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The Timeless Wisdom of the “Abilene Paradox”

September 24th, 2014

Abilene Paradox Training VideoWhat do a 104-degree Texas afternoon, a game of dominoes, and a cafeteria have to do with making good workplace decisions?

In his classic article, “The Abilene Paradox,” professor Jerry Harvey tells the story of his family’s decision to drive their ’58 Buick – with no air conditioning – 53 miles to Abilene for supper.

When they returned home several hours later, hot and exhausted, it turned out that none of them really wanted to make the trip. Each family member revealed that they would have strongly preferred to stay home and play dominoes. As professor Harvey describes the situation:  “Here we were, four reasonably sensible people who, of our own volition, had just taken a 106-mile trip across a godforsaken desert in a furnace-like temperature, through a cloud-like dust storm, to eat unpalatable food at a hole-in-the-wall cafeteria in Abilene, when none of us had really wanted to go.  The whole situation simply didn’t make sense.” Read the rest of this entry »

The Crucial Role of Meeting Leader

September 18th, 2014

Learning to Manage MeetingsIn The Strategy of Meetings, George David Kieffer writes that the meeting leader must “make the team believe that (1) the group is worth being with; (2) individual members will have an opportunity to influence the outcome; and (3) the cause is one that warrants their attention and effort.”

As a meeting leader, how might you get these messages across? Here are a few ideas:

  • Justify the need to call a meeting in the first place. Many valid reasons exist to hold meetings: to inform and discover, build unity, allow a dynamic question-and-answer session, make joint decisions and generate ideas. But there are also plenty of times when assembling a meeting isn’t the best use of everyone’s time; when the work can be accomplished, or the information communicated, just as efficiently (or more efficiently) via phone, email or one-to-one conversation.
  • Before assembling a team and calling a meeting, identify the general purpose and specific objectives. For example, for a customer service problem-solving meeting, specific objectives might be: Determine why the customer service department is missing its deadlines 75% of the time; identify and evaluate ways to decrease turnaround time to 48 hours or less; find a solution that can be implemented before the end of the third quarter and assign responsibility for implementing the solution. These sample objectives are results-oriented, emphasizing specific outcomes. (An example of vague objectives for the same meeting might be “Find out how the customer services reps are doing and, if improvement is needed, kick around some ideas for making things better.”). When possible, link meeting objectives to organizational goals.

Read the rest of this entry »

Not Just for Bedtime Any More

September 16th, 2014

Story Telling for Customer Service TrainingStory-telling is proving to be far more than just the latest training fad. As reported in the July/August  issue of Training Magazine, major companies in industries ranging from high tech and high finance to high touch – and everything in between – are turning to story-telling as a powerfully effective way to inform, engage, and educate at every level of the organization.

Companies such as Sprint, the Ritz-Carlton, Hewlett-Packard, and many others both on and off the Fortune 500 list are embracing story-telling for everything from leadership development to customer service training and employee recognition programs. In fact, it seems like there’s no educational or communication initiative that doesn’t respond well to a little (or a lot of) story-telling.

So how can you bring story-telling into your organization’s training efforts?

  1. Start with a clearly-defined project.

A project like new employee orientation would be good for several reasons. With onboarding, there are typically clear objectives, clear learning points, and you can easily determine how well new hires integrate into the organization.  Onboarding presents opportunities to tell the story of how the company got started, along with stories that reflect the values and culture of the organization. (Other test project options could include the rollout of a new technology, a new leadership-development program, or the announcement of a new policy.) Read the rest of this entry »

5 Tips for Employee Engagement and Retention

September 12th, 2014

Bob_computerWhen it comes to retaining and motivating your best, most highly-skilled workers, here are five important things to remember:

People want to work in a positive, supportive atmosphere.  Leaders set the tone by communicating well and being available to support problem solving.

People want to grow and be challenged.  Leaders can support employees’ attempts to keep learning and broadening their skills, and can mindfully assign challenging tasks.

People are motivated by different things, not just financial compensation.  Leaders can become more aware of what encourages each individual to achieve his or her best. Read the rest of this entry »

Great Service Starts with Careful Listening

September 9th, 2014

Customer Service Training VideosIf a customer has a request or problem, there’s nothing that will infuriate them faster than a brush-off response that shows you are not paying attention. Listening is a sign of respect. Here are a few rules to follow:

Don’t interrupt. Wait for the customer to finish what they are saying before you start speaking. Otherwise, you are pre-judging their point, and that’s not smart.

