Monthly Archives: July 2014

Please Mind the Gap: The Five Biggest Differences between Working in the U.S. and England

Aviary Photo_130509608631461865First, let me be clear that I’ve never actually worked in the U.K.  I’m an American Citizen—more specifically, I’m a native Californian.  And that’s where I’ve worked.  And worked.  And worked.

However, I have learned much from my British husband and my visits across the “pond.”  Whereas most probably dote on visiting castles and historical landmarks, I find myself—HR gal that I am—watching people work in Great Britain.  Not only do I watch them, I ask them questions.  Since they’re not used to such questions, in response I often get a sneer and scoff.  I can’t blame them, as my American openness must be startling.  Heck, I’ll even tell you my salary if you ask.  But no one ever asks when I’m in England.  And I wouldn’t dare ask anyone over there what their wages were—well, not again, at least, as I tried that once and with the reaction I received, you’d think I’d asked them if they’d ever had an abortion or tried cocaine.

All that said, I have done quite a lot of observing, reading and chatting with my in-laws and husband.  That said, if we ever move over there—which we might someday—I’ll be re-writing this with actual experiences, having worked in both countries.

Taking into consideration that these are generalities, I find these are the biggest differences the two countries have in the workplace:

  1. Americans live to work; Brits work to live.  It’s as simple and as complicated as that.  And the higher you are on the “chain of command” in America, the more you work.  I sleep with my cell phone by my bed.  When work calls, I’m there.  Not only that, we define ourselves by our work.  Our first question to each other upon meeting is, “What do you do?”  When my grown sons tell me about their girlfriends, I not only ask what the girlfriend does; I also ask what the parents do.  And I don’t even care, really.  It’s not like I’m judging them.  I just want to know who this woman is because, in America, occupations determine identity.  The Brits I’ve met and observed don’t discuss such things.  And they really seem to enjoy their lives outside of work a lot more than Americans, as Americans tend to use their days off to work.  It’s not even as simple as a work / life balance.  It’s life that seems to matter in England.  Full stop.  Sure, you need wages to pay for that life, but it’s all for the life.  They get loads more vacation time than we do.  Even if we’re granted vacation, we are loath to take it.  And when we do, it’s not like work is forgotten.  For example, I’ve had the last two weeks off, the only two I’ll get this year.  And I’ve spent a fair amount of time considering all the projects at work and planning how I’ll accomplish all my goals for the coming months.
  2. Brits don’t see ambition as a virtue; Americans do.  I didn’t even know how ambitious I was until I married my husband.  But that’s the way it is here.  It’s not enough to be doing something now in America, we have to ask:  “What’s next for you?”  And it’s never ending.  And a lot of our work decisions and work relationships hinge on our ambitions.  If I get in good with so and so, I’ll move “up the ladder.”  It seems perfectly okay to the Brits I know to do what they do and do it well, no matter the prestige.  It also seems fine to stay home and take care of the children.  In America, parents who choose to stay home and raise children have to defend themselves by saying, “I have the hardest job of all!”  Why do we have to make everything a job?  The Brits don’t have to defend anything, and plodding along in simple jobs with okay wages isn’t frowned upon.  Think about the way we speak.  If someone’s cooked you a tasty meal in America, we say, “Good job!”  We say, “Good job” to just about anything—including bearing children or making it safely across a street.  The British say, “Well done.” To them, life isn’t a “job.”
  3. Labor / Labour laws favor the employee in England; in America, at-will employees could potentially be fired on a whim.   Let’s face it, I’m well aware in my position that Americans have less security in their jobs, as one of my primary responsibilities is being in charge of terminations.  At some companies in America, workers live under the threat of being sacked, which has only ballooned after our great recession.  But I wouldn’t say our labor laws are draconian.  For the most part, I do think they favor the employee over the employer, especially in California (the states abide by their own labor laws in addition to federal labor laws).  In England, however, labour laws favor the employee entirely.  In fact, most employees work under a contract with clear specifies about when and how they can be terminated.  And the reasons for termination must be egregious. In America, you can sack someone for being late three times in a week, even if it was due to illness.  If you have a written policy specifying this, you can legally support the termination.  From an employer’s vantage point, it’s a boon in America to be able to separate a poor performer, bad boss or bad cultural fit.  I’m sure some employers in England would love to have this ability.  However, having this ability assumes that leaders are entirely ethical and fair, which isn’t always to the case.
