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“Customer experiences are being harmed because business efforts to improve employee engagement are fundamentally flawed” – Neil Davey (Managing editor, MyCustomer.com)

As a result, there has been increasing attention paid to the employee experience in recent years, with growing focus on areas such as wellness, diversity, inclusion, mental health, capability development and training.

Yet despite the proliferation of these projects, estimates by Temkin Group suggest that the number of engaged employees still remains disturbingly low – with its research indicating that only 33% of staff are highly engaged, and that number dropping to as low as 26% for those aged 18-24. This last statistic is of particular concern because this demographic is amongst the most likely to be serving customers, whether in contact centers or in other customer-facing roles.

He identifies a few reasons why engagement continue to be so low despite the surge in employee experience effortsincluding the mistake of treating money as an overriding motivator.

Among them are two crucial areas, I thought, that go a long way in strengthening employee engagement and in turn CX:

“Failing: Not engaging staff with the company’s wider purpose.

If understanding employee motivations is crucial, there is also the other side of the coin to consider: do employees understand the organisation’s motivations? Do staff know what the company’s purpose is, and do they buy into it…

Whatever the purpose is, it has to have meaning and connect with the employees in the organization…whether it’s a customer-centric purpose, or a profitability purpose, it has to be something that employees want to rally behind to achieve…

And then the leaders need to translate that purpose to every part of the business in a meaningful way.

Reminds me of an inspiring anecdote SU (a Division head) shared with us years ago:

In his days as a salesman, on one occasion, he moved heaven and earth to fix a problem on a IBM 1403 (a legendary line printer) he had sold to a customer – the awry drum and fan-fold paper movement was ultimately traced to dampness in the paper, fixed by heating up the stock with an electric bulb before usage! For him, a mere salesman, and his organization, the sale did not end with invoicing and collecting.   

Needless to emphasize the purpose needs to be authentically reflected in both thought and action at all times. Any incongruence at any time in this regard on part of the leadership, careless or otherwise, seriously undermines the cause.

This leads us to the second significant failing which is a little more of a challenge.

“Failure: Not connecting day-to-day tasks to the bigger purpose.

…As well as understanding and being engaged with the organization’s wider purpose, the employees also need to understand how their basic, daily activities contribute to that purpose.

The most famous and possibly apocryphal story that best demonstrates this, concerns President John F. Kennedy’s first visit to NASA headquarters in 1961. During his tour of the facility, he introduced himself to a janitor who was mopping the floor and asked him what he did at NASA. “I’m helping put a man on the moon,” came the reply.

The janitor understood his employer’s wider purpose, and also understood his daily task’s contribution to it – by ensuring everything was spotless, all of the sensitive equipment could function without fault. The cleaner did not view himself as simply a janitor, but a member of the NASA space team with an important role.

Without this important connect, the purpose remains as a lofty statement enshrined on some plaque. The tail does not go with the head!

For instance, it’s necessary and important to ask and answer How does having a customer-centric purpose translate to a call center agent? At the meaningful level, how does that tell you to behave and operate in a certain way? Does that tell you to smile more often, or to say please, or thank you, or does it help you answer the telephone in a slightly different way?

Of course it is not always so simple when it comes to those daily tasks that often appear dull and of non-strategic value. At this point it is important to realize even these tasks are connected; else they would not be performed in the first place. The trick is to uncover and present the connection that exists in right context.

Guarding against these two failures significantly enhances employee engagement.

And, how does an engaged employee perform?

Here’s a short and timely anecdote from Seth Godin:

“The $50,000 an hour gate agent:

Conventional CEO wisdom is that top management is worth a fortune because of the high-leverage decisions they make.

But consider the work of Wade, an unheralded Air Canada gate agent. Yesterday, I watched him earn his employer at least $50,000 while getting paid perhaps .1% of that.

The microphone was out of order, but instead of screaming at the passengers, he walked over and spoke directly to the people who needed to hear him.

On his own, he started inquiring about the connection status of a family of four. He could have cleared the standby list, closed the flight and told the four that they’d have to find another way home. Or, he could have saved them their four seats, which would have flown empty if they hadn’t been filled. Instead of either path, he picked up the phone, organized other staff to find and expedite the family and get them on board.

