Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Leadership Skill of DEVELOPMENT

Let’s continue this week with our examination of leadership skills. The last 2 weeks, I’ve shared articles to reinforce the three concepts that we discussed during our “Introduction to Leadership” on the December 8th airing of The Leader’s Edge.

We’ve covered the topics of Listening and Action. So, that leaves us with Development. The development of your employees and leaders is paramount to the success of your organization! Not only to make them as effective in their roles as possible (whether it’s technical or “people skills” training), but also to show them that you care about them and their contributions to your organization. The more opportunities you offer your employees to develop themselves and to then utilize those skills, the more likely they are to trust you and be loyal to you, in good times and bad.

Indeed, that reflects the title of a blog post which Dave published a couple of years ago, “Great Leaders Develop Good People - Even in Bad Times”. The topic of that article is certainly relevant to our current discussion:

Whenever the economy turns bad, and that seems to happen on a regular basis, many companies start looking for ways to cut their costs. One of the very first things that some companies cut are any costs associated with human development. Coaching, training classes, and even brown-bag lunches are viewed as a “soft cost” that have no direct impact on the bottom line.

But nothing could be further from the truth.

On the surface, wringing out any excess costs seems to make a lot of sense. But great leaders know that wringing out all the costs might also mean wringing out all of the energy, excitement and creativity from a company as well. And, when things are tough, you need your team to crank up the energy and creativity, not bury it under a blanket.

Imagine a scenario where one of your top customers places a big order that is going to require the very best from your team to complete the delivery. Your team, suffering the blahs after having their overtime cut, all of the plants removed from the office, the coffee service removed from the office, and all personal development eliminated, can’t figure out how to deliver this order on time with the correct content.

Of course, Jack could have led his team to get this done, but Jack left 6 weeks ago to join a competitor. Sally was another manager who could probably have pulled it off as well, but she left about 3 months ago and changed careers entirely. Their replacements came from in house and, while they are excellent technically, they lack the skills to lead the team on a project of this size.

You meant to develop more managers with the appropriate team leadership skills, but with times being tight, you cut back on hiring, stopped training both your technicians and your managers and hunkered down to wait out the downturn.

Now that downturn may last much longer than expected. And you may lose your best client for screwing up this order. But that’s ok because you were able to wring out all of those excess costs that don’t really add to the bottom line.

Great leaders understand the difference between unnecessary costs and the costs of keeping your managers and staff excited, motivated, and most importantly, on your team. Great leaders understand that developing people is not an unnecessary cost, but an investment in the business itself. Staff development can have the very same payoff and ROI that an investment in new equipment can have. And an investment in your staff has the added incentive of making your team more valuable over time.

And that can get you through a lot of tough times.

I hope this article has inspired you to think about additional ways that you can offer development opportunities to your team. We’d love to hear some of your thoughts on development and any unique development opportunities that you may have tried or are considering.

At ECI Learning Systems LLC we are dedicated to improving productivity and profitability by creating engaged organizations. Our unique combination of training and personalized coaching, combined with our expertise in assessments allow us to create a development plan tailored for your success.

Until next time….

Laurie Valaer
ECI Learning Systems, LLC

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Leadership Skill of ACTION

Last week, I shared a blog that we had previously posted on the art of “Listening”. Listening is one of the key leadership skills that Dave and I discussed recently on The Leader’s Edge, where we introduced Leadership as one aspect of our Fusion Model of organizational and employee engagement.

It seemed fitting to repost the Listening blog to help reinforce the 4 secrets that will make you a good listener. This week, let’s continue the theme of leadership skills and take a closer look at the second concept we discussed during our Leadership introduction: Action.

A team is always a direct reflection of their leader. The energy of the leader turns into the energy of the team. The priorities and values of the leader should be shared by the team. In those cases where the leader and the team members don't share the same values and priorities, something must change. Either the leader will replace the team members, or the members will replace the team leader.

Show me the leader and I will know his men. Show me the men and I will know their leader. – Arthur Newcomb

Knowing how teams reflect their leader, we are always surprised to encounter a leader who states that his team does not share his values. Frankly, it’s not possible for a high functioning team to NOT share the values of the leader. When we encounter these situations, we often find that the team is, indeed, following the leader. But they are following his actions, not his words.

So many leaders have learned the right words or catch-phrases to parrot to their team. The message that “the customer is number 1” is trumpeted loudly, although slightly out of tune. Or they espouse “Our people are our top priority,” while cutting training dollars and hours, forcing unpaid overtime, and raising production quotas, giving no thought to the impact on the employees or the customers.

Actions speak louder than words and team members look past the words of the leader and take their queues from his actions. While the leader espouses the platitudes learned from the latest management conference they attended, the team members see the actions of their leader and KNOW the actions reflect where the leader’s heart really lies.

We have always found that team members are much more observant than they are given credit for. They can readily detect the incongruence between the words and the actions of the boss and they follow the lead set by those actions. It doesn’t matter if the issue is customer service, how you treat your employees, or how punctual you are for work and meetings. Where you lead, they will follow.

If your goal is for your team to treat your customers like gold, then you need to demonstrate, in both word and actions, that the customers ARE gold. If you believe your employees are the key to your success (and we certainly hope you do), then you need to treat them with the respect they deserve.

When you really begin to care about your customers, your employees, and your results, as shown by your actions as well as your words, you will see that all of your team members care about those things as well.

The above article excerpt (the original of which is published on our website) reiterates the point that, as a leader, your actions will speak louder than your words. Your employees will be watching you closely to determine whether or not you “walk your talk”….both so that they know now to act themselves AND to determine if/how much they can trust you and the organization. Therefore, as you can imagine, ensuring that your actions match your words can have great implications for the future success of your organization.

At ECI Learning Systems LLC we are dedicated to improving productivity and profitability by creating engaged organizations. Our unique combination of training and personalized coaching, combined with our expertise in assessments allow us to create a development plan tailored for your success.

Until next time….

Laurie Valaer
ECI Learning Systems, LLC

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Leadership Skill of LISTENING

On last week’s radio show (The Leader’s Edge), we discussed the concept of Leadership and how important Leadership Styles are to creating engagement and energy in your organization. We reviewed 10 Key Leadership Skills (discussed in last week’s blog) and then focused our discussion on 3 skills that are not always covered in the latest leadership blogs, books, and classes: listening, action, and development.