Give your full attention to the customer. Avoid looking away or doing something else while the customer is talking to you.

Concentrate on the customer’s message, and then think about how you will respond.

Ask questions that encourage a response of more than just Yes or No.

Don’t make assumptions about the customer, what you think the problem may be, or about a possible solution, without first getting all the facts. Read the rest of this entry »

Earning Respect – Training Activity

September 4th, 2014

If you’re feeling under-appreciated at your job, the place to start looking for answers may be in the mirror. Here’s an activity that will help you identify things you can do to earn respect.

  • Column 1 is a list of typical on-the-job behaviors.
  • In Column 2, check the ones you believe you’re respected for.
  • In Column 3, check the ones you would like to work on.

Character Behaviors

I’m respected for…

I need to work on…  





Caring about others

Honoring differences

Being informed

Being positive

Dressing appropriately

Being organized

Being dependable

Having good judgment

Read the rest of this entry »

Delegation: Develop, Don’t Dump

August 30th, 2014

Delegation for SuccessIntellectually, we know delegation is good. It’s a way of developing staff — helping them learn and grow and preparing them for bigger roles within the organization. We also know it’s good for us to let go of having to do everything ourselves.

But when we ask others to do a task…how can we be sure the other person will do it right?

Well, we can’t be sure, of course. But we can be consciously intentional about picking someone whose skills and attributes are a fit for the job at hand.

Instead of just “dumping” your request on the nearest person’s desk, take a moment to assess three factors:

  1. What skills are needed?

For example, accurately compiling a cost comparison report requires skill with numbers and familiarity with spreadsheets. Crafting a blog post for your department requires skills in research and writing.

  1. What attributes are needed?

Someone with good logistical skills can easily handle the basics of scheduling an important meeting – but if they’re not friendly and empathetic, they might not be the best person to manage the tricky diplomacy required to get senior management to juggle their calendars.

  1. What risk is involved?

Read the rest of this entry »

Managing Ethical Dilemmas

August 28th, 2014

Managing Ethical Dilemmas TrainingThere’s a major project deadline coming up, and your participation in this afternoon’s meeting is crucial.  But you’re pretty sure you’ve caught the flu your kids brought home from school last week.

Do you go to work, or do you stay home?

You are under pressure to hit your monthly performance goal, a goal that – if met – would simultaneously enable your team to hit its quarterly goal. You see two options: rush a project that would let you put some numbers on the board now. Or, continue to take your time with this project, knowing that the final results will be far better if you spend more time on it…even if it means missing this month’s goal.

What do you do? Go for the short-term goal, or focus on getting better results in the long-run?

How can you choose? No matter what you do, you’ll be unhappy – and others may be unhappy with you as well.

Fortunately, there are almost always alternatives to be found – alternatives that lead to choices you can live with, instead of choices that make you miserable. Read the rest of this entry »

Don’t get so defensive…

August 24th, 2014

Communicating Effectively in the WorkplaceAh, the joys of the corporate workplace. Increasingly tight project deadlines, mistakes and oversights (our own as well others’), and  sometimes-baffling changes requested by management can really add up. It’s no wonder we get defensive sometimes. We push back against a new policy, we react to someone’s criticism of our work, and we shut down in response to yet another item added to our to-do list.

When things seem to be going wrong, it’s natural to want to protect yourself. But, not surprisingly, defensiveness rarely makes things better.  But what else can you do?  How do you stop yourself from taking things personally?

Deal with the situation, not with the emotion.

Take a moment to breathe and step back, consciously disengaging from the emotional impact of what’s happening. If someone is giving you feedback that is less than positive, give her the benefit of the doubt and do not assume she is questioning your competence or attacking you personally.  This way, you can deal with the situation rather than with the personality involved – which is always a more productive approach. (If it turns out there are issues between you and the other person beyond the situation at hand…set aside time to address them later when emotions have settled.) If someone presents an idea that means more work for you, or that challenges the way you’ve been doing something, take your ego out of the equation by telling yourself “this idea is being presented as a way to help the organization, not to hurt me personally.” Read the rest of this entry »


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