And then, in an unrelated bit of valor, he tracked down a lost wallet and sent his #2 to fetch it from where it had been left–getting it to the plane before it left.

Most of all, in an era when loyalty is scarce, he probably increased the lifetime value of a dozen wavering customers by at least a few thousand dollars each.

Krulak’s Law states that the future of an organization is in the hands of the privates in the field, not the generals back home.

In conclusion, when Godin asks, “Where is your Wade? What are you doing to make it more likely that he or she will bring magic to work tomorrow?” you know where and how!

Davey may be read here and Godin here.

End

Source: Pinterest, Wikimedia.org and huffpost.com.

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In my long career in hi-tech, there were two HR chief’s I was fortunate to observe from close quarters though their tenures were short. Both ladies, early in their career, graduates from TISS. In the years that followed we went different ways. But I continued to measure the HR chiefs I encountered subsequently and they all fell short by lengths in comparison.

This post is about one of them, U.

Passing out from TISS, she joined the org as an Executive Assistant (EA) to the Big Boss – not sure if this was her first job in the industry. Several months later she was sent to the Division dealing in hi-tech and also the most profitable of the many in the brick-and-mortar company as the HR chief, essentially a one-woman team.

A hurricane on the move, only benign.  Some saw her as a very useful ally and others, an overbearing youngster, often going beyond her brief running smack into know-all senior line-managers.

Was she ‘successful’ in the traditional sense? I don’t know, for, can’t recall her being feted in public as such in her short stay. During which time, all the same, some magic she had wrought, I thought. 

What did she do?

  • In all her thought and action, org’s interest was the first and foremost, possibly the only preoccupation, I suspected. Yet, not wearing it on her sleeve.
  • Abs fearless, she thought nothing of taking up issues with and questioning pet theories of the senior executives until satisfactory closure. Of course this was possible because she sought and got the crucial support of the Big Boss, all credit to him. In this regard, perhaps her earlier stint as his EA helped.
  • Though young, she had the maturity to go for the doors that were open to her rather than bang her head against walls that wouldn’t budge (some seniors). She could live well with both kinds.
  • Most part of her time she was out sitting one-on-one with employees. Like with the bosses, she would mix her praises with provocations to get them spill out their guts, all work-related of course. She would herself address many of those problems by offering solutions, work-around’s or through counselling with, yes, subsequent follow-up’s. And the more complex issues would be taken to their bosses. If you’re not happy, why are you working here still…? OrWhy are you still doing the same work you did over the last two years? Aren’t you good for anything else? Or Why are you not getting promoted? Not doing good, eh? are not unusual in the provoking sessions which, to be sure, did not end in destructive fire-works. Her disarming and bonafide ways let her get away. These sessions revealed the swirling under-currents and provided useful inputs to the manager, otherwise impossible to get. And she would take points-of-view from the boss back to the employee. Yes, playing politics it was, but constructively. Issues often got fixed before too late.  Of course the bosses too had their sessions with her.
  • She would play it likewise with peers running their feuds to the detriment of the org.
  • She was no cat’s paw nor did she play favorites. Nor cowed by heavy-weights.
  • A high-energy person with an infectious enthusiasm in a team, also good to talk to when chips were down.
  • In her own role she was constantly wanting to do more. I remember going with her for campus recruitment of trainee-engineers. After watching me a few times from the side-lines, things came to a point when she carried on with the technical interviews all by herself rendering me superfluous!

That’s what a capable and empowered HR can deliver. Want to settle for less?

Neither the land nor the heavens would ever be the same after her premature and unfortunate transition a few days ago – she was one to stir up the stew wherever she went for the larger good.

RIP, U.

End

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“…that pernicious nonsense about being a leader and not a manager. Your challenge is to help the team and team members succeed. The only way to succeed at that is to do all three kinds of work. Lead. Manage. Supervise. Do them all well. “

Read this short post from Wally Bock to know what each entails.

