Category Archives: Kate Zabriskie

First Aid for Burned-Out Teams

By Kate Zabriskie

Kate Zabriskie-burned-out

The team’s exhausted. They’re burned-out, and I am too. I don’t know if we can recover. We’ve been working at 150 percent for over a year—at least most of us have.

More change? Really? We’ve been through three major transitions in as many months. Everyone is really on edge. I am pretty sure Susan is going to quit.

Team? We work in the same building, but that’s about where it starts and stops. I’m hoping to get out of here soon.

Even in the best of times, creating and maintaining a high-functioning team is work. When the team is burned-out, the task is infinitely harder, but it can be done.

Step One

The first step is accepting a list of truths.

When the team is burned-out, the task is infinitely harder, but it can be done. Click To Tweet

Truth One: People have different levels of buy-in, a range of professional goals, and varying home/work demands.

Truth Two: Not everyone experiences burnout in the same way nor is work always distributed evenly in most organizations. Some people probably are more burned-out than others.

Truth Three: Great teamwork will compensate for a lack of resources in the short term. However, teams that are stretched too thin for too long begin to show signs of wear and tear after a while.

Truth Four: If the leader isn’t a believer in what the team needs to accomplish or isn’t working as hard as he or she can to bring the team over the finish line each day, team members will know it and react in a range of ways—most of which are neutral at best.

Truth Five: Transparency matters. People don’t like being left in the dark, or worse still, lied to.

Truth Six: Too many changes at once usually don’t go over well unless there’s a logical flow to them, a sense of fairness about what’s being changed, and the absence of unnecessary chaos or drama.

Truth Seven: Elephants in a room stay there if they’re allowed to do so. If a team is not prepared to operate with candor and address any unspoken issues, there’s only so much that can be done to save the group.  

Truth Eight: Team members’ perceptions of the team’s condition are their truth. You may have plenty of data to argue to the contrary, but until people are ready to listen and believe what you show them, what they currently think is what is.

Step Two

Once you’ve got a firm understanding of the basic truths, the next step is taking a long and hard look at what’s working, what isn’t, and why. Does everyone understand and buy into the team’s mission? Is work distributed fairly? Are some people doing more than they should have to do and others doing less than they should? Are people resentful of each other? Is there drama, and do you know the source? Is the team’s burnout a recent phenomenon or has its decay been long in the making? Is the burnout caused by internal factors, external factors, or a combination of both? Have people been misled or lied to in the past by those in positions of authority?

Those questions are just the tip of the iceberg and some ideas to get started. In fixing burnout, asking the right questions is as important, if not more, so than taking action. A good list of questions will help you reduce the likelihood that you are treating symptoms or curing the wrong disease altogether.

Step Three

When you think you have a good grasp of the current situation and have verified your findings with others, it’s time to start thinking about what could be. A fast way to imagine a different state is to work through some more questions.

  • Why does our team matter to the organization and what value do we offer?
  • How do we want to feel about our work?
  • What gets us excited about our work or what do we enjoy?
  • What changes do we need to our work product, our work processes, or our people interactions?
  • What needs to stay the same?
  • What level of performance do we need from each team member?
  • What are we going to do if those levels aren’t met?
  • What additional resources do we need?
  • What would success look like?
  • What can we do to encourage transparency and communication?
  • How will we celebrate improvements?

Step Four

With a clear view of the present and a possible future, the next step is prioritizing. In most cases, burned-out teams don’t burn out overnight. Often the process is long and marked by a series of declines, bad luck, and unfortunate circumstances. Consequently, the recovery process is often long. In fact, the team may never realize some of the elements identified in step three for a long time, or maybe ever. Most recoveries don’t happen overnight. The trick is to keep the truths discussed in step one in mind as you prioritize a plan of action to get from the reality you uncovered in step two and the future you envisioned in step three.

Step Five

The final step in the recovery planning process is creating a deliberate communication plan. Recognize that you need to over-explain and repeatedly share information. Once is not enough. Also, not all recoveries are linear. Your team will have some good days and bad. What’s important is making progress in the right direction over time. After a series of successes, everyone who is still with the group should be feeling a little less burned-out and a lot more excited about the work at hand.

