How to build loyalty

This is not theory.  This is not guesswork.  This is the real deal.

A few weeks ago I was working with a client and got to speaking with one of the long term (30+ years) employees.  He told me a story about a meeting he had with the company owner back in his first year.  Here is what he said:

“Back then, it was almost unheard of for someone who had only been with the company for a short time to be in a meeting with the owner.  But, there I was.

I was nervous, and didn’t want to say or do the wrong thing. About 1/2 way through the meeting, the owner’s secretary comes into the room and hands me a note.

The owner could tell something was wrong by the look on my face, so he asked to see the note.

I handed it to him and then he asked me, “What are you waiting for? We can do this meeting another time. Get out of here.”

The note said that my son had broken his arm at school and that he and my wife were on their way to the hospital.  Being new, and not wanting to screw up, I was conflicted with what I should do.  This meeting was a big deal, at least in my mind.

But the owner saw it differently.  He knew that family came first, and more importantly, not to make people choose between family and the company.  

From that day on, my loyalty has been pledged to this organization.”

So often we hear managers complain about the lack of loyalty they see from their employees.  If this story is any indication, it’s likely because the managers haven’t shown any loyalty or caring to their employees first… they haven’t made the first investment in the relationship.

Like respect and trust, loyalty is not given – it’s earned.  You don’t get to complain about someone not being loyal to you if you have not shown them that you are worthy of being loyal to.  And as a leader, you HAVE to take the first step.

As we saw above, sometimes that comes from encouraging an employee to put other interests above work.  Eeeek, I know!!

Let’s say Johnny has to leave work early to go to football camp.  What if, instead of complaining about it, you actually encouraged him?  Ask him how long he’s been playing football… what position does he play?  Does he have a favorite team?  Show some interest in what he is interested in.

This shows that you value him as a person, not just as an employee.  Value builds trust, trust builds respect, and respect builds loyalty.  And loyal employees come back to help out when they can.  Maybe Johnny’s practices interfere with the park’s schedule in August, but in September and October, when he is free on Sunday, he will be more likely to come back to work for the person who made him feel good about pursuing his passion rather than the person who made him feel bad because he wouldn’t be there to make funnel cakes.

I think this gives additional perspective to the reality that people don’t leave companies, they leave leaders.  This also means that they stay, or come back, because of the leaders who understand that giving loyalty first is the only way to earn it.

Thanks for reading!

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AIMS Communication Review – Part 5

Welcome to the final installment of our AIMS Communication Review series.  In case you missed the first 4, here ya go!

AIMS Communication Review – Part 1

AIMS Communication Review – Part 2

AIMS Communication Review – Part 3

AIMS Communication Review – Part 4

And, we’re off…

Biggest communication struggle: When I need to council or discipline

Nobody likes to hear that they screwed up or could be doing better, right?  Not so fast.

It’s usually not the message that people object to, it’s the way the message is delivered. Ergo, “don’t kill the messenger.”  Since we are the messenger, it’s in our best interest to develop some survival skills.

First and foremost, we must not look at these situations as adversarial.  You know, us vs. them.  It’s our job to help our employees get better, and that means that we sometimes have to correct a behavior or action.  We may also have to document that behavior if a policy has been violated.

When it comes to having the conversation, your opening and the words you choose can set the tone for the entire experience.  Here are some examples:

“Karen, I can’t believe you got another guest complaint.  Your attitude is really slipping.  I had such high hopes for you in the beginning of the season.”

–OR–

“Karen, thanks for coming in.  I wanted to talk about some of the recent guest complaints that have come in, specifically the ones that mentioned you.  What can you tell me about those situations?”

The first one is very accusatory, and doesn’t give Karen much of a chance to tell her side of the story.  In fact, I could see Karen getting very defensive, which wouldn’t be very productive for the conversation.

What was different about the second one?  We acknowledged Karen’s willingness to participate, stated what we wanted to talk about, then immediately gave Karen an opportunity to share her perspective.  By approaching this as a way to help Karen, we are setting ourselves (and Karen) up for a much more meaningful and effective conversation.

Sometimes, even after the best opening, an employee could still try to deflect the blame on to someone else.  I’ll bet you have all heard things like:

“What about Jeremy?  He’s been getting guest complaints, too!”

“Really?  I wasn’t even trained for that position.  How could I be expected to know what to do?”

“It’s not my fault, we didn’t have the tools needed to do the job. Weren’t you supposed to get those for us?”

…and the list goes on.

The goal, of course, is to steer you away from the topic and place the blame elsewhere.  But you won’t be falling for that because you prepared for this conversation.  You thought of some of the objections or roadblocks the employee might throw at you and were prepared with a response.  For example:

“What about Jeremy?  He’s been getting guest complaints, too!” “We’re not talking about Jeremy, we’re talking about you.”

“Really?  I wasn’t even trained for that position.  How could I be expected to know what to do?”  “I’ve seen you in the position many times, and I know that Grant trained you.  You’ve actually done it very well in the past.”

“It’s not my fault, we didn’t have the tools needed to do the job. Weren’t you supposed to get those for us?” “Actually, yes, and they arrived last week. I saw three of your co-workers using them the very next day.”

Certainly your answers will vary based on the situation, but the point is to be prepared by taking the time before the conversation to think through some of these scenarios.

Biggest communication struggle: Don’t always relay the intended message

When hearing this, my first question is: how do you know?

Did someone not do what you asked them to do?  Did they badger you with follow-up questions that they should have known based on what you said?  Did you hear them relaying your message to someone else and they missed the mark?

If you do know that you haven’t relayed the intended message, there are two places to look: at you as the message originator and the other person, as the message receiver.

Here are some questions to ask about YOU:

  • Do I fully understand the message?
  • Have I taken time to explain all aspects of the message?
  • Have I made any assumptions about the message receiver (i.e. word choice, previous knowledge or experience)?
  • Have I emphasized or prioritized the most important parts of the message?

And also some questions about the RECEIVER:

  • Are they ready, willing, and able to receive the message?
  • Do they have any preconceived ideas that would cloud the message?
  • Have you had successful communications with them in the past?  If so, what made it successful?
  • Are there, or will there be, distractions that take away from the delivery of the message?
  • How will you check for understanding with this person?

That last one is pretty powerful… if you THINK there may be a discrepancy, how will you find out before it’s too late?  There are a number of ways to check for understanding or comprehension.  After you have relayed your message, you could ask:

  • Does that make sense?
  • What questions do you have?
  • How would you explain this to someone else?

Each of these offer a different level of feedback regarding their comprehension.  The first may just be a head nod.  Okay, they think they get it.  The second allows them to clarify anything they don’t get, but they may not know what they don’t know.  The last one allows you to hear, in their own words, how they would relay this message to someone else.  This should let you know if you are on the right track with that person or not.

Biggest communication struggle: Accepting change

For the last one of these that we’re going to tackle, this is a doozie.

Change.  Wow.  Okay.

Speaking from personal experience, I can tell you that not all change is created equal.  Some change is easy to deal with and accept, some is not.  Let’s start there.

Change that is easy to accept is usually change that we initiate or immediately agree with.  I’m guessing that the person who submitted this was not having trouble accepting changes that they suggested, so…

On to the changes we that we didn’t choose, don’t agree with or don’t understand.

  • Sometimes we resist change because we think the change will harm us.
  • Sometimes we resist change because we think we won’t be able to keep up (although we rarely admit this one)
  • Sometimes we resist change because we can’t see what the true outcome is going to be (so our mind automatically goes for the worst case scenario)
  • Sometimes we resist change solely because of the person who suggested it

That’s a lot of reasons and ways we can resist change. Ultimately these all stem from our comfort zone, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  We create our comfort zones for survival, to put us in a confident position to deal with whatever comes at us.  They really are a way for us to protect ourselves.  The problem is when you get stuck in your comfort zone… you may be safe, but you also can’t grow and improve from there.

For some people change equals pain, or even perceived pain.  Dr. Henry Cloud gives us some perspective on the relationship between pain and change:

“We change our behavior when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing. Consequences give us the pain that motivates us to change.”

Yes, change can bring on pain.  But staying the same can also bring the pain.

Think of a business owner who is losing money.  If they stay the same, they will likely go out of business.  If they do something to change, it could be scary, but it could also save the business.  The pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of changing.

For you to accept change, you have identify and possibly redefine the “pain” so you can make a better decision for you, your team, your family, or your company.  Let’s look at our list again…

  • Sometimes we resist change because we think the change will harm us.  Ask yourself, ‘what’s the worst that could happen?’ If it doesn’t involve death or dismemberment, it might be worth a try.
  • Sometimes we resist change because we think we won’t be able to keep up (although we rarely admit this one).  Honestly assess the skill you think you may or may not be able to handle.  Ask for others opinions and advice.  No one expects everyone to be an expert at everything.  A person who embraces a change, learns from it and gets better will be for more well respected (and valuable) than the curmudgeon who stifles the change out of fear or ignorance.
  • Sometimes we resist change because we can’t see what the true outcome is going to be (so our mind automatically goes for the worst case scenario). See step one (what’s the worst that could happen?), but also run through REALISTIC scenarios about possible outcomes.  Seek out the opinions and perspectives of those who DO agree to see why they think this is a good thing.  Listen with an open mind when they tell you!
  • Sometimes we resist change solely because of the person who suggested it.  Learn to identify this when it happens.  You know the people who push your buttons… don’t poo-poo a good idea just because it came from someone you may not get along with.  This could be the idea that takes the business to the next level… get over your differences and be able to admit when a good idea is a good idea.

And that’s it!!  We made it to the end of our AIMS Communication Review Series.  If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below.  If you have additional communication struggles that you would like to address, feel free to contact me directly at matt@performanceoptimist.com.

Thanks for reading!

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AIMS Communication Review – Part 4

So far we’ve covered 9 major communication struggles submitted during the AIMS Safety Seminar in January.

AIMS Communication Review – Part 1

AIMS Communication Review – Part 2

AIMS Communication Review – Part 3

Here are 3 more:

Biggest communication struggle: Being approachable by others

It’s REALLY hard to communicate if others don’t feel like they can approach you.  The remedy to this is firmly seated in the concept of actions speaking much louder than words.

This is partly because we “listen” with our eyes, as well as our ears.  Since seeing is believing, we tend to believe the things we see over the things we hear.  And here’s why…

Most of our communication from another person comes from body language.  There are many studies out there about this, but the one I am most familiar with puts body language, or non-verbals, at about 55% of the communication.  55%.  That’s over half, sports fans.

That means that over half of what we BELIEVE about what someone is telling us is communicated not through words, but through their actions.  So… when you tell someone that you are “listening”, but you are also checking your phone or finishing an email on your computer, you are sending a mixed message at best.  As worst, and I hate to be a pessimist here, you are stating that you are actually NOT listening and that you have better things to do.

Ergo… unapproachable.

Be conscience of your approach when others are trying to approach you… you are likely somehow putting off a vibe that you really don’t want to be bothered, otherwise people would believe you when you say your door is always open.

Watch your actions (distractions), facial expressions, body posture and tone in your reply.  You can smile, lean in, and make eye contact while someone is talking to you, but if your reply is snarky, or filled with  “that was the dumbest thing I have ever heard” words, tone and expressions, you will erase all of your approachable goodwill.