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The article ‘Wisdom at Work: Why the Modern Elder Is Relevant’ appeared in Wharton’s Knowledge publication (Jan 24, 2019) here. It’s a transcript of an interview wherein Airbnb executive Chip Conley discusses the benefits of having an inter-generational workforce (He argues his case in detail in his eponymous where everyone brings something to the table).

This post is almost entirely extracted from the interview transcript, lightly edited and heavily re-sequenced for clarity and easy reading.

Here we go:

**

A new challenge for the org:

The fact that almost 40% of workers have a boss younger than them — that number is going to be the majority by 2025.  In fact, some studies show that power is 10 years younger today than it was 20 years ago. But we’re all living 10 years older. So, if power is moving 10 years younger and we’re living 10 years older, society has created a new 20-year irrelevancy gap for people in mid-life and beyond.

It means that we need to start asking ourselves, how do we create an ‘intergenerational potluck’ so that people bring what they know best? And what do they now best?

A challenge for the elders:

The three-stage life of the past — you learn until you’re 25, you earn until you’re 65, and then you retire until you die — that model is evaporating. Also, as the pace of technology innovation increases, companies promote more tech-savvy younger workers into supervisory jobs. Meanwhile, older workers are staying employed longer due to such things as the disappearance of early retirement schemes, recession, etc.

With the power shifting to the young and the irrelevancy gap threatening to widen, there is this period of life, bewildering and anxiety-producing, unless people constantly remake, reinvent and repurpose themselves in ways to make themselves relevant for the second half of their life. It’s not easy because it requires you to shift out of some of your habits and mindsets that you’ve held onto for a long time.

Conley’s proof of his own continued employment and what he brought to the table:

“For 24 years, I was the founder and CEO of a company called Joie de Vivre based in San Francisco that created 52 boutique hotels. We were the second-largest boutique hotelier. In the Great Recession, I decided to sell the company. I had been doing it for a long time. I was ready to move on. Then I spent a couple years thinking about what was next [for me].

There is a great Robert De Niro quote from the movie The Intern [about a senior citizen who became an intern at a shopping startup], which is, “Musicians don’t retire; they quit when there’s no more music left inside of them.” I knew I had music inside of me; I just wasn’t sure whom to share it with. I was lucky enough that Brian Chesky, the CEO of Airbnb, asked me to be his in-house mentor and then come in as the head of global hospitality and strategy, which was supposed to be a part-time job but quickly became full time.”

“Younger people who are digital natives have a digital fluency that may be greater than someone 25 or 30 years older than them — that is true. But to think that someone’s acuity and fluency in one particular scope of work means that they can apply that to anything else is forgetting about all of the human element of business, which requires a certain amount of collaboration and emotional intelligence and leadership skills. Brian Chesky is an amazing CEO. But when I joined, he was 31 and I was 52, and I was his mentor and he was my boss. That was a fascinating relationship — to be mentoring my boss. But five and a half years later, I’m still here.”

“When I joined Airbnb, I think I had been brought in because I was a seasoned expert in my field, which was boutique hotels, hospitality and the travel industry. When I joined five and a half years ago, Airbnb was a very small company, and there was not one person in the company who had a travel or hospitality industry background. I was brought in initially because of that knowledge. That was helpful, and a lot of my networking of people I knew helped. But ultimately, what I think I was able to offer them was this sense of emotional intelligence…”

On Wisdom:

“There have been a number of studies on this, and they’ve shown very little correlation between age and wisdom. As a guy who’s 58, it’s hard to hear that, but there is some evidence that shows that it is not necessarily a correlation. What is correlated is that people actually make sense of their life and their mistakes and their experiences along the way. If you have a process for doing that, then age is correlated with wisdom because you create a pattern recognition.

Wisdom is about being able to see the patterns in things faster than when you’re younger because you’ve seen a lot of patterns and you’ve seen the implications or results of certain things. I think wisdom can be correlated [with age], but it isn’t necessarily correlated. So, just because you’re older doesn’t mean you’re an elder.”

“I think knowledge worker is a term to retire now because knowledge is in the computer, it’s in the cloud. You can get out there and find knowledge. In fact, we’re sort of awash in knowledge. But what we could use a little more of is wisdom.