With these five steps well in hand, you’re positioned to provide some immediate triage to your team members that are battling burnout. Burnout can be pervasive throughout an entire company, so get your first-aid kit out as soon as you pick up on the problem, and mitigate the issue before it negatively impacts your operation.

Kate Zabriskie is the president of Business Training Works, Inc., a Maryland-based talent development firm. She and her team help businesses establish customer service strategies and train their people to live up to what’s promised. For more information, visit www.businesstrainingworks.com

5 Signs it’s Time to Say ‘Goodbye’ to Your Customer

And How to Breakup the Right Way

By Kate Zabriskie

Kate Zabriskie-to say goodbyet

Goodbye customer! It’s nothing personal (at least not usually). Sometimes customers’ expectations can’t be met, other times customers require an inordinate amount of time, and on rare occasions, a customer’s behavior may expose an organization to undue peril. When any of those situations occur, it’s best to say “goodbye” and to do so quickly in a way that creates the least resentment on both sides.

5 Signs It’s Time To Part Company And How To Say So Long:

Prolonging a relationship that isn’t working does no one any favors. It’s usually not fun to say "goodbye," but once you do, you’ll have more time to say "hello" to customers who should conduct business with you. Click To Tweet
1. They cause 80 percent of your problems and don’t contribute even close to 80 percent of your revenue.

From time to time, any customer could require more energy than others. Those high-demand situations are normal. What isn’t normal, however, is the perpetual squeaky wheel that routinely disrupts normal business operations.

Customers who buy very little and cost a lot time, personnel, or mental energy to service may not be the customers you want to keep—especially if serving them prevents you from taking care of customers or clients who are more profitable and easier to help.

Goodbye Move: When customer is more work than it’s worth to you, the easiest way to say goodbye is to rely on the classic “It’s not you, it’s me” approach.

For example: “Brad, I’m concerned. I’ve reviewed your account and have discovered that we’re doing a lot of rework and revisions to the projects we have with your firm. I’ve concluded that there has got to be someone who is a better fit for you. We’re not hitting the mark with you the way we do with our other clients. This isn’t good for you or us.”

If after that they insist on staying anyway, consider raising your rates accordingly.

2. They are abusive to your employees.

When management allows customers to abuse employees, it’s the same as perpetrating the abuse directly. Do customers swear, yell, demean, or harass your employees? If so, it’s time to draw a line in the sand and let them know what behavior is and isn’t acceptable.

“Julie, we have a no profanity rule here. Respect is one of our core values, and we’ve agreed that we don’t yell and swear at our clients or each other.”

If the bad behavior continues, the relationship should stop. “But she’s our best customer. She has a lot of sway.” Maybe so. She’s also the poison that potentially exposes the organization to a lawsuit, erodes morale, and negatively affects the culture.

Goodbye Move: When someone is abusive, again, it’s best to say goodbye and to do so in a calm and professional manner.

“Julie, you’re obviously unhappy, and my employees are too. For the benefit of everyone, at this point, I think it’s best that we part company. We both deserve better.”

3. Their behavior is out of touch with your ethics policies and practices.

You are the company you keep. If you are enabling your customers to act in a way that is in disagreement with your organization’s values or the law, it may be time to say goodbye. Do you really want to associate yourself and your organization with those whose business practices are illegal, immoral, or routinely questionable? When you like the people on a personal level, it can feel like a tough decision when you’re making it. The good news is once you do, you won’t look back.

Goodbye Move: When someone or an organization exposes you to unneeded risk, it’s prudent to disassociate yourself and your organization from them pronto.

“We’re a very conservative organization. While we understand others have a more robust appetite for risk, it’s typically something we avoid. For that reason, another vendor is probably going to better meet your needs. At this point, we’re really just not a good fit.”

4. They expose you to unneeded financial risk.

If you spend more time chasing payments than performing work, it’s time to consider a new payment plan at a minimum or a permanent breakup if that step doesn’t solve the problem.

Goodbye Move: Just as it doesn’t make sense to stay involved with someone who exposes you to ethical and legal risks, an organization that puts your pocketbook on the line is probably best avoided.

