Donna's blog on coaching, leadership, and life

Archive for October, 2010

While leading change, avoid dead air.

Have you ever participated in, or observed, telephone customer service training? A common guideline for service representatives is to avoid dead air. In other words, if you’re a telephone representative and your system is stalling, or you need to check into additional information, let the customer know you’re still on it!—”My computer will be responding momentarily. Thanks for your patience.” Or, “I’m still with you Ms. Smith, I’m just going to place you on hold for a few moments while I retrieve your answer.”

As leaders, it would be beneficial if we applied this same level of service to our employees and teams—especially when we’re leading significant organizational or cultural change, that can take several months or years to take hold. In these circumstances, a leader may well understand that there are actions or successes towards the change taking place behind the scenes. However, if not communicated, employees may be hearing dead air, which may be interpreted as a lack of action and follow through.

Being conscientious about consistently communicating intent and behind the scenes strategies or successes—with employees while they’re on hold—can help employees shift from feeling ignored and cynical to feeling included and hopeful. And an inclusive and hopeful work environment is a significant component of any successful change initiative.

Request or requirement?

I offer this tidbit in response to the dozens of managers I’ve worked with, who are stumped by their employees’ lack of accountability.

Here’s an example of what I might hear:

Leader/Manager: “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked Jim to submit his report by the 30th of the month. Yet, each month I have to chase him down to receive it. What doesn’t he get??”

One question I often ask, in return: “Is this a request you’re making of Jim, or is it a requirement of his job?”

As managers, when we’re experiencing significant challenges relating to our employees’ applying learned skills, meeting deadlines, or submitting expected deliverables, we must ask ourselves: Have I stated this as a request or a requirement?

Then we must—if we want to make people accountable—ask ourselves: Have I been clear about the expectations? Have I set specific target dates for deliverables? Have I promptly stated the business impact and/or consequences when the employee does not meet the expectations or targets? More importantly, are there any consequences to this individual not meeting the job requirement?

Requests can be put off if someone is swamped. Requirements need to be met, and generally are.

So the simple yet loaded question remains—Request or requirement?