time, but it’s not a fun process. We’ve hobbled along with a microwave and a bathroom sink for about 5 weeks. (I can only compare it to camping in your own home without of the advantage of somores.)

Finally, we came to a point where had to clear out, board the dog and stay somewhere else. We were more than ready for a reprieve from the construction.

For obvious reasons I won’t mention the chain’s name. However, its parent company is one that has been an iconic brand for as long as I can remember. We were glad to be there — and likely should have taken advantage of our opportunity to relocate sooner. The staff was extremely accommodating, there were hot meals and it was oh, so quiet. No banging hammers or sanding going on.

Perfect.

Until we ventured out one afternoon and noticed a note on our vehicle, along with a sizable dent. Unfortunately — one of the hotel employees had mistakenly backed up into our vehicle. When the employee (who was very upset about what happened) later called to ask to settle without insurance being involved, I felt I should share what happened with the hotel’s General Manager. That was a monumental mistake.

I expected some sign of life — but instead “Crickets”.

As it turned out, she could not have given a damn. She had been alerted to the problem — and performed her corporate duty — informing us that she (and her brand) had no control over what happens in their parking lot.

She was professionally cold. She was dismissive. She was unmoved by the situation. She was quick to usher me out of her office.

Surprising, considering that her attitude was the polar opposite of the customer service creed the rest of the staff seemed to follow.

She was the anomaly. I get it. You don’t (or won’t or can’t) care. That was very clear.

The sad thing is she did have control over quite a lot — even if not over her parking lot. Yet she failed to make the most of it.
A few come to mind:

  1. She could have built upon the goodwill already initiated by her staff.
  2. She could have shown empathy and forged a long-term relationship.
  3. She could have explored why we were staying at her property and learned the story of her customers.
  4. She could have been a leader, ensuring that her customers were the priority — not corporate legalese.

After all was said and done, we stayed 3 more days at this establishment and didn’t hear a peep from her. Nary a note, or a kind word was extended.

So, all of the hard work of her staff (and they were wonderful), really won’t matter in the long run. Because we will never stay at one of their properties again. I did let corporate know — and she wrote a disingenuous note about how sorry she was for what had occurred and if there was anything she might do to call her. (Number given. Although she never even offered her card previously.)

Unfortunately, when leaders don’t care, customers don’t care either.

They walk away and never return.

That is a shame.

AlliedTalentindexDr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, consultant and coach. She holds the role of Senior Consultant at Allied Talent.

Advertisements

Why Brian Williams’ Suspension Surprised Me

Brian

I’ve been hashing and re-hashing the news that NBC has suspended anchor Brian Williams, after it was revealed he embellished stories concerning his experiences. Whether his memories became hazy when recalling events, or he purposely enhanced his story of a helicopter ride in 2003, is really of no consequence. His role as managing editor at NBC required the utmost caution and care when disseminating information — an essential competency for continued success in that role.

I truly feel for his predicament, as we all make mistakes — and his respect his tenure. However, I remain disappointed that NBC didn’t respect the most critical competency required for that role: complete honesty.

Organizations become loyal to their most valued employees — a common and usually positive occurrence. (It is the essence of building a two-way relationship.) However, that loyalty can negatively impact that same organization in cases such as this. Our own judgements can become cloudy, where a much loved or respected colleague are concerned. But, in extreme cases, a parting of the ways is the only solution that really makes sense.

A 6 month suspension does offer Williams and NBC time to sort out his situation, and consider potential paths. However, he should have stepped down from his role immediately. When he didn’t do so — he likely should have been fired, rather than suspended.

Leaders must make tough calls where the essence of their organizational mission is threatened. I do understand that in this case, there are many powerful elements to consider.

But sadly, in some cases — we must part ways with even our most engaging employees.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, consultant and coach. She is the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto.

When Settling Cross-Functional Concerns — Lay the Cards on the Table

cardsontableimages

When different functions within our own organizations aren’t seeing “eye to eye”, we tend to shy away from bringing them together. We don’t intend to prolong the conflict — but, in reality, that is what occurs. Our instincts are often to act as an intermediary and settle the issue calmly and quickly. But, that is likely not in the best interest of the organization.