Janet, I know we’ve tried a range of payment options to make this relationship work. At this point, we simply don’t have the financial appetite to accommodate your payment schedule. For that reason, I’m asking you to find another vendor. We can’t accommodate the work.”

5. You’re no longer a good fit.

Sometimes people and organizations grow apart. Nobody has done anything wrong; the two parties are just in different places and it’s time to say goodbye.

Goodbye Move: This last goodbye is the hardest. When you find you and your customer are no longer compatible, it’s a good idea to start the conversation with something open-ended.

“Bill, tell me a little bit about how you see your business growing in the next few years.”

Assuming Bill isn’t planning for growth, you might continue with:

“It’s good to hear that you’re comfortable where you are. That’s a nice place and a future goal of ours. As you may know, we’re on a growth strategy and have been for a couple of years. What concerns me is our ability to give you the attention in the future that we’ve been able to give you in the past. I think you deserve to work with a partner company that can make your work priority number one, and right now I don’t think that’s us.”

No matter the reason, prolonging a relationship that isn’t working does no one any favors. It’s usually not fun to say “goodbye,” but once you do, you’ll have more time to say “hello” to customers who should conduct business with you.

Kate Zabriskie is the president of Business Training Works, Inc., a Maryland-based talent development firm. She and her team help businesses establish customer service strategies and train their people to live up to what’s promised. For more information, visit www.businesstrainingworks.com.

Avoiding Days of the Living Dead

Addressing Workplace Zombies and Promoting Engagement One Person at a Time

By Kate Zabriskie

Kate Zabriskie-zombi sotry

Zombies in the workplace are soul-sucking, money-draining, productivity-killing entities that chip away at an organization’s spirit and its engagement levels one convert at a time.

These creatures often look like the rest of us, but deep down they’re cancerous beasts that can potentially drive a business to ruin.

So what’s a manager to do? Recognize the problem, know its source, understand why action is essential, and then do the work required to create a zombie-free workplace.

Knowing Your Zombies

Although zombies come in many varieties, most resemble one or more of the following:

Zombies in the workplace look like the rest of us, but deep down they’re cancerous beasts that can potentially drive a business to ruin. Click To Tweet
  1. Negative zombies—Often the easiest to spot, they complain, moan, and express their dissatisfaction regularly. Some will use humor to disguise their disgust, but they are nevertheless contagious and a threat to the uninfected.
  2. Minimum-contributor zombies—They do the basics but nothing more. You will never see them looking for work or volunteering for projects. Furthermore, many act as if they are doing you a favor when you ask them to perform a task they get paid for doing.
  3. Status-quo zombies—These change-averse creatures dig in their heels and fight the future. They are happy with everything the way it is and take no initiative to implement new ideas. The most dangerous of this variety will even resort to sabotage if they feel threatened.
  4. Shortcut zombies—They find ways to cut corners and circumvent processes. Their choices frequently expose the organization to unneeded risk. Worse still, when these zombies are in charge of training others, they pass on bad habits and poor practices.

Identifying the Source

To rid an organization of zombies, you must understand how you got them. Each zombie has a creation story. These are the most common:

  1. The ready-made zombie story: People who were really zombies when someone interviewed them, and they got the job anyway.
  2. The we-did-it-here zombie story: Unlike the ready-made zombies, these zombies were created after they joined the organization. They were discouraged, taught to fear, or worse.
  3. The retired-on-the-job zombie story: These zombies should be long retired, but because of a need to complete a certain number of years of employment before receiving some financial reward or other benefit, they’re still in the workplace and just going through the motions.
  4. The abandoned zombie: Abandoned zombies are employees who could perform well if they didn’t feel as if they were the only ones who cared. After struggling alone, these poor creatures eventually succumbed and now just try to survive.

Making the Choice Before It’s Too Late

When left unchecked, zombies can take over a department, division, or even an entire organization with relative ease. For that reason, it is essential that organizations are focused and vigilant in their approach to zombie management.

Organizations that fail to take the problem seriously may find that it’s too late. To escape havoc when zombies gain a foothold, good employees will often leave for safer territory.

Then, by the time management recognizes its predicament, a lot of talent has walked out the door, and what remains is not sufficient to do great work.

