job improvement

Know the difference: Input, consultation, or collaboration?

Know the difference: Input, consultation, or collaboration?

When inviting participation in a project or decision-making, it is important that those leading the process differentiate among input, consultation, and collaboration in order to avoid the hurt feelings, broken trust, and organizational frustration that emerge when expectations don’t match realities.

Four ways vision and strategy improve leader performance

Many factors go into keeping leaders happy and healthy in their job, but one often-overlooked reality is how the organization’s vision and strategy impact well-being. A well articulated vision and an agreed upon approach will provide a framework for increased satisfaction and productivity.

Here are four things that happen when an organization that is clear about its vision and strategy uses that clarity as a tool to help manage its leaders.  

1. An articulated vision and approach will help determine the scope of responsibility for the leader, and show how workloads are shared throughout a team and organization. The goals for the organization need to translate into specific steps and activities for getting the work done, and the strategies should be used to make assignments to work groups and individuals. Distributing the labor and providing accountability for that shared work helps everyone know that the load is being shared.

2. A good plan will provide the tools that a leader needs to say “yes” and “no.” Too often organizations continue to add responsibilities without taking things off the back side. The cumulative effect is overwork, lack of focus, and burnout. Organizations need to help leaders understand that “no” is as important as “yes,” and that they have permission to say “no.” Leaders then need to  learn both what they can say “no” to and learn how to say “no.” Being able to connect the “yes” or “no” to a specific plan provides a degree of separation for the leader, an objective standard on which to base their decision.

3. Leaders want to see how their work supports a greater purpose. While compensation, work environment, and colleagues are not insignificant motivational factors, conscientious and committed leaders will first be motivated by a clear sense of how their work is contributing to significant outcomes. Tasks that are disconnected from the vision will be demotivating. Activities that clearly connect to the mission and impact of the organization will motivate and inspire a leader.

4. A well-articulated vision and plan provides a template to assist in evaluation and feedback. Good leaders want to know how they’re doing relative to an established standard. Any review process should reflect the vision and expected outcomes of the organization. Keeping leaders engaged with their work is strongly aided by feedback loops that connect directly to the organization’s vision and plan. Critiquing leaders on anything but predetermined expectations is unfair and isolating.

Healthy leaders are nurtured in organizations that intentionally share labor, give the leader tools to say “yes” and “no,” help the leader see their work as meaningful, and provide fair standards for critical feedback.

Your vision and strategy are key ingredients in shaping and supporting leader performance.

DWYSYWD and other simple customer relations commitments

Most business owners will repeat the mantra that customer service is critical to their success.

Lately, though, I've had some personal experiences that make me realize that many businesses still don't get "it." An encounter with my HVAC contractor and an exchange with my insurance agent both left me dissatisfied.

On the flip side, I received great customer service while working out some details of a project with the staff at CreateSpace.

All of these got me thinking about how businesses might best relate to their customers.

Whatever your field, whether in the trades or retail or customer service or professional services, here are five commitments to keep in mind in order to keep your customers and clients happy and coming back.

  1. Do what you say you'll do. Often referred to as the DWYSYWD principle, it means exactly what it suggests. If you tell a customer that you will deliver a particular good at a specified time, deliver it. If you promise a client a phone call, make it. If you say you'll send an email, send it. 
  2. Communicate. If for some reason you cannot deliver what you said you would when you said you would, then let the customer/client know that's the case, and tell them why. Make sure it's a "good why" and a legitimate explanation. 
  3. Answer questions. If you have billing formula that doesn't show up on your invoice and your customer/client asks how you arrived at the charges, be prepared to tell them. Always be ready with a solid rationale and offer it without defensiveness. 
  4. Be respectful and pleasant. It's not always easy to maintain your composure with customers/clients if they are asking questions, being critical, or are upset about something, but it's your responsibility to take the high road. Respect and pleasantness will more often than not diffuse a tense situation, leave an opening for a productive resolution, and/or allow the customer/client to leave the encounter with understanding even if they're not in agreement. 
  5. Know the difference between your value and your pride. Good businesses should expect a good price. But carrying your fees around as an entitlement doesn't make anyone feel good about what you're charging. It's one thing to show value in the product and service; it's quite another to lead with an attitude that says "we'll take what we want from you because we're so good."

Consistently practicing these five commitments with customers and clients will strengthen your reputation and keep them coming back. 

To-do lists, plans, and strategy

The tyranny of the urgent catches up with all of us at times. And so does the deception of the slow times. If our work were steady and predictable, all would be right with the world. But we know that's not the case.

Our methods of organizing our work vary, but I've found that it's important to consistently keep three horizons of work in sight: 1) to-do lists; 2) plans; 3) strategy. 

To-do lists, plans, and strategies help address immediate priorities, structure broader responsibilities, and keep end-goals in focus.

We've all seen it. Maybe it's in front of you right now. It's the legal pad filled from top to bottom with itemized items requiring your immediate attention. These lists are specific tasks that, when intentionally prioritized, help us determine how to use the hours and minutes of our day. When scratched off the list, they give us a feeling of satisfaction, indicate progress, and prove our capability. To-do lists are the small steps we take. But do those small steps lead to bigger impacts?

Completing the to-do list may or may not actually contribute to achieving the plan. I have often encountered people with detailed to-do lists but with no idea what all those tasks will add up to. Effective time management is not simply completing a to-do list; that to-do list must contribute toward a greater collective outcome. 

Plans are the larger outcomes that our to-do lists feed into. The greater collective outcome might be called a project, and the plan is the intentional set of steps required to reach a particular objective. When the to-do list and the plan are in sync, synergistic outcomes emerge.

The strategy provides the overarching direction for the organization. Strategy keeps vision and mission in focus. It's the framework for keeping the overall purpose of the organization front and center. The plan reflects the strategy, and the to-do list ensures discreet steps for executing the plan.

One of the most common derailers in organizations is the to-do list syndrome. Because the immediate needs are so numerous and the to-do list so long, the plan gets lost and the strategy is neglected. You might be doing a thousand things, but in the end what do they contribute to?

A simple exercise to keep the plan and strategy in focus while plowing through the to-do list is to build a simple coding system. Keep the strategy in front of you and make sure you have a written plan. Then, for each task on the to-do list, be sure you can assign it to both the plan and the strategy. 

Not everything will fit perfectly in the plan or strategy; if that's the case, you'll want to ask whether or not it still needs to be done.

If a task fits the strategy but not the plan, perhaps the plan needs adaptation.

If the task fits the plan but not the strategy, check to make sure the plan is actually supporting the strategy. If not, change it.

Instead of being consumed by the to-do list, take a few minutes and allow it to work for you and the organization to prevent mission creep and keep progress toward the larger vision and mission of your organization. 

Then when you've crossed the items off your to-do list you'll have the satisfaction of knowing that each activity, and you, made a difference!