Wisdom is not a plus, plus, plus equation like knowledge is. Wisdom is more of a division equation. You distill the essence of something into what’s important, and that’s what is valuable. I really think that we should change the term knowledge worker and replace it with wisdom worker, because wisdom includes a certain amount of intuitive and human quality that you don’t necessarily get from AI or from your computer. The idea of wisdom making a comeback at a time when we’re so technologically advanced is not that surprising.”

On cognitive diversity:

“And there’s no doubt that cognitive diversity is hugely valuable on teams. If you just have a bunch of 25-year-old guys on a team together, they’re going to compete with each other and try to one-up each other to see who’s the smartest. Put a couple of women in that group, people of color or some older people [and the dynamic changes]. When we think of diversity, we often think almost exclusively of gender, race, and maybe sexual orientation. We don’t think about age very often, even though age is one of the most obvious demographic changes we see.”

On collaboration:

“People go, “Oh, it’s a tech company. It’s just all engineers and individual people in their cubicles doing their work.” No, actually it’s full of teams. And to operate well, teams need to collaborate. Google did a famous study two or three years ago called Project Aristotle and found that the No. 1 common factor among successful and effective teams was psychological safety — people feeling like they could collaborate well without any kind of retribution.

So those collaborative skills are a really important thing that someone in midlife or later can bring to the table – because we have more emotional intelligence is pretty well empirically proven and emotional intelligence is something that can grow with time.”

His message:

* To his generation: “Listen, you can mine your mastery. And while you may not be running the company, you certainly can be an ally to a younger person, as long as we figure out how to create a fluency where we can learn from each other.”

“The hierarchy of the past that says the physics of wisdom only flows from old to young doesn’t make sense anymore. The physics of wisdom moves in both directions; it just depends on the subject matter.”

“The modern elder is appreciated for their relevance, not their reverence, because they’re as much of an intern as they are a mentor.”

* And to the organization: “I started to realize that there are some things they could teach me, like digital intelligence, and there are things that I could teach them, which is emotional intelligence, leadership skills, strategic thinking, etc…”

I recall a story narrated to me some time ago by a young man working in SF based software company offering sales-force automation solution.  It was review time with his boss. He expressed he wasn’t too happy in his current position, role…desired a change to more interesting positions he saw opening up in other parts of the operation. Discussion ensued, the boss tried his best to retain the talented young man. When he (the boss) saw latter standing firm on his move, he ended the discussion and gave a good letter of reference helping him find quickly a new position of his liking in the organization. Which he did before long. As he was settling down in his new role, he got his review results – a promotion, coming from a boss to a youngster who no longer worked with him! And quite predictably the young man till date is doing very well working for the same organization.

The boss had the emotional intelligence to ensure the man got his just due and the organization did not lose the talent.

On Tesla founder Elon Musk:

“He’s 47 years old, if I’m not mistaken. Could he use someone like that? Sure. But he’s relatively far along in terms of his career. He’s a bit of a genius. The thing we have to put to rest is the idea that singular geniuses do this alone. There’s always more than one person involved. The question is, who are you surrounding yourself with? To me, the answer is that you should be surrounding yourself with a diverse group of people, including some people who have some seasoned wisdom at the table.”

**

In conclusion: All is far from lost for the modern elder as long as he brings his strengths to bear on what he is doing at the workplace.

End

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This happened in the seventies-eighties and has relevance and great learnings even today in business, politics, military, religion….Read on.

It was/is a brick-and-mortar organization with over 3000 employees, listed public, engaged in light engineering and large projects in addition to distribution of imported hitech instruments and products of well-known brands. Managed by the founder family, more humane than most others in its class with reasonably clean and professional work environment. It had multiple offices pan-India and even with in cities like Mumbai, Channai, etc.

