Category Archives: Management

7 Leadership Books for a World Class Culture

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It has been said that leaders are readers, but it is often difficult to find the time to sit down with a self-improvement book in the midst of life’s fullness. For many of us, reading is not only a reprieve from stress, but an inspiration to find new ways to do a job more effectively.

The books I most appreciate are the ones which resonate with my own experiences, especially as a self-described high maintenance customer. My bosses expect excellence from me, and I have been conditioned to demand it from the companies where I spend my money. As a consumer, I can tell instantly if a business cares about building long-term relationships. There are 2 big tests of an organization’s culture of customer service.

1-Are the employees happy? I am sure you have walked in to a business and instantly caught a positive or negative vibe about the place. This vibe is a result of the team culture, which is rooted in how the associates are treated by their team leaders. We cannot expect our employees to offer good customer service if we don’t show them exemplary support and common courtesies. I have 12 different responsibilities in my job, but the one thing that is the most important to me, and I can do nothing else until it is done, is making sure my team has everything they need to be successful.

We all know that sub-standard employee performance and high turnover can be the death of any business. There is no greater responsibility than to recruit the best, train them well, and SUPPORT them. I just had a team member celebrate her 10-year anniversary with my department. During that time, I have made a conscious effort to offer my ongoing encouragement and tell her that I appreciate her often. It is the ideal relationship of mutual respect, and one that allows her to foster that same loyalty in the team she develops.

There is no way that the team members will care about the company, the product or the customer if the boss doesn’t care about them, as workers and as people. It has been said that 90% of an employee’s job satisfaction is how they feel about their boss. The strongest leaders I know in building a culture of customer service embrace servant leadership, where the boss is willing to jump in and work alongside of the team, both to set an example of excellence as well as to show that they are willing to help. They ask about their employees, they know about what is important to them, and they are approachable if the employee has a concern. They say thank you…a lot. They ask for their input. They know their strengths, and are interested in fostering their development. For more on this topic, consider these books:  The Customer Comes Second by Diane McFerrin Peters and Hal F. Rosenbluth and The 12 Elements of Great Managing by James K. Harter and Rodd Wagner.

2- How does the company handle mistakes? The second test of an organization’s customer service protocol is what I call the Art of the Apology. There was a time in my dealership’s history when our customer service national ranking was 210 out of 220 dealerships in the country. During those years, I called myself the professional apologizer. I learned what to do and what not to do during an apology, enough to write a book of my own. But the essence is this: we are people, we are going to mess up, but how we handle it shows our character for the better or worse. Think about how your employees apologize to you when they make a mistake. What do you like to hear? It’s the same thing that your customer wants to hear from you: I take responsibility, I will make amends and work to minimize the chance that it will happen again. What bosses and customers do not want to hear is excuses, reasons, finger pointing. The customer NEVER needs to hear why something messed up. Even if they ask why it happened, I tell them I am focused on the solution and assure them that I will later work behind the scenes to fix whatever broken process caused the problem. The only thing worse than having to apologize, is having to apologize to the same customer more than once for the same thing. If you find yourself if this position, there might be some teamwork issues to repair. Thankfully we have since repaired our team issues and are back into the top 10 in the nation, but let me assure you, it was an arduous climb back to the top. Fixing a culture is difficult, but it’s the only long-term solution. If this is a focus for you, check out The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. Many business books like this are presented in fable format, knowing that the busy executive only has the time and attention span for a helpful story-with-a-lesson. It makes for a quick read and a powerful testimony to the essential value of teamwork.

In addition to taking ownership, the other critical components of an apology include acknowledging the other person’s feelings and demonstrating sincerity. I put myself completely in the moment, give the apology my full heart and intention, and offer empathy for any frustration I may have caused them due to my lack of leadership. Let’s face it, if I had better leadership and processes, the incident would likely have not occurred in the first place. I am at the core of the mistake and should own that. People know when you speak from the heart, so mean what you say with your whole being. Acknowledge their feelings by saying “I know that must have been frustrating for you. I would feel the same way.” ONLY then can the relationship start to mend. For this topic, I suggest Legendary Service by Kathy Cuff and Victoria Halsey. I have had the honor of meeting Kathy and she changed my entire understanding of how to make amends with someone who is upset.