Taking Action

Implementing an anti-zombie initiative is no easy task, but it can be done and done well if you take the process seriously and stay dedicated to invigorating your workforce.

Step One:Be candid about your numbers. High turnover is a strong sign that there is a zombie problem. High absenteeism, poor output, and substandard financial performance are other clues. Think about what you would see if your organization were-zombie free and what numbers would be associated with that vision. Next, compare those statistics to the current reality and set some performance goals.

Step Two:Once you understand your global numbers, you should measure employee engagement. You can run a formal survey with a company that specializes in engagement or create one on your own. As with step one, the goal here is to get a sense of what’s working, what isn’t, and the breadth of your zombie problem.

Step Three: Next, ask yourself what are you seeing and hearing that you don’t want to see, and what are you not seeing and hearing that you do? After you know where the gaps are, think about solutions to address those shortcomings. If your zombies belong to the status-quo category, for example, consider putting in a process whereby everyone is tasked with finding two ways to improve his or her work processes or outputs.

No matter what you choose, be sure you have the stamina to stick with the zombie-eradication tactics you implement. Fewer activities done well will beat a lot of mediocre ones every time.

Step Four: Be prepared to let go of those you can’t save. Despite best efforts, some zombies simply can’t be cured. If you’ve done all you can, and they’re still the walking dead or worse, it’s time to say goodbye. If the termination process in your organization is cumbersome and lengthy, at a minimum, you must protect the uninfected and recently cured from the zombie holdouts.

Step Five:Recognize success and coach for deficiencies. Saving zombies happens one employee at a time. People, who are clear about expectations, receive proper training, get coaching when they miss the mark, and feel appreciated when they get it right or go above and beyond, are highly unlikely to enter or venture back into zombie territory.

Ask

  • Do managers “walk the talk” and model anti-zombie behavior?
  • Do employees understand how their work is connected to the organization’s goals? Can they explain that connection in a sentence or less?
  • Are employees held accountable for following established processes and procedures?
  • Do managers confront negativity?
  • Do managers encourage and reward initiative?
  • Do they meet one-on-one with their direct reports on a regular basis?
  • Does a strong zombie-screening interview process exist?
  • When good people leave, does someone conduct an exit interview to see if zombies are the reason for the departure?

The answers to those questions should serve as a starting point for encouraging engagement and avoiding everything from a small zombie outbreak to a full-blown apocalypse. You can never be too prepared.

Kate Zabriskie is the president of Business Training Works, Inc., a Maryland-based talent development firm. She and her team help businesses establish customer service strategies and train their people to live up to what’s promised. For more information, visit www.businesstrainingworks.com

One-on-One Meetings Matter More Than You Know

By Kate Zabriskie

Kate Zabriskie-One-on-One Meetings

There are only two of us in my department. Why should I bother with a formal meeting? We sit right across from each other.

I tried meeting individually with my direct reports, but they had nothing to talk about. Besides, we’re all adults. We know what we’re supposed to be doing at work.

I work in a matrix environment. I see my direct report about once a month, and that’s usually at a larger meeting or when we’re passing each other in the hallway. I have no idea what he does. At review time, I rely on other people to tell me.

Without trying too hard, it’s easy for many managers to compile a long list of reasons not to meet with the people they supervise. 

And guess what? The volume of reasons does not outweigh the value and importance of a regularly scheduled tête-à-tête with a direct report.

If you’ve fallen out of the habit of holding regular one-on-one meetings or if you’re not getting all you could from them, now is the time to take another look Click To Tweet

Benefits of Regular One-on-One Meetings

If used correctly, over time managers and employees can enjoy many benefits by meeting one on one.

  • Visible appreciation: Time is currency. If managers carve out time for their people and are prepared when they meet, they show they value their direct reports.
  • Better thinking: Regular one-on-one meetings give managers and employees space to step away from the urgent and immediate and to think more holistically and strategically about work, goals, and development opportunities.
  • Stronger results: Accountability tends to improve when people have an opportunity or a requirement to report on their progress.

The Perfect One-on-One

Once a manager has bought into the value of one-on-one meetings, the next step is to execute them in a way that works for the manager and the employee. Good one-on-one meetings are not one-size-fits-all activities. That said, there are a few guidelines that can make a one-on-one meeting successful.

  1. Pick a schedule and stick to it. One-on-ones shouldn’t regularly disappear from the calendar simply because something else suddenly comes up.
  2. Choose a frequency that makes sense. For some people meeting once a month may be enough. For others, meeting weekly may be more appropriate. Every relationship is different. Furthermore, circumstances evolve. Depending on what’s happening inside and outside of the organization, an employee’s needs could change drastically. Meeting frequency should be looked at from time to time. If the rate of meetings is correct, managers and employees should not routinely find themselves with no reason to meet.
  3. Follow a written agenda. Well-run one-on-one meetings are not free-for-all conversations. They follow an agenda just as any other good meeting does. A one-on-one meeting agenda might include such topics as current projects, progress on yearly development goals, current challenges, and so forth.
  4. Put employees in the driver’s seat by having them manage and document the agenda. As a manager, you may create the initial agenda format. But once you do, your employees should take ownership of the documents associated with their one-on-one meetings.

Troubleshooting

One-on-one meetings rarely go from nonexistent or dysfunctional to perfect overnight. For that reason, managers should prepare to overcome a variety of obstacles.

Obstacle 1: Employees question the new meeting.

Solution: Reduce the surprise factor. If a manager has never held one-on-one meetings, they might come as a surprise to employees. To avoid feelings of uncertainty, confusion, or worse, socialize the idea before loading the calendar with unexpected surprises. “This year, I would like to focus more on individual development. Within the next week or two, please expect to see a meeting request from me on your calendar. I believe we will all benefit if I spend time with each of you individually at regularly scheduled intervals. How often we will meet will depend on each of your needs and what we decide together.”

Obstacle 2: An employee doesn’t take charge of the meeting.

Solution: Show them how. A good agenda can go a long way toward making the conversation flow. Although employees should have ultimate responsibility for keeping the agenda, this may take time. In the beginning, managers may have to model what they want to see. “For our first few meetings, I’ll prepare the agenda. Once we’ve found our groove, my plan is to turn it over to you to own. This means you’ll add to it between meetings and bring a copy for you and me when we meet.”

Obstacle 3: An employee gives short or general answers to questions.

Solution: Get specific. The more focused a manager’s questions are, the better the conversation tends to be. For example, instead of asking “what are you working on,” a manager might say, “tell me about the project that is going best right now and why that is.”

Obstacle 4: An employee seems unresponsive.

Solution: Leverage silence. When managers don’t get immediate feedback, they sometimes mistake silence for non-responsiveness. It’s important for managers to remember they already know the questions. The employee is hearing them for the first time and may need some time to digest and think about what’s being asked. Instead of rephrasing questions that don’t produce an immediate answer, managers need to get comfortable with letting silence sit in the room.  

Reevaluate From Time-to-Time

Like anything, one-on-one meetings can get stale. It’s important to look at the format and frequency from time to time and to solicit feedback regarding what’s working and what isn’t.

If you’ve fallen out of the habit of holding regular one-on-one meetings or if you’re not getting all you could from them, now is the time to take another look. After all, can you really afford not to?

Kate Zabriskie is the president of Business Training Works, Inc., a Maryland-based talent development firm. She and her team help businesses establish customer service strategies and train their people to live up to what’s promised. For more information, visit www.businesstrainingworks.com.

The Overlooked Management Tool

Staff Meetings Matter More Than You Might Think

By Kate Zabriskie

Kate Zabriskie-chatI sit right next them. We don’t need to have a staff meeting.

I used to have staff meetings, but we stopped having them. Nobody had anything to talk about.

We have enough meetings. We certainly don’t need another.

For a myriad of reasons, many managers don’t hold regular staff meetings. Furthermore, most who do don’t get the most they could from them, and that’s too bad. Good staff meetings can focus a team, energize employees, and engage them in ways ad-hoc interactions don’t.

