AHHH … Summer. It brings back memories of lazy days, no school, taking it easy, and playing with friends. I guess you can see that I am longing for those carefree days! Although we have all grown up, summer remains the classic time of year for vacations, family time, and perhaps a bit of a slowdown in day-to-day business activities (unless of course this IS your busy season). Summer also opens up opportunities to engage in quick and thoughtful analysis of your organization, your leadership, and the future of both.
I think of the tips below as “SIZZLERS” … things normally considered to be “back burner” that are brought forward to prepare for fall, budgets, and holidays.
- Take Off – Inventory your staff’s vacation time. Who has some? Who hasn’t taken any? Remind your folks to get this scheduled. I witnessed the power of vacations in a client engagement where the business leader went to all his people and reminded them of the vacation days they had left (the HR policy was use or lose). He began this task early in the spring and proactively saw to it that his team had scheduled their vacations. He also saw to it that they actually TOOK them. Often this is not a problem for hourly workers. They have excellent time off inventory skills. But it may be worth looking at your management team, and of course YOURSELF. There is no glory in not taking your vacation. If you feel that your organization cannot get along without you, that is a MUCH bigger problem.
- Have Some Fun – Sponsor something “spirited” and fun. Ask frontline staff to come up with an activity, contest, game, or theme for an event and then GO FOR IT. If your first thought is, “We have no budget for that,” shame on you! Creativity is the name of the game. Think in terms of “what we can do.” Create a TAKE OFF board. Ask staff to post pictures, funny stories, etc., about what they did during their TAKE OFF. You never know what you may learn about people! Sponsor a beach day at the office. Bring in beach balls, blow them up, and bounce them around the Center (high school graduations comes to mind). Create afun distraction. Ask for suggestions to BEAT THE HEAT. Often, people have great ideas. Who knows … this could be something you publish to the rest of the enterprise.
- Read Up – Summer is always known for reading. What are your favorite beach books or summer reads? Start a book sharing program. Read something fun about business … maybe some new slant on the Customer Experience or how today’s consumers are different. Discover new ways to thrill and delight those you serve. Be the leader that sponsors growth in a multitude of ways that are not always strictly job related.
- Remove the Rose Colored Glasses – Take a good hard look around your operation. Deliberately separate yourself from your business unit to get a new perspective. Ask some of your colleagues to give you an honest view of how they see your operation. Pretend you are in the acquisition business. Would you buy your department? If not, why not? If so, why? What do you offer? What are you really good at? Where are the weaknesses? What needs to be improved? I believe that the number one issue in operational improvement is leadership blindness … being blind to issues and operational realities and enjoying sublime beliefs that differ greatly from reality. Here’s a case in point. I once read a book entitled Provenance, a real life account of an art forger and a con man who was able to sell hundreds of fake pieces of art, largely due to the experts’ desire to believe in authenticity and to negate the obvious indicators of fraud. Belief and certainty can be so strong; they blind us to areas of weakness. So in this case, it would be TAKE OFF the rose colored glasses and force yourself to take a “real life” view.
- Be Specific – The time has come to master the art of specificity. We are surrounded by the hollow ring of objectives, desires and goals that are organized around concepts such as “provide a great Customer Experience.” Often, ZERO work has been done to clearly define what that means and what that requires from a process, technology, financial, training, hiring, and (most importantly) behavioral perspective. When definition is lacking, folks are free to make up their own mind about what the experience ought to be and to act accordingly. How well defined are your objectives? Are they specific enough? Check again!
- Don’t Jump … to Solutions – Here’s a case in point. We chose to decline two potential engagements because the requests to implement “solutions” did not emerge from a very well-defined and specific problem. Both requests had to do with developing training solutions for what we deemed to be process and operational issues. One engagement had the goal to “change the culture” of the Contact Center via a training program. We felt very strongly (and even more so after some due diligence) that the upfront work was incomplete. The conclusion that this was a training issue was made way too early and with too little information. My experience told me that whoever took on this assignment was doomed to failure because it is very unlikely that any stand-alone training program would have the desired impact. We could not in good conscience proceed with a proposal as requested.Be sure you know WHAT you’re trying to accomplish before looking for HOW to accomplish it.
- Think Process – Process is the ultimate protector of productivity. We all need to do more with less. But assume that you (like so many others) have had to justify all your head count expense. Before doling out pink slips, look for productivity gains by addressing operational processes. First identify them; then organize processes by frequency and complexity. Your focus needs to be on the high frequency events and activities. These are NOT necessarily the most talked about! Focus your analytical energy on high frequency contacts; this approach assures that you are attacking the processes that will yield the greatest return. Look at each step in the process and identify ways to improve.
- Hire Someone Smarter Than You – One of the best moves I have ever made in the 30 years of owning my consulting firm has been hiring people that were SMARTER and DIFFERENT from me. Leaders often suffer from the (dare I say it?) narcissistic tendency to hire folks more like themselves. It is comfortable, non-threatening, and ultimately not much good to the organization or to the leader. Leaders need to find complementary skills, fill in gaps, and enjoy the challenges that come from another perspective. Of course, it is important to avoid the snipers. Learn to be specific about requirements and honestly challenge your own comfort zone. This is truly a skill required to genuinely progress as a leader and in your career.
Enjoy a “SIZZLING SUMMER.” And as Henry James wrote, “Summer afternoon, Summer afternoon … the two most beautiful words in the English language.”