Value Add is Not the Problem

“I have some ideas on bringing value-add to our customer experience,” Sean reported.

I nodded. “Two questions,” I said, “How well are you delivering the core elements of your customer experience? If you add elements, will they add cost and are your customers willing to pay for it?”

“Well, value-add,” Sean stuttered, “means the customer will perceive greater value for the experience we provide.”

“And, why are you doing this?”

Sean stopped. “The customer survey scores have been sagging, and I wanted a way to boost those scores. I get a bonus on improvement in customer satisfaction.”

“When you lay out your customer experience system on a piece of paper, do your customer satisfaction scores lead you to a specific segment in the system?” I asked.

Sean’s turn to nod. “Yes, we get a customer complaint, we usually troubleshoot the problem accurately during the phone call, but there is a delay in actually fixing the problem. That’s why I wanted to create some value-added services, so the customer would perceive greater value in our efforts.”

“What if? And, this is just a what if,” I smiled. “What if you focused on the delay between understanding the problem and fixing the problem? Would your customer satisfaction scores go up?”

Skill and Capability

“I want to send this guy back to training,” Roger pursed his lips.

“Again?” I replied. “This would be the third time through.”

“I know, I know. But the mistakes he makes and the bone-headed decisions he makes, they just seem careless. If he would apply himself a little harder, he might have a break-through.”

“Roger, you have a classic managerial case of fixitis,” I replied. “You think you can fix people.”

Roger nodded. “Yes, I guess I do.”

“There is a big difference between skill and capability. You can train a skill, a skill can be learned. A skill can be practiced, honed and coached. But, you cannot teach capability. Capability is what it is. Please understand, capability grows and matures through a lifetime, but not from a two week training period.”

Interest, Passion, Required Behaviors

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
We recently had a new hire not work out, so we decided to terminate. The mistake on our end, I think, was in the Required Behaviors element, but I’m not sure. The position we hired for was an administrative support position. We decided it was Hi-S-I, Lo-S-II based on timespan, using checklists, and expertise. Tasks were getting done, but there seemed to be a missing behavior around awareness, interest in helping others, and assertiveness. Am I assessing correctly that this falls into Required Behaviors/Passion-Interests in the 4 Absolutes?

Response:
First a quick review of the Four Absolutes required for any position, no matter the discipline –

  • Capability (measured in Timespan)
  • Skill (technical knowledge, practiced performance)
  • Interest, Passion (high value for the behavior)
  • Required Behaviors (contracted behaviors, habits, culture)

You describe that task assignments were completed, I will assume on time and at quality standard. Your disappointment was in –

  • Awareness
  • Interest in helping others
  • Assertiveness

The question is, how could this have been detected in the interview? Let’s take the easy one first. Interest in helping others. I cannot see interest, I can only see behavior connected to interest. So, how does a person behave, who has an interest in helping others?

  • Tell me about a time when you worked with a team that required a great deal of interaction and support among the team members?
  • What was the team? What was the purpose for the team?
  • How many members on the team?
  • What created the need for interaction and support?
  • What did you need from the other team members?
  • What did the other team members need from you?
  • How did the other team members let you know they needed your support?
  • What did your support (what they needed from you) look like?
  • How quickly did they need that support?
  • Step me through an example where a team member needed your specific support?
  • How did you become aware they needed your support?
  • Step me through your response?

You can already see through these questions, that the interviewer will learn about your other two disappointments, awareness and assertiveness (speed of response). A person who is aware, will be able to respond easily to these questions. A person who is assertive will respond quickly with specific behavior appropriate to the situation.

These questions are behavioral, I am not interested personality, only behavior. Restrict your questions to real examples from the past. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. Under pressure, people will retreat to what they have done in the past, even if it didn’t work.

Timespan of Intention

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
Sometimes, I question my assessment of a team member’s capability. At times, I am delightfully surprised, other times, disappointed.

Response:
Timespan assessment of capability is a manager’s judgement. There are clues, but most of the time, managers look in the wrong places. Here is the text from my slide defining Timespan.
Timespan is the length of time a person can effectively work into the future, without direction, using their own discretionary judgement, to achieve a specific goal.

Effectiveness is not a metric, it’s a judgement. Often, goals are stated to allow for some measurement at the end of the day. The problem with the metric, it does not take into account the unanticipated obstacles that get in the way. A sales metric of 100 units does not take into account the stiff competition from a company with superior technology, economic contraction in the marketplace or a new government regulation the influences a reluctant market. Often a successful sale has more to do with the company’s reputation in the market, than the direct effort of a salesperson. The goal (metric) is one important data point in the judgement of effectiveness, but it is not the only data point.

Self-initiated action. Part of effectiveness is to determine, who is doing the problem solving and decision making? Most people can follow a system, but it takes a higher level of capability to create the system.

Discretion is decision making. A decision is not a calculation, it is a judgement. If decisions were calculations, then computers could make all decisions. Many human based decisions are now better calculated with computers (AI), because computers can detect data faster, with more precision. But, a decision is a judgement, a judgement in the face of uncertainty and ambiguity. The longer the timespan of the decision, the more uncertainty exists.

All action is goal directed. Timespan of discretion relates to the decisions that must be made in the pursuit of the goal. Timespan of intention is related to the direction of that behavior. Elliott Jaques was quite interested in that fifth dimension of human behavior, the timespan of intention. All behavior is goal directed behavior.

Slowly, Then All of a Sudden

If I did not allow you, as the manager, to come to work tomorrow, what tasks would your team find to work on? I get a variety of responses, but they all come down to this – Tomorrow, they would work pretty much on the same things they worked on today.

And if I held you back another day, what tasks would your team find to work on, and what methods would they use? The responses continue to be – They would work pretty much on the same things as today, using the same methods as today.

Good. Now, how long could your team continue to do that without you? Be honest.

The team could continue to work on the same tasks using the same methods for a long time.

How long? Exactly up to the very moment when…

Exactly up to the very moment when something changed. In that instant, you, as a manager, suddenly had a job. Management is about helping your team adapt to change. In fact, if nothing in your market, in your industry, in your state, in your town, with technology ever changed, then your company would not need you.

The more change you see in your market, in your industry, with technology, the more management you need.

Role Assessment

Question:
You talk about creating a system for recruiting that would rival our equipment procurement system. Where do we start?

Response:
Think about that machine your company just purchased. If the price was north of $50,000, a bunch of people spent a lot of time looking at this machine in many different ways. Here is where it all started.

One, two or three people sat down and did a needs assessment. In that needs assessment, they asked some very fundamental questions.

  • What do we need this machine to do for us?
  • Is there another way, or another machine that would do a better job?
  • At the end of the week, how much production do we need from this machine?
  • What are the quality standards that we need from this machine?
  • How will this machine interface with our current work flow?
  • What kind of support will this machine require to sustain the productivity we need from it?
  • What other customers like us are currently using this machine?
  • How is this machine performing for them?
  • If we grow, what capacity will this machine need, in reserve, to accommodate our growth?

Think about these questions. Replace the word “machine” with the word “person.” Think about the role description you are writing. This is where you start.

It’s Not Free

“If it doesn’t show on the screen, it is wasted effort.” I grew up in the television production business and that one principle helped us make the most important decisions. If the element did not make a visual impact on the screen, we passed on it.

What does this mean for your team? What defines your “tv screen?” I will lay odds that your “tv screen” is defined by your customer. If your customer does not value your “value added” service, then stop doing it.

How do you know when your customer values your “value added” service? You know, when your customer is willing to pay for it. Value added does not mean free.

The Anabolic Window

The meeting was almost over. Butts in chairs began to shift toward the door.

“Take this 3×5 index card and write your name on it. Below that, write down the one thing you are going to do in the next week based on what we talked about, today.” The puzzled faces gave way to ideas for action and the writing began. Forty-five seconds later, we started around the table, each in turn, in front of the group, making a public commitment.

At the end of each meeting, there is an anabolic window that most managers never take advantage of. This window is a short period of time in which growth occurs. Ten minutes later, the window is gone.

Public commitment to action. Your team was engaged the past twenty minutes in a meeting about improving the work-flow process. At the end of the meeting, you could adjourn and lose the window, or you could stop and ask for a public commitment to action. It could be the most powerful three minutes of the meeting.

Oh, bring your 3×5 card to the meeting next Monday. We want to know how you did.

Communication Protocol

The paceline moved north, into a headwind, pulling 19 mph. “Walker up!” The shout came from the lead cyclist on the nose. He pulled his right hand off the handlebars, arm straight out, pointed to the pedestrian in the bike lane. One second later, he pats his butt and moves left into the active traffic lane. Though the rest of the paceline may not be able to see the walker, each cyclist knew about the hazard and knew to follow the lead bike to avoid it.

Intentional, agreed-upon communication. It was simple, efficient and effective. As the paceline continued north, there were other hazards to avoid, potholes, a tree branch in the road, narrowing traffic lanes, overtaking cars. Through a series of hand signals and audible shouts, the group made its way safely through urban traffic.

How does your team communicate in its daily routines? Do they have simple, efficient protocols to warn of impending hazards, delays, material shortages? Do they have agreed-upon signals to provide each other with feedback?

Chances are good that prior to a delay, prior to a material shortage, prior to a change in schedule, somebody knew. Someone could have warned the group and the group could have acted according to an agreed-upon protocol.

Get your team together and play the “what if” game. What problems occur and how they are best solved. Then create the “signal.”

“Walker up!”

Not Enough to Listen Attentively

Isn’t it funny, in school, when we think of the three “R’s,” only one starts with an “R.” (Reading, writing, arithmetic) Isn’t it funny, when we think about Communication in the organization, it’s always about talking, presenting and writing.

  • “How many of you, at some point in school, learned how to write?” All hands go up.
  • “And how many of you, at some point in school, learned how to read?” All hands go up.
  • “And how many of you, at some point, took a class in debate or public speaking?” Many hands go up.
  • “And how many of you have take some formal class of instruction in listening skills?” Few hands go up.

Let’s examine different levels of listening.

  • Level I – Ignoring (my wife says, I must be good at this, as much as I practice)
  • Level II – Pretending to listen (my wife says my skill definitely exceeds the ignoring level)
  • Level III – Selective listening (I always hear the part about the score of the football game, yet miss the part about taking out the garbage)
  • Level IV – Attentive listening (finally, some serious listening happening here)

It is only with Level IV that we are able to make headway to improve the quality of communication. Yet, most of our attentive listening consists of eye contact, some positive body language and focus on the other person’s lips, waiting… waiting… waiting… for them to finally take a breath, so we can break in and… respond. Most attentive listening is listening to respond.

To improve the quality of communication, attentive listening must move to a deeper level, listening for understanding. It is only at this level that we begin to truly understand the other person. Listen for understanding.

Yet, take it one level deeper and you will see exponential benefits from your conversations. Listen for discovery. Discovery is that intersection of the other person’s direction and your direction. That point of intersection is communication magic. It’s like that common ground you find when you discover that both parties grew up in Texas. The conversation changes, a new level of trust occurs. The real discovery, however, the true payoff, is the discovery of intersection in the future. In what direction is the other person headed? What direction are you headed? Where, in the field, will you meet up? Listen for discovery.