Michael

Michael

leadershipStudents that are appointed to the role of School or House Captain often fall into two categories. There are those students who perform their roles incredibly well, impressing both their teachers, peers and family alike with leadership ability beyond their years. Others can look completely out of their depth, struggling to meet expectations while having a negative effect on School work and other aspects of life.

By the time most Schools consider leadership or teamwork development, the prospective School or House Captain has had years developing communication skills, values and behaviours that could be poor, and worse, have become ingrained and difficult to redress.

As a former senior officer in the Royal Australian Air Force, I know that the military has understood for centuries the need to develop leadership early in a career. There is far more to basic military training than the movie stereotype of push-ups, yelling and polishing shoes! It is the opportunity to introduce and develop values, traits, conduct and skills that will be utilised for an entire career.  Values such as integrity, teamwork and responsibility (similar to values of most businesses and expected at most Schools) are more than just words.  They are discussed, broken down, reinforced through behaviours and practiced constantly.

The same applies to leadership training in Schools.  For new Captains to meet the leadership expectations placed upon them, their first leadership experience can’t coincide with their appointment at the start of the year.  It has to be earlier in their School days, starting from the moment they first enter the School grounds for the first time.

Some of the best and most respected leaders in the world attest to learning to lead from experience – including the making of mistakes and learning from those events.  If young future leaders aren’t given the chance to discover these skills in their early years they will be doomed to make big mistakes (involving more money, people and responsibility) later in life.

To advance leadership skills within Schools, we recommend adopting 5 approaches to develop leadership talent:

 

1. Praise good behaviour and correct poor performance 

This is not new – teachers have been praising poor performance and recognising good performance for a long time. What is often not understood by students is why their performance was good or bad – and the resultant link to good or poor leadership behaviours. Many students can’t make the link between messing around with their mates and the poor example this can set for junior students. Nor will they understand why their presentation at a School assembly was so good. Was it their voice projection or their confidence in addressing questions from their peers? Was it their reasoned argument or their confident body language through use of hand gestures? Providing specific feedback that is linked to specific behaviours and values is essential for developing leadership talent.

 

2. Identify leadership potential early

Leadership should not be a skill that is ‘added on’ after a student has completed 5 years of Schooling.  It should be in core tasks as early as possible, so that expectations of responsibility become a normal part of doing business. The responsibility of bringing the right uniform, completing homework on time and to the correct standard can be linked specifically to leadership and teamwork behaviours. It’s easy to identify those students that relish or thrive on the extra responsibility from leadership opportunities or being thrust into the role of guiding others.  Looking for potential leaders of a School can start several years before the final year.

 

3. Provide leadership opportunities.

There is no point identifying your leadership talent and then not getting them to do anything.  This could be simple tasks like running a meeting, planning a project, running an assembly or guiding students in younger years.

While many Schools provide these opportunities, many miss the opportunity to provide guidance and feedback following these activities – in particular what specific actions were done well and what needs improvement. It can often be months before that same student has the opportunity to undertake the same event again and learn from the experience. We all get better with practice, and tracking a students leadership opportunities, including their triumphs and their areas of improvement, is essential to becoming a better leader.

 

4. Provide leadership skills training and build relationships

If I again reflecting on my time in the military background, it was only after I left that I have realised the military expected leaders to continue their leadership training constantly as they progress through the ranks. Leadership training provides not only access to learn new skills and experience best practice, it also provides an opportunity for student leaders to work with their peers and build relationships. The peer network is one of the most underrated in Schools. Whether it be on the sporting field, in the classroom or during leadership activities, students are more than capable to discuss what traits were more or less effective when reflecting on their and their peers performance.

In my military career, it was my peers that I often turned to for advice, help and suggestions (not my boss), as they were the most effective sounding board with insight into the issues being confronted. The same applies at School. When students are provided a platform and opportunity to help each others growth through feedback and formal channels, there is less worry about negative feedback provided through more unregulated back channels (social media, webchat, Facebook etc)

 

5. Train for war, not for peace

Please excuse the military reference, but it is highly applicable for training leadership in Schools. From my experience, most Schools attempt to train leaders for peace, whereas the military trains for war.  In addition, the majority of school leadership and teamwork training is undertaken when the calendar is easier and there is no pressure from exams, NAPLAN test and extra-curricula activities.