Biggest communication struggle: Clarity when communicating with certain people

THOSE PEOPLE!  Everyone has certain people that just rub you the wrong way, or that you have trouble getting through to.  They likely aren’t going to change, so you have to find a way to adapt to be successful.

And chances are, you are already doing this to some extent.  You already know that there are some people you can joke with, some you can’t.  Some people crave the facts, others shoot from the hip.  There is no right or wrong, they are just different.

To me, this is where understanding behavioral and communication tendencies is most helpful (like using the DiSC profile to determine communication styles).  Knowing that a different style isn’t a personal attack goes a long way in encouraging patience and understanding.  We are all “wired” a certain way, and sometimes those “ways” are at odds with each other.

When that happens, it’s important to know what the other person wants and needs in terms of communication.  If they need facts and data, give them that.  If they need time to process, give them that.  If they need direct and efficient answers… do you see where this is going?  Being clear with another person is about their clarity, not yours.

When I hear leaders say things like, “they should know better!”  I challenge them and say, “why?  Why should they know better?”  “Well, they just should!”  Have you taken the time to show them, have you taken the time to answer their questions, have you observed them to know if they do know better or not?  Maybe you weren’t as clear as you needed to be for them.  It was clear in your mind, but clearly not theirs.

If you pay attention, people will tell you what they need.

When someone interrupts: (they could just be rude!) but it could also be because your message is jumbled and lacking focus.  They don’t get it, and need to understand the first part before moving on to the second part.

When someone doesn’t initially respond: They likely need time to process everything you just said. They take it all in and THEN formulate their response.  If you keep talking, they will keep processing.  You need stop periodically to give them time to respond.

When someone responds with something from left field: Chances are they are distracted by other things going on or they completely misinterpreted what you said.  You can try your message again in a different way, or find a better time when other distractions are minimized.

When it comes to communication, what works for you does not always work for others. Your job as a leader is to adapt to give them what they need, so you can get what you need.

Biggest communication struggle: Handling insulting, violent people who exaggerate

In my experience, people who hurl insults, get violent and exaggerate for effect are doing so because of some unmet emotional need, or some issue that has not been resolved.

That means that we have to deal with the emotion first, before any other logical conversation can take place.  This is also about what you tolerate as a leader.

And I’d like to start there first, with what you tolerate.  There are things that we encourage as leaders, and there are things we tolerate.  If we tolerate insulting, violent, exaggerating behavior, then we have no one else to blame but ourselves when it continues to happen. You have to know where your, and your companies standards of behavior are, and I would imagine that most employee handbooks contain a section that specifically denounces these behaviors, and even outlines steps for disciplinary action.  If that’s the case and it’s still happening, you have an enforcement problem.  That’s on you.

What if it’s a guest?  I was once dealing with an upset guest who stated, in front of my staff and any other guest within earshot, that “If this company was run by Jewish people, it would be run much differently”.  And while her comment was actually intended to say that Jewish people knew how to run a business, it was completely inappropriate in that setting.  My next statement was, “this conversation is over, I am going to ask you to leave the park now.”

She then did a 180… apologizing for her comment and becoming much easier to talk to because she knew her shenanigans were not going to be tolerated.

Getting back to the emotional issues, I find that the L.A.S.T. model is extremely effective in diffusing these situations.

Listen – listen to what they have to say, let them vent (to a point if they are getting insulting, violent and loud).

Apologize/Acknowledge – If an apology is needed, even if you were not at fault, say so.  A sincere “I’m sorry” will diffuse a lot of anger. Sometimes, an acknowledgement of the situation is more appropriate. “I understand you are upset, and I want to help.  I can’t do that if you are being inappropriate.  This behavior is unacceptable and cannot continue if you want me to help you.”

Solve – Now, once you talked the person off the ledge or acknowledged the situation, you can work toward a resolution.

Thank – This is another acknowledgement… “thank you for allowing me to help”, “thank you for being calm and working through the issue”… whatever is appropriate.  It’s a nice way to close it out.

Specifically for the exaggerators, once you have them calmed down, you can ask if the situation was really as bad as they said, or present some counter data that would allow them to save face and see the true story.  Last thing you want to do once you have someone calm enough to discuss things logically is to stir the pot and rile them up again.

Thanks for reading.  Stay tuned for Part 5, our last installment of the series!

Matt

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AIMS Communication Review – Part 3

Aloha! This is post 3 of the series, and just this morning I determined that there will be 2 more after this. So buckle up, and get ready to tackle YOUR communication struggles!

Biggest communication struggle: Tact

For this one, I thought it would be a good idea to look at the definition:

Tact: a keen sense of what to say or do to avoid giving offense; skill in dealing with difficult or delicate situations. – Dictionary.com

I think another way to put this is… “how to not make things worse.”  Which is something we have all done in the past.

Unfortunately, tact is something you learn by actually making things worse… at first. Certainly this is not your intent, but you don’t develop “a keen sense of what to say or do to avoid giving offense” without at some point doing or saying something that DID give offense.  The more you interact with people, the more you develop that sense.

That is not to say that you can’t apply what you have learned about one person to the interactions you have with another. You absolutely can use those experiences as a guide – but remember that everyone is different, and you also need to take into account what you know about that individual to determine what is going to make things worse, or give offense.

Spider-man has his spidey-sense that helps alert him to imminent danger.  You need to develop a similar sense in yourself that alerts you to when you are about to make things worse.

The definition also mentions “skill in dealing with difficult or delicate situations”.  What makes the situation difficult or delicate?  Generally, it’s the people you are interacting with (their personality or behavioral trends) or the subject matter.  To me, the ultimate use of ‘tact’ is when you have to tell someone something that they really don’t want to hear.

