Too often, consultants, coaches and speakers try too hard to be the one with all of the answers. Recently, I ran a workshop for the executive team of a midsized company. These were the decision-makers of the organization. Rather than revolutionize their thinking, I approached our time together from a different perspective. To begin the workshop, I asked them one question:
“If an organization isn’t willing to be honest about the challenges it faces, if it keeps sweeping the issues under the rug, it will never grow beyond those challenges. So tell me, what challenges are you facing?”
This was awkward for them. Everyone avoided eye contact and began squirming in their chairs. They looked around the room, waiting for someone to go first. The CEO spoke up. His willingness to speak up was a positive sign; leaders should go first.
He said the main challenge in their service-based industry was a deliverable they were struggling to meet. Everyone nodded in agreement. But after further questioning, I realized the suggested issue was simply a byproduct of the real challenge they faced, though no one seemed to notice.
Fix the problem, not the symptom.
It’s not uncommon, actually. More often than not, we address symptoms of an illness rather than the illness itself. In short, we are really good at complicating a simple issue because we fail to become aware of the real issue at hand.
For this company, the real issue was that the sales team was not doing a good job of shaping the expectations of their customers. When a file wasn’t going to meet deadline, instead of immediately addressing the problem, they would push it aside and work on simpler cases. In addition, the salespeople were not anticipating challenges or planning for setbacks.
Secondly, the employees in charge of the process time felt undervalued as part of the team. These were the people working in the trenches, processing files. In most cases, they only received correspondence when something was urgent, and every email was flagged as important. As a result, they only heard negative feedback.
In effect, the deliverable delay was a byproduct of unhealthy processes within the organization. And those unhealthy processes were a direct result of unhealthy relationships. These were the root issues, the challenges behind the challenge. Once those issues were brought to the surface, we crafted a double-edged attack.
Set expectations and deliver.
Great organizations are clear about what their customers can expect. And they deliver on those expectations.
Some of the greatest restaurants I’ve ever eaten in haven’t been only about the food. They’ve been about the experience created by the server coupled with the quality of the product. In a sales organization, the salesperson is the server. They are the mediator between the chef and his client. It is the server’s job to manage the expectations of the customer.
I appreciate it when the server tells me, “Mr. Ham, to make sure your steak is cooked to perfection, it will take about 20 minutes.” When my steak is delivered in 18 minutes, I’m thrilled because my expectations were met.
A simple practice of setting expectations on the frontend of the sale will alleviate countless unhappy customers on the backend. More importantly, when challenges arise, address those issues immediately. For the company in question, it began allowing a few days for common delays. The customer didn’t know any different, and expectations were met more regularly.
Invest in people.
Whole, healthy individuals make whole, healthy employees. Whole, healthy employees make whole, healthy companies.
A janitor who is made to feel as an integral part of a company’s image is more likely to ensure that the premises are as clean as possible. That deep value for his or her role in the organization is determined by the person who signs the check. As a salesperson, I loved it when my senior executives took a minute to stop by my office and talk about non-business-related items. When leaders let down their guard to interact on a human level, it shows that they value individuals.
American philosopher William James said, “The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.” When people feel appreciated, when they feel valued, they will give their very best. If we want the best from others, we must learn to appreciate them first.
In our workshop, I encouraged everyone to have the executives invest in the processors. And by investing, I mean really include them as part of the team. Instead of simply calling when a deliverable is needed, make it a habit of valuing them as people first.
Organizations must be honest about the challenges they face. A willingness to be honest and transparent is the first step toward progress. Next, realistic and clearly communicated expectations help the team win. Whether it’s a $30 steak or an eight-figure enterprise, the same truth applies. Finally, we must value people. And not just in our mindset or in theory, we must value them in real life. We must live out our belief that they matter to our teams and that they are appreciated.
In the end, it’s not that complicated: Be honest. Set expectations. Serve people.
When I returned from my visit with this outstanding group of folks, I received a note from the CEO that said, “Thanks for the powerful reminders, Matt.”
As I read his words, I smiled. Instead of looking for complex solutions to problems, all we really need are simple reminders.