I am not suggesting that Schools should add on leadership training in peak periods, but students should be prepared to lead in all situations, including when things get busy and exams loom.  This requires both effort and guidance, but the real return to training and developing the skills of a School’s leaders is in the difficult times. By not maintaining training and leadership activities during the hard times, School’s forego an opportunity to prepare their future leaders with the experience needed to address similar situations later down the track.

By identifying a School’s future leaders early and then training, nurturing, building and challenging their skills with development and mentoring programs – an internal environment is created that builds a store of leadership talent with attributes to address the leadership challenges of the School’s future. You might even be surprised by the results.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013 00:30

Are children better leaders than adults?

iStock 000008297165SmallWe all assume that adults know more than children – language, mathematics, science, general knowledge. But in the art and science of leadership, children demonstrate more natural leadership traits than adults.

This may come as a surprise to teachers and educators, particularly those that have been frustrated (as we have!) by a lack of listening skills, constant questions and numerous examples of poor teamwork from students. To our surprise, through a series of experiential leadership activities (conducted with more than 2500 adults and more than 1500 children), we have found five ways in which children consistently demonstrate better leadership and team development skills than adults. These areas are: focussing on the end goal, problem solving, adapting to change, acceptance of difference and willingness to learn.

 

1.             Beginning with the end in mind. 

 

A term coined by Stephen Cover (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People), it refers to the ability to look at the big picture and not get bogged down with minor details.

In the marshmallow challenge (www.marshmallowchallenge.com), participants are asked to build a marshmallow tower using spaghetti and tape in 18 minutes, the aim of which is to make the tallest tower that can support a marshmallow. The difference between how adults and children approach this activity couldn’t be more different. Adults discuss their options, on occasion do some minor planning, then begin building their tower. A large amount of effort is focused on ensuring that everyone has a role and that everyone is happy. On average, adult teams don’t even touch the marshmallow until 15 minutes into the activity, often resulting in a last minute panic (resembling some workplaces?). Children on the other hand, begin with the simple tenant of building a tower to support a marshmallow. The marshmallow becomes central to their tower, and they build their tower always with the marshmallow in mind. Although adults build taller towers (thank goodness!), their rate of success (achieving a successful tower) is much less than children. Adults are all or nothing – children focus on completion and meeting the requirements of the task at hand and beginning with the end in mind.

It is interesting to note that from our experience, teenagers demonstrate traits more like adults, and are less successful at the activity than younger children.

 

2.            Problem Solving

 

In experiential leadership activities, children are better at providing ideas and creating options than adults. While adults can often produce the best ideas, more often than not they languish in the volume of ideas that are provided for the group and the leader. Adults are also far more likely to focus on one idea and drive this to execution, rather than evaluating a larger number of options. Children on the other hand, come up with a large range of ideas, and keep coming up with ideas after a good option has been determined. They demonstrate a willingness to try new things, and keep trying when initial ideas do not bear fruit. While children may not come up with the best option for completing a task, they have a greater array of ideas from which to make a decision.

 

3.            Adaption to Change

 

In the experiential activity Invisible Maze, children consistently demonstrate a far greater ability to recognize and adapt to change than adults. The activity requires participants to navigate their way across an 8 x 8 checkerboard, with an invisible route through the maze determined via trial and error of the team. After a period of 10 minutes, the route through the maze is changed (without participant knowledge), forcing the team to react and adapt to the new requirements. On average, it takes children 3 attempts (the highest amount being 7) at the changed maze before they adapt to the new requirements and continue with the task. Although some children exhibit frustration at the change, the process of change is mostly positive, most likely relating to their greater ability to problem solve. Adults on the other hand take an average of 7 attempts (the highest amount being 13) to successfully adapt to the new maze. The range of emotional response from adults is also vastly different to children.  Emotions such as frustration, anger, resentment, aloofness and irritation accompany an adult groups response to change, as well as the usual acceptance.

