Rant: Don’t Treat Your Customers Like eBay Does

Since 2004, I have been an eBay customer with an online store. On November 7, 2012 I closed my Great Garbs eBay store.

Here is the reason….

A template I purchased in 2004 which was being hosted by the ReallDesigns and their website has been flagged by Google as an unsafe site and is blacklisted. The graphics of my template are hosted at ReallDesigns.

ReallDesigns prohibits changes to their templates without permission. If and when ReallDesigns corrects the problem and resubmit their site to Google for review, it can take up to 10 days to come off the black list. I have contacted the owner of ReallDesigns through her website and Facebook – no response.

Since all my listings (340) have their code embedded, eBay said they would start to put sanctions and negative strikes against my account within 48 hours. If the listings were not revised within 4 days, eBay would take them down.

On average, a single listing takes 10 minutes to revise because the entire template has to be modified. Do the math – that’s over 3400 minutes or 56 hours of work – and Great Garbs is not my day job! eBay’s request was physically impossible to get done.

I spent over 4 hours on the phone with eBay pleading my case because I am a victim. I did not cause the problem.

Poor eBay Customer Service

My interaction with eBay’s customer service department was frustrating. I wasted time hopping from one customer representative to another.

Each person used an eBay scripted response and told me they “understood”. The fact is, they did not understand. Any business that believes telling an angry customer that they understand without listening and trying to problem solve their problem only pisses off the customer more.

I realize that customer service is a company’s first line of defense. Their job is to solve problems that may be uncomplicated or are clear cut. My problem was complicated and required someone with critical thinking skills to help solve it.

When I asked to talk to the department who flagged my listing, I was told no one was available by phone and to send an internal message. They would respond in 24-48 hours. Do the math again – I think we both know I am screwed.

If you want to speak to someone – you have to ask the customer service representative to elevate the problem and ask to speak to their supervisor.

Finally, I am put in touch with a department manager only to learn it is her first day on the job. To be honest, I could not believe my bad luck. No manager on their first day is going to be of help.

Surprisingly, once she and I spoke, she listened and understood the situation. Maybe it was because she was not steeped into protocols, rules and regulations of the job yet or perhaps it is her management style.

eBay Rejects Reasonable Solutions

My approach to problem-solving is to offer solutions that address both parties concerns. Here are options I suggested:

  1. Give me adequate time to comply.
  2. Put the Great Garbs store on vacation while I fixed all the changes and no one could be harmed.

eBay refused both options.

I am disappointed in how eBay handled my situation. I know that there are many more sellers who have been victims.

It is clear – eBay doesn’t apply the same philosophy to their customers that they expect from their sellers.

It’s time to move on. Good-bye eBay.

How to Transition into the Manager Role

At some point in your career, you may be offered a promotion – and while it is exciting that your employer recognizes your potential, the fear of managing your peers or friends is a bit daunting. Transitioning into a new role may be met with jealousy or resistance from your peers. How do you handle transitioning into your new role gracefully and successfully?

There are no hard and fast rules about how to transition into your new role because the relationship dynamics is different in every situation. Here are some of the questions to ask:

How are you viewed today by your peers?

The relationship you have today with your peers is a starting point. If you are viewed positively by your peers, you have a great start. Your transition will be more difficult if your peers are jealous of you or do not like you. Liking you is not the same as respecting you.

How do you think your peers will view your promotion?

The attitude your peers take about your promotion will give you clues about whether they believe you deserved it. If your peers are less supportive of your new promotion, they may not believe you deserved the promotion or they believed they deserved the promotion more than you.

If you peers are supportive, then they believed you were the right person for the promotion! Your challenge is to continue that support while transitioning into the new role.

Is there a right way to transition into a new role?

The way you handle your promotion is evident. There are three reactions you may see with your peers:

  1. Alienation
  2. Support
  3. Ambivalence

It is better to transition into the role slowly – building confidence with them as their new manager. Avoid a sudden display of power or control, instead work on building trust.

Are you able to command respect at work?

If you don’t have respect dialed in before the promotion, it is unlikely that you will gain it afterwards without making some significant changes in how you work with your new team.

Generational differences in the workforce affect how respect is gained as a manager. For some employees, respect is positional, for others – respect is earned through actions or by demonstrating competencies.

What kind of conversations do you have with your new team?

One of the best ways to build trust and support with your new team is communicate with them. Be honest with them about the challenges you might face during the transition. They don’t expect you to know everything. If you let them think you already have all the answers, they will respond by testing you.

When you are open to feedback about what is working or not working during the transition, you have a built-in barometer about how things are doing and what your team is thinking. Be open-minded and adopt some of their suggestions. As you continue to build trust, you lay the ground work for a great manager – employee relationship.

Using the Benchmarks® Assessment for Leadership Development

One of the assessments I use in leadership development is Benchmarks® from the Center for Creative Leadership. Benchmarks® is a 360° assessment that allows up to five groups to rate you on a number of leadership competencies. The typical groups selected include your boss, peers and direct reports. You, of course are able to assess yourself against the same group of questions.

Benchmarks® assesses major competencies required in leadership and management positions. Those areas include:

  • Strategic perspective
  • Being a quick study
  • Decisiveness
  • Change management
  • Leading employees
  • Confronting problem employees
  • Participative management
  • Building collaborative relationships
  • Compassion and sensitivity
  • Putting people at ease
  • Respect for differences
  • Taking initiative
  • Composure
  • Balance between personal and work life
  • Self-awareness
  • Career management

The assessment also identifies potential problems that can stall a career:

  • Problems with interpersonal relationships
  • Difficulty building and leading a team
  • Difficulty changing or adapting
  • Failure to meet business objectives
  • Too narrow a functional orientation

In the new version of Benchmarks®, participants are able to write in comments. Two questions are asked:

  1. What are this person’s most significant strengths? Please explain
  2. What are this person’s most significant areas for development? Please explain.

Benchmarks® Feedback

The Benchmarks® assessment is administered by a certified or qualified practitioner or consultant. You have the option to attend a session at the Center for Creative Leadership or you may opt to use a certified practitioner or consultant directly. In either case, you receive the same feedback information.

The amount of feedback information you receive is overwhelming. Your practitioner or consultant will help you:

  1. Interpret the feedback correctly
  2. Understand the broad implications
  3. Focus on what’s important
  4. Develop an action plan

What Makes Benchmarks® Valuable?

In your written feedback, there will be differences how others view your actions or behaviors vs. what you think.  Within the groups you selected to rate you, there will be differences in their perception because of the relationship they have with you.

For example, there may be wide differences in the responses between your direct reports and what your peer think. For one group you may meet all their needs, for another group you fail to live up to their standards.

It is important to focus on the top issues causing the most conflict or that are career limiting.

Another valuable indicator is how your boss rates areas they believe are most important to career progression. Your boss influences career upward mobility and being aligned with what they think is important will improve your relationship with them and the organization.

How Do You Take the Benchmarks® Assessment?

There are several ways to take Benchmarks® assessment:

  1. If your employer has a certified practitioner, uses outside consultants or sends participants to The Center for Creative Leadership, ask about taking the assessment. Be ready to explain why you want to take it and how it will benefit you and the organization.
  2. Work with an outside consultant to take the Benchmarks® assessment. Often this approach is more difficult because the assessment relies on having groups of people who want to give feedback.  There is a definite advantage to having the support of your organization.

For more information about taking the Benchmarks® assessment, contact me below.

Employee Engagement: What Does It Take?

The hot topic in Human Resources today is employee engagement. The reason employee engagement is important is because disengaged employees drain the employer’s bottom line. Disengaged employees either leave organizations or become unproductive and disruptive to the culture.

There are many things employers can do to increase employee engagement. A word of caution, if someone tells you that employee engagement is X, you’ve got the wrong person working with your organization because employee engagement is not just one thing. Here are some areas where you can impact employee engagement today:

Strong selection skills in recruitment

There is a growing trend to use assessments in the recruitment process to increase new employee success rates. Employers who make bad hiring decisions face lost time, money and negative cultural implications. When you hire the right person, life gets easier.

Effective job on-boarding program

New employees are excited and engaged when they join their employers. I can’t think of a better time to build on employee engagement. It is much easier to build momentum than it is to start it internally with employees who have lost interest.

Develop soft or applied skills

Employee engagement is easier to develop when people and the organizations have skills to communicate and work together more effectively.  Establish acceptable norms or behaviors within your organization and provide training to reinforce your commitment. Demonstrate the skills as a leader or manager.

Well-designed performance management processes and reward systems

Employees are more engaged when they know what they are supposed to be working on, how it will be measured and why it is important to the organization. When they do a good job, that message needs to be reinforced through monetary or non-monetary reward systems. Find out what is important to them and reward them when they meet their goals.

Employee skills and abilities aligned with position

There is nothing more unsettling to an employee or organization than someone who is in the wrong job. Employees disengage if the work is not interesting or if they are asked to perform without having proper training or development. Employers reluctant to move improperly placed employees causes distrust and tension in the workplace. When other employees see that their employer isn’t flexible, they disengage too.

Exceptional people management skills

Bottom line – management must have exceptional people skills. Those skills include:

  • Having clear and concise discussions with their employees
  • Creating work that is interesting and challenging
  • Listening to their employees needs and addressing their concerns
  • Flexing their communication style to connect with their employees
  • Being consistent about acceptable behaviors and results
  • Creating a vision or purpose
  • Providing the training, tools and resources to get the job done

As you can see, employee engagement boils down to doing the basics. If you concentrate resources and efforts on one area, the organization will fail. It is important to have a comprehensive plan. You may not be able to tackle it all at once, but you should understand how each piece supports the rest of the plan.

Leadership Agility: How to Improve It

The importance of being an agile leader is not a new concept, however mastering it continues to be challenging. Today, we’ll discuss why Leadership Agility is important, what’s getting in the way of doing it well and how to improve agility at work.

Why is Leadership Agility Important?

Every day you face challenges that are new because your industry is changing, your company is becoming more global or your business and people are becoming more complex. Regardless what the reason is, there is an increasing demand to meet deadlines with a sense of urgency.

The sheer volume of information that is available fuels peer pressure to be first, the best and original.

The amount of work is not decreasing; in fact, you probably have more projects on your radar screen than in the past. The work is driven by changes in customer demands, a dwindling workforce, new technology, innovation, more regulation and budget issues.

Despite these factors, your company is looking for rapid change, faster business results with a focus on short-term goals. That is why Leadership Agility is important to them.

What gets in the way of Leadership Agility?

There a number of behaviors or situations that prevents you from being agile at work. Any one of those can cause you to be less agile at work; several of them may create paralysis or be career limiting.  Some of those might include:

  • Procrastination
  • Too many meetings
  • Not enough time
  • Poor prioritization
  • Failure to address urgent vs. critical action items
  • Trying to do more than ability permits
  • Company politics
  • Not saying “no”
  • Taking too much time to get the work done
  • Ineffective multitasking
  • Email 24×7
  • Second guessing
  • Juggling multiple responsibilities

Often you don’t realize how much these behaviors affect your performance until it is too late and they affect your career progression.

How do you Improve your Leadership Agility?

Commit to doing something differently. Don’t try to make all these changes at once. Pick one suggestion and when you have incorporated it into your daily routine, select another one. If your number one leadership agility challenge is not listed, simply do the inverse of what is not working for you today.

Here are some suggested ways to improve your leadership agility:

  • Don’t attend meetings that are not critical to your role
  • Leave cell phone off during work time or check it at specific times – not all the time
  • Close email temporarily to concentrate on getting your project done
  • Sign out of Instant Messenger
  • Don’t take on more responsibilities that prevent you from getting your core work done
  • Read emails once; act immediately or delete them
  • Stop micromanaging and doing other people’s work
  • Avoid over-scheduling yourself
  • Block out work time on your calendar
  • Focus on one project at a time
  • Do not take work home – give yourself time to recharge
  • Give your attention to the phone call or meeting and quit multitasking
  • Take your lunch break and give yourself a mental break

Bottom line, to be more agile, you have to say “no” to something.

If you have a tip on how to improve Leadership Agility, share it below.

How to introduce an assessment to the team

As a team leader, consider using assessments to give insight into how your team works and what kind of adjustments you or the team needs to make to be more effective.

However, the team members might be suspicious about what you are going to do with their assessment results. Members of the team may be thinking – are you going to use the assessment findings against them? Why do you need this information?

There is a right and wrong time to use assessment with your team. For example, if your team is uneasy when you introduce the topic, it is best to figure out what is causing their stress or distrust before proceeding.

Usually assessment uneasiness is caused by one of the following:

  • Team members may be guarded about their personal information. Each team member’s tolerance for letting other people into their personal space is different.
  • Some team members may not trust you with their assessment information.
  • Team members may trust you, but not each other.

While you may not be able to ease everyone’s fears about taking an assessment and sharing their results, here are a few ways to introduce the topic with your team.

  1. Have the assessment administrator come in and explain to the group what the assessment is, how the assessment is administered and what they can expect from the results. Let them ask questions to test their assumptions and alleviate some of their fears.
  2. As the team leader, explain why you are using the assessment and what will be done with the results.
  3. Establish that assessment results are private and everyone has the personal option to share them with the team.

You are probably thinking: Why would I go ahead with using an assessment if the team members have the option of sharing their information? What happens if someone decides they don’t  want to share their results!

The bottom line is that if someone is that dead set against sharing their results, you have two choices.

  1. Decide to postpone using the assessment and work on improving trust.
  2. Proceed with the assessment and recommend the team member that s/he will not be able to take part with the team during training where the results are broadly communicated or integrated.

While it may seem odd that you have to work on trust before using an assessment that is often used to increase trust in a group, the fact is some trust must exist. It is difficult to work with a team that is cautiously trustful. Use an experienced behavior trainer or expert and not a stand up trainer. The conversations and behavioral issues that will arise during the group work will need more expertise than someone who delivers canned training programs.

Selecting a Coach, Consultant or Trainer is like picking a Dance Teacher

I want to share a discussion from a dance teacher about how you select a dance teacher. The funny thing is that her list of criteria applies any kind of service provider – a coach, consultant or trainer. For clarity, I have italicized her comments vs. my commentary on how it applies to coach, consultant or trainer selection.

Ask for the teacher’s education and certification, or other credentials.

Good teachers either have a degree in dance education or a certificate from one of the Dance Teachers’ Associations, or similar credentials. In other words, they have studied how to teach dance. In some states you are not allowed to teach without certification, either yours or your studio owner’s.

The coach, trainer or consultant should not be offended if you ask about their experience and credentialing. In fact, they should have it available on a public forum, such as a website or LinkedIn profile.

All good teachers can both lead and follow.

If they can’t do both, they shouldn’t be teaching (You can’t teach what you don’t know).

Nothing trumps experience, in my opinion. Sometimes coaches or consultants get trained in a particular process or method, but lack the experience or background in the area they want to specialize in. What I want to know more importantly is how have they used their knowledge or what experiences have they had that can help me with my specific problem. Certificates get you in the door, experience is what makes you relevant.

Once you have established that the teacher is experienced and credentialed, take a class or two with him/her before you make any long-term commitments.

Different teachers work for different students. Find one that works for you.

It is acceptable to give a consultant, trainer or coach an first assignment to see if you or the organization can or like to work with that person or provider. Sometimes the relationship between the two parties means more than other factors such as costs or convenience. If in fact you are wanting to try them out, pay them and forget about luring them for the bigger project.

The most expensive is not necessarily the best, though it often works out that way.

Don’t assume a teacher is good, just because they charge a fortune. Go through the steps above. On the other hand, you do get what you pay for. Free lessons are usually worth what you pay for them.

This is a lesson that many people or organizations learn the hard way. If price is your screen for finding coaching, consulting or training services, then count on making some bad decisions. Understand the relationship between price, quality and timing and how there is always a trade-off. Nothing replaces doing your homework on someone’s ability to solve your problem.

It’s OK to take lessons from multiple teachers, if they are all competent.

Sometimes it works better to have a couple of service providers, especially if you have different needs or requirements that cannot be met by one coach, trainer or consultant. If you find that your service provider is offended by your approach, you may want to ask yourself if that provider is working in your best interest.