Category Archives: Kate Zabriskie

Remote Control

8 Tips and Tricks for Conducting Stronger Conference Calls and Virtual Meetings

By Kate Zabriskie

Kate Zabriskie-meetings

Despite large advances in technology, few people look forward to participating in remote meetings. When fellow participants fail to mute their lines, don’t give the interaction their full attention, or commit some other virtual-get-together sin, the mood of the group quickly deteriorates. So is there no hope for the countless teams who must connect through broadband instead of boardrooms? Of course not. By taking eight simple steps and following some proven guidelines, almost anyone’s virtual gathering can improve.

Tip One: Keep the meeting’s focus narrow. The more specific your agenda, the less likely you will find your conversations jumping off-topic. For example, instead of discussing office security training, narrow the focus to non-technology-related office security for customer-facing employees. By shrinking the field of discussion, you may realize you need less time and fewer people to arrive at a satisfactory decision.

No matter what kind of remote meeting you run, you can make it better by increasing your planning, tightening your delivery, leveraging technology and people, and taking stock of what works at what doesn’t. Click To Tweet

Tip Two: State the goal of the meeting at the beginning, end, and several times throughout to remind people why they are there and how they are expected to contribute. 

Before we begin, I would like to thank Ted, Rhonda, Nel, Jerome, and Fred for joining the discussion today. Each of you comes from a different area of the business and can offer a perspective the rest of us may not readily see. As we move through the discussion, I’m going to call on you to offer your point of view. Our goal today is to come up with some preliminary topics for training our customer-facing employees on security measures they need to take to keep themselves, the company data, and our customers safe. When we’re done, we should have a robust list of non-technology ideas. We’re going to deal with technology during a separate meeting.

Tip Three: Think like a newscaster. Newscasters plan in segments or blocks. Your agenda should do the same, and your language should advertise what’s happened previously and what’s coming next. 

First, we’re going to talk about our current occupancy rates, next we’ll look at forecasts for the next quarter, and finally, we’ll review plans to ensure we make our forecast.

Tip Four: Steal a few more ideas from the news. Dialing your energy up by 10 percent to 15 percent and editing your content should help you increase engagement. Edits might include such activities as removing weak or uncertain language. “I’m not sure, I don’t know, and this may be dumb” have no place in any meeting—especially a remote one. After all, if you don’t believe in or know about what you’re discussing, why should anyone else?

Tip Five: If possible, use a platform that allows people to use cameras, chat, and screen sharing.

Cameras allow people to use their faces and bodies to supplement their verbal messages. Cameras also keep people honest, as it’s difficult for most of us to multitask or go on mental vacation when you’re doing it in plain sight.

Chat engages people’s fingers. If you are typing in a chatbox, you aren’t checking email, texting a client, or doing anything else unrelated to the meeting. Furthermore, chat levels the playing field and allows opportunities for both extroverts and introverts to weigh in at essentially the same rate.

Screensharing focuses people’s attention on the topic at hand. It’s human nature to want to look at something. If you can, do yourself a favor and provide visuals. One word of caution: do not read from your slides. If you put slides in front of a team, they’re going to read them. They don’t need you to insult the repeat what they’ve seen verbatim.

Tip Six: Assign roles. You don’t have to be the leader, timekeeper, notetaker, and so forth. Delegation engages people and allows the leader to lead the meeting. Of course, role delegation will work best if you model what’s expected. 

For instance, provide a notes template and an example of notes to the notetaker and provide the timekeeper with some instructions, “Ted, I’d like you to serve as our timekeeper and agenda monitor today. If we wander off-topic, please poll the group to ascertain whether we should deviate from the agenda or take the topic offline.”

Tip Seven: Be prepared to do a little warm-up as you are waiting for people to join in. That means jumping on a call early and giving people something to do before the start of the meeting. If people are regularly late to your organization’s meetings, this is especially important. If you are using technology beyond the telephone, this is particularly easy. For example, you might set up a poll with everyone’s name listed and take attendance by asking them to select their names from the list. You could also show reminders (e.g. how to mute your line) and the notes from the last meeting and request people take a minute to review them. The possibilities are endless. The main idea, however, is to ensure that you don’t lose people who come early or on time to your remote meeting and that you can absorb people who join late with little disruption.

Tip Eight: View your remote meetings as works in progress. Ask those who participate what’s working for them and what isn’t. As teams change, technology evolves, and workplace demands vary, what works now might not work in the future.

No matter what kind of remote meeting you run, you can make it better by increasing your planning, tightening your delivery, leveraging technology and people, and taking stock of what works at what doesn’t. The key is trying, assessing, learning, and repeating the cycle. Happy meeting!

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.

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.