Monday, November 19, 2018

Leadership + Strategy = Amazing Employee Experience

In 2013, I shared tips about employee engagement on my Blog. The following quote stood out by Erika Andersen.

“If a company’s focus is ‘How can we give our customers what they want,’ then that company needs great employees. To come up with the ideas, to make the great products, to interact with the customers. Employees aren’t a begrudged necessity in that kind of company – they’re what makes it possible. And if my company feels like that about me, and treats me that way, then I’m most likely to feel that way about my company and treat my company that way. VoilĂ : engagement. AND productivity, reduced turnover, attracting top talent. AND delighted customers, great products and services, big profits.”

If you’re unfamiliar with Erika Andersen and her work, then this post is for you. Erika Andersen is the founding partner of Proteus, a coaching, consulting, and training firm that focuses on leader readiness. Over the past 30 years, she has developed a reputation for creating approaches to learning and business-building that are tailored to the challenges, goals, and cultures of her clients. She and her colleagues at Proteus focus uniquely on helping leaders at all levels get ready and stay ready to meet whatever the future might bring. In addition, Erika is the author of many books as well as the author and host of the Proteus Leader Show, a regular podcast that offers quick, practical support for leaders and managers. Follow on Twitter @erikaandersen and @ProteusLeader – and also on the web at Erika and I recently had a discussion about leadership, and highlights follow below.

QUESTION: You appeared on my Blog in 2011 when I shared a review of your book, BEING STRATEGIC. (Link to this post is included at the end of this Q&A.) Can you provide a brief recap of the four parts of strategy for readers who may be unfamiliar with your work?
ERIKA ANDERSEN: Of course! Being Strategic offers a model for thinking and acting in a way that will allow you to create your best life, career, or business: to consistently make the core directional choices that will best move you toward your hoped-for future.

Here’s how it works:

Define the Challenge:
We’ve found this “pre-step” is key: first you need to get clear about the problem you’re trying to solve or the challenge you’re trying to address. This is especially important when you’re using this process with a group of people – otherwise you may find they’re all trying to solve different problems!

Clarify What Is: In this step, you get clear about where you’re starting from relative to your challenge. You note strengths or assets you now have that might help you solve the problem or address the challenge, then any weaknesses you have that might get in the way. You also look at external factors that might support you or get in your way. Getting as clear as possible about where you’re starting from grounds your visioning, in the next step.

Envision What’s the Hope: This is where you envision a future that would address the challenge as you’ve defined it, given your current reality. By creating your vision based on your actual current state and a real challenge, you can create a three-dimensional picture of a successful future that’s both practical and inspiring: a reasonable aspiration.

Face What’s in the Way:
At this point, you know where you’re starting from and where you want to go, so now you can look at what’s in the way: the obstacles that might arise between your “what is” and the future you envision. By defining the key obstacles, you’ll be able to factor overcoming them into your plan – the final step. 

Determine What’s the Path: In this last part of the process, you decide first on your strategies – those core directional choices or efforts you’ll need to make in order to achieve your hoped-for future. Once you’ve selected those strategies, you’ll craft the specific tactics that will best implement them. 

We love the almost infinite adaptability of this approach: it works for envisioning the future of your company and building a plan to achieve it; for planning a family vacation; or for creating a map of the work life you most want.

QUESTION: You appeared on my Blog in 2014 because one of your leadership lessons for a post on Forbes was timeless: Be the manager or leader you’d like to have. (Link to this post is included at the end of this Q&A.) Can you share a few highlights from your Forbes post?
ERIKA ANDERSEN: In the Forbes post you and I discussed in 2014, I noted that one of the most constructive ways to deal with having a really bad boss was to use the person as a model for what not to do.

But let’s talk more broadly about being the boss – the manager and leader – you’d like to have. Most human beings want the same things from leaders (this is the basic premise of my book Leading So People Will Follow). We look for leaders who are far-sighted – who share a compelling and inclusive view of a future that we can achieve together, and who model and move toward the vision daily with us. We want passionate leaders who remain committed to that vision, to us and the enterprise through adversity and challenge – and at the same time, who are open to input and to new ideas. It’s also important to us that our leaders be courageous: that they make difficult decisions with limited information, even when that’s uncomfortable for them – and that they take full responsibility for those decisions.

We also want wise leaders who reflect on and learn from their experience, and then think deeply about how to incorporate their understanding into making good choices. We love having generous leaders who share what they have – knowledge, power, authority, and resources – and perhaps most important, belief in our capability and our good intentions. And finally, we want trustworthy leaders who can be relied upon to keep their word and deliver on their promises – to do what they say they will do.

Think about it – you’d like to have this kind of a leader, right? So, would everyone who works for you. If you’re a leader, I would encourage you to reflect carefully and honestly on whether and to what extent you demonstrate these attributes – and if you’re not sure, ask someone who you believe sees you clearly, wants the best for you, and is willing to tell you the truth. And then do everything you can to become this kind of leader.

QUESTION: How do you explain the following statement: Your culture is your brand?