  4. Americans prefer a positive working environment with lots of cheer; the English would probably be annoyed by this. Again this is a generality, but good cheer in England seems to be reserved for the pub.  Americans, on the other hand, try to have fun at work.  They’re encouraging to the point of rah rah—or at least pretend to be.  Not liking a co-worker is frowned upon.  And I’ve written plenty of blogs about this.  I’ve talked to my British family and some British workers who don’t expect to like their co-workers or have a lot of “jollies” at work—as these are reserved for the pub.  In England, rarely is there a celebration for an “individual” job well done; rather, the person who did the job well is poked fun at, and he or she is loath to toot his or her own horn and risk being labeled a “wanker.”  In England, it’s always the group who gets credit, rather than the individual worker.  In America, the workplace is a microcosm of its society.  We speak all day about “teamwork,” but it’s really about individual successes and touting one’s own value and talent.  I remember a boss I had in America writing on my evaluation that I needed to take compliments better, as I’m actually embarrassed receiving praise or recognition for work I’ve done.   She said I needed to say “thank you,” rather than “it wasn’t a big deal.  I was just doing my job.”  Also I tend to give credit to others.  This isn’t the American way at work.  In England, according to the Brits I know, taking credit and relishing praise would be seen as conceited and boastful.  In America, there are whole leadership workshops on the value of employee praise and recognition.
  5. Basic Communication.  Because this is a social construct we can only learn growing up in a certain society, this is one of the biggest gaps the two countries have.  In America, we are direct and firm.   A decisive leader who doesn’t have time for niceties or egalitarian consensus can do very well over here.  Also, we tend to overstate things, whereas the English understate matters.  So, let’s say there’s a medium-sized problem with an ongoing project.  The American boss would say that “all hell was breaking loose,” gather everyone working on it in a room, shout some directives, and solve it immediately.  Seriously.  The Brit would say, “We are having a bit of a problem, here.  Perhaps we should all meet, yes?  Right then…”  In America, many workers have a sense of “now.”  Emails can be short and void of any pleasantries.  Our “fix the problem ASAP” is their paragraph-long polite request.  In fact, in NYC, they don’t say, “Please mind the gap,” as people step off trains and subways.  They say, “Watch the gap.”  No please is offered.  Internal communications is similar, as England has a greater tolerance for longer written material.  In America, we have a terrible saying:  Keep it Simple Stupid (KISS).  We like extremely short and targeted emails at work.  We prefer texts, actually. We love our bullet points and concise memos.  In England, this isn’t as true.  They are indirect and side-wind around subject matter.  Americans proudly “tell it like it is,” saying they have no time to waste.  We actually do have the time to waste, but we like to make sure everyone always knows how busy and burdened we are, as being overworked is a virtue.

I want to reiterate that these are generalities, as citizens of both countries are varied in their individual behaviors.  This is simply a cultural overview of comparisons—and I am certain many will agree or disagree.  Either way, it must be said that even though we share a language and lineage, we are still different cultures—and our disparate cultural constructs are sometimes most apparently revealed in workplace settings.

 

Welcome Back: How to Build a Service-Centric Workplace Culture

For those of you who’ve been asking, my ebook, Welcome Back:  How to Consistently Provide Extraordinary Service to Guests & Customers by Building a Service-Centric Workplace Culture, is on the Kindle shelves now http://goo.gl/JB7sNF.  If you’ve struggled to improve service at your company or business or are in charge of service training, this is a must read.  You will learn the following:

  • Why you should develop a service culture
  • Where to begin
  • The best and worst service out there
  • How to create a workplace culture in which poor guest service is unacceptable and excellent guest service in the norm
  • Consistency and loyalty:  the crucial connection
  • Service strategies and standards
  • Service best practices
  • How it’s all in the details
  • The skinny on cookie-cutter customer service
  • The ABCs of service shoulds and should nots
  • How to hire right for the service industry
  • Why not to skimp on training

http://goo.gl/JB7sNF

Welcome Back

 

Don’t Skimp on Training if You Want a Service Culture

Once you’ve developed your service standards based on your values, mission and brand as well as reformed your hiring practices, you will need to invest in results-driven and culture-shaping service training.  Ongoing training with refreshers, accountability and follow-through is essential and cannot be skipped.  But what is the best way to go about this?

