leadership dot #3364: third

In a recent workshop, I provided suggestions for how to have conversations that encourage people to change. One of the participants asked what to say when the dialogue seemed to be at a standstill with both parties having different points of view.

One technique that can be helpful is to introduce a “third party” into the discussion. This may not be a literal third person, rather some information that serves as a proxy for them. It’s different than a pure debate with outside sources and factual research; in this scenario, you are bringing another viewpoint into the conversation. It could be through survey results (“the members said…”), a professional code of ethics (“the association recommends that we…”), an edict from higher-ups (“the administration needs us to….”), input from your constituents (“the students want…”) or something similar.

By bringing in a presumably neutral data point, you may be able to shift the conversation from a continuous back-and-forth impasse to more of a triangle that takes another perspective into consideration. It no longer becomes just you vs. them and just may create a window for both of you to alter your stance.

leadership dot #3363: dirty work

What a week. Between Covid, Afghanistan, and now Hurricane Ida I think of all the people who are risking their lives to provide us with health, protection, or even news. The armed forces, health care professionals, weather reporters, FEMA staff, or front-line rescuers — we expect them to be there when we walk into a hospital, dial 911, or tune into emergency reports, without always considering their sacrifices to do so. Moments after Ida made landfall I was seeing pictures, but someone had to be in close proximity to the 150 mph winds to take and share them. In order for Louisiana staff to be at the hospital to serve patients, they had to allow their families to ride out the storm without them.

Even ordinary circumstances require people to work in risky or undesirable positions. In his book Dirty Work, author Eyal Press highlights prison employees, laborers in chicken slaughterhouses and processing plants, and drone warriors who all fall into the “dirty work” category. For the most part, we never think about any of these positions or what could be done to make the conditions more tolerable for those who hold them, yet we expect people to work in those roles.

As you start the week, take a moment to reflect on the many layers of people you unknowingly rely on to keep your community functioning in the way to which you have become accustomed. Someone is keeping the power on, the cows milked, the grocery stores stocked and the schools open. People are walking into dangerous situations to keep terrorists at bay, fires under control, and jails locked down.

If you think it is difficult to find employees for a retail operation or in the hospitality industry, consider what it takes to recruit and retain quality staff in the undesirable roles — yet we all need people to be there. Raise your awareness, appreciation, and advocacy to create safe and sane working conditions for all.

leadership dot #3362: increases

Forget about a one or two-cent increase — starting today it will cost you 58 cents to mail a first-class letter, up three cents from yesterday’s rate. Those of a certain age will remember the hassle it used to be when stamps increased — you had to buy one-cent or “letter stamps” (printed before they knew the specific amount of the rate hike) — but now people barely notice thanks to Forever Stamps.

The introduction of permanent first-class-rate stamps in 2007 was so successful that the USPS made all of its stamps Forever in 2011. It was a sneaky way to allow for rate increases without public outcry, something that is important given the nearly annual hikes, but it worked.

If you have a component of your operation that sees frequent increases, think about whether you can model your operation after the Post Office. Is there a way to allow people to buy in advance to guarantee a rate — for example, X number of workshop registrations, the printing of X pieces, X hours of consultation, or a set number of visits — that retain their value regardless of the timeframe for using them? You could even use a Forever stamp on your flyer to promote them!

leadership dot #3361: surcharge

When the restaurant bill came, I was surprised to see that they added 3.3% if you used a credit card to pay. This wasn’t an inexpensive place, not to mention that many people operate cashless these days, so I would imagine that the majority of their clients would prefer to settle their bill with plastic.

It seems counterintuitive to me to penalize the masses. Why not calculate the transaction charge as part of the menu price instead? Or offer a discount for those who pay with cash?

Before you enact a policy, consider it from your customer’s perspective. It’s always better to help people feel as if they are getting a discount instead of a surcharge.

leadership dot #3360: responsibility

I was working with a client who lamented that her boss was all task-focused in their 1:1 meetings and he was not providing her with any professional development or coaching. I asked her what she was doing to bring growth topics into the meeting: putting specific questions on their agenda, asking to read an article or book together, requesting that occasional meetings be development-only focused, or explicitly sharing her concerns and asking for what she needed. While the supervisor usually takes the lead in this area, if they don’t there is a better course of action than just accepting the void.

We could all do more to take responsibility for ourselves.

If you want a new assignment, take the initiative to create one. Learn new software or skills via YouTube. Take advantage of the free professional development courses on the web. Seek out your own mentor.

