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.
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.
Communicate your sincere confidence in the person or team’s ability to achieve the desired goal
Share why you know they can win. Honor specific accomplishments or characteristics that communicate your confidence and build theirs
Tap into what is energizing them about this goal, breathe your energy into that place
Draw on your own experiences to create an emotional connection
Celebrate what they’ve accomplished so far and rejoice in their wins
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
- 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?
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
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.”
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.”
“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:
2.) The Bigger Story
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.
I was intrigued by the recent article by Scott Edinger in HBR Blog Network, Why Remote Workers are More Engaged. He shares research that shows that remote workers are more engaged, and rate their leadership more highly. His article sparked a flurry of comments and debate, including questions of limited sample size and statistical significance. Despite the skeptics, I have not been able to get this conversation out of my brain. Why, Because my experience is that long distance leadership can be very engaging and achieve fantastic results.
I have been working in long-distance leadership situations for almost 2 decades. I have led many highly dispersed teams. For most of my career I have not worked in the same state as my boss. Although Edinger’s research spoke to those working at home (I have also lead folks in that situation, and have worked from home at certain points in my career), I think the debate raises important conversation for any leader not working side-by-side with their teams on a daily basis.
In fact, in my current role, I am leading my most remote team ever. I am leading a team dispersed across the country in over 20 states and every time zone. It’s tricky. I spend much time on airplanes, and I am never “there” as much as I would like. And, I would argue this is one of my most engaged teams ever. They are on fire with results, are passionate about the work, and care deeply about one another.
And so, I offer my opinion on the “are remote workers more engaged” debate. No statistics. Just lots of personal experience and a track record of making long distance leadership work.
Why Long Distance Leadership Works
- Every interaction counts, people plan more for the time they have
- Both the leader and the team make extra effort to show up strong
- Teams and team members gain more confidence in self-direction
- Teams feel more encouraged to take risks
- It’s easier to be creative when no one is looking over your shoulder
- When teams are together they work hard to create relationships and are deliberate about maintaining them across distances
- Absence makes the heart grow fonder– remote teams call on one another when needed, and have quality interaction
- They make better use of tools and technology
- They listen more closely because they are not distracted by the daily noise
Behaviors that Support Long Distance Leadership
- Select a fantastic team, carefully with a track record of self-direction
- Have a dramatic vision and crystal-clear goals
- Communicate that vision and goals loudly in every medium you have available
- Celebrate success loudly and frequently
- Show up face to face, more than is practical
- Be deliberate in helping the team to know you as a human being– distance can be scary, it helps if the team can see you as a real person
- Be silly and fun remote teams need to laugh and know it is okay to have fun
- Have a scheduled check-in pattern so no one gets left out
- Get really good at situational leadership– understand who needs what and give it to them
- Admit mistakes, it helps to encourage risk-taking and creativity
Are you a Long Distance Leader? Please share your comments. What have you found works best in managing remote teams?
I am delighted to be included in Dan McCarthy’s Leadership Carnival. I have enjoyed reading some fantastic posts included here from some insightful leadership bloggers. I encourage you to check it out.
My writing on Leader Athletes has also included John Bossong’s Top 10 Leadership and Sales Link Roundup. Another great collection of leadership posts worth checking out.
To all those on this wonderful leadership journey of reflecting, reading, writing, and collaborating.
If you enjoy reading my posts, I would love to have you as an email subscriber. I also encourage you to join the conversation with your comments.
In almost any large organization, there are the folks doing the work that touches customers, and there are the supporting players influencing vital work to make that easier. Except when they don’t. Or, it’s perceived that way.
Today, as we stop the music, I am in a supporting role. Not long ago, I was leading a large line organization. Prior to that staff role, prior to that, line.
I have been talking to everyone I can find about what makes a great influencing player. My favorite metaphor, “get into the pool”.
“I am trying to run a tight synchronized swimming team here. You can’t shout direction from the pool deck. Get in the water. Feel the music first. See how it feels under the water. Try holding your breath while kicking hard. And then, once we are all equally exhausted, I am all ears.”
I love this one, because growing up, I actually was a competitive synchronized swimmer, and yup, my coaches got into the pool all the time.
The other main ideas:
Deeply understand my business
Support my vision and goals
Tell me the truth
Ask what you can do to help
Share what you can
Provide best practices
Lend your expertise
Offer tangible tools
Help me see the future
Ask me lots of questions
Don’t have checklist
Want more success and fun for your team? Try picking one BIG goal.
When looking to make a difference for the business, I always look for the “one big goal” that we can accomplish that will really make an impact. As Covey would say, what is your most “Wildly Important Goal”? What will be dramatically different (better) after our team is done with it? What needs to be transformed?
Of course, organizations are complex and it’s impossible to have a singular focus. However, I have found that planning for one BIG success, along with one or two other related goals, creates a clear path that is easy to follow. You will know if you have accomplished this if years later, people are still talking about the contribution that team made.
4 Ways to Grow Your Goal
Pick the Right BIG Goal
- What does the business need most?
- What are others struggling to accomplish?
- What do people think can’t be done?
- What is this team best positioned to do?
- Are you passionately personally committed to this?
- Do your boss and other key stakeholders see this as vital (even if they don’t think it is doable)
- Are at least a few strong and energetic people on your team aligned (I have found in real turnaround situations, it usually takes some time to get everyone there)
- Develop a zealous engagement and communication plan
- Reinforce the vision non-stop (I have been accused of being a “maniac” about the vision)
- Create imagery to align with the goal (use it to tie everything together)
Engage the Team
- Involve everyone in the planning and execution
- Involve them more
- Break the problem down into manageable pieces, celebrate every milestone
- Celebrate the big contributors, have them teach others
- Learn from your skeptics, that bring them in to help
- Celebrate the skeptic turnaround stories
- Communicate constantly on the subject
Recognize Every Little Win
- Create a rally cry, celebrate every contribution and link it to the bigger picture
- Pay attention to what is working everywhere you go
- Make success easy to notice, celebrate loudly and everywhere
- Stay the course
In a complicated world we must do many things well. We must be “AND” leaders. I have also found that it is much more fun to also pick the home run in advance and leave nothing on the field when playing toward that goal.