Friday, September 12, 2014

Muffin Communication

I had a good laugh the other day while I was reminiscing.  I was my director's second in command.  She was someone I had a good working relationship with and often stood in for her for meetings and decision making.
Around Christmas time one year she was out of town for about 10 days or so.  On her very first day out of the office another director had dropped off some homemade muffins to her - muffins that, the directors, looked forward to every year. . . . I think you know where I'm going here.

Obviously, they would be stale before she got back so everyone in the office turned to me . . . almost in unison.  "Make an executive decision", they all said.  "It would be a shame to let them all get old."  So a decision I made.  They were delicious.

When our boss got back she was asked how the muffins were.  "Huh, what muffins?"  She wasn't too happy, and after everyone in the office pointed, went looking for - you guessed it - me.

Well after I made my many apologies - and hearing snickers from around the corner - I explained the reasoning behind it, and to make a long story short, everything was good.

This is a pretty light hearted example but it could have been something way worse.  Point is, this confrontation could have been avoided with an email, voice message, or even a sticky note.  Sometimes you need to make those executive decisions.  But ALWAYS be sure you keep the communication lines open.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Friend or Boss?

Today is release day for the 10th anniversary edition of The Secret: What Great Leaders Know and Do, by Ken Blanchard & Mark Miller. In honor of today's release, I'm pleased to be able to provide you a guest post by Mark Miller.

Whether you have read The Secret in the past or not, it is truely worth picking up this 10th anniversary edition. Besides the easy to read (and understand) business fable style,it includes a leadership self-assessment and answers to the most frequently asked questions about how to apply the SERVE model.

You'll want to get one for yourself and your team . . . this is a SECRET worth sharing.

One of my current projects involves traveling around the country speaking to audiences
filled with predominantly young leaders. This question came from this group. However, the question is not confined to young leaders… Can I be someone’s boss and their friend?

Although friend and boss may be a paradox, the answer is yes – you can be both. It is not only possible, I believe it’s desirable to have deep friendships at work.

First, the case for friends at work…

For most of us, we spend more waking hours at work than we do with our families. What a tragic place work would be if devoid of friendships.

Although friendship and community are not synonyms, they are closely related. Community is the turbo-charger of performance in a team-based organization.

The Gallup organization discovered that a “best friend” at work enhances performance. Statistically speaking, friendship is an elemental ingredient for full engagement.

How do you make it work?

Clear roles and expectations are critical. Do your friends, or potential friends, at work clearly understand what’s expected of them? Working with friends is no license to be sloppy about expectations or performance. On the contrary, I think you’ll find people will work harder, show more diligence and exercise more creativity for a friend than an enemy.

In the end, the mission, vision and values of the organization must trump personal friendships. As a leader, you are paid to help the organization create a preferred future. This is accomplished one goal at a time. That is your job. If you have a friend on the team and they cannot fulfill their role, you must respond accordingly. You must do your job and lead.

Maturity is required. I am not suggesting that working with friends is easy. I am suggesting, I wouldn’t want it any other way. The longer you lead, the easier this will become. Also, my guess is the more mature you become as a leader, the more you’ll want to go to work with friends.

Some of my best friends are men and women I work with every day. Many of them have been my direct reports at some point over the years. I’m glad I didn’t have to choose: friend or boss. Well, I guess I did choose – I chose both. You can too!

Mark Miller, Vice President of Organizational Effectiveness for Chick-fil-A, believes that leadership is not something that’s exclusive; within the grasp of an elite few, but beyond the reach of everyone else.  In the tenth anniversary edition of The Secret, Miller reminds readers of a seemingly contradictory concept: to lead is to serve. With more than 600,000 books in print, Mark has been surprised by the response and delighted to serve leaders through his writing.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Storyboard That Idea!

The storyboarding process actually started with Leonardo da Vinci but was revitalized and developed at the Walt Disney Studios in 1929 with the creation of Steamboat Willie. Since that time it has grown in popularity in movie and animation studios and has also moved into mainstream business.