Over the next three weeks, I’d like to repost / share some blogs and articles that we have written over the last couple of years to reiterate and reinforce the concepts that we discussed on last week’s “The Leader’s Edge”. So, let’s start with Listening….

I’m sure that many of you are aware of Stephen Covey’s “Seven Habit’s of Highly Effective People.” If you are not, it’s a book you should read. Habit number 5 is “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” It’s a valuable habit that we should all study and practice.

But how exactly do we do this?

What is the secret of understanding?

Well, it’s not exactly a secret that two monologues do not make a dialogue, yet too often that is exactly the way our discussions are treated.

Listening is something that most of us say that we do well, but few actually do. I’m sure there was a time in the history of man when people really listened to each other, but I’d be hard pressed to tell you when the time was, or why people stopped listening to each other. However, I can tell you some secrets to good listening that the best listeners employ and that make them “great conversationalists.”

The secrets themselves are not complex and do not involve a lot of deep psychological understanding to employ. But, while they are simple to discuss, they are much more difficult to implement because they are “uncomfortable” and require a lot of thought. If you practice the techniques below, I promise you that you will be a better listener and that people will interact with you differently on a day to day basis.

Secret Number 1: Clear your mind
Just like Stephen Covey wrote in his groundbreaking book, “7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” you must first seek to understand, and then to be understood.

When listening to another person, clear your mind of all thoughts and focus your attention 100% on the other person. Put aside your own perspective on the issue, or your feelings about the other person and make your mind a blank slate to be filled by the other person’s words.

Secret Number 2: Don’t anticipate the conversation
As the conversation starts, resist the temptation to leap ahead in the discussion to its “obvious conclusion.” Don’t try and guess what they will say next. Instead, let their words come to you in the way that they had intended. When we anticipate where the discussion is going, we often miss key points the other person is trying to make.

Secret Number 3: Don’t multi-task
Study after study has proven that multi-tasking doesn’t work. Although many of us feel that we can do two things at one time, the truth is that when we try and do two things at once, neither task gets the attention it deserves. This is especially true when we are trying to listen to someone else. When you are engaged in a conversation, give the other person your undivided attention. Not only will you hear more, but the other person will appreciate your efforts as well.

Secret Number 4: Pause before responding
Normally, when we are engaged in a conversation we develop our response while the other person is still speaking. Sometimes we key in on a word or phrase that they used, and sometimes we anticipate what they are going to say (see number 2 above). In either event, we begin crafting our response while they are speaking, and in doing so we tune them out, carefully picking the words in our response for maximum impact.

Instead, try letting the other person finish their statements and then pause before you respond. In reality it will only take you about 2 seconds to determine the perfect response, because of the quality of your listening. At first, this might seem like the longest 2 seconds of your life, as pauses in conversations tend to be rare these days. But after a little practice, this will become natural for you and for your listeners as well.

At first glance, it might appear that following these guidelines for listening could lengthen your conversations, taking up more of your valuable time. In reality, you will find that you will save time overall because the conversations will be more meaningful, you will reach resolution quicker, and you won’t have repeat conversations because of items left unresolved.

What are some of the rules that you engage in listening? Do you have secrets to share that make you an effective listener? If so, we’d love to hear them.

At ECI Learning Systems LLC we are dedicated to improving productivity and profitability by creating engaged organizations. Our unique combination of training and personalized coaching, combined with our expertise in assessments allow us to create a development plan tailored for your success.

Until next time….

Laurie Valaer
ECI Learning Systems, LLC

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

10 Things Every Leader Should Know – Revisited

If you’ve visited the ECI website or if you’ve been following the discussions on our radio show (The Leader’s Edge), you’ll have seen (or heard) about a model that we call Fusion™. This model is based on the idea that your organization will be the most engaged and your employees will have the most creative energy when three important aspects of your organization are in alignment. Those aspects are your Corporate Culture, the Expectations of your Employees, and the Leadership Styles of your executive team.

Over the last few months, we’ve blogged a lot about Corporate Culture and we’ve talked about it with several of our radio show guests. While Corporate Culture is very important to the success of your organization, the other aspects play a key role as well. So, this week on “The Leader’s Edge”, we’ll introduce the topic of Leadership Styles. And, we’ll follow that in the weeks to come with several guests discussing their own personal Leadership Styles; how they developed them, how/if they must adapt them over time, and what those styles mean to their organizations.

Since we’ll be sharing various aspects of Leadership and Leadership styles this week, I thought it was appropriate to reprint a blog that Dave wrote some time ago called “The 10 Things Every Leader Should Know”:

Whether you are a new or an experienced leader, there are some key things that every leader should know and understand to ensure their success. While some people are natural born leaders, others learn through trial and error. But whether you are a natural leader or someone who has learned leadership the hard way, there are a few things every leader should know. Below are 10 items that you should apply every day to ensure your success as a leader.
1. Vision - Your team is looking to you for hope. As a leader it is your responsibility to tell the truth, but to also provide a clear vision and hope for the future.
2. Communication - It’s not enough to have a clear vision for the future if no one knows what that vision is. Communicate that vision continually to all levels of your organization.
3. Action - People will follow what they see more quickly than what they hear. Don’t just communicate your vision but live it through your actions.
4. People - The best way to show how smart you are is to hire people that are even smarter than you are. Your success will be defined by those around you. Surround yourself with the smartest people you can find at all levels of your organization.
5. Listen - All around you there are wonderful ideas floating around. But you can’t hear them if you are too busy talking. You hired those smart people, now listen to them.
6. Motivation - You can’t motivate anyone because motivation comes from within. But you can provide an environment that encourages people and allows them to stretch to their limits and beyond.
7. Talent - Everyone has talent; something they can do better than almost anyone else. Identifying people’s talents and utilizing those talents in an organization means that you can get the best from every employee.
8. Trust – Great teams are built on the foundation of great leadership. Great leadership is built on the foundation of great trust. Start building trust on day one and never let up.
9. Development – In good times and bad you want to be able to do more with less. That means spending the time and the money to develop the talent on your team. It’s this development that will help your team survive and thrive when you need them most.
10. Energy - Workplace energy means that your team is fully engaged at all levels of the organization. Workplace energy happens when the company’s culture, the management's style and the employees' expectations overlap and create a synergy that propels the entire organization forward.

