HBR: How Smart Managers Build Bridges

How do you manage conflict?  Are you improving your relationships with your directs? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Charalambos Vlachoutsicos

How Smart Managers Build Bridges

What do you do when the other person simply won’t budge from an entrenched position in which they have a great deal of personal and professional commitment? How do you bridge the gap between your position and his?

Most people try to win the other person over to their point of view by argument. The trouble is, in many cases they don’t have all the facts to fully understand why the other person doesn’t agree. What’s more, the gap may be down to differences in values or cultures that are not particularly amenable to reasoned arguments. Whatever the source of the differences or gaps, when you can’t win by reason, you start to get angry at what you see is the other person’s lack of it, which gets mirrored, and so the gap only gets wider.

The key to avoiding this dynamic is to stop trying to get the person to change and instead get them to open up. The information you get may well encourage you to moderate your own position and thus open the way for a mutually advantageous cooperation. Make them understand your constraints and get them to see what they have to gain by what you propose.

Of course, sometimes, no amount of understanding is going to get the other person to budge and you’re going to have to force progress. At this point, you have to work to bridge the gap in such a way that their main concerns are accommodated so that you can communicate and cooperate productively in spite of and within the limits of your differences. Typically, this involves talking responsibility for the action you wish to make while being prepared to share the payoff and the credit.

Once the gap is actually bridged and you move forward you will pretty soon see that your interactions generate change. Through the give and take of communication, all sides come to feel that at least some of the differences between them are actually smaller and easier to live with than they appeared to begin with.

I built perhaps my first managerial bridge when, fresh out of HBS, I joined our family’s business. Immediately on joining I realized that our warehouse constantly remained out-of-stock of at least five of the thirty-odd products our company carried. This not only caused a loss of sales of the items missing but also had negative repercussions on the sales of all of our products because it drove many customers into our competitors’ arms.

I went to our warehouse and met with the manager who was a very loyal, trustworthy person who had worked with us for many years. He was about 60 years old, knew all our clients personally and had a wide network of potential clients in the market. I asked him why he believed we faced this problem.

He answered that it was because our suppliers took a long time to deliver our orders and, given the global nature of our supply chain, there was nothing we could do about it. I talked to him a little about the notion of forecasting what amount of each product we would need to carry as minimum stock, in order to cover our sales during the time required between the date of placing our order and the date it would reach us.

His reaction was fierce: “If you want predictions go to the Oracle of Delphi,” he told me. “In Greece we do not know what will happen from one day to the next, so we cannot make predictions of how much of each product we will sell.” He would not budge.

Faced with this attitude, I stopped trying to get him to change. Instead, I asked for a worker, some red paint, a brush, and a wooden ladder. I obtained from the accountant the average monthly sales of each product, added a security margin of 20%, converted this quantity to the volume of space required for each product, and drew on the wall a thick red line at the point where the pile would probably be enough to cover sales of the product until our next order arrived.

I assured the manager that I respected his view that predictions in Greece were risky and — this was critical — assured him that the head office would take responsibility for whatever risks were entailed by my attempts to forecast “All you have to do is, whenever you see a red line appearing on the wall behind the stack of any product, is inform me”. Finally, I promised him a bonus for each day our warehouse carried stocks of all our products.

The immediate impact, of course, was fewer stock-outs. But the longer-term and more important benefit from the improvement was that the warehouse manager and I started talking more. He took to visiting me at my Athens office and to ask my opinion on other problems our Piraeus shop faced and to make useful suggestions on how best to address them. Thanks to my action in bridging I had been able to move from talking to the manager to talking with the manager.


Carson Tate: Bring Back Recess – No, I Am Not Kidding…

“The true measure of play is how it feels. Play is joy. Play is a sense of being fully present in the moment and not looking to produce or gain anything as a result of effort.” When was the last time you played? Below is a blog from Carson Tate:

Bring Back Recess – No, I Am Not Kidding…

“It is a happy talent to know how to play.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

When was the last time you played?

I’ll be honest with you – for me, it had been months. As a recovering workaholic and someone who is fairly obsessive about productivity and effectiveness, I always struggled with the idea of play. ‘Play’ felt a little like a four letter word.

Why? Because, at the end of the day, what does dancing around my office singing Katy Perry at the top of my lungs actually produce? Sure, it burns a few calories and relieves writer’s block, but isn’t that time that I could be using more productively, more effectively?

I hit the wall a few months back; it was in that moment that I realized the true power of play. I was working on multiple tight deadlines each requiring significant outputs of fresh creative ideas and energy. As much as I tried to fuel myself with a steady supply of caffeine and chocolate, my body felt tired and my brain was blank, dull and flat. I knew that something had to give or I was never going to create a new program or write a fresh article again.