The same principle holds true in your personal life. You don’t need a mask mandate to decide to wear one if you believe it will help keep you well. You can make decisions to eat in a healthy manner regardless of what is served. You shouldn’t rely on your partner for birth control.

Instead of expecting someone else to meet your needs, take ownership for meeting them yourself.

leadership dot #3359: idle

If you have in-person clients, it’s important to pay attention to their whole interaction with you, including the waiting period. For example, if you own a restaurant, especially if you are short-staffed or require a particularly long time to custom-prepare meals, it would be in your best interest to proactively address what happens before the food arrives.

As I sat bored in my last pre-dining experience, I pondered what this restaurant could have done during my wait. I realized that other establishments already incorporate elements to mollify customers with such techniques as televisions, hot bread, chips & salsa, butcher paper tablecloths and crayons, music, placements with games or educational factoids, tiny board games, electronic games as part of the payment system, or bowls of Legos. Even offering a wi-fi connection would go a long way in allowing customers to entertain themselves.

If you offer nothing, people have little to do but watch the clock and grumble about how long they are waiting. It sours their overall attitude and impacts their impression when the food (or service) finally does arrive.

Whether you add music before a webinar begins, reading materials in your reception area, interactive artwork in your lobby, or free coffee to guests, do something to engage your customers so they don’t spend their idle moments pondering all the ways you are wasting their time while waiting.

leadership dot #3358: lines

I recently went to a local restaurant and waited 45 minutes to receive my burger, as did most others. During this time, a line formed outside with a couple of people waiting to get a table.

The current employees clearly could not handle the volume even though the restaurant is very small. However, the owners seem to have misinterpreted “lines outside” as a sign of demand and not understaffing and are proceeding to open a second location. I won’t be one of their customers.

Be cautious before interpreting one piece of evidence without considering the whole picture. You may see what you want to see and tell yourself that it signifies something great when the opposite may be true in reality. A few people in line outside a restaurant could mean you are slow, not popular.

leadership dot #3354: storm

We recently had a storm move through the area and the next day I received an email from my insurance carrier with the headline: “Think you may have storm damage?” It explained that their weather tracking systems showed I may have been in the path of a storm and provided resources if that was the case. The email outlined not only the steps to take if I did need to file a claim, but also what to look for if I suspected impact from the storm.

Fortunately, I did not have any damage, but I appreciated the proactive move on their part. Even though I know it was all automated, it felt personal and as if someone was looking out for me.

How can you utilize automated systems to create the same effect with your clientele? Maybe you could share resources with families in anticipation of a major event such as “I know your child is moving into their residence hall next week” or “Here’s what to expect from tomorrow’s surgery.” Perhaps you could share post-event resources like “You just bought a new car; here are some tips for maintaining it.” Or you could devise an email campaign that follows an election, pays attention to COVID rates, monitors local sports teams, or is triggered by notices such as birth or death announcements.

Take advantage of technology to craft an “if this, then that” aspect to your communication and add a personal touch to your outreach.

leadership dot #3357: model

While I was waiting for my car to be serviced, I wandered into the new car showroom (just as they wanted me to do!). I was the only customer there so the three salesmen and I had a nice chat as I heard about the features of the latest model.

It struck me that this was a tremendous waste of manpower. Do people just show up at the dealership in the middle of the afternoon on a weekday and decide to buy a car? Three at a time?

The staffing levels sound like a vestige of a previous era when people had not done their pre-shopping online and more people came in to explore options. Today, many could come to the dealer by appointment already knowing which car they wish to test drive or buy. It seems that the showroom doesn’t need to be so heavily staffed or those there could be focused on online responses instead of standing around as they appeared to be doing.

Take a look at how you allocate your human resources and consider whether it matches the way your customers interact with you in post-pandemic 2021. It might be time for a new model.

leadership dot #3356: overkill

A church rummage sale treated their jewelry section like they were Tiffany’s, even though you could have purchased the entire inventory for a couple of bucks. I bought a 25 cent pair of earrings but had to pay for them right at the jewelry table where they put them in a bag, double stapled it, then wrote “Paid” on the bag. Talk about overkill.

Organizations are guilty of the equivalent when they create detailed policies to monitor minor infractions or insist on treating their employees as if they were prone to theft. We would all be better off if regulations only existed for serious matters and in cases where judgment is likely to create an undesirable outcome. Otherwise, assume the risk. The trust you buy by doing so always has greater value than the losses your overkill aims to prevent.