 

We postulate that a child’s ability to adapt to change so readily has to do with the fact that they have a low locus of control over many aspects of their lives (school, meals, sleep times etc).  As a rule, they are more accustomed to having to adapt to the changes of teachers and parents without being consulted. Adults on the other hand have a large locus of control over most aspects of their lives. Where they work, when they eat/sleep and how they plan their day is in the control of most adults. When a decision is made without their knowledge or input, they are far less prepared to accept this than children.

 

4.             Acceptance of both Difference and Weakness

 

Most of the experiential activities used with both adults and children have a requirement for (non-taxing) physical activity. When groups are briefed on these activities, no reference is made to people with injuries or pre-existing conditions, or to what people are required to wear. It is expected that members of the team will work out the best way for all members of the team to complete the activity. Once again, children meet this requirement more effectively than adults. More often than not, children faced with a team member with a physical impairment or injury, will adapt their method of completion to include the injured person. Additional ideas will be sought and processes changed (without complaint) to include all of the members of the team. Children appear quite ready to accept the inherent differences within their teams and recognise that team members bring different strengths and weaknesses to the team.

When adults are faced with an activity that might put one or more of the members of the team in an uncomfortable position (restricted clothing, high heels, physical size or impairment etc), they are more likely to seek an exception from the activity than change their plan for completion. Members who have some form of limitation in their ability to complete tasks feel this keenly, as the team more often than not does not try to adapt plans to cater to all abilities. While this is not always the case, adults are far less likely than children to cater to physical / emotional difference or weakness from members of the team.

 

5.             Willingness to Learn

 

In their ability to listen and their willingness to learn (both from others and from their own mistakes) children far exceed adults in ability. Children demonstrate an ability to listen fully to experiential activity briefs, consider their options, and then ask questions to clarify any ambiguity regarding instructions. If anything, children demonstrate this ability to excess, often asking more questions than they need before they are sure they can complete a task. During an activity debrief, children are far more willing to discuss the areas in which they needed to improve, as well as recognise the areas in which they did well.

 

During briefs, adults are less likely to listen effectively to instructions, often only half-listening to the latter half of a brief as they begin to plan / discuss their first ideas. Comments such as ‘I have done this before’ or ‘This should be easy’ abound, with talking rather than listening being the main focus of communication. Instructions and rules often have to be repeated because they were not listened effectively to the first brief. Although adults are quite effective at discussing the strengths of their approach to a task, they are more likely to be reticent on discussing areas for improvement.

 

Imagine the Difference

 

Imagine how much more effective our leaders would be if they:

 

1.            Focussed on end requirements rather than on less important detail,

2.            Listened to all options to solve a problem and evaluated on merits,

3.            Recognised changes in the workplace and skillfully adapted both their behaviour and influenced the behaviour of their team,

4.            Accepted both the strengths and limitations of team members equally, and

5.            Demonstrated a willingness to learn from successes and mistakes (both from themselves and their people).

 

Seeking inspirational leadership requires us to look no further than the School playground. Examples of great leadership are demonstrated every day, we just have to have the eyes to see them and the desire to learn from them.

We get the opportunity to work with some great teachers and Schools when we deliver the MetaMorph workshop at Primary and High Schools. Rather than us tell you the benefits, we asked some of the teachers from Christchurch Grammar, Keilor Downs College, Mortlage College and Wesley College what they thought about the workshop.

 

1.What was the most useful activity of the course? Why?

 

Sarino – Magic Boots. The kids had a lot of fun and got them to really think about how to fulfil the activities objective.

Julie – Both activities presented. Both were excellent activities, including the Marble Run. The magic boots activity was excellent – the puzzle meant all students were involved at all times.

Meaghan – Walk The Plank. All students were involved at the one time which emphasized encouragement among students. All activities encouraged teamwork but Walk The Plank really emphasised this as the children were all doing something throughout the task eg. Passing the plank, moving along plank etc

Ross – Magic Boots. I believe the most beneficial activity was the Magic boots.  It incorporated many aspects of teamwork which was discussed the session prior as well as clearly outlined those who are potential leaders.

Sheridan – The discussions. The discussions which took place after each activity were most beneficial as students had time to reflect and debrief from each activity.

Penny – Optimal Mast. I was present for the building blocks, which I think is Optimal Mast. Activity was successful due to the clarity used to explain the task, providing the students time to explore the task and then giving them time to complete it. Afterwards the feedback and discussion that was generated allowed students to feel successful and a certain amount of pride in achieving their nominated outcome. The students worked so well that they completed the task to a higher standard then was anticipated.

Kerry – Marble Run. Marble run as it demonstrated some of the key teamwork and leadership skills. It also required persistence and resilience of all involved.

 

2.  How successful was the facilitator’s delivery? Why?

 

Sarino – He was able to maintain students’ attention and communicate very well what students had to achieve and do.

Julie – Excellent. Students listened to feedback and altered their approach accordingly. Students had lots of fun.

Meaghan – Excellent. Fun to listen to, the kids responded well. The children were engaged and interested throughout the instructions and during activities.

Ross - Michael delivered his program with a great deal of enthusiasm and clarity.  Each activity was instructed clearly, feedback was given throughout and even a chance to debrief and have constructive conversation over the positives and negatives of each activity.

Sheridan - Michael’s delivery was spot on.  He delivered messages in a down to earth way and pitched his messages appropriately for the age group.

Penny - Very successful due to the clarity of instructions, simplicity of task initially and the ability to modify tasks for each group. Michael also has an engaging approach to students, therefore they want to impress and gain praise. Providing constant feedback to students also enables them to work more co-operatively and students are easily able to think about their leadership styles for the tasks they are to complete during the year.

Kerry - The students responded really well to Michael. He outlined the requirements of the group but got the young people to contribute to it. He treated them respectfully which reciprocated.

 

3.  What would you tell other teachers / Schools about the MetaMorph program?

 

Sarino – Worthwhile, different, innovative and fun.

Julie – Great team building activities. Works well with a large group and needs very little equipment. Definitely recommend the activities

Meaghan – fantastic program. A great way to see children’s natural team / leadership abilities. A great way to see where children need encouragement and activities were fun. The children loved it.

Ross - The Metamorph program should be an integral part to every teacher’s program.  It gives you the opportunity to stand back and examine the reportable traits that each student has.  It could also become a great ice breaking day at the beginning of the year.  We loved it.

Sheridan – I have already told others about the program

Penny - MetaMorph program engages a wide variety of student learning styles which allows students to gain more self-confidence and the ability to see themselves as a valued leader. The program can be delivered to a wide variety of age groups and is engaging.

Kerry - The Metamorph program is a great opportunity for staff to see students in a different light. It facilitates peer connections beyond the program especially when the students reflected on the challenges. It has given then great insight into what makes effective leadership and team work. I would highly recommend this program to other schools both for student and staff sessions.

 

Our thanks go to the following teachers for their feedback:

 

Sarino Prinzi, Keilor Downs College, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Julie Clifton, Keilor Downs College, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Meaghan Ward, Christchurch Grammar School, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Ross Webber, Christchurch Grammar School, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Sheridan Vella, Wesley College – Glen Waverley Campus, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Penny Mudge, Wesley College – Glen Waverley Campus

Kerry Boyden, Mortlake College, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Thursday, 27 June 2013 23:40

Deb McKenzie - ACF

'I just wanted to 'Thank You' so much for conducting our Cert IV TAE training. Although I had done similar before, you presented it in a diligent, conscientious and straight forward manner. I actually learnt much more this time around and feel that you had an exceptional grasp on the content.'

Deb McKenzie

Cert. IV in TAA (TAE) Participant, July 2012

Australian Childhood Foundation

Gillard and AbbottThey say it is better to ‘park’ an emotional blog until you can re-read what you have done and look at it with fresh eyes in the morning. Well, I have done that, and I am still angry and annoyed.

This post is a little different from my usual on leadership. It involves current political issues – that I usually steer clear from as it divides people – but at the heart of this post is a request for leadership and values at the highest levels of our country. Being married to a beautiful, intelligent and inspiring woman (who I should listen to more), and trying to raise an intelligent and strong willed daughter (who I don't always fully understand but am trying to) this issue has struck home more and more in the last few days.

Here is the transcript of the speech I would love to hear in parliament this morning from our current Opposition Leader Tony Abbott– but it will never happen. It would take extraordinary guts, determination and a vision for the future that I don’t believe our politicians possess – but I can hope for it anyway. I have no doubt this speech would win him an election – which is not my intention – but it would help right a cause that has become so wrong in this country.

 

‘Mr Abbott, can you comment on the recent radio interview between the Prime Minister and radio host Howard Sattler?’

 

Response:

“I have time to reflect overnight on the interview that was conducted between the Prime Minister and Mr Sattler, and in all honesty, it has troubled me.

Troubled me because I do not believe that the Prime Minister should have to respond to such garbage – the fact that she did so with such grace and dignity is a credit to her.

The comments troubled me because I have had time to consider several issues regarding gender in the last couple of months, following comments from the Prime Minister in regards to my behaviour and calls of misogyny.

They trouble me because I am married to an intelligent and inspirational woman and I am trying to raise independent and intelligent daughters, and I can’t in good conscience let the behaviour that has been expressed in the media, both mainstream and social, in the election so far, in parliament and in Australia in general continue in the fashion that it has.

I yesterday watched the Chief of Army make an impassioned speech on this issue following revelations of Officers and SNCO’s in the Army allegedly communicating inappropriate comments and pictures via the Defence network. One comment that he made has resonated with me – ‘The standard that you walk past is the standard that you accept’. I feel I have walked past the standard on gender too often in recent times and it is time that I corrected that, not only on my behalf, but on the behalf of my party.

From this day on, the Prime Minister is going to know that she is for the fight of her life to win this election. This battle will be fought on policies and the recent history of achievements of her party – it will not be fought with gender as an issue.

Any member of my party that uses or condones inappropriate behaviour based on gender will be removed from office. Any member vying for office found to condone behaviour that is demeaning or inappropriate to women will lose pre-selection. Any media outlet promoting negative comments or debate based on gender will have no further interviews with any member of my Party until the election. If my party and I are elected, that media outlet will receive no comment or interview for the entire first term of office.

I will not walk past this standard any longer. I serve alongside some amazingly strong and intelligent women, to let this debate continue not only disrespects the Prime Minister, but them as well.

Comments such as ‘Ju-liar’, ‘Ditch the witch’ and others are inappropriate and should never have been used. Comments on the Prime Ministers clothing, size and relationship with her partner have no place in mainstream media, social media or this Parliament. Comments from shock jocks such as Alan Jones suggesting people should be thrown overboard should have been treated for what they were – vulgar and inappropriate. Menus created as a joke should never have been created, and worse, once discovered should never have been promoted. Speculation regarding the Prime Minister’s relationship and treating gossip and innuendo as newsworthy is not only inappropriate and offensive to her, but also to the office she holds.

 

The office of Prime Minister is one that should be respected, irrespective of gender of the person that holds it.

 

Earlier this week the Prime Minister referred to the ‘blue tie’ brigade of men that exist in my party, and media articles have stated that if elected, my party will have 50% less female representation than currently exists. I will admit to not having considered this prior to it being raised this week.

In this instance I am not perfect. As a politician striving to become Prime Minister of this country, I realise that the expectation is that I should be. I am far from it – but I am learning now and will continue to learn in my current and possibly future office. I cannot change this statistic in the next six months, but I will make efforts to address it in my first term in office if elected. Women represent more that 50% of the population of this country, it is then logical to assume that in the highest offices in the country, that percentage should at least be comparable.

These are the standards that I now expect of myself, my colleagues and the party. It will be our goal to ensure that those values become reflected in our society. If we as a Government and a nation wish to be respected on the world stage, this behaviour should be common place.

This change will not happen overnight – it may take a generation. But in the same way that laws enforcing the of wearing seatbelts in cars and wearing helmets on bikes seemed radical at the time but have become common place – so should the acceptance of men and women to equal roles. I hope the day comes in the future when my daughters can see a woman elected as Prime Minister and think of it as normal.”

 

That is what I would love to hear. Leadership, vision, respect, humility, defiance, values and hopefully some honesty. We can live in hope.

Thursday, 06 June 2013 02:15

Kylie Palmer - Gemmill Homes

'I just want to take this opportunity to personally thank you for being an excellent mentor and delivering each module in this course so well. I enjoyed each class so much and it was great that you encouraged us to put our thinking caps on, open our minds and speak up. You always gave us the opportunity to present our ideas and never made our thoughts, ideas or opinions feel small or unvalued. And your sense of humour certainly made the class even more of an enjoyable environment.'

Kylie Palmer, Gemmill Homes

Cert. IV in Customer Contact, June 2013

Thursday, 06 June 2013 01:04

L&D Forum - 31 May 2013

LandD Forum 31 May 13
A slighter smaller than expected (but none the less enthusiastic) group of L&D Managers gathered at Casa& Bottega at 2pm on Friday 31st May 13 to discuss 'What have you seen / used in your business to become more efficient & effective?'

In a recent edition of Leading Company, David James asked the question ‘Do Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits stack up’.

My response, given the vast number of businesses and managers I have worked with is: absolutely!

For those that don’t know, Stephen Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has sold more than 25 million copies with its teachings quoted by Managers and corporate trainers (including myself) often.

The 7 HabitsThe 7 Habits that Covey raises are:

  1. Be Proactive
  2. Begin with the end in mind
  3. Put first things first (prioritising and planning)
  4. Thinking win-win
  5. Seek first to understand then to be understood;
  6. Synergize (combining peoples’ strengths); improving one’s attitude;
  7. “Sharpen the saw”: make sure to renew one’s personal energy and protect one’s health.

David James and several of the people he quotes put forward the argument that many of the things that Covey raises in his 7 Habits have become part of management practice and common sense. My response is that common sense isn’t that common, both at junior, middle and senior management levels.

Habit 2 – Begin With The End in Mind

Let’s start with Habit 2 – Begin with the End in Mind. It has been said that this is now the equivalent of a vision statement. In my opinion, it is much more than that (although I have to ask, how many people either have their own vision statement, or could state what the vision of their business was? Very few I am guessing).  Habit 2 is more than a vision statement – it is about developing a clear picture of what the future state should look like before you start doing it, so that you can create the steps required to get there. It is an opportunity to process re-engineer a problem before it has taken place, and map out the required steps to get there. I know there are many people that might say ‘but isn’t that what a vision statement does?’ In the true, correct use of a vision statement, you would probably be correct. In practice though, very few senior managers and very few businesses make the link between their business vision and what happens day-to-day. Very few staff at lower levels can make the link between the vision and everyday work, because often the people that came up with the vision stopped at that – stating the vision. Part of the cleverness of Covey’s Habit 2 is its use of words – begin with the end in mind, not end with the end in mind. Coming up with the vision or end state is just the start – there is then an expectation that you would work backwards to see what has to be done in stages to achieve that vision.

The other thing I love about Habit 2 is that when introduced to junior Managers, it encourages then to take time out and plan, when often they are expected and encouraged to deal with the hear and now and ‘firefight’. Taking 5 minutes to consider the end state and how to get there can often be a revelation for junior managers, because they have never been encouraged to do it. Good planning and evaluation is one difference between a junior manager and a more senior one (we would hope!) and Covey provides a simple tool to start the process.

Habit 3 – Put First Things First

Habit 3 is all about managing your time effectively, which in my experience, a large amount of Managers do poorly. Wasted time, wasted effort, poor prioritising (if there is any prioritising at all) and a lack of focus – these are the time management skills that are often exhibited by junior and middle managers. Often this isn’t by accident; managers at these levels are expected to deal with urgent issues from their direct reports quickly and effectively – ‘firefighting’ – fixing all the little crises that occur in a business to keep things on track. The problem is that often firefighting becomes a drug for managers; they can fall into the trip of only feeling like they are doing their job if it is urgent, immediate and for their direct reports. Low level and mid-level planning such as training, managing performance and planning go out the window because it isn’t urgent. Covey’s 4-quadrant model of urgency versus importance sounds simple enough, but it still has profound effects on junior and middle Managers. Often when this group takes a short time to analyse what they do in a day, they find they have spent most days focussing on urgent but unimportant tasks (such as emails, firefighting and interruptions) rather than spending a proportion of their time on important tasks such as training, coaching and managing performance. Covey’s Quadrant in Habit 3 provides a sense of assurance for junior Managers in knowing that it is OK to do more than firefight.

Discussing further habits is more than one little blog post can handle! In short, Covey’s 7 Habits are just as relevant today as they were when they were first published. In my opinion, the habits will become irrelevant when senior Managers demonstrate the 7 Habits consistently themselves, with their middle and junior managers copying that behaviour because ‘that is how it is done around here’.

Perhaps the better question to ask would be ‘Why hasn’t the coaching, training and example provided by senior Managers made the teaching of the 7 Habits irrelevant?’

Customer Service TickMention customer service in a conversation and I guarantee you will hear comments such as these:

‘Store ## needs better customer service!’ 

‘The people that work at Store ## are so rude / ignorant / self-absorbed, they had no idea how to provide customer service.’

‘The customer service of at store / restaurant / business ## is terrible!’

‘## was so rude on the phone – I will never go back to those guys’

I am sure we have all said something about poor customer service at one stage or another. When you compare the customer service standards in Australia to other countries, we don’t come out to well.

In my opinion, businesses are focussing on the wrong strategies to try and attract and retain customers. While they spend time with sales, promotions, advertisements and more sales, they should be focussing more on consistency.

Why consistency? Because when most people talk about poor customer service, they are actually talking about the service being provided not matching the experience they had before, or the experience they expected. Consistency.

To be more accurate and clear, consistency in business terms is the art and science of providing and doing what you said you would do. It isn’t complicated, but it does take a consistent effort across an entire business to try and achieve it.

When we say the customer service in Store ## is bad, it is often because we have experienced better customer service in that store in the past, and the standard seems to have dropped. If we say restaurant ## is poor, it is often because we have eaten there before and the dining experience was better last time.  Once we have decided that the store or restaurant’s standards have dropped, we aren’t likely to go back. What is worse for the business though is we don’t keep quiet about this experience – we are likely to share it (either verbally or through social media) with a large group of friends, whose buying choice can then be influenced by ours.

iStock 000016450355SmallOne business that doesn’t fail its instore experience is Apple – they have consistency down to a fine art. In direct contrast to most businesses, they are overstaffed – you can always find someone in a blue shirt with an Apple logo quickly. Those staff in the blue apple shirts will know more about the product than you 99% of the time. They can often set up your product right in front of you, and they can all provide POS service – often right in front of you and on the device they are holding. Apple staff are helpful, knowledgeable and on-hand. It is no surprise that the store is almost always full of customers.

As a business – what can you do to improve customer service / consistency?

1.            Test your product. Test it both before it is put in front of a customer and after. Make sure the product is good and the way it is presented / delivered works.

2.            Check it often. Inconsistency in delivery often occurs because the people providing it don’t believe that they are, or have to be, accountable for what they are providing. Mystery shop, make random calls and try the product. When it isn’t what you (or more importantly your customers) expect, fix it quickly

3.            Invest in training. Apple staff being able to fix problems 99% of the time isn’t an accident. They are trained often, both instore and externally, to provide the service that you see. Training should include formal training, instore training from managers and coaching from peers and product / service experts.

4.            Repeat Steps 1-3 Often. The process of testing, checking and training can’t be a one off. I can’t tell you how many businesses I have worked with where the training I have provided is the first that many staff have experienced, either formal or informal. How can your staff provide a consistent service when you have neither taught them or told them what that standard should be, let alone how to provide it?

Consistency in business is not very complicated, nor it is as sexy as a new ad campaign or a 50% off sale. But when it comes to customer service, it is actually what customers are looking for, and it is what they will come back for. Instead of worrying about the next gimmick to get me in the store or restaurant, why not focus on what will keep me there, get me to come back, and make sure I tell my friends. Consistency is the key.

Sunday, 03 March 2013 21:49

Inspiration Paint 1 Mar 2013 - 1

'I really enjoyed the way we interacted with each other. Michael was brilliant in explaining the module.'

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