Digging into the concerns is often the best route, especially if the conflict directly affects your clients or customers. Often it’s time for things to change — yet we’ve ignored the signs or haven’t had the opportunity to address the issues.

It’s best to lay the cards on the table and expose the root of the problems, even when this is an extreme challenge, as quickly as possible. Hopefully, exploring the developing issues wards off delivery problems related to products and services.

When I’m called in to sort out these types of situations (often at an off-site), my first instinct is to get everyone in the same room and lay the cards on the table. I often couple this with a process exercise that models work flow, that illustrates how their work crosses paths with other functions to deliver great products and services. Of course, I have the benefit of a lowered emotional investment. That’s often what is needed the vet the issues and move forward.

Here is an exercise to try on your own. (I suppose it is a modified “War Game” exercise.)

  • Start with your functional groups intact. Initially, place contributors in groups sorted by their source function (No more than 6-8 per group. Utilize round tables). Place index cards on the table. Each group will identify key cross-functional issues that are obstacles to delivering the best products or services to customers. (Include two colors of index cards, one for urgent and non-urgent issues. Have each team record 5 issues. One index card for each. Teams can identify 2 issues as urgent.)
  • Record the issues. Instruct the functional teams to discuss and record the toughest issues they face in relation to interfacing or coordinating, with the other functions. Instruct them to keep customer or product and service delivery in mind. Keep the description as brief as possible and include one example that occurs in practice.
  • Collect the recorded issues. After issue identification, offer a coffee break. Have leadership sort the issues by content area for distribution. Select a set of cards, with key topic areas represented, for consideration by the re-convened teams.
  • Mix-up the teams by functional area. Re-convene teams as multi-functional groups for the solution phase. Allow the “solution” teams to choose, then attack 2-3 of the problems, time allowing. They should develop solutions for each that will be presented to the larger group. Each team will work on the issues selected. (30-45 minutes or so.) Then break once again, there will be serendipitous conversation.
  • Present proposed solutions.  Re-convene. The teams should select two presenters. One presenter should be a member of a functional team that hasn’t sourced the issue being addressed.

I’ve never seen a group that didn’t learn something critical from the challenge. There will be more than a couple of heated exchanges, but it is all in the name of progress. Data can be added to the equation after issues are identified. If there is time, the group can identify metrics that can track progress, as time goes on.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto. She is also serves as an Influencer at LinkedIn.

What We Can Learn About Leadership From Comcast’s Nightmare Customer Service Call

closed-door

Wow. Don’t get me started. My son has just spent the last 4 weeks trying to force Comcast to keep their promises to him. As a recent college grad, money really matters — and they really couldn’t care less. Getting his business was the only goal. Keeping him as a customer going forward — well that seems to be a message entirely lost on them. If he had another viable choice for high-speed internet (he’s a gamer), he we would take it. Immediately. He cannot stand them.

To tell you the truth I thought my family’s collective experiences with Comcast were simply random. (We recently discovered that we were being charged for a year’s worth of a router we did not have on premise.) However, after doing a bit of digging, I’m now convinced there may be serious problems lurking there. This week, Comcast’s darker side was fully exposed in a viral call center exchange that really is more than unbelievable — it’s ominous. Comcast, is now one of the two most hated companies in the country. As a leader, I would be very, very concerned.

We can learn from their uproarious blunder. In particular, quite a lot about leadership. Here we go:

  • Don’t close your doors. Ultimately, this rarely occurs within an organization where positive leadership has a strong, visible presence. This isn’t one incident, there is a pattern here. Yes, you may be an industry monolith. But that doesn’t absolve you of the responsibility to be front and center — driving home key messages that will sustain your business long-term. Don’t lock yourselves in an office — light years away from your customers.
  • Talk is cheap, but your actions really speak. I don’t think the mission of Comcast is “Irritate Customers Beyond Belief”. However, the behavior of the company is certainly communicating that message to us. Communicate the mission/vision within your organization completely. If not well understood, everyone will have their own ideas. Leaving something so critical to chance is very, very unwise.
  • Listen, listen, listen. Then listen again. Do you recall when customers would be required to wait all day to have someone hook up their service? Comcast adjusted this policy (and even offered $20 if they didn’t hold up their end of the bargain). Talk to your customers often. Are service plans confusing? Is your pricing structure likened to hieroglyphics? Do you fail to reward long-term customers for their patronage? Be aware.
  • Your people are a reflection of your brand. How did that call center representative come to believe that he should never, ever allow a customer leave of their own free will? I’m sorry, your employees often reflect leadership’s take on customers. He thought that was OK. It wasn’t.
  • Your company is at risk. When leadership fails to communicate the very core of a service organization’s creed (which would include exhibiting basic respect toward customers), it shows something vital. That, at the end of the day, you may not really care. That undoubtedly spells trouble for your business when viable competition shows up…and of course, it undoubtedly will.