In that moment of desperation, I turned on NPR, and my brain fog parted when I heard Brigid Shulte discussing her book, Overwhelmed, and the value of play. She quoted Stuart Brown who says that play is what keeps our brains flexible and is what enables us to innovate, create and solve problems in new ways. And, in Brown’s “play histories” he has found that people who do not make time for play – in either attitude or activity – are often joyless, rigid, have diminished curiosity and, at the core are depressed.

I knew immediately what I needed to do – I need to play.

Of course, my first instinct was to try to make these attempts at play productive uses of time. So, I scheduled runs with friends – exercise and social time. A book club – expanding my mind and social time. However, each of these attempts at play felt like work just wrapped up in a prettier package. I was missing something.

I was missing what play naturally produces.

The true measure of play is how it feels. Play is joy. Play is a sense of being fully present in the moment and not looking to produce or gain anything as a result of effort.

So, if any of this sounds vaguely familiar or you are just looking to reignite passion it is time to insert PLAY into your life.

P – Purpose

The first step, which I of course learned the hard way, is to disconnect play from any purpose. You are not doing this to get in shape, stimulate your mind, or produce a specific outcome or deliverable. You are doing the activity for the pure joy of it. Now, this can be challenging, so if you must have a purpose refer back to Brown’s research on what happens when you do not make time to play. That should provide a little motivation.

L – Love

How do you feel when you look at a person you love? Play is about connecting to that place of bliss, passion and pure delight. I will never forget that feeling of expansiveness and pure adoration when I looked at my daughter for the first time. So, what lights you up? What did you do as a child that got you excited? I loved making mud pies. I could play in the sandbox and make mud pies for hours pretending not to hear my Mom when she called me in for dinner. I would lose myself in the pure joy of simply creating. How can you recreate this in your life today?

A – Action

Play requires action. There is no such thing as virtual play. Play is the full engagement of body, mind and spirit. You cannot outsource it or reduce it to 140 characters. Trawling Facebook does not count either. You have to do something. To reconnect with the joy of play I enjoyed as a child, I enrolled in a pottery class. It was two hours once a week playing in the mud. I will not be entering any art shows, but I could not care less. I am once again playing in the mud.

Y – Yes!

Play ignites that feeling of yes in your life. It is the full expression of the essence of you. When you are truly playing, you cannot help but feel the exhilaration and a deep sense of rightness that you are truly and fundamentally aligned to your spirit.

Play is living fully.

Go play.

What can you do now?

  • Write down five things you loved to do as a child. Choose one to do again this week.
  • If you cannot think of anything you enjoyed to do as a child or need inspiration check out http://miceatplay.com/ . This is an amazing community of women in the NYC area who meet regularly for pretty cool playdates. If you are in NYC go play with them!
  • Check out http://www.meetup.com/ and find some people in your area who are getting together to play. Find a group and go join them.
  • If you are at work, play a game on the computer, bring in a slinky and watch it fall off your desk, or start each team meeting by asking your colleagues to share a story about the last time they played. Lighten it up and lose yourself, even for two minutes, in the joy of play.

HBR: Should You Cover for a Friend’s Mistakes at Work?

How would you handle your friend’s mistake? I’m interested in hearing your comments. Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Liane Davey:

Should You Cover for a Friend’s Mistakes at Work?

It’s nice to have a friend at work who cares about you and looks out for your best interests. Research has even shown that it contributes to your engagement. The benefits of having a friend at work are clear, but what about the downsides? What happens when your friend starts to let things slip? How do you handle it when you notice they aren’t keeping up? Should you cover for them?

As with most difficult situations at work, there isn’t one right answer. The approach you take depends on a variety of factors. First, how worrisome are the slips? Will they create significant problems for your team, or even your customer? Next, how self-aware is your friend about their harmful behavior and the impact it’s having? Finally, how is your friend’s manager handling the situation? Is anyone other than you noticing the problem? The answers to these questions will help you decide when to intervene and how quickly to escalate from one of the following steps to the next.

The first couple of times your friend drops the ball, it’s perfectly acceptable to cover for them. When I say “cover,” I don’t mean hide the issue. I mean you can jump in and do the task yourself. For example, if your friend was supposed to guide a customer on a tour and is nowhere to be found, you might conduct the tour yourself. Covering could also mean you help diffuse any negative consequences by acting as a character witness, such as by saying, “I needed help a few times today, and Preet didn’t have time to get to the report he was working on. I know he’s focused on it now.” Importantly, you shouldn’t lie. Not only is it dishonest, but it could threaten both your standing and your friend’s if the lie is exposed.

As soon as you need to cover a second time, make sure you take the opportunity to let your friend know that their behavior had an impact. You don’t need to be formal about it, but you do need to raise your friend’s awareness of their behavior. You could say something simple, like, “You had a tour scheduled at noon. I covered it for you. Where were you?” If the answer causes you concern, you can probe a little further and see if there is something worrisome going on. Something as simple as “Is everything all right?” would do the trick.

If your friend continues to miss important duties, it’s time to be more explicit with your feedback. At this stage, share your experience of the person’s behavior and the impact it’s having on you. Now is the time to switch to more-formal feedback. Even the change in your language and tone will signal that something is wrong: “You were 30 minutes late for the team meeting this morning. I noticed Marie making a note in her book when you walked in. You’re probably going to hear about this at your next meeting with her. What’s up?”

If your friend is starting to take advantage of your generosity in covering for them, you should share the impact that their behavior is having on you: “You were 30 minutes late for the team meeting this morning. I had to cover the pipeline report for you. I felt unprepared and uncomfortable having to do it on the fly. What made you late?”

At some point, if your feedback isn’t working, you’ll need to change tacks. If every time your friend drops the ball, you’re there to catch it, the consequences might not be grave enough for them to change their ways. All you’ve done by covering for your friend is show them you’ll be accountable, so they don’t have to be. Now it’s time to let something drop.

Choose your spot wisely; don’t let something fall through the cracks that will be harmful to the team or visible to the customer. If your friend is ignoring internal deadlines or missing big chunks from the presentation they’re preparing, don’t save the day. Give your friend a heads up, and then leave it for them to fix the situation. For example, say, “I notice you don’t have the competitive analysis in your presentation yet. I know Frank is expecting it to be in the draft.” If your friend responds with puppy dog eyes and a plea for you to do that section, simply say “no,” or “I can’t.” Don’t make a big fuss over it, but stand firm.

At this point, if this person is really a friend, you’ll want to get a little more serious about understanding what’s going on. Is it a particularly busy time at home? If so, you can suggest the person ask for help from other members of the team, rather than leaving everyone in the lurch. If it’s something more worrisome, like a physical or mental health issue, your friend might be relieved to have someone to confide in. Don’t push if your friend isn’t comfortable discussing the problem. In that case, you can encourage them to seek support outside the office.

This might be the time to engage your friend’s manager in the conversation, particularly if the manager is supportive and focused on helping the team succeed. You can keep the conversation light and simply flag your concerns without causing alarm. For example, “I’ve noticed my friend has missed a couple of their deliverables this month. I asked them about it, but they didn’t say much. I’m worried. Would you have an opportunity to check in with them this week?”

Your approach needs to change as soon as your friend’s dereliction of duty threatens the financial, reputational, or legal standing of your organization. At that point, you need to put your responsibility to your company above your sense of obligation to your friend. As with all of the situations above, you should be telling your friend what you’re going to say before you say it: “I can’t let this one slide. The wrong shipment has gone to the client, and we need to rectify the situation before it causes problems for everyone.”

All of these scenarios, even the ones with the most basic comments to raise self-awareness, might feel uncomfortable. That’s a sign that you care about your friend and want to maintain the relationship. Remember, true friends are the ones who do the kind thing to protect you and support you in the long term, rather than saying what you want to hear in the short term.

If you have a friend who’s not pulling their weight, make it clear when you cover for them, share the impact their behavior is having on both of you, let the natural consequences of their inaction happen, and, if necessary, alert their manager if the repercussions of their behavior could have negative impacts on the team, the organization, or the customer. That’s what a real friend would do.

The Power Of Moments

I highly recommend reading The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact by Chip Heath, Dan Heath. Are you creating memorable moments with your customers and memorable experiences in your everyday life?

The Power Of Momentspower of monments.jpg

What are these moments made of, and how do we create more of them? In our research, we have found that defining moments are created from one or more of the following four elements:

ELEVATION: Defining moments rise above the everyday. They provoke not just transient happiness, like laughing at a friend’s joke, but memorable delight. (You pick up the red phone and someone says, “Popsicle Hotline, we’ll be right out.”) To construct elevated moments, we must boost sensory pleasures — the Popsicles must be delivered poolside on a silver tray, of course-and, if appropriate, add an element of surprise. We’ll see why surprise can warp our perceptions of time, and why most people’s most memorable experiences are clustered in their teens and twenties. Moments of elevation transcend the normal course of events; they are literally extraordinary.