The one cloud in the sky was the employee union – each office had a local union and banding them together was an umbrella federation – with a hyper-active federal leadership, their heads filled with outdated unhelpful misconceived ideas. Quite unfortunately it saw the enterprise more as a theatre playing out the class-struggle between the capitalist owners and the exploited working class- concepts hardly understood by the members, nevertheless herded together. Even if there was some merit to their case, it was bent on blowing up situations, small and big, into disruptive breakdown of normal operation. A key contributor, it has to be said, was the inept local administration, staffed with loyal’s with no professional competencies, handling matters anachronistically with a heavy hand, untainted by objectivity and finesse.

On the whole there was no sane dialogue or even a desire to have between the parties at any level with perfectly trivial incidents fire-balling into ‘wars’. More harmfully it bred a toxic culture of indiscipline in the offices, factory and service centres, all over, severely undermining the authority of the management. There was even occasional violence.

After a while, the management perceived this weakness.  And took a decision that all such incidents should no longer be handled locally and be referred to an Industrial Relations cell at the HQ. This small team would take it up with the Federation to put out the fire – a task neither easy nor quick before doing the damage locally.  

An intractable situation, it seemed. For want of a better solution the practice with its drawbacks was continued for some time until…

One day, a man walked in as the new head of HR appearing most ill-suited for the role, until one dealt with him! A sardar, resembling Buddha more than any other sardar, who would readily agree with you on your issue until you realize he hasn’t yielded an inch.

After an initial period of getting into the groove, he came to life: one day he called a meeting of executives in one of the key offices. And, said from then on it’s for the local executives/managers to handle the local issues. The IR cell would no longer be available for passing the buck.

There was pin-drop silence. What was he talking about? They were nowhere equipped to handle the militancy. This sardar with his new-fangled ideas was making their job more difficult…sure to fall on his face flat.

He proceeded to explain:  In the daily operation the executives had no problem of routinely tasking these employees – secretaries, stenographers, peons, workmen, etc. Things turned ugly only when there was some incident which then spread like forest-fire. Even here, their disaffection seemed to be targeted against the big bosses, not their direct manager for whom they worked every day. As a first immediate step, he asked the executives to consciously strengthen the relationship and the prevailing cordiality with their reportee’s by being more sensitive and solicitous and extending small favours, some even personal – like letting them leave early occasionally to attend to personal chores. .

And when one of those incidents happened, they were to respond immediately and collectively to defuse the situation through a mix of patient listening, explaining the rationale behind certain decisions and if needed even call in those favours shown.

When he was done and out, the executives were left wondering: Was that all? Too simple – would it work? Was he serious? It was nothing at all like they had feared. It was like going to a doc with a serious ailment and he recommending a walk in the park.

In a short time, he took his message to all offices across the country.

Lo and behold it worked!!

All those unsavoury confrontations that erupted with the regularity of sun rising in the east were on the decline becoming quite infrequent now.    

Why?

For one thing the employees felt obliged more than ever before to their managers not to blow up incidents themselves or to encourage others doing it – this was important; those few bent on mischief-mongering suddenly found themselves rather isolated among their own colleagues. No one was too eager to vitiate the cordiality with his/her manager and colleagues whom they lived with daily at the workplace.  Their leaders did not find them too pliable for incitement anymore.

Something else was also at work here. Earlier it was between the Federation and a thinly staffed IR cell. Suddenly they had to contend with some 600 executives additionally.  The equation had changed dramatically.  When required, more than one executive swung into action to jointly address the issue.

The operating principles:

“Expand/escalate the ‘war-front’ as long and wide as possible with favorable forces deployed. And, importantly, get everyone to contribute their bit to the common cause.”

No leader can fight battles all by himself. Explore the possibilities – it may not be obvious in the first glance. As said earlier, it’s a universal strategy that works in most spheres of human endeavour.

Of course certain situations demand entirely different strategies to be deployed. Example: a (pre-emptive) counter-terrorism move where the engagement is short and swift.

The battle the sardar waged and succeeded is legendary, an object lesson for turning the tide organization-wide – it did not receive the attention and accolades it deserved in the professional community, I thought. No case-studies…Though he was well recognized and rewarded, rising to the highest echelon’s within the organization.

It’s with great regret I learnt a few days ago this brilliant strategist is no more; as also a key leader on other side, of progressive ideas and unimpeachable integrity unfortunately in minority among his kind.      

End

Source: image from inditales.com

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vide Subramanian Krishnamurthy and Ranganathan Narasimhan

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A couple of days ago, spent some time with J, the spouse of my niece, in Bengaluru. A young man in his thirties deep into music, plays drums, works with professional groups…

He’s part of an org offering music as a medium in corporate training programs. Seriously, yes.

Asked him how. What he said made sense.

Take this for instance,

How-to-Decode-Drum-Charts-Drum-Tabs-and-Notation-for-Beginners

In the preamble of a ‘Team Building’ program, the participants are each given a drum. The lead instructor kicks off with a beat on his drums. The group tries to follow suit. Initially it is all discordant and chaotic. After a while, the participants, one by one, fall in line. And very soon they are playing in mesmerizing unison!

And in about 45 minutes, they all learn the basics to play on the drums – a skill necessary for conducting subsequent sessions –  which they knew nothing about before they had walked into the room,.

What do we get out of it?

The participants get an enormous boost to their self-confidence. In as little as 45 minutes, they have learnt something new in their life.

Well, if they could do this, what’s it to prevent them from performing/succeeding in their new roles in the organization?

So I say, team or no team, why not put all those recently-promoted employees in the organization thru this exercise?

There’s something else too at work here: a key reason for the participants to quickly align themselves as one is the avoidance of discordant and chaotic beats, an immediate and unpleasant punishment for a non-team behavior!

How do we carry this into an organization where the punishment for lack of alignment is rarely immediate and inflicting?

The HR guys would do well to think about this challenge.

Of course, not forgetting in certain contexts it might be considered as a virtue to stand out as different.

The subject of immediate punishment brings to my mind a recent personal anecdote: The cook in the house we were camping took off early one evening for justifiably personal reasons, promising to be back following morning.  Come morning, no sign of the cook. Calls to her phone went unanswered. A couple of hours went by. We were left wondering – should we order food from some nearby eatery or what? The uncertainty of it was quite annoying.

Finally she walked in. We were all set to upbraid her over patently slovenly behavior. Suddenly a thought struck us: who knows, may be the same justifiably personal reasons had delayed her from coming on time. Regardless of the merit of the case, we certainly wanted to register our disapproval.  So, changing our tack, we said: ‘Look dear L, is it fair to make us spend twice for a meal…?’ That’s what ordering food from outside meant, for we were already paying her for her cooking services at home. Instead of pulling her up, we played the victim. Immediate punishment effected here was to drive home the point – inconvenience caused by her behavior, without the use of harsh words to her person.

Here’s another example from the program:

Again, in a following session, the group is taught to play the violin this time.

Here a junior is teamed with a senior and they critique each other’s posture, technique…In a few rounds they are observed to get better at it, working on the feedback!

An interesting exercise that has made an all-knowing (!) senior to accept feedback from a junior. He does not feel threatened displaying his vulnerabilities during learning.  Quite an uncommon scenario.

The important operating principle to be noted is: Learning a new skill is a great equalizer.

How do we take this principle into an organization? A challenge for the management and HR.

A simple approach could be: as often as possible, not risking fatigue, present a new skill to the groups making it a fun activity at the work-place. Importantly it serves to bring the seniors from their exalted stations to get closer to the juniors, constantly dismantling the hierarchical barriers brick by brick. The teams could even be cross-functional. The sheer persistence of this effort without causing ennui gives it a good chance to succeed – I’m not a great fan of those traditional n-day training programs, offsite or onsite, filled with some perfectly juvenile games offered by coaches. I’ve seen time and again there are no sustained gains after the initial euphoria – all boxes ticked ‘excellent’ – with people soon going back to their old ways. The so-called follow-up’s are weak and ineffective at best, performed more in form than in purpose. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a scam.

In summary, two powerful principles, demonstrably effective, not to be dismissed as gimmicky, that could be imaginatively and profitably employed in corporate training.

Unfortunately time did not permit learning more from J.

 

End

 

 

 

Source: TakeLessons.com

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