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10 Leadership Lessons to Succeed During Turbulent Change

June 30, 2014
happy-people1 In my new ebook Workforce of the Future: Building Change Adaptability, 2nd Edition I present four major forces that are exerting major impacts on our planet and its seven billion inhabitants. However the core of the ebook is about leadership, specifically what each of us can do, regardless of our status in society, to adapt to turbulent change. I’ve spoken about 10 leadership lessons in the past; here they are again in summary form.

Lesson #1: Commit to Your Job.
There’s a saying that people don’t quit their jobs but rather their bosses. However, there comes a time when commitment to our work and employers must be reconciled with the tendency to leave jobs when we become frustrated. To commit to your job means aligning yourself with your organization’s mission, understanding who are the customers or clients, and determining where you add value. If you find that you’re not adding value, then some personal reflection is needed.

Lesson #2: Adapt Quickly to Change
When a big change hits your organization, emulate Superman by quickly shedding your old corporate duds for the new approach. If you can’t find a phone booth, any office will do. But the key point here is to understand that your organization is about to go through some whitewater change. By adapting quickly to the change, you’ll significantly reduce your stress while simultaneously showing management that you can be counted upon when the going gets tough and ambiguity is the daily challenge.

Lesson #3: Learn to Focus and Go for Quality, Not Quantity
In organizational work, multitasking has the negative effect of valuing the superficial and mediocrity. In what has been labeled the knowledge age, in which employees are supposedly knowledge workers, multitasking is dumbing down organizations.

When it comes to leading people, being present is a vital element of effective leadership. If you’re trying to multitask while speaking to one of your staff who has dropped by your office, you send out the message loud and clear that the individual is not important. Focus on what your colleague is saying; at that moment he or she is the center of your attention.

Lesson #4: Be a Promise Keeper
When you keep your promises and commitments to your co-workers, staff and bosses, including those with whom you interact in your community, you’re viewed as someone with integrity and whose word is gold. When the situation arises where you’re unable to keep a promise, then it’s essential to take the time to explain what happened to the person or people who were affected. Refrain from making up excuses; just be up front and people will be much more likely to be understanding. They may even respect you more when they see you admitting a mistake and acknowledging that you’re human.

Lesson #5: Embrace Uncertainty and Ambiguity–Ride the Wave
Trying to resist the onslaught of whitewater change is futile. The metaphor of learning to ride the wave is very apt, one that creates a positive and energetic outlook. At the organizational level the effects of globalization–characterized by most work being capable of being done anywhere around the world, thanks largely to communications technology–are having profound effects on workers.

What’s important to keep at the forefront is not who’s right on the job distribution issue, but rather to identify what YOU control and do NOT control. You control your morale, willingness to learn and adapt, and desire to seek out new opportunities. By assuming the identity of a change master, you’ll greatly reduce the stress that’s generated when your organization goes through the gyrations of major changes. And you’ll signal to senior management that you’re equipped and ready to contribute to helping the organization meet its new challenges.

Lesson #6: Be a sponge for learning–and then SYNTHESIZE
The amount of information is growing exponentially. It’s no doubt overwhelming with the massive onslaught of information we must try to absorb. As much as it’s important to keep learning and to expose ourselves to new ideas and perspectives, the critical skill to acquire is how to synthesize this data overload.

Lesson #7: Own your attitude and behavior
How often have you seen bosses or co-workers trying to dump their problems on others? What was the effect? Did anyone call the individual on it? What was the response from management? When behavior like this occurs it can have a corrosive effect on the team and even more broadly on the organization. Don’t turn a blind eye when you see it happening. Speak up and empower yourself to help correct the behavior. Lead by example.

Lesson #8: Be a problem solver. Not finger pointer
It’s easy to identify problems and complain about them. Some people excel at this. The bigger challenge is exploring solutions to problems, and especially doing so in a collaborative manner. When you approach your work from this perspective you automatically start adding value to your organization. Avoid the finger pointers; instead, seek out people who want to be part of finding effective solutions for organizational issues and problems. You’ll be seen as the person who makes things happen, who fixes problems and, especially, adds value to your organization.