Here are a few action items to consider if you are dedicated to a culture of customer service.

  1. Create a personal mission statement-Life is short. Ask yourself what is your legacy. Do you want to be known as a nice person? A good father? A good boss? Your personal mission statement should infuse your actions at home and at work. Mine is to be a blessing to others. This mission simplifies my decisions and reduces my stress, because it guides my actions and demeanor. Consider the book Give and Take by Adam Grant as you craft your own. It may help you grasp why some people give more than others and why a shift towards giving is essential in business. If you are a giver in a world full of takers, it also helps you accept your less helpful coworkers better because you know they are wired that way.
  2. Kaizen is the Japanese word for continuous improvement and should be a part of everything you do. The only way to become a better leader and human being is to ask questions, read, take an interest in others and challenge yourself to learn from mistakes. The best title for this is What Got You Here Won’t Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith: It’s chock full of readable examples of top leaders and how they had to learn to change their ways to reach the next level of success.
  3. Learn these two phrases and say them often. I am sorry, and I appreciate you. (customers and employees). Mean it.
  4. Focus on your people. Get to know them, absorb stress for them, let them have some fun once in a while.
  5. Read How Starbucks Changed My Life by Michael Gates Gill. It will just take just a couple of days but it will stay with you always. A job with a supportive atmosphere can be life-changing for your employees. What a way to be a blessing to someone, and how rewarding to watch them thrive and develop while in your care.

One extra last Title I recommend:

Everybody, Always by Bob Goff: If spirituality is an important part of your life, this is a compelling message on how to love even the most difficult people in your world.

Open Letter to Andy Jones

Dear Andy,

Before I knew Kevin as a spouse, or a boyfriend, or even a friend, I knew him as a co-worker. He is the best kind of co-worker: helpful, smart, fun. You can trust him to have your back and to work at his highest ability. He is the type of person who cannot cut corners, or pretend to work for the sake of appearances. He’s just not wired that way. So as a battle buddy in the field with him, I could lean on him for customer issues, technical questions or honest advice.

I imagine that any of his bosses in the automotive industry for the past 3 decades would say that in addition to being the best kind of co-worker, he is also the best kind of employee. If he is at the job, he is working. Period. Because Kevin is never one to shy away from tedious or arduous tasks, the boss knows that giving him a project is the best way to be certain that it will be completed. Kevin is always willing to make sacrifices for the company, work through lunch, show up on time and stay past the required shift. Kevin’s integrity guarantees freedom from concerns about unethical behavior. Granted, his honesty sometimes hurts if he disagrees with your opinion, as he is never one to play to the political or ego-based side of an issue, but that seems a small price to pay for an employee who genuinely wants to do well. Kevin is who he is, no more and no less. He is never someone different depending on the audience.

I suspect that as his boss, you had some of these feelings about Kevin, inspiring you to make grand gestures of support during his tenure with your company. I was a beneficiary of the generosity you extended. (See my past blog about your kindness early in the relationship: Kevin Superstar ). You allowed him to take time off when he needed surgery. All seemed to be going smoothly. The job was certainly stressful for Kevin, as he put in 70+ hours a week to manage a 60-person department, but profits and customer retention were good, so the ship stayed on a straight path to success.

Then something shifted in the relationship. Stress for both of you increased exponentially. Kevin was not allowed to replace needed employees and became severely short-staffed. Your stress seemed to spike during the time when another dealership was added to the auto group. Suddenly the mutual pressure manifested into a final break. Kevin was asked to step down from his role as Service Manager, with little explanation and few options. In the weeks since this has occurred, I have experienced a wide range of feelings. I have now reached a point where it is important to me that you know that I do not blame you for this inevitable ending, which was sad and confusing while it was taking place, but is now proving to be a blessing.

Kevin would never have left this leadership role on his own. I think you know that, based on a particularly striking moment when he was provoked to do so and held his cool. I know of no one else who could endure that. No matter how much he suffers, he just does not back down from a challenge and has a suprisingly high tolerance for discomfort. So it was up to you to make the difficult decision for him. The good news is that Kevin is suddenly healthy again. His blood pressure is normal for the first time in years, he is more emotionally accessible, he eats and sleeps better. While the future is extremely uncertain and I know it causes him great consternation, there is a peace in the assurance that the trials of his recent past are behind him.

At one point, near the end, you took Kevin out to lunch to figure out how to fix it. I wasn’t there, but I can imagine the conversation as if I were the proverbial fly on the wall. You chatted quickly, trying to get him to open up. Kevin was recalcitrant and withdrawn. When he told me about the lunch, I told him that I felt sorry for you because I know what it is like to try to bring him out of his shell after he crawls in it. It is hard to reach out and try to communicate with someone who has shut down. I get that. The difficulty is that the lunch was probably a year too late. By that time, there had been too little support, too little thanks, too little honest conversation on both sides. From a business management perspective, it was the perfect storm.

Suffice it to say, it is a sad outcome anytime someone who has worked hard for so many years is asked to step down. I know it could not have been an easy decision for you and I do not hold any grudges. In fact, if I leave you with anything, it is my sincere appreciation. I thank you for giving him the opportunity to manage such a large operation, and for the gestures you extended during that time to let him know you appreciated how much he grew the business. I thank you for all that you do in the community, and for supporting other employees who have dedicated their careers to your organization. Mostly, though, I have to thank you for letting Kevin go. I cannot fully articulate how happy I am to have him back, and I will do all I can to ensure that whatever is in the cards for his next adventure, that he does not give so much of himself that he loses his way or gives up the fun balance in his life.

For the past 8 years, when people would ask me about Kevin, I would always offer some variation of a reply indicating that he was working too much, as ever. From now on, my reply will be that Kevin is finding his life again, and is truly happy. Kevin takes ownership of his parting from your management team, knowing the responsibility to tell you what was failing rested on him. Trust was lost on both sides, and let it be a lesson to us all; we can ill afford to take any relationship for granted. We need to nurture it with more “What can I do for you?” -type questions and more “I appreciate you” -type statements.

 

My best regards to you and your organization for ongoing success. If I can ever be a blessing to you in the future, I hope you will not hesitate to contact me directly.

Sincerely,

Angela

Angela Maskey

P.S. I also need to thank you for asking me to take your Guest Relations Manager to lunch when she started her job, to give her advice. It was during that meeting I came up with the title “Happiness Manager”, a nomenclature I have since embraced officially at my job, with tremendous results. I don’t know that the lunch helped her much, but it was transformative for me. For that as well, I am forever grateful.

What a Boss Wants

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Mallory and Rosanne

I got into the management gig early in my career: I was responsible for other employees as early as age 23. Each work relationship taught me something new, and every lesson I learned the hard way.  I also acquired a sense of how to be a better employee by knowing what it felt like to be somebody’s boss. As I reach my 25th anniversary of boss-ness, (hopefully not bossiness), I offer advice on how to endear yourself to the person in charge of your employment.

It goes without saying that a boss wants an employee to show up on time, look presentable, do a good job, and get along with others. There is nothing more frustrating than having conversations with people about basic things like attendance, punctuality, attire, grooming, and being agreeable. I could tell stories of screaming matches in stockrooms or temper tantrums in dressing rooms, but today I’m operating from the assumption that basic competencies are in place. If you were just starting out as one of my new associates, what would you have to do to rise in my esteem?

Communication-aka “No surprises”

My lead associate Rosanne knows that one of my pet peeves is to find out something significant after the fact. She keeps her ears open for anything that may be of interest to me, and -as it turns out- almost everything is of interest to me. As Public Relations Manager, I am responsible for the culture of the dealership, so if a sales consultant is unhappy, or there is a plumbing issue, or the internet is down, or we have run out of coffee, it’s relevant. Rosanne’s most commonly used phrase when speaking to me is: “I just wanted to let you know.” I love her for it. All of my associates are good about communicating with me, and I encourage it. Before I leave each day, the last things I tell them include “I appreciate you” and “text me any gossip”.

Attention to Detail

The best associates I have had under my purview do things in a way that show they are not just trying to rush though a task- they want to do it well. They have nice penmanship, they make spreadsheets for simple projects and they organize work areas. For example, when asked to lead our dealership “bell-ringing” day for the Salvation Army, Mallory created a schedule of shifts, recruited volunteers, created back-ups, sent reminders and took pictures for posting on social media. When I told her she was in charge, I said she would have to take ownership of every aspect of the endeavor, and she did. Attention to detail builds trust. Surprising me with details I don’t expect creates value.

The ultimate job of everyone is to make their boss’s life easier. In order to do that, you have to think of all of the possibilities that they likely didn’t have time to consider. It means you have to use a planner and write yourself reminders. You cannot let things fall through the cracks. Your boss can either count on you, or not. My objective each day is to be the kind of employee I would want to have if I were in my boss’s shoes.

No Friend Zone

Cecil Donahue said, “If you’re completely comfortable with your boss, you are either incredibly naive or independently wealthy. Confusing friendliness with friendship is a rookie’s mistake.” The employee-boss relationship is a tricky thing, especially if you get along well. Let’s say your boss is a nice person and takes an interest in your life; maybe you have even shared time socially. It would be easy to assume that you are friends, making it awkward when the boss has to reprimand you for something. It is wise to err on the side of caution and keep the relationship strictly professional. Remind yourself that at the end of the day, they can still fire you if the situation warrants. Also avoid getting overly chummy with anyone who is in a position of elevated stature in your company. I was once addressed as “babe” by a technician who thought he was being casual and sweet. I was insulted at his lack of respect and had a hard time thinking that he took his job seriously. Beware the temptation to be too informal with people who can make decisions about your job security.

(Related note to supervisors: do not socialize with your employees after hours. Go to lunch with them? Sure. Attend Baby and wedding showers? Ok. Meet for drinks? No. Ask them to take care of your pets when you travel? No. Go to dinner at their house? No. Take a vacation together? Hell no.)

Since I’m on the topic of friendship, I feel compelled to comment on “Friend-ship”, as in Facebook. It is ok to be Facebook friends with your boss, and I prefer that all dealership employees friend me. Facebook helps me to learn more about my team and to remember birthdays. Of course, we should all remain aware that decision-makers will see our posts and judge accordingly. But if you’re posting things you wouldn’t want your boss to see, you likely need to stop posting that kind of stuff anyway. Social media is a public domain-create your image with care.

Low-maintenance 

I once managed an employee who seemed to have a bad day if I didn’t talk to her at length every morning. For some reason, if I invested 30 minutes asking about her life and letting her vent about health or spouse issues, then for the rest of the day, she would be fine. If I launched into my duties without this personal chat, she would be crabby the entire day, and other employees would complain about her disposition.  Her health was a roller-coaster, and between her back pain, her dental issues and her hormones, it seemed like she always had a reason to call out sick or complain at work. I constantly had to cover her shift or console her. I considered her to be a “high maintenance” employee, and promised myself I would avoid this type of personality when hiring in the future. It is difficult because high maintenance personalities are not always easy to spot.

My goal is someone who does their job with minimal drama. I care about you in a peripheral sense, but I do not intend to become overly emotionally invested. I like my current staff as people, and know the basics about their lives and interests. We don’t hang out beyond the dealership walls, but we are loyal to each other within those walls during the day. I aspire to always be a supportive and direct supervisor, and hope that you will be an honest and strong member of the team. Keep it professional and simple, and we’ll get along just fine.