Managing Director Laughlin Consultancy
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Why your customer experience team needs clarity - and how to deliver it

With so much changing in their lives, every employee needs clarity on what they should be doing, why, how and when. Here are the four aspects of providing clarity to your team.

9th Jun 2020
Managing Director Laughlin Consultancy
Columnist
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Clarity
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During this pandemic, with all the changes that lockdown has brought to most working lives, it’s easy to see the need for understanding and compassion. Indeed I’ve already shared the importance of CX leaders understanding the challenge their teams face and role modelling compassion.

However, there is another ‘C’ that is perhaps being overlooked by some leaders at this time. That is the need for even greater clarity. With so much changing in their lives, every employee needs clarity on what they should be doing, why, how and when.

Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs taught us that human beings seek meaning and a sense of accomplishment. Before they can realise those high-level goals they need to feel safe and be able to make sense of the world and relationships around them. Clarity is needed for all those levels.

So, in this article, I will outline four aspects of providing clarity to your team:

  1. Communicating a clear vision and up-to-date priorities;
  2. Laying out the ‘rules of engagement’ for team members;
  3. Explaining your role as the manager;
  4. Empower your team and help them connect with why?

Let’s dive in to the first of those. How can you as a leader communicate clear priorities?

Communicate a clear vision and timely priorities

Working with my own clients (online) during this pandemic, one of the most common needs has been to revisit their priorities. In the face of so much change, what now matters most? How much capacity is available to deliver against those goals?

The first challenge for any true leader is to set a direction. In his book “Vivid Vision”, Cameron Herald exhorts CEOs:

Apart from you, no one in your organisation knows with any certainty what it is you intend to make of the company you lead. And they can’t build it, if they can’t see it. It’s your task to provide them with the means of seeing it. And if you don’t, we’re right back to the old tale of the blind men and the elephant.”

That challenge is true for leaders at all levels, including CX and other customer-centric leaders.

So, how can you help them ‘see it’? I suggest two parts. The first is longer term. What is your ‘big picture’ or longer term aspiration? What is it that your team exists to work towards? Remind your team of that.

But don’t stay fixated with a dream or aspirational mission statement, the purpose of strategy is to provide a plan to get there. So, with that vision in mind, I recommend revisiting your current planned work stack through the lens of a classic model from Stephen Covey. In his book Seven habits of highly effective people he shares the following model for habit 3 (put first things first):

Clarity

A very effective way to do this is in a workshop with your team. Allocate all the planned work items into one of those four quadrants. Be challenging, to ensure that enough are allocated to quadrant 4 (‘eliminate’). That tool should help you balance keeping the show on the road (or necessary firefighting, to mix metaphors) with not neglecting the longer term priorities.

Ideally any priority calls should favour quadrants 1, 2 and then 3 (with the recommended approach for each quadrant in bold above. Keep an eye on quadrant 3 especially.

Lay out clear and fair rules of engagement

Once you have clarified the priorities, ensure your team understand which tasks are most important and why. You could think as the starting gun for a race or the first shot of a ‘war on the work stack’.

Given that, like any good general there is a need to understand the rules of engagement. What is acceptable and what will not be tolerated.

In a work context this means providing your team with more autonomy. The delegated authority to make some  decisions without checking back with you. When should they do that and for which type of work or decisions? When will you expect them to collaborate with others or check with you?

In our current context, with most customer experience teams working from home, this is more needed than ever. Your team can’t as easily lean across the desk to ask or check to see what others are doing. But it is also essential for a new way working that was pervading offices before this.

The majority of today’s businesses have to some extent adopted ‘agile’ ways  of working. Although this is often ill-defined or understood outside of IT teams, nevertheless there has been a wave of Scrums, Sprints and Stand-Ups across organisations. Clear rules of engagement are needed to ensure agile working succeeds, as that is cultural change as much as a process change.

There is also a psychological well-being driver for thinking through & clearly communicating such rules of engagement. In his book Indistractable, Nir Eyal summarises a meta-analysis from University of London that studied what causes depression in the workplace. They found two conditions that most strongly predicted workplace depression:

The first condition involved what the researchers called high ‘job strain’…employees were expected to meet high expectations, yet lacked the ability to control the outcomes… The second factor that correlates with workplace depression is an environment with an ‘effort-reward imbalance, in which workers don’t see much return for their hard work, be it through increased pay or recognition.”