We hope you can join us on for our upcoming series on Leadership Styles (Thursdays at 3pm Mountain Time – just click the “Listen Live” link) and that you will join in the discussion on our show’s facebook page. We’d love to hear your thoughts and insights!

At ECI Learning Systems LLC we are dedicated to improving productivity and profitability by creating engaged organizations. Our unique combination of training and personalized coaching, combined with our expertise in assessments allow us to create a development plan tailored for your success.

Until next time….

Laurie Valaer
ECI Learning Systems, LLC

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Another Dimension To Hiring Beyond Skills

Last week, we talked about hiring and the fact that, generally speaking, hiring for attributes like passion, values, expectations, and talent rather than basic skills will serve you, your team, and your entire organization better in the long run.

In writing last week’s post, I was reminded of an article that Dave and I published some time ago on the ECI Learning Systems website. I think that article, which I’ve shared below, adds another important dimension to our hiring discussion..….

We were recently working with a client and were discussing the fact that he was preparing to do some hiring. He had only hired a few people on his own in the past and frankly, wasn’t all that happy with the people that he had hired. Our client has a technical background and was good at spotting technical talent but he found that just because people had the talent to do the job, didn’t always mean that they could or would work for him successfully.

The truth is that there is much more to hiring and building a successful team than just hiring people who have the talent and skills to do the job. You don’t have to think hard to identify some talented under-achievers in just about any field. Likewise, you can probably think of many examples of over-achievers who seemingly lacked the natural talent, yet somehow always managed to rise to the top.

When you are hiring for specific skills, you need to make sure that your candidates have the right talent and skills to succeed. If you’re hiring an accountant, you want to make sure your candidates have the accounting degree or equivalent experience to do the job. The same would be true of a salesperson, programmer, or customer service representative. Step one in the hiring process is always, “Does this person have the skills and talents to do what I need them to do?”

But what happens after that? What else do you look for when you are making the critical hiring decisions?

The list of attributes can be long, but let’s focus on four things:

Integrity – adherence to a moral or ethical code
Energy – will take action and make things happen
Coachability – can be further trained or developed
Team Oriented – willingness to put the teams’ goals ahead of their own goals

If you hire somebody without integrity, you really want them to be dumb & lazy. ~Warren Buffett
If we could choose just one attribute to be used for hiring, it would be integrity. When an employee has integrity, you know that this is an employee you can trust.

Trust to tell you when they can’t accomplish something.

Trust to tell you when they don’t think you are right.

Trust to do the right thing for your customers.

When you can trust your employees and your employees can trust you, you have then truly built the foundation for a great team.

I think this article expands our discussion of hiring attributes even further.

Beyond skills…beyond having a passion for your organization’s mission…beyond having values and expectations that are a critical fit with your organization’s culture and values…and beyond having unique talents that will make them an invaluable long-term employee…there are other, more personal, attributes that are important to your organization and should not be compromised in the hiring process.

We mentioned 4 of these personal attributes above: integrity, energy, coachability, and team-oriented attitude and behavior. Do these attributes resonate with you? Are there other attributes that we did not mention, which are critical to your organization’s values, expectations, and mission? Do you currently explore these attributes in your hiring process? If so, how do you determine if a potential employee has “the right stuff”?

We’d love to hear your thoughts on hiring and how you handle this critical process in your organization.

At ECI Learning Systems LLC we are dedicated to improving productivity and profitability by creating engaged organizations. Our unique combination of training and personalized coaching, combined with our expertise in assessments allow us to create a development plan tailored for your success.

Until next time….

Laurie Valaer
ECI Learning Systems, LLC

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Is there Hiring Beyond Skills?

The topic of hiring has come up in several recent discussions on our radio show, The Leader’s Edge.

Hiring can be a tricky subject, as there are different schools of thought on the process. HR departments often insist that hiring must be done based on a person’s skillset and their ability to immediately perform the tasks at hand….with no forethought to how this person will perform long-term, or in other roles, or as a team member or leader.

Wise leaders (including those we’ve talked to on our show) and many great leadership experts believe that there is a better way!

In September, Steve Cooper, CEO of the Hospice of St. John, was a guest on our show. His non-profit staffs a combination of paid and volunteer personnel. Steve talked about how important a person’s passion for the hospice patients and families is to their ultimate success there. Similarly, several months ago I read an article in the Denver Post about the Autism Society of Colorado. Their executive director also mentioned that true, authentic passion is the key to hiring successful, long-term employees in their organization. The common message from these non-profit leaders: Hire for values and train for skill.

Now, you might be thinking to yourself…. “well, I can see how that makes sense in the non-profit world…but it really doesn’t apply to my business.” Again, several of our radio show guests would disagree with you. Heidi Hollenbeck, John Scarborough, and Richard Battenberg are all high-level executives in high-tech industries. All three talked about how important it is to determine if a candidate’s values and expectations match the company’s values and culture. The message from these successful business executives: Hire for fit and train for skills.

Are you starting to see a theme here? Let’s look at one more perspective. In this excerpt from the Hiring and Interviewing chapter of “The Engaged Manager”, my business partner, Coach David R Meyer, shares thoughts from his personal hiring experience:

Finding the right players for your team, not only for today but also for the future, is one of the most enjoyable tasks that you will perform as a manager. Searching for talent and improving the quality of your team can only serve to make your team stronger and your own job easier.

The purpose of this chapter is to help you find the best talent for your organization. Ultimately, hiring for talent, while more challenging and time consuming than hiring for skills, is one of the keys to your long-term success.


If you want to hire the very best people, if you want to build a great team, if you want to be a great leader, then hire for talent and attitude and train for skill.

Certainly, there are some exceptions to this rule. If you were in a hospital and hiring neurosurgeons, then you would not hire a great guy or gal who did not have a medical degree. But being a neurosurgeon is a specialized skill that takes years to acquire. This is not true for most positions. In addition, as you interviewed neurosurgeons, you would look for the neurosurgeon with the most talent and the best attitude, NOT the one who had performed the most operations.