Walt Disney World itself was planned exclusively via storyboarding in about 10 days. Walt Disney and Mike Vance saw that storyboarding could be adapted effectively for business planning in a mode they termed “displayed thinking.” Displayed thinking can be used for group problem-solving and strategic planning, such as in:

·         Decision Making
·         Strategic Planning
·         Decision Execution
·         Building Consensus and Buy-in
·         Processing Large Amounts of Information
·         Making the Plan Visible While it is Executed

There are 13 basic steps to the typical storyboarding process. You can just as easily go through this yourself for an individual project as you can with a group for a larger project. This is outlined well by the Iowa State University Extension:

1. State the Problem.
Be specific and concise.

2. Brainstorm and Post all Ideas.
Each idea is written in large letters on a separate card or piece of paper.

3. Share Ideas.
Participants talk about what they have written on the cards.

4. Review Each Card for Meaning.
Ask for clarification.

5. Sorting By Content.
In silence, participants begin sorting and grouping the items of similar content.

6. “Header Cards” Added.
Participants are given several “header cards” that are larger (and a different color) than the idea cards previously used.

7. Total Group Discusses the Groupings.
There may be a need to break some of the topics into smaller sub-topics.

8. “Symptoms” vs. “Causes.”
The focus should be on the root causes of the problem, not causes.

9. Vote for Consensus.
The group identifies the top three or four ideas.

10. Restate Header Cards Using A Verb.
Replace a noun with a verb.

11. Subtier Actions.
If subtier actions are necessary, post them under the header cards.

12. Assign Completion Date.
Assign a completion date to each item.

13. Post Dates and Name of Person Responsible.
Post dates and the name of the person responsible for each action item.

“Tell” instructions and half of them will be forgotten – tell a story and it will remembered.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Change Doesn't Have to Hurt

To have success with change requires flexibility and adaptability. If you can grab the reins and act as a change leader yourself, you’ll be personally helping in leading the organization to great achievements.

With change normally comes resistance. In order to lead change you need to know just what kinds of resistance there are. Here are just a few, listed in “Individual Resistance from Employees to Organizational Change”, by Dr. Chuang,Yuh-Shy:
·         Personal loss. Right or wrong, people are afraid they’ll lose something, particularly job security and pay.
·         Loss of pride and satisfaction. A concern about ending up with jobs that no longer require their abilities and skills.
·         Reduced responsibility. Jobs will be reduced to menial tasks without responsibility.
·         Loss of status. Loss of job titles, responsibility, or authority.

But on the other hand, there are probably more positive things to think about than negative.

Yuh-Shy lists things such as:
·         Personal gain. New job titles, more responsibility, more money, and more authority.
·         More security. Greater job security because of the need for increased skills. Possible salary increases.
·         More status/prestige. Possibly a new title or new office.
·         More responsibility or authority. Maybe new responsibility or a new supervisor who assigns more responsibility than the previous one did. This could lead to future promotions.

You know, if you really think about it, people actually love change. People constantly pursue promotions and new job responsibilities; buy personal development books and start their own businesses. They change careers, jobs, and even organizations – all in the name of change.

People love change – they just hate having to be forced to change.

You can help guide change no matter where you fall in the organizational chart. Being a change leader can put you in the position of being someone who has greater career potential. Christina Tangora Schlachter and Terry Hildebrandt, authors of “Leading Business Change For Dummies” say that you can begin to spark positive change by doing one simple thing . . . becoming proactive.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Rebuild Yourself

How many of you have ever been in the military? What’s the basic premise of boot camp? They break you down and build you back up “properly”. It doesn’t matter who you are or
where you came from, the best way - and quickest - to build you into a military leader is to knock you back and send you on a different path which will make you “all that you can be”. The next time you Google ‘leaders’, count how many military people - and not just officers - are included.
Sometimes you don’t realize it but you might just need a reality check - kind of like boot camp. Check out the tough love, tell it like it is books by Larry Winget. In his book, People Are Idiots and I Can Prove It!, Winget lays out a list for change for you:
  • Decide to change,
  • Know why it is important for you to change,
  • Be willing to do whatever it takes to change,
  • Do whatever it takes to change,
  • When you fail, dust yourself off and start again,
  • When you get there, celebrate!,
  • Move on, and
  • Become totally committed.
Make the decision, do what it takes, celebrate (don’t forget that one), and commit. Like the old Nike slogan says, “Just Do It”.
Remember - in whatever you’re doing, or will do, you just may fail or not live up to your own expectations - you’re a leader, not a robot. A true leader will be prepared for this and will be able to “dust yourself off and start again”.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Sprint Empowers "Social Media Ninjas" to Help in Turnaround

Today I'm happy and privileged to host a blog post by Bob Thompson, author of Hooked on Customers.

In 2007, Sprint’s customer satisfaction rating was 61, worst in the wireless telecom industry by a wide margin. Fast forward five years and CEO Dan Hesse had accomplished an amazing turnaround. Sprint’s ACSI score climbed ten points to an industry-leading 71—the biggest improvement of any company in any industry—and was ranked number one in call center satisfaction.

