What Happens When Leaders Don’t Care

I’ve just spent the last week with my family at an extended-stay establishment. We are in the midst of repairing our home as a result of water damage. This kind of thing happens all of the time, but it’s not a fun process. We’ve hobbled along with a microwave and a bathroom sink for about 5 weeks. (I can only compare it to camping in your own home without of the advantage of somores.)

Finally, we came to a point where had to clear out, board the dog and stay somewhere else. We were more than ready for a reprieve from the construction.

For obvious reasons I won’t mention the chain’s name. However, its parent company is one that has been an iconic brand for as long as I can remember. We were glad to be there — and likely should have taken advantage of our opportunity to relocate sooner. The staff was extremely accommodating, there were hot meals and it was oh, so quiet. No banging hammers or sanding going on.

Perfect.

Until we ventured out one afternoon and noticed a note on our vehicle, along with a sizable dent. Unfortunately — one of the hotel employees had mistakenly backed up into our vehicle. When the employee (who was very upset about what happened) later called to ask to settle without insurance being involved, I felt I should share what happened with the hotel’s General Manager. That was a monumental mistake.

I expected some sign of life — but instead “Crickets”.

As it turned out, she could not have given a damn. She had been alerted to the problem — and performed her corporate duty — informing us that she (and her brand) had no control over what happens in their parking lot.

She was professionally cold. She was dismissive. She was unmoved by the situation. She was quick to usher me out of her office.

Surprising, considering that her attitude was the polar opposite of the customer service creed the rest of the staff seemed to follow.

She was the anomaly. I get it. You don’t (or won’t or can’t) care. That was very clear.

The sad thing is she did have control over quite a lot — even if not over her parking lot. Yet she failed to make the most of it.
A few come to mind:

  1. She could have built upon the goodwill already initiated by her staff.
  2. She could have shown empathy and forged a long-term relationship.
  3. She could have explored why we were staying at her property and learned the story of her customers.
  4. She could have been a leader, ensuring that her customers were the priority — not corporate legalese.

After all was said and done, we stayed 3 more days at this establishment and didn’t hear a peep from her. Nary a note, or a kind word was extended.

So, all of the hard work of her staff (and they were wonderful), really won’t matter in the long run. Because we will never stay at one of their properties again. I did let corporate know — and she wrote a disingenuous note about how sorry she was for what had occurred and if there was anything she might do to call her. (Number given. Although she never even offered her card previously.)

Unfortunately, when leaders don’t care, customers don’t care either.

They walk away and never return.

That is a shame.

AlliedTalentindexDr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, consultant and coach. She holds the role of Senior Consultant at Allied Talent.

What We Can Learn About Leadership From Comcast’s Nightmare Customer Service Call

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Photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash

Wow. Don’t get me started. My son has just spent the last 4 weeks trying to force Comcast to keep their promises to him. As a recent college grad, money really matters — and they really couldn’t care less. Getting his business was the only goal. Keeping him as a customer going forward — well that seems to be a message entirely lost on them. If he had another viable choice for high-speed internet (he’s a gamer), he we would take it. Immediately. He cannot stand them.

To tell you the truth I thought my family’s collective experiences with Comcast were simply random. (We recently discovered that we were being charged for a year’s worth of a router we did not have on premise.) However, after doing a bit of digging, I’m now convinced there may be serious problems lurking there. This week, Comcast’s darker side was fully exposed in a viral call center exchange that really is more than unbelievable — it’s ominous. Comcast, is now one of the two most hated companies in the country. As a leader, I would be very, very concerned.

We can learn from their uproarious blunder. In particular, quite a lot about leadership. Here we go:

  • Don’t close your doors. Ultimately, this rarely occurs within an organization where positive leadership has a strong, visible presence. This isn’t one incident, there is a pattern here. Yes, you may be an industry monolith. But that doesn’t absolve you of the responsibility to be front and center — driving home key messages that will sustain your business long-term. Don’t lock yourselves in an office — light years away from your customers.
  • Talk is cheap, but your actions really speak. I don’t think the mission of Comcast is “Irritate Customers Beyond Belief”. However, the behavior of the company is certainly communicating that message to us. Communicate the mission/vision within your organization completely. If not well understood, everyone will have their own ideas. Leaving something so critical to chance is very, very unwise.
  • Listen, listen, listen. Then listen again. Do you recall when customers would be required to wait all day to have someone hook up their service? Comcast adjusted this policy (and even offered $20 if they didn’t hold up their end of the bargain). Talk to your customers often. Are service plans confusing? Is your pricing structure likened to hieroglyphics? Do you fail to reward long-term customers for their patronage? Be aware.
  • Your people are a reflection of your brand. How did that call center representative come to believe that he should never, ever allow a customer leave of their own free will? I’m sorry, your employees often reflect leadership’s take on customers. He thought that was OK. It wasn’t.
  • Your company is at risk. When leadership fails to communicate the very core of a service organization’s creed (which would include exhibiting basic respect toward customers), it shows something vital. That, at the end of the day, you may not really care. That undoubtedly spells trouble for your business when viable competition shows up…and of course, it undoubtedly will.

What advice can you offer Comcast? Sound off here.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist, speaker and coach You can also find her on Twitter and Linkedin.

Blamestorming & Other Telling Signs Your Organization is “Siloed”

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Photo by Jari Hytönen on Unsplash

I interface with organizations who have every intention of being collaborative. However, their collective actions tell a very different story. They envision functioning as a seamless, multi-functional entity — working in concert to satisfy clients and achieve organizational goals. But in reality, this is quite difficult to accomplish.

Unfortunately there are obvious, telling signs that they have missed the mark.

By and large, silos develop within organizations to protect valued resources. This is often fear-based — and building these proverbial “walls” can become the kiss of death for any organization that intends to remain agile. We’d all like to think of our organizations is immune to this condition. However, it is easy to slip into “protective mode”.

In some cases, we’ve acquiesced into a “silo-ed” state without recognizing the malaise.

Here are a few signs:

  • Lack of a consistent & constructive cross-functional conversation. Let’s be brutally honest — there really isn’t a lot of communication going on cross-functionally. Your customer/client process doesn’t really dovetail with other functional groups and sadly, no one seems to be alarmed that this integral step is absent.
  • Customers are no longer central to the conversation. Your teams are so busy putting out fires and keeping up with demands, that your clients are no longer central. When the “tail” (the acute issues) starts wagging the dog (being longer-term smart), it’s time to slow down and take another look.
  • You are unsure what other functions are really doing. Processes and procedures can evolve quickly. You can lose site of the roles that others play in the larger scheme. As result, your team really doesn’t have a grasp on how to effectively interface with other parts of the business.
  • Rampant “blame-storming”. Joint ownership of processes and procedures is non-existent. If issues seem to be more like “hot potatoes of blame” than a “call to arms” to improve — take this an ominous warning. If everyone seems to point a finger, yet no one is venturing to say “we take responsibility”, you may have a real problem.
  • Separate cultural identities. If each functional group is more akin to an independent “pop up” shop, take note. You might blame each other for the current problems or snafu, but it’s really the lack of shared vision that’s the offender. Time to re-group and get on the same page.
  • Things are portrayed as a “zero sum” game. If your group seems to feel that if they “give up” responsibility of tasks (even if tasks are best moved to another team), your organizational presence would be minimized. Scope of work should be assigned to the group best able to deliver the end-product of the highest quality.
  • You’ve given up trying to become a better organization. Many siloed organizations aren’t happy with the status quo — yet their employees feel that effort to change the dynamic would be fruitless. If you are so frustrated that you feel things cannot be improved, this is a telling sign that your group needs help.

Have you seen this operating in your organization? What did you do?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist who starts conversations about work and organizations at the Gapingvoid Culture Design Group. She also writes as an Influencer at LinkedIn.

I Had a Life…But My Job Ate It?

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Yesterday while driving home, I noticed a bumper sticker as I waited at a light. It read: “I had a life, but my job ate it.”

Hmmm.

Fitting that this car should stop next to me. As you can imagine, the message bothered me on a number of levels. (I was a deer in headlights for a moment, requiring a reminder from the driver behind me the light had changed.) On one hand, with all that is written about work-life balance — you would think we were beginning to get a handle on the issue. On the other hand, it dawned on me that we may need more than a brief refresher concerning the potential contributors to the “out of balance” state.

We blame our jobs for eating up out time. However, I doubt it is that simple. We are there as well. It is possible that we contribute (not fully cause, mind you) to the situation.

A few things to think about:

  • We’re really having a time/task management issue. Life can be busy – often exceedingly so. As a result, we need to examine our use of time and the value we afford it. (If we don’t value our own time, no one else will.) Often when we complain of a lack of time, we actually are suffering from a task crisis. More specifically, we are not prioritizing or possibly eliminating, tasks that add little to our lives at work (or outside of the office for that matter.)
  • We’re not striving for the right kind of “peace”. I’m not convinced that “balance” is the right goal.  (Somehow that brings to mind a precariously perched set of spinning plates). When you examine the roles of busy and productive people, we find that there are times that work-life balance isn’t really “balanced” at all. In fact, there are moments when a shift towards one direction or another (work or personal life) is required and healthy. Maybe we should shoot for a different goal, somewhat like the one discussed in this recent HBR posts entitled: Work-Life “Balance” Isn’t the Point.
  • Organizations just aren’t listening. We cannot have a healthy sense of balance, if organization aren’t listening to our needs. Sure we’re all prepared to pitch in when we have an important or meaningful deadline. However, when every day brings drama and stress — this is an entirely different situation. If employees are expressing that processes and procedures need to change, for the well being of all involved, organization certainly need to take notice and make changes. Leaders take note.
  • We’re not engaged (and we’re not talking about it). I’m not sure how you feel about this, but sometimes I enjoy being “out of balance”. When I am on deadline or working on an interesting topic, I love the power that comes with the feeling of being truly connected to my work. My litmus test? If  I am so “job involved”, that the time flies by. If your job doesn’t align with your strengths and provide a core sense of energy — you need to do something about it. Seek engagement in your work life at every turn. If not, I fear that every moment at work will seem like an intrusion on our “real lives”.

What else may be operating here? Share your thoughts.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist. She also writes for Linkedin and US News & World Report.

Interviewing with New Purpose: The 5 Interview Questions I’d Like to Ask

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We have an engagement crisis in today’s world of work. According to recent research, the majority of our employees do not feel a real connection with their work. I find this both alarming and incredibly disheartening. However, the question remains: How might we rectify this epidemic? I do feel that we have the tools (tests, assessments, etc.) and knowledge base to move forward — but our mindset has yet to catch up with the pressing need. The proof is there — we just need to “breathe deeply” and process the information.

We must provide more opportunities for honest conversation. More sharing — more trust — more exploration into what really connects an employee with their work. We need to lay it all out openly and discuss what really matters. No gimmicks. No excuses. We simply need to examine what makes us tick and embrace whatever that might be.

This type of “career transparency” can begin with the interviewing process. To impact this staggering lack of engagement, we need to interview with new-found purpose. This means using the interview platform as an opportunity to discover information that might directly impact future levels of engagement. In particular, we might probe areas that have been linked with higher levels of engagement: Feeling valued, appropriate feedback and support, and how to sustain directed, energized effort.

Here are the questions that I’d like to ask:

  1. What elements of your work energize you?
  2. What kind of performance feedback (specificity, frequency) is most useful to you?
  3. What type of supervision helps you to become maximally effective?
  4. How does the role we are discussing align with your strengths?
  5. If you could implement one innovation (or idea) within our industry, what would that be?

What questions might you ask? Share them.

Special thanks to one of my readers Dave Erikson ( The 10 Career Questions I’d like to Ask Just About Everyone), whose comment motivated me to write this post.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist. She also writes for Linkedin and US News & World Report.

The Challenge of the “Turn Around” Leader

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Recently, the leadership skills of Yahoo’s “turn-around” CEO, Marissa Mayer have come into question for addressing what she deemed to be a symptom of a palpable organizational ailment. I was not surprised at the reaction to her decision concerning flexible work — which could only be described as visceral and sensational. However, in my mind, a broader leadership question looms.

At LinkedIn, editor Isabelle Roughol has recounted developments in the evolution of both Yahoo and Groupon. Reading her post, I was struck with the importance of that pivotal “second chance” for ailing organizations — and the unique challenges faced by those leading that charge. Whether we are discussing Yahoo, Groupon, or J.C. Penney, one element remains brazenly obvious. Diagnosing organizational ills and affecting change is a difficult road to travel. Leaders cast in this “savior” role stand the chance of losing the good fight. It is a high stakes, high risk business.

In the case of Ms. Mayer, the proverbial “CEO alarm” was pulled the moment she revoked flexible work options. But, as the days passed and more information emerged, another aspect of the story became evident: the leadership challenges she faces in an organization that is actively seeking change. Bit by bit, information surfaced that was vital to this tale; including how Ms. Mayer determined she really had a serious problem and what motivated her course of action.

Personally, I don’t fault her for addressing what she believes to be a “waning” collaborative environment at Yahoo. ( I don’t view this is an assault on flexible work.) Gathering key talent together, in the hopes of igniting change, makes perfect sense. This action at the very least, begins to set behavioral expectations going forward for Yahoo. Critics abound — but only time will tell if this action contributes to needed change.

Yahoo’s leadership story (and others like it) seem to be at least partially rooted in our level of confidence in leadership — or more specifically, our skepticism. This seems counter intuitive on a very basic level, as a leap of faith is required when any organization needs to evolve. We need to view leadership as the dynamic and risky business that it truly is.

There has long been keen interest in specific leader attributes and how they impact success. However, this may have distracted us from the need for a broader, more integrated definition. Leadership is often a complicated, layered role, where culture and context must meld to formulate strategy. Prescribing the skills required for these leadership roles is an even more complicated task.

At the very least, a leader’s right to develop the best possible “script” for their highly specific situation seems critical. Marissa Mayer is faced with the task of assessing what Yahoo’s culture really needs at this moment to become healthy and productive. (I would hope that a modified flexible work policy will be hammered out as time passes.) Ultimately, a leader’s willingness to implement unpopular organizational decisions in these “second chance” situations, is required.

What do you think? Should we extend more confidence to our high-level leaders?

Set your counter-productive strategies out to sea with story

MB900432792My husband recently recounted an organizational change process that he had observed at a European client. Interestingly, it was based upon the story of the ancient ritual of a Viking funeral. In the process, the group symbolically “sent” their old strategies (hopefully along with the accompanying mindset) “out to sea”. They marked the occasion of this change with a considerable amount of respect – reflecting on what had passed – and anticipating what lay ahead.  An honorable “end” so to speak, of the outdated but once useful philosophy, that would help usher in a whole new way of doing business.

In fact, they were utilizing storytelling to spark a change. As we all have experienced, change within an organization can be a difficult process  – it is often wrought with fear and uncertainty. Weaving stories about the future during a change effort – can create a mental path for your employees to tread on that journey. In most cases, organizations  do not have the luxury of waiting for a change to “ignite” on its own. Storytelling can help start the process.

In many cases we acknowledge that things need to improve – and processes need to flex – but it’s often difficult to rally around that cause. Something is needed to get the process going.  Something simple – yet symbolic – that signifies the end of the old and the start of something new.

Some ideas to incorporate storytelling into your change effort:

  • Tell the story of “why”. Gather your team and discuss why you have reached the impasse. Have team members tell of of their experiences – and offer everyone an opportunity to voice their feelings about why the change needs to occur.
  • Talk of the future. Look forward and tell the story of how actions can translate into success. Utilize a “Springboard Story” which describes how your organization will function more effectively because of the change.
  • Give change the deference it deserves. Acknowledge that change is difficult. Be clear that the effort to come, deserves respect.
  • Add pompJust as a product launch can motivate a  group – a little ceremony can give a change effort momentum. Be sure to mark the beginning of the journey somehow.
  • Recognize behavioral change. As time goes on, be sure to offer encouragement and reward positive change. Always remember – unlearning old ways can be an arduous task.

How do you embark on the journey of change within your organization? Tell us your story.

Read more about this topic here: The Four Stories You Need to Lead Deep Organizational Change,  Steve Denning, Forbes.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist. You can also find her on Twitter and Linkedin.