Lesson #9: Practice what you preach
Treat people as how you like to be treated, whether it’s responding to a request for information from another unit in the organization or serving a customer, client or supplier. When others see that you act consistently in accordance with what emanates from your mouth, they’ll take you more seriously and respect you for your judgment and views. Aligning what you espouse and what you actually practice is a cornerstone to leadership integrity, one essential to creating a loyal followership.

Lesson #10: Become a barrier buster
Avoid becoming entrapped in silo thinking, in which people hoard information, reject ideas from other parts of the organization (as well as from outside) and attempt to protect their turf. Rise above this and get known for being a barrier buster who openly shares information, connects people and communicates effectively across organizational boundaries. You’ll get noticed by management as someone who understands the bigger picture and is contributing to the organization’s mission and vision.

This brings with it demands for new leadership approaches. Top-down, command and control management styles have no place in our new world. It’s about collaboration through worker self-empowerment, where calculated risk-taking is a daily endeavour and individual and collective learning is nurtured and valued.

Take some time to reflect on these ten leadership lessons. Where do you see yourself strongest? And where do you see yourself needing to strengthen your skills?

Start small; focus on one or two areas. Commit yourself to becoming an effective leader.

By assuming the identity of a change master, you’ll greatly reduce the stress that’s generated when your organization goes through the gyrations of major changes.

– James Taggart

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Climate Change’s Call for Leadership

June 23, 2014
Polar Bear We hear every day about the problems facing Mother Earth, whether it’s melting polar icecaps, droughts in the Southwest United States or Northeast Africa, or violent storms that lash out suddenly, destroying property and killing people in their wake. More and more people are paying attention to their nutritional intake, researching food sources and the implications of genetically modified foods. Our population, especially children, is showing greater food intolerances. Something’s going on here.

The growing concern about the impact of humans on Mother Earth is gradually imposing pressure on national (and local) governments to do something through policy measures. However, the response has been typically reactive.

In March 2014, the United Nations released a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Despite expectations by many that the report would be a panicked cry about a world of increasing fossil fuel demand and steadily growing carbon emissions, the authors took a more measured tone. Their core message is that climate change will affect in some way everyone on the planet and that we, as a society, must learn to adapt.

Contrasted to the IPCC is The World Energy Outlook from the International Energy Agency, which forecasts rising fossil fuel demand over the next two decades. Although the 2014 outlook will not be available until November, the 2013 report revealed fossil fuel demand increasing 40% by 2035, with carbon emissions rising by 20%. Moreover, fossil fuel’s share of total energy demand will remain at 80%.

The major contributor to sustaining the demand for oil and natural gas is hydraulic fracturing, more popularly known as fracking. Rapid advancements in technology in just the few past years have resulted in massive growth in fracking around North America and Europe. This is presenting new challenges to those industries attempting to develop renewable energy sources, with respect to end-user cost.

How is the business community, as a collective entity, responding to climate change? Business may be seen as dispersed along a continuum, from doing nothing to half-hearted measures to being fully engaged in living sustainable business practices.

Flaming Earth Many, if not most, corporations don’t get it. Somehow the perception is, “Why should I care about the environment? The scientists contradict one another. As a company, our number one priority is profit.” Indeed, the IPCC report may be interpreted by some business people as not being a sufficiently urgent call to action but rather one of just learning to adapt to climate change.

However, in just the past few years it seems that a movement is afoot, sparked by investors in publicly traded companies. According to CDP, a not-for-profit organization that measures and discloses environmental information on behalf of investors, over half of the 31 world’s stock exchanges produce data relating to the environment. Indeed, the primary catalyst to companies paying attention to their impacts on the environment is coming from investors. CDP, the only global system for investors, represents investors with $92 trillion in assets. Some 5,000 companies are sent questionnaires on issues such as meeting emissions targets and specific initiatives.

What has not been adequately communicated is that some companies have embraced what is called the Triple Bottom Line:
1) Economic Sustainability
2) Social Sustainability
3) Environmental Sustainability

Yes, there are many companies around the world that are actually practicing a triple bottom line approach to business. They seek not just to make profits but also to contribute to society and to minimize their operations’ impacts on the environment. Here are four examples from Canada, Germany, the United States and New Zealand.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Mountain Equipment Co-op
MEC, as it’s affectionately called, is Canada’s largest retail outdoor-oriented co-operative. Based in Vancouver, British Columbia, MEC has demonstrated a sustained commitment to environmental and social responsibility since its founding in 1971 by six people. Whether it’s constructing green buildings, using recycled fibres in its clothing or getting involved in community efforts, MEC strives to make a positive impact on the planet and at the local level.

Owned by its members, MEC fulfills its core purpose: to help people enjoy the benefits of self-propelled outdoor-oriented recreational activities by providing outdoor gear, clothing and services. It has over three million members, not just in Canada but worldwide.

MEC’s mission is to serve its membership in an environmentally and ethically responsible manner. As part of its green operations, MEC pays close attention to how it packages and ships its products. This ranges from reducing the thickness of cardboard to using only recyclable materials to developing vendor manuals with specific packaging guidelines.

MEC is engaged in numerous activities and new initiatives. For example, employees are paid to do volunteer community work aimed at outdoor recreation and conservation. To reduce their environmental footprint, employees have bike rooms and lockers to encourage cycling to work. An astonishing 82% of MEC employees take alternate transportation to work, with one third cycling.

bmw BMW Group
BMW earned for the seventh year in a row the Dow Jones Sustainability Index Leader award. This is the most influential stock index for companies that are committed to sustainable practices. BMW’s award is well deserved, considering the company’s long journey to being eventually recognized as a world leader in sustainable business practices.

The company’s voyage began back in 1973, when it appointed an environmental officer; this was a first for the automotive industry first. Over the next four decades, BMW worked systematically to refine its approach to sustainability in a manufacturing environment. In 2009, corporate sustainability was set as a corporate objective.

Committed leadership is essential to maintaining BMW’s sustainability journey. The sustainability board, comprising all members of the board of management, determines how corporate objectives are aligned with BMW’s longer-term goals.

5124091291_dae7df261a_b Icebreaker
We all know that wool is warm, even when wet. But it can be bulky and very itchy for many people to wear. But what if you could wear a high quality product against your skin, one that breathes well, does not itch one bit and which is basically stink-proof? And to boot, the company that has produced it for two decades is completely committed to sustainable business practices?

Meet New Zealander Jeremy Moon, whose encounter with a merino sheep farmer in 1994 changed his life. Soft spoken and articulate, Moon recounts how he met through his American girl friend a New Zealand farmer who showed him a merino tee-shirt he had made as a prototype. Moon was astounded by its softness and natural feel. The 24-year old marketing graduate had an idea about selling merino wool tee-shirts, and with a NZ$20,000 loan from his bank, combined with funds from eight investors, he set about to create a company.

Icebreaker’s early days were bleak, with quality problems in its apparel. However, Moon persevered and by the fourth year his company made its first profit. Today, with some 350 employees located in such countries as New Zealand, Canada, the United States, Australia, France, Germany and Switzerland, Icebreaker is seen as being the benchmark for high quality merino clothing. From base layers to tee-shirts to soft shells to running gear, Icebreaker continues to innovate and grow. The company’s customers now span 30 countries, with its clothing sold in more than 2,500 retailers.

Ray Anderson 4 Interface Inc.
For those of you who have followed my blogging, you’re acquainted with the name of the late Ray Anderson, perhaps the greenest CEO yet to inhabit Planet Earth. Anderson died from cancer in August 2011, yet he left a huge positive impact on the planet. His journey in the 1990s from typical corporate CEO to one consumed with radically changing how his flooring company Interface operated, from its organizational culture to its emissions and effluents, was truly remarkable.

Anderson’s aim was a zero carbon footprint. At the core of his work was innovation. His vision was one day attaining a state of no environmental impact on the planet as the result of his company’s manufacturing operations, a zero carbon footprint. He strove tirelessly to reach it. And it was not just a matter of finding new innovative ways of eliminating emissions or integrating waste from floor cuttings back into productive use, but ensuring that employees evolved with changes and that they embraced them. (Watch this 2009 TED talk by Ray Anderson on the business logic of sustainability).

If we want to address global warming, along with the other environmental problems associated with our continued rush to burn our precious fossil fuels as quickly as possible, we must learn to use our resources more wisely, kick our addiction, and quickly start turning to sources of energy that have fewer negative impacts.

– David Suzuki (Scientist and Canadian Broadcaster, Host of CBC’s “The Nature of Things”)

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An Ageing Population in All Its Glory

June 15, 2014
Funny-Old-People-3 Turn on the TV news, read your favorite newspaper or magazine, or go online to read the news, and you’ll probably encounter a story about our ageing population, or at least a story linked to it.

Most Western countries are facing long-term problems because of a greying population. But so, too, are Japan and South Korea, to name just two. Canada and the U.S. are among the more fortunate because of immigration and the higher birth rates of immigrants. About 80% of Canada’s population increase has been due to immigration, in contrast to the U.S. where it’s been the result largely of natural increase.

The point is, steadily ageing populations in the long-term present huge problems to national governments. For example, in 2025 the first Baby Boomers will reach age 80, with the youngest being in their early sixties. Canada’s low fertility rate will mean that lower numbers of youth (relative to the past) will replace Boomers in the labor market. Indeed, by 2025 it will be only immigration that will stop a decline in the country’s population.

Healthcare and how it’s funded is the most frequently mentioned issue in the news. As people age, the ratio of those working who pay into the tax system to those dependent (children and seniors) starts to get squeezed. The bad news is that as we get into our senior years, as our knees and tickers give out, we start placing an inordinate strain on the healthcare and, indirectly, the taxation system. Who’s going to pay the escalating healthcare bill?

Compounding this ugly scene is a crappy labor market for youth and Generation Y. On top of this is an increasingly difficult situation for older workers (50-plus), whose wages are getting squeezed and whose adaptability to new technologies often presents challenges. Furthermore, the job scene–or lack thereof–is pushing more young people to either remain at home with mom and dad or to move back home in an effort to keep their economic heads above water.

It’s not a pretty situation, and unfortunately an ageing population can’t be reversed. It is what it is. And it’s entirely predictable, the one time that economists can hold their heads up high.

old So what do we do? Moan about the problem?

Human capital development (fancy economist speak for education and skills training) is a nation’s most valuable asset. We’ve heard the “people are our most valuable asset” mantra for years in organizations. Those organizations that need to espouse this are least likely to actually practice it.

We can’t change the fact that our population is getting older, with the associated problems. However, what is within our control, both at the national political level and at the organization level, is how we respond to the challenge. Rather than tolerating the barriers that have become erected between the generations, especially the wall that has sealed Baby Boomers unto themselves, much more work needs to be done to build bridges based on respect and understanding across Generations X and Y, Baby Boomers, the Silent Generation (67 to 82) and the Greatest Generation (82 plus).

For more on this topic, click on this link to read my e-book Leadership and the Inter-Generational Divide, 2nd Edition. And for more on the challenges of an ageing population and its effects on organization, read my e-book Workforce of the Future: Building Change Adaptability, 2nd Edition.

What leaders are called upon to do in a chaotic world is to shape their organizations through concepts, not through elaborate rules or structures.

– Margaret Wheatley

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Begin With the End in Mind

June 9, 2014
habit 2 How often have you started a project at work, or been part of a community effort that took some time to get off the ground, to discover partway through that your team had lost its way, unsure of what was the original goal?

This happens all too often. And what’s scary is when it happens to large government taxpayer-funded projects, whether in healthcare, defense or transportation, to name just three areas. It is indeed somewhat amazing that the supposed brain power and leadership behind mammoth projects is frequently highly fallible. We’re human beings placed on this planet for mere nanoseconds when placed in the context of Earth’s history. But we think we have the answers and ready solutions. As American actress Mae West once said, “An ounce of performance is worth pounds of promises.”

Enter one person who articulated so well the importance of beginning with the end in mind as the path to remaining focused, achieving our goals on time, and meeting our promises and commitments to co-workers, friends and loved ones.

Stephen Covey in his hugely popular book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People described seven daily practices with which each of us should lead our lives (an 8th habit was released several years after the first edition was published). Check out the 7 Habits.

Habit #2 is Begin with the End in Mind. At the personal level, it’s about imaging the future and creating a mission statement to define, articulate and to focus one’s energy to realize that dream. Extend this concept to working within organizational walls, or in a community setting. As Covey explained: “Begin with the End in Mind means to begin each day, task, or project with a clear vision of your desired direction and destination, and then continue by flexing your proactive muscles to make things happen.”

Covey’s Habit 2 is easily converted to the aggregate level, consisting of small and large groups of people.

As someone who’s been in the work force a long time, working first in the private sector then the public sector for three decades and now back in the private sector, I’ve observed that our busy lives is seriously affecting how we approach work when it comes to taking the time to reflect clearly on what we wish to accomplish, both at the personal and corporate levels. Our growing addiction to instantaneity and multitasking is severely shortening our attention spans and long-term thinking.

This is not just undesirable from a personal goal perspective, especially for younger people who need to think both strategically and tactically in the face of a tough job market, but also from a national level when it comes to competing against the growing number of hungry economic competitors, most of whom are poor countries trying to get a piece of the wealth action.

Taking the time for reflection and strategic thinking now requires concerted self-discipline. For those people leading teams, whether project-based or intact, and especially for those leading organizations, now is the time to reassert your leadership. This comes by modelling the behaviors you wish to see your peers and followers emulate. Encourage periodic downtime, where the urgent is parked temporarily and the important (as Covey urged) becomes sacrosanct.

You will be stronger as a leader. Your team will be more vibrant. And your organization will strengthen its performance.

When you are problem-solving, you are trying to get rid of something. When you are in a creative mode, you are trying to bring something into being.

– Stephen Covey

Leading in Multipolar World 2nd editionClick here to download my complimentary e-book Workforce of the Future: Building Change Adaptability, 2nd Edition.

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Do You Know the Three “Cs” in a Social Media World?

June 1, 2014
Collaboration We think a more open and connected world will create a stronger economy with more authentic businesses that build better products and services.

We expect governments will become more responsive to issues and concerns raised directly by all their people rather than through intermediaries controlled by the select few.
– Mark Zuckerberg (Founder, Facebook)

The economy’s inter-connectedness has been driven heavily by technology. That’s well documented. In the span of a decade social media has been responsible for shaking up not only how business operates but also in helping citizens in totalitarian, state-run countries empower themselves. Governments in these countries have been caught off-guard. Witness the rapid changes that occurred from the Arab Spring which gained momentum in 2011. The ensuing violence was seen around the world, along with the victories.

Perhaps, as some observers have suggested, too much credit has been given to Facebook, started by Mark Zuckerberg in a university dorm room in 2004. Twitter may have played a more important role, if not at least an equal one. The point to keep in mind is that some countries, such as Syria which “unplugged” the Internet while it has continued to slaughter its citizens, found expedient ways to repress dissent. This has left reporting to the outside world to incredibly brave Western journalists. Sometimes old-fashioned methods outperform new technologies.

The rapid growth in social media is exerting pressure on business and government on how they serve customers and citizens. Social media is rapidly changing how organizations function. And with this comes tensions between older and younger generations, in which Gen Y (13 to 33) embraces technology and virtual collaboration. Baby Boomers (48-67) are trying to adapt to this change, struggling with such dated concepts as “bums-in-chairs = productivity.”

Enter three key concepts that are exerting profound impacts on how people get work done: Collaboration, Co-creation, Co-production.

The three Cs are quickly changing how we think and act. As just noted above, Gen Y can be thanked for the role it’s playing here. For far too long, companies and governments have dictated how employees and citizens should think and behave. Our (Canada and the U.S.) primary savior for the future is embracing collaboration, co-creation and co-production, because from these people-driven processes comes INNOVATION, the lifeblood of a society and its economy.

Attempts to compete in government-subsidized business inducements to locate plants, or reducing wages and workers’ rights, lead to a downward spiral from which a nation may never recover. It’s a literal race to the bottom. This is what is happening in America, where numerous states have legislated union-killing Right to Work acts, or where states out-bid one another with insane enticements to automotive manufacturers. What the heck is going on here?

innovation-010 It’s ALL about INNOVATION. Social media and technology, combined with the ingenuity of people, can make a huge difference in how a nation addresses global competition.

With collaboration people come together, whether face-to-face or virtually, to make a positive difference in whatever field or area in which they are working to improve. It could be healthcare, public policy or manufacturing.