What advice can you offer Comcast? Sound off here.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist, speaker and coach You can also find her on Twitter and Linkedin.

Let’s Banish Bad Bosses

Awful boss3

I’d like to pose a challenge. Let’s reconsider promoting an individual to the position of managing others, if we even remotely suspect that they are not up to the task. On another level — please think twice about accepting the responsibility of becoming a manager if you feel at all unprepared. Unfortunately, there seems to be an ancient and unwritten workplace law operating — telling us that when we reach a certain level of tenure or performance, we are automatically bestowed the responsibility of managing others. This may be exactly where the original problem lies; a complete lack of awareness concerning what is involved to manage others effectively. We need to consider these junctures more carefully, as we have more than our share of problems with managers already.

Let me talk you out of your decision, delay it, at least until you or the employee are adequately prepared for the challenge. A solid technical expert does not “a manager make” — and truthfully, there are only a handful of people who should be given the privilege of becoming a “boss”. Most of us require appropriate training or the benefit of a mentor to build this skill set.

It’s difficult to move forward without addressing this critical issue. Providing great bosses for our employees, is a formative step in building healthier, happier organizations. It is likely the single most important factor impacting employee engagement. However, its impact upon organizational performance may not be universally recognized. The true power of “excellence in managing others” is not be fully embraced. There are certainly great bosses in the workplace and we need to collectively learn more from them. Who are they? What are they doing?

There is no time like the present to attack this problem. Developing better managers may actually be less complicated than we might expect — but we have to make that all important commitment to explore this fully. We should consider addressing the managerial basics first: Showing concern for employees, building resiliency, serving as a “motivator” (money only takes us so far), providing direction and developing others.

But, above all, do no harm.

I am alarmed to learn what employees are facing with their own managers. The collected expressions of frustration and bewilderment, cause me to pause and consider a number of the raised questions concerning managers:

  • What are best practices for recognizing, developing and encouraging effective managers? (I propose a Department of Managerial Excellence.)
  • Who is ultimately responsible for a poor manager?
  • What recourse do employees have if their manager is ineffective?
  • What is the organization’s role to monitor and intervene, in response to poor management?
  • Are poor managers offered feedback concerning their lack of skills, as managers, so they might improve?

Have we been missing the boat, in terms of weaving the shared value of “management excellence” into the workplace? Have the economic times caused us to become forgetful of its importance? If so, what can we do to reverse the trend?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She also writes at LinkedIn.

Becoming More Positive: Embracing “Plan B”

PlanBI’ve never been afraid of  “Plan B”. You know —  the plan that is implemented after “Plan A” goes down in a fiery ball of flames. I can thank my first two bosses for that perspective. Starting out in customer research, “Plan B” was certainly a lesson I learned rather quickly. Samples were never how I envisioned them. Implementation was never perfect, and the results that followed? There was always some sort of  surprise —  a “twist” so to speak.

So, how do we handle the imperfections that are the reality of our work lives — and how do leaders help us to face the challenges that inevitably occur?  In these dynamic and unpredictable times, that is one question of the moment. The answer? This may in part relate to the level of positivity that our leaders possess and the behaviors they model for us each and every day. My first supervisor, for example, never flinched when a concern was raised. She simply listened and helped me work through the issues confidently. No drama. No Yelling. No disrespect.

