I’ve been told by channel executives that they read my blog because they find value hearing what’s happening on the front lines of our channel. Well, you can’t get much closer than what I’m about to share with you.
Here’s an email exchange I had recently with the CEO of a Vantiv reseller about creating a culture of candor in his organization. To protect the reseller’s privacy, all names have been omitted (except mine) and some minor edits were made to the text. But other than that, this is the unvarnished truth about running a reseller business.
I'm curious if you have any suggestions about a strategy for creating an environment where it’s OK to bring negative feedback from customers and elsewhere to management. We have a culture right now where that happens pretty well. I don’t persecute people when there’s a problem. I focus on fixing the issue, and that seems to keep people willing to share with me.
But I just brought on a new manager and I'm worried I'm going to lose some visibility due to the new layer of management and because the new manager is pretty protective of his team. And even in the good culture we have now, there's the “don’t be a tattletale” mentality that is embedded in any organization.
Any thoughts? Thanks, Jim
As you know, the solution to this is not just one layer but multiple. I’ll list them here then break them down in detail:
- 1. Clear principles that talk about candor.
- 2. Systems that result in employees talking with customers, employees talking with each other, and employees talking to their managers. If you don’t have the systems, somebody has to “work up the courage” to speak up … and most people won’t.
- 3. Reports that give you visibility and prove that your system is alive.
Here’s a list of character traits/principles that are foundational to a candid environment. These need to be publicly displayed and regularly discussed. If you would like more details on these, let me know and I am happy to share.
- Fortitude: Demonstrates moral courage. Does the hard thing. Encounters adversity or bears pain with a pleasant disposition.
- Temperance: Exhibits self-discipline, emotional control, and thrift. Confronts personal failings; doesn’t excuse them.
- Honesty: Practices full disclosure, candor.
- Humility: Is willing to admit personal faults, apologize, accept criticism, and give credit where credit is due.
- Enthusiasm: Exudes optimism, cheerfulness, energy, and a belief in being able to influence outcomes.
- Hiring – because you read my book (Hire Like You Just Beat Cancer), you know the details behind this system! :)
- Culture Health Checkup – I have created an employee survey that uncovers blind spots where your folks might not be candid. It’s anonymous, so if there is any new information in the survey for you, then folks are not 100% comfortable sharing all their feelings/data. Part of this system could include me calling in as an independent person talking with employees.
- Individual meetings – managers should conduct scheduled meetings with their direct reports (60-90 minutes) just to catch up and talk about the biggest things in their worlds. For newer employees, this might mean weekly. For higher performing employees, this might mean monthly. But you don’t go more than 30-40 days without meeting to catch up and talk about their and your most important issues.
- Annual Reviews – there should be a system that asks specific questions to an employee and asks co-workers for feedback on that employee. If you are not getting candid feedback (and getting fluff instead) you go back to the person/people, sit with them 1-on-1, and dig for the candid feedback. If you are running the individual meetings correctly and candidly, the review should just be a continuation of that process. The individual meetings are also good to keep track of initiatives discussed at the annual review.
- Group meetings – if you are candid with your team about your numbers, your goals, the company strategy and host a regular meeting to discuss these issues (every 30, 60 or 90 days), oftentimes the team will follow your cue and be candid with you.
- Meeting of the Minds – I recommend doing this every 18 months or 2 years: have an all-day meeting to talk in-depth about the company’s biggest challenges and opportunities going forward. Solicit questions well in advance from the entire team. If folks are not asking questions or providing feedback in advance, sit down with individuals just like the annual review process.
- Systems that enable candor with customers include:
- Clear agreements/SLAs (Service Level Agreements)
- A Customer Health Checkup survey – I would be happy to share details about this with you. I have conducted about a half dozen of these for resellers over the past couple months, and the insights have been very revealing. One reseller made significant changes to his internal processes based on customer feedback he was unaware of until this survey.
- QBRs (Quarterly Business Reviews) with as many customers as appropriate
- Because every business is different and has varying back-office support systems, I would be out of my league to recommend specific reports by name.
- But if you have reports and schedule (and stick to!) a review of those reports, where you talk openly about what’s going well and what needs to be improved, you are installing candor in your workplace. You set goals, you measure the goals, you face the facts whether you hit the goals or not, and then you talk about what happened. Nothing fancy there … but that doesn’t happen if you don’t have the reports and the scheduled meeting. This helps you keep visibility of what’s going on with that extra layer of management.
If you execute on these actions relentlessly – over and over and over without ever getting away from your schedule – in time the rest of the organization will start behaving in this manner.
I’m looking forward to talking with you soon about this. Thanks again for reaching out and have a tremendous day!
As you probably inferred from what I wrote, my job as a Reseller & ISV Business Advisor for Vantiv’s PaymentsEdge Advisory Services is to work with Vantiv partners to help them improve their effectiveness with employees and customers and to help them implement best practices. Feel free to email me if you would like to discuss how we can create a candid work environment at your company.
And, who knows? Maybe our email exchange will be featured in a future “On the Edge” blog post.