China gets it. That country’s four main priorities for innovators are: promoting collaboration, understanding Chinese customers, retaining talent, and creating a risk-taking culture.

The power behind co-creation is that when people collaborate and put aside their egos and differences, amazing things can happen. Nothing is more powerful than a shared vision, which propels a group of people forward.

From this emerges co-production, where collaboration and co-creation are now producing new policies, products or services for consumers and citizens.

The power of the three Cs is to help redefine what connectivity means, a word that has become superfluous because of its overuse in day-to-day conversation. What’s most exciting is that society is still in the infant stage of what social media and technology offer to help improve society’s overall wellbeing, and the tools to assist business and government reach out more effectively to serve customers and citizens. In particular, the potential for quantum leaps in innovation is unlimited.

For more on technology’s impact on our lives read my new e-book Workforce of the Future: Building Change Adaptability, 2nd Edition

The best way to predict your future is to create it.

– Peter Drucker

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Are You Generating Transactions Or New Customers?

May 26, 2014
Dog Once upon a time there was a CEO of a pet food company who wanted to increase his profits from making dog food. So he consulted the wisest men in his company, who all knew about developing computer programs that would analyze the nutrition needs of dogs and the nutrition content of various grains and food supplements.

Eager to please the CEO, the wise men programmed their computers to come up with the optimum combination of grains and supplements that would meet the nutrition needs of man’s best friend at the lowest price.

But a strange thing happened.

During the first six months of selling optimum nutrition mix at the lowest price, profit margins at the company declined. The next quarter, profits dived once more. “What is going on?” the CEO demanded.

Since his wise men didn’t have an answer, the CEO consulted the greatest expert in the land, who knew all about the mysterious science of systems analysis and who conducted an extensive study (at considerable expense).

When he was finished, the expert appeared before the CEO. “Have you discovered why our profits are declining?” the CEO demanded.

“I have,” said the expert, leaning on a thick report. “The dogs don’t like it.”

(As told in The Capitalist Philosophers, by Andrea Gabor)

Dog lying down You enter a retail or personal services store. The staff ignore you, or mutter some form of incomprehensible greeting. You’re not asked if you’d like some help finding a product or what kind of service you’re seeking.

Or you ask where something is, only to be ignored. Or if you’re lucky, an outstretched hand motions somewhere towards the back of the store: “It’s back there along the wall, beside the whatchamacallit.” You search in vain, no one offers any help and you finally leave the store in frustration, vowing never to return.

Then there’s the famous scene of trying to return merchandise, to discover an onerous process involving numerous steps and a store manager whose approval is needed but who cannot be located. You finally succeed in making the return, only to feel somewhat guilty for having generated such an amount of work for staff.

There’s an endless of array of situations and stories one can recount when it comes to customer service. And that’s not even touching call centers, which raises the degrading of consumers to a new level. The point is, at the core of this problem is treating customers–human beings–as transactions.

The maxim “Treat others as how you would like to be treated” would seem to be the obvious solution. However, the obvious doesn’t always hold in real life. I’ve sometimes pondered how those individuals who provide crappy, rude service to customers, regardless of industry, react when they’re on the receiving end.

Me? I’m a demanding old codger. BUT, having spent several decades in and around the area of customer-client service, starting back in the late seventies when I first worked in consumer lending, through three decades in government service branches and currently in retail sales, I consistently treat people as how I want to be treated when I walk into a store or phone a call center.

It’s not rocket science. Yet it seems that most companies still don’t get it. They’re the ones providing mediocre service at best. And then there are those that step on customers, wondering why their business is faltering as sales slide. Then there is the minority: companies that truly get it when making the connection between outstanding customer service and making money, and lots of it. And along the way customers are happy and more than satisfied, telling their families and friends about their experiences. The beauty behind this is that this is FREE advertising.

dog2 Examples abound of companies that advertise heavily, spending huge amounts of money yet when customers walk into, say, a motor vehicle showroom, the sales staff are indifferent, rude or arrogant. Given how competitive the automotive industry is, I’ve yet to understand why automotive dealerships haven’t figured this out.