INSIGHT: Defining moments rewire our understanding of ourselves or the world. In a few seconds or minutes, we realize something that might influence our lives for decades: Now is the time for me to start this business. Or, This is the person I’m going to marry. The psychologist Roy Baumeister studied life changes that were precipitated by a “crystallization of discontent,” moments when people abruptly saw things as they were, such as cult members who suddenly realized the truth about their leader. And although these moments of insight often seem serendipitous, we can engineer them -or at the very least, lay the groundwork. In one unforgettably disgusting story, we’ll see how some relief workers sparked social change by causing a community to “trip over the truth.”

PRIDE: Defining moments capture us at our best-moments of achievement, moments of courage. Tb create such moments, we need to understand something about the architecture of pride – how to plan for a series of milestone moments that build on each other en route to a larger goal. We’ll explore why the “Couch to 5K” program was so successful-and so much more effective in sparking exercise than the simple imperative to “jog more.” And we’ll learn some unexpected things about acts of courage and the surprising ripple effects they create.

CONNECTION: Defining moments are social: weddings, graduations, baptisms, vacations, work triumphs, bar and bat mitzvahs, speeches, sporting events. These moments are strengthened because we share them with others. What triggers moments of connection? We’ll encounter a remarkable laboratory procedure that allows two people to walk into a room as strangers and walk out, 45 minutes later, as close friends. And we’ll analyze what one social scientist believes is a kind of unified theory of what makes relationships stronger, whether the bond is between husband and wife, doctor and patient, or even shopper and retailer.

Defining moments often spark positive emotion – we’ll use “positive defining moments” and “peaks” interchangeably throughout the book – but there are categories of negative defining moments, too, such as moments of pigue: experiences of embarrassment or embitterment that cause people to vow, “I’ll show them!” There’s another category that is all too common: moments of trauma, which leave us heartbroken and grieving. In the pages ahead, we’ll encounter several stories of people dealing with trauma, but we will not explore this category in detail, for the simple reason that our focus is on creating more positive moments. No one wants to experience more moments of loss. In the Appendix, we share some resources that people who have suffered a trauma might find helpful.

Defining moments possess at least one of the four elements above, but they need not have all four. Many moments of insight, for example, are private-they don’t involve a connection. And a fun moment like calling the Popsicle Hotline doesn’t offer much insight or pride.

Some powerful defining moments contain all four elements. Think of YES Prep’s Senior Signing Day: the ELEVATION of students having their moment onstage, the INSIGHT of a sixth grader thinking That could be me, the PRIDE of being accepted to college, and the CONNECTION of sharing the day with an arena full of thousands of supportive people.

Sometimes these elements can be very personal. Somewhere in your home there is a treasure chest, full of things that are precious to you and worthless to anyone else. It might be a scrapbook, or a drawer in a dresser, or a box in the attic. Maybe some of your favorites are stuck on the refrigerator so you can see them every day. Wherever your treasure chest is, its contents are likely to include the four elements we’ve been discussing:

  • ELEVATION: A love letter. A ticket stub. A well-worn T-shirt. Haphazardly colored cards from your kids that make you smile with delight.
  • INSIGHT: Quotes or articles that moved you. Books that changed your view of the world. Diaries that captured your thoughts.
  • PRIDE: Ribbons, report cards, notes of recognition, certificates, thank-yous, awards. (It just hurts, irrationally, to throwaway a trophy.)
  • CONNECTION: Wedding photos. Vacation photos. Family photos. Christmas photos of hideous sweaters. Lots of photos. Probably the first thing you’d grab if your house caught on fire.

All these items you’re safeguarding are, in essence, the relics of your life’s defining moments. How are you feeling now as you reflect on the contents of your treasure chest? What if you could give that same feeling to your kids, your students, your colleagues, your customers?

Moments matter. And what an opportunity we miss when we leave them to chance! Teachers can inspire, caregivers can comfort, service workers can delight, politicians can unite, and managers can motivate. All it takes is a bit of insight and forethought.

Thank God It’s Monday!: Key Messages For A More Motivated Workplace

Thank God It’s Monday!: How to Create a Workplace You and Your Customers Love by Roxanne Emmerich —  this book which is twenty years old didn’t offer any new insights for me. Below is an excerpt from the book:

Key Messages For A More Motivated WorkplaceThank God Monday.jpg

Here are some of the core messages for change I share, which you will explore in the pages that follow:

