Thursday, September 23, 2010

Communicating Change – Communilistening?

Off late I’ve considered a rather perplexing phenomenon with a group of managers. As managers go, they do communicate with the team; but the general consensuses are, they’re not really communicating; rather, talking to themselves.
You’d think that it’s pretty obvious; most people just love the sound of their voices. But here’s the challenge - how do you circumvent this tendency to zombify the audience?

Insight 1 – Answer your audience’s question, not yours:-
Honestly, this is kinda hard to explain; but I’ve observed this propensity to imagine that you are the one asking the question and answering it to yourself.

What do I mean by that?

Well, the manager goes through this mental journey of how he has come to the conclusion with a big assumption – He assumes that the question is formed and understood like how he has formed it. So a windy explanation of fundamentals ensues with lessons learned, factors and other points of views and such gets verbally vomited ad infinitum (well, it feels like it). Academics and Consultants fall easily into this trap.

Recommendations:- Clarify the question. Ask “Why” the question was posed in the first place; then answer that question. Not only will it show that as a manager/leader you are concerned with the person’s challenges, you’ll get better quality acceptance of your answer and alignment.

Insight 2- Questions don’t seek Answers; they unravel intents (To Give, to Take or to Avoid)
The Dale Carnegie courses talk about “What’s in it for Me” radio station (WII.FM), i.e. when you’re talking to someone, you have to frame it such that the audience knows how they will be impacted in a positive manner. I like to call it, the “To Take” mind set.

So here’s my attempt at improving this point of view, it’s not only about WII.FM, people can be contributors by nature; they ask because they really want to know how they can contribute to the goals and objectives of the manager’s vision.
The team sincerely wants to know how best they can coordinate such that the goals are met; and people need to know how fast or how slow change efforts progress based on their contributions. Amabile and Kramer (2010) have shown that progress is a powerful motivational tool; and a motivated team is an ‘engaged’ team.

As a manager/leader you are responsible to ensure that the team is ‘engaged’ throughout the journey. There’s the 3rd intention which is pretty negative so let’s not dwell there, hopefully the “to avoid” description speaks for itself.

Here’s a quick run through of potential unspoken questions that needs to be answered instead:-
1. How can I contribute?
2. How does what I’m doing now, fit the big picture; is it still relevant?
3. Why am I doing what I’m doing now?
4. How can I ‘affect’ the required ‘change’? Or rather; is what I’m doing really useful versus airy fairy fluff.

Communicating is hard, communicating and listening are even harder; and effective change hinges on affective and effective communication.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Abstraction: Queuing is your problem, not the customers...

Sometimes we get too caught up in optimizing, slashing and improving we forget that there’s a different ‘context’, ‘frame of thought’ and ‘paradigm’ to approaching any problem. That frame of thought is typically disruptive or more accurately disjunctive that it separates the existing reality into a new one.

Let’s take queuing for example. There are several constraints to optimizing a queue, for example;

  1. The number of channels or service personnel available
  2. The speed in which each personnel is able to service the customer
  3. The time in which these personnel are ‘operational’ (i.e. 7 days a week, 8 hours a day etc)

So companies place service personnel into training, create reams of documentation and process charts that ‘robotizes’ their capabilities on top of automation tools to supposedly hyper speed all those back end processing.

Appointments help somewhat but they’re not too efficient for mass services type of operation and customers themselves tend to be undisciplined in keeping to the appointment leading to backlogs.

So the problem statements are:-
  1. Customers wait for too long and they balk or renege
  2. They choose an off peak hour to go to a branch only to discover that the services that they require are prioritized to only 1 booth and that booth also has an annoying queue.
And what we really want is, on demand, on the spot service WHENEVER a customer enters into a branch. Is this achievable? Potentially yes – through abstracting the problem statement and the constraints.

But what are we abstracting?

Let’s think about the constraints a bit, the extensive queuing occurs because people tend to converge on commonly known and accessible landmarks. They wait because there’s only X amount of people available to service the potentially hundreds of people waiting to be served. This also happens because:-
  1. Customers have to be physically at the branch or retail service centres to take a number
  2. Customers can’t know for certain how long it will take before their number is called.
  3. Customers still need to be physically present to be called.
Do you see it yet? The Eureka moment...?

Level 1 Abstraction
What if we can eliminate the need for physical presence, what if queue numbers can be taken online anywhere, over the mobile phone for example; this would allow the customer to pre-plan his trip and roughly estimate when he should start the journey to your office, making the experience less taxing.

Level 2 Abstraction – It’s really about time, not the queue
Now what if the service provider is able to tell the customer exactly how long it will take before we reach his queue number; so now the customer can pre-plan his journey, queue while he’s not physically there and time his entrance precisely (well almost).

You’ve just eliminated the concept of queuing from the customer and replaced it with ‘time’. Remember the earlier principle ->

“Do not make your problem the customer’s”.

Beyond guaranteeing time, you are now able to guarantee service to the customer; when the moment he walks into the branch, he shall wait for no more than 5-10 minutes. And that margin can be further reduced with the old school optimization methods that we mentioned earlier.

Level 3 Abstraction – The head shake moment (mashing things up)
So now imagine this, all the queuing system from all your branches are made available on line to the customers and aggregated into a database and updated real time. Customers just need to recommend the time that he wishes to conduct a business at the branch; the solution recommends a branch closest to him through the GPS system, with the shortest queuing time for the time slot that he wants. There’s no such thing as waiting number, and the customer is notified should there be an earlier slot or whether he’ll be running late because the GPS works both ways.

What we’ve just done is abstracting a queuing problem to a focus on time, availability and location. More importantly; bringing customer centricity to the fore.