As it turns out, a leader’s expression of positivity (that all will be well) could be one key to the psychological well-being of their followers — and the performance outcomes which follow. (A clear expression of hope and resilience, for example.) Recent research examining the construct of leader Psychological Capital, is elucidating the power of this connection.

Psychological Capital (PsyCap) is construct composed of four well researched psychological resources (the HERO resources) as follows:

The HERO resources:

  • Hope. A belief in the ability to persevere toward goals and find alternative paths to reach them.
  • Efficacy. The confidence that one can put forth the effort to affect outcomes.
  • Resilience. The ability to bounce back in the face of adversity or failure.
  • Optimism. A generally positive view of work and the potential of success.

In reality, those who lead or manage others possess varying levels of Psychological Capital — and the outward expression of those resources can change how we view (and process) the challenges we face in our work lives. Without this psychological support, failure can be just a failure. Not an opportunity to learn a few things and move forward feeling empowered.

So for what it is worth — thank you Marty and Elyse. Great bosses are worth their weight in gold.

What do you think? Does a leader’s level of positivity impact the workplace? Share your thoughts here.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist. She also writes for Linkedin and US News & World Report.

The Challenge of the “Turn Around” Leader

yahoo

Recently, the leadership skills of Yahoo’s “turn-around” CEO, Marissa Mayer have come into question for addressing what she deemed to be a symptom of a palpable organizational ailment. I was not surprised at the reaction to her decision concerning flexible work — which could only be described as visceral and sensational. However, in my mind, a broader leadership question looms.

At LinkedIn, editor Isabelle Roughol has recounted developments in the evolution of both Yahoo and Groupon. Reading her post, I was struck with the importance of that pivotal “second chance” for ailing organizations — and the unique challenges faced by those leading that charge. Whether we are discussing Yahoo, Groupon, or J.C. Penney, one element remains brazenly obvious. Diagnosing organizational ills and affecting change is a difficult road to travel. Leaders cast in this “savior” role stand the chance of losing the good fight. It is a high stakes, high risk business.

In the case of Ms. Mayer, the proverbial “CEO alarm” was pulled the moment she revoked flexible work options. But, as the days passed and more information emerged, another aspect of the story became evident: the leadership challenges she faces in an organization that is actively seeking change. Bit by bit, information surfaced that was vital to this tale; including how Ms. Mayer determined she really had a serious problem and what motivated her course of action.

Personally, I don’t fault her for addressing what she believes to be a “waning” collaborative environment at Yahoo. ( I don’t view this is an assault on flexible work.) Gathering key talent together, in the hopes of igniting change, makes perfect sense. This action at the very least, begins to set behavioral expectations going forward for Yahoo. Critics abound — but only time will tell if this action contributes to needed change.

Yahoo’s leadership story (and others like it) seem to be at least partially rooted in our level of confidence in leadership — or more specifically, our skepticism. This seems counter intuitive on a very basic level, as a leap of faith is required when any organization needs to evolve. We need to view leadership as the dynamic and risky business that it truly is.

There has long been keen interest in specific leader attributes and how they impact success. However, this may have distracted us from the need for a broader, more integrated definition. Leadership is often a complicated, layered role, where culture and context must meld to formulate strategy. Prescribing the skills required for these leadership roles is an even more complicated task.

At the very least, a leader’s right to develop the best possible “script” for their highly specific situation seems critical. Marissa Mayer is faced with the task of assessing what Yahoo’s culture really needs at this moment to become healthy and productive. (I would hope that a modified flexible work policy will be hammered out as time passes.) Ultimately, a leader’s willingness to implement unpopular organizational decisions in these “second chance” situations, is required.

What do you think? Should we extend more confidence to our high-level leaders?

Got vision? Get some.

vision2Let’s debunk the notion that a vision statement is a bunch of baloney. Like many others — I used to feel that these statements were just an exercise in futility. But over the course of time I’ve seen that I was sorely mistaken. Vision matters.

Considering vision can be a defining moment for an organization, and a vision statement can serve as a powerful guide as it moves forward in the world. If a clear vision doesn’t exist, it should be the first order of business.