I would recommend hiring an excellent learning and development professional—either as a consultant or as a permanent employee—and creating your program from within in concert with leaders at the executive level as well as marketing.  Though some companies choose to outsource training, this isn’t generally successful, as the companies offering service training are not tailoring this training for your brand.  They will train on technique, to be sure, but the training won’t have the breadth it needs to be effective in your overall service culture.  Also, the training will be a one-time deal—the techniques practiced perhaps for a short while but soon forgotten.

At one company in the hospitality industry I consulted for, I chose to create a program called “Don’t Be a Stranger.”  It involved sessions and workshops for company leaders, who then participated in training the front-line employees—the best of whom compensated more to become trainers themselves.  The training was tailored to this company whose profits depended on the ability to retain its guests.  Since their value was to make their guests feel like family, the training was appropriate and relevant.

In practice, the training consisted of day-long workshops with refresher courses and on-going e-learning and accountability through quarterly performance evaluations.  Awards programs were also tied to the “Don’t Be a Stranger” program, during which employees met in town hall meetings.  The meetings would always begin with the Door’s song, “People are Strange,” which added to the fun.  Testimonials would be offered up, and stories told about specific guest experiences.  Prizes would be given, and the enthusiasm and energy was thick in the air.  Let me say quickly that these employees were treated well, compensated fairly and offered ample opportunity.

The actual sessions would address every aspect and use adult learning theories (ALTs).  Part was academic, as knowledge about the business is crucial.  Part was mixed media and discussion.  There were plenty of exercises and practice through role playing.  Employees left with skills and tactics.

Let me say that this wasn’t an inexpensive dalliance into providing employees with a few dos and don’ts.  This was a thorough cultural shift involving everyone from the owner on down.  It wasn’t cheap, but the long-term profits will pay for it a hundred times over.  In fact, if they hadn’t decided to invest in serious training, they might be out of business entirely, as their reputation had taken a nosedive.

Training was first to go in the great recession, but it’s time to bring it back in its most sophisticated version.  And it’s most sophisticated version means complete support and commitment from the top executives.

If you have shoddy service and are seeking to build a service-culture, one in which it is socially unacceptable to provide poor service to guests or customers, train your employees, and then train them again.

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How to Hire Right for the Service Industry

If you’re looking to provide service that exceeds expectations, you’ll need the right hires to provide it.  In fact, recruiting should be one of your highest priorities.  Just ask Zappos.  When it started, CEO Tony Hsieh actually did all the hiring for every position for the first couple years.  After this, he was assured that those hired would now know who to hire.  Given Zappos’ amazing service, they’ve obviously succeeded.

Another thing they’ve instituted, along with several other giants like Adobe and Amazon, is paying people to quit.  This is a great idea in weeding out employees who aren’t happy or don’t fit in.  Poor service performance costs big bucks.  Much more than the few thousand these companies spend on paying people to quit.

For most of us, however, we’re attempting to create a service culture in a business that’s existing without one.  So following Zappos’ example isn’t possible.  Recruiting from this day forward for service-minded workers is.  Here are some steps to take to ensure you’re hiring right.

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Revise hiring criteria.  The service industry generally hires for personality.  But what does this mean?  I’ll tell you what it doesn’t mean—it doesn’t mean you hire a bunch of hammy outgoing talkative sorts.  It means you hire people who are likable and know how to listen and aim to please.  Naturally, they can’t be so shy that they’re tongue-tied and shaky around others.  But outgoing to the extreme can lead to some big service sins.  I’ll also bring up something taboo given our labor laws: you are also hiring for a certain appearance.  I’m not suggesting you hire only good-looking people (good luck!); I’m saying you hire those who are fresh and clean and neutral.  Someone with a big tattoo of a demon on her neck might not work out unless you’re hiring for a tattoo parlor.   You’re seeking people who won’t offend anyone in the first three seconds, which is how long it takes to make a first impression on guests or customers.  You’ll also want articulate individuals, those who can speak clearly with their voice (an accent is fine) and body.  The point is you don’t want any marble-mouthed slouchers as the face of your brand.   And speaking of, clearly know what your brand is and who you want representing it.  Your criteria should be shaped around it.

Develop interview questions that target service-minded individuals.  Here are some examples of the best service-industry interview questions:

Describe a time when you assisted someone at work.  What did you do, and what was the outcome?  Answers should come easily for someone ready for the service industry because if someone isn’t a team player, they’ll have a hard time coping.  There may or may not have been a successful outcome—but the key is to learn from whatever outcomes occurred.  Listen for specifics rather than generalities.

What sorts of social activities do you enjoy and why?  If they say they prefer activities that aren’t social, they might have difficulties in the service industry.  On the other hand, if they prefer quieter activities because they like to devote their energies to customers at work, they might be a great hire.

What does the word “hospitality” mean to you?  This could mean many things to many people, but it should include the idea of giving and helping others. But I have received answers like this:  “It’s an industry in which you get tipped a lot.”  Bad answer.

What does it mean to be a “people person?” If their definition is someone who is outgoing and the life of the party, you might want to raise the red flag.  A good service-minded individual isn’t an attention hog.  It’s a person who cares for others and can intuit what others need.

Describe a time you went above and beyond at work?  What did you do, and what was the outcome?  Again, they should have multiple answers with good specifics. You don’t want someone saying, “I always go above and beyond.  I’m known for that.”

Describe a time you were short-staffed and busy at work.  How did you handle it?  And how did it turn out? Answers should be honest.  People who can honestly assess their behaviors in busy situations are generally good hires.  If they thought it was no big deal, then they probably haven’t developed the skillset yet to manage multiple tasks.

Describe a problem you’ve had to solve.  What was it? And what did you do?  Listen closely for the skills of listening, thinking outside the box and thoughtfulness.  If they come back with, “I got my supervisor and followed policy,” you might want to call in the next candidate.

Describe a stressful situation and how you handled it? Again, we need honest assessments and innate tactics to deal with stress.  I never like hearing someone say they don’t get stressed because the service industry is stressful to anyone with a pulse.  I like hearing people say they learned from the situation and used what they learned to handle future situations.

Describe something you’ve done outside of work to help others.  Someone who’s perfect for the service industry generally has the personality meant to help others. They volunteer or go out of their way to promote others or provide opportunities.

Revise the hiring process.  Perhaps you try group interviews, which gives you an opportunity to see how candidates interact with others.  Or maybe you come up with something more creative.  One casino resort I know has candidates audition with whatever talent they have.  They hold these auditions in their comedy club, and candidates can “do” whatever talent they may have.  This may be anything from whistling to building a house of cards.  It’s fun and social, and they get really good candidates. I would caution you, however, on avoiding those who seem to enjoy the talent show too much.  As I said, hammy sorts aren’t always the best at helping others because they tend to be “it’s all about me” personalities.

Consider experience secondary to personality.  Most tasks in the service industry can be learned by bright capable people.  A personality, on the other hand, is yours forever.  Just because someone has been working a different type of job doesn’t mean they aren’t perfect for the service industry.  One of the best workers I ever hired only had experience in rest homes, where she worked with the elderly.  In her interview, she described how much she loved helping the people there, how she delighted in doing special things for them and how much she cared about them.  She’d never waited tables in her life, but she was smart, warm and had a terrific genuine smile.

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The above will help you as you being to develop a service culture, but you can’t be helped unless you have an excellent recruiter or recruitment team who understands what it means to work in the service industry.  Make sure you first hire the right recruiters.  Human Resources has long been criticized for not understanding the business they work for; but in the case of hiring for service jobs, it’s essential that the HR Recruiter spend a week or two shadowing the front-line employees.

Hiring right is not a step you can skip when developing a service culture.  Remember, the people working directly with your guests or customers are you.  They are the face of the company.  You can have everything else in place—the best product in the world, the fanciest architecture, the greatest managers—but if you hire the wrong people to work with your customers or guests, all is for naught.

 

Developing a Service-Centric Workplace Culture

Having a service-centric workplace culture means that shoddy service won’t just be something an employee is disciplined for; it means that bad service will not be tolerated by anyone at any level.  Bad service becomes socially unacceptable.  That’s what makes for a strong service culture—it’s not just about threats and awards—it’s about a company’s identity as a whole.

If your business is new, you’ll have an easier time building a service culture. It’s those that are trying to do an entire paradigm shift who will need to study and practice the steps below.  Essentially, this is how to build a service culture in a business that currently has a reputation for mediocre to bad service.  And, by the way, firing all your line-level employees isn’t the answer.   Really, they aren’t to blame.  I promise.  If anyone is to blame, it’s the business’s leaders.

To shift to a service culture, let’s take a look at a big cultural shift in society and examine how the change came about.

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Since the invention of the automobile, people have been driving drunk.  The difference now as opposed to “then” is that drinking and driving is absolutely socially unacceptable.  Just a few decades ago, the social construct around drinking and driving was whether you could get away with it or not.

So how did this social construct change?  And how can you apply it to your business’s service culture?  First, it started with data.  More and more data was being publicized about the devastating results associated with drunk driving.  This data was specific and detailed, attaching faces to tragedy.  Real stories were used, and activism ensued (MADD).  After society was made aware of the implications, it began to shift its view. It became personal for many who’d heard these stories or knew someone affected by drunk drivers.  And this is when the penalties for driving drunk became stiffer—drunk driving became a serious crime.  Oddly, back in the 80’s, drunk driving was a contemporary of speeding.  Now it’s right up there with assault and illegal drug distribution.  It’s no longer simply a traffic violation—it’s a felony.

Okay, so how does this relate to changing the service culture at your business?  Let’s say you have a reputation of subpar service, but your employees and even managers consider it acceptable.  In fact, they might view the customer or guest as the enemy.

Share data.  Present to them data.  Facts.  Connect their pay and employee status and future opportunities to guest or customer patronage.  Do not hide numbers from them—connect them.

Use real stories.  If you just shove a list of service standards at your line-level employees without attaching them to real stories—real customers or guests and real superstar service—your standards will float off into space.  What you’re trying to do is ground the standards in real experiences.

Engage in activism.  Take those few superstar service providers and make them trainers.  Make them service ambassadors.  Build an army of influencers who practice, believe in and are ready to promote excellent service.

Make the penalties stiff for poor service. I have worked at companies who would write someone up and fire him or her for policy violations or attendance. However, someone who provided poor service was rarely even coached.

That’s how you shift a paradigm.  Imagine trying to do the above as a middle manager.  It couldn’t be done.  It must have the support and participation from the top executives.  Added to all of the above, a company will have to revise the following:

The Company Handbook.  A handbook thick with dos and don’ts won’t convey the truths of a service culture.  If you have concerns about liability, you certainly could try having a “policy manual” as well as a handbook.  The handbook should convey who the company is.  The handbook should pronounce its service standards, faith in the employee and commitment to a service culture.  It should excite the employee to provide the best service possible.

Hiring Metrics.  Hiring for a service culture is about hiring for personality.  The recruitment team needs to be schooled on who can live up to the service standards and provide the best service to customers and guests.

Training.  If you’re hiring for personality, you’ll need to provide ample on-the-job training.  You’ll also need a cohesive service training.  During the recession, the first thing people cut out of their HR departments was their training programs. Big mistake.  It is much more expensive to provide subpar service via untrained employees than to train them properly.  A reputation is everything, and untrained employees will destroy it.  In-N-Out learned this a long time ago.  They’ll hire someone straight out of high school with a good personality and zero experience before they’ll hire someone with 10 years of experience from Taco Bell.

 

 

 

 

Is Your Customer Service Training Program So 2000 and Late?

Many schools of thought exist regarding customer service training.  But from videos to whole programs, it always alarms me when a company is exclusively using materials they purchased in the 80s.

