Everyone IS Your Customer!

I had a very coincidental experience recently that made me think about which people a company should consider as their customer.  I was making a call to a company about a training program that I had heard they were looking for through a mutual associate.  At the same time this was one of two companies I had narrowed done to choosing for a product I personally wanted to purchase.

After leaving two emails, and three phone message I received a call back from the training director I had been referred to talk to.  I was told that “when she needed training solutions, she made the calls to vendors, and never talked to people like me!”  Then she abruptly hung up on me!  Guess what kind of training I was told they were looking for?  You guessed it, Customer Service!

It was after that “wonderful” treatment that I made my choice of which company I was going to choose to make my purchase.  In essence, the treatment I received from this training director said a lot about the culture, and made me question the level of service I would receive if I chose to become one of their customers.

So my challenge to every organization out there is to provide good service skills, or at the very least try being polite.  You never know how the person you are offending may reciprocate, and at the very least blab like I do about the kind of treatment this store gave me to every friend I know.  I did try to reach the store’s CEO to chat about a potential solution; however, his assistant told me “he doesn’t take calls from people like you.”  Seems he and the training director graduated from the same service training program!

If you and your organization could use a refocus on customer service, I’d be glad to introduce you to a program that would make a difference.  That is of course if your organization allows you to talk to people like me.

Do I have to Train Management Development Skills?

That was the question of the week that left me speechless.  And for anyone that knows me, I am rarely at a loss for words.  Yet, this Human Resources Director, who I have know for years and always admired, made this statement with all the sincerity possible.

I’m not sure how, but many companies have gotten real complacent with the need to spend money on training their managers how to communicate, and manage human performance.  They further have decided to throw the baby out with the bath water, and skip the leadership skills that prepare managers to lead organizations.  Somewhere along the way, these decision makers feel that management and leaderships skills are either inherent or you obtain them from drinking a special purified water.  Oh, and I must confess, some believe that 1-day workshop where they can learn it all in a day passes for training.

Have you ever heard the axiom, “Employees Join the Company, but they Leave their Manager?”  I used to think that was funny, until I took 30 years of work experience and asked myself why I left every company I was with, and why I stayed with the others.  I can say for myself that the axiom is 100% true.  And if we believe the math experts that say it costs a company about one year’s salary to replace good performers, why are we not training more managers?

I wish I could remember who said this, so please accept my apology for not quoting the author, but when asked why you would train a manager when they could quit and work for someone else, they replied, would you rather NOT train them and have them stay with you?

So, let’s assume for a minute that my friend in Human Resources actually would like to have well trained managers working for her company.  Let’s assume she would prefer to spend less time on performance management, employee relations, recruitment and liability lawsuits.  How much could she save in time and money in her world if Human Resources weren’t so busy?  Could it pay for a few days of training for their managers?

Now, let’s assume that Senior management in this company would like to see sales increase, productivity increase, and customer service standards being met.  If that was all happening, could it pay for a couple of days of training managers to coach better?

So to answer this Human Resource Manager’s question I reviewed the risks involved in not training managers.  I even reviewed the obvious return on investment in this kind of training.  But when she ultimately concluded that she had no money in the budget we were done.  In hindsight I should probably have been less diplomatic and just answered her question with a real quick, “Duh, Yes!”  Maybe then this company and these managers would have landed up winning!

Email Issues

I lost email for a few hours today, and you would think that this Baby Boomer could deal with a little less technology and survive, but hello, I was dumb-founded what to do while I waited for the fix.  I’m still nervous that I have missed someone trying to reach me and they will think I’m a flake.

Okay, breath!  There was the phone, which was kind of interesting since people don’t answer phones anymore, they communicate with voice mail messages.  But in some cases I did get through, only to say, “my email is out, and I will let you know when it works, and call me if you need something.”  Pitiful!

So I have decided that I need to find another way to communicate besides the keyboard, any ideas?

Kissing Off Employee Loyalty

I have to hand it to a lot of companies that have decided to kiss off any chance of employee loyalty for when these economic times improve.  The extra work loads, reducing salaries and the lack of training development in order to save expenses has severed any chance of using this time as a way to engage or renew employee loyalty in the company.

Most will deny this is the intent of their cost cutting efforts, but the reality is it will become a bonus that no senior manager in their right mind would do on purpose.  I mean, can you see a corporate strategic planning meeting where management sits around and says, “Let’s do everything in our power to destroy employee loyalty, so when the economy turns around they all quit and work somewhere else.”  Followed by the strategic aspect that says, “yeah, and then we can declare bankruptcy and close down everything and sell our worthless stock!”

What board of directors would sign off on this plan?  Yet, why have so many companies designed this outcome into their day to day activities?

I believe it is an unconscious act that is producing these results.  I think that if more companies realized that what they are doing is short sighted and will only get them through temporarily month to month they would stop.  I really think they are not in touch with what their actions are doing.

Employee development is something that costs money (investment) and is best to do when work is slow.  With so many companies cutting back on employee development they are not only losing out on the perfect time to increase skill development, they are demonstrating that they are not too concerned about if their employees will have the necessary skills to perform in the future.

Not every company is taking this narrow view.  In the September issue of Training & Development Magazine, Michelle Burns, the CEO of Mercer, said, “Learning plays a key role in strategy.  You have to reply on the functional ability to execute change and to prepare the organization to change continuously, whether it’s required today or tomorrow.”  Now this is a leader that gets it!  My compliments to Mercer for employing a CEO of this caliber!

Going From Peer To Manager

Many organizations like and do try to promote from within, and when this happens, many times it is one of the individuals in the group who is now the manager.  My early days in banking saw this happen all the time because the branch is a unit apart from the whole.  The team is used to working together but now the dynamics have changed with a peer becoming a supervisor or manager.

In the past couple of weeks I’ve been talking to a lot of training managers that are looking for specific help in this transition from peer to manager.  All part of the bigger succession plans that are beginning to hatch in every industry, thank goodness, and yet from the ones I’ve talked with there is a panic about this being such a different skill set.  Well, I beg to differ.

The main reasons that a new supervisor or manager that is promoted from the group has difficulties are they either don’t change their relationship with the team members, or go over the top and distance themselves too much.  For fear of alienating their friends, they want to continue to be buddies and chit chat about the same things so the team member fails to respect the change in relationship because the new manager did not change the relationship, or they become a tyrant to demonstrate authority over the staff so there is no doubt who is boss which back fires too. 

So I have to ask, is there really any difference between going from peer to manager within your intact workgroup, or by becoming a manager in a brand new environment?  Not really folks.  The same skills, traits and relationships that are built by successful managers need to be built with new managers too.  If you look at the list of skills and competencies you are building in managers within your organization today, don’t you want the same ones for all managers? 

I think that when it comes to going from peer to manager, the greatest asset of knowing your team already becomes the handy cap also.  So my best advice is to step back a bit from each relationship and allow people to understand your new responsibilities.  Ask for help from everyone, and be as humble as you can in easing into your new role.  You will find your old friends will be there to back you up as long as they know you are there to back them up too.

For the training managers that are looking for a separate workshop to teach these “unique skills”, please don’t bother.  Spend time in your classroom activities talking about how the approach is different, and strategize from the combined experience in the room.  Stop making this out to be rocket science and there will be less stress over the recent promotion for this new manager. 

Let’s face it, supervisory skills in the military are very different than in corporate America are they not?  So why don’t we have special transitional workshops for retired Generals on how to manage their new corporate team?  Because all we really need to do is teach the same communication skills and remind them of the differences in their manager-employee relationship.