Skills are the most routine part of any job. Yes, you need to make sure that the basic skill-set exists in your candidate, but not the specific skills. Skills can be taught, talent cannot. When you hire based on skills, you are hiring based on the lowest common denominator of the job. When you hire for talent, you are hiring the potential to do so much more than the job requires. When you hire for talent, you are hiring for future growth.

When you hire for talent, you are hiring for things that cannot be taught!

Hire for talent and you will hire for greatness.

Dave’s message from this chapter: Hire for talent and attitude and train for skill.

Now, as Dave points out in this excerpt, skills do play a role in the hiring process and are certainly critical in certain professions. But, once you ensure that the person has the basic skills to do the job, hiring the RIGHT person for the job can depend heavily on their passion, values, expectations, and overall talent. Remember….skills can be taught, many of these other attributes cannot. And, these attributes could mean the difference between hiring a successful long-term employee and replacing someone who was not a good fit a few months down the road.

Take a look at your hiring processes. Is there room for improvement? Do you hire only for skill-set? Is it appropriate for your business to consider hiring based on other attributes? Besides passion, values, expectations, and talent….are there other attributes that make sense for your organization? If so, we’d love for you to share them here!

At ECI Learning Systems LLC we are dedicated to improving productivity and profitability by creating engaged organizations. Our unique combination of training and personalized coaching, combined with our expertise in assessments allow us to create a development plan tailored for your success.

Until next time….

Laurie Valaer
ECI Learning Systems, LLC

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A “F.A.I.L. to Succeed” Culture

Dave and I have given several presentations this year on the subject of failure, and the role of failure in success. As individuals, we have been taught that failure is a bad thing. Now I doubt that anyone sat each of us down and told us that failure is a terrible thing and that we should never, ever fail….or that any of us actually had a class on failure where we were told it was bad. But, all of life’s lessons, the things that we are encouraged to strive for, and the things that we might be admonished for, all potentially lead us to the conclusion that failure is bad.

Our presentation on failure is called “F.A.I.L. to Succeed” and, in it, we actually encourage people to take a few more risks and to not be afraid of failing. We offer a 4-step process to help individuals embrace the notion that failure is how we learn; that failure has lead to some of the greatest successes of our time. Now, I’m not going to go into all of the details here….because it would spoil the presentation for you! (but…..if you’d like to hear more about the tie-in between failure and success and how it can help empower your employees or group members and can lead to more innovation, give us a call. We’d love to bring “F.A.I.L. to Succeed” into your organization or company).

What I will discuss today is the idea of applying the “F.A.I.L. to Succeed” concept to company culture. Managers in a “F.A.I.L. to Succeed” culture understand that, for innovation to happen, employees need to have the space to envision, explore, experiment, and learn from any mistakes they might make in the process. A “F.A.I.L. to Succeed” culture is one where employees are rewarded for being flexible, taking risks, and trying new things; rather than being inflexible, sticking to the old tried and true ways, and doing things as they have always been done. What’s the old saying….. “If you keep doing what you’ve always done, then you’ll get what you’ve always got.” Not exactly the mantra of innovators, is it?!?!?

Now, don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean that management should simply let employees experiment randomly, never learning from their mistakes and never applying those lessons to the task at hand. This is a sure way to accomplish nothing but repeated mistakes, schedule and budget creep, and, eventually, a loss in profits.

Rather, in a “F.A.I.L. to Succeed” culture, success is the ultimate goal and, when employees fail at something, they are encouraged to stop and examine that failure. Only when they acknowledge the mistake to themselves and others, can they truly examine the underlying reasons for the failure and learn the critical lessons that will make their next attempt more successful.

In our presentation on failure, Dave and I make the point that failure is temporary in nature. Problems arise only when failure becomes permanent. And failure only becomes permanent if we do not learn from our mistakes and move on. And, when moving on, we don’t simply forget the failure or the lessons. Instead, we focus on how we can grow from the experience, constantly looking for ways to apply those lessons and asking ourselves how we can build on what we’ve learned.

While risk can certainly be scary for an individual, it is even more so for an organization. But as the leader of an organization, you cannot let the possibility of failure paralyze you and your team. If you take no risks, you’ll have no failure…..but you’ll also have no gain.

Is a “F.A.I.L. to Succeed” culture right for your business? If so, is it the type of culture that you have created in your organization? Do you encourage risk-taking and acknowledge the potential for failure. Do you assume that learning those lessons are all part of doing business? Do you teach your employees that failure can be the road to the greatest, most satisfying, success?

At ECI Learning Systems LLC we are dedicated to improving productivity and profitability by creating engaged organizations. Our unique combination of training and personalized coaching, combined with our expertise in assessments allow us to create a development plan tailored for your success.

Until next time….

Laurie Valaer
ECI Learning Systems, LLC

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The History of Customer Service

In the beginning, Management created the product and gave it to the Customer. And the Customer liked the product; and it was good. And the Customer loved Management.

As the Customer used the product they began to have questions, and Management said, “We must give the Customer some help with the product. They need a friendly voice that they can talk to and ask questions.” And Management created the Customer Service Rep. And the Customer liked the Customer Service Rep because they were helpful and responsive and made the experience worthwhile; and it was good. And the Customer loved Management.

Management added new features to the product and made it more complex. And while the Customer liked the product, he had more questions and made more calls to the Customer Service Rep. Management added more Customer Service Reps and the Customer Service Reps did their best to help the Customer. And the Customer appreciated the Customer Service Reps; and it was good.

Into the land came the Efficiency Expert and he proposed to help Management increase their profits. And the Efficiency Expert introduced the Automated Call Distributor (ACD) to Management and told them that it would help the Customer Service Rep assist the Customer even more by responding to them quicker. And Management believed them and was thankful to the Efficiency Expert; and the Customer really did not notice the difference; And Management said it was good.

And the Efficiency Expert introduced Call Metrics to Management. And they told Management that Call Metrics would help them service the Customer even more. The Efficiency Expert used the Call Metrics to measure how long it took the Customer Service Rep to help the Customer. They told Management that the Customer was waiting too long for service and that by reducing the wait time there would be more profits. Management believed them. And the Customer did not notice the difference; and Management said it was good.

Then the Efficiency Expert told Management that they could best serve the Customer by helping them as quickly as possible. This would allow every Customer Service Rep to help more customers and it would create more profits. Management believed them. And Call Metrics were introduced to shorten the time the Customer Service Rep spent with each Customer. And the Customers began to feel unimportant; and profits increased; and Management said it was good.

The Efficiency Expert said that being friendly took too much time and did not service the Customer. By not being friendly the Customer Service Reps would be more efficient and could serve more Customers, and profits would increase. Management believed them. And the Customers noticed and were not happy; and profits increased; and Management said it was good.

The Efficiency Expert said that the Customer Service Reps made too much money and that moving the Customer Service Reps to a foreign country would increase profits and allow them to hire more Customer Service Reps to help the Customers. Management believed them. And the Customers could not understand the Customer Service Reps who did not speak their native language and they were upset; and profits increased; and Management said it was good.

And the Customers began to complain. They did not want short phone calls, they wanted help using the Product. They wanted someone to be helpful and friendly, and they wanted to talk with someone they could understand. And the Efficiency Expert said that this was not important and that it would hurt profits. Management believed them and worked to reduce average call times even more; and profits increased; and Management said it was good.

And the unemployed Customer Service Reps could not find other jobs and began to buy less of the Product. The Efficiency Expert said that costs must be cut even further and that average call times needed to be reduced and Customer Service Reps were told that no call could be longer than 2 minutes and 10 seconds. Call Menu’s were introduced to eliminate the need for the Customer to speak to a real human being. Customer Service Reps then cut off all calls in 2 minutes and 10 seconds regardless of whether or not the Customer was served. The Efficiency Expert said it was good; Management believed them. And the Customers were angry and began to buy products from other companies. Profits began to go down; Management said it was good.

The Efficiency Expert fought hard to cut costs even more by reducing the number of Customer Service Reps, eliminating user manuals and instructions, and implementing self-help tools for the Customers. Management said it was good. And the Customers stopped buying the product; the Company went bankrupt; and Management could not be found.

The End.

What is the history of customer service in your organization? This is always a great time of year to look around your organization and see where you stand.

Are you currently taking the best possible care of your customers? Or, has your organization lost sight of your key customer service goals….in the name of efficiency and cost savings? And, what can you do to continue pleasing your customers or to regain their trust if it, indeed, has been lost.

I hope that you enjoyed this article. At ECI Learning Systems LLC we are dedicated to improving productivity and profitability by creating engaged organizations. Our unique combination of training and personalized coaching, combined with our expertise in assessments allow us to create a development plan tailored for your success.

Until next time….

Dave Meyer
ECI Learning Systems, LLC

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Is Democracy The Word Of The Day?

In our last blog, I shared an article on “healthy” debate that Dave and I wrote and posted on the ECI website a couple of years ago. This idea of encouraging open and honest debate within your organization is obviously not new. Many leadership experts will tell you how important it is to creativity, follow-through, ongoing innovation, and, ultimately, your organization’s bottom-line.

In fact, one of my favorite leadership authors, Patrick Lencioni, describes healthy conflict as a key component of gaining buy-in, commitment, and accountability in his book, “The Five Disfunctions of a Team”. Lencioni explains that, without trust in the organization and each other, employees will avoid sharing and discussing ideas for fear of creating conflict. Instead, they create an environment of artificial harmony; where everyone appears to agree with the decisions and actions, but most walk away without feeling heard and without truly committing to the plan.

Last week I read about a local Colorado company, Namasté Solar, which has been named a finalist in Inc. Magazine’s “2011 Top Small Company Workplaces”. It seems that Namasté Solar truly takes the idea of open debate – allowing everyone to be heard and gaining buy-in at all levels – to heart.

The company was founded in 2004 by CEO Blake Jones, Wes Kennedy, and Ray Tuomey. The company was founded on the principals of democracy. As Inc. Magazine shares, “Namasté Solar would be flat, employee owned, transparent, and democratically managed."

The company encourages open debate on any issue or decision that needs to be made, including a recent business/life changing decision regarding a potential buy-out. Because of the company’s business model of “one person, one vote”, employees leave meetings feeling heard, well-informed, and empowered. Even if the vote does not go in their “favor”, employees are willing to buy-in and commit to the decisions made because they know that their concerns and ideas have been considered.

Now, you might be thinking that this kind of democratic business model sounds intriguing but entirely too cumbersome to use in business, especially a very large business. And you may be right. But Namasté Solar has found a way to scale their democratic culture with the growth of their company. Decision-making that started out as consensus from all employees when the company was small, evolved to operating by consent as the company grew. And, now, Namasté Solar has created committees, which any employee can join, to vote on simple day-to-day decisions. Larger decisions that affect all employees are made at bi-monthly company-wide meetings.

This type of democratic business model and culture might not be appropriate for every organization. But Namasté Solar has certainly shown that it can be successful in the right environment, if implemented correctly and diligently. And, their nomination as a finalist in Inc. Magazine’s “2011 Top Small Company Workplaces” illustrates that employees get engaged when they can be involved in the decision making process. With a little healthy debate, they feel heard and informed and can feel good about buying-in to the organization’s plan.

Take a look around your organization. Where do you involve your employees in decision making? Can you do more? Do you encourage a little healthy debate to both engaged your employees and foster creativity? Have you created an environment where your employees are well-informed, engaged in the process, and committed to your plans?

At ECI Learning Systems LLC we are dedicated to improving productivity and profitability by creating engaged organizations. Our unique combination of training and personalized coaching, combined with our expertise in assessments allow us to create a development plan tailored for your success.

Until next time….

Laurie Valaer
ECI Learning Systems, LLC

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

It’s Open To Debate

We had another engaging and informative discussion with Richard Batenburg (CEO of Batmann Analytics) on “The Leader’s Edge” last week. One of the topics that came up was the idea that, when you have a high level of trust in an organization, people will feel comfortable expressing their opinion, even when that opinion and the ensuing discussion could lead to conflict. We also talked about the fact that, while conflict can be uncomfortable for many people, “healthy” conflict breeds creativity and innovation and is important to an organization’s success.

This discussion reminded me of an article that Dave and I wrote a couple of years ago and I thought it was appropriate to share it again here:

You might want to sit down for this one. It could be a little painful.

Think back to your last staff meeting. (We warned you this could be painful.) Either the staff meeting that you sat in with your boss or the one you held with your own team.

What was the highlight of that meeting? 

1.      The donuts or other foodstuffs
2.      A recap of the NFL playoffs
3.      The big news about celebrity breakups
4.      Rumors about layoffs or cost cutting measures
5.      The rousing discussion surrounding a decision that needed to be made
We’ll bet it’s one of the first 4, because if your meetings are typical of most staff meetings, number 5 never happened. In fact, number 5 rarely happens at any level of an organization inside or outside of staff meetings.

For the last several years businesses across the globe have struggled with a number of factors including slowing economies, the high cost of labor, the realignment of the internet and the presence on the World Wide Web. Moving down a few levels in the organization, managers and leaders have struggled with productivity and process issues, turnover of key employees, morale problems; the list goes on.

With all of these issues to face, why do so few organizations engage in loud, long, healthy debate on issues that are critical to the success of the business? Managers and leaders sit in meetings and report the status of their projects, trying to call as little attention to themselves as possible. Or, they sit at the head of the table like the high priest and make pronouncements about the direction of the business like they have all of the answers at their fingertips.

At some point in time, businesses seemed to decide that harmony is the key to success. People were encouraged to be “team players” and to “get along” with others around them in a well-intentioned, but wrong-headed attempt to streamline the decision process.

Instead of actively debating issues that come up, we all try to find “common ground” and “compromise” in an attempt to please everyone around us.

What happens when we cut off discussion and debate to promote harmony?

For one thing, we drive the real decision-making process underground. How many times have you sat in a meeting and listened as everyone seemed to agree on a plan of action, only to find out later that no one took the actions that they agreed to. In reality, they didn’t believe in the agreement and therefore felt no compulsion to keep their commitments. Often, a lack of debate also represents a lack of buy-in from those present. Rather than fight the issue publicly, those not in agreement express their discontent through a passive aggressive process that causes the idea to never be implemented.

An active, lively debate on a topic allows for multiple opinions to be aired and for ideas to be developed and improved upon. As a leader you should encourage your team’s input and thoughts. Concerns should be expressed; solutions bandied about; and honest debate should be required.

All of this is not to imply that we are encouraging members of the team to sit around and argue without cause. But team members should feel open to express whatever real issues, thoughts, and concerns they have. And that active debate, the role of honest conflict in the workplace, separates good teams from great teams.

Take a look at your own organization. Do you encourage open and honest debate? Do your employees trust you enough to express their opinion? Do they feel comfortable enough with each other and the organization to get into a little active debate in the name of creativity, innovation, and success?

Until next time….

Laurie Valaer
ECI Learning Systems, LLC

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Collaboration Is Critical To Customer Service

Last week, on our radio show, “The Leader’s Edge”, we talked about customer service and how it can make or break your company. Richard Batenburg, CEO of Batmann Analytics, shared his vision and key tips for empowering your employees so they can, and will, provide positive experiences for your customers. You can listen to the archive of this discussion on The Leader's Edge page at

While empowering your employees is critical to good customer service, there is another key that often gets overlooked. As the following excerpt from “The Engaged Manager” (by best-selling author David R. Meyer) describes, it is also critical to step back and ensure that your vision, and the objectives that you set to fulfill that vision, actually meet your customers’ needs:

Good objectives start with collaboration. You will want to ensure that your customers understand and agree with any objectives you define. Thus, before you start setting the objectives, you need to spend some time understanding the needs and wants of your customers and identifying how you can best satisfy their expectations. Most of the time, this is fairly simple. Work with your customers, to find out what they need from you and when they need it. That’s the basis for setting the objectives. Certainly there will be times when their needs and the capabilities of your department to deliver may be far apart, but by collaborating with them, you can identify and reconcile those discrepancies.

Setting objectives without consulting your customers can lead to internal conflict and poor customer service. Likewise, setting objectives without the input of your team will leave them feeling isolated, unheard, and unappreciated. If your team does not understand and buy in to the objectives you’ve set for them, they will not be completely engaged and may not bring their full potential to the project. In the worst case scenario, the lack of upfront discussions could put your team in a position of failing to meet the objectives.

A few years back, I received my Performance Objectives from my Vice President. They were clear, well written, and certainly measurable. The primary objective called for the reduction of the installation interval for customer orders from 55 days from customer signature date to 30 days. The objective was challenging, but I was convinced that we could make the reduction if we focused our efforts. We needed new tools to help us with this process, so I added these tools to the objectives of my subordinates. All worked as planned, and within 60 days we had the interval to about 31 days. I was happy with our progress and knew that we would quickly achieve the new goal.

There was only one problem.

Our customers were not happy at all.

Was it an issue of quality?


Were we missing orders?


The problem was that my staff was pushing hard to achieve the 30-day interval and was not providing the personal attention to our customers that our sales department was promising. Unfortunately, the 30-day goal was our goal, but not the goal of the sales team.

In fact, their goals were in contradiction to our goals and the more we put pressure on them to reduce the intervals, the less they were able to achieve their goals.

Who was right?

It really doesn’t matter. Two departments with conflicting goals ended up hurting our customers.

Can you relate to Dave’s personal story? Do you include your customers in the goal-setting process for your organization? If not, are you missing a key opportunity to provide a unique customer service experience? What can you do in the future to ensure that your vision and your objectives are meeting, or better yet exceeding, your customers needs and expectations?

We hope that you enjoyed this week’s blog. At ECI Learning Systems LLC we are dedicated to improving productivity and profitability by creating engaged organizations. Our unique combination of training and personalized coaching, combined with our expertise in assessments allow us to create a development plan tailored for your success.

Until next time….

Laurie Valaer
ECI Learning Systems, LLC

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

When SMART Goals are DUMB

According to Wikipedia, the first known use of the term “SMART Goals” occurred in the November 1981 issue of Management Review by George T. Doran. There is some discussion over what each letter of the acronym actually stands for, but some commonly accepted terms are:

S = Specific
M = Measurable
A= Achievable
R = Realistic
T = Time Bound

By this definition, a goal qualifies as SMART if it meets these 5 criteria. For example: “We will increase our sales for X product by 200 units in the calendar year 2011” qualifies as a SMART goal because it meets the necessary criteria.

While management training has been cut significantly in the last decade or so, most managers are instructed in how to set SMART goals. In fact, SMART goals are often viewed as the panacea for organizations that lack the proper Vision and Mission. “With SMART Goals”, some people say, “everyone knows exactly what is expected of them.”

And, this is true. With goals that meet the criteria identified above, people do have concrete targets to shoot for. And the management axiom is, “what gets measured gets managed” meaning that the SMART goals will get managed by the organization.

But, it would be a mistake to assume that creating SMART goals puts the organization on concrete footing and guarantees success. As with anything else, SMART goals are only as good as the people that create them. And in my career I’ve been given a number of SMART goals that I knew I should never try and achieve.

Because sometimes SMART goals are DUMB.

D = Distorted
U = Unimportant
M = Mediocre
B = Biased

Once, I was working with my sales organization trying to improve our throughput and support to them. Over the course of the year they had seen changes in the market and were revising some of their products and implementation. We were working together to make sure we were both on the same page. This was a big exercise, and I was glad to be a part of it as I’ve longed believed that Sales and Delivery organizations should be working together closely.

In the middle of this exercise I received a package from my boss containing my goals for the upcoming year. These goals were nothing more than my current year’s goals with increased performance, and they were entirely out of sync with what my sales team needed. They DISTORTED the need for speed in delivery; focused on tasks that were UNIMPORTANT to my customers; would have led to MEDIOCRE results; and were based on the BIAS of my boss and what he believed we needed.

I was told to sign and submit them to HR within 24 hours to qualify for the bonus program for the next year.

When creating your goals, think beyond the concept of SMART and make sure that your goals will result in something meaningful to your department and your company. Find out what is really important and create goals that will serve the organization and your customers.

Just because goals are SMART doesn’t mean that they aren’t DUMB as well.

At ECI Learning Systems LLC, we are dedicated to helping companies get the greatest return from their most valuable asset: their employees. We work with you to align 3 key organizational factors:
• Your Company Culture
• The Leadership Styles of your key managers
• The Expectations of your Employees

When these 3 factors are aligned, you create an energy in your company that improves productivity, reduces absenteeism, increases creativity, and positively impacts your bottom line. Contact ECI Learning Systems LLC today to get your free Workplace Evaluation.

Until next time.....

Dave Meyer
ECI Learning Systems, LLC

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Leaders Create Momentum

Every fall, with the return of football season, we hear countless announcers inform us about the importance of momentum in sports. One team has all the momentum; with everything seemingly going its way as they cruise up and down the field adding points to the scoreboard. But suddenly, momentum shifts and their offense stalls while the opposing team finds new life and begins to move the ball.

“Old Mo is fickle” we are told as the pundits excitedly report on the sudden change in the complexion of the game. “You can feel the shift all the way up here in the press box” the announcers proclaim breathlessly.

But what really is momentum and how does it apply to your business?

Momentum is really nothing more than the feeling or excitement that comes from success. When people have success, it improves their confidence. And improved confidence leads to more success. On the football field, momentum shifts because the defense calls a blitz and catches the offense unprepared. The result might be a loss of yardage at a key point, or maybe a turnover. And that success translates into confidence for the players on the field. Suddenly, they know what they can do and they start believing in themselves and their coaches.

It is the same way in business. Momentum comes from having success in developing that new product, finding the financing that you so desperately need, or closing that first big sale. A company with momentum starts to grow because the team has confidence in themselves and their leadership. Success tends to breed more success so that one victory leads to another. And once momentum begins to pick up, and the confidence level increases, victories become more common and everyone on the team learns to expect success.

But just like in football, momentum in business can be fleeting. A setback in the product or the loss of a key customer can shatter the confidence of an organization, reverse the momentum, and begin a downward spiral. This downward spiral is often only reversed by another victory that restores that confidence.

But victories don’t happen by accident. Victories are the result of good planning and good execution. The team practices that blitz every week, but in a game, the coach makes the call at the right moment and the momentum of the game shifts. In business, the sales team is trained and the product features and benefits are built based on the needs of the customer. As in football, the tools are there ready to be used, ready to create momentum and confidence. What is needed is for the leader to create the opportunity for success, to call the right play to allow the team to win.

They say that a leader has a strategic vision, and that the leader sees what others do not. It is this vision that the company relies on to bring about the right play at the right time to allow the team to succeed.

As a leader are you setting your team up for success? Are you calling the plays that allow your team to win? Are you creating moment and creating confidence in your organization? Success builds confidence and confidence builds more success. Build the confidence of your team and let that momentum carry your business on to victory.

I hope that you enjoyed this article. At ECI Learning Systems LLC we are dedicated to improving productivity and profitability by creating engaged organizations. Our unique combination of training and personalized coaching, combined with our expertise in assessments allow us to create a development plan tailored for your success.

Until next time,

Dave Meyer
ECI Learning Systems, LLC

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Knowledge Is Power - Part 2

Last week I wrote about the concept that “Knowledge is power” and how most people believe that knowledge is power only when it is hoarded. The reality is that knowledge only has power when it is shared with all of those that need it. Shared knowledge creates power simply because leaders get results through people and without the knowledge they can’t create the results.

But sharing knowledge has another component that is often overlooked in the business world. You see, sharing knowledge not only allows your team to perform more capably but it also demonstrates clearly how willing your are to be open with them, sharing your knowledge, sharing the strategies, and sharing the goals of the organization. By doing this, you are building trust with those that work for you. And trust is one of the key components required for employee engagement.

It is no secret that engaged employees work harder and smarter than non-engaged employees. The mere fact that they care about their organization and their manager provides the motivation to create something bigger and better than those employees who don’t care about their organization or, worse, want to see it fail. By sharing knowledge and building trust within your organization you not only get the benefit of better, more informed decisions, but you also create a team of people that care about what they are doing and the results that they get.

How much information do you have to share?

You want to share as much information as you can without jeopardizing your fiduciary responsibilities to the company. As the leader in an organization there is certain information that is provided to you in confidence. Information that is not available to the public at large or to most of the employee base. When you are entrusted with confidential information you have a responsibility both morally and legally to keep that information private. Breaking that confidence could actually compromise trust in the organization, rather than building it. When in doubt, you must use your own judgment on what can and cannot be shared.

By sharing as much information as you can with your employees you empower them in their jobs and open the doors for improved performance and creativity within the organization. The message here is to share as much information as you can with your team. Sharing your knowledge will not only allow them to make more informed decisions but will also create a loyal and engaged team that will serve you, the organization and your customers to the fullest.

I hope that you enjoyed this article. At ECI Learning Systems LLC we are dedicated to improving productivity and profitability by creating engaged organizations. Our unique combination of training and personalized coaching, combined with our expertise in assessments allow us to create a development plan tailored for your success.

Until next time….

Dave Meyer
ECI Learning Systems, LLC

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Knowledge Is Power

Many managers and leaders often fall under the impression that one of the most effective ways to enhance their worth and their career is by hoarding knowledge. “Knowledge is power” they believe and, therefore, the best way to accumulate power is by becoming indispensable, by knowing things that others don’t know and by sharing that information very judiciously.

Sadly, at the lower levels of the organization where the manager is also the technical expert this strategy seems to work. Since the manager knows things that others in the department do not, they control the solutions to sticky problems and are rewarded for solving issues that their team did not.

Of course, this is not a long term solution for success. The higher one moves in the organization the less you are a technical expert. Hoarding knowledge is no longer a source of power, but now saps your power and limits your ability to find solutions and demonstrate your value to the organization.

None the less it is true. Knowledge is power. But, as you move up the organization, the power comes not from hoarding that knowledge but from sharing it as broadly as possible. In fact, the more you share information the more powerful you become in an organization.

Experienced managers understand that their success is not tied to how well they perform individually but to how well their team performs. No longer are they praised for their personal and technical knowledge. Instead, team results take the spotlight and they find themselves being measured for the performance of their organization. And, the best way to ensure that their organization performs up to expectations is to ensure that they have all of the knowledge and information that they need to be successful.

This can be an enormous paradigm shift for someone who has always viewed themselves as the technical expert and has been consistently rewarded for their ability to solve problems. It requires an entirely different mindset to acknowledge that others who are closer to the details may be better able to determine complex solutions. But, acknowledging that you are no longer the technical experts is one of the keys to moving yourself up the value chain in the organization. Instead of your value coming from your detailed knowledge, your value and your power now emanate from the performance of your team.

Managers who grasp this concept not only begin to share their knowledge more readily and reward those around them who share knowledge, but are also the managers who move up the ladder to higher levels of responsibility. Understanding that the power of knowledge is expanded, rather than weakened, through sharing is what separates those managers who top out their career quickly from those who continue to grow and move up in the organization.

Sharing knowledge has another benefit that is not commonly recognized. The sharing of knowledge in your organization actually creates a new level of employee engagement. But, I will write more about that next week.

I hope that you enjoyed this article. At ECI Learning Systems LLC we are dedicated to improving productivity and profitability by creating engaged organizations. Our unique combination of training and personalized coaching, combined with our expertise in assessments allow us to create a development plan tailored for your success.

Until next week,

Dave Meyer
ECI Learning Systems, LLC

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The 5 Most Common Executive Blind Spots

Every human being has blind spots, things that others see about them that they don’t see about themselves. Sometimes the blind spots are minor and, once identified, can be easily corrected. Others are more serious and may not even be recognized by the executive when they are pointed out to them. In these extreme cases, the executive may not realize the harm that their behaviors may cause, and they may even look at these behaviors as strengths.

Is your performance suffering from one of these blind spots?

1. Failing to clearly, concisely, and regularly preach the Vision and Mission of the company to ALL of the employees.

Too many top executives create a Vision and Mission, send out a company wide email proclaiming it, and then assume that all of the employees know, understand, and have bought into them. Any employee will tell you that actions speak louder than words, but actions combined with words are needed to reinforce your Vision and Mission. Communicate with the entire organization readily and don’t forget to show your employees how your latest actions are consistent with the Vision and Mission.

2. Undervaluing the concept of diversity in your inner circle.

We’re not talking here about ethnic or religious diversity (although those concepts may well play a role in the issue), but rather diversity of thought that allows new ideas to surface and be heard. Too often, executives want people who think the way they do. And, while it’s important that your inner circle share your core values, a lack of diverse ideas leads to a lack of creativity in your organization.

3. Viewing conflict as bad – believing that harmony results in greater productivity.

Conflict has a bad reputation in the workplace, but conflict plays an important role in creating explosive growth. While personal agendas and personal conflict may drag down your efforts, honest conflict involves people who are willing and able to present differing perspectives and debate those ideas knowing that there is a willingness to hear different views. A lack of conflict also represents a lack of trust in an organization, where no one is willing to express unpopular views.

4. Treating everyone the same in the name of equality.

If we accept the premise that all people are different, then we must also accept that all people want and need to be treated differently. Too often, we confuse the concept of equality with fairness. You need to recognize that people have different motivations, desires, and fears. Treat everyone fairly and with respect, but don’t make the mistake of trying to treat everyone equally.

5. Not creating the next generation of leaders in your organization.

An organization is only as strong as its people, and your leadership team is responsible for ensuring that you have strong people at every level. None the less, it’s your responsibility to create an environment that identifies the next generation of leaders and encourages their growth so that your leadership team remains strong. And remember, growing your people is as important in bad times as it is in good.

Did you recognize yourself in any of these 5 blind spots? More importantly, would your inner circle say that you possess any of these blind spots? If you don’t know what your own blind spots are, it might be time to bring in an expert to help you identify and manage them.

At ECI Learning Systems LLC, we are dedicated to helping companies get the greatest return from their most valuable asset: their employees. We work with you to align 3 key organizational factors:
• Your Company Culture
• The Leadership Styles of your key managers
• The Expectations of your Employees

When these 3 factors are aligned, you create an energy in your company that improves productivity, reduces absenteeism, increases creativity, and positively impacts your bottom line. Contact ECI Learning Systems LLC today to get your free Workplace Evaluation.

Until next time.....

Dave Meyer
ECI Learning Systems, LLC