Just so you’re aware, the world has since changed.  Drastically.  Customers and guests have changed, too.  Their expectations.  Their personalities.  Their age.  Employees have changed, too.  Do you have any idea what cynical millennial employees say after having watched one of these archaic training videos (note the word “video”)?

The mistake is this.  Rather than build a service culture and training program specific to your industry and business, people seek out the tried and true.  But the tried and true were tried and true in a different era.  With the Great Recession and ACA requirements—its mandate causing some employers to hire more part-time employees—and the absolute wild growth of technology, new service standards and training methods must follow.

But here’s how it often goes:  a company or business is receiving complaints about guest service.  Human Resources is contacted to do some guest service training and employee award program.  The Training Manager then Googles existing programs or brings in a consultant.  But what you need to understand is that your service training program needs to specific for you. It needs to be intrinsic for your brand and vision.  It needs to be tailor made.

If you look at Apple—who was actually influenced by Ritz Carlton—you’ll see that this is exactly what they did.  They developed a training manual based on their vision.  And this is why going into an Apple store is an experience, rather than a transaction.  Apple’s training manual is based on a simple and easy to memorize set of standards, and it also provides detailed tools on how to execute the premise—tools that include empowerment and feedback.

  • Approach customers with a personalized, warm welcome.
  • Probe politely to understand the customer’s needs (ask closed and open-ended questions).
  • Present a solution for the customer to take home today.
  • Listen for and resolve any issues or concerns.
  • End with a fond farewell and an invitation to return.

I mentioned above that Apple was influenced by Ritz Carlton in that it wants its employees to be empowered.  Ritz Carlton employees actually have the ability to “fix” a problem with an allowance they are given for service issues.  If someone’s lost something, a bellman has the power to purchase a new one for the guest.  So rather than sort through a number of layers to get the right signature for a purchase, the bellman can decide then and there to create guest service worth remembering.  The guest whose item was replaced will certainly choose Ritz Carlton again and again.

So creating your own training program doesn’t mean you aren’t influenced by the best service around you. In fact, Ritz Carlton has a leadership center offering top-notch leadership training. Clearly, we can learn from each other, and then others can learn from us.

In order to improve service and create a service culture, do an inventory of the various training programs you have used or currently use.  Incidentally, if the entire company isn’t using one thing, you’re in trouble.  Consistency is key.  More about that later.  One of the most popular that’s still being used today is The FiSH Philosophy.  This training philosophy and wildly prized program was created in 1997—over 17 years ago.  There are many companies still showing the video (though you can get a DVD now) to its new hires.  It’s all about choosing an attitude even if the work isn’t all that fun.  Though some have criticized it as a way to justify an unsatisfactory work environment, I do think it is important to choose an attitude.  The problem, however, is that this is about fishmongers tossing fish around and making it sort of a game to sell them.  So it’s not really about attitude to the modern hire, it’s about gamification, a word that didn’t even exist until 2010.

My criticism of the FiSH philosophy is this:  there are some employers out there hell bent on making money on the backs of their employees, and so their employees aren’t compensated well.  They’re not communicated with.  They’re mistreated within the legal limits.  To tell these employees that it’s all about their attitude will doom you to the crummiest service out there.  If your employees feel that they’re not being treated well, you’ll see the results in service.

I’ve been to other companies who continue to use outdated programs that involve mind-numbing PowerPoints with clipart graphics and inspiring quotes.  They show DVDs with gratuitous racial stereotypes and cheesy acting.  The music in one safety video I saw sounded like it was straight out of a porn from the 1970s.

These companies need to know that the world has plugged in and training needs to reflect this.  Delivery of training needs to be truly interactive and blended with media of all types for all different sorts of learners.

But the outdated training techniques aren’t the worst of it.  The worst is that participants attend the training, and there’s no follow-through or connection to the reality of their day-to-day experience.  No one ever speaks about it again, actually. So the training is not enforced, and it’s usually just forgotten.