Let’s say an employee did not get the promotion they were going for.  One approach would be to say, “You didn’t get it.  Too bad, so sad”.  Pretty easy to see that those last 4 words were not only inappropriate, but most likely will make a difficult, potentially awkward situation, worse.

Using a little more tact, you would take into consideration what kind of employee they are, how far away from being qualified were they, and how much of the relationship do you want to preserve?  This is where your powers of observation and perception come in, to guide your keen sense of what to do and how to approach the individual.  You probably want to communicate WHY they didn’t get the promotion, and offer up any insight you have about what they could have done to increase their chances of consideration in the future.  If you want this employee to continue to be a productive member of the staff, you have to approach this with their thoughts, feelings, impressions and desires in mind.

Most likely when you take all of those things into consideration, you will be acting with the appropriate amount of tact.

Biggest communication struggle: Not listening

Huh?  What’d you say?

Whoever wrote this is not alone.  Listening is a HUGE issue for many of us.  We unfortunately now live in a society that, in public arenas, does not value true listening, but stating your case at all costs.  There is no better example of ineffective communication than two people screaming at, and over, each other.

You said what you wanted to say, good for you.  No one was listening.  It’s like that question about the tree falling in the woods… it does make a sound, but no one is there to hear it, so it doesn’t matter.

If you know that listening is an issue for you, there are two major questions to ask yourself (and be honest with the answer, ‘cuz it doesn’t work any other way).

  • Are there particular situations that I find it more difficult to truly listen?
  • Are there specific people I tend not to listen to?

Notice I said nothing about the physical ability to hear. That’s because hearing and listening are two different things.  It takes ears and the mechanisms in the ear canal to “hear” it takes an open mind to “listen”.

If you identified certain situations where it’s more difficult to listen, what are the common factors?  Do you not like or understand the subject matter, does it not interest you, do you have opposing view points, is it due to distractions, either physical or mental…?  The list goes on… Whatever you have identified, is there a way for you to get over that roadblock so you CAN listen?  Even if you don’t like the subject matter, if you find that it’s important information you can use for your job, it can be easier to digest and willingly listen to.

If it’s a person, examine the level of trust and respect you have for them. We tend not to actively listen to those we don’t trust.  It’s survival thing. Work on the trust and you’ll increase your ability to listen to them.

Listening takes focus, and it’s a skill you can develop. The distractions you create for yourself, the inner story you tell yourself that may or may not be true, clouds your ability to take in information more than any external factors ever could.  The next time you feel yourself not listening, no matter the situation, try this:

  • Clear your mind of assumptions and preconceived notions from the past
  • Avoid the temptation to judge what you are hearing as its being said
  • Allow the other person to speak without interruption
  • Ask unassuming, non-threatening questions to clarify meaning and intent
  • THINK before you respond (see post 1 for a piece on being patient)
think

This works for ‘tact’, too!

 

Biggest communication struggle: Hot headed/emotions clouding communication

I’m not sure if these folks meant that other peoples’ hot headedness was clouding the communication or if it was their own. If others are getting hot headed, please refer to exhibit A & B (the previous topics in this post).  If YOU are the hot head, read on.

We are emotional creatures, and that’s not something that will change. Emotions often drive our thoughts, which drive our behaviors.  Sometimes when we think about things too much, and our multiplied thoughts actually drive our emotions, which drive our behaviors.  Either way, our emotions are in the drivers seat, or are at least riding shotgun.

That means we need to be acutely aware of the things that DO boil our blood, and how to remain tactful (again, see exhibit A) in those situations. If you already know what kinds of things get under your skin, you can brace yourself when you sense them coming and CHOOSE to take a different path.

Since everything we do is a choice, choosing how you react to a situation is up to you – even if it angers you to the point of a vein popping out of your forehead.  The key is to be ready for it… remember that a pot of water on a stove doesn’t boil (or boil over) immediately.  It takes time to reach the right temperature.  You generally have a “warming period” that you can use to examine the situation and choose a different path.  Take a deep breath.  Consider your options. Consider what blowing a gasket will do and how it probably is not the best scenario in the long run.  Take another deep breath.  Count to ten. Don’t you feel better already?

And you are probably thinking clearer, too, which can only help in the long run.

But what about those situations where you seem to go from 0 to 700 MPH in a split second?  Well, you either don’t know your triggers, or other things have been building up that you have not addressed. When we don’t address things (i.e. closure), our emotions don’t get a sense of resolve; they still feel uneasy or unsettled.  That’s like a bomb just waiting to go off… and you may never see who lit the fuse or just how short the fuse was.

The next time that happens, take a minute afterwords to replay the incident in your mind.  Was there a trigger this time, or was this a little thing that is equivalent to the straw breaking the camel’s back?  If so, what are the unresolved issues that have been ignored and that need to be dealt with?

One last thing that helps control or reduce our hot headed outbursts is trying to understand the other point of view.  It’s not always easy, but if you have an appreciation of where they are coming from, you will see that they probably have some validity, even some things in common with what you are saying.  If you are too busy trying to yell over them and make YOUR case, you’ll never hear that.  And they won’t actually listen to you, either, no matter how loud you yell.

Thanks for reading!

Matt

Okay, so that was a long one.  How about no more reading for now?  Instead, here are two nerds on a roller coaster.  Can anyone tell what coaster this is?

img_7876

 

AIMS Communication Review – Part 2

In case you missed part 1 of the series, it can be found here: AIMS Communication Review – Part 1.

On with the struggles!

Biggest communication struggle: Asking for help.

