18 July 2019
My husband and I recently spent a few weeks abroad. While we were touring Berlin, Germany, we saw the popular tourist attractions including the remainder of the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, the Berlin Cathedral and more. While each of these sites helped us learn about the city’s history, it was the Holocaust Memorial that most stirred our emotions and led to a time of reflection.
The Holocaust Memorial was designed by American Architect Peter Eisenman. The Memorial is comprised of 2711 gray concrete slabs. Each block is different: a different width, a different height, a different length or a different angle. By design, no two blocks are alike. The architect was purposeful in building this memorial with one-of-a kind structures. To the architect, the blocks were symbolic of the 3 million Jewish victims who were killed during the Holocaust. While these human beings were barbarically killed en masse, we should never forget that each of these individuals had a different story.
How easy it is for us to categorize others into large, impersonal groups. Let’s think about the example of immigrants seeking to enter our nation. What if literal or figurative walls had precluded our own predecessors from coming into America at a time when they longed for a better life for their families? Every family has a different story.
From a business perspective, what about your customers? Depending upon your particular line of business, have you categorized your customers into a handful of prototypes? What opportunities do you have to better meet the needs of your customers if you could understand how their circumstances vary? Yes, customers have different stories to share.
I remember on multiple occasions challenging our employees to understand that patients were never to be viewed as numbers (such as the 225th patient on a given day in a particular department). Every patient was one-of-a-kind. Every patient had come from different environments. Every patient’s health status was unique. Every patient had differing degrees of support from families or friends. Some patients had positive attitudes while others did not. Because of the different experiences and circumstances of our patients, our staff found that some individuals were “easier to love” than others. Yet, even the most challenging patients were treated with ultimate caring and kindness as though they were the only individuals in our world. Yes, every patient had a different story.
With the drive for efficiency and the increasingly important role of technology in delivering value to key stakeholders, how easy it is to view our employees as one collective body. Yet each of our employees also has a different story. When we as leaders can appreciate their differences, we can know how best to relate to them and in so doing, to derive maximum utility from them because they are highly engaged .
As I think about our time in Berlin, I remain dismayed regarding the tragic loss of lives during the Holocaust. And I am grateful for the challenge put forth by the example of this touching Memorial.
May we never forget the significance of every person’s circumstances. May we also be inspired to appreciate that whether we are contemplating a persecuted race, an aspirational immigrant, an everyday customer, a struggling patient, a neighbor, a friend, a family member or even a complete stranger, every person has a different story that needs to be heard.
28 May 2019
Risk mitigation is a hot topic within C-suites and boardrooms. Corporate risk presents in diverse ways, from compliance issues, regulatory violations and sexual harassment to poor customer service, data breaches and more. Organizations are increasingly susceptible to financial and reputational risk when stories go viral regarding ethics and performance failures.
Risk mitigation has become a significant responsibility for leaders within many industries. As such, it has found a seat at the table within routine meeting agendas for the C-suite and board. Why? Because unmanaged risk can harm organizational results when it derails strategic and financial performance.
Most leaders should have a process to identify and rectify known organizational risks. By using proven process improvement techniques, the root causes of the problems may be identified. Action plans can then be created and monitored to rectify the issues in a systematic and accountable manner that facilitates sustained results.
A case in point
I am aware of an organization that did a good job of identifying its material, known risks related to suboptimal customer service. The organization’s leaders discovered a recurring pattern as they analyzed customer complaints.
They found inconsistencies in how their managers responded to these concerns. Even when complaints were voiced directly by consumers, these complaints were not consistently “heard” by leaders. In fact, some unaddressed complaints ultimately resulted in lost sales and legal action.
As the company analyzed the problems their customers encountered, its leaders realized they needed to teach their team the importance of rapid response to complaints. As part of this process, they coached their leaders and managers to receive complaints by respectfully expressing regret and empathy in a safe and constructive manner. They accomplished this task through teaching leaders to master “the power of apology.”
Making things right
In situations where suboptimal products or customer experiences were involved, the leaders were taught to apologize and to “make things right” for the customers. In situations where a misunderstanding existed, but without performance failures, leaders were taught to say, “I’m sorry you experienced disappointment. Please share more about your concerns and help us learn from your experience. We really want to do better for you and for our next customer.”
The results were phenomenal as once-disgruntled customers believed they had been heard and, as such, felt valued. Over a reasonably short span of time, few complaints escalated to the C-suite because leaders had mastered the power of apology in the moment. Their actions closest to the customers had a material, positive impact in mitigating risk for this company. And, most important, they retained customers and avoided costly expenses.
As you contemplate the different ways to mitigate known risks for your company, I encourage you to review the processes you currently utilize to address these vulnerabilities. Perhaps the power of apology might have application for you and your team as you build your risk mitigation strategies relative to customer service.
25 May 2018
My husband and I were recently checking out a new Mexican restaurant in our hometown. Although the establishment had only been open for a few days, upon our arrival we found a “full house” with a waiting list which, from our perspective, is typically a sign of great food and wonderful service.
We were not disappointed.
The environment was festive and fun, and the food was very good. This pleasant experience made us immediately plan our next visit. In short, it was a great evening.
When we asked for our bill, the server smiled and said that our check had already been settled as a couple who had been sitting nearby had paid for our meal before their departure. What a nice surprise that brought immediate smiles to our faces! We asked the server who they were, and we wondered if perhaps we had worked with them at our prior places of employment. The server did not know them. He simply described them as a nice, young couple who, for whatever reason, wanted to pay for our dinner.
As I thought about this random act of kindness, I was reminded of all the good that resides within the overwhelming majority of humankind. Every day we primarily hear what is wrong with our world. Just imagine how amazing it would be if we would focus more on all the good that is being done to make a positive difference in the lives of others.
This unexpected act of kindness also took me back to 1982 when, in the midst of a personal healthcare crisis, hospital employees I did not know showered me with their seemingly small acts of kindness. They not only met my clinical needs; they also cared for me as a whole person. In so doing, they changed my life forever as I soon would enter the healthcare space as my professional calling.
Like the young couple at the restaurant, such employees are role models for what is right in our world. I had the pleasure of working for many years with ordinary people who were sharing extraordinary acts of kindness with people they did not know. From two housekeepers who bought clothes for a homeless patient to a nurse who came in on his day off to FaceTime with a patient whose husband had died and who was too ill to attend his funeral…. Everyday employees were making a positive difference with long lasting impact.
As leaders, it is our responsibility to reinforce all that is right in the workplace. Research has shown that organizations whose leaders spend more time reinforcing great work will function at a higher level than corporations whose leaders spend a disproportionate amount of their time on poor performers. Let me be crystal clear. Effective leaders must deal with poor performers. However, they find a way to devote most of their time reinforcing and building upon the results achieved by their best employees. Within Gracious Leadership, I share more on this topic and include tips that leaders can easily put into place to create and sustain an environment of accountability, gratitude and peak performance.
Yes, someone bought our dinner last week… someone we did not know and whose path we will not likely cross again. At the end of the day, the kindness of this young couple is not to be measured by the value of the meal they generously and unexpectedly provided to us. Their random act of kindness is symbolic of all that’s right with our world. It’s also a small example of the goodness they no doubt hold within their hearts as they seek to make a positive difference.
What will you do to reinforce all that is right in your workplace? How will you help your employees understand the power they hold through seemingly small acts of kindness that can mean the world to your customers? What will you do to address any poor performers so you will have more time to reinforce and support your very best team members? Please join me in finding what’s right in the workplace… starting today!