Added to this, some try to enforce it in strange and ROI-killing ways.  They start an old-fashioned awards program that’s based on faulty observations rather than data.  They start an employee of the month or year…again based on faulty observation.  Just so you know, service extends beyond an observed moment.  For example, I knew a cocktail server who was observed providing excellent service to a guest and was rewarded for it.   Meanwhile, the manager was later told this server was ignoring the guests who didn’t tip well.  Plus, she was causing multiple employee relations issues with her co-workers.  This is why we need data to award our star service providers.   As far as employee of the month or year programs, I find them faulty.  Rarely are they sustained long enough to matter.  When you link time to something, you need time to make the program count and have a return on your investment.

Constant feedback based on data and close and constant observation is your best way forward—not an annual review or occasional award.

With that said, one of the worst things companies do to get this feedback is hire mystery shoppers.  Now, if you hire them internally, that’s another ballgame.  I’m talking about paying a company to come in and essentially grade your workers on the singular experience they had.  If you read my blog, you know how I feel about the mystery of mystery shoppers.

To summarize, here’s what you need to do to ensure your service training is relevant and modern:

  • Tailor your training program under the umbrella of your vision and brand
  • Update your training materials
  • Make certain to use modern blended learning training styles
  • Enforce training with actual real-time feedback
  • Make certain your awards program is relevant and sustainable
  • Train a cynical eye toward Mystery Shoppers and others who claim they can fix your service.  Only you can improve your service.

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How to Take a Real Vacation and Mean It!

In a couple of weeks, I’m taking a vacation.  And this year, for the first time in a decade, I plan on taking a real one.  For those business leaders out there whose vacations are only defined as not being physically on site, you’ll understand what I’m saying.

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Given this, it’s ironic that I am constantly encouraging others to take their vacations and truly let go of their responsibilities for at least two weeks out of the year.   For those of us working in the U.S., this is the typical length of our vacations, whereas France’s workers will generally take a whole month.  In fact, there is no federal mandate in the U.S. for vacation time, so employers here are not legally obligated to provide any vacation time whatsoever.  Contrary to this, France mandates 30 days of paid vacation, and the U.K. mandates 28.   But even if we U.S. workers had that much time, would we take it?  For department heads and business leaders, my guess is no.

I understand this.  I understand this so well that my vacations—if I even took a vacation—have consisted of phone calls and emails and occasionally stopping by work to sign documents or answer questions.  Even while out of the country, I’d race to the nearest business with free wi-fi, so I could read my emails and respond to the ones I felt couldn’t wait—which were most of them.  Why had I even bothered leaving my “out-of-office” response?

But this year, I’ve had to stop and contemplate my personal anti-vacation stance.  Did I feel an innate responsibility to my company and staff?  Partly.  Or—should I even admit this—was it my fear of losing control?   Moreover, I must ask myself:  am I really so important that the company would collapse if they couldn’t reach me?  The answer’s no.  And this is because I have a highly competent staff and peers who can step in to make the tough decisions.  My staff, in fact, knows how I think and generally aligns their decisions with mine.  But so what if they do something I wouldn’t have done.  Maybe what they do will be better.  Maybe it will be worse, but that’s okay, too.

A vacation from work means you aren’t supposed to work.  It doesn’t mean I am available by phone.  It doesn’t mean I’ll rush in if you need me.  It means that I am not working in any fashion.  So, I’m committed to taking the necessary steps to make this happen:

  1. Be clear in my out-of-office messages (phone and email) that I will be on vacation
  2. Leave details (phone and email) for several individuals who can be contacted while I’m out, and who can make decisions on my behalf
  3. Send an email out the day before I leave with this same information, noting to all that I will be on vacation.  Do not say “out,” say vacation. 
  4. Remind myself that it’s okay to take a vacation and that it’s healthy and will recharge my ability to be the best leader I can be
  5. Let go of control and trust others, relishing the freedom in this mindset
  6. Unplug and unplug and unplug.  I could add a few more “unplugs,” given my many devices. Leaving everything on is not an option.  It’s way too tempting for me to take a peek at my emails or listen to my voicemails.  On that note, I will need to ignore anyone who doesn’t understand what it means to take a real vacation and mean it, someone like I used to be.

So, this year I’m making the taking-a-real-vacation-pledge.  And I think you should join me.  Of course, don’t try to call or email or text because I will not only be unavailable, I will be on vacation.