If you need help as a leader, good luck.  You should know everything and be able to do everything all by yourself and on your own.

As if.

No one, despite trying to convince you otherwise, knows everything.  As an emerging leader, you don’t know everything either. Heck, seasoned leaders (the good ones) know that they still have stuff to learn and that they need help.

I think there is a BIG misconception out there among new leaders that asking for help is a sign of weakness.  It’s not.  It’s actually a very confident demonstration of strength of character and a willingness to get better.

Some of the most well respected leaders I know (with titles like CEO) ask for help.  They ask for it from the peers, outside counsel, their employees, their families… basically anywhere they can get it.  As you mature as a leader, you start to understand the vastness of the things you don’t know and can’t do.  You realize you can’t possibly have all the information, nor can you be an expert at everything.  If you don’t ask for help, you’ll be sunk.

So ask for help. It’ll show how strong you really are.

Biggest communication struggle: Not getting to the point.

Why do we not get to the point?  Do we not know what the point is, or are we afraid of the reaction of those who are receiving the point?  Two very different scenarios.

If we don’t know the point, how do we figure it out?  Are we relaying information to our team that we aren’t clear on… a new initiative, promotion or mandate from the top?  Remember when we talked about asking for help? Ask for clarification.  Make sure you CLEARLY understand before trying to explain it to others.

If we are afraid of the consequences, it can cause us to beat around the bush and sugarcoat the true message.  That’s really not fair to the person you are talking to.  They deserve the truth, and for the truth to be delivered in a clear, respectful and productive way. It can help to think through the conversation and it’s many possible outcomes BEFORE jumping in.  Consider the ultimate outcome you are going for so you have an idea of where you are going (like a GPS when driving).  State the facts, avoid interjecting too much emotion and be brief.

The other danger of beating around the bush is that it can take a long time… we may start rambling, trying to find just the right thing to say.  That’s counterproductive to the conversation.

Biggest communication struggle: Not being able to say no.

Here’s the conundrum… as a new leader, you want to do well. You want to please your boss, you want to please your employees, you want to do whatever it takes to be successful. What’s the opposite of all that?  Saying no.

But here’s the thing… you also have a responsibility to yourself.  I know, I know… you’re a selfless workaholic who can handle the pressure – in fact you work best under pressure.

Good for you, but you won’t be able to sustain this.  Trust me.

Emerging leaders often don’t know what the true time commitment is for all the stuff they take on.  They don’t realize how much time they do or don’t have.  They don’t know because they don’t have the experience yet.  That leads to the idea that they can say yes to everything.  And they would be wrong.

Instead of a blanket YES when asked to do something, think through a few things:

  • How long will this take?  Since you may not know, ask.  If your boss is asking you to do something, ask how long they think it will take (hopefully they at least have an idea).  Also ask about a deadline and any resources that are available.  Maybe you can divide and conquer.
  • Is this aligned with your current goals?  First, if you don’t know your goals, start there. Now you can determine if the ‘ask’ is in line with where you want to do and what you need to do.  Maybe it’s something you REALLY want to do but has little to do with what you SHOULD be doing… would you do it?

Still having trouble saying no?  Think of this… when you say YES to something, you are actually saying NO to something else.  Saying YES to staying late, you are saying NO to spending time with family or friends.  Saying YES to taking on a special project, you are saying NO to the time you can spend with your employees.

These are not hard and fast rules, as there are times when you absolutely should say YES.  Just as there are times to say no.  Of course the key is balance, and having the ability and guts to say no when the situation is right to do so.

That’s six communication struggles down and more still to go.  Probably enough for at least one more post.  Stay tuned!

Thanks for reading!

Matt

Reading is fundamental!

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AIMS Communication Review – Part 1

Last week at the AIMS Safety Seminar in Orlando, I had the pleasure of teaching the “Operational Leadership and Communication” course.  If there is anything, in my mind, that goes together like peanut butter and jelly, it’s leadership and communication!

After going through a communication assessment to determine their strengths, everyone wrote down their biggest communication struggle and turned it in to me.  Then as a group, we all brainstormed ways to over come that particular issue.  It was a great opportunity to learn from everyone in the room.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to get to them all, and some students have already emailed me asking to address their particular trouble spots.  If you were in the class, I am happy to do that for you, too.  In the meantime, I thought I would use the blog to address some of the ones that many people seem to be struggling with.

Here we go!

Biggest communication struggle: Being patient with others’ opinions.

You are not alone!  In class we talked about the fact that listening has more to do with an open mind than anything else.  When we hear someone state an opinion that is different from ours, we have a few choices.

  1. Immediately launch into a rebuttal
  2. Think about what to say, then respond
  3. Say nothing at all

Too often, option 1 is taken and that rarely ends well.  In order to make options 2 or 3 a reality, it takes patience, and what allows us to be patient more than anything else?

Thinking of things from the other person’s perspective.  Since there are (at least) two sides to every story, first consider that yours might not be right, or at least it’s not the story that the other person believes.

Take a deep breath.  Try to imagine where they care coming from.  Put yourself in their shoes.  Consider your previous impact on the situation. THEN, feel free to respond.

Biggest communication struggle: Being vocal

This came up a few times, and it doesn’t surprise me considering the class was full of leaders who are still developing their chops. Expressing your thoughts to your peers, employees or even management can be tough… there is a lot of fear that can encircle those situations.

  1. Fear of rejection – either the idea or you as a person
  2. Fear of sounding stupid – you’ll fumble your words and sound incompetent
  3. Fear of indifference – there will be no reaction, just awe-inspiring silence

These are legit, but can be overcome!  Best way to do that?  Just do it.  Work up the gumption, plan what you are going to say and state your case.  As a leader, you MUST have the confidence to state your position or vision.  If you know of a better way, SAY IT!

