It Takes A Village

Village.jpeg

I wanted to share some good tidbits about effective management, collaboration, and engagement that I heard this week at a Partnership for Public Service event.


It Takes A Village – No I don’t mean the book by Hillary Clinton, but rather the idea that no one person is an island and no one can do everything themselves. Rather, we need the strengths and insights that others have to offer; we need teamwork; we need each other!


2-Way Communication – Traditionally, organizations communicate from the top-down or center to the periphery (depending how you look at it).  But that doesn’t build buy-in and ownership. To do that, we need to have 2-way communication, people’s active participation in the process, and genuine employee engagement.


Get Out Of The Way –  We (generally) don’t need to tell people how to do their jobs, but rather develop the vision for what success looks like and then get out of the way of your managers and people. “Make managers manage and let managers manage” and similarly, I would say, hold people accountable but let people work and breath!


Things Change – While it’s important to have consistency, momentum, and stay the course, you also need to be agile as the facts on the ground change.  “Disregard what’s not working, and embrace what is.” But you must stay open to new ideas and ways of doing things.


This is our world of work–our village–and either everyone helps and gets onboard the train or they risk getting run over by it. 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Talk To The Hand

Hand
So you know the saying “Talk to the hand, because the face ain’t home…”?



Well IPSoft has an artificial intelligence agent called Amelia that handles service requests. 



Instead of talking to a human customer service rep, you get to talk to a computer. 



The question is whether Amelia is like talking to a hand or is someone really home when using IA to adroitly address your service issues?



Now apparently, according to the Wall Street Journal, this computer is pretty smart and can ingest every single manual and prior service request and learn how to answer a myriad of questions from people. 



On one hand, maybe you’ll get better technical knowledge and more consistent responses by talking to a computerized service representative.



But on the other hand, if the interactive voice response systems with the dead end menus of call options, endless maze of “If you want to reach X, press Y now” along with all the disconnects after being on for 10 minutes already are any indication of what this, I am leery to say the least. 



The Telegraph does says that Amelia can service customers in 20 languages and after 2 months, can resolve 64% of “the most common queries” independently, so this is hopeful and maybe even inspiring of what is to come. 



These days, based on how much time we spend online in the virtual world, I think most people would actually prefer to talk to a knowledgeable computer than a smart alec human who doesn’t want to be handling annoying customer calls all day, anyway. 



The key to whether Amelia and her computerized brothers and sisters of the future will be successful is not only how quickly they can find the correct answer to a problem, but also how well they can understand and address new issues that haven’t necessarily come up the same way before, and how they handle the emotions of the customer on the line who wishes they didn’t have the problem needing this call to begin with. 😉



(Source Photo: here with attribution to Vernon Chen)

G-d, Thinking Of You

Praise G-d
I saw this on the side of a car and liked it–simple and to the point:



“Praise G-d”



My father used to tell me that “There are no atheists in a foxhole”–basically every one shits their pants when that tank rolls overhead.



There is a tendency to turn to G-d when we feel we need him–when times are bad–but then sort of forget about him when things are okay again, and we feel like we have it all under control.



Even when things are bleak, it can be easy to lose faith in anger and despair. 



So challenge #1 is to remember him in good times and bad–we are in his hands, always. 



In terms of how we praise G-d?



Some do it in prayer, others in deed.



That leads to challenge #2–to speak and act with consistency and sincerity. 😉 



(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Needy And You Know It

Needy And You Know It

Some people are so needy–they are almost like children in adult’s clothing, while others are so distant they may as well be living on another planet–they are in there own world.

The Wall Street Journal (15 July 2013) asks why some people seem to demand so much?

It explains that there are three types of people:

1) Secure–these people were raised in a consistently caring and responsive manner and they become warm and loving people themselves able to form healthy balanced relationships–where they can be apart from and together with others and function well in both situations.

2) Avoidant/Dismissive–those who are raised in an environment where neediness was not tolerated and was seen as suffocating, and so they learn to minimize closeness to others–they are distant and detached.

3) Anxious/Needy–People raised in an inconsistent environment, where they got mixed messages about nurturing, and they end up constantly feeling insecure and needy, like they will get drawn in and then rejected again, so they smother other people with their neediness and don’t recognize and respect appropriate boundaries.

This third personality type, who is always needy and ends up pushing away other people, who feel suffocated, reminds me of a funny scene in Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall” where a couple visit the therapist, who asks each of them how often they have sex? The man says, “Hardly ever. Maybe three times a week.” But then the woman when asked the same question says, “Constantly. I’d say three times a week.”

Just like people can’t really change their basic sexual needs (men apparently wanting physical intimacy more often then women), so too people can’t change the home life they were raised in–good, bad or indifferent.

Whether people are needy and clingy, aloof and dismissive, or plays between hot and cold, we need to figure out how to care about and love them for whoever they are.

Boundaries are key. Taking some personal space is healthy. Together time and intimacy is critical.

It’s all about finding a balance–where each person has the time and space to be who they are, and then come back to a warm and caring relationship to share, rejuvenate, and laugh and cry together. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Prefabricated Skyscrapers

Prefabricated_houses

Eleven years after the 9/11 destruction of the World Trade Centers, we are still waiting for the new Freedom Tower to go up.

Yes, there were political disputes on what type of building and memorial would be erected, what security features would be included, what the insurance would pay, and so on.

But then there is also just the shear length of time it still takes us to build a building—a skyscraper, but also other smaller and simpler structures too.

Wired Magazine (October 2012) is reporting on a new method for building construction coming out of China.

Unfortunately, China has been known for some time for unsafe building practices—perhaps doing things on the cheap and then paying for it in terms of consequences later.

Yet, this new technique promises to increase safety, as well as speed, while lowering costs.

If you are willing to give up some building pizzazz, then Broad Sustainable Building is perfecting the prefabricated skyscraper—and these have tested “earthquake-proof” for a 9.0 quake, cost only $1,000 per square foot (versus $1,400 normally)—a 40% savings, and a 30 story building can be built in just 15 days!

Now, Broad says that they even want to erect a 220 story mega skyscraper in 6 months—by March 2013.

Here’s how they do it:

  • Identical modules—each section is prebuilt in identical modules in the factor.
  • Preinstalled fixtures—Pipes and ducts are threaded through each module in the factory for AC, hot and cold water, and waste.
  • Standardized truckloads —with two stacked pallets, each pallet has everything needed to erect a section including wall panels, columns, ducts, bolts, and tools.
  • Lego-style assembly—sections are lifted by crane and installed quickly in snap-like fashion, including pipes and wires.
  • Slotted exterior—heavily insulated walls and windows are hoisted by crane and slotted into the exterior of the building.

Aside from a standardized, consistent, high quality building—it is energy efficient, generates less than 1% the construction waste, and is safer to construct.

As with the rest of the industrial age, this is just the first step in mass producing—in this case buildings—and like the Ford Model T, which came in only one color black and evolved to meet consumer tastes and needs, these building will soon come in all sorts of shapes and sizes but at a fraction of the cost and the time to build.

This is enterprise architecture applied to building architecture making use of modular design and construction, standardization, and consolidated engineering, manufacturing, and assembly to develop next generation products.

(Source Photo: Minna Blumenthal)

>Reading is Love

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http://cnettv.cnet.com/av/video/cbsnews/atlantis2/cbsnews_player_embed.swf

What an inspiring story this week about Jim Brozina and his daughter Alice Ozma.

Jim’s wife left him when Alice was ten years old.

And when Alice started 4th grade, Jim (a retired librarian) made a challenge to his daughter to see how many nights they could read together in row–it was a way for them to spend time together and bond.