GPS for your business
Vision should never be a throw away for a developing business — as it can help direct strategy, pricing, advertising and eventually the talent you are able to recruit. Where a mission statement defines what you do as an organization, a vision statement embodies what you’d like to be  and where you would like to go, as an organization. It is future-oriented and crafted to motivate. The statement is strengthened by the actions and words of the organization. It also can be the impetus for a value-based message to your customer base, driving business and relationships.

As explained by Jenifer Ross, owner of the W@tercooler, a coworking space located in Tarrytown, New York,  “Our vision is like a road map that we can refer back to as we grow and develop our coworking community”. As such, their vision embodies where they wish to go as an organization. Here it is:

  • “Striving to be a catalyst for communication, idea exchange, collaboration and personal/business growth by being a HUB for it’s members, the community it serves and the coworking movement as a whole. W@tercooler will attract, support and cultivate a creative and active community of individuals, entrepreneurs, and small businesses that “work together independently” in the collective and generous spirit of coworking.”

Lost in the sauce of the everyday
Most businesses begin with some sort of vision, but rarely re-visit it. Often it is simply never documented — but getting back in touch with vision can be a great exercise. If you haven’t discussed or even mentioned your organizational vision recently, it’s time to do so. This process can clarify action and direct behavior.

If you find your business without a vision, establish one that helps your business focus and connect with your customers. Keep the strengths of your organization in clear sight, expressing the passion and heart of the business. Try the following exercise:  Think of 3 concepts or words that you would like your customers to use to describe your company. For example: Modern. Cutting-Edge. Service Driven.

Reinforce often
Helping your vision develop “staying power” requires reinforcing the concept through words and visual reminders during the course of your day-to-day operations. Be sure to link back to company vision as much as possible with your employees when discussing performance or customer dilemmas. Spot check your company’s vision “IQ” by bringing up vision at your next meeting. Ask employees to describe your organizational vision and what it means to them.

If you hear crickets – you’ll know there is some work to do.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist located in East Lansing, Michigan. Connect with her on Twitter and Linkedin.

Tell Me a Leadership Story

story6

Tell me a leadership story — one that embodies the very core of the organization. There may be spread sheets and profit margins. But, stories of leadership seem to complete the painted portrait of an organization (including its people, products and customers). Organizations possess a rich history — and leaders play a pivotal role in that developing story. I want to hear more about that.

Leaders can provide a compass for growth, align vision with talent, and have the power to exert a tremendous positive or negative influence upon an organization. A leader can catapult an organization to the forefront of an industry or bring it to an early demise. Just as great presidents have helped shape our country — leaders help define an organization, for better or worse. Tell me a leadership story — especially those of the leaders that have failed. I can learn  from that.

Leaders that takes the helm of an organization at a given point in time, can reveal volumes about the state of that organization and where it might be headed. Each phase of an organization’s development required a very different type of leader — and that’s a lesson in itself. Tell me about that.

We can learn from both leadership successes and failures. But often this history is quickly forgotten or ignored — and that leaves us vulnerable to make the same mistakes.  Moving forward often requires a nod to the past to reflect on our plan of action. History can help us correct our course — but we rarely look back.

Employees benefit by becoming knowledgeable about the challenges that affected previous leaders. The fallout left in the wake of blunders — the triumphs of perseverance and grit.  As we can learn from our own personal mistakes , an organization can also learn from the mistakes of its leaders.

Telling the tale of an organization’s leaders can serve as a powerful learning tool — one which can leave a lasting impression on an employee.

  • Onboard history. Speak of the leaders who were present in the early phases of the organization’s life cycle. Explain their vision and how it shaped the organization.
  • Failure 101. Reflect on leadership failures and what was learned in the process. How did these failures change the course of the organization?
  • Who is at he helm? Introduce current leaders and the expertise they bring to the organization. Explain how their current vision has been translated into strategy and action.
  • Strategy review. Discuss key inflection points that influenced the organization. How did leadership impact the outcomes? What did we learn, going forward?

With a look to the past,  we can improve the future  and possibly avoid costly mistakes that have already been made. Take the time to discuss the rich history of leadership in your place of business and offer your employees the advantage of perspective.

Tell the story of your organization. It’s a tale that needs to be told.


Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist. You can find her on Twitter and Linkedin.