How did Hesse do it? Given the bleak situation, he could have continued to slash costs, hunker down, and hope for a buyer to rescue the company. Instead, taking a customer-centric approach, he directed the organization to fix its customer service problems and innovate to increase value to customers.

No doubt low morale was a factor in poor customer experiences. In the commentary surrounding the "Sprint 1000" debacle (the company fired customers due to excessive support requests), many said that the calls were the result of dealing with Sprint employees who could not take care of a problem, getting transferred around, and even being dropped and having to call back. In short, customers wanted more “one and done” calls.

I’ve written previously that authority, insights, and motivation are key to empowering call center agents to improve first call resolution (FCR) and delight customers. Sprint has invested in an array of call center technologies and software applications to help agents resolve service requests more effectively. However, it’s not clear that any specific solution had a transformative impact. Rather, it was Hesse’s decision to make customer experience a corporate goal, and the use of analytics to focus on the right problems, that made the biggest difference, in my view.

I do think Sprint made innovative use of social media to empower its employees to serve as “ambassadors” for the company. An offshoot of its “Employees Helping Customers” initiative, Social Media Ninjas was launched in 2010 to help improve Sprint’s reputation using social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Jennifer Sniderman, Sprint’s group manager of employee communications, said the program was inspired by discussions about “how to leverage outreach to customers as a competitive advantage.” Customers were taking to social media to vent about problems, so why not equip Sprint employees to engage and help? Sniderman said Ninjas were asked to “have an authentic conversation, talk about what you know, be friendly, help when you can, and answer questions.”

All too often, support issues are dumped on the contact center, including problems created in product development, marketing, or elsewhere. Sprint’s Social Media Ninjas program is a brilliant use of social media to unleash the influence of thousands of employees to rebuild its brand. As of December 2012, 2,700 Ninjas were helping to improve Sprint’s reputation using their personal networks to engage with customers. Inviting all employees to lend a hand helping customers also sends a message that delivering a great customer experience is everyone’s responsibility.

By 2013 employee morale had noticeably improved. On Glassdoor, one account executive employed for eight years called his experience a “wild, awesome ride” and gives Sprint management good marks for innovation, cleaning out poor performers, and listening to employees. Hesse has earned a 79 percent approval rating, significantly better than his peers at major wireless carriers.

About Bob
Bob Thompson is an international authority on customer-centric business management who has researched and shaped leading industry trends since 1998. He is founder and CEO of CustomerThink Corporation, an independent research and publishing firm, and founder and editor-in-chief of, the world's largest online community dedicated to helping business leaders develop and implement customer-centric business strategies. His book Hooked on Customers (April 2014) reveals the five habits of leading customer-centric firms.

For more information visit

Monday, June 9, 2014

Hooked On Customers

Listen – Think – Empower – Create – Delight.  There ya go, the 5 key organizational habits of customer-centric companies.  Some of you will say, “got it” . . . and fail.  Others will become curious and read Robert Thompson’s new book, HookedOn Customers: The Five Habits of Legendary Customer-Centric Companies . . . and succeed.  Bob gives us an abundance of research, interviews, and examples to help you outline your path to customer-centric success.

Contrary to what it should be, customer service is quite often just a department in many organizations.  It’s handled in one area by a few employees.  Customer-centric organizations, on the other hand, embrace the customer throughout the organization.  Bob takes a look at how various organizations do it right . . . and wrong – Home Depot, Apple, Best Western, JC Penny, Ryanair, Wells Fargo, Zappos (you’ll have to read the book to find out who’s good or not).

So many organizations focus too much just on the “hello’s” and “thank you’s”.  Those are all great – and needed, but Bob sums it up well when he says, “driving consumer loyalty is not as simple as providing great service.  Providing “the right stuff” at a fair price is still critical”.  What’s also critical are employee efforts in creating a desirable brand.  Keep in mind that your employees ARE part of your brand.

There’s no “best method” for driving loyalty but along with his years of research, Bob provides some very important questions to ask in order to know what to measure in your own research and development.

Bob Thompson is founder and CEO of research and publishing firm CustomerThink Corporation and editor-in-chief of, the world’s largest online community dedicated to helping business leaders develop and execute customer-centric business strategies. An author, keynote speaker and international authority on business management trends, he has been a thought leader in customer-centricity since 1998. Bob’s new book, Hooked on Customers, is now available on Amazon. Follow Bob on Twitter: @Bob_Thompson, and connect with him on LinkedIn.