How to Manage a Multi-Generational Workforce

“We want to be a ‘cool’ company and attract younger people, at the same time we want to retain our long-serving employees with their wisdom and years of experience.” “We hope our younger generation leaders will push our organisation towards a growth mindset, at the same time we don’t want our more senior employees to feel they are not as valued as before.” These are some of the comments we recently heard from a global communications client we work with. They explained to us that they need to ensure they have the future leaders who will ensure the company stays relevant and competitive. But as their comments show, recruiting younger generations also brings challenges. In this post we will explore in detail the diverse attitudes and expectations that different generations have, and the impact this is having in organisations right now. 

In fact, we hear this story with virtually all our clients that we work with in diversity and inclusion training [link to product pages when up]. If you’re managing a multi-generational team, or trying to bring new talent into an organisation, you might be facing similar challenges. And you will know that managing a multi-generational workforce is a real issue that urgently needs solutions today.

When talking about generations, we never want to over-generalise and automatically put people into boxes. On the other hand, we also don’t want to assume everyone is the same. And when it comes to the workplace, different generations have quite different ideas. So if we want to attract new generations and also retain existing talent, we will need to consider how to design a workplace that works for both. To start, let’s look at what a multi-generational workplace looks like in reality…

In this post we’ll describe the different attitudes and expectations of the three main generations in today’s workplace across four flashpoints, and offers practical tips and advice for managing those differences, based on our experience of what works well in organisations we have worked with.

What are the different generations?

Walk into any large company today and you are likely to see much greater age diversity than you would have seen even at the start of this century. The workforce is getting younger; flexible working and technology has meant that more people (especially women) have access to the workforce today, and this will continue. It’s worth re-iterating this; there are more younger people in the workforce today and that population is more diverse than previous generations.

At the same time, due to pension reforms and health advances, older workers are staying in their jobs longer, especially in Europe. While the generational makeup of the workplace varies in different world regions (and you can see some interesting comparisons here, it’s useful to define and contrast the 3 biggest generations currently in the workforce:

Millennials Generation X Baby Boomers

 

Born

1981-1994

Born

1965-1980

Born

1946-1964

Age in 2020

26-39

Age in 2020

40-55

Age in 2020

56-74

Large and diverse generation and tomorrow’s leaders Smallest generation, stepping into leadership roles now Large generation, today’s traditional leaders

What are the attitudes of different generations?

Now let’s look now at 4 common flashpoints created by generational differences (a flashpoint is a potential conflict which arises from different attitudes or perspectives). As you read this section, ask yourself whether you can see any concrete examples of these differences in your organisation.

1. Ambitions

Younger generations may expect to progress more quickly in their career and can be impatient with traditional routes to promotion and new opportunities. Personal and professional growth and social recognition are probably more important to them than material rewards or status. They may not find the existing rewards system especially motivating. Older generations may see them as over-ambitious and not as committed to the organisation.

Here is a more segmented description of the different ambitions of specific generations:

Millennials Generation X Baby Boomers

 

Expect to have several careers (average tenure is 2 years), therefore value CV building Motivation comes from being challenged and receiving constructive feedback Prefer more formal approaches e.g. pension or ‘status’ rewards like titles and office space

Do you see different attitudes to career and progression from different generations of worker?

2. Technology

The most obvious and most talked about difference. But it’s an oversimplification to say that older generations are not comfortable with technology, because we all need to use it for work nowadays. However, there are differences in how different generations use technology; younger generations seem to be constantly connected and technology is their default way to interact with the world. Older generations tend to see technology as a tool to perform a specific task and they are fine with just turning it off. Millennials will expect to be able to ‘plug in’ to technology in your organisation straight away. Older generations may feel overwhelmed by how younger generations use technology and feel that they simply won’t be able to catch up.

Here is a more segmented description of the different ambitions of specific generations:

Millennials Generation X Baby Boomers

 

Grew up with it in personal and work life, so don’t see a divide. Competent in less tangible technologies e.g. social media Good at adapting to new technologies but still view it as something tangible that does not include personal/social life Need time to be convinced and shown tangible results of using it

Do you see different attitudes to using technology in different generations of worker?

3. Communications

Younger generations may prefer to communicate more often, in person, and more informally. They may not see the need to adjust how they communicate based on who they are talking with. And of course, they will probably prefer to do it with technology. Older generations often prefer more formal ways of communicating e.g. written over spoken. They could feel that lines of communication are not being respected by younger generations and also feel overwhelmed by the constant communication flow.

Here is a more segmented description of the different ambitions of specific generations:

Millennials Generation X Baby Boomers

 

Prefer informal, personal and face to face communication. Emotions have a place at work. Likes straight-talking, email is preferred communication tool. But can also adapt to generations on either side. Communication at work is formal, e.g. prefer things to be documented. Dress and behaviour is also more formal at work.

Do you see different attitudes to communication from different generations of worker?

4. Work life balance

Should work be ‘fun’? We might all answer yes, but different generations have slightly different ideas for how far work should be a social experience and where to draw a line between personal and professional life. For older generations, the phrase ‘work life balance’ probably means enough time outside work to enjoy life with friends and family or alone. For younger generations this phrase is more likely to mean personal goal-fulfilment and social networks inside the workplace, and the flexibility to work when and where they want. This can be difficult for organisations which are still struggling to introduce and control flexible working arrangements.

Here is a more segmented description of the different ambitions of specific generations:

Millennials Generation X Baby Boomers

 

No clear boundaries, work should be fun, expect to work anywhere, anytime. Family and work life boundaries are important, need to ‘switch off’, ‘work to live’ Work takes place in the office, long hours means loyalty, ‘live to work’

Do you see different attitudes to work life balance from different generations of worker?

As mentioned already, let’s look at some offers practical tips and advice for managing those differences.

1. Ambitions

Different generations can have different motivations and expectations for job progression and career planning. Tailoring how you reward and recognise performance is a good place to start addressing these differences, and it is not hard to do. We recently worked with a global telecommunications company who told us they had great success when they decided to let managers decide how to reward team members. These managers came up with new types of rewards for younger generations like gym membership and Amazon vouchers, in addition to the standard types of recognition offered.

Getting generations to mentor each other can be more effective than formal performance management at cutting across generational silos. Providing a younger employee with a more experienced mentor or coach provides them with personalised growth opportunities and gain valuable knowledge fast. At the same time, it can help older employees learn practical things form younger ones, e.g. how to use new technologies, how to work from home. The personal nature of mentoring or coaching also helps to build relationships that can bridge different attitudes and approaches that the generations have.

Here is a summary of tips for how to manage the different motivations of specific generations:

Millennials Generation X Baby Boomers

 

Don’t think about how long they will stay; instead, consider what they bring to the organisation and how to benefit from it Ensure they are challenged to grow in a supported way; growth is a career goal in itself for this generation Show them that they can teach and also learn from other generations, and assure their experience is respected and valued

2. Technology

Marc Prensky coined the terms ‘digital natives’ and ‘digital immigrants’ nearly 20 years ago to describe different generations’ entry points into technology. Today that gap has narrowed, but as you saw in Part 1 of this post, generations still have quite different attitudes to how they use technology. This takes careful managing. Ensure you show older generations a tangible benefit of technology, i.e. something that will help them succeed in their job role and meet business targets. Support them as they get to grips with new tech and new ways of using it and praise them when they make progress.

The challenge for younger generations is to show that technology has a real purpose and is not just for fun or following the latest trend. This is especially true for less tangible forms of technology like social media. Millennials grew up on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and they understand better than any generation how it works. If you don’t, that’s fine, but make sure you hire someone who does to run your social media marketing.

As with career and progression, mentoring can help bridge the different attitudes and experience. Gen X can also act as a bridge generation, especially for technology because they have traits of both generations that came before and after them. After all, they grew up in the first iteration of a digital world and were the first generation to get their hands on personal computers, CD’s, iPods, etc. The adaptation and learning they went through is a valuable lesson for generations either side of them.

Here is a summary of tips for how to manage how different generations use technology:

Millennials Generation X Baby Boomers

 

Use their competency and experience to benefit the organisation and learn from them Use their experience of adapting and learning new technologies to bridge attitudes and knowledge Be patient, let them learn at their own pace, make sure they can see tangible, business benefits

3. Communications

Much of the above advice also applies to this topic, as nearly all our communications nowadays are via technology. In Part 1 you saw that the generations have different expectations for how to communicate at work, and this could lead to conflict if communication styles get in the way of what is actually being communicated. To prevent this, generations need to come together and talk about their preferences in order to reach agreements and manage each other’s expectations. It’s fine for me to be constantly connected – that lets my manager know I will read her communication quickly. It’s also fine that I expect a delayed response from a colleague who likes to switch off out of working hours.

Technology can also be used to get different generations communicating. Many organisations we know use company-wide platforms like Slack, Yammer or IBM Connect to discuss issues and exchange opinions. These platforms are a great way to bring diverse generations together to work through issues that are common to everyone. These corporate versions of social media will provide natural avenues for younger generations, while for generations which are newer to technology they can provide tangible benefits in the form of information sharing and learning.

Here is a summary of tips for how to manage communication between specific generations:

Millennials Generation X Baby Boomers

 

Expect a more informal and even emotional style, check in with them regularly and show you’re listening Avoid over-burdening with many different forms of communication, use to bridge communication gaps between generations Expect a more formal style and respect/adjust to it, emphasise the goals of communication over the medium

4. Work life balance

Work to live, or live to work? Different generations have different perspectives and in a multi-generational workplace you will need to cater to both. Go with flexible working but make sure that people who use it understand their accountabilities and are reachable, which will assure those people who are resistant to it. Empower managers to set up agreements with team members that respect their individual preferences for where and how to work, including staying in the office. This may mean a shift in culture away from hours put in and towards performance measured by outputs. In other words, saying “We don’t mind how you work, we just want to see the results”. The benefit of focusing out outputs rather than inputs is that individual preferences can actually become less important and noticeable. Still, as with all culture change, the road getting there could be a bit rocky.

Here is a summary of tips for managing different generational attitudes to work-life balance:

Millennials Generation X Baby Boomers

 

Acknowledge their need for flexibility and independence, while setting clear boundaries and expectations Respect their need to ‘switch off’ and have a personal life that is separate to work Don’t force them to work flexibly, respect the hours they put in, talk to them about different generation’s attitudes

 

 

 

We hope you enjoyed reading this post. If you would like to know more about our experience of working with clients in different areas of diversity, please contact us.

Presentation tips and resources

There are presenters out there who seem to have it all. They speak, the audience listens. They make a joke, the audience laughs. They don’t umm, they don’t stumble on their words, and they speak clearly, sharing their message and reinforcing it just enough throughout. By the end of the presentation, their audience is informed, educated and leaves the room with all their questions answered. How? This blog post is a best of collection of presentation tips and resources.

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Know your whats and whys

Designing your presentation well lays the foundations for your success. This is incredibly obvious, perhaps even to inexperienced presenters – and it’s probably the most overlooked element. When you ask them, experienced presenters tell you that the very first thing they do is crystallize what they want to achieve with the presentation. These questions will help you get started:

  1. What do I want to achieve?
  2. Why should people listen to me?
  3. What do I want the audience to know and/or do after the presentation?

An excellent tip is to write down in a single sentence what your presentation is about and why you are presenting. If you can’t do it in 14 words or less, rewrite it – and one of the 14 words needs to be the powerful “so”. e.g.  “I’m sharing how experienced presenters do it, so you can improve your presentations.” That sentence then gives you a very simple framework and clear criteria for what I want to put in and take out.

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PowerPoint doesn’t make the presentation

Perhaps the comedic writers Steve Lowe and Brendan McArthur[1] best summed it up – „PowerPoint: The Microsoft tool that encourages people to think and talk like ********s.“

You make the presentation. PowerPoint is a supporting tool. We’ve all done it. We find a set of existing slides and copy and paste our way to a new presentation. We think in slides and we build what we say around what’s on the slides. Experienced presenters build the presentation slides after they have planned the presentation, when they know what they are going to say and have a clear structure in mind. They use as few slides as possible because they want the focus on them and their message.  … and it’s not about slides. Doing it this way, the PowerPoint presentation has a better chance of becoming a visual aid, rather than the main feature.

Get comfortable

Have you noticed it? The best presenters are in control and entirely comfortable with what they’re doing. Wow. How do they do it? They practice. Out loud, probably. Practicing is not thinking to yourself what you will say – it’s actually saying it. Recording yourself and practicing in front of a mirror will tell you exactly what your audience will see and hear as you present your content. When you come across as unsure of yourself or uncertain of your content you are creating barriers to success. And don’t focus on “learning it by heart” – focus on the big messages and the important bridges.

TIP: Practice your presentation a day before you hold it -if you start practicing an hour before you run the risk of deciding to change things around which makes things harder

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Don’t lose yourself, but if you do…

Your mind draws a blank. You’ve forgotten to make an important point. You just realized you’re babbling away. You don’t know the answer to the question. The audience looks at you like they don’t quite understand what you’re trying to say. Now what?

We all make mistakes and “owning your mistakes” helps build credibility. Smile. Don’t wind yourself up. Move forward. Say it later. Focus on the next point. Say that you’ll find out the answer but you don’t have it right now. Ask the audience – what have you understood so far? – and take it from there.

Moments when things go wrong happen – so remember they are only moments. Yes, even the most experienced presenters draw a blank sometimes. If you look carefully, you’ll see that they have developed techniques that work for them (they take a sip of water while gathering their thoughts, they make a joke out of it, etc.). Experience taught them that.

 

[1] Is It Just Me or Is Everything Shit?: Insanely Annoying Modern Things – By Steve Lowe and Alan McArthur with Brendan Hay (Grand Central Publishing)

 

For more information:

Take a look at our training solutions for presenting across cultures https://www.targettraining.eu/item/presenting-across-cultures/ , presenting in a virtual environment https://www.targettraining.eu/item/presenting-virtual-environment/ and our challenging Presenting with IMPACT program https://www.targettraining.eu/item/presenting-with-impact/

What will training look like in 2030? (survey)

Our clients have trusted us to deliver practical training solutions since 1994. One of the lessons we’ve learned over the years is the importance of spotting patterns. Being able to proactively meet our clients’ needs adds value and feels right. With that in mind, towards the end of 2020 we began gathering perspectives from our network. We spoke with 94 of our clients, leads and contacts (43 L&D professionals and 51 team leaders). 31 people were interviewed face to face.  The remaining 63 were initially interviewed through an online survey. Some excerpts and the results of the survey are below. If you are interested to read the full document, you can download it here.

The rise in individualised, self service training clearly shifts the obligation onto the learner

Almost everyone who took part in our survey envisaged training increasingly becoming personalised. This means that, for better or for worse, the responsibility for learning will shift to the learner. Employees will be expected to select, organise and take part in training, rather than have management and L&D mandate it and organize it.

 

“Training will be like scheduled TV and Netflix. Individuals will expect to find what they want when they want it and how they want it. Central L&D departments will be about making helping and guiding learners and scheduling if required. Learning is learner driven. The L&D departments are less needed” N.L. (CEO)

 

Technology is enabling and driving learning on demand

Almost all interviewees see technology playing an increasingly pivotal role in learning and feelings are mixed. More and more interviewees expect learners to access learning in a range of formats via smartphones and tablets. Many employers will choose this route as a low cost training solution. Some see technology as the driver behind this change, but interestingly a few pointed out that the very human desire to communicate itself is what pushes the advancements in the technology. Either way, technology in training is key to enabling and driving learning on demand.

 

“I see this digital training world being about learning on demand. Short, focused learning will be the majority. People have a problem or a need and then they find their own solution.” G.R. (L&D EMEA)

 

“I anticipate that the trends I’m seeing today will continue flexible learning, bite sized learning, the fragmentation of learning so that people focus on what they need to know or learn at that moment. This will be software based and virtual … and I feel that the solutions we see today with the big platforms is bullshit, but everybody believes in it. We used to have books and now
we have ‘animated summaries’. This isn’t learning” K.K. (L&D Manager)

 

Managers believe their companies will be investing more in learning but L&D professionals believe the opposite

This finding deserves to be explored more. None of the line managers expected to see L&D investment shrink BUT 41% of L&D professionals did. Equally surprising was that 60% of line managers expected to see more money invested in L&D … compared to just 18% of L&D professionals.

 

Thoughts are divided on the need to develop English language skills in staff

Both L&D managers and line managers are split down the middle on whether companies will need to be investing in Business English training. Our first assumption was that this was connected to the type of industry, the country or even the company size, but we could not find a pattern with the sample size (of 43 L&D professionals and 51 team leaders, managers and senior
managers).

 

“We will less likely hire staff who don’t have necessary language skills, and if we do we will be looking for a service to bring them up to speed fast so they can perform on the job”. D.F. (Technical Manager)

 

“I hear a lot from our HR that our new hires can work in English. I don’t think this is accurate. Some of them have spent a year in a foreign country, and many of them have good English listening
skills. But many of them aren’t so called advanced. They don’t have the communication skills we need and the emails they are writing just aren’t professional enough!” C.G. (Senior Manager)

 

 

Download the full version

If you are interested to read more about training in 2030, you can download the full version of the survey here.

Adapting emails to different communication styles

Business email today takes up a lot of employee time – up 2.6 hours a day according to McKinsey. We are also opening more email than ever before on mobile devices, and out of hours. Therefore, it has become even more important that email messages are clear, precise and understandable.

We recently worked with a global team responsible for managing training inside their organisation. The team were facing challenges in dealing with high amounts of queries about information they had already sent via email. They wanted to know how they could communicate the same information to a wide range of readers in order to reduce follow up emails. We decided to help them explore different communication styles and how to adapt their email communications to them. In this post you will learn what the different styles are, why this matters, and get some tips and strategies for adapting your written communication.

What are the different communication styles?

Did you ever notice that some people are more direct or indirect in how they communicate? This often comes from cultural differences. Two researchers, Edward Hall and Erin Meyer, have categorised these differences as high-context/indirect and low-context/direct. As you read the information below, try to think of colleagues you know who tend to communicate in these different ways.

High-Context/Indirect Low-Context/Direct
Expect to interpret a message

Indirect, nuanced

Higher on background details

Use coded language

Prefer oral communications

State the context before the main point

‘Read between the lines’

Don’t expect the reader to interpret

Direct, to the point. precise

Lower on background details

Less able to read between the lines

Prefer written communications

Get to the main point quickly

‘Say what you mean, mean what you say’

Why does this matter?

Look at this phrase, taken from the final line of a real email.

“Therefore, my role in this is questionable.”

What does the writer mean exactly? Is she saying she doesn’t have a role? Is she saying she doesn’t know what her role is? Is she asking the reader to clarify what her role is? In fact, we don’t know the precise meaning because this is a relatively high-context/indirect message. In fact, this kind of coded language can present problems for all types of readers. Low-context/direct readers will be uncertain what the precise meaning is and how to respond. High-context/indirect readers will read a meaning from the phrase, but it could be the wrong one if they do not share the same assumptions/context as the writer.

As we described at the beginning of this post, the high volume of email communication today means that email needs to be clear, precise and understandable at the first reading. Otherwise we will increase the size of our inboxes with clarifications of old messages.

Understanding these different communication styles can really help to cut down on follow up emails by designing your emails for the type of communicators you are writing to. In the next section you will read tips and strategies for how to adjust to the two communication styles we described above.

How you can adapt your emails to the different styles

Here you will find some practical advise for how to adapt your emails to the different styles. These tips will be especially useful if you are working with people who have a different style to you.

How to work with High-Context/Indirect communicators How to work with Low-Context/Direct communicators
Don’t take words at face value

Ask ‘what do they want to say?’

Ask checking questions to make

sure you understand

Expect questions/clarifications

Find ways to communicate

orally where you can

Keep it short and unambiguous

Don’t search for hidden meanings

Avoid coded language

Don’t take blunt answers

personally

Make sure you include the ‘why’

in communications

Is one style better than the other?

We all have preferences for one style or the other and that’s what makes us who we are. What we are really saying is that a ‘one style fits all’ approach to emailing doesn’t necessarily work. A smarter approach to getting your emails read and cutting down on clarifications is to adapt your style to your reader.

To conclude

The global team we worked with on this topic found it eye-opening to explore their own styles and their assumptions about how to write a good email. They are now experimenting with adapting their styles, with some good results. Of course, this is a work in progress!

For more information

More tips and advice for writing effective emails in these posts:

The CIA model: Control, Influence, Accept

The CIA model, discussed in The Critically Reflective Practitioner (2008) is a framework for navigating difficult times or situations. We use this model often in communications and leadership training. Sometimes used as a stress-management tool, the model helps bring focus and clarity on actions to take, and guides us how to minimise the impact of external events at the same time as maximising the impact of our personal power. In this post, we’ll explain the CIA model in more detail, and we’ll explore each part of the model to identify ways to implement it.

CIA Model

Control InfluenceAccept
identify which elements of the situation you can directly controlidentify the elements that you can’t control, but that you can perhaps influenceidentify the things that you can neither control or influence, and learn to live with them

 

Control

“It’s not events that upset us but rather our opinions about them.”

Epictetus

When I’m delivering training on change management or influencing skills, I start by asking participants to identify things in the situation or change process that they directly control. At first, they typically produce quite a small list, but with more thought and prompting their lists get bigger. What always strikes me is how many of the things on their lists relate to self-control rather than control of external things. In a nutshell, most external events are outside our control, but we can control how we react or feel about them and the decisions we make. So, the first lesson of the CIA model is that we control more than we think we do – if we know where to look. Here is a list of some of the things that are inside of our control:

  • our emotions
  • expertise/subject knowledge
  • how we react to situations
  • our reputation
  • personal choices/decisions
  • relationships with other people
  • interpersonal skills

Are you making the most of the control you have over these and other things?

Influence

“It is not that we have a short life to live, but that we waste a lot of it.”

Seneca

Once we have a list of what we do and don’t control, we are ready to move on to use what we control to influence the situation. It is not productive to waste time getting frustrated over things we cannot control; rather we need to focus our energy by leveraging the things we do control to exert some influence. For example, building better relationships is a clear way to influence other people.

Who is your role model? Barrack Obama, your line manager, Batman? Role models exert powerful influence over us because we admire something in them. If you find yourself in a difficult situation, ask – what would my role model do? Thinking in this way can help us see the situation in a new way and use the resources we have to find some personal power.

See the links at the end of this post for resources to develop influencing skills.

Accept

“Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness.”

Marcus Aurelius

There are some things we cannot control or influence. In this case we just need to accept that bad things happen. But this doesn’t need to throw us off track. In fact, these kinds of things have the potential to help us grow enormously, if we can find learning opportunities in them. “What’s the worst that can happen?” is a good question to ask in order to get some perspective on the situation. Looking back at past failures and difficult situations is another great way to realise that things which seem the end of the world are seldom so.

The CIA model itself is a method of accepting what can be controlled, and what cannot, and carving out some influence in order to move forward. This doesn’t mean it’s easy to do, but it will get easier.

Endnote

You will notice that we have quoted 3 philosophers in this post. Epictetus, Seneca and Marcus Aurelius lived in the ancient world and developed a school of philosophy known as Stoicism. The basis of Stoicism is that external events are neither intrinsically good nor bad, so it is only our reaction to them that counts and that’s what we need to work on. If we had started this post describing an ancient school of philosophy, you might not have continued reading. But this 2000-year-old philosophy is the basis for much of today’s thinking and trends on self-help and dealing with adversity, from Mindfulness to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to CIA itself.

We hope you enjoyed reading this post. If you would like to know more about our experience of working with organisations going through change, feel free to contact us.

For more information

For more tips and advice on influencing and dealing with change, see these posts:

Training solutions

 

Train the Trainer: Dealing with ‘difficult’ participants – Part 2

In Part 1 of this post we shared what trainers can do when dealing with difficult participants, to prevent the training running off track. Even if you take all these steps you may still find that you have some personalities in the training room who are capable of derailing the training for everyone else. In this post you will read some tips and advice for dealing with the most common ‘difficult’ behaviours. In my training career I’ve met all these types (fortunately not all in the same room!) and I’ve observed that they are often unaware of the impact of their behaviour and do not have bad intentions. Nevertheless, it’s useful to have a set of strategies to manage them in order to minimise their impact on the rest of the group.

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The Talker

There are a few variations of this first type. It could be someone who always has an answer and an opinion to share. Or the participant who talks at length and wanders off the subject. In either case, if you don’t deal with this there is a risk that the talker will dominate the session. In my experience other participants will just let this happen (they expect you to deal with it) and start to withdraw and lose interest. Here are some tips for managing ‘the talker’:

  • Use summarising as a strategy to interrupt, e.g. ‘Thanks, this sounds like an interesting point, so can I just summarise what you’re saying so we are all clear?”
  • Avoid open questions to the group; nominate people by name to answer questions or share thoughts and experiences
  • Break eye contact and turn your body slightly away to signal to the participant that it’s time to stop talking now
  • Give this person a role which encourages him or her to listen, e.g. taking notes on a flipchart of the main points in a discussion

The Quiet One

This could be someone who is innately shy or perhaps uncomfortable in a group setting. In my experience they often have something very relevant and interesting to say when they do eventually contribute, so you need to have a few strategies to make that happen. Here are some of the things I do:

  • Be gentle and encouraging, being aware that you are putting them on the spot, e.g. “I know you have some great experience in this area, we would really like to hear what you think.”
  • Make sure that language is not a barrier and moderate it if it is; all my training is in English with multi-national groups and I always find there is at least one participant who does not have equal ability in English to the others
  • Dividing the class into small groups really helps any quiet participants to come out of their shells and contribute something
  • Use the break time to take the participant to one side and have a private chat to find out why they have joined the training and if there are any specific reasons that you can address to help them participate more

The Challenger

This type wants to disagree or argue with everything you say. It may seem like she or he has something they need to prove to the group and maybe you. While we definitely want participants to critically argue and debate, we want them to do it in a constructive way. If you don’t manage the challenger early on you may find yourself becoming drawn into arguments that take you off what you want to focus on. Here are some tips to manage this type:

  • Acknowledge the participant’s right to have a point of view and remind them of why they are here, e.g. “I don’t need you to agree with everything I say. My intent is to share certain models and theories with you all and ask you to decide how they could be useful in your jobs”.
  • Throw the argument to the group by asking what others think; often a bit of peer pressure will calm the challenger down
  • Ask questions to encourage the challenger to self-reflect on what they are saying, e.g. “That’s an interesting perspective, tell me more” or “Can you tell me why you think that?”
  • As with ‘the talker’, give this participant roles which will encourage them to listen to others, e.g. note-taker, observer, summariser.

The Know-It-All

Similar to ‘the challenger’, this type claims to know much more than you do about the topic and gives the impression that he or she should be leading the training! Their constant attention seeking can take up time and energy. Some tips I have used to manage this type:

  • You can flatter their ego to an extent but be careful not to give them the floor for too long; once they have it you will find it difficult to take it back off them
  • Ask them to tell the group what they know about a topic and then follow up with some probing questions to reveal what they don’t know; this takes a bit of thought but if you can do it well you can succeed in humbling their ego a little
  • Get them to ‘teach’ the others in the group and encourage the group to ask difficult questions, which could show up gaps in their knowledge
  • Take them aside and directly ask why they are here; as with ‘the quiet one’ you may discover information that can help you manage them

The Clown

This type loves to tell jokes, make light of serious issues and distract other participants. ‘Clowns’ usually have some insecurity which they want to mask, but remember your job is not to psycho-analyse participants; it’s to get them working together productively. While this type can supply some needed humour and lighten the atmosphere at useful times, you need to contain their behaviour in order to maintain the focus of your training session. Here are some tips for doing this:

  • Use your body language and eye contact to signal to this person that enough is enough
  • You can also leverage the energy this person supplies at good moments, e.g. to energise people after a hard task or returning from a break
  • As with some of the other types, take them aside for a private chat just to check that they are taking things seriously deep down
  • Get them involved in roles that keep them busy and focused and away from disruptive behaviour

The Complainer

This type seems to have a negative opinion about everyone and everything. You will hear frequent comments like “I can’t do that” or “Person X should be here not me”. The problem with constant negativity is that it can be contagious and quickly spread to the whole group, eventually undermining any productive work. Here are my tips to deal with negative types:

  • Counter negative statements by focusing on reasons behind them and options, e.g. “Tell me why you think it can’t be done” or “So if this won’t work, what else could we try?”
  • You can be a little bit playful and make light of the negativity, which could lift the atmosphere, e.g. “Now I’m sure Participant X will have something to say about this!”
  • Take the person aside for a private chat; sometimes participants don’t realise they are being so negative and raising their awareness of this could help put a stop to it
  • Get group agreement on a limit to the number of negative phrases allowed in the training room and an appropriate punishment for infringement (e.g. the infringer buys cake for everyone at the break!)

The Sceptic

“This is fine in theory, but it will never work here”. As with ‘the challenger’ we want participants to use critical thinking in training, after all the whole point is that they use the training to make changes at work. However, like ‘the complainer’ some participants are overly negative and sceptical and this can impact the rest of the group. Try these tips to manage this type:

  • Acknowledge that scepticism in a necessary thing but only if it leads to new ideas and ways of thinking (a similar tactic to deal with ‘the challenger’)
  • Counter scepticism with positive statements, e.g. “So, you don’t think this would work here. What can we think of that would work?”
  • Use case studies from your own experience to demonstrate how other teams and organisations overcame obstacles using some of the methods you are showing during the training

Sometimes a sceptical participant dismisses ideas on a surface level, so you can introduce some methods of inquiry which are designed to get deeper into complex problems, e.g. root cause analysis or the question funnel

Remember that everyone is someone’s ‘difficult person’ and ‘difficult’ behaviour is not a reason to discount someone. It’s part of our job as trainers to manage personalities and in some ways that’s what makes the job interesting. As I said in Part 1, in over 20 years of training I only remember a handful of these types, but I have learned a few tips and tricks to manage them! We hope you enjoyed reading this post. If you would like to know more about our experience of developing trainers, feel free to contact us.

Training you to succeed globally

 

Building trust in working relationships

Here are some of the questions we were recently asked by a virtual team in a global consulting company.

  • How can I convince someone to trust me?
  • Is trust purely subjective?
  • Can trust be measured?

The client wanted training that would focus on building trust because they realised how crucial it is in virtual relationships. But they had challenges deciding what trust looked like on a daily basis, and how to demonstrate it to others. We decided to help them break down trust into easier-to-understand elements by introducing them to the Trust Equation (TE). In this post you will read how we did that and how the team addressed specific challenges they faced.

What is the Trust Equation?

The Trust Equation (David Maister, Charles Green & Robert Galford, 2004, The Trusted Advisor) breaks down trust (T) into an equation of 4 elements:

  • C = Credibility – to what extent do people believe what we say?
  • R = Reliability – how much to people believe we will do what we say we will do?
  • I = Intimacy – how safe do other people feel sharing personal things with us?
  • S = Self-Orientation – do people believe we care about them, or are we more focused on our own objectives?

You can see from the equation below that trust requires high scores in the first three elements (C, R, I) but a low score in the final one (S). In other words, the TE tells us that high self-orientation undermines the other elements that are essential for trust.

Why use it?

Trusted Advisor offers a free Trust Quotient Assessment which we highly recommend because the results include feedback on which elements are strengths and weaknesses for you. For the team we worked with, being able to break down trust into specific and easy-to-understand elements was a great first step to identifying how to demonstrate behaviours that can build it.

What do behaviours for building trust look like?

The TE is a measure of how other people perceive your trustworthiness. So, what can you do to increase those perceptions? Here are some suggestions for developing the different elements of the TE that we brainstormed with the team we worked with.

Credibility

  • use stories, metaphors and your body language to help others relate to what you are saying
  • demonstrate the skills and abilities you have rather than just talk about them
  • be comfortable saying ‘no’ or ‘I don’t know’ when necessary

Reliability

  • be consistent in what you do, and ensure that people get what they expect from you
  • keep your word, so that what you promise is enough for people to trust you
  • if you aren’t able to meet a commitment you are open and honest about it

Intimacy

  • help people to confide in you by being discreet and empathetic
  • do not be afraid to risk opening up about your failings and mistakes
  • be interested in the people you work with and actively build relationships with them

Self-Orientation

  • achieve your goals through helping others achieve theirs
  • show others that you have their best interests in mind when you make decisions
  • show curiosity for other people’s concerns and priorities

How can we address common trust challenges?

After identifying behaviours that can build trust, we were now ready to address some specific trust challenges the team was facing. Here are 4 of those challenges, with brainstormed suggestions for how to address them.

  1. I am working in a virtual team with people I have never met before. How do I quickly establish my credibility in the team?

“It’s not who you are on the inside, it’s what you do that counts”. Proving your abilities by showing people what you can do is a quick way to establish credibility. Developing intimacy with your new team will also help, especially in a virtual environment. So make an effort to get to know your new team members as individuals.

  1. My colleagues think I am reliable but on occasions I can’t meet deadlines because things come up beyond my control. What can I do about this?

Don’t be afraid to say ‘I can’t do this after all’ if you have a good reason. It may seem counter-intuitive if we are talking about reliability, but reliability is not about being perfect; it’s about showing you care about the accountabilities you have. Being open and honest can also let others see your vulnerability, which is a good foundation for building intimacy too.

  1. I’m a German working with an Asian team. I have tried to build personal relationships by making small talk, but they seem reluctant to share personal things about themselves.

Intimacy is done differently in different cultures. While some cultures prioritise people and relationships in business it doesn’t mean that they feel comfortable talking about personal things. Perhaps a good idea here is for you to lead the way by sharing things about yourself and your life in your home country, encouraging other team members to follow your lead. This could at least get the ball rolling…

  1. In the Trust Quotient Assessment I scored quite high on Self-Orientation. What can I do about this?

Try listening more than talking, ask a lot of questions and summarise what you hear. When someone tells you something, avoid responding with a judgement or advice. Instead use three little magic words; “Tell me more”.

We hope you enjoyed reading this post. If you would like to know more about our experience of developing trust in teams, we trust you’ll contact us.

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Asking for help

Knowing that asking for help is probably a viable solution is not always reason enough to ask for help. Asking for help can save time and allow us to practice being courageous, foster social connections, and become healthier people. It also gives everyone involved the chance to boost their overall well-being. The fact of the matter is we are accompanied on our journey through life by an invaluable army of helpers – nurses and doctors, teachers and schoolmates, coaches and teammates, friends and family… not to mention colleagues, mentors and managers. In reality, nobody makes it on their own and nor should we expect to. Then, why is it so difficult sometimes to walk up to a colleague and say „I need your help with something“?

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The pros and cons of self-reliance

As children, trial and error teaches us we need help, and sometimes we notice that the kids who do really well, are the ones openly asking for help. This is a lesson we sometimes ‚unlearn‘ upon reaching adulthood. The quest to become fully-fledged, self-reliant individuals can mean going too far in the opposite direction. We live in an age where user-friendly, DIY solutions are designed to enable and promote our autonomy. And if you don’t know how to do something there are plenty of videos you can watch online without having to actually bother anybody IRL.

We often find that asking people for help is a bit embarrassing, and comes with feelings of vulnerability. Why not just bypass it completely and work things out for yourself? But what’s missing from this picture? In short, the voice of experience, and the immediate feedback you get from trying something out while your helper watches. The timely suggestions, advice on what to avoid and how, the tips and tweaks that save you precious time and effort. Someone maybe even showing you first-hand what you need to do to get the result you want.

Writing this, I’m thinking about the 10 minutes today my colleague spent helping me navigate a new process. It was nothing exciting, but her patient guidance gave me a sense of reassurance that is invaluable. And now I can do something with confidence, that before I was a little nervous about. But still I thought twice before I called her for assistance, worried she might not have time for me.

Research costs time – why not just ask?

The thing is, in the workplace, not asking for help costs time and money, and can hinder us all in learning and in taking action. Being able to move fast may mean the difference between winning or losing a contract. That speed also relates to communication. Second-guessing about getting help slows you down. Typically, as a manager when I frequently set tasks for members of my team. If they have a gap in their knowledge, I expect them to quickly learn what they need to, and get the job done. Why spend valuable time researching when they could just ask a colleague? Knowing all this, why are we collectively still hung up on asking for help?

Here are some theories that I came across while researching this post:

Theory 1: I’m a macho girl in a macho world?

Asking for help means there is a gap in one’s knowledge or competence, a weakness, a flaw, a need, a vulnerability. Feeling vulnerable (and admitting it) feels like a small bird flapping in my rib cage. Who seriously wants to engage with that sensation? If we dig into it though, research shows that not only is it untrue that asking for help makes you appear incompetent, but in some cases asking for help with a difficult task actually results in higher perceived competence. In other words, we are far less likely to be judged negatively for admitting our weaknesses than we think. I know many parents who continually reinforce this to their children, but as adults we perhaps fail to recognise its validity for ourselves. Because feeling vulnerable is difficult, and it’s connected to shame. Shame tells us we are not good enough, and that if others discover this we will simply never recover. Here’s the thing though – for us to connect with other people, we need to be seen (and accepted). And as humans we are hard-wired to connect to others, because on a fundamental level it gives meaning and purpose to our lives.

Brené Brown’s research into vulnerability turned her world upside-down, and in the process she identified a whole cohort of people whom she categorised as ‚wholehearted‘. These are people who have a strong sense of love and belonging, and, crucially, who believe they are worthy of love and belonging. In other words, they feel a tremendous connection with others, and are rarely plagued by shame. Maybe you know someone like this, or maybe you are this person. When she delved into what these people all had in common, she discovered 4 attributes they displayed:

  1. Courage (to be imperfect)
  2. Compassion (to be kind to oneself, and thus to others)
  3. Connection (to let go of expectations about who they should be, and to just be who they are)
  4. Vulnerability (asking for help, initiating a relationship, putting yourself out there)

What she discovered is that to become one of these wholehearted people, we have to allow ourselves to be vulnerable at times. In order to reap the benefits that come with belonging and acceptance, we must make space for a little discomfort in our lives. Side note: current research also shows that the impacts of loneliness on one’s health can amount to the equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Avoiding connecting with people is really not good for us! So while I might pride myself on being a tough, self-reliant cookie – maybe in truth it’s time to ask myself if I wouldn’t rather be a wholehearted girl, in a wholehearted world?

Theory 2: Rejection hurts – but just ask and you shall receive (in abundance)

The other day I fired off a request for a recommendation for my LinkedIn profile to a colleague I’ve known for about 10 years. As my finger hovered over the ’send‘ button various thoughts passed through my mind: he’s too busy, maybe he doesn’t feel like he knows me well enough, maybe he’ll say no. Guess what – today his recommendation came through. Not only did he have time, and know me well enough to write a few sentences, but what he wrote was amazing, thoughtful, and authentic. This is not the exception; rather this demonstrates the rule.

The fear of rejection is disproportionate to how often rejection actually occurs

Research shows that we regularly underestimate both how willing people are to help us, and how much effort they are prepared to spend. In various studies, participants misjudged both the number of people who would commit to help with a task, and how much help and effort each person would contribute. What this means is that we might not expect it, but people say ‚yes‘ far more often than we think. And when they say yes, they really throw themselves into it. Why? There’s a growing amount of science on altruistic benefits, but the long and the short of it seems to show that humans really get a kick out of helping a specific person or people (rather than a general cause), especially when they have a chance to see how their help makes a positive impact. Studies at Harvard found that the emotional benefits of helping are multiplied when they ‚foster social connection‘. Universally, doing favours for others boosts our well-being overall. So next time someone helps you out, tell them how it impacted on you and allow them to bask in the warm glow.

In short, asking for help allow us to practice being courageous, foster social connections, become better, healthier, more wholehearted people. It also gives helpers the chance to lift themselves out of a negative mood, boost their overall well-being and enjoy the emotional benefits that come with giving.

Theory 3: You have to say the words. But when you do, be specific, unapologetic, personal, and then share your results

Ever held a crying baby in your arms, overwhelmed by frustration because you can’t figure out what it needs? Of course, the baby can’t articulate the help it needs, but we can… and should. We are often misled by „the illusion of transparency“ that others can see right through us, and will know exactly what we need without us having to actually say it. Make it easy for your helper – just tell them. The likelihood is that it’s not immediately obvious to them, and they don’t know what you are thinking and feeling. Research shows that 90 percent of the support that colleagues provide at work is in direct response to specific appeals for help. So get ready to say it out loud: „‚I need your help.“

Tips on asking for help and getting the help you need

  1. Be as clear as possible about the help you need. Half-baked, vague entreaties aren’t very useful. If we don’t really understand what it is that you need, then how can we be sure if we can adequately provide it? Giving useless help is a waste of everybody’s time.
  2. Phrase your request for help in a way that focuses on outcomes, rather than on you or your perceived shortcomings. In business, results really are what count and it’s far easier to provide help towards achieving a concrete goal than to try to support someone who feels crippled by insecurity. It may sound obvious but do share the bigger picture and explain what target this person’s help will support you in reaching.
  3. Don’t apologise or preface your request with a disclaimer about how awkward you feel having to ask for help. The subtext here is ‚I hate asking you for help’ and revealing this makes the whole experience a lot more joyless for everyone than it should be. Helping one another is an inherent part of human relationships, it is the acknowledged currency of caring, and getting hung up about this really doesn’t help!
  4. Having said that, asking for help is more than a transaction. Asking for help via email or text is impersonal and distancing, which, unsurprisingly, means people are less likely to help you than if you ask in person. And though asking by email may feel less uncomfortable, so does saying no! If you really want a yes, ask in person and your request is 30 times more likely to get a positive response.

Finally, and this is the one that came as the biggest revelation to me while researching this: every time you benefit from someone’s support, give them something back by following up with them afterwards. The idea that the act of helping is a reward in itself, is not entirely true. The real reward comes with knowing that your help made a positive difference on a human level. If I have no idea what impact my help had on you, how can I possibly feel good about it?

And on that note, can I ask for a favour? If anything in this article has made an impact on you, let me know in the comments section.

 


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Align roles and responsibilities in your team with RACI

Team challenge 1: There is a new manager in a team who believes that everyone in the team is clear what the other team members’ responsibilities are and yet they aren’t. What should the team do? Team challenge 2: An email/request comes to a shared mailbox or distribution list, and there is confusion in the team who is responsible/who responds? What should be the best practice if there is no clear process in place for this? Team challenge 3: A multi-cultural team may have people who have low or high context preferences.  It can lead to miscommunication at times. How can we be sure responsibilities are clear to everyone?

These are some of the challenges that training groups have shared with us. Aligning people and tasks becomes even more of a challenge if we add in virtual working, cross functional teams and the increasing pressure to be more agile and handle more diverse projects at the same time. In this post we will share a useful tool that can really help address these challenges.

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The RACI matrix

We have used a tool with teams that helps cut through the complications of these challenges and bring more clarity to complex team setups. The RACI matrix is a simple and frequently used responsibility charting tool to clarify relationships for:

  • Communication or actions required to deliver an acceptable product or service
  • Functional roles or departmental positions (no specific individual staff members’ names)
  • Participation expectations assigned to roles by decisions or actions

The tool assigns roles into 4 categories:

  • Responsible – Those who do the work to achieve the task.
  • Accountable – The one ultimately answerable for the correct completion of the deliverable or task, and the one who delegates the work to those responsible.
  • Consulted – Those whose opinions are sought, typically subject matter experts; and with whom there is two-way communication.
  • Informed – Those who are updated on progress, often only on completion of the task or deliverable; and with whom there is just one-way communication.

A practical example

Let’s look at a simple example to show how RACI works in practice. Imagine a (rather stereotypical) family. The task is to prepare and serve dinner. How does each family member take part in this task? Let’s say mum is responsible (R) and accountable (A) for the meal (A and R is often the same role). Mum can also delegate some of the responsibility, for example asking dad to prepare one element of the meal or the children to lay the table. There can only be one A, but there can be more than one R. Next, the family members need to be informed (I) when the meal will be ready and probably consulted (C) about the ingredients to check they will be able to eat it!

This simple non-business example makes it easy to see how RACI works and can also illustrate how things can go wrong when some of the roles are not defined or followed. For example:

  • Mum and dad share responsibility for preparing the meal but they fail to coordinate when the different elements should be ready.
  • Mum fails to consult the kids on the menu; when she serves the meal she remembers that her son is allergic to one of the ingredients.
  • No one is responsible for laying the table and mum gets angry and stressed that she has to do it in addition to the cooking.
  • The family is not informed when dinner will be ready and is out playing in the park when the meal is served.

How does RACI help us be more agile?

These kinds of misalignments and their results also happen in a business context. Let’s look at some common scenarios which teams often report to us during training, and how to address them using the RACI matrix:

Scenario: Use RACI to:

 

Work is not getting done because people are not clear about individual responsibilities; some tasks have multiple people working on them, other tasks don’t get touched at all. Decide who is responsible and accountable for different tasks. Breaking up big tasks and delegating responsibilities for them can help. If you are facing this scenario in your team it usually means there are either too many, or not enough ‘R’ roles.
Tasks and projects take a long time to complete because lots of different people give their input and there is a conflict between different views/approaches. Decide who really needs to be consulted in order for the task to be completed. Too many ‘C’ roles can lead to ‘paralysis by analysis’, slowing things down. This often happens in communications, for example when too many people are invited to meetings or copied into emails.
We don’t have visibility on who is doing what and the status of tasks and when they are completed. Sometimes this leads us to duplicate tasks or miss important details. Decide who needs to be informed and consulted for each task. Not enough ‘C’ or ‘I’ roles can lead to poor communication and lack of visibility. If you ask a question and get the answer, “I don’t know, you could try person X” it could be a sign that these roles have not been assigned.

Tips for using the RACI matrix

By now you can probably see how implementing RACI properly can help prevent these problems and address the challenges we described at the start. Remember that RACI defines roles not people; in other words, people can have different roles in different tasks regardless of their job titles. Completing the matrix can also give you a quick overview to check that all roles have been assigned; to the correct people, and that there are not too many/too few roles.

Finally, RACI is flexible and can be easily customised by adding new role types that suit your organisation or projects. Click here [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Responsibility_assignment_matrix] and scroll down for a pretty comprehensive list of how to adapt RACI.

More advice and tips on aligning and communicating in teams

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How you can turn saying no into a win-win situation with your customer

Saying yes to a customer request often results in an instant meeting of their expectations. “Yes, I’d be happy to do that for you”, is one of the more powerful statements that conveys that your customer has come to the right place. Hearing yes makes them feel how they want to feel, it will make their life easier, it will give them what they want. Naturally, yes is what we want to say when our customers approach us. Customer satisfaction is almost guaranteed after a yes, hopefully without much additional effort. Saying no to a customer is much more difficult, especially when your no was not what they were expecting to hear. No means “a possible problem”, to them at least. Everybody knows that saying no sometimes makes complete sense, it has to be done. “No, we wouldn’t recommend that”, is also a very powerful statement that conveys that your customer has come to the right place, though in this case, they might not appreciate your (expert) service as much.

There’s a lot to be said about saying no to customers. In this post, we’ll explore how you can turn saying no into a win-win situation with your customer.
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Why do you need to say no?

Most customers select a service provider based on knowledge and expertise. Money plays a role, but most customers really do care about working with a service provider who has knowledge and expertise. It’s the balance of this perceived expertise in combination with your fees that led them to choose you. This means it’s important to say no to customers when you think that:

  • the request is based on their lack of understanding or knowledge
  • they are asking you to do something which would not be beneficial to them
  • they are asking you to do something that would not be worth the associated costs to the customer
  • you have a better solution to the challenge they are facing

Be prepared for what comes after the no

As a rule of thumb in customer service, not meeting someone’s expectation requires an explanation and the setting of a new expectation. There’s never a need to say “yes, I can do that because it’s a completely normal request within the limits of our contract”, a simple “yes, sure” is enough. When it’s a no, you’ll need to add the why – in a way that your customer can understand it. Spell it out (nicely): The answer is no because of… Depending on your customer, an explanation is much more than a sentence, it can take two or three conversations for someone to understand why no means no.

The last impression that you DON’T want to leave the customer with is ‘they said no because of a bunch of reasons that I don’t understand’, because accumulated impressions of doubt can damage the long-term relationship quite easily. The last impression that you DO want the customer to have is something along the lines of ‘they said no, but I trust them’. To achieve that, you have to adapt every “no” conversation to their level of knowledge, their expectations, their situation, etc.

“It might be uncomfortable for your customer to hear it, but as soon as they get over the initial shock of the no, most customers will appreciate the fact that you’re applying your experience and judgment.”

What happens when people hear no?

Think about how you have reacted when you heard no instead of yes. Depending on the impact, as the recipient of no, we might question the other party’s ability to understand the request (rejection), or verbally express our unhappiness in no uncertain terms (frustration), before we can accept that no means no.

The SARAH model outlines our typical response to bad news in a linear fashion. For example: after expressing shock at hearing no, somebody will experience anger and/or anxiety which can then become resentment and/or rejection. With your support they will then accept the situation and begin to look for solutions which they hope will mitigate the bad news. The SARAH model is more relevant to most business scenarios and provides a simple, linear framework.

S – shock, surprise
  • “I thought this was covered by the contract”
  • “I just don’t understand – this was obviously important to us”
A – anger, anxiety
  • “I’m not happy”
  • “I’m really frustrated”
  • “This isn’t what I would expect from a business partner”
  • “I’m really worried this is going to set us back at least 2 weeks”
R – resentment, rejection
  • “I don’t think you understand the impact this will have on us”
  • “This might not be a big thing for you, but it is for us”
A – acceptance
  • “I suppose we just need to …”
  • “Well if that’s the way it is, that’s the way it is. I guess we need to …”
H – hope
  • “So what can we do then?”
  • “What kinds of workarounds have other customers used?”

You can use this model to help the customer accept what is happening, by moving them forward during your conversation. Use SARAH to steer the conversation with your customer, now that you know how they typically react to hearing no.

What to do when you need to say no?

When you tell your customer what you think, you’re doing what you’re paid to do – sharing knowledge, expertise and experience. Your expert perspective gives you everything you need to give the customer what they need. The question they asked results from a direct need. Indirectly, your no should address this need. If you successfully uncover their need after your no, you are creating a possible future yes. It can be helpful to see saying no as not just one isolated word but as a six-step process. This process is further explained in our eBook…

1 Prepare them

Indicate you have difficult news. Don’t just drop it on them. “We need to talk about something you won’t want to hear.”

2 Say no

Use clear and straightforward language. Avoid over-softening, hiding. Be aware of cultural differences.

3 Explain why

Inform them why something has happened and, if you don’t understand the reason, be honest (and build credibility). Avoid making excuses.

4 Convey understanding and empathy for their situation

Show that you understand the impact on them (both the business dimension and the human dimension).

5 Explore possible futures

Explore possible impacts. Impacts you’d like to avoid, solutions, workarounds, measures etc.

6 Follow up

Make the effort to follow up with the customer both after you’ve said no and once the solutions or measures have been implemented.

How to say no

You don’t say no to a customer request every day, so make it count. Own your “no”…don’t be fluffy about it by saying things like “well, if it was up to me”, and don’t distance yourself with phrases like “I wish I could but a third party is being difficult”. The message of no has to be clear: “No. I’m very sorry, but that’s just not possible” is the strongest message you can give your customer in their time of need.

Express empathy, apologize if needed but don’t overdo it. If you continue making excuses and apologizing you run the risk of looking indecisive, being open to being convinced otherwise and not owning your no.

In his book “The Power of a Positive No”, William Ury introduced the world of customer service to the “positive no”. The process has 3 basics steps:

Express your yes

There’s a reason you’re saying no, and that’s because you’re actually saying yes to something else (your project plan, your experience, your customers budget limitations). Focus on expressing your commitment to your yes e.g. “We are committed to our system being reliable and secure”.

Add your no in the context of your yes

“We are committed to our system being reliable and secure. This is why we need to say no to the idea of integrating remote access via this 3rd party app. It will be costly, and our experience is that it will create problems neither of us can work with.”

Propose a yes

“We are committed to our system being reliable and secure. This is why we need to say no to the idea of integrating remote access via this 3rd party app. It will be costly, and our experience is that it will create problems neither of us can work with. We can evaluate remote access solutions which will give some of the functionality without the risks. Let’s talk more about what is important to you and how we can help you find the budget.”

Don’t focus on the no

I have done many training sessions on customer service and I never leave the room without saying “if there’s an emotion involved, address it” because it’s the easiest road to customer satisfaction. It’s also, in my experience, one of the most difficult things for people to focus on, when in the midst of a no conversation with a customer. Perhaps it’s comfortable to hide in the business dimension, behind “these are our processes and there’s nothing I can do at this point” and it will help the customer understand your no, sure. However, the impact is much greater if you address the situation in the human dimension with an empathic “You’re frustrated, I can tell”, and give the customer a moment to respond to that.

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How to develop internal trainers for virtual training delivery – Part 2

In Part 1 of this post we described the three key skills areas needed to develop internal trainers to train virtually. To support them further, we also developed a session planning template that ensured they planned these principles into their sessions. In this post, we’ll answer the question: What are the elements of planning an effective virtual training session? At the end you will be able to download the template for your own use.

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Designing learning objectives

Just like the physical classroom, learning objectives should focus on the actual needs of the trainees and the outcome of the training, for example: By the end of this session, technicians will be able to communicate the 3 most important features of this new model washing machine to a customer

Unlike the physical classroom, you will have less time in a virtual session to meet this objective, and that includes setting aside time to measure it during the session itself. This means that you should limit yourself to only one or two objectives.

Thinking about your trainees

Thinking about what your trainees know already can save time in your session and help ensure what you plan meets their actual needs. For a virtual session it’s also useful to think about trainees’ previous experience of online learning and their comfort level with technology.

For example, repair technicians who have spend most of their time on the road visiting customers may need more time and practice with getting to grips with online training. You can allow for this with activities where they can have fun and play with the different tools to build their confidence.

Being prepared for problems

Due to technology, there can be more problems in a virtual classroom, and you need to have back-up plans and work-arounds for when people loose connection or can’t hear, etc. At the end of the day there is only so much you can actually do to assist people, but you can plan to address problems that might come up by explaining at the beginning what to do if connection is lost and who trainees should contact for assistance.

If trainees are new to virtual training they will need help and practice in using the tools and for this it is best to set aside time at the start of the session to let them play with the tools in a relaxed way before they use them for more serious activities.

Setting personal goals

Every virtual session is also an opportunity for the trainer to improve. Set yourself personal goals (e.g. speak slower, stick to timing, involve all participants) and then either ask someone to observe the session and give you feedback, or record the session and play it back to yourself.

Creating a detailed session plan

At least when you start virtual training, having a detailed session plan will help you stay on track. A lot is happening during a virtual session, so you don’t need the extra worry of trying to remember what comes next. Your plan will also show you that you are using a range of tools and mixing them up. Your plan will be more micro than normal as in a virtual training session it’s important to very activities in order to keep trainees’ attention; at least a new activity every 5 minutes. One tip we have seen for new trainers is to script what they want to say in the plan; this is a very good way to reduce talking time and be succinct.

You can download the Virtual Training Session Plan here

 

We hope you enjoyed reading this 2-part post about how to develop internal trainers. You can also find more tips and advice on virtual training in these blog posts:

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How to develop internal trainers for virtual training delivery – Part 1

In 2020, many companies have needed to move their internal trainers from classroom to virtual training delivery. Outside of the circumstances and impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the advantages of virtual training delivery are obvious. With virtual training, you reach more people, training can be deployed faster, more regular training events can be set up, and it costs less. We’ve been delivering virtual training solutions for more than ten years, and we know that the transfer to virtual training delivery can be smooth when the trainer understands the differences between classic face-to-face training and virtual delivery, and is able to adapt and develop him/herself. 

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We were recently asked about this topic by an in-house training team for a global company who train the company’s technicians on customer service and product updates for their range of consumer household machines. They asked us:

  • What are the new skills that internal trainers need to master in order to train virtually?
  • How quickly can our existing trainers master these skills and how can we help them to do it?
  • How can we train trainers with no experience of virtual training to be confident with it?

Part 1 of this post is about the key facilitation skills for virtual training delivery, which we identified and worked on with our client’s new virtual trainers. In Part 2 you will learn how we designed a session planning template to support them. Part 2 includes a download of the template for your own use.

 

Essential facilitation skills for virtual training delivery

1. Using your voice effectively

Why this is important? –  You won’t be able to communicate using body language and eye contact in the virtual classroom. You (and your trainees) will rely entirely on your voice. The challenge with listening to someone’s voice is that it’s just more difficult to pay attention, due to lack of visual stimuli. This adaptation is a challenge for trainers new to the virtual training delivery environment because it takes a lot of practice and self-adjustment.

How to develop it – We worked with trainers on adapting 3 voice elements:

  • Clarity – pronounce words more carefully by stressing each syllable, avoid complicated terms, and repeat repeat repeat. After each segment, check in with trainees by asking, “Was that clear?”
  • Speed – you can reduce the strain on listeners by just slowing down. This takes a lot of conscious effort in practice; a technique we suggest is to imagine you are speaking 50% slower and you will probably speak 25% slower (which is an improvement!)
  • Pace – listening to a continuous stream of speech is a strain, so trainers need to practice pausing regularly. This gives listeners a chance to catch up and process what they heard. Try the 3 second rule – pause after each sentence and count to 3 in your head before continuing

2. Ensuring active participation

Why this is important – In a virtual classroom the trainer won’t have much idea who is paying attention, and trainees can easily become distracted by what’s going on around them and other things that pop up on their computer or phone. The only way to overcome this is to keep them engaged because  (unlike the physical classroom) they are not a captive audience.

How to develop it

  • Make sure everyone participates by calling on trainees by name to answer questions or share their thoughts; we recommend making a note each time someone contributes so that you can call on those who haven’t yet contributed. Of course, this is easier in smaller groups; beyond 20 trainees it becomes a challenge, but you can still use the technique.
  • Make the session active by giving participants something to do; this can be a task (e.g. discuss this problem together for 5 minutes and present your solution) or using the tools in your virtual classroom (polls, icons, annotation, etc.) to ensure active participation.
  • Ask questions regularly (as often as every 90 seconds works well) but avoid closed questions (e.g. yes/no questions) and avoid asking questions to the whole group as you will probably be met with silence; instead use the nomination technique described in the first point above.

3. Managing time and attention spans

Why this is important – Technically it is possible to run an entire day of virtual training but in practice this doesn’t work because it’s much more tiring and harder to keep trainee’s attention compared to the physical classroom. GoToWebinar researched the most popular length of sessions in thousands of training sessions and found it is 60 minutes. So, aim to break up longer training into shorter segments. Within sessions there are tips that trainers can follow to manage both time and attention spans, which you can read below.

How to develop it

  • Plan less than you would for a physical training session; we see that trainers who are new to virtual training find that the time just runs away, partly due to technical issues but also because the tips and techniques you have read about in this post just take more time.
  • Break up your session into shorter segments; if you have a longer training segment you can still break it up into chunks. This gives everyone a ‘cognitive’ break, which addresses the increased strain of concentrating in a virtual classroom.
  • Don’t plan anything for the first 10 minutes; allow this time for participants to log on, test their connection and greet each other. We also recommend wrapping up 15 minutes before the finish, to allow for extra time you might have lost during the session, and also take questions. This will all impact the amount of content you can plan for a virtual session, which is the first point you read above.

Part 1 conclusion

We found that identifying and working on these three key skills areas can help internal trainers make the jump to become virtual trainers. In part 2 of this post, you’ll learn more about the elements of planning an effective virtual training session. If you want to continue reading, here are a few recommended posts on the topic of virtual training delivery.

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How to help virtual teams deal with the real challenges they face

Virtual teams have clear advantages, but they also come with a set of unique challenges; building trust and getting people to work together is just not the same in a virtual environment. If you are leading virtual teams you will already be aware of many of these challenges. If you are not, or if you are new to this, or if your teams are not telling you everything; this post is for you! In over ten years of working with virtual teams in global companies we have collected the challenges that they have shared with us. We can now share with you some of the most common challenges we hear time and again, and some suggestions for how to help with them. This post is even more relevant in our current situation, when teams are going virtual out of necessity rather than design. So, we hope that this post will be a valuable resource to you as you adapt to the new normal of virtual working!

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Challenge 1: Connecting across different time zones

Knowing when to connect with someone halfway across the world is a key challenge that people share with us again and again. Technology allows us to send communications at any time of the day or night. But it does not tell us when we can expect a reply. Delays in response can lead to miscommunication and frustration; not something you want in any team.

How a team leader can help

It really helps to have a whole team discussion about the time zones people are working in. Don’t assume anything; we often find that some virtual teams are completely unaware what time it is for their counterparts! But don’t limit the discussion to just the time of day; in addition, bring in people’s preferred working patterns. We have found that these types of discussions can help people manage their own expectations and tailor their communications more effectively to their remote colleagues.

Challenge 2: Getting to know other team members as individuals

It is much simpler to know our colleagues’ working styles and flex to them in a co-located space because we can see how they work. In a virtual team these things are more hidden. Virtual teams who don’t know each other are more likely to fall into conflict and work to separate agendas.

How a team leader can help

The secret to building intimacy in virtual teams is to do more of it and be explicit about it. Explain why the team needs to make extra efforts to get to know each other and the benefits of doing it. Plan time at the start of meetings for personal check-ins, encourage people to reveal non-work related things about each other. Host a ‘virtual’ breakfast or coffee meeting for people to socialise. One team we worked with devised a set of 20 questions for new teams to break the ice; simple, non-threatening questions like ‘Do you prefer coffee or tea?’ can start things going and encourage people to open up. The time you create for personal bonding will pay rewards later. But the key is to realise it doesn’t happen naturally in virtual teams.

Challenge 3: Holding each other accountable and giving feedback

This is even more critical in a virtual team because we simply can’t see what other people are doing. Distance can too easily undermine the things we do more naturally in co-located teams such as giving feedback and holding each other accountable.

How a team leader can help

Ensure that the same processes and standards are applied for giving honest and timely feedback and holding each other accountable. DEEP and DESC are two approaches that work extremely well. In the office you may stipulate that feedback and performance conversations happen face to face. In a virtual team this means video calls; don’t let email take over just because it’s more convenient.

See the next challenge for a technique that can help drive team accountability.

Challenge 4: Keeping focused and engaged

Individuals will need to work more independently and with less supervision in a virtual environment but will also become more easily distracted and may lose focus due to competing work/life priorities.

How a team leader can help

Borrow a very effective technique from the iterative, agile approach; ‘Stand Up’ meetings are a short daily meeting to check-in and align with each other. In the meeting, team members are asked to share what they will be working on today and what obstacles they may face. For a team leader this provides valuable insights into problems that you will need to work on that day. For team members this is a routine event than can help them focus and energise.

Challenge 5: Making it more personal

Technology has introduced many more personal features today but teams that we work with still say that having a screen between them can make virtual teams feel impersonal.

How a team leader can help

Virtual hugs or pats on the back, telling jokes and playing games can all help to make things more personal. But the number one thing that creates the biggest impact is to turn on the webcam! As humans we connect to faces instantly and, according to the Mehrabian studies, our body language accounts for 55% of how we express emotion and attitude. It still surprises us how many virtual teams do not switch on their cameras. It’s a small step that makes a very big impact.

Challenge 6: Scheduling too many (and too long) meetings

Meetings can be draining in a physical environment. For virtual teams they can feel even longer due to the lack of physical interaction and interruption from technical problems. So, it’s important to manage meetings a bit differently in a virtual environment.

How a team leader can help

Acknowledge that virtual meetings are more of a strain and mitigate this by making them shorter and more frequent. Ensure that meetings are timetabled with people’s time zone and schedule considered; remember that these things are not as visible as they are in a co-located space. Use the tools you have in meeting software to involve everyone and keep people attentive and engaged; for example, hand raising, emoticons, breakout rooms. Check out the links below for specific posts on meetings.

Challenge 7: Knowing how much to communicate

When we are not working physically together it’s difficult to know what is too much, or too little communication. If we get it wrong we risk over-burdening our team mates, or feeling isolated.

How a team leader can help

Finding that ‘Goldilocks moment’ of just the right amount of communication means agreeing together when and what to communicate. It’s also worth thinking about which tools to use for which kinds of communication and the differences between synchronous (real time e.g. video calls) and asynchronous (delayed e.g. email). Successful virtual teams we have worked with use some simple techniques to manage their team communications, e.g. asking before interrupting, having agreed communications ‘black out’ times, and simply sharing their preferences.

 


More information on this topic

For more advice and tips on virtual teams, see these posts:

If you are interested in our training programmes on managing virtual teams, click on the links to learn more.

 

Virtual teams work across time, space, and organizational boundaries—and they are becoming increasingly common. As these virtual teams interact through technology and only occasionally meet face-to-face, it is important to rethink and sharpen the way we collaborate and communicate . In this short video Scott Levey, a director at Target Training outlines 3 simple steps you can follow to make sure your virtual team makes an impact.

 

The power of storytelling in business: 5 lessons learned

Storytelling is a topic of great interest in the business communications world.  Conferences and speakers around the world are praising the power of storytelling and attracting audiences. Why? Humans have told stories since our earliest beginnings. We all tell stories. It was part of our survival and development. Stories are all around us, from campfires to multimillion dollar movies, so why do we have to make a case for it in a business environment? Why do people want training on something that comes naturally? In a business context, perhaps we don’t want reveal too much of ourselves, show too much emotion or not be taken seriously at work. Our storytelling seminar gives participants the skills and determination to tell more stories and better stories in the workplace. This post shares five lessons learned about storytelling in business.

Lesson 1 – What does your listener want?

What attracts audiences to the telling of a story? We identified three things:

  1. emotion

  2. energy

  3. authenticity

Children will demand expressions of the energy of the characters, the emotion of the plot and telling the story “like you mean it”. Telling bedtime stories to children is a practical example of the standards adults have for stories as well, though many may not say it. Adults need the same things to be engaged.

Lesson 2 –  What makes a good story good?

As Aristotle observed, a good story starts with a character in trouble. The character is one the audience can identify with–not too good to be in trouble and not too bad to deserve the trouble to come.  The story progresses with the development and deepening of the trouble to create a sense of fear in the audience so the resolution of the problems leaves the audience with a sense of relief.
Aristotle referred to the stages as pity, fear, and catharsis. Stories from Greek tragedy to Toy Story follow this model in one way or another.

In the workplace we can tell stories about problems, consequences and solutions to reflect Aristotle’s model.

 


 

“Storytelling comes naturally to humans, but since we live in an unnatural world, we sometimes need a little help doing what we’d naturally do.”

 Dan Harmon

 


Lesson 3 – Crafting stories that fit

The STAR Model is a basic and effective format for telling stories in a business environment. The model fits the needs of business audiences as it sets the scene, describes the action in it and talks about what happened to resolve the situation. This model is very effective in behavioral interviewing, answering questions about past performance and offering a status update.

  • Situation – clearly explain the facts and assumptions that make up the context of the action.
  • Task – detail the task to be completed or the goal to be reached.
  • Actions taken – describe all relevant actions taken to complete the task.
  • Results achieved – describe the immediate outputs and eventual outcomes of the actions taken.

Lesson 4 – Courage to connect

If work for you is simply an exchange of power, storytelling and other enhanced communication tools are not important.  Others will translate what you say into orders if you are in a power position just as you may interpret orders from your superiors. If you want your workplace to be a place where people build something together instead of following the orders of the few, storytelling is an active strategy to humanize the workplace for you and your co-workers. It provides opportunities for meaningful connections that inspire trust.

Lesson 5 – From stories to action

A good story can set the stage in a business environment and yet we often need to make the purpose clear once it is complete. We can achieve that Socratically through a debriefing method or by simply telling the listeners what we had in mind directly.

A clear explanation of the purpose of the story provides a natural, logical connection to the observation of what the teller and the listeners need to accomplish in a business environment. When listeners can connect the story to their current situation, they become involved in the process of identifying what to do and why it needs to be done—without having to be told.

 

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For more information about what we can do to help you succeed globally, here are some of our leadership solutions

 

 

How winning offers and proposals are written

I often find myself in the business section of the book store and I’m always struck by how cleverly these books position themselves. Titles like “How to Have A Good Day” or “The Art of Thinking Clearly” seem to speak directly to me and this is the reason I pick them up and sometimes even buy them. If you are involved in writing offers and proposals (RFQ’s, tender responses) you are looking to create a similar impact – you want the reader’s attention and interest from the moment they pick up the document. The secret to doing this, just as with business books, is to make them ‘reader-oriented’. Over the years we have worked with many companies that have great products and services but sometimes find it challenging to write commercial offers which appeal to readers. In this post we will explain exactly what ‘reader-oriented’ means and how to achieve it.

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What do readers want to read about in an offer?

Think for a minute; if someone sends you a proposal for a product or service they want you to buy, what do you want to read in it?

Now read this quote: “Don’t come into my office and tell me about the perfect solution you have. Instead, tell me how you can solve my business problem and then I’m all ears!” Max Bittner, CEO Lazarda

Every proposal or offer exists to solve a problem, which your client is unable to solve on their own. So, as Max says, make sure your client’s problem or challenge is front and centre in your proposal. This means starting with a detailed and accurate description of the problem. You want your reader to think “This organisation understands my business and its challenges” because this will establish your credibility to solve their problem right from the start. It sounds obvious I know…and yet when running proposal writing workshops I am almost always asked “But where do I write about us and what we do? Normally we start with this!”

Key Learning Point 1

If you want to get your proposal read, start by talking about them not you.

What will they actively read?

Proposals have many different elements and different stakeholders will focus on different parts; legal will study your T&C, finance will look at your figures, procurement will study your value statement. But the three most important elements, and probably the ones that will be read by the decision maker, are:

1. The title

A good title can create a great first impression and get your proposal higher in the pile of many proposals. And the trick is to make the title speak to the reader. Compare these 2 different titles for the same proposal and ask yourself – which proposal would you read first?:

  • Proposal from Company X for Internet Connectivity Services.
  • Creating Opportunities for Company Y’s Customers by Connecting Remote Islands in the Western Pacific.

An effective title will contain 3 things; name the client, include a verb (to indicate what the proposal will do) and an outcome (which of course is focused on the client’s business).

2. Contents page

The contents page is there for a reason. At a quick glance, a reader can assess what’s in your proposal, whether it is worth reading, and where to start. Spending time on the contents page will also help you to:

  • Plan the proposal before you start writing it
  • Check that nothing is missing
  • Order the sections of your report so they are logical and connected
  • Craft headings for each section

Again, it’s all about the language. Compare “Context and Background” to “What Problem is Company Y Trying to Solve?”. The second heading is more specific and engaging, and it uses a question which is a good way of getting readers’ attention. You probably noticed that this post uses questions for each section.

3. Executive summary

The Executive Summary is critical – it may be the only part of the proposal read by a decision maker, before she or he passes it to specialist teams with their comments and recommendations. Think of the Summary as the text you read on the back of a book; it should tell you what’s in the book and encourage you to read it.

Executive Summaries should be short (I would recommend no more than 1 page) and written in clear and simple language; avoid technical or specialist language as your reader could be more of a generalist if they are a C-level decision maker. Giving it to someone else to read is a great way to get feedback and make improvements.

The next section in this post will give you ideas on how to craft the content of your Executive Summary. You can also find help and advice on writing in clear and simple English and editing your writing in these two posts:

Key Learning Point 2

Focus on the 3 elements of the proposal that will make the biggest impression. Craft them to grab your reader’s attention with how your product or service will benefit their business.

Is there a winning structure for offers?

Yes there is! There is a structure that we recommend and organisations we have worked with tell us it works. N.O.S.E. can be a powerful structure to engage and persuade your reader because it starts with answering the question “Why should I read this proposal?” just as Max Bittner explained in the quote your read earlier. In fact, it would be a great structure for your Executive Summary!

Here’s the structure, described from two perspectives; what you write about and what your client is looking for:

NEEDS

  • You: What problems/needs does the client have?
  • Client: I want to see that you understand my problem

OUTCOMES

  • You: If the problems/needs are addressed, what would be the positive result for the client’s business?
  • Client: I want to know how this will benefit my business

SOLUTIONS

  • You: What is the product/service will provide this outcome?
  • Client: I want to believe you can solve my problem

EVIDENCE

  • You: How will you deliver the solution on time, to budget and with quality?
  • Client: I want to trust that you can do what you say

Key Learning Point 3

Use a structure that persuades by starting with the client’s needs before you explain your solution.

 


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The Secret L&D Manager: Encouraging a learning culture when budgets are tight

This week’s Secret L&D manager is Hungarian and is a Learning & Development Specialist for a global chemical company. In this post, he talks about the journey and the challenges of building and encouraging a learning culture in a large organization.

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You were the first L&D manager in the organization. What sort of training budget were you expecting to have to work with when you joined?

Before I came here, I was working in a huge worldwide corporation where learning and development had a lot of money working –  close to about €400,000 per year. Looking back, we were definitely spoiled, and I was expecting something similar when I came here. That was my expectation. When I arrived, I was given a  budget of €10,000 and most of this was already allocated to translation work!

I wanted to be able to build a learning culture (see this post for more information). One of the things I have been doing (and haven’t yet finished) is to build a large library of free learning. This does take time but there are a lot of free, good quality things on the internet. You just need to be able to invest the time to find and assess them. I used our skills and competency models as the basis to build this and then I just matched these skills and competencies with an index of releavnt e-learnings, learning nuggets, MOOCS, e-books and podcasts.

I have also created internal webinars. My first step was to establish subject matter expert groups within our company and then we started to create something like internal TED Talks. People could learn about and from the different groups and different fields within the company. For example we would have one subject expert talking about dealing with difficult customers. It was a 1 ½  hour session and it was advertised, and people could join via Zoom.

How did you raise awareness of these learning opportunities and events?

Here I used 2 types of advertising; one is definitely the usual and very boring e-mail communication. I’m not sure it was very helpful but people did join as a result of this kind of communication channel. The other was creating and printing leaflets and brochures and placing them around the corridors and also in the canteen. This was definitely more helpful and effective. I based them on a silly cartoon that was going around on Facebook a couple of years ago.

These initiatives have helped to prove the worth of learning. Now I’ve got the management to actually spend and dedicate a real budget for learning this year, although with the coronavirus crisis who knows what will happen? But I’m pretty sure that this time I will be able to spend more and I’ve very concrete ideas of what I want to do. So for example I want to still further develop these internal webinars and I also want to continue with e-learning creation and creating the content internally.

The other thing that I’ve been planning on doing for a long time is implementing virtual learning and actually this is also a very timely thing. As you know  I have been in talks with you regarding implementing this.  When you think of the flu symptoms and all the sickness that are going around the world right now I think one of the best tools, let’s call it a tool not a method, is to use e-learning and virtual learning. Virtual learning, and it is not to be confused with e-learning, is when you go for an interactive training session but you don’t have to go anywhere. You can do it from your home or you can do it from your office.  It fits our company and the situation.

 


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Who is the secret L&D manager?

The “secret L&D manager” is actually a group of L&D managers. They are real people who would prefer not to mention their name or company – but do want to write anonymously so they can openly and directly share their ideas and experience with their peers.

 


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How to Meet Customer Expectations with the RATER Model

A Global Customer Services Director recently came to us with a challenge: We have customer service teams spread all over the world, helping our telecommunications customers with technical troubleshooting. Some of them are really excellent, experienced agents, others are relatively new and still learning the ropes. Some are good with the technical side, others better at working with people. The question is – how do we get them all working to the same standard?

We proposed the RATER model, a five-point framework which describes how customers evaluate the service they receive. We have found RATER is a tool which everyone can learn from and improve, whatever their level of experience. In a previous post we introduced the framework. In this post we will add some information and provide tips on how to put it into practice, based on real experience we’ve had working with clients like the one above.

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Reliability

Is your organisation able to deliver services consistently, accurately and on time? Of course, sometimes things go wrong. If you work on a customer helpline, ‘reliability’ becomes the measure of how quickly and effectively you can put things right.

  • Manage customer expectations by explaining honestly what can and cannot be done. Being open and transparent is the foundation of reliability.
  • Never feel pressured to promise something you are not 100% sure you can deliver. Declining customer requests is not pleasant, but it will build trust in the long term because your customers will value your honesty.
  • Being pro-active by identifying and communicating problems before they happen is another great way to help your customers see you as reliable.

Assurance

How much do your customers trust you? If a customer is buying a service from you this is particularly important because the transaction is built on the customer’s future expectation that you will deliver what you say you will.

  • Find out what your customers’ real needs are and show that you are focused on the benefits and outcomes for them.
  • Build your credibility by demonstrating your specific skills and expertise; customers expect you to be an expert in the product or service your organisation offers.
  • Ensure that you are giving consistent information to all customers. If customers hear different things from different people in your organisation, they will not be assured that they can trust your answer.

Tangibles

Tangibles are the way the customer interacts with your organisation; through physical spaces as well as your web site, apps, phone lines and email. If you are a customer service agent, some of these things will be beyond your control but there is still a lot you can do to make the customer journey a good experience.

  • Consider the steps the customer went through to get in touch with you and how that can impact their mood and expectations. For example, apologising for waiting time is a respectful thing to do.
  • Smile, be friendly and interested, show respect. These are all tangible elements that contribute to a customer’s impression of your service.
  • If you have different customer communication channels, find out which ones different customers prefer and use them to personalise your communication approach.

Empathy

Do you customers feel that you care about them as individuals? And importantly, how do you show them that you care?

  • Empathy means putting the customer at the centre of communication; you will achieve this by talking less, listening more, and asking effective questions to ensure you understand.
  • Avoid phrases like “I understand how you feel” and “I apologise for the inconvenience” which are over-used and sound scripted and unnatural.
  • Listen to the customer’s emotions and acknowledge them; a phrase like “I can hear that you are feeling upset” shows the customer you are paying attention to their feelings and they have a right to feel that way.

Responsiveness

The whole reason for having customer service is to respond to customer questions and problems. So, customers will judge you on how quickly and effectively you do this.

  • Don’t wait until you have the full solution before re-contacting a customer; giving updates on progress and steps you have taken will assure customers they have not been forgotten and are still a priority.
  • Provide customers with specific deadlines and timelines but always make sure these are realistic and do-able, otherwise you will undermine their trust in you.
  • Manage communications across multiple channels (if your organisation has them) to make sure you pick up and deal with customer communications quickly.

The RATER model in action

When we used the RATER framework with this team, participants reported that they found it extremely useful to have a model to draw on – not just for planning customer interactions but also to reflect on which of the RATER dimensions was important for a specific customer and how the agent addressed this during the interaction. RATER became a common language which this team could use to support and debrief each other.

If you would like to know more about our experience of working with global companies on developing their customer service communication, or the RATER model, feel free to contact us.


Customer service training solutions

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The Secret L&D Manager: Building a learning culture in a global organization

This week’s Secret L&D manager is Hungarian and is a Learning & Development Specialist for a global chemical company . In this post, he talks about the  journey and the challenges of building a learning culture in a large organization.

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When you joined the company, what kind of learning culture did you find?

I think it’s really easy to answer this question, because when I joined my company, I can say that there was no learning culture. If I can take a step back, people have different understandings and definitions of the term “learning culture” . For me “learning culture” means there are people who like learning, there are learning resources and opportunities that people are encouraged to access whenever they need something or expect to need something going forward, and managers enable and encourage learning . Here, in all cases, there was nothing, so people were not, really empowered to learn. The second thing is that there were not a lot of resources available for learning. One of my priorities, and it’s also one of the reasons I was hired, is to create this kind of learning environment and then along with this also create a learning culture.

How were managers and the leaders in your organization seeing learning before you arrived?

I think, and this is only my perspective, that the management was saying, “Learning is very much needed” but when it came to the point where they had to invest they said, “We don’t have the budget for that”. On the one hand they definitely like the idea of learning. They talk a lot about learning and do want to enhance, improve and develop their employees. But actually, when an employee comes to them and says “OK we agreed that I need negotiations training” and they say, “OK go, have fun”, the employee has to find the seminar or resources. Employees would just Google something and then went come back with a course they had found that cost €20,000. For me this was the first problem because nobody knew if  it was a good course quality-wise, who the provider was and if they were a fit, whether the investment was reasonable or if the training was needed.  And then usually 99% of the managers said „sorry but we don’t have the budget for that“.

So how have you gone about building a learning culture?

What I did first was convincing management that learning and development really matters to our success as an organization. I used storytelling approaches to help them see why it is good to invest in learning, and how a company actually benefits from having a learning culture.  Then I showed them that, even if they don’t want to spend a lot of money, using informal or on-the-job learning is still going to create a lot of benefits for the company. For example, using job rotation or on-the-job development does work and can make a tangible difference.  Approaches like mentoring and internal coaching can and should be done. The managers in my company really bought into this idea. The first 2 or 3 things that I managed to do were ideas which didn’t cost a lot of money but were still very beneficial.

Another example where I actually created value and showed the management why learning helps an organization is when we set up the first e-learnings. We built these internally using a tool called EdApp https://www.edapp.com/. It’s a very good and  intuitive tool and easy to use. There were a lot of templates that we could instantly just choose and work with. I worked with our technical experts and together we created e-learning activities on areas such as regulation, process management and . tendering, and product management. We then rolled the e-learnings out to 200 people and the feedback from the participants has been really great.  Because of this tool we’ve been able to gamify the learning too.

What else have you done to continue building a culture since?

Communication is key. Whenever we have a new product or new system (e.g recruiting, performance management) we  connect it to the learning. For example, in our performance management you have an annual meeting about your performance with your manager, and you have to talk about your development.  Of course most people consider meeting a mandatory step and find it boring. I have worked with the managers to help them individually use this moment to create a better dialog with their employees, be more confident when giving feedback, setting goals etc etc. This combination of  building a catalogue of recommended training providers and training courses, building e-learning, leveraging managers and looking for single moments where we can connect learning to the business process shows why learning is important in a company and is the first steps of building a learning culture.

More secret L&D Managers

Who is the secret L&D manager?

The “secret L&D manager” is actually a group of L&D managers. They are real people who would prefer not to mention their name or company – but do want to write anonymously so they can openly and directly share their ideas and experience with their peers.

 

Seven Exercises for Overcoming Loneliness and Isolation when Working from Home

In the 2020 State of Remote Work survey, respondents identified loneliness as their top struggle with working from home. Even among experienced home-workers, loneliness and isolation are challenges. This year, millions of workers are suddenly sent home to work, indefinitely and with no preparation. Only a select few will be able to thrive in perpetual solitude; the rest will probably need a little help. This post offers seven exercises you can do to overcome loneliness and isolation when you are working from home. Think of these as your ‘daily to-do list’. In fact, this list is a good practice for looking after your mental health in normal circumstances; in present circumstances it has become a lot more relevant.

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#1 Talk to someone

Loneliness is a cycle. The more alone we feel the more we think that other people don’t want to talk to us, and so we don’t reach out. Break the cycle by having at least one conversation a day, with anyone. Talking about how we feel can help see that other people are feeling exactly the same and that we are not alone.

#2 Talk to yourself

We are all doing this most of the time, but we don’t realise it. Psychologists call this our ‘inner dialogue’ made up of recurring thoughts and emotions whirling inside our heads. If we don’t listen to this dialogue, we won’t be able to control it. Luckily, there are some proven techniques to help us listen more intently to ourselves; daily journal writing, labelling the emotions we are feeling, writing a letter to our third person self. These techniques allow us to view ourselves as an outside observer in order to tackle negative thoughts and emotions before they become actions and behaviours.

#3 Keep fit

‘Healthy body – healthy mind’ is not just an expression. Science has shown that physical exercise has a positive effect on our mental state. Intense physical activity releases mood-lifting chemicals called endorphins into our blood stream. Even just going for a walk can make us feel better, due to the fresh air, change of scenery and being around people (at an appropriate distance!). If you can’t, or don’t want to go outside, there are lots of free videos on the internet offering live fitness routines!

#4 Tune out

News channels and social media are full of one story at the moment and while it is good to be informed and in touch with what’s happening on the outside, the noise this makes can be over-whelming and reinforce negative feelings. Tuning-out from news and media can help us to tune-in to ourselves, find some peace and quiet from the noise and focus on doing something that makes us feel good. This is an example of a term that has become highly popularised in recent years – ‘mindfulness’.

#5 Take charge

Get a piece of paper and draw a circle. On the outside of the circle write the things that worry or bother you. This could be anything from becoming ill to a noisy neighbour. Now work in the inside of the circle and write all the things in your life that you can directly control. For example, you can’t control your neighbour, but you can ignore the noise. You can’t control events, but you can definitely control your reactions to them. The area inside the circle is your zone of control. This is the area you should work on and put your energy into because being in control of things gives us positive feelings, compared to worrying about things we can’t control or influence. When you start using any of the exercises in this post you have actually started to take control already!

#6 Do something for someone

Human brains are reward-driven, which means our senses become heightened when we enjoy things. Recognition and gratitude from other people are among the most common types of reward which our brains seek. A good way of doing this is to offer a kind act to someone else. For example, giving a compliment, holding a door open, giving a nice smile. It makes no difference if these things are reciprocated or not; just the act of doing them makes us feel better about ourselves and more connected to others, lighting up those important reward centres in our brains.

#7 Do something for yourself

Acts of kindness also extend to yourself. Being isolated can be a struggle but it’s also a potential gift. Is there a book you’ve been meaning to read, a recipe you haven’t had time to try, a new hobby you’ve been interested in but not had the time? Doing something new can help take your mind away from feeling lonely and build purpose and self-esteem.

We hope you enjoyed reading this post. If you did, and it helped you, you could choose to ‘pay it forward’ by sharing it with someone else – a little act of kindness that could make a difference. You can also share your tips and advice for dealing with working at home, in the comments section below.If you would like to know more about our experience of helping teams with remote working, feel free to contact us. We also offer training on managing your focus, energy and impact when working from home and leading people when they are working from home.

Leading a team that is working from home

When workers are suddenly sent home to work they will face plenty of challenges, especially if they’ve never done it before. Team leaders will face an additional challenge: Leading a team that is working from home. In this post we offer a range of tips and advice for how you can do that. To keep it simple and easy to implement we’ve stuck to a 3-step approach:

  1. Start by understanding the challenges
  2. Keep the team working together
  3. Lead your team as they work from home

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What are the challenges?

Technical

An immediate priority for leading a team that is working from home is to ensure that team members have the tools to do their jobs remotely. This includes both productivity and communication tools. As a leader you can approach this with the whole team by checking they have what they need and discussing which kinds of communication technologies work well for them. Not everything will work as it did in the office and as a team you may need to decide to use ad-hoc technologies as a temporary solution.

Emotional

Some team members may feel isolated and this can have a serious impact on motivation. This is best discussed in a one-to-one setting. Individuals will all have different emotional and psychological challenges and you need to know what these are in order to help them. A simple question like, “How are you looking after yourself?” can open up a discussion and go a long way to making team members feel supported individually. Read more on this topic in our post Dealing with Loneliness and Isolation when Working from Home.

Personal

Don’t forget to also look after your own needs and work through your own personal and logistical challenges. If you don’t address these, you won’t be as effective at helping other people with their issues. Get advice on how to do this in our post Three Steps to Adapt to Home Working.

How do I keep the team working together?

In the 1970s, MIT Professor Thomas Allen discovered that team cohesion is strongest when employees are physically closer. His ideas have been taken forward by some of the most successful companies who engineer ‘collisions’ between employees to strengthen bonding and group affiliation; simple things like coffee-machine conversations, team social events, sharing stories, etc. So, how can you do this with a team that works in physical isolation from each other? Here are some ideas we have seen that work:

  • Set up daily check-ins or ‘stand-up meetings’ at the start of each day where the team shares their priorities for the day and any impediments they face. This can give team members a reassuring routine which is both work and socially focused and help to overcome feelings of isolation. It also gives you a helicopter-view of what’s happening each day.
  • In team meetings always add an agenda item with a question like, “How is this arrangement working for us?” This helps to address emotional/psychological issues of individuals and build trust. Avoid closed questions (asking “Is everyone ok?” won’t give you much information) and use “us” and “we” to reinforce team togetherness.
  • Monitor team communication patterns to pick up on problems, side issues and tone that team members are using with each other. This doesn’t mean using spyware! You just need to go over conversations that are happening on Slack, Teams and other conversation channels.
  • Use video in team communications; humans bond much better to faces than to voices and non-verbal communication sends powerful signals of belonging and empathy. Seeing faces also puts more energy into calls, which helps to overcome feelings of isolation.
  • Create and manage social interaction to replicate what normally happens in the office; have a virtual lunch together, share internet memes, play games together, just get people laughing and having fun. Social interaction is the base of creating trust in a team; you just need to do it a bit differently in a virtual work setting.

Which skills do I need for leading a team that is working from home?

 You don’t need new skills to become an effective leader of a home-working team, but you will need to use some of them more. Here is a short list of where to focus your leadership skills:

Be available

You may have an open door policy in the office but that won’t work in a remote team. So, be explicit about when and how team members can contact you. If you haven’t heard from someone in a while, check in with them and ask how they are. At the same time be careful that you also ring-fence the time you need for yourself and your own tasks.

Solve problems

This is probably the biggest thing your team will need from you, at least at the start. You may need to be flexible and change processes if necessary, for example lifting constraints on how and where data is stored and shared. Focusing on outputs rather than processes will help push the team towards purposeful activity and away from missing their old physical environment.

Make rules and hold people accountable to them

It’s important to establish some ground rules with the team, for example on which communication tools to use for different tasks, how and when to contact each other. You then need to monitor that the team is sticking to those rules and jump in when they are not.

Continue to manage performance

Research shows that employees value their performance being managed and they rate managers highly when it’s done well. This is still true in a home-working environment, but it will take more communication and more regular, smaller steps to address the distance and isolation. A practical start is to set some short term performance goals on adjusting to home-working at the beginning.

We hope you enjoyed reading this post and please share what works for you in the comments. If you would like to know more about our experience of helping teams with remote working, feel free to contact us. We also offer training on managing your focus, energy and impact when working from home and leading people when they are working from home.