3 Ways New Leaders Can Start Strong

Impactful leaders are usually excellent listeners, able to organize lots of information, and communicate effectively. To master those three skills over time, there are a few things new leaders need to know and understand at the outset.

First, a new leader will usually inherit a team and that team’s current results. In these cases, assumptions are your biggest enemy. Do not assume that because the area you are leading is achieving its desired results now, the success will last forever. Do not assume that the team was achieving results because it was being led well. In fact, assume as little as possible. Learn as much as you can.

How New Leaders Can Start Strong

Build Relationships

The first few months for any new leader is about developing relationships and educating themselves on the department. The first few months will be focused on getting to know your team, supervisor, peers, and customers. By approaching conversations with those groups with authenticity and curiosity, letting them also get to know you in the process, you will be off to a great start. Engage with everyone you can during those first few months. Have lots of coffee and lunch dates. Meet with groups and meet with individuals. Ask lots of questions. Listen twice as much as you talk.

In some cases, a new leader will be starting a new department from scratch. The rules here are a little different. Learning as much as possible about the goals and expected deliverables will serve a new leader well in this context. Action planning based on those goals and resources will be an important next step.

Define the Work

Second, define the work. Answer the following questions. If you do not know the answer, start by asking supervisors, colleagues, your team, and your customers for their perspectives. Remember, these are their perspectives, not facts:

  • What results am I responsible for?
  • How are those results measured and in what timeframe?
  • Who are my customers? What would I like my customers to say about their experiences with my team? How is the team currently meeting customer expectations?
  • What is the value of my area of responsibility to the business? If my area of responsibility did not exist, what would it mean for the business?

Change Your Mindset

Third, a new leader must change their mentality from being that of a guest to that of a host. Simply coming to work, doing your job, and going home will not be enough in most leadership roles. To clarify, I am not suggesting that you will be working longer hours or will never have any time for vacation, but you are taking on a much more demanding set of responsibilities.

Instead, when anything happens impacting your new area of leadership, it is your responsibility to identify problems and come up with solutions. When something is going well in your department, you can explain why it is going well because it was intentional on your part. When something is not going well, you own both the problem and the solution to improving it in a lasting manner.

While you are still expected to operate in your scope, your direct supervisor is likely leading multiple areas of responsibility. The good supervisors will count on you to know what you are empowered to do with your team and what requires your supervisor’s permission. In instances where your supervisor has ultimate decision-making authority, most will appreciate giving them multiple options and thinking ahead about the possible consequences, both positive and negative, for each option.

In leadership, especially in a first role as a leader, it is important that new leaders get to know their area of responsibility top to bottom, which means understanding how each part works separately and together. As a leader learns the different parts of the business, they should also focus on the following areas where results may be expected of them and their teams.

Key Takeaway

Strategies for new leaders to succeed include avoiding assumptions, developing relationships, defining goals and responsibilities, and taking ownership of both problems and solutions. Effective communication, learning, and a mindset shift from being a guest to a host will help new leaders have a greater positive impact in their new role.

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How Leaders Attract and Keep Top Talent

In today’s business world, finding and keeping top talent is essential to a businesses’ success. As a result, leaders in some companies are using unique tools to find their newest employees. These companies focus on identifying the best candidates who fit with their culture and values. At the same time, these companies also ensure that their hiring strategies are legal and ethical.

There is also an important economic driver to hiring. For many companies, their biggest financial expense is salaries. Despite recent business norms, like routine layoffs, employee retention is important for leaders when thinking about the financial success of their organization. According to a study from the Center for American progress, it can range from 50%-200% of an employee’s salary to replace them. There are also the costs that are hard to quantify, like the value of the history and knowledge of the organization a current employee may have that could be impossible to replace.

Luckily, certain companies have put together methods to, “Hire for will and train for skill.” This means that they look for a candidate’s cultural fit and then provide robust training to educate them and keep them engaged.

Netflix

Let’s start with Netflix, the popular streaming service.

Leaders can learn from Netflix hiring practices

Netflix has a company culture that values empowerment (freedom and responsibility). The company believes in giving employees the freedom to shape their work and trusts them to take responsibility for results. Netflix has designed an intense hiring process to identify candidates who can thrive in a self-starting culture.

One of the unique practices that Netflix uses in its hiring process is the “keeper test.” The keeper test is a simple but effective way of identifying whether a candidate will fit with their company’s culture. The keeper test works like this: Would the leader making the hire fight to keep this candidate if they were considering leaving the company? If the answer is yes, the candidate passes the keeper test, and if the answer is no, the candidate is not a good fit for the company.

Wegmans

Wegmans is one of my favorite places to shop for groceries. The grocery store chain seems to always have what I need and offers great customer service.

Leaders can learn from Wegmans hiring practices

One of the unique practices that Wegmans uses in its hiring process is the group interview. The group interview is a collaborative process that involves many candidates interviewing with the leader at the same time. This approach allows Wegmans to observe how candidates would work in a team environment, especially when the stakes are high.

Wegmans also looks for people who have a track record of providing excellent customer service in their previous jobs. By asking behavioral questions, which are scenario-based questions, companies like Wegmans look to identify service minded candidates to join their companies.

Risks to Keep in Mind

While these companies have achieved success with their unique approaches to hiring, it’s important to remember that some new strategies may not be legal or ethical. For example, some companies use pre-employment assessments that measure cognitive, emotional, and behavioral traits. While this method can be effective in identifying talent, it can also be discriminatory and result in legal action.

Companies that want to stand out from the competition in recruiting and retaining top talent must think in new ways. For many companies, their employees are their competitive advantage. By finding the right people and training them, these companies stand out from the competition.

Key Takeaways

For most companies, their employees are their competitive advantage. For that reason, hiring the right employees is extremely important. Companies like Netflix and Wegmans developed unique ways to increase the likelihood of finding candidates that will fit the culture they want to maintain. When practicing leaders do the same in their organization, they can achieve better results.

How important is the customer experience to Apple?

Remember, back in 2001 when everyone thought Apple was crazy for opening retail stores? Now, almost 18 years later, the world’s most profitable company looks like they will have the last laugh.

What Apple knows well is that they cannot really rest on their success in the past to ensure future success. They need to continue to innovate and keep the customer experience on top of mind if consumers are going to continue to pay a premium for Apple products over increasingly formidable competitors both at home and abroad.

Going into retail was Apple’s initial innovation, which was soon followed by the Genius Bar (technical support), then followed by the open concept layout of their stores. Despite this innovation, for some of us, the Apple store was losing its charm and felt more like we were being herded to various queues, surrounded by crowds, rather than having a positive experience. They needed to do something to continue their retail success

I started thinking more about this when I was recently in the Apple store with my wife to replace her iPhone 6 with an iPhone XS. We went to the Apple store in one location but then ended up following-up at a different Apple store to get the actual phone because it required an ID for the cellular account and I forgot mine at home. I couldn’t help but observe how their flow had changed from my last visit.

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At the first store, we were greeted before we even walked into the store. I must have looked determined, because when I was about 15 feet from the threshold of the store, one of the sales associates was already waving “hi” to me. He asked us what brought us to the store, talked to us for a few minutes to assess our need and then handed us off to another sales associate. The sales associate’s responsibility was to help us with our device of choice. Once we chose the phone, it was retrieved from inventory by a third associate, called a “runner”.

Observing the same dynamic at the second store, I did something my wife only reluctantly tolerates – I began talking to the sales associate about her training and the flow of the stores. Just to note, I have done this an embarrassing number of times, most recently also shopping at Lululemon and comparing notes with a friend who works for Madewell.

According to the sales associate I spoke with, Apple changed their workflow with one objective in mind: keep the customer company throughout the process of making a purchase. Once customers are initially greeted, they are then led into 1 of 2 queues: one for service and one for sales. Customers who are “just browsing” are left on their own. The sorting process prevents associates from wasting their time with customers who were just in the store to wander around.

For service, the queue is straightforward: If you had an appointment, they honored the appointment and hand you off to a technician. If you did not have an appointment, they would schedule one for you, thus moving you to a different queue. The annoying part of the technician queue was that you needed an appointment to be seen, which could be weeks from now. Not super helpful once you have purchased your device.

The sales queue is more complicated than the service queue: Based on your input to the greeter, you are then sorted by product and are directed to meet a sales associate at the correct product display/demo table that houses the product you are interested in purchasing. That person then stays with you for the remainder of your experience at the Apple store. While the sales associate used to also pull the desired item from inventory, Apple has now chosen to hire runners to pull products from inventory, ensuring that the sales associate remains with the customer until the purchase is complete. My math suggests that they had to add staff in this model.

This begs the question: Why? Did Apple have trouble with customers leaving while the associate is going to the back to retrieve the item from inventory? Is this somehow a faster experience for customers? What is this new system about?

My view is that this change is all about making the purchase of a premium product a premium experience. The sales associate now functions both as a concierge and troubleshooter for any issue the customer may have with their new, beautiful, device. The sales associate can also make sure the device is set up correctly, limiting return visits for technical service that is really more about the user’s competency with the device. The associate could also up-charge some subscriptions or accessories, although, truthfully, I have not witnessed them doing that behavior.

Apple, like many other companies, is focused on getting their customer service system right as much as they are in getting their products right. Paying attention to the experience of buying an item or interacting with it in a physical place is crucial.

Apple is not the only example of a company making the purchase of a premium product a premium experience. Recently, my wife and I bought a Peloton (incidentally, we love it). We bought it after walking into a Peloton retail location in our neighborhood. The sales associate, Danny, gave us a memorable experience, answering many questions (we didn’t go to the store with the initial intention of buying anything), and setting up time for us to try the bike, taking a class in a private room in the store with plenty of water and clean towels. We went back three times before we made the purchase, each time with no pressure. Delivery was also easy, featuring complete set up and orientation to the bike, right in our home by a two-member delivery team.

A positive experience with these companies doesn’t happen by accident.

In business, it is critical that we not only pay attention to the product, but the experience people have in accessing that product. In health care, we have a lot to learn from retail regarding how to match clinical (product) excellence with experience excellence.

KEY TAKEAWAY: Businesses design the shopping and customer experience with a similar focus to how they design their products. A lot can be learned from companies, like Apple, who take the retail experience seriously.

Book Review: Be our Guest

Disney is known for excellence in customer experience at their parks, hotels, and on their cruise ships. The company formed The Disney Institute so that other companies could learn from Disney’s approach. While a Disney Institute summit may set you back over $4,000, a lot can still be learned from its considerably more affordable book, Be Our Guest: Perfecting the Art of Customer Service.

beourguestLike Starbucks and The Ritz Carlton, Disney has a well-defined, self-reinforcing, and rigorous system for customer experience. Disney’s “magic” is delivered through its organizational knowledge of guest psychographics combined with demographics (Disney calls it “Guestology”), its simplicity, and the complete integration and alignment of its system. Disney’s core purpose (like a vision statement) is defined as “We create happiness by providing the finest in entertainment for people of all ages everywhere”.

Guestology

Disney invests time, talent, and treasure in its efforts to not only know who are their guests (demographics), but also what their guests expect and want to feel (psychographics). While demographics are important and relatively easy to access through existing systems, psychographics are even more vital to delivering a superior customer experience.

Disney looks at the mental states of its customers by evaluating all of the parts of their experience through 4 dimensions: Needs, wants, stereotypes, and emotions.

Applying this principle to another business, like in an urgent care, for example, this matrix would resemble something like this:

Screen Shot 2019-02-05 at 11.07.44 AM

This analysis is a helpful tool to get a chance to match your service offerings to the perceptions and emotional states of your customers. Disney implements processes to respond to its guests’ emotions throughout their parks and resorts. For example, Disney was the first to entertain guests who are waiting in long lines to help them be less bored and pass the time quicker. Since guest needs, wants, stereotypes, and emotions can change over time, Disney revisits this framework often to match their systems to guest expectations.

The lesson here is that knowing your customer, not just who they are but what they expect and why they expect it, is an essential component of building a superior and lasting customer experience. Another essential component is making sure your system for responding to these factors is actionable by the employees (Disney calls them “cast members”) who are expected to bring it to life. This is accomplished, in part, through simplicity.

Simplicity

Disney’s customer service system has only two components:

  • The Four Quality Standards
    • Safety
    • Courtesy
    • Show
    • Efficiency
  • Three Delivery Systems
    • Cast
    • Setting
    • Process

The four quality standards are listed in order of importance, giving cast members an idea around prioritization. These standards are deployed up and down the organization and are reinforced through constant training and coaching. To build a culture around the two components, Disney uses its own language to refer to customers, employees, and attractions. Further, cast members are given guidelines, not scripts, for them to use to deliver consistent service to guests.

Part of the art of the four quality standards and the three delivery systems are what Disney calls, “Think globally, perform locally”. Doing so allows individual hotels or resorts to integrate their own flavor and uniqueness into Disney’s approach to service delivery. Disney empowers its cast members by soliciting their feedback as well as recognizing and rewarding performance.

Disney’s cast can also then focus on the three delivery systems, including seeing themselves as a part of a larger whole and responsible for themselves as well as the setting and process. That is also where integration and alignment become important.

Integration and Alignment

The Disney Institute defines integration as, “the work of aligning and distributing your service stands over the three delivery systems of cast, setting, and process” (p. 185). Integration is a way to, “build a service organization greater than the sum of its parts” (p. 185).

Disney has built-in accountability to its components of service through its emphasis on integration. It ensures that Disney is staying true to its core purpose by making sure that its cast, setting, and processes are always accounted for in everything they do. It also makes sure that the three delivery systems are developed with the customer needs, wants, stereotypes, and emotions of the guest in mind.

To make Disney’s guest experience consistent and reliable, the leadership is committed to this model and includes new initiatives through the lens of integration to provide context for staff at all times. At other companies, initiatives often appear disparate and unrelated due to the lack of context. By using an integrated model like Disney’s, companies can usually avoid this type of cognitive dissonance.

Conclusion

Healthcare organizations can learn a lot from Disney and many have worked with the Disney Institute or read books like If Disney Ran Your Hospital. In order to successfully follow the ways of Disney, the leadership of the organization needs to agree to an aligned model that they will always use as context.

KEY TAKEAWAY: Learning about your customers, developing a simple system for delivering to their expectations, and creating integration and alignment around those elements is how Disney creates its “Magic”. Doing it in your organization requires the same level of intentionality and discipline.


Be our Guest is available for purchase on Amazon for $24.99 (does not include Prime discount)

Book Review: The Starbucks Experience

Joseph Michelli is a talented author who has written about many companies that have developed systems and processes to deliver exceptional customer experiences in a consistent and reliable manner.

So when he featured Starbucks, I couldn’t wait to read it. Despite (for the most part) giving up coffee approximately 4 months ago, I still look for excuses to take meetings at Starbucks. I am a big fan of Starbucks’ founder and former CEO Howard Schultz (and possible 2020 Presidential candidate), who has written two books himself about Starbucks, Pour Your Heart Into It and Onward.

the starbucks experienceI love having meetings at Starbucks because after reading Schultz two books, I admire how his vision became a reality. Schultz changed both how we consume coffee, which previously viewed as a 10 cent commodity, and how the coffee shop became the “third place”, or a regular hangout besides home or work, for many people. Starbucks is now just as Schultz had imagined it, in all its reality and splendor. But, to get there, it wasn’t easy.

Putting aside Schultz’s personal struggles in creating the Starbucks we know today (you can read his books to get the inside scoop), creating the systems and processes to implement the customer experience he wanted to create was especially difficult because because of the hyper-customized nature of Starbucks’ drinks. The design of the product and the experience made scripting and rigorous memorization both useless and impossible.

Starbucks designed a system is called the “Five Ways of Being” to implement the customer experience:

  • Be welcoming
  • Be genuine
  • Be considerate
  • Be knowledgeable
  • Be involved

To support the system, Starbucks’ key processes are articulated in the “Green Apron Book”, which every Starbucks partner (the internal Starbucks jargon for employees) carries around with them.

Starbucks leadership understands that when it comes to delivering a consistent, reliable, and, at times, an exceptional experience, their main audience is the staff, not the customer buying the coffee. Starbucks actively markets to its employees in a manner that emphasizes and reinforces the “Five Ways of Being”.

Examples of this include using real-life mistakes that have happened in the past and asking partners to articulate how some of the strategies in the Green Apron Book could have prevented the error. Further, baristas receive regular updates in a newsletter called “Conversations and Connections”, which share customer stories and how the stories reflect the Five Ways of Being. Finally, Starbucks uses a board game to help train partners in how to empathize with customers based on their body language and subtle verbal cues to better anticipate and meet the customers’ needs.

These examples also reflect Schultz’s mantra, “Retail is detail”. In Starbucks, there are very few accidents from the way the stores are laid out to how the drinks are made. One of the goals of Starbucks leadership is for people who are traveling to find a familiar experience at both their regular Starbucks and the one they are visiting on the road. To bring this idea to reality, Starbucks sweat the details of hiring, training, empowering and establishing regular reminders for the team.

Next time you go to Starbucks, look for the attention to detail in the experience. In Onward Schultz articulated how the smell of Starbucks is a vital part of the experience. This is just one example of the types of details that get the attention of, and are then implemented by, great companies.

KEY TAKEAWAY: Starbucks is famous for their environment and service. Starbucks has a clear vision, system, and processes that are as consistent, reliable, and as high a quality as their product. Starbucks actively markets to their team to bring Schultz’s vision to life every day by paying attention to the details. 


The Starbucks Experience is available for purchase on Amazon for $28.00 (does not include Prime discount)