CB: How to Battle Customer Experience Fatigue

Below is a blog from the Customer Bliss

How to Battle Customer Experience Fatigue

Here are three actions (and the need for a lot of responses) to help you pull the customer experience work into focus:

  1. Know Where You Are In the Process
  • You have assembled many groups of people in the company to identify customer touch points.  Yes____ No ____
  • You have brought in customers to validate and course-correct our findings. Yes ____ No ___
  • You have now held numerous sessions and people are starting to wonder what you are going to do with this mapping. Yes ___ No ___
  • You have identified and the organization has agreed upon the end-to-end customer experience.  Yes ___ No ___
  • If you walked the halls of your company and asked ten people to define our customer experience, would most give the same description? Yes ___ No ___
  • You have identified the key touchpoints most important to customers and to customer growth. Yes ___ No ___

Now the Evaluation:  Review how wide you’ve made your customer experience project.

  • Are you trying to map every customer segment or scenario?
  • Is it getting overwhelming?

If it is, narrow the scope immediately.

Critical Checkpoint: Gain agreement on one segment or one part of the business.

Many times, this work is abandoned because it becomes overwhelming and starts to stall.  Move rapidly to the identification of the top 10-15 touch points that will have the most impact on the business.  Stay focused there. Success in one area will earn the right to expand. (And focus will drive collaboration, which leads to #2.)

  1. Level-Set Your Ability to Collaborate

Your ability to collaborate is the real testing ground for the customer experience work.

  • There is agreement across the organization of your top 10-15 customer touch point priorities. Yes ___ No ___
  • You have identified the different operating areas that impact each key touch point. Yes ___ No ___
  • You have agreed to map, define and identify all of the metrics that contribute to the current experience of these key touch points. Yes ___ No ___
  • You are willing to align new teams of people working together to resolve/improve those key moments. Yes ___ No ___
  • You have committed to assign new cross-company metrics to the delivery of those experiences. Yes ___ No ____
  • You will reward these teams when complaints are reduced for the priority issues. Yes ___ No ___
  • You commit to working together to resolve these issues and rebuild key touch point experiences. Yes ___ No ___

Now the Evaluation:

Count up the No checkmarks. A number higher than three reflects a serious lack of collaboration.

If you are not willing to take the time to assemble cross-functional teams to go through the processes that drive customer experience, you can’t get into the nitty-gritty of understanding operational metrics.

Critical Checkpoint: Review how you build out solutions to customer issues.

Are they assigned by operational leader to go fix?  Change this cycle and identify the entirety of the customer issue – then create a consistent cross-functional process for experience improvement.  As part of that process, begin to build shared operational metrics (where the multiple silos that count the experience are held mutually accountable).

Reviewing, mapping and being open to change operational metrics to shared metrics will test your collaboration muscle.  Delivering a unified experience requires patience and an upfront agreement by leaders that acknowledges they are willing to change what constitutes “score!” and what is on their score card.

  1. Examine Your Communication: Are You Bringing the Organization along with the Work?
  • You have connected the dots for the organization on how each part of your operation’s communication impacts the experience. Yes ___ No ___
  • Everybody is still doing their own work.  You find this “interesting” but don’t know what to do with it.  Yes ___ No ___
  • You have made an inventory of all the projects going on around “customer.” Yes ___ No ___
  • You have made a “stop doing” list of projects and investments. Yes ___ No ___
  • You have actually stopped doing projects and are rigorously managing this process. Yes ___ No ___
  • You have created a roadmap that is being actively communicated as you progress. Yes ___ No ___

Now the Evaluation:

Marketing back progress inside the organization and with customers is often the weakest link of executing customer experience work.

In the absence of being updated and engaged, internal folks will view the customer experience meeting as the latest flavor in customer focus.

Critical Checkpoint: Before you go any further, make a simple roadmap of the different parts of your customer experience journey.

Be dogged about showing that roadmap each and every time someone talks about the customer experience work.  It will become a visual that people continuously reference. Use it to discuss actions, progress and challenges. The roadmap gives you the communication consistency required in these long-term projects.

Download PDF: Three Actions to Battle Customer Experience Fatigue

 

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HBR: Tips for Reading the Room Before a Meeting or Presentation

With the upcoming NRLA Leadership meeting, this blog from the Harvard Business Review by Rebecca Knight may be very useful:

Tips for Reading the Room Before a Meeting or Presentation

In every conversation at work, there’s the explicit discussion happening — the words being spoken out loud — and the tacit one. To be successful in most organizations, it’s important to understand the underlying conversations and reactions that people in the room are having. But if you aren’t picking up on those subtle cues, how can you learn to do so? What signals should you be looking for? And what can you do to influence the unspoken dynamics?

What the Experts Say

“Knowing how to read between the lines is a critical workplace skill,” says Annie McKee, a senior fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, and the author of How to Be Happy at Work. “You need to understand other people — what they want, what they don’t want, their fears, hopes, dreams, and motivations,” she says. “This builds trust. And trust is fundamental to getting things done.” In addition, you must be aware of your effect on others, according to Karen Dillon, coauthor of How Will You Measure Your Life? “You need to be constantly assessing how other people are responding to you,” she says. “Some people find this easy and intuitive. For others, it’s a challenge.” The good news is that this skill can be learned. Here are some ways how.

Observe

The best way to read a room is to pay close attention to people — and not just what they’re saying. “If you’re relying [solely] on their words, you’re only getting half the picture,” McKee says. Upon entering a meeting, she recommends, do “a quick scan of the individuals,” noting “who’s next to whom, who’s smiling, who’s not, who’s standing, who’s sitting, and how much space is between people.” Next, try to pick up on “the almost invisible clues on how people are feeling” by looking carefully at “their facial expressions, posture, and body language.” Be on the lookout for “quick microexpressions” such as “fleeting smiles, raised eyebrows, or even tiny frowns.” Vigilant observation will give you the information you need to interpret group dynamics. Dillon recommends identifying role models to further improve your social awareness. “Think of people you admire who are great at reading the room,” she says. “Isolate the things they do and try to emulate those.”

Control how much you talk

You can’t observe if you’re spending most of your time talking. You need to listen, Dillon says. “Be conscious of how much you are saying.” Whether you’re in a room with a large group of people, a small group, or you’re speaking with a colleague one-on-one, she advises taking frequent pauses “to really think about what the other person is saying” and watching out for the nonverbal cues. Don’t just wait for your turn to talk; there is “no shame” in silence. When the conversation is more intimate, Dillon says, you must strive to “make the other person feel heard.” Be present. Be engaged. Make eye contact. “Position yourself so that you’re not inviting others to butt into your conversation. Help the other people feel confident that you are all in the moment together.” After the other person says something, paraphrase what they said to indicate that you’re paying attention. Similarly, “if the other person doesn’t seem to be hearing what you’re saying, and you start to realize that you’re talking at them, you should ask a question,” she adds. Try open-ended questions such as “What do you think about…?” or, “What are the consequences of…?” or, “Have you experienced this?” The answers to these questions help you uncover what’s really going on.

Interpret your observations

Once you’ve “tuned into the emotions and energy in the room,” you can “try to make sense of what you think you know,” McKee says. She recommends “generating multiple hypotheses about what’s going on.” Consider the people in the group more broadly and reflect on the possible reasons for their individual and collective emotional states. “What’s happening in their lives? What’s going on in their jobs? What do you know about these people?” If you don’t know much, this can be tricky, but you can still come up with hypotheses for what’s motivating people. At the same time, you shouldn’t project your feelings onto the group. “Keep your emotions in check,” McKee says, adding that this is a feat that “takes tremendous skill and self-control.” If, say, the room is reverberating tension, don’t let yourself “be hijacked by negative energy, and don’t give in to your natural inclination to be frightened and angry.” Remember, too, that the emotions you perceive are not personal. “It probably doesn’t have anything to do with you.”

Check your hypotheses

When you’ve developed a few explanations for what’s going on in the room, check your understanding. You can do this by continuing to gather further information — though you should continue to be open to what you’re seeing and sensing so that you don’t fall prey to confirmation bias. You can also ask people directly, in private, McKee says. When you’re in one-on-one conversations, you might say something like, “In the meeting I saw you furrow your brow when discussion turned to the xyz project — how do you feel about it?” Most likely, your colleagues will be pleased you noticed, she says. When you make note of people’s feelings and reactions, they “feel attended to.” Another tactic McKee suggests is talking with a trusted colleague, mentor, or coach. “Talk about what you’ve observed — not in a gossipy way, but as a learning opportunity,” she says. “You want someone else to check ideas with” so that you can say, “What do you think is going on with that colleague? Or that coalition?”

Put your perceptions into practice

If in the midst of a meeting or interaction, you notice that things are getting tense or heated, you can “take the opportunity to shift the emotional reality of the room,” McKee says. “Use humor,” she adds. “Or empathize with the group — make them feel okay.” She recommends determining who in the room has “the most social or hierarchical capital” and then focusing on getting that person on your side. “It could be a person who has the most seniority, or the person who others are sitting closest to. It could be the person who’s telling jokes and has the ability to lighten the mood.” Keep an eye out “for any positive signals” — the executive in the corner who’s smiling, for instance — and concentrate on those. Importantly, continue to pay attention to what’s not being said. “Most people are just waiting to talk,” she says. As a result, “we may catch most of the words, but we miss the music.”

Principles to Remember

Do:

  • Consider the people in the room more broadly and reflect on the possible reasons for their individual and collective emotional states.
  • Look for microexpressions such as fleeting smiles or raised eyebrows. These offer clues to group dynamics and individual emotions.
  • Isolate the behaviors that your socially aware role model exhibits and try to emulate them.

Don’t:

  • Be distracted. Maintain eye contact and be present and engaged in conversations with others.
  • Make it all about you. Ask open-ended questions to help you uncover what’s really going on.
  • Allow yourself to be hijacked by a room’s negative energy. Keep your emotions in check and do what you can to shift the emotional reality of the room.

Case Study #1: Pay attention to people’s body language and facial expressions

As the chief human resources officer at Prosek Partners, the global PR company, Karen Niovitch Davis has a good deal of experience reading rooms. “I’ve had a 20+ year career in HR,” she says. “A lot of what I do is about trying to really understand what people are saying when they are not actually saying it.”

Every week, she attends a management meeting at Prosek for senior vice presidents, managing directors, and partners. The company’s CEO leads the meeting, and Karen, because of her role, is often aware of what’s on the agenda.

“Since some of the things that we discuss are sensitive or controversial, I am often prepping for how my colleagues will react,” Karen says.

Recently, for instance, the CEO announced that the company would be expanding and that it had signed a lease for more space in the building. Certain employees and teams would be moving to another floor.

Karen paid close attention to her colleagues’ body language and facial expressions to gauge their reactions. She was prepared for a mixed bag. “I knew everyone in the room was thinking: What does this mean for me? What does this mean for my team? Are we all going to have to move?” she says. “That’s human nature.”

Many of her colleagues seemed “genuinely pleased” by the news, she recalls. “They were excited because the move means we are growing.”

Others, however, gave off a decidedly different vibe. Some people’s faces went blank; others visibly frowned. One — we’ll call her Jane — looked down and scribbled a note to a colleague sitting next to her.

Karen assumed that Jane wasn’t looking forward to the prospect of moving. She thought about what she already knew about Jane. “She does not like to change her routine,” Karen notes.

Shortly after the meeting ended, Karen approached Jane. She told her that it seemed that she was unhappy about the move. “I wanted to make sure she knew I noticed her,” Karen says.

Jane appreciated that Karen noticed. “She said, ‘I don’t want to move because I like where my desk is now,’” Karen says. “She told me that she didn’t want to say anything in the meeting because she didn’t want to come off as not a team player.”

Karen listened attentively to Jane’s reasoning. She empathized with her and asked her open-ended questions about her concerns. She wanted to make sure Jane felt heard. “I told her that the office would be an exact replica of our current space and that the views would be better,” she says.

But Jane was not swayed by the argument. “I told her we would work something out so she would not have to move,” Karen says.

Case Study #2: Don’t assume you know how other people feel — ask them

Heather Anderson, an executive mentor at Vistage International, the San Diego–based advisory and executive coaching organization, says that she often speaks to her clients about the importance of social intelligence. “Emotions contain data,” she says. “I tell them that the emotional data they receive in their team meetings, their one-on-ones, and their client calls are just as important to their end game as anything else.”

She speaks from experience. Recently, Heather ran a meeting for one of her peer-to-peer coaching groups at Vistage. One of the agenda items was to provide feedback to one of the newer members — we’ll call her Susan. These meetings happen regularly; their purpose “is to challenge each other to be better leaders.”

“People are candid in these meetings and it can feel harsh if you’re on the receiving end — particularly when it’s your first time,” Heather says. “It’s intimidating.”

Heather first scanned the room to gauge the temperature; it wasn’t particularly tense, but she could tell that Susan was nervous. Next, she listened carefully to what others said. The comments were “frank,” and it wasn’t particularly positive.

She paid close attention to Susan’s body language. “I could see the look of surprise and fear on Susan’s face,” she says. “She shrunk in her chair and her shoulders dropped.”

Heather empathized with Susan’s emotions and reflected on what was happening. “I thought she felt threatened,” Heather says. “I wondered, ‘Should we soften our words?’”

To be sure, she asked Susan how she felt. “I said, ‘How are you feeling? What is it like to get this feedback?’”

Susan surprised her. “She said, ‘Wow. This is intense, but this is exactly what I signed up for.’”

Heather realized that she had projected some of her own feelings onto Susan. “I expected her to feel a certain way,” she says, “but you can’t assume you know.”

Later, Heather asked Susan how she planned to use the feedback she received during the meeting. “Susan was able to recite very specific action items, and she talked enthusiastically about the things she wanted to do and changes she wanted to make,” Heather says.

Heather plans to follow up with Susan in a few weeks.

HBR: Learning Is a Learned Behavior. Here’s How to Get Better at It.

“The good news from all of this — for individuals and for companies looking to help their employees be their best — is that learning is a learned behavior. Being a quick study doesn’t mean you’re the smartest person in the room. It’s that you’ve learned how to learn. By deliberately organizing your learning goals, thinking about your thinking, and reflecting on your learning at opportune times, you can become a better study, too.” Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Ulrich Boser:

Learning Is a Learned Behavior. Here’s How to Get Better at It.

Many people mistakenly believe that the ability to learn is a matter of intelligence. For them, learning is an immutable trait like eye color, simply luck of the genetic draw. People are born learners, or they’re not, the thinking goes. So why bother getting better at it?

And that’s why many people tend to approach the topic of learning without much focus. They don’t think much about how they will develop an area of mastery. They use phrases like “practice makes perfect” without really considering the learning strategy at play. It’s a remarkably ill-defined expression, after all. Does practice mean repeating the same skill over and over again? Does practice require feedback? Should practice be hard? Or should it be fun?

A growing body of research is making it clear that learners are made, not born. Through the deliberate use of practice and dedicated strategies to improve our ability to learn, we can all develop expertise faster and more effectively. In short, we can all get better at getting better.

Here’s one example of a study that shows how learning strategies can be more important than raw smarts when it comes to gaining expertise. Marcel Veenman has found that people who closely track their thinking will outscore others who have sky-high IQ levels when it comes to learning something new. His research suggests that in terms of developing mastery, focusing on how we understand is some 15 percentage points more important than innate intelligence.

Here are three practical ways to build your learning skills, based on research.

Organize your goals

Effective learning often boils down to a type of project management. In order to develop an area of expertise, we first have to set achievable goals about what we want to learn. Then we have to develop strategies to help us reach those goals.

A targeted approach to learning helps us cope with all the nagging feelings associated with gaining expertise: Am I good enough? Will I fail? What if I’m wrong? Isn’t there something else that I’d rather be doing?

While some self-carping is normal, Stanford psychologist Albert Bandura says these sorts of negative emotions can quickly rob us of our ability to learn something new. Plus, we’re more committed if we develop a plan with clear objectives. The research is overwhelming on this point. Studies consistently show that people with clear goals outperform people with vague aspirations like “do a good job.” By setting targets, people can manage their feelings more easily and achieve progress with their learning.

Think about thinking

Metacognition is crucial to the talent of learning. Psychologists define metacognition as “thinking about thinking,” and broadly speaking, metacognition is about being more inspective about how you know what you know. It’s a matter of asking ourselves questions like: Do I really get this idea? Could I explain it to a friend? What are my goals? Do I need more background knowledge? Or do I need more practice?

Metacognition comes easily to many trained experts. When a specialist works through an issue, they’ll often think a lot about how the problem is framed. They’ll often have a good sense of whether or not their answer seems reasonable.

The key, it turns out, is not to leave this sort of “thinking about thinking” to the experts. When it comes to learning, one of the biggest issues is that people don’t engage in metacognition enough. They don’t stop to ask themselves if they really get a skill or concept.

The issue, then, is not that something goes in one ear and out the other. The issue is that individuals don’t dwell on the dwelling. They don’t push themselves to really think about their thinking.

Reflect on your learning

There is something of a contradiction in learning. It turns out that we need to let go of our learning in order to understand our learning. For example, when we step away from a problem, we often learn more about a problem. Get into a discussion with a colleague, for instance, and often your best arguments arrive while you’re washing the dishes later. Read a software manual and a good amount of your comprehension can come after you shut the pages.

In short, learning benefits from reflection. This type of reflection requires a moment of calm. Maybe we’re quietly writing an essay in a corner — or talking to ourselves as we’re in the shower. But it usually takes a bit of cognitive quiet, a moment of silent introspection, for us to engage in any sort of focused deliberation.

Sleep is a fascinating example of this idea. It’s possible that we tidy up our knowledge while we’re napping or sleeping deeply. One recent study shows a good evening of shut-eye can reduce practice time by 50%.

The idea of cognitive quiet also helps explain why it’s so difficult to gain skills when we’re stressed or angry or lonely. When feelings surge through our brain, we can’t deliberate and reflect. Sure, in some sort of dramatic, high-stakes situations, we might be able to learn something basic like remember a phone number. But for us to gain any sort of understanding, there needs to be some state of mental ease.

The good news from all of this — for individuals and for companies looking to help their employees be their best — is that learning is a learned behavior. Being a quick study doesn’t mean you’re the smartest person in the room. It’s that you’ve learned how to learn. By deliberately organizing your learning goals, thinking about your thinking, and reflecting on your learning at opportune times, you can become a better study, too.

Original Page: https://hbr.org/2018/05/learning-is-a-learned-behavior-heres-how-to-get-better-at-it

 

IOP: Forget products, innovate your business model

Building supply dealers, Do you have a business model? If so, is it current or are you using an old model? Below is a blog from the Innovate on Purpose:

Forget products, innovate your business model

What happens when the largest, most cataclysmic change forces known to business collide with embedded, rigid business structures and models?  Which side wins, the irresistible force or the immovable object?  In my post today, I’m going to answer this age-old philosophical question.  Innovation and change destroy complacent, unchanging business structures and models.  Every time.  Every where.  In every market.

It sounds a bit over the top to argue that everything we know is changing, and many models and structures will soon crumble from the onslaught of new emerging demands, capabilities and technologies, but in short that’s what’s going to happen, and is already happening.  Product life cycles are collapsing – I was recently in a conference where a camera manufacturer estimated the average shelf life for a new camera was between 3 and 6 months, or less than half the product development cycle time!  For years we’ve talked about the increasing pace of change, and much like the proverbial frog in the pot we’re still sitting in the water as it’s reaching the boiling point.  The telephone didn’t reach a billion users until decades after its introduction – probably almost a century afterwards.  Facebook, Google and other internet applications reach a billion users in the matter of a few years, and newer, social media driven applications will do so even faster.  Unfortunately for them they’ll also burn out and disappear even faster as well.

Do old business models make sense in this new, rapidly evolving environment? Can a business define and “lock in” its business model and hope to merely sustain its business model, thinking it will weather the storm and wait until “things return to normal”?  It’s almost trite to say “the new normal is change”.  That almost goes without saying.  The race goes to the nimble, the agile and the swift, not to the large and slow.  There is no return to normal, in fact what’s normal is more change and a faster pace.  Can slow, rigid business models that were successful in the past, in a much more staid environment offer any solace to a business, or position those businesses for success in the future?  I’m going to argue the answer is:  probably not.

At worst you need a business model that evolves at the rate of change in the environment.  You simply cannot afford to fall behind and become locked into an older business model (hello Blockbuster), no matter how dominant you think the existing models are.  Netflix obliterated Blockbuster but continued to evolve its model into streaming and now content creation.  Why?  Because standing pat on a business model once people understand the value proposition is crazy.  There are simply too many avenues to attack a business model once the value proposition is understood.  Let’s look at a couple of ways to attack an existing business model.

Chipping Away

There’s what I like to call the “chipping away” model, which is what retail banks in the US are experiencing.  No newcomers want to face all the regulatory burden that the retail banks face in total.  Instead they offer single solutions or products that are equal to or better than what the banks offer, in areas that are more profitable.  These startups are “chipping away” at the bank’s value proposition and are much more nimble and flexible.  They can get into and out of features or products in an exceptionally short timeframe, and can attract good customers quickly.  Mint, Betterment and other firms are not subverting the entire business model as much as chipping away at the most valuable parts, while banks are locked into older models more suitable for the 1970s and 80s.

Bypass

Then there’s the bypass model, which is what Netflix did to Blockbuster.  Same value proposition in terms of content, just a different channel.  Blockbuster had every valuable retail corner locked up, and Netflix decided (based on the availability and capability of the web (and the US mail!)) to completely dislocate Blockbuster and its presence model.  Netflix, Uber and Airbnb did what road builders do – they looked at the crowded mess of existing highways and simply “bypassed” the congestion, which freed up consumers and previously stagnant assets.

Consolidation

There’s also the consolidation model, which is what I like to think Apple did to the music player, music management and music distribution industries.  Remember Tower Record?  Or how about your Rio MP-3 player?  Apple consolidated a number of valuable pieces and components into a much larger but simpler business model, and drove a number of companies and channels right out of business.  Or, to continue the Apple theme, consider how many devices the iPhone has replaced:  cell phone, digital camera, GPS, music player, calculator, watch, even a slide rule if you have the right app.  Creating platforms that consolidate capabilities that other business models kept apart is exceptionally valuable.

The list goes on and on.  Zara, H&M and others are disrupting the fashion industry through a focus on speed.  Tesla is trying to disrupt automotive sales and distribution, attempting to sell directly to consumers rather than through dealers.  Older structures, business models and channels don’t necessarily have to carry forward into the future.  While they may be “carved in stone” these examples and others prove that stone can crumble, or smart companies can innovate their way around, under or through them.

What should we take away from this diatribe?

Product innovation is interesting, and every company should have active, on-going innovation to spawn new products and services.  However, product innovation is easy to do, easy to copy and will require constant updating.  So, we can argue that product innovation needs to become as commonplace and consistent as day to day operations.

It’s business model change that is becoming the important focus.  If product life cycles have decreased, so too have business model life cycles.  When whole industries and channels can collapse in a matter of months (Tower Records, Blockbuster as examples) then every industry must examine and understand the sensitivity and viability of their business models.  No business model is inviolate; none will simply resist all of the change that’s underway.  This means that corporations should be evolving their business models at a minimum.  Business model innovation is becoming far more important than product innovation, and yet far too many companies don’t understand or do product innovation well.  How much more difficult it will be to innovate business models when the skills don’t exist to innovate products.  Large corporations with rigid, complacent business models may end up like the dinosaurs, watching the small rodents run around and thinking how small and helpless they are.

 

HBR: How to Lose Your Best Employees

“When we are learning, we experience higher levels of brain activity and many feel-good brain chemicals are produced. Managers would do well to remember that.” What are you doing to keep your employees challenged at work? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Whitney Johnson:

How to Lose Your Best Employees

You want to be a great boss. You want your company to be a great place to work. But right now, at this very moment, one of your key employees might be about to walk out the door.

She has consistently brought her best game to work and has grown into a huge asset. But her learning has peaked, her growth has stalled, and she needs a new challenge to reinvigorate her.

As her boss, you don’t want anything to change. After all, she’s super-productive, her work is flawless, and she always delivers on time. You want to keep her right where she is.

That’s a great way to lose her forever.

This was my situation more than a decade ago. After eight years as an award-winning stock analyst at Merrill Lynch, I needed a new challenge. I’ve always liked mentoring and coaching people, so I approached a senior executive about moving to a management track. Rather than offering his support, he dismissed and discouraged me. His attitude was, We like you right where you are. I left within the year.

This kind of scenario plays out in companies every day. And the cost is enormous in terms of both time and money. But if I had stayed and disengaged, the cost may have been even higher. When people can no longer grow in their jobs, they mail it in — leading to huge gaps in productivity. According to Gallup, a lack of employee engagement “implies a stunning amount of wasted potential, given that business units in the top quartile of Gallup’s global employee engagement database are 17% more productive and 21% more profitable than those in the bottom quartile.”

And yet engagement is only symptomatic. When your employees (and maybe even you, as their manager) aren’t allowed to grow, they begin to feel that they don’t matter. They feel like a cog in a wheel, easily swapped out. If you aren’t invested in them, they won’t be invested in you, and even if they don’t walk out the door, they will mentally check out.

How do you overcome this conundrum? It starts with recognizing that every person in your company, including you, is on a learning curve. That learning curve means that every role has a shelf life. You start a new position at the low end of the learning curve, with challenges to overcome in the early days. Moving up the steep slope of growth, you acquire competence and confidence, continuing into a place of high contribution and eventually mastery at the top of the curve.

But what comes next as the potential for growth peters out? The learning curve flattens, a plateau is reached; a precipice of disengagement and declining performance is on the near horizon. I’d estimate that four years is about the maximum learning curve for most people in most positions; if, after that, you’re still doing the exact same thing, you’re probably starting to feel a little flat.

Take my own career: I moved to New York City with a freshly minted university degree in music. I was a pianist who especially loved jazz. But I was quickly dazzled by Wall Street which, in the late 1980s, was the place to work. I secured a position as a secretary in a financial firm and started night school to learn about investing.

A few years later, my boss helped me make the leap from support staff to investment banker. It was an unlikely, thrilling new opportunity that required his sponsorship and support. After a few years, I jumped again to become a stock analyst, and I scaled that curve to achieve an Institutional Investor ranking for several successive years.

When I began, I was excited to be a secretary on Wall Street. I was also excited to become an investment banker. And I loved being a stock analyst. Though I started in each of these positions at the low end of their respective learning curves, I was able to progress and achieve mastery in all of them.

Eventually, I became a little bored with each job and started looking around for a new challenge to jump to. Most of us follow similar patterns — our brains want to be learning, and they give us feel-good feedback when we are. When we aren’t, we don’t feel so good. The human brain is designed to learn, not just during our childhood school years but throughout our life spans. When we are learning, we experience higher levels of brain activity and many feel-good brain chemicals are produced. Managers would do well to remember that.

Because every organization is a collection of people on different learning curves. You build an A team by optimizing these individual curves with a mix of people: 15% of them at the low end of the curve, just starting to learn new skills; 70% in the sweet spot of engagement; and 15% at the high end of mastery. As you manage employees all along the learning curve, requiring them to jump to a new curve when they reach the top, you will have a company full of people who are engaged.

You and every person on your team is a learning machine. You want the challenge of not knowing how to do something, learning how to do it, mastering it, and then learning something new. Instead of letting the engines of your employees sit idle, crank them: Learn, leap, and repeat.

HBR: Track Your Time for 30 Days. What You Learn Might Surprise You.

I would encourage you to do a time-tracking exercise for 30 days. The information would be invaluable to being more productive and evaluating your schedule.  Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Dorie Clark:

Track Your Time for 30 Days. What You Learn Might Surprise You.

It’s hard to know if we’re really making efficient use of our time. It seems like we’re working hard — and we’re certainly stressed out. But are we spending our time on the right things? That’s the question I set out to solve at the start of this year. I was feeling overwhelmed after spending the fall launching a new book and was finally turning to the litany of tasks I’d neglected in its wake.

Inspired by a colleague, the time management expert Laura Vanderkam, I decided to spend the month of February tracking exactly how I spent my time, down to half-hour increments. It wasn’t high tech — I used an Excel spreadsheet — but even the process of remembering to write things down was arduous. After all, we’re used to living our lives, not recording them. But the insights I gained over the course of a month were extremely useful. In particular, there were four that made me rethink a lot of the conventional wisdom on productivity and time management. While I encourage you to do your own time-tracking exercise, if you don’t have the time for that (ha!), here’s what I learned:

The right kind of multitasking can be transformative. We’ve all heard plenty about the dangers of multitasking — we can’t do multiple things at once effectively, and we’ll always suffer from cognitive switching costs. That’s true for certain activities but — crucially — is irrelevant for others. For instance, almost anyone can easily listen to podcasts or audiobooks while exercising, cooking, or commuting to work, and if you’re dining alone, you can read while you eat.

With a month’s data in hand, I was astonished to discover I averaged almost two hours of reading each day, plus an additional 90 minutes of listening to audio content. “Reading more” is a common aspiration for busy professionals — one poll reported that nearly one in five people claimed it as their New Year’s resolution — and “strategic multitasking” is a surprisingly easy way to fit it in.

There are benefits from combining your personal and professional networks. Many people still hold to the idea that friends and business don’t mix and that you should separate your personal life and professional life. And it’s true that boundaries can be important for work-life balance.

But if you relish what you’re doing, the most interesting friends in the world are often ones with whom you can share both personal matters (discussing hobbies or commiserating about interpersonal relationships) and those related to your business. As I’m writing this article, in fact, I’m on an airplane with one of my closest friends, who nominated me for an elite business consortium that we’re now participating in together. In my time-tracking exercise, I counted my time under multiple categories if it legitimately filled both criteria. Amazingly, this allowed me to have a full 29% more time in my month — 866 hours instead of the typical 672 — which helped me to get more done.

For example, I learned that I spend 19.3 hours per week with friends and 17 hours doing some form of networking. The overlap isn’t perfect, but it’s close, and those relationships have formed the core of my professional success. I might spend more time socializing than some — I live in a city, and I don’t have kids — but the same principle of building overlapping personal and professional circles holds no matter how many hours per week you have to devote.

Certain hours of the day are especially likely to be “wasted.” I don’t waste much time on social media (I define “waste” as time spent scrolling aimlessly through feeds, rather than posting with a professional purpose in mind). In fact, it only came to 2.5 hours during the entire month of February. In the scheme of things, it’s not much, and we don’t need to optimize every minute. But I’d at least like to be deliberate in how I choose to slack off, and social media wouldn’t be my top choice.

During the times when I did fall into the social media rabbit hole, a clear pattern emerged: It almost always occurred between 10 PM and 11 PM. Despite recent questions about the accuracy of Roy Baumeister’s seminal theory of ego depletion, it certainly seemed to be the case for me that I was most susceptible to distraction at that time, when I was worn down from the demands of the day but not tired enough to sleep. Realizing that this time of day is when my defenses are lowest, I can now guard more vigilantly against misspending time.

Certain tasks carry disproportionate psychological weight. Before starting my experiment, my perception was that I was besieged by email, which was crippling my productivity. But the reality was somewhat different. Indeed, I spent about 1.35 hours per day handling messages, which isn’t trifling. But it’s also not overwhelming, and well under the amount of time I allocated each day to pure client work (my top priority), networking and time with friends, and even reading.

However, even recognizing this, email still bothered me the most of any task, and I felt constant psychological pressure when I was “behind” on my response times. It wasn’t so much the frequency of checking email that stressed me out. (Some have experimented with checking email only twice a day, with mixed results.) For me, the anxiety came from the feeling — endemic to the nature of email — that people were awaiting my response and that I was constantly being handed new tasks for my to-do list.

My time-tracking experiment, however, helped me put things into perspective. We may never be able to fully escape feelings of email-related guilt. But I’d much rather accept a minor twinge now because I’m slow in responding to someone’s message (the urgent) than the long-term shame I’d feel looking back and discovering I’d become an email ninja while jettisoning my own strategic priorities (the important).

Time tracking can be onerous. In fact, I assigned the experiment to the mastermind group I run, and several participants just couldn’t finish it. One strategy I used to force myself to log my hours every day was “habit stacking” — tying the new behavior to an existing one. In my case, I left my Excel document open on my computer so that it was the first thing I saw when I returned to work after a break. That prompted me to record whatever I’d been doing in the interval, whether it was sleeping (after an overnight break), taking a meeting, or having lunch.

If you can manage to keep it up, the knowledge gleaned from time tracking can be invaluable. Understanding where you can successfully multitask, essentially giving yourself more hours in the day, can transform your productivity. And recognizing which activities are stressful enables you to make smarter decisions about how to delegate or reshuffle your workflow, so you can optimize for the tasks that suit you best.

Without data, it’s easy to paint an erroneous picture of how we spend our time, whether it’s inadvertently exaggerating the number of hours we work or assuming we’re wasting more time than we really do. My month of time tracking revealed useful insights that have enabled me to become more productive — and if you make an effort to evaluate your schedule, it may highlight ways you can optimize moving forward as well.

Identify the Three Tiers of Noncustomers in Your Industry

In the building supply industry which consumers are considered noncustomers? What are you doing to attract them to your business? The book Blue Ocean Shift: Beyond Competing – Proven Steps to Inspire Confidence and Seize New Growth by W. Chan Kim is an awesome and eye-opening book about moving from red to blue ocean industry.Blue Ocean Shift.jpg

Identify the three tiers of noncustomers in your industry

Now we turn from current customers to noncustomers. Using the three-tiers graphic, shown in figure, (below) as a guide, ask each of the team members to think through and write down their thoughts about who might be in each tier. To help you perform this task effectively, relevant materials and templates are provided for your free download and use at Exercise Templates. Here are the questions you want to ask:

  1. Who sits on the edge of our industry and uses its offering reluctantly and/or minimally?
  2. Who considers our industry and then consciously rejects it, satisfying their needs through another industry’s offering or not at all?
  3. Who could strongly benefit from the utility our industry offers, but doesn’t even consider it, because the way it is currently being delivered makes the industry seem irrelevant or out of their financial reach?

For many people, this will be the first time they’re ever been asked to systematically think through the issues of non-customers. As we have witnessed, if an organization has given thought to noncustomers, it’s usually in terms of their competitors’ customers, not the noncustomers of their overall industry. They ask, “Who are our competitors’ customers, and how can we win a greater share of those who patronize other players?” But this is not the meaning of noncustomers in blue ocean terms. What is key at this stage is getting team members thinking deeply about noncustomers and, critically, letting them discover for themselves how little they may know or have thought about the wider opportunity landscape that exists beyond the current industry’s horizon.

Organizations often become comfortable commissioning and outsourcing large, formal market studies. Hence, it is not surprising that, at this juncture, we’ve often been asked, “Don’t we need to be supported by formal market research so we will know, concretely, who the three tiers of noncustomers are?” In response, remind them that the blue ocean shift process is built on firsthand discovery that will be done when the team goes out in the field. The purpose here is to maximize the team’s firsthand learning and confidence in what they see for themselves in the field. With firsthand discovery, the resulting strategy is likely to be executed strongly, as the confidence that emanates from the team reverberates throughout the larger organization.

Much to their surprise, team members generally find that, by struggling through this exercise independently, they flesh out a rich list of noncustomer groups and are really pushed to broaden their thinking. Equally important, they see how tightly focused on existing customers their strategic lens has been. When people are spoon-fed answers by having reports commissioned up front, they seldom realize what they don’t know, and too often easily conclude that they “got it, knew it, no big deal,” when, in fact, they didn’t have or know it, and it is a big deal. People seldom realize what they don’t know or appreciate the value of what they’ve learned if they haven’t struggled to obtain it themselves. Making people discover firsthand that what they know-and don’t know-is key to getting them to internalize and value what they learn.

After each of the team members has compiled their list of noncustomers, ask them to share their thoughts about whom they put where and why. The objective now is for the team to identify and select the people or organizations they collectively see as the dominant noncustomer group or groups in each tier. Note that team members may continue to feel a bit uneasy, because they’re being asked not only to move away from what they know, but also to share their thoughts in front of their colleagues. Some unease is good, however, because it means that team members are being pushed to broaden their current understanding. As each of the team members contributes their thoughts on each of the three tiers, you should record and post them in front of the group. This allows everyone to see the whole team’s thoughts, which in itself is eye-opening, as they get to appreciate the differences and similarities in how each of them views the same market reality.

As people share and debate their selections and the thought processes behind them, team members’ understanding of who potentially belongs in each tier starts to deepen. So does their confidence that opportunity exists in the untapped demand that lies beyond the boundaries of their industry as it’s currently defined. Typically, as members discuss the validity of one another’s reasoning, a number of customer groups are crossed off, and different sets of customers get grouped together, producing fairly solid agreement among team members as to whom they see as the main non-customer groups in each tier. With this, a good understanding of the industry’s total demand landscape starts to come into focus.Noncustomer in various industries.jpg