I look at my own history of buying cars over some 35 years and there are only two instances I can recall where the sales guys were superb. They treated my wife, Sue, and me with respect, and they remembered our names, coming over to talk to us when we brought our vehicles in for servicing. Indeed, one of the fellows is the salesman from whom I’ve bought our two current vehicles. Three of our kids have purchased their cars from Roy, and they, in turn, including me have referred friends to him. And it’s why Roy is Hyundai’s top sales person in Canada. Roy’s loyal customer base is growing steadily, and he doesn’t have to pay a cent for promotions or advertising.

To paraphrase political pundit James Carver, who as Bill Clinton’s campaign advisor in 1992 said in reference to President H.W. Bush, “It’s about the economy, stupid!” Well, for the purpose of this post, “It’s about customer service, stupid!” One could state it more elegantly; however, it’s more fun to use the vernacular sometimes when stressing a vital point.

The key to providing superior customer service is learning how to make an emotional connection with each customer. Yes, most of the time service providers are spending only a brief amount of time with customers. However, what gets overlooked is building repeat business, where a customer makes your establishment his or her go-to place for certain products or services.

That’s accomplished by focusing intently on their needs and wants, presenting options when possible, remembering their names or activities they engage in, etc. The aim is to make that customer feel like they’re the only one in the store at that moment. And the next time they’re in you ask them how the product they bought worked out. Or maybe they’ve returned from the trip they told you about. Ask them about it.

Service providers aren’t perfect and certainly don’t walk on water. However, the folks I’ve worked with in different sectors have made a strong effort to engage customers. And it pays big rewards to the business when a loyal customer following is created.

It all starts with making the emotional connections with those who enter your business. It takes additional effort and needs to be done consistently, each and every time. But it’s also enjoyable for those serving others. It may be work; however, incorporating an element of fun into helping others should be encouraged. After all, we’re human beings who are seeking more than just transactions.

If stupidity got us into this mess, then why can’t it get us out?

– Will Rogers

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Redistributing Wealth in a Globalized Economy

May 19, 2014

In a recent post I introduced my new ebook Workforce of the Future: Building Change Adaptability, 2nd Edition. One of the four major forces that is changing society–and for the better–is the redistribution of wealth that has been accelerating over the past two decades. Western Europe, Great Britain, Canada and the United States have become accustomed to an ever rising standard of living, in part gained from resource exploitation from what has been called developing countries or The Third World in years past.

No more.

There are new kids on the block, and boy are they ever hungry! They want a piece of the wealth action.

So who are these kids?

The list is long: South Korea, Brazil, India, China, Singapore, Indonesia, Taiwan, Mexico, Turkey…. These countries have worked tirelessly at building their economies over many years. South Korea is an outstanding example of a country–growth economy– which, only a couple of decades ago, was a dictatorship. Now look at its prominence as a recent democratic nation that produces world-class consumer and heavy industrial products. The names Samsung, Hyundai and LG are now part of our vocabulary. South Koreans live on average 26 more years and earn 15 times as much as North Koreans.

And the Chinese? They live an additional 28 years and are 10 times wealthier compared to 50 years ago.

What’s been happening over the past two decades is the growing assertiveness of these once poor countries. Coupled with this has been an increasingly intimate planet, where people half a world away from North America want a piece of the wealth action. Facilitated by technology and the West’s insatiable need for instant gratification, the traditional have-nots want democratically elected governments to enable: a) a voice for the people and b) the path to creating meaningful jobs that produce income and enhanced consumer buying power.

Placed against this scene is the trend in America, Canada and many parts of Western Europe of the expanding gap between the very few rich and the declining middle class and working poor.


Years before the 2008 financial meltdown and ensuing Great Recession, North America’s and Europe’s manufacturing sector had begun to shrink, losing in the process typically well-paid jobs, replaced with call centers and other service-related employment which often pay much lower wages. Business people, public policy wonks and economists claimed that manufacturing was a has-been industrial activity, in contrast to the “knowledge jobs” that the service sector would create.

Those who drank the Kool Aid came to realize that the hype from various think tanks that spouted off the benefits of offshoring jobs to a long list of new economic players was just that.

The genie of an emerging multipolar world can’t be shoved back into the bottle. It’s striking when one looks in the rear-view mirror of the past two-plus decades. The intertