Business outcome: By the end of December the customer services team in the meat packing unit will have improved the time for acknowledging and answering initial complaints from five days to three days and have improved customer satisfaction with our complaints process while reducing packing and delivery errors.On the face of it, this situation looks specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timed. You have enough here for someone to go away and work out a delivery plan but it has no “juice.” If you were coaching the customer services team or the managers in that team, you would want to help them create a really rich picture. You want to help them flush out any concerns they’re aware of and any unconscious factors that may block them.
You can use a structured dialogue and ask them:
- “Given that this is a goal you’re expected to deliver, what specifically do you want to deliver?” Keep asking, what else? Specifically what? Get the team to be really specific and to articulate it out loud. Get it onto flip charts or an electronic whiteboard. This meat company example is a real case. A business coach helped the group to make it real. They came up with things such as “I want to hear Geoff in the freezer section say, ‘Well, you have stopped Marston’s Meats from complaining every week. I’ll make the coffee for a week for your team.’”
- “How will you know without doubt that you have achieved your outcome?” You want really concrete measures here. You want them to position themselves in absolute faith that this has been delivered and they know it because… . This team knew their figures and could say readily what that reduction in complaints would mean in terms of the volume of paperwork in the next ten months. They could calculate in their heads what it would mean for their customers and that it would mean a strong possibility that they would keep a key customer without whom the jobs of some butchery colleagues could be at risk. They all knew exactly what it would mean for their Christmas bonus, one of them to the penny.
This involvement is what you want. You want rich, meaningful, personal feel-good indicators that will motivate people to deliver. The fact that the bonus could be higher isn’t enough by itself.
- “What evidence will you show to others that the goal has been achieved?” Building on the last question, you’re asking the group to really imagine what and where is the proof that lets others know that they’ve delivered as they said they would. The business coach worked with this group to elicit how they would celebrate, how they would go down to the local pub on Friday night after work and spend the kitty that their manager was going to give them from their Christmas fund. They agreed to hold some of it back until the end of the month to have their “three days, three beers, three teams fest.”
Through facilitating the group, the business coach was getting them to imagine it happening and how wonderful it would feel to drink that first celebration drink together.
- “How will they know?” Here you’re looking for whether the team can put themselves in the shoes of others who have an interest in their succeeding (or not) and how they’ll know that others have noticed their achievements. This team came up with things such as, “Mr. Drew will see the movement in the weekly figures, and he’ll know if we’re going to hit our average by the end of November from the complaint logs. He’ll see the electronic chart shift red to amber.”
- “What specifically will they experience/see/hear/feel?” Help the team think about they’ll experience, as well as what people around them may experience. You’re helping them to attach emotions and visual images to their developing story. The more they can create that, the more likely they are to be motivated to do it and to notice the simple specific indicators that let them know they’re on track.
- “What color is it?” This part is where some of them say, “Huh?” Stick with it and push them for the detail. They have a color in mind. They may feel weird admitting it. But they have one. By sharing something that makes them go, “Huh?” and creating a dialogue about it, you’re making connections to the outcome and creating dialogue at a different level of abstraction — in this case, quite an amusing one about, “How could an outcome delivered be green and a complaint be pink? Surely they were all red.”
- “What shape is it?” Again a question designed to get them talking about how they saw the outcome so they have a common picture. This team created a set of circles with a fountain sprouting money in the middle. So now they had a green-and-white outcome, which had moved from red and pink over a ten-month period, and it was a set of interlinked circles with a fountain of money in the middle.
- “What does it sound like?” By now, the team will be rolling with it or will be cajoled into playing along. This team was clear — it sounded like a cascade of coins coming out of a slot machine at high speed. (Some of them even attempted to sound it out.)
- “What does it smell like?” So now their successful outcome has a clear picture with sound attached, and they agree that the smell is of a cold frosty morning — clean and fresh.
Just notice what fun you can have with a seemingly bland outcome or goal. It can really fire people up and get them motivated. It makes a fairly boring sentence on a page come alive into something with possibility behind it.
Although this process is describe as a group activity here, you can walk through this with individuals or you can work with a group and ask them to work through their own process individually as you guide them through it.
If you’re thinking of using a structured process such as this one with clients, you can record it on a phone or laptop for them. That way, their own dialogue is there to play back. They have the process available to access anytime they choose. Small things such as a recording can really add value for clients. It places them in control. Empowering clients builds the relationship.