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