So, it is crucial during these days of higher levels of anxiety for most people, that leaders help to alleviated those causes. How can you delegate more control over the outcome of their work? How can you set clear expectations from the start as to how their efforts will be rewarded and recognised. Starting with helping them focus their efforts on what its most important is a good start.

Explain your role as their manager

As well as your team being on both their priorities and what they are empowered to decide themselves, it’s natural for them to want to understand what you do. Greater isolation can easily breed concern or even distrust if you leave a communication vacuum.

So, the next element of providing clarity for you team is to be crystal clear on what you will be doing. Explain your role, where you will be focussing your time and how they should work with you. Hopefully it is clear that such a message has a two-fold purpose. First, to reassure them that you are ‘all in this together’ during a time when they may not see any of your work.

But the second communication theme is just as important. Explain when and how your team should stop working in isolation and contact you. Reassure team members, especially those with less experience, that is OK to ask for help. Encourage team members to ask about anything that is unclear or they are unable to resolve. Perhaps explaining that you need to know about such issues to be an effective manager.

Greater isolation can easily breed concern or even distrust if you leave a communication vacuum.

Now, depending on the size of your team and the amount of direction they may need, the above could be a recipe for lots of interruptions. To help avoid this, I recommend that managers organise “surgery hours”. A few hours a day or week when you will be available for team members to contact you for help (perhaps using video conferencing).

Taking such an approach helps you to think about the best times of the day or week for you to do such work. It is a strange quick of the study of team effectiveness that much research has gone into what teams should work on and how, but much less on when they should do different types of work.

That knowledge gap has been ably filled by the book When: The scientific secrets of perfect timing” by Daniel Pink. It is well worth reading to help you lead your team into becoming more effective. One takeaway that I loved was the concept of taking a ‘nappuccino’, a short nap after having a cup of coffee, with an alarm to wake up just around the time the caffeine becomes effective. Worth having honest conversations with your team about who works best when.

But, before I focus on When, let’s return to the very important Why?

Empower everyone to connect with Why?

One of there most influential business books of recent years has been Simon Sinek’s Start with Why: How great leaders inspire everyone to take action. The central message of that book is as relevant during this time of isolation than ever.

Whilst they are working remotely from others and less able to feed of the emotional energy and enthusiasm of others, each member of your team needs to see a purpose to what they are doing. This is true at two levels.

Firstly, they need to be reminded as to the point of the work the business as a whole is doing and the role of your team in achieving that important purpose. The big picture ‘why?’ In some ways that is reiterating what I shared about setting a vision and rules of engagement, but in a more emotionally impactful & motivating way. Focus on how you are helping people or making the world a better place.

Secondly, people need to feel a sense of purpose (even nobility) about the work they themselves are doing. Especially when they are lacking some of the normal visual, auditory and emotional feedback that reassures them they are doing something that matters.

It has been common for managers to realise the need to check-in socially with their team members. In addition, your team members also need to feel that you are interested in the work that they are doing. So, don’t neglect to ask about progress and show more interest than usual in seeing what they have produced. Perhaps reviewing interim versions or talking over problems where appropriate. If their workload matters, then confirm that by the interest you show in it.

Bring it all together through listening and candor

I hope those point were a helpful reminder of what most experienced managers probably already know instinctively. My purpose in this article has been to call out the need for you to provide clarity to your team. To help them whilst working from their homes.

Providing clarity includes:

  • Communicating a clear vision and up-to-date priorities;
  • Laying out the ‘rules of engagement’ for team members;
  • Explaining your role as the manager;
  • Empower your team & help them connect with why?

For all of those aspects, clear succinct and regular communication should typify your approach.

Finally, you also need to ensure that your efforts in this regard are working. To do that, I recommend listening and patience.

Listen to see if others ‘get it’. Through all those four steps, ask open questions to both learn from your team (to refine priorities) and to regularly test what they understand.

Be patient. Even with clarity, new guidance takes time for people to really understand and then apply. As Kim Scott says in her excellent book Radical Candor, truly candid conversations are tested not in the mouth of the speaker but in the ear of the hearer. The same can be said of Clarity. So, stay humble, stay patient and keep listening to learn what is not yet clear.

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