ERIKA ANDERSEN: Let me start by offering a definition of company culture: A pattern of accepted behavior and the beliefs and values that underlie and reinforce it. A pattern of accepted behavior means “how it’s OK to act” in your company – and that is most often based on the values and beliefs of the CEO and his or her team.

For instance, if leaders in Company A value profit by any means, that will drive behaviors that could create a culture that’s cut-throat, doesn’t invest much in people, maybe even crosses the line of integrity in the service of making money. If Company B’s leaders value creating benefit for all their stakeholders – customers, employees and investors – that will drive behaviors that would likely yield a culture that supports employees to reach their potential, focuses on excellent customer service, and targets profitable growth without sacrificing those things.  

If you define brand as the promise of an experience, it’s pretty clear in the examples above that those two very different cultures would create two very different brand experiences. And it wouldn’t matter what Company A says its brand is – their customers would have an experience very much determined by the profit-at-all-costs values and behaviors accepted within that company. So, in my mind, the statement ‘Your culture is your brand’ is perfectly true…even if leaders don’t realize it’s true!

QUESTION: How can a President/CEO become an organization’s number one brand ambassador?
ERIKA ANDERSEN: By getting really clear about what the brand is and making sure it arises from and is aligned with his or her values. Then by clearly defining the behaviors that embody that brand. And then – and this is the single most important thing – by living the brand daily. We practice this at Proteus. Our brand attributes (and our core values) are Illuminating, Strengthening and Trustworthy. That’s the experience we want our clients to have when they deal with us, and it’s how we want to interact with each other. My business partners and I take our responsibility to live these values very seriously, and we invite anyone in the company to tell us (in an illuminating and strengthening way!) if we’re not delivering on that commitment.

QUESTION: You say that “being able to learn new skills well and quickly is the key to success in the 21st century. Can you explain why?
ERIKA ANDERSEN: Absolutely! Unless you’re living somewhere deep in the equatorial rain forest, or on top of a mountain, you know that we’re living in an era of unprecedented change, driven largely by the enormous, daily proliferation of new knowledge. But what does that mean for us, day-to-day? This explosion of knowledge, and the technological, scientific and cultural advances that have resulted, have dramatically changed how we learn and how we work – and what it takes to succeed at work and in our lives.

For someone growing up a hundred years ago, in the early part of the 20th century, the expectations around learning were fairly clear: you would go to school to learn the basics, then land a job and learn what you needed in order to do that job reasonably well. You would go on to work in some version of that job until you retired. This was true whether you were a doctor or a pipe-fitter: the vast majority of people learned a trade or profession and practiced it throughout their entire working life. 

Fast forward to today, when most people entering the workforce expect that they will have a variety of jobs and work at a number of companies – perhaps with a stint or two of working free-lance mixed in, or even spending part of their career creating and working in their own company. It’s extremely unlikely that anyone working today will have the same job for their entire career: even for someone who is part of the ever-smaller minority of workers who stay at one company or in one field for their entire work life, that company and that field will certainly change dramatically over the course of that person’s career.

Given all this, it seems clear that those who succeed in today’s world will be those who can acquire and apply new knowledge, new skills, and new ways of operating quickly and continuously. That’s really the premise of my book, Be Bad First: that at this point in history, where knowledge is increasing exponentially, where work is changing daily, where advancements in every area of discipline nearly outpace our ability to communicate them, the ability to learn well and quickly is the most important skill we can have.


My gratitude and appreciation to Erika for once again appearing on my Blog and for sharing her amazing insights about leadership.

Are You the Type of Manager or Leader YOU Would Follow? – from 2014

Want to be Nicknamed Strategy Guru – from 2011

Monday, November 12, 2018

Two Opposite Sides of the Customer Experience Spectrum

Recently, I had two different and, as a result, unforgettable customer experiences. The reason is, they represent the complete opposite sides of the customer experience spectrum. To quote customer service expert Bill Quiseng, "Customer service is all about what you do for a customer. But customer experience is all about how the customer feels about your company." Details of the experiences follow - and please note, neither company was Amazon.

I found an online shoe company that specialized in comfortable shoes for airline personnel - since they are on their feet while they do their jobs. This company had a nice-looking boot that I was interested in purchasing, however, the online reviews indicated that a larger size might be necessary. I called the toll-free number provided on the website. The woman who answered said she had no knowledge about the shoes because she worked in the travel agency associated with the shoe company. Wait a minute, I called the number that the website provided if there were questions about the shoes. While I was scratching my head, the lady gave me an email address for further inquiries. Even more odd, the email address had nothing to do with the shoe company, i.e., the part of the email address after the @ was for a travel agency. How many touchpoints was I, the customer, supposed to have before I found the correct person who had knowledge about the shoes that the company sold?

On the opposite side of the customer experience spectrum, I was again online looking through an eCommerce site where I am a repeat customer. While I have purchased several items from this site in the past, I did not purchase anything on this particular visit. I left the site and didn't think about any of the items I had seen until I received an email from the company about an hour later.

The subject line read: "Oops, forget something?" And the email read as follows:
We noticed something caught your eye. There's still time to add it to your cart.

What a difference! The first company did not care about me as a customer, while the second company clearly valued me, had noticed I had visited its website, and wanted my business.