One way to bolster your confidence to speak up is to do a trial run with some trusted allies.  Let’s say you know the topic at the next manager meeting is going to be reducing guest complaints.  You have sort of an out-of-the-box idea that you fear will get shunned if spoken aloud.  Try it out on a few people one-on-one to gauge their reaction.

Also ask yourself, “what’s the worst that can happen?”  If you won’t die or lose your job, you can handle just about anything else.  And we always make it worse in our minds than it really is.  PLUS, you may have the winning idea, the suggestion that saves the company from total ruin!  You don’t want to hold that back, do you?

Biggest communication struggle: Expecting people to know what I am talking about.

Hello, McFly! We don’t all get it, get it? Seriously, this is something we all suffer from at one time or another.  Why? Because we forget that other people can’t read our minds.

Think of all the knowledge that you have accumulated over the years.  What are the chances that someone else has the exact same database of knowledge and information rolling around in their skull?  Very slim.  So, we can’t take our communication for granted.

I love it when I hear managers say, “he should really know that!”.  Really?  How?  Do you know that he knows that?  Do you know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they have the knowledge and context to reach the same conclusion?  If not, get your specifics ready because that’s what it will take to avoid confusion.

If you have been with your company for a while, you know lots of stuff and jargon that a lot of new employees don’t know yet.  You have the benefit of time and experience.  They have someone getting frustrated with them because they don’t understand your abbreviations or nomenclature.  Don’t blame them.  Blame you for either not explaining it or assuming that someone else did.

I think this one goes along with being patient.

And we’re back.

There were a bunch more struggles that I will save for future posts.  In the meantime, if you have questions about communication, leadership, or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, my inbox is always open.  Drop me a note anytime!

Thanks for reading!

Matt

What? You want to read more?  Might I suggest:

Company culture – aahhhhhhh!!!!!

What the heck is company culture?  SO MUCH has been written about it… so many people are talking about it… but what is it?  And more importantly, how do you get the culture you WANT in your company??

Our first order of business is to establish this fact: every business HAS a culture.  You already have an accepted way of doing things… it just may not be the way you WANT to do them.

So instead of trying to create a culture, you should probably be focused on changing the culture – which is ultimately more difficult, but not impossible.

If you went to the IAAPA Attractions Expo (#IAE16), you noticed a culture.  Remember that feeling when you walked into an education session or onto the trade show floor?  That palpable feeling of excitement, anticipation, and camaraderie, that you were sharing this experience with 30,000 of your closest friends?  That’s the “culture” of IAAPA, and it didn’t happen overnight.

And your current company culture didn’t just appear overnight, either. It has taken years of influence from you, previous leaders, and unofficial leaders (those without a title, but with plenty of influence). Notice I said influence, but didn’t assign a positive or negative spin to it.  The fact is that company culture is driven by both.

And here is the problem I have seen over the years… leaders start out with every intention of creating (or changing to) a positive culture, and they define the actions needed to get there.  Unfortunately, what they overlook is how to deal with the negative influences that creep up… the people who are not fully bought in… the curmudgeons who would rather see things stay the same (no matter how dysfunctional), and time.  The true time investment it will take to change the way people think, act, and perform their jobs.

Hopefully if you were at #IAE16, you took advantage of some of the educational sessions put on by the HR Committee.  Each of the sessions we planned had “culture” as our over-arching topic, then we divided it into subtopics, such as:

  • Recognition
  • Communication
  • Training
  • Leadership/Supervisory development
  • Recruiting/hiring
  • Onboarding
  • Front line staff development
  • Diversity
2016 Human Resources Symposium

2016 Human Resources Symposium at #IAE16

Even if you didn’t get to these sessions, the above topics can serve as a road map to changing your own culture.  Think it’s just about leadership?  Nope.  Gotta have the right people on board.  Think it’s just about proper training?  Nope.  Gotta have the right people processes in place.  It’s all connected.

It goes back to something you have probably heard me talk about before… the Employee Lifecycle.  Thinking about ALL of the factors that influence an employee’s experience (from recruiting to termination) is a necessary part of creating, defining, establishing and altering your company culture.

The Employee Lifecycle.  Don’t leave home without it.

So where does this leave us?  If you are trying to change your culture, know that it’s not going to be an overnight process.  Know that you are going to have stumbling blocks along the way (like people who don’t want to change).  Know that it will not come from a wall poster or new fancy set of values that you come up with but don’t uphold with your actions.  That’s the biggest culture killer of all… mixed messages when it comes to what you say you stand for.

Case in point – Over Thanksgiving, I was talking with my 26-year-old niece, Samantha, who works at a social media tech company in Austin, TX.  At one point, she said she really liked the company culture.  So I had to ask, what is it that you like?  She mentioned two main things:

  • The values of the company were widely accepted by the employees, and those who didn’t fit with the culture didn’t find themselves employed very long.  One example was that it’s an expectation to seek help when needed, to find ways to better yourself with the assistance of others on the team.  Those who felt they were the smartest people in the room, or that didn’t accept coaching or feedback, ultimately didn’t grow or build the right kind of relationships with those around them.  This is a case of the culture taking care of those who don’t fit the culture.
  • She knows what the values “look like” and how her daily actions uphold the company vision.  This is why fancy posters with verbose mission statements don’t work.  Without the right kind of reinforcement, people don’t even know what they mean, let alone know what they would have to DO to uphold or achieve the mission.  If an employee can’t see how their daily behaviors impact the bigger picture, they will never understand, nor buy into, the culture you are trying to create.  They just won’t.

Related: 3 Ways To Improve Company Culture

Here are my bottom line must-do’s when thinking about changing your culture.