  • Commit with all your heart. If you are anything other than a 10 on a 1-10 scale, you are hurting your fellow team members, your customers, and yourself.
  • Be unreasonable with yourself. Be unstoppable going after what you want.
  • Don’t let the little things take you out.
  • Call it tight on dysfunctional behaviors-yours and others: How you do anything is how you do everything.
  • Show you care-colleagues, customers, and vendors. In every encounter, make it obvious.
  • Celebrate every win. It reprograms the brain for more winning.
  • Clean up your messes. If you “blow it,” and you will, restore your integrity.
  • Use powerful and positive language about what you will do and the attitude you expect from others.
  • No more adult daycare! Dysfunctional behaviors must go, whether yours’ or of those around you.
  • How you do anything is how you do everything. live with passion and creativity by reprogramming your limiting beliefs.
  • You can be as miserable or as joyful as you choose. Those who show they care, who appreciate and celebrate, are leaders of their way of being. They keep a culture focused and people thriving.
  • Stop being busy and start doing what matters. Be accountable for results.
  • The fastest way to success and happiness is by giving. Life gives to the givers and takes from the takers; the world has a perfect accounting system.

Try This:

  • Imagine your workplace as one you are eager to come to.
  • Imagine that the only way your workplace will turn around is if you, and only you, are 100 percent accountable for the turnaround. If that were the case, what would you do differently starting tomorrow?
  • Identify the ways in which you are part of the problem instead of the solution-whining about what’s wrong instead of going to the right people with suggestions, shooting down ideas but not proposing ideas for further progress. Be honest. Really honest. Look at your own behaviors with a magnifying glass.
  • Look around and see the fellow employees who are going to need special help to embrace the vision. Use a mirror if you have to.
  • Think about it. Do you really believe? Can you commit to this? Can you make it happen and keep happening?
  • Do you want this enough to help ensure it can happen? What can you do from all levels of your job?

HBR: Dealing with Sexual Harassment When Your Company Is Too Small to Have HR

Most building supplier retailers do not have a formal HR department.  If you turn a blind eye to sexual misconduct at work, you create a toxic setting for all of your employees. What is your company doing about sexual misconduct? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Karen Firestone:

Dealing with Sexual Harassment When Your Company Is Too Small to Have HR

The subject of sexual misconduct at work is dominating mainstream conversation and board room agendas. This doesn’t just mean men and women who run large global enterprises, Fortune 500 behemoths, film studios, and media platforms. The conversation is happening in small businesses as well.

In the U.S. 43% of employees work in organizations with 50 or fewer people. It would be a mistake to think that a smaller workforce means a decreased chance of sexual harassment. In fact, a few characteristics make small firms more susceptible.

For example, at a smaller firm, people may engage with each other more frequently and that proximity can make the impact of any harassment feel disproportionately large. It can be extremely disruptive if two out of twenty employees suddenly can’t work together and need to be separated. And the legal and punitive costs of sexual harassment cases can feel steeper to a firm with less money and fewer resources.

Importantly, many small firms, especially those with fewer than 30 people, do not have a formal HR department. There is often not enough work to justify a full-time HR employee. The absence of HR means that CEOs must take more responsibility when it comes to keeping current with changing laws, and designing, communicating, and monitoring rules regarding workplace behavior. Another challenge is that without an HR department, more incidents might go unreported, since it may be easier for staff to talk to HR than the boss.

Managing all this is no easy feat for leaders who must also focus on running the business. At our firm of thirteen, the president and I, as CEO, handle all the hiring, compensation, performance, promotion reviews, and any personal matters that our staff brings to us. (Our business manager handles the rest of our “HR” functions like administering payroll, health insurance, and 401K enrollment issues.) Over the past thirteen years, I have brokered the reconciliation of some damaged relationships among colleagues, occasionally helping them through difficult medical and financial situations, and remained watchful for any unhappiness or anxiety. We have never had a sexual harassment complaint, but I’m on high alert for any signs, and I’m thinking more now about how to preempt them.

My CEO peers feel similarly. I surveyed 57 small business CEOs on how they were thinking about sexual harassment. Twenty-nine of these firms had fewer than 50 employees and 21 had no full time HR staff. Among the group, 30 had a written sexual harassment policy, 14 had held a company-wide meeting, and 10 had conducted a training session on the subject.

Two-thirds of the CEOs were male and the group ranged in age from 27 to 81. The majority (70%) said they are more worried now about sexual harassment affecting their business than they were a year ago. They attributed this heightened anxiety to the news focus on high profile cases and reverberations, rather than to any specific incident within their company.

They worried that allegations of inappropriate behavior would damage their office culture, but they were also concerned that hiring a consultant for a day-long training session might be costly, redundant, ineffective, and cause tension about the reasoning behind such action. They were also nervous that the absence of a clearly written harassment policy could hurt both recruiting and the firm’s reputation.

Despite the lack of organized meetings or programs, they seem to be trying to create a constructive workplace culture: 20 of them acknowledged that they are more aware of their own behavior today than in the past, and 16 said that they encouraged their colleagues to come to them directly with any issues or complaints.

Small businesses do not need HR to root out and prevent sexual harassment. But leaders need to 1) be conscious of the factors that lead to a toxic work culture, such as having a predominantly male executive staff, layers of hierarchy in power within the organization, and indifferent responses to previous allegations; 2) establish clear policies outlining what constitutes sexual harassment, which behaviors will not be tolerated, and what employees should do if they see or experience misconduct; and 3) enforce these rules by designating clear roles for people within the organization. At my company I have told everyone they should come to me or my second in command immediately with any complaint. Should this ever happen, I would try to understand the incident by interviewing everyone involved, and I would likely ask the alleged harasser to take a leave until we understood the entire situation. Then I’d try to resolve the problem internally. If that was impossible, we would seek outside counsel.

So far, it’s not a dilemma I’ve had to face. Over a decade ago, we wrote up a sexual harassment policy that strongly denounced any form of sexual harassment. These included physical, verbal, or implied requests for sexual favors; inappropriate jokes and gestures; and intimidating behavior. It also offered directions about reporting that misconduct. Each year we revise this, recirculate it, and have every employee sign it. We continue to discuss this policy at company-wide meetings, including one recently, following all the recent news stories on the subject. At that session, I asked everyone if we should do anything else, such as hold a sexual harassment training session; no one believed that necessary.

Since we have no HR department, we tell employees that should they experience sexual harassment, they need to come forward, at some point, to one of the top managers. We know that this won’t happen if they don’t trust us and feel that we care about their well being. To foster this kind of trust, I talk to my colleagues every day when I see them, make sure people are included in any discussions around their work, and ask them questions about their assignments and contributions. This may sound trite, but these actions will generate more trust than merely telling people to come forward with a harassment charge.

Every CEO of a small company has concurrent goals of growing into a highly profitable business and creating a vibrant and desirable office environment. If you turn a blind eye to sexual misconduct at work, you create a toxic setting for all of your employees, and face high financial, reputational, and energy-sapping costs of dealing with a sexual harassment lawsuit. The main way small businesses can prevent sexual harassment is to establish the right internal culture, which means paying more attention to the example you set. The well-being of your company could be at stake.

{Grow}: Why great customer service doesn’t matter like it used to

What are your thoughts on the future of customer service? Is the customer’s experience as important as it was ten/twenty years ago? Below is a blog from the Businesses Grow By Mark Schaefer:

Why great customer service doesn’t matter like it used to

I was helping a financial services company with their marketing strategy recently and job number one was defining their point of differentiation. They had done an enormous amount of preparation for our meeting, including a SWOT analysis and a detailed and honest competitive assessment.

At the end of all this work, their stated point of differentiation amounted to “we have great customer service.”

And they did. But to their dismay, I punched a hole in that strategy and said their fine service didn’t really matter as much as they thought it did. Let’s find out why.

Great customer service is like air

There’s a television commercial airing in America that compares the service of major wireless providers. “It’s 2017” the spokesperson says. “Everybody has great service now … so why pay more?”

I believe this is true for most business categories. Today, the table stakes are exceptional service. To be in business, you need to be great because if you have terrible service, you’re going to get Yelped out of the market in a month. The hyper-connected hive mind has forced everybody to have great service, or at least provide equivalent service.

Even if you could possibly PROVE that your service was 10 percent better than your competition, that’s probably not a significant point of differentiation.

In the case of my customer, they DID have great service but the reviews and ratings were equally stellar for their competitors:

  • My customer’s rating: 94
  • Competitor 1: 91
  • Competitor 2: 90

In this case, touting great customer service as a point of differentiation is like saying “Hey, we have clean air in our store!” or, “Now featuring the city’s coldest water fountain.” It probably doesn’t matter. Everybody has great customer service because if you don’t you’ll be shellacked on customer review sites.

Sparkles as a point of differentiation

Every Christmas, my daughter and I go to a German restaurant in New York called Rolf’s. We go for one reason — every inch of space in the tiny restaurant is covered with Christmas lights. It’s beautiful. If you want to get in the Christmas Spirit, this is the place to go.

Last year, we went to the restaurant and were turned away despite the fact that my daughter had made a reservation three weeks in advance. She had called all day to confirm the reservation and nobody picked up the phone. She proved this by showing them ten consecutive calls to the restaurant on her phone.

Nevertheless, they would not honor the reservation and we were expelled by the rudest hospitality worker on the planet. We vowed to never set foot in this restaurant again. When I looked at their rating on Yelp, to my surprise, this restaurant had an average rating below two stars. One typical review:

After seeing how beautiful this place looked on Instagram I was shocked at how RUDE the host was. And how packed the place was. The food was nothing special and expensive. Never again. And yet, there was a line to get in stretching down the block.

Why would such a terrible place have a line stretching down the block? It’s because they’re sparkly.

Sparkles, it seems, trumps food, service, and price. Think about that. This restaurant doesn’t need to invest in service or quality food, it just needs to buy another $2.99 string of Christmas lights.

And that’s OK because they’re more sparkly than anybody else and enough people care about that to turn a good profit.

Will Rolf’s terrible restaurant survive? Probably. New York is a huge city. As long as there enough people who vote for sparkles over quality they’re fine. They made their calculation and it’s apparently paying off.

Service is important, but it might not be different

How can you explain Rolf’s? The service is bad, but the experience is unique. In this case we see that the customer experience even overcomes the poor food and the jerk at the door. To be clear, I don’t think most businesses can ignore service and quality. But I also don’t think service is the point of differentiation it might have been 20 years ago.

The game-changer has been social media and review sites. The ability for any person to leave a review or post an embarrassing photo has had the effect of keeping businesses honest. In some ways, greater service levels are necessary simply to avoid YouTube humiliation.

It’s certainly not impossible to stand out through service levels, but when I hear a business claim “service” as their core marketing message it’s usually a red flag for me. I think the battleground moving forward isn’t necessarily customer service, it’s customer experience.

What are your thoughts on the future of service, marketing, and experience?

Mark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.


HBR: How to Motivate Yourself When Your Boss Doesn’t

Do you request feedback from your peers and/or managers? What do you do to motivate yourself? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Julie Mosow:

How to Motivate Yourself When Your Boss Doesn’t

Let’s face it: some bosses are not inspiring. They don’t motivate us to perform at our best — let alone improve our skills. What should you do if your boss is too hands-off, ambivalent, or downright demotivating? How can you keep your engagement up and your own professional goals on track? Is it possible to motivate yourself?

What the Experts Say

The good news is that while your boss has a lot of influence over how engaged you are at work, you can put yourself in the driver’s seat. “Employees have more control than they realize over their ability to build and sustain motivation in the workplace,” says Heidi Grant Halvorson, a motivational psychologist and author of Nine Things Successful People Do Differently. There are many factors that influence motivation, but “the most significant one is a sense of progress,” says Monique Valcour, professor of management at EDHEC Business School in France, citing Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer’s book, The Progress Principle. “And that comes from the feeling that we are doing work that is meaningful to ourselves, to our colleagues, to the organization, and to the world at large.” Halvorson adds: “Changing your mindset and habits can drive a more fulfilling, more motivated approach to work no matter who your manager is.” Here’s how to motivate yourself when your boss doesn’t.

Understand what makes you tick

If your manager doesn’t motivate you or, even worse, undermines you, it’s important to figure out what drives you personally and professionally. In The Progress Principle, Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer stress that motivation stems from three things: love of the work itself, the desire to receive recognition, and a sense that our work matters and connects us to others. So ask yourself: When was the last time you felt a sense of meaning and purpose at work? What were the conditions that allowed those feelings to flourish?

Set your own goals

Valcour points out that many people feel they’re sprinting in place with no extra time to tackle anything other than their day-to-day responsibilities. However, it’s important to step back and look at the big picture. Make an individual career plan to help you track your projects and results and set goals for your own development. While some of these goals may be directly related to your current role, others may be geared toward learning and exploring areas of interest outside your job description. Even though it’s tempting to set demanding goals for yourself, Halvorson cautions against going overboard. “Although it’s counterintuitive, setting unrealistic or overly ambitious goals can actually be demotivating because there’s so much on the line,” she says. Instead, set goals with smaller milestones so that you can celebrate your progress each step along the way.

Use if-then planning

Once you’ve decided on your goals, Halvorson recommends using “if-then” planning to stay on track or to handle setbacks. “Accepting that challenges are a part of life and being prepared to deal with them is critical to long-term motivation,” she says. For example, if your goal is to finish a presentation, but you find yourself getting distracted by conversations with colleagues, you might say, “If I haven’t finished the presentation by the end of the day on Wednesday, then I will come in early on Thursday to finish up while it’s quiet.” Or you might use if-then planning to move past a low point. For example, “If we don’t receive funding for this project, then I will rewrite the business plan and approach the partners again.” By anticipating obstacles, you’re less likely to get stuck.

Evaluate your own performance and ask for feedback

One way that poor managers undermine motivation is by not giving sufficient feedback. “Seeking feedback is important,” Valcour confirms, “even if we sometimes hear things we’d rather not.” Halvorson believes that most managers are willing to offer feedback if you ask. You might request the feedback directly and in the moment by saying something like, “How did you think the meeting went? Is there anything I might do differently next time?” You might also look to peers for an objective assessment of your performance. Ask people who will be candid with you and whose opinions you trust. Another option is self-evaluation. “We’re more capable than we realize of generating meaningful feedback about our professional accomplishments,” Halvorson says. “Look critically at your own work and ask yourself the same questions you would use to evaluate the work of others. For example, consider if you’re moving fast enough or if the quality of your work is what it should be.”

Expand your internal and external networks

If your manager isn’t motivating you, it’s essential to look for support elsewhere — not only to boost your confidence but also to increase your visibility. Find mentors within your own company to give guidance and perspective, and, if possible, develop an in-house peer group designed to help all of you move forward. You can also seek out and develop external relationships. Valcour is a strong proponent of online networking. “Particularly for people who live far away from their colleagues, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other networking sites provide a sense of connectedness to a larger professional community that might otherwise be difficult to maintain.” Even for someone in a major metropolitan area with many opportunities to connect, online networking is an effective way to stay in touch with colleagues and to keep abreast of industry-wide developments.

Focus on learning

By shifting the focus of your work from performing perfectly to consistently learning and improving, you create the conditions for both heightened motivation and success. “Research suggests that this change in mindset reliably results in better performance,” Halvorsen says. “When it comes to achievement, attitude and persistence are often more important than innate abilities.” Her advice: break the habit of kicking yourself when things don’t go perfectly and replace it by telling yourself that you’ll learn from your mistakes, move on, and do better next time. “No matter your manager’s approach, breaking away from results-oriented thinking is one of the most powerful things you can do to boost your own motivation.”

Principles to Remember


  • Determine your own personal and professional motivators ­— you can’t rely on your boss to get ahead
  • Ask for feedback from your colleagues
  • Build a support system inside ­— and outside ­— your company


  • Set unreachable goals that stall your sense of moving forward ­— keep your goals manageable and celebrate your progress along the way
  • Underestimate the value of self-evaluation — look critically at your own work
  • Dwell on your mistakes ­— it’s more important to keep learning

Case Study #1: Cultivate a supportive, effective network

A vice president of human resources in the financial services industry, Lisa Chang* has had five different bosses during the past two years. The revolving door of managers proved to be very demotivating. So she looked elsewhere for support and decided to create an internal network beyond her team. Lisa developed relationships with three senior women in the organization: a woman who was briefly her supervisor before taking a role elsewhere in the company, another who is a leader in the client group she serves, and the chief human resources officer. “It’s unusual to have such a candid, open relationship with someone so senior, Lisa explains. “The chief human resources officer has given me opportunities at every turn in addition to being someone I can go to for advice.”

Lisa has looked to her peers as well but she feels that these mentorship relationships have been a far more effective way for her to stay motivated. “My peers and I are all in the same boat, so most of them wouldn’t have been a great help to me. By looking to more senior employees at the company, I’ve been able to create the kinds of relationships I might have had if I had been working with a great boss.”

While the lack of consistent, managerial support is not what Lisa would’ve hoped for, the situation has provided Lisa with the opportunity to learn from company leaders she otherwise wouldn’t have met. She says: “I’ve been able to seek feedback, challenge myself through new opportunities, and perform effectively in my role despite the leadership vacuum.”

Case Study #2: Stay focused on your own growth and development

Mark Barnaby* has risen through the ranks at several different investment banks, but with a string of managers who were either completely hands off or overly involved, staying motivated hasn’t always been easy. He coped by staying focused on his own ambitions. “Focusing on my manager’s faults just distracted me from my own goals, so I made it my priority to find ways to help him succeed while learning myself.”

He figured out what his bosses weren’t good at and stepped into the gap. “One of my bosses was a big picture thinker, but her approach wasn’t the right one for our work. I helped her by drilling down into fine points of regulatory policy, providing much needed detail in meetings, and being an in-house resource for her. Doing all of this helped me develop the subject matter expertise I needed to continue to move forward professionally.” Developing and meeting his own objectives kept Mark going even when his bosses didn’t.

Early on, Mark knew his growing interests would serve him well. “There is enormous demand for this kind of knowledge,” he explains. “During the past decade, regulatory policy has emerged as a critical focus of the banking industry.” Even though Mark admits that helping managers who weren’t helping him was frustrating, he acknowledges that it was the right decision for him and for everyone involved to approach each situation with a positive, goal-oriented attitude. He advises, “No matter what, never make an enemy of your boss.”

*not their real names