Originally posted on www.communicatebetterblog.com, August 15, 2014
I regret to announce my retirement from recreational gardening. It is a sad decision, considering my fledgling age, but a fairly easy one given the fact that everything I plant dies. Even my suburban office cactus perished prematurely. It only takes one of about a hundred factors to go wrong and my horticultural ambitions are ruined. I admire the successful caretakers – those who are patient enough to perform the required prep and are knowledgeable enough to create perfect growing conditions.
A Customer Experience (CX) Professional and a master gardener have a lot in common. It requires similar skill and patience to cultivate customer loyalty. Without fertile soil from which to grow, the act of planting a seed is worthless. So too is the act of focusing on the customer experience without first creating a worthwhile employee experience.
And what is the cornerstone for a great employee experience? One factor stands above the rest – Outstanding Teams!
This is challenging news. Who would want to build a foundation on something that is always changing? (As is the case with virtually all teams) The Tuckman Stages of team dynamics have proven true in my career – you may be performing today but storming tomorrow. This is why any leader looking to influence the customer experience must harness the power of teams. By cultivating the soil at this level, you are paving the way to lasting loyalty.
The Shallow Soil – Getting Back to Human
“The Parable of the Sower” in Matthew 13 talks about a farmer planting his seed in shallow soil. The seeds sprouted, but as soon as the sun came out they withered and died due to lack of roots. Our work environment can often feel like the rocky, shallow soil. It is almost impossible for relationships to find strong roots in an office context. We quickly stop seeing one another as fellow humans, and instead see each other as hurdles. We take our negative feelings toward a company situation and associate them with people. This can take shape in many ways – grudges, gossip, one-upmanship, and a general complacency toward co-workers. These behaviors kill our teams and takes the life right out of us. Often times the “rocks” in the soil are remnants of past, unresolved conflict. These must be cleared before a proper foundation can be laid.
CAUTION! Be careful not to skip this key “gardening” step. Before you go to Amazon.com and search for latest team dynamics book, consider the emotional context team members share with one another. If your team members are not unified on a human level, you are not ready for Five Dysfunctions, DiSC or any other “Miracle-Grow” solution. Dumping chemicals on a plant may cause it to look healthy temporarily, but the only way to foster true, long term growth is to first plant in healthy soil.
Are these resources bad? Not at all! They have outstanding principles behind them that have helped hundreds of thousands of teams reach the next level. The danger is that these tools require a specific starting point before they are effective. If used prematurely, this technique can further impair your team instead of bringing resolution. Establish the “human” baseline first by doing events and sharing real life experiences. Once the rocks are removed, it is time to plant seeds of improvement. Resources such as DiSC, Five Dysfunctions, StrengthsFinder or a similar tool will make an excellent next step to move your team forward.
It is essential that we keep relationships fresh and vibrant. Just like in a marriage, this takes intentional effort. We have to get our teams out of the office and let them experience life together on a regular basis. If we do not authentically care about those we work with, long-term success is highly unlikely. An individual who is able to sincerely connect with their coworkers will be far more likely to create a sincere connection with customers. This is especially critical with millennials. The traditional lines of work and personal life are fading. (See this article by Rob Asghar for Forbes.) People want to have a work experience that is going to add synergy to their life – as opposed to going someplace five days a week to subject themselves some type of masochistic punishment. Let’s offer our employees, and ultimately our customers, the gift of authentic connections!
Check out part two of this series by Jeremey Watkin on the Communicate Better Blog!