Here are some key take-aways from my two experiences: How does your brand show that you value your customers? Do you communicate with your customers regularly so that they feel valued? And above all, are your employees educated on company details outside of their area of expertise so that they are able to answer basic customer questions? If not, it's definitely time for some re-training.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Sharing Timeless Leadership Lessons

Over the years, thanks to social media, I have had the privilege to meet and interact with a variety of leadership experts. These leadership experts travel the world sharing their expertise to create better leaders and, as a result, more engaged workforces. One of these experts is James Strock, an independent entrepreneur and reformer in business, government, and politics. His most recent book is a must-read, Serve to Lead 2.0: 21st Century Leaders Manual. Follow James on Twitter @jamesstrock and visit his website at We recently had a discussion about leadership, and highlights follow below.

QUESTION: What defines a great leader that others want to follow?

JAMES STROCK: The ultimate test for leadership is: Would history have been different BUT FOR their service? Few leaders can credibly be accorded this accolade. One thinks of Winston Churchill. His determination to fight Hitler at the height of Nazi power—against the better judgment of many experts and the initial inclination of a large part of the English public—changed the course of history. Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Charles De Gaulle also pass the “but for” test. On the other hand, Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Mussolini, and Mao fail. Any argument for the effect on history is compromised by their reliance on coercion to achieve and maintain power. As such, they’re best seen not as leaders per se, but as criminals.

QUESTION: You often write about Theodore Roosevelt. Which three of his leadership lessons do you consider to be timeless?
JAMES STROCK: TR applied determined intentionality to render his life a leadership lesson for young Americans of his time and into the future. If leadership is performance art, he was writer, actor, director, producer and impresario—as well as his own most demanding critic and appreciative audience. This points to his overriding lesson: if a leader can be seen as personifying his vision, his or her influence can be profound. This most gifted and privileged figure strove to be worthy of the support of what were then called “ordinary Americans,” or the “plain people.” Then and now, we sense that commitment to service.

Second, TR strove to achieve integrity. Amid the kaleidoscopic changes of politics at the turn of the twentieth century, Roosevelt attempted to meet the high but “realizable” ideals he urged for the nation. He would inevitably fall short, but the valiance of the attempt was and is evident and inspiring.

Third, Roosevelt never ceased in his project of self-creation. He embraced change and sought to stretch his capacities, to challenge himself, through the final hours of his life. For such reasons, TR continues to fascinate and inspire people everywhere almost a century after his death in January 1919. In common with his role models, such as, Lincoln and Washington, he was a memorable combination of personal detachment and historical familiarity. Alone among our greatest presidents, many people feel that TR, born in 1858, could walk onto the stage and take charge today. He remains an enduring touchstone for leadership.

QUESTION: How can leaders (Presidents/CEO’s) explain their vision to employees so that they also embrace it?
JAMES STROCK: There are doubtless as many ways to convey a compelling vision to employees and citizens as there are circumstances. What is effective in all times and places is PERSONIFYING THE VISION one would present. That requires a level of commitment to those one is serving, a level of integrity, that is uniquely persuasive.

QUESTION: You appeared on my Blog in 2014, when I interviewed you about leadership, and also in 2011, when I reviewed your inspiring book, SERVE TO LEAD. (Links to the two posts are provided at the end of this Q&A.) Recently, you released a second version of your book. What’s new?
JAMES STROCK: The book includes updates, as well as new information and elaboration gleaned from readers. In addition, the presentation has been redesigned, to render it accessible to readers of all ages. It’s intended as a manual, a book that one can mark up and truly make one’s own. I’m delighted that there has been much positive feedback on the new edition.

QUESTION: Since you last appeared on my Blog, social media has become an important marketing and customer engagement tool. However, how can leaders use social media effectively? Which five leaders do you follow on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram?
JAMES STROCK: Leaders can use social media most effectively with two injunctions in the front of mind. 

First, don’t forget the “social” aspect. It’s meant for sharing, for serving others. Those who use it primarily to broadcast their own news and views, who aren’t using it to listen and learn, are foregoing much of the value. They’re confined by the limitations of serving oneself. 

Second, social media is a powerful tool for accountability. At the higher levels of leadership, the lives and treasure of many people may be at stake. If one is not leading one’s own life and work consistently with one’s expressed values, social media may bring accountability. It’s no accident that social media has resulted in a number of CEO’s being sanctioned for private activities inconsistent with their responsibilities. The entire #MeToo movement could not have become a social change milestone other than in the social media era. How this sorts out will be important, particularly as rising generations of digital natives move into increasing responsibility.

I follow many leaders, in various fields on social media—notably including Debbie Laskey! I strive to receive a range of perspectives. This results not only in learning from experts in expected ways, but, at least as important, from the serendipity of insights and references abounding among curious, engaged, leaders in all walks of life, in the USA and around the world.

Image Credit: James Strock.

My gratitude and appreciation to James for appearing on my Blog a third time and for sharing his inspiring leadership insights!

Leadership Is All About Serving Others - from 2014:

Serve to Lead - What a Visionary Concept - from 2011: