Want Great Customer Service? Call A Vampire

If you need to contact a customer service call center, today would be a good day.

You will likely get great customer service. Employees will be happy, spirits will be high.

Oh, and the pictures will be fantastic.

From my experience and in talking to leaders in call centers across the industry, today the phones will be answered by vampires, zombies, clowns, and pirates. There will be joy in their voices, a skip in their steps, and their customer service will be delightful.

Why Costumes Lead to Great Customer Service

I asked a seasoned customer service leader why costumes work.

It’s the energy. My theory has always been that results on any singular day are driven by atmosphere. So costume days increase the fun and excitement, and it shows in the tone and inflection. When you are having fun and are excited, the pace of your conversation, the conviction of your voice are upped another level. The secret we all wish we could bottle is the energy and excitement on the floor. For the long-term it’s driven by effective coaching, and the only way coaching works is if you have a willing audience, you get that by how you interact daily.

Why Leaders Should Wear One Too

I have spent much of my career finding excuses to wear wigs, sing songs, and inspiring others to do the same. My “best of” pics lining the walls of my office include my entire leadership team dressed as the gang from Star Wars, Diana Ross and the Supremes, and other “you just had to be there” moments. These times create lasting memories and bring the team closer together.

Costumes work because…

  • Costumes are silly, and silly is fun. We all need that
  • Fun makes us real. Real creates connections. Connections inspire awesome customer experiences
  • Teams long for a leader to show they are vulnerable. Nothing says exposed like a blue wig.
  • Risk taking is an important leadership competency, it’s a bit gutsy to ask your team to follow you into a costume, maybe it will make the next risk easier to take
  • Silly creates lasting team experiences which draw the team together. “Remember the time she had us all.”(they may complain, but I guarantee the guy who resisted the most has a picture of that day in his office)
  • It says fun is good. Let’s make more. And send me your pics.

Prepare Well:Eye of the Leadership Hurricane

As for so many on the East Coast, the last few days have been all about hurricanes, as we prepare for Hurricane Sandy. It’s fascinating to watch the varying approaches from neighbors and friends. I wonder, are we all working to prepare for the same storm?

One friend posted her tongue in cheek Facebook update that she had made 12 jars of strawberry jam, just in case. Another shared that she had “cleaned the house from top to bottom and done all the laundry.” I glanced for a moment at my laundry piling up, and then moved on.

My husband, a fireman, shared that many people with medical conditions will call for an ambulance now, so that they can be safe and get the support they need if the electricity goes out.There are some for whom thinking ahead is a matter of life and death.

As leaders, how we prepare and respond to real and figurative hurricanes is vital. Our teams are watching us more than ever looking for direction, but also for emotional cues.

Times like this call for a complex balancing of critical leadership priorities. As a kid, I always thought it would be cool to be the guy in charge of closing schools for snow. I no longer envy that role. As a leader I find myself making very similar decisions, with serious potential consequences and many complex issues. It’s some of the most complex decision-making around.

  • How do we keep people safe?
  • What do customers need most during this critical time?
  • What must be re-prioritized?
  • What if?

How to Prepare Well

Get the facts

It’s easy to react to emotion and hype. Tap into experts and get the data you need to make rational choices

Plan for contingencies

Consider all the key variables at play and plan for each one. This takes time, but makes for quicker and better decisions when the time comes

Get the RIGHT people involved.

Everyone will have an opinion, much of which will be colored by their own personal circumstances and reaction to the crises. You want input, but this is not the time to go for 100% consensus.

Be prepared to regroup

Circumstances may change. Set frequent check-in points to assess new data and be prepared to

Over-communicate

In times of crises, communication reduces stress. Communicate through many channels and then communicate again, not just what is happening, but why

Listen to your heart

Don’t start there, first get the facts. However, your leadership instincts can go a long way on this. Play out the various choices in your mind. Talk through them with trusted advisors. What does you heart say?

The Debate Continues: 4 Reasons for More Transparency

I recently exposed my internal struggle with transparency in a post at Lead Change Group. Sometimes the best debates start in our own hearts. It turns out, that I am not alone in this personal wrestling match, as so many have shared in their tweets, scoops and comments.

“As leaders grow in responsibility, scope and scale, the issue of “transparency” becomes more significant. Executives have insights into confidential strategy, complex nuances, and serious situations. They also have large teams and a customer base watching every move. It’s common practice for leaders to pull back more as they rise in the business, revealing less about themselves as humans. Some chose to show up strong, serious and a bit mysterious. They create professional distance to drive results. On the other hand, there are also examples of leaders who chose to be more open, sharing more about themselves and why they do what they do. And so, I invite an expanded conversation. What is the right level of transparency? What are the pros and cons of being more closed or open? Read more in The Transparency Debate: How Much Should Leaders Share?”

4 Reasons For More Transparency

Every comment was in favor of more transparency. As one reader shared, “the days of playing hide and seek are over.” And so I offer you the collective wisdom from this debate and additional reasons for transparency.

Stronger Alignment

When we are clear about our values, thought processes, and rationale, our teams get a behind the scenes view of our choices. It is far easier for team members to align with a vision they fully understand. As one reader shared, “How can we define our shared purpose (a meaningful hopeful future we all really care about) if we don’t share some of the stuff that is close to our hearts?”

Deeper Trust

Trust begets trust. When we trust enough to share a bit about ourselves and our thinking, the relationship deepens. When we show we trust in the team, they are more likely to reciprocate. When there is less information available, people do what they can to fill in the blanks. Usually the imagined future and actions are far more distasteful than the reality.

Faster Change

In times of change and crises, my experience is that people want as much information as possible. Transparency reduces anxiety, speculation, and chatter. When people are focused on the work, the change moves more quickly and smoothly.

Broader Development

It just makes sense that people will learn more when the are on the inside. They learn more from understanding the nuances behind a decision and from the underlying struggles. Leaders learn from watching leaders. I would argue that transparent leaders also benefit in their own development. By taking more risks and being more vulnerable, you will get more honest feedback and support that you can use in your own leadership journey.

Should You Be More Transparent?

Where do you fall on the transparency continuum?

What information do you feel comfortable sharing?

What do you choose to hold back and why?

What scares you?
 

Padawan Picnic: Let’s Grow Leadership in Kids

There are surprisingly few tools and discussion forums available on leadership for kids. I continue to get requests through my various social media forums. I am not an expert, but I see grown-ups showing up with gaps and blind spots that could have been nurtured earlier. What if we could start talking about leadership sooner in the game?

Welcome to the Padawan Picnic. For the next several Saturdays, I will host a series for and about developing leadership skills in children. I will gauge interest through your comments and participation, and we can decide together if this is a topic for a regular Saturday series.

My intention is to serve as host to spark conversation. I also welcome guest posts from those of you working on this every day through your parenting, home schooling, and community activities. Let’s work together to grow leadership in our children.

Some Starting Points

  • Best children’s books to talk about leadership skills (with discussion questions)
  • Guest posts from kids and youth on their leadership journey
  • Guest posts from grown-ups working to develop leadership in kids
  • Collections of best thinking and tools

Please comment and let me know your interest in this, what topics would be most valuable? Please also contact me if you are interested in a guest post.

If this is not your scene, please join me during the week for our regular grown-up leadership fare. I would appreciate you passing this along to others who may be interested in reading or sharing.

Namaste.

Karin

 

Padawan Picnic: Let's Grow Leadership in Kids

There are surprisingly few tools and discussion forums available on leadership for kids. I continue to get requests through my various social media forums. I am not an expert, but I see grown-ups showing up with gaps and blind spots that could have been nurtured earlier. What if we could start talking about leadership sooner in the game?

Welcome to the Padawan Picnic. For the next several Saturdays, I will host a series for and about developing leadership skills in children. I will gauge interest through your comments and participation, and we can decide together if this is a topic for a regular Saturday series.

My intention is to serve as host to spark conversation. I also welcome guest posts from those of you working on this every day through your parenting, home schooling, and community activities. Let’s work together to grow leadership in our children.

Some Starting Points

  • Best children’s books to talk about leadership skills (with discussion questions)
  • Guest posts from kids and youth on their leadership journey
  • Guest posts from grown-ups working to develop leadership in kids
  • Collections of best thinking and tools

Please comment and let me know your interest in this, what topics would be most valuable? Please also contact me if you are interested in a guest post.

If this is not your scene, please join me during the week for our regular grown-up leadership fare. I would appreciate you passing this along to others who may be interested in reading or sharing.

Namaste.

Karin

 

Cheer in the Next Gear: How to Make Your Support Count

Each time a cyclist peddled past our corner at the Ironman triathlon , the woman sitting next to me on the curb would clang her large cowbell. No words. No sign of emotion. This went on for hours. It was almost a Pavlovian response. See bike, ring bell. She was committed. She never missed an athlete. For whom was her bell tolling? Why was this helpful?

In contrast, my husband Marcus is my cheering hero. I have run several marathons by his side, and watched him as he cheers from the inside of the race; looking to encourage anyone running behind, ahead or beside him. His cheers go something like this:

“Hey cheese head!” (quick caveat here, this greeting works best when the guy you are approaching is wearing a large styrofoam 3 cornered cheese hat). How’s it going? I’ve been watching you run and you really seem like you’re feeling strong. Have you run marathons before? What time are you going for? Oh yeah, you’re right on pace. YOU’VE GOT THIS!

He cheers the same way off the asphalt.

As leaders, how we cheer for our teams matters. When cheering is too general or lacks sincerity it can do more harm than good. It’s discounted at best, and can diminish a leader’s credibility.

How to CHEER with Impact

Whether your are cheering with a microphone in a large team context, or are encouraging someone by their side, there are specific ways to ensure your cheering is helpful.

Confidence

Communicate your sincere confidence in the person or team’s ability to achieve the desired goal

Honor

Share why you know they can win. Honor specific accomplishments or characteristics that communicate your confidence and build theirs

Energy

Tap into what is energizing them about this goal, breathe your energy into that place

Emotion

Draw on your own experiences to create an emotional connection

Rejoicing

Celebrate what they’ve accomplished so far and rejoice in their wins

Give The Guy a Brake: The Power to Stop

So you’ve got everything rolling on all cylinders. The right people, all on the proverbial right bus, all moving in the right direction. Excellent. You’re a motivational leader with a strong vision, inspiring the team toward unprecedented results. This team is fired up, everyone’s with you. Fantastic? Or just about to get dangerous?

Whenever I start a new role, the first person I look for is my “brake guy.” The guy (or gal) who has a deep knowledge of the business at hand, who cares deeply about doing the right thing, and has the courage to say “stop.”

And then my plea goes something like this…

“We are starting on an incredible journey. And trust me, we are going to get the right folks on the bus, all moving in the right direction, and we are going to build momentum. It will be exciting and we’re going to go fast. We might even get folks singing along as we ride (see skipping to work). We will work hard to build an environment of empowerment and constructive dissent. And yet, when it seems just right, it’s harder to stop. You are my brake guy. I need you to be by my side and ready to pull the brake whenever I am about to drive this bus over the edge. I assure you it will happen and when it gets to that point I am counting on you. I promise I will listen.

Brake guys are invaluable. I have had some fantastic brake guys over the years. It doesn’t happen often, but every time they have used that power, they have been dead on and all I could say was thank you.

Leaders who work fast with big vision, need someone like this around them. I recognize that not every leader fits into this category. If you err on the side of caution, you might need a “push me off the cliff guy,” but that’s a subject for another time.

How Brake Guys Can Help

They…

  • remind you to pause before reacting
  • offer more data and analysis
  • hear what the team is not saying
  • provide historical context
  • remind you of the long-term implications
  • offer options you may not have considered

If you are brake guy, thank you on behalf of all of us who need you.
If you need one, find one, and listen well.

Please share: Have you ever had a brake guy?
How was he or she helpful?
Have you served in that capacity?
 

The 3 Gifts: Grateful for Growing

They say “feedback is a gift,” but much of the time it does not feel that way.

So, what was different this time?

It was a cool, crisp night. The warmth of the make-shift spotlight was both frightening and friendly as I stood ready to give my final speech at the SCORRE conference. Frightening because my own expectations were high, and I knew the feedback would be deep, direct, and dead on. Friendly, because any feedback would be delivered with generosity and compassion.

I had come to this conference to hone my speaking. What I had not anticipated was how much I would learn from experiencing and watching the coaches coach. By the third day, I began taking as many notes on  how the coaches were giving feedback as to what they were saying.

What was it about their approach that made it both compelling and easy to hear?

Why was I so thirsty for more?

How was it that my group full of experienced speakers were transforming into magnificent motivators before my eyes?

and mostly…

What could these coaches teach me about giving better feedback?

Tonight I write to you not from the perspective of a leader growing leaders, but of a leader being grown. And so I re-gift the wisdom I gained from experiencing great feedback, and watching others do the same.

The Gift of Discovery

Focus on the behaviors to get to root cause.

Why did her eyes keep looking above the audience, what was she afraid of?

Why did he keep stumbling on the same words, perhaps he didn’t believe them?

What is the real message? What story lies underneath? How can THAT message be shared?

The Gift of Becoming

Focus on hidden strengths

What is her real passion and how do we draw it out?

What are the deeper gifts lying dormant? How can we get them on stage?

When is he brave? How can we translate that to this context?

The Gift of Letting Go

Give permission to discard

Who told him he wasn’t good at _____? Why does he still believe them?

What image is she trying to uphold? Why does she need it?

What old patterns keep joining her on stage? What can we put in their place?

Time To Re-Gift

When feedback is truly a gift, it feels like one not. Because it is sandwiched between snuggly fluff, but because it gets us further along our journey to what we are becoming.

The View From a False Summit Can Change Your Course

I thought I was at the top.

I glanced with pride at the view of the long staircase disappearing down the mountain. It’s been a dream of mine to climb the Pikes Peak Incline, the steep, mile-long staircase at high elevation. I was glad to have scratched that off my endurance sports “bucket list.” Just as I climbed the last few steps, a voice came out of nowhere, “It’s a false summit.”

I quickly turned around and saw a fit guy sitting on a rock sipping from his water bottle. He smiled, “you’re only about two-thirds of the way up.” I climbed a few more steps, and stared over the boulders that had been blocking the view. He was right and he seemed to enjoy delivering the news, “but you have choices. You can always head back down now on the Barr Creek trail or keep going that way to the summit.”

The sun would be setting soon. I was hiking alone, and I had a 3 hour drive ahead to an important conference.

I stopped to consider the view.

We’ve all been there. We set a goal. We work hard to achieve it. And, just when we think we are done, the view changes. New circumstances, new information, and unanticipated disruptions lead us to reconsider. Is this was I wanted to accomplish? Do I still want this, or is there something bigger? Are there other paths to consider?

When life gives you false summits, stop and consider the views.

View Your Accomplishments

Don’t get discouraged. You’ve already accomplished a great deal. Just because there is more elevation to climb, don’t discount the steps you’ve already trod. Take time to breathe and celebrate what you have accomplished. Every plateau is an opportunity to rest and reflect.

View Your Options

Continuing to climb along the same path may be the perfect choice. There is also value in considering what’s available on the alternate routes. What’s for you on the switchbacks, or behind those other boulders? What and whom did you leave behind? Should you consider heading back down? What are the opportunity costs of each decision?

View Your Heart

What does your heart say? What feels right? How’s your energy? What are you climbing for? Which path will offer new experiences and growth?

View Your Resources

Who’s walking with you on this path? Who would (or could) join you on the alternative routes, who might you meet along the way? Do you have enough resources? How can you best prepare for the journey you chose?

The Journey Continues

Sometimes when we get where we think we are headed, the view changes. What we thought was the end-game offers new beginnings. Don’t just keep climbing without consideration. Each path offers different rewards.

On this particular journey, I did keep climbing and the summit was spectacular. Well worth the trip. I took the 4 miles of switchbacks down, also meaningful.

Are you standing on a false summit?
 

Trusted and Empowered? 6 Ways to Get Your Boss To Trust You

Last week’s post, A Matter of Trust, generated some great conversation on the Center For Creative Leadership LinkedIn group. One interesting addition was a paradoxical question from Carol Ann Hamilton, “which comes first, trust or trust?” Indeed, trust is a complex two-way street.

In a follow-up conversation she shared:

Let’s make three lists:

1.) Someday
2.) The Bigger Story
3.) Now

Onto “Someday,” place everything you haven’t touched and that really doesn’t relate to anything in the short-term (because if it did, you’d have completed it already).
I ask this paradoxical question to get my facilitation and coaching clients to think about which type of person they generally are: 1) Do you accord trust naturally and only re-evaluate your interactions with someone if it is violated? or 2) Does trust have to be earned with you, so that you dole out your trust and respect when the other proves themselves worthy in your books?

The truth is most leaders (including me), don’t treat everyone on their team with the same level of trust. Whether we “accord trust naturally” or if “it has to be earned,” trust is impacted by behaviors. We learn who we can trust with the most important work. Those we trust, we empower with less oversight. When someone has given us cause to question their competence or follow-through, we are more likely to double-check and provide more hands-on support.

Carol’s question got me thinking: what are the behaviors that lead me to fully trust someone on my team? What behaviors cause me to back off and let them do their thing? Here are my top 6. I hope you will add more to the list in your comments.

Your Boss Will Trust You When You

1. Do what you say you will

Every time. Integrity and consistency are vital to trust. When stuff happens that changes your commitment, communicate quickly and explain why.

2. Follow through

This one is slightly different from #1. Follow-through involves looking at the outcomes of your actions and ensuring they achieved the desired result. “Doing what you say” is not enough if it did not produce the right outcome. There is more work to do. Do it, or ask for help.

3. Develop great peer relationships

You boss cares what other people are saying about you. She wants to know you work well with others, offering and asking for help when needed.

4. Follow the “no blind side” rule

This is the one I see breakdown the most. Always be the first to share your own bad news and what you are doing about it. Don’t let your boss get wind of a breakdown through the grapevine (or worse, from their boss).

5. Know the details

You boss will trust you when you know what you are doing. She will be less likely to want to know every detail if she is sure that you do.

6. Ask what else you can do to help

No boss wants to wonder if their people have enough to do. If you have extra bandwidth offer to do more. Your boss will then trust that you have plenty to do when you are not asking.

 

Get More Done in Less Time: Learning From Crises

When are you most productive? If you are like most people I know the answer is easy, when you really need to be. Most of us have great examples of crises and other urgent situations, where folks pull together and get more done.

And yet, at other times, lots of stuff seems to get in the way. And we look at each other with the common question, “how can I get more done?”

We Use The Time We Have

 

It’s human nature. When we have time,, we use it.

Most projects take at least the time allotted. Most conference calls finish just-in-time. When is the last time you saw a BAU project expedited–because it was possible?

We know this as Parkinson’s law, work expands to fill the time allotted. Nothing is expedited when things are moving along as planned, because it doesn’t need to be.

What Can We Learn from a Crises?

One the other hand, in a time of crises, the time allotted is zero, so everything is expedited. There is something urgent that must be fixed. Suddenly, the normal protocols disappear and work happens fast.

There’s a lot to be learned about execution from a crises. At times of natural disasters, blackouts, and other unthinkable crises, teams pull together and execute in ways they never thought possible. Creative solutions emerge from seemingly nowhere, “impossible” deadlines are exceeded, and competitors collaborate for the greater good, Organizations and teams execute with an efficiency they never thought possible.

Why? What good can we learn from these undesired times?

Here’s a list of what I’ve seen first hand over the years, and observed and followed in other people’s fantastic stories of execution in a time of crises.

How They Get More Done

  • Everyone becomes energized around a common mission
  • Decisions normally made by committee, are made on the fly
  • People work extraordinary hours, and feel enlivened by their contribution
  • IT and other complex projects that normally require substantial planning are expedited and done in Herculean time frames
  • Communication becomes paramount: people talk frequently
  • Decision makers roll-up their sleeves to help, and the experts rise to positions of power
  • Standard protocols soften, and people support one another
  • Companies collaborate for the greater good
  • No one touches Powerpoint until the post-mortem
  • …???

Of course, we can’t live on an adrenaline rush all the time. And, fast decisions can also have downsides. On the other hand

 

The Secret to Effective Time Management: A Story to Win By

Time management techniques typically involve identifying priorities and scheduling well. There is also power in building in unscheduled time, leaving white space on the calendar for reflection and spontaneous magic.

Adding some white space into your time management strategy can lead to better strategy, creative breakthroughs, and a more poised approach.

And so, I offer a story of time management, great mentoring, and leveraging the white space.

Time Management Lessons From a White Space Sherpa

I had just started my “dream job” straight out of graduate school. Eager to be successful, I got in before the boss, and stayed late to get more done. I had my shiny new Franklin Planner (back in the days of binders and systems), and I proudly scheduled every hour with meaningful activity. I was proud of my time management system and approach to success.

One night, my boss came by my cube (I was secretly glad that he saw me there so late). He just said, “come to my office and bring your planner.”

He took my planner and arbitrarily started crossing out meetings.

I was shocked.

“You need white space. You are not going to be successful without it.”

I argued, “but you can’t cross out THOSE meetings.”

“Fine,” He replied. “Move what you want around, but I want you to come back to me with a calendar that has white space built into every day. Oh, and while you are at it, pick which days you are going to get out of here on time to spend time with your family.”

I did.

When I met with him next, we brainstormed the possibilities for productive things to do in the white space on my calendar. Including “stare at the walls” to get great ideas. He then got on the phone and started calling Vice Presidents.

“I have this promising young leader who you haven’t yet met. She just had some meetings unexpectedly cancelled and is going to be in your neck of the woods next week (news to me). I wonder if she could stop by and get to know you.”

Brilliant.

“See, that’s what you can do with white space,” he smiled.

The truth is, with more “free time” I was actually more productive because I had time to think. Our results were fantastic that year, and his networking strategy built a strong foundation to begin my career.

I believe in white space.

The Danger of Free Time

Today it’s even harder to master the white space game. Even if we manage to carve out unscheduled time as part of our time management strategy, the push and lure of communication from email, text and instant messages, and all the social media can suck us in to less productive activity.

Chris Brogan shared his own struggles with white space in his fantastic newsletter, along with tips for a strategy to address. He encourages us to identify our “go-to triggers” for filling down time (twitter, email, twitter, facebook, twitter), and instead create a more deliberate approach.

His approach to avoiding triggers, and using white space effectively:

Let’s make three lists:

1.) Someday
2.) The Bigger Story
3.) Now

Onto “Someday,” place everything you haven’t touched and that really doesn’t relate to anything in the short-term (because if it did, you’d have completed it already).

Onto, The Bigger Story, list what your REAL big goals are, and what your focus should be.

He then provides more detail on how to manage these lists and effectively use your downtime in your time management strategy.

So, it’s a two-fold mission. First, find and preserve the white space. And next, know which “someday” and “bigger story” goals you want to pursue in that time.