Well their “Streak” went on and on–for over 3000 nights–almost 9 years–until Alice’s first night at Rutger’s University.

Alice majored–of course–in English Literature.

And she wrote a book called “The Reading Promise” about her dad’s selfless devotion and love to her, reading every night.

I remember as a kid, the commercials encouraging reading–“Reading is Fundamental“.

Now I know that reading is not just fundamental (to learning and growth), but is also a way to love someone.

In the hustle and bustle of the 21st century, how many of us spend the time with our kids–consistently and with the utter devotion that this father did–one chapter a night, every night?

Aside from the lesson of selflessness in this story, I also see in this the message of incremental change and growth–by starting off with just 15 minutes a day and building on this incrementally, Jim and Alice were able to accomplish so much together over the years–in terms of learning and their relationship.

So while, the big blowout moments in life are significant memories for us and very often get a lot of emphasis (i.e. as in “let’s make a memory”), the day-to-day consistent building of relationships and learning, can have a truly larger than life impact over the long-term.

On a more personal note, I remember when I was debating going back to school for my MBA (while working full-time during the day), and my dad encouraged me and told me that the years would come and go regardless, but that if I made the commitment, at the end, I would have something valuable to show for it.

I listened to his advice and went to school at night for what seemed like ages for an MBA and then numerous certifications and other learning opportunities, and I am always glad that I did. Dad was right…the years pass regardless, but your hard work pays off. I will always be grateful to him for that advice and support–love comes in many shapes and sizes.

>Customer Service Design

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I really liked the article in MIT Sloan Management Review (Fall 2010) called “Designing the Soft Side of Customer Service” by Dasu and Chase.

The authors write: “Even in the most mundane [customer] encounters, emotions are lurking under the surface. Your job is to make those feelings positive.”

Wow! That is a pretty powerful statement.

Think about it. How often do you genuinely deliver on that positive experience for your customers versus how often do they come away feeling slighted, taken advantage of, maybe even cheated of the service they know they deserve.

Sometimes of course, there are justifiable reasons why we can’t make a customer happy—maybe the customer is simply being unreasonable or is a knucklehead or maybe even some sort of nutcase. We have to use good judgment when it comes to this.

But often there are other problems that are getting in the way of us delivering on that positive customer experience:

Problem #1: We get caught up in the policies, processes, personalities, and politics of a situation, rather than focusing on the customer and their satisfaction. We forget who our real customers are.

Problem #2: We don’t think like the customer. We don’t genuinely listen to the customer or try to understand where they are coming from or what they even want. We are too busy talking the “company line,” playing defense, or taking an adversarial role. We don’t put ourselves in the other person’s shoes, not even for a minute.

Problem #3: We often don’t put the customer first; we put ourselves first. We are more concerned with not making a mistake, getting into trouble, or maybe don’t want to even work “that hard.” In general, we should, but don’t go the extra mile for the customer, let along deliver on first mile.

The MIT article tells us that we can improve customer experiences by designing-in how we manage the customer’s emotions, trust, and need for control (ETCs), as follows:

  • Emotions—have empathy for customers and generate thoughtful interactions that limit negative customer emotions and accentuate positive ones, so that the customer comes away feeling joy, thrill, happiness rather than anger, anxiety and stress.
  • Trust—provide consistent performance, a high-level of engagement and follow-up, and clear and open communication. These contribute to building an enduring relationship.
  • Control—provide customers with ample information, so they feel “cognitive control” over what is happening to them, and provide customers with the ability to make significant service delivery decisions, so they experience “behavioral control.”

Designing for positive customer ETCs experiences will go a long way to resolving the problems of poor customer service, where we know and stay focused on who our customers are, can think as they do, and seriously deliver on their needs the way you would want your customer needs addressed.

I suppose if I have to sum it up in a couple of words, it’s about being professionally selfless and not selfish in all our customer interactions.

It takes some maturity to get there, but I think it’s why we are here to serve.