So how do you turn a halted or ho-hum approach to staff meetings into a high-functioning management tool?Employees usually enjoy their jobs more when their organization’s leaders talk about the importance of their work. Click To Tweet

STEP ONE: Connect Daily Work with Your Organization’s Purpose

In addition to distributing information, staff meetings present an opportunity to connect your team’s daily work to your organization’s purpose. If you’re thinking, “My people know how their work fits into our overall goal,” you would be wrong. In fact, if you ask your group what your organization’s purpose or your department’s purpose are, don’t be surprised when you get as many answers as there are people in the room. (And you thought you had nothing to talk about in a staff meeting! A discussion about purpose is a good one to have.)

Purpose is why you do what you do. You connect the work to it by explaining how what people did aligns with the greater goal. For example, the head of housekeeping at a busy hotel might hold a meeting with the cleaning staff. In that meeting, the managers might recognize a team that received a perfect room score from all guests who took a survey and then talk about purpose.

The purpose of the hotel is to provide people a safe and comfortable place to spend the night. Having a clean, welcoming, and functioning room is one of the ways a cleaning staff achieves that goal.

By regularly connecting such activities as cleaning toilets, making beds, and folding towels to the guest experience, the manager highlights why each of those activities is important.

No matter what they do, employees usually enjoy their jobs more when their organization’s leaders talk about the importance of their work. They also tend to make better choices if they receive frequent reminders about purpose and what types of activities support it.

STEP TWO: Highlight Relevant Metrics

Connecting work to purpose usually works best when a team focuses on both anecdotal and analytical information. If you don’t currently track statistics, start. What you track will depend on your industry. However, whatever you decide should have a clear line of sight to the larger goal. For instance, a museum that holds events to attract new members might track the number of events held, contact information collected, memberships sold, and the percentage of new memberships that come as a result of attending the free event. With regular attention placed on the right metrics, the team is far more likely to make good choices as to where it should focus its efforts.

STEP THREE: Follow a Formula and Rotate Responsibility

Successful staff meetings usually follow a pattern, such as looking at weekly metrics, sharing information from the top, highlighting success, a team-building activity, and so forth. By creating and sticking with a formula, managers help their employees know what to expect. Once employees know the pattern of the meeting, many are capable of running it because they’ve learned by watching. Managers then have a natural opportunity to rotate the responsibility of the meeting to different people. By delegating, the manager is able to free up his or her time and provide employees with a chance to develop their skills.

STEP FOUR: Celebrate Successes

In many organizations, there is a huge appreciation shortage. Staff meetings provide managers and employees with regular intervals to practice gratitude.

“I’d like to thank Tom for staying late last night. Because he did, I was able to attend a parent-teacher conference.”

“Maryann’s work on the PowerPoint presentation was superb. I want to thank her for preparing me with the best slides shown at the conference. The stunning photos outshined the graphics others used. Maryann’s work really made our company look good.”

A steady drip of sincere gratitude can drive engagement. Note the word: sincerity. Most people have an amazing capacity to identify a false compliment. Real praise is specific. Well-delivered praise also ties the action to the outcome. Whether it’s being able to attend a conference, looking good in front of others, or some other result, people appreciate praise more when they understand how their actions delivered results. A praise segment in your staff meetings ensures you routinely take the time to recognize efforts.

STEP FIVE: Focus on Lessons Learned and Continuous Improvement

Staff meetings that include an opportunity to share lessons learned help drive continuous improvement. At first, people may be reluctant to share shortcomings. However, if you follow step four, you should begin to develop better communication and a sense of trust with your team. Modeling the process is a good place to start.

“I learned something this week I want to share with you. I had a call with a client that could have gone better. I’m going to tell you what happened and then I’ll discuss some ideas about how I would handle something similar in the future.”

The more you practice this exercise, the greater the gains you should experience.

STEP SIX: Develop a Schedule and Stick with It

Almost anyone can follow the first five steps some of the time, but those who get the most out of staff meetings hold them consistently. They publish a meeting schedule, and they stick with it. They may shorten a meeting from time to time or reschedule, but they don’t treat their chance to gather the team as the least important priority.

Good staff meetings aren’t perfunctory activities that add little value. On the contrary, when used to their full capacity, they are a dynamic management tool. Now what are you going to do about yours?

Kate Zabriskie is the president of Business Training Works, Inc., a Maryland-based talent development firm. She and her team help businesses establish customer service strategies and train their people to live up to what’s promised. For more information, visit www.businesstrainingworks.com.