The Unicorn of Continuous Improvement
— Two steps forward, two steps back…
Continuous Improvement… the unicorn of any contact center.
Yeah, I know. Continuous Improvement is the wonder child of any measurement-driven organization. The Holy Grail. It’s how we make incremental improvements over time, increasing our productivity, effectiveness and profitability. “It’s what we do.” So, hear me out before you go all “what’s this unicorn crap?” on me.
Thought I’d keep it light this month. It’s possible someone told me I’d been a little preachy lately… but what do they know?
How do you know you’re leading? What do you measure? What do you look for?
Consulting the great Google oracle, it looks like 73,300,000 people already know and have written about it. (Heaven forbid the Google breaks; how will I ever conduct my research?)
Since I didn’t see what I was looking for, I thought I’d share a couple of lessons I learned about a decade ago, shortly after I’d taken command of a few hundred motivated and talented Airmen and was voluntold at the last minute that I would be leading the entire wing on its monthly run.
Disclaimer: I hate running.
… never mind, I already know.
I’m gonna try to keep this upbeat, but the underlying issue is sad… and oh so preventable.
So many of your employees have these 8-track tapes running in their head that say things like “what’s wrong with me?” “I screwed it up, again” and “I’ll never get this right.” That’s because all they ever seem to hear about is what they messed up, what they’re doing wrong, and what they’re not doing fast enough.
You might hear it fairly often, too, but this isn’t about you.
… what’s dragging your team down?
Last week, I had a great conversation with an old boss (and friend) of mine who’s known me for 3+ decades. As I was standing in the lobby of his building, I read the press release about his being named as CEO of the Year by the local business journal.
In the interview for the article, he was asked “What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in business, and what can we learn from it?” His answer, “My biggest mistakes have been not to get rid of a few sub-standard employees fast enough — those who have a corrosive or detrimental effect on good employees,” got me to thinking about some of my clients who just can’t seem to bring themselves to let people go.
—aka: Communication for Dummies
Sometimes, I just plain suck at communicating effectively. If you doubt me, ask my wife, my girls, my best friend Kevin, or any of the bosses I’ve worked for in the last 40 years.
If you take a quick minute to reflect, you probably suck sometimes, too.
This has been on my heart lately because I’ve run into a rash of people who believe their team is singing off the same page when they’re not even in the same hymnal. Or maybe it’s the Christmas Crazies, I don’t know, but I keep encountering messages sent that are definitely not the messages received.
So, you ask, if I help clients communicate more effectively for a living, why do I suck at it so often?
Same reason you do. (more…)
— I hate to ask, but…
“Can I do something to help?”
“No thanks; I’ve got it.”
Sound familiar? At the office? At home? Yes, that short conversation takes place millions of times every day across this country in the workplace, in stores, in the kitchen, between co-workers, bosses and employees (both directions), spouses, and parents and their children – basically anywhere there are two people interested in a particular outcome.
Since this is part of a newsletter, let’s start in the workplace. We certainly don’t expect our employees to know everything, yet because many of them think and feel like we do, they’re hesitant to ask questions. As leaders, we get frustrated with team members who wait until the last minute to ask for help – or don’t ask for help at all – and things go to hell in a handbasket.
What makes us think it’s any different for our boss? It’s not.
Keep this in mind: you’re not a failure if you ask for help. You fail when you need it and don’t ask for it and the consequences create a crisis. If you don’t believe that applies to you, you might offer it as a piece of advice in your next coaching conversation.
So, why is it so dammed hard to ask for help? Easy… we have egos.
Successful people are helpers, not helpless, right? We think asking for help makes us look weak, undermining our credibility as a (insert self-description here). We may think that, but it’s not true! Pretending we don’t need help when it’s obvious that we do is what undermines our credibility.
Self-reliance can be both a strength and a self-limiting weakness. Especially at senior levels. We develop this huge blind spot about letting someone else lighten our load. Well, I’d like to offer a hint on what your first clue should be that you need help: someone says, “Can I do something to help?”
They obviously see something we don’t.
Okay, I hear you. You don’t need help. All I can ask is that you keep this in mind next time you get frustrated at someone who won’t ask for help.
How about we build a culture where people aren’t intimidated to ask for help by helping them understand the “when” and “how” to ask questions. I’ve heard it said that there’s no such thing as a stupid question, but I know better… I’ve heard some.
Let’s start with when. Here are five good times to ask for help:
- When you don’t know – you encounter a new process, new situation, new technology, new project, etc. Again, the world doesn’t expect you to know everything.
- When deadlines are in danger – someone else is usually depending on you to complete your part of the project or process on time; don’t disappoint them.
- When you don’t understand what’s expected – when you accept an expectation, you own it. Sometimes you have to gain clarity on just exactly what is being asked of you.
- When you’re curious – not in a judgmental way, but actually trying to learn why things are done in a certain way, where what you do fits into the larger effort, or when you don’t understand a decision. WARNING: watch your tone of voice when you ask.
- When you see an opportunity to develop someone – asking your team to help when you’re overwhelmed (or when you’re not) is an opportunity for you to practice empowerment and for them to grow in the organization.
Great! We’re almost there. Now that your team knows when to ask you for help, here are some tips for how to ask without sounding incompetent:
- Make sure you need it – you want to have tried it before your boss offers a simple solution. Start the discussion with “I tried…”
- Bring solutions, not problems – I wish I had a dollar for every time my daughters heard me say that. You need to be able to say “Here are the options I see…”
- Be S-M-A-R-T – ask for the help you need, or you’ll get more help than you want. Make your request for assistance specific, meaningful, actionable, realistic and time-bound.
- Don’t be a martyr – just because you wait until the last minute doesn’t mean it’ll only take a minute. The last thing you want to hear from your boss is “Why didn’t you come to me sooner?”
You didn’t ask for my help, but I’m not surprised. You already knew all of this. And I don’t think I’ll let my wife or Kevin Berchelmann read this. I can already hear them thinking “Physician, heal thyself!”
The Beatles had it right:
Help! I need somebody.
Help! Not just anybody.
Help! You know I need someone, help!