  • Decide what culture you want
  • Figure out what it takes (behaviorally) to get there.  Do that. Everyday.
  • Pursue your cultural goal relentlessly – DO NOT LET UP!
    • Hire people that will support your culture
    • Fire people who won’t
  • If something doesn’t fit your culture, don’t do it – no matter how expedient it might be.  You will only be hurting yourself.

Ultimately your culture will be what you decide it should be minus what you allow that it shouldn’t be.

Thanks for reading!!

Matt

The Myth of Employee Burnout shows leaders how each facet of the Employee Lifecycle is critical to keeping employees engaged.  For a limited time, use coupon code IAE16 to take 10% off!  Click here to order now!

(Additional bulk discounts will automatically be applied at checkout)

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Something positive worth shouting from the rooftops

On October 4-5, I was scheduled to work with the leadership team at Zoo Miami. Unfortunately, this was also the time frame that Hurricane Matthew was ripping it’s way through the tropics with an eye on the eastern Florida coast.

Because hurricanes are hard to predict further that 12 hours out (despite being talked about around-the-clock), we weren’t sure when, or how significantly, the Miami area would be affected. We got through our Tuesday and Wednesday morning programs with no issues, but it was decided that we would postpone our Wednesday afternoon sessions so that employees could prepare the zoo, their homes, and their families, and I could try to get a flight out before the airlines felt the need to suspend operation.

This is where the story gets shout-worthy.

My flight was on Delta, and so I did the responsible thing of calling the reservation number while also checking flights online that I might be able to change to. Given the call volume, my wait was listed as over 2 hours. Crazy, but expected given the circumstances.

As I refreshed my searches, I saw flights disappearing. I clearly wasn’t the only one who wanted to get out of Dodge (or Miami) earlier than planned.

I didn’t want to wait for 2 more hours and risk losing any of these flights, so I went ahead and changed my reservation online. There was a fare difference that I would have to pay for and a reservation change fee. Okay, them’s the breaks of travel – it is what it is.

BUT – I got a flight that would get me out of the way of the storm, so I was happy.

The next day, as I was waiting in the Miami airport, I got an email from my wife that included an article about airlines waiving the reservation change fees because of the hurricane.

Hmmm… wonder if they would waive mine, even after the fact. So I called.

Still a one to two hour wait on the phone. By then I would be on the plane.

That’s when it hit me. In the contact section of the Fly Delta app, it also included their Twitter handle.

So I sent this tweet.

A few clarifying tweets later and I was asked for my reservation number in a Direct Message.

By the next morning, I had a Twitter message stating that they were refunding my reservation change fee. No other questions asked.

Sweet! That takes a little of the sting out of the extra expense.

Moreover, it provides us some lessons about service recovery.

  • Have multiple ways for your guests to contact you. Honestly, I wasn’t surprised that the wait to speak to an agent was as long as it was. These weren’t exactly normal travel conditions. Lucky for me they also had people monitoring Twitter (and I’m guessing other social channels). Oddly enough, it never even dawned on me to approach one of the Delta employees working the multiple gates in the H concourse of Miami International. Don’t know if they could have helped, but they were there. That’s at least three different ways to contact someone for resolution.
  • React quickly. Again, I don’t really blame Delta for the long phone waits. I do COMMEND them for the quick response via Twitter – not only to correspond with me, but also to actually issue the refund. All they asked for was my reservation code, and the next thing I know they are refunding my fee.   I didn’t have to fill anything out, go through an inquisition or prove my case. I would imagine the agent did their research without needing me… they looked up my reservation, saw that I was originally scheduled to leave at 9 am Thursday morning and did in fact change it the night before to leave 16 hours earlier. From my original tweet to the message coming through stating my refund was being processed, it was less than 10 hours. I had the refund for this BEFORE my original flight was supposed to take off. DANG!
  • Make it easy for your employees. I don’t know what the process was behind the scenes, but for my tweet to be received, researched and processed within such a short period of time, the process has to have some efficiency to it. Make it easy for your employees to take care of your guests, and they will. Make it complicated or convoluted and they will find every excuse to circumvent your service initiatives.

Want more customer service and service recovery resources?  Check out the LeaderTips: Guest Service ebook!

So, the outcome could be seen as me getting a refund and us learning some things about service recovery. But the story doesn’t end there.

When I got on the plane, I was sitting in seat 1C. I got to talking with the guy in 1D, and told him that I had just booked the flight the night before. He said, “that’s strange, that seat has been booked for weeks.”

How and why he knew that was puzzling, until he said…

“I’ve been in seat 1C on my last 83 flights in a row. I tried to get it on this one but it was taken when I booked the flight.”

Needless to say, we switched seats so he could make it 84 flights in a row.

He then said that he ALWAYS flies Delta. He said, “I know it’s a big company, but they always take care of me.”

So it’s a story about a refund, lessons on service recovery and LOYALTY. Taking care of people leads to loyalty.  I know I felt taken care of by the agents monitoring Twitter that night.

And THAT is worth shouting from the rooftops!

Thanks for reading!

Matt

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Do your leadership skills need a tune-up?

photo-640Everyone, meet Watson.  Watson, meet everyone.

Watson is what we affectionately call our Honda Element.  (Element… elementary… Watson).  It’s a great car that has served us well.  Recently we had to get the brakes redone and transmission flushed, but that’s all part of owning a piece of machinery like this.

It’s like my Dad would say… if you want something to last, you have to take care of it.  If we want Watson to be ready when we need him, we’ve got to take care of him.

See where this is going?  If we want our employees to last and be ready when we need them… I’ll let you finish that statement.

In all cases, this takes people who are qualified to perform the work. For Watson, that’s a mechanic.  For your employees, that’s YOU!

Do you FEEL qualified?  Most newly promoted leaders don’t, but they also don’t know what steps to take to remedy the situation. (Don’t feel bad, in many cases your manager doesn’t know how to fix it, either.)

Here are some things to think about (and talk to your manager about!):

  • Are you actually qualified?  Mechanics (the good ones) take classes and attend update and recurring trainings to keep their skills sharp.  What books, classes or seminars can you experience to hone your skills?  Is there someone you know that you can seek out as a mentor or coach?
  • Do you have the right tools?  A hammer won’t do you any good if you need a wrench.  What tools (skills, abilities) do you need in your tool box to effectively lead your teams?  (Look at the things you dislike to do the most – that’s a good starting point.)
  • How well do you use your time? When I first called the mechanic, they said they couldn’t get Watson in for another 3 days.  Do you have a good handle on how you spend your time, where it goes and how to maximize your efficiency within the time you have?
  • Are you a good problem solver?  When I first brought Watson in, I explained what the brakes were doing (according to me).  The mechanic then had to look at all of the surrounding factors and circumstances to determine the right solution. Are you able to identify the needs of your employees so you can provide them with what they need?  If not, what tools or skills do you need to be able to do that?

Leaders (the good ones) are constantly looking at ways to get better at their craft, and that means seeking out opportunities learn, grow, and be better at your job than you were yesterday. Some of your skills might be right where they need to be, others may need some attention, and that’s okay.

Cars keep changing, so mechanics have to continue learning just to keep up.  Your job as a leader ain’t that different.

Thanks for reading!

Matt

About the author: Over the last few months, I’ve taken my desire to Help Leaders Lead to the next level.  Along with my book about employee engagement and burnout, I also now offer professional coaching services and self-directed leadership development courses.  Oh, and don’t forget the FREE eBook I’m giving away on my homepage!

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The two T’s… Trust and Teamwork

If you have been reading my blog for awhile (especially this post from 2012), or you have read The Myth of Employee Burnout, you may be familiar with a guy named Dallas Hobbs. I originally met Dallas when we both worked at Universal Orlando, and I am glad to say we have kept in touch in the years since we both left.

Dallas is now the Guest Services Manager at The Fountains Resort in Orlando.  We exchanged a few emails the other day, and he mentioned how he had taken over a team at the Fountains and was able to really turn them around.

But he didn’t tell me HOW!!!

So I asked.  Here is what he said. If you are leading a new team, or if you are struggling with team morale, take note.  Take lots of notes.

“The how was actually simpler than I thought it would be. One of the first things I did after being trained at their jobs and spending time on all 3 shifts with them, was to start 1-on-1’s. Dedicated time that each associate could spend with me, uninterrupted, each month. Very quickly I learned the problem was trust. Not that they thought the person next to them was a liar, but trusting that they were doing their job. Common phrases from my PBX operators would be, “Front desk is out there doing X instead of Y!” Or “PBX isn’t picking up because they are playing on their phones!” Even though they are all the same team, one department. They talked as if they didn’t know each other.

So several things had to happen. First everyone went though refresher training so they all knew that everyone knew what to do and how to do it. Then they all spent 2 days shadowing other departments learning what they go through (housekeeping, activities, F&B, engineering). Then the segmented schedule became one giant schedule. Regardless of position or shift, we were going to be one team, even if only on paper.

Very slowly I started rotating people into different positions. Though some were better or more comfortable in specific roles, I needed them to occasionally experience the rest of the department. This was the rough one because no one likes their schedule messed with or going outside their comfort zone. So of course I had a few ruffled feathers. Again the 1-on-1’s were key here. Positive and individualized encouragement helped those through the process. Change management 101. As well as opening the lines of communication. Simply encouraging each other to talk!
I also began hiring differently than my predecessor. Before they hired experience and resumes.  I hire people and personalities. Hiring people I know would get along with the people I already have and be a part of my team. Which meant passing over very qualified candidates.

However trust takes time. We’ve all lost trust in someone or something and only time will win that trust back. So I could not force it over night. Which was the hardest part. Sitting back and telling my superiors and HR that it’s working, just give it time. Looking back now it didn’t take too much time at all. In 2 months my scores did a 180 and have been climbing ever since. In our score system, we celebrate single digit increases because it takes a lot to move that needle. I had increases of 15% points over previous months. In fact my summer scores are the highest in the history of the resort. And they are the highest year to date. In the middle of the 100 days of summer, my team is crushing it. (By the way, I’ve not lost a single associate all summer. #BurnoutIsAMyth)

They are no longer focused solely on their individual jobs but are helping those next to them. And even doing more work to make the next shifts job easier. I have associates seeking out MORE work to do, on their own. Simply because the shift prior to them did the same.

Now there is more to it than just trust. Empowerment, empathy, etc. are all key elements to a great team, but the major issue at the start was simply trust.”

Dallas built trust through communication and stirring things up a bit.  Sometimes complacency, although comfortable, can be the biggest enemy of progress, productivity, and yes, trust.  Thanks for the insight, Dallas!!

If you have a story or experience that might help others and would be willing to share it, please email it to me here.

Thanks for reading!!

Matt

About the author – After 20+ years in hospitality leadership and human resources, Matt Heller founded Performance Optimist Consulting in 2011 with one simple goal: Help Leaders Lead. Matt now works with attractions large and small and leaders at all levels to help them improve leadership competencies, customer service, employee motivation and teamwork. His book, “The Myth of Employee Burnout” was released in 2013 and has become a go-to resource among industry leaders.

NEW RELEASE!  88 of Matt’s favorite leadership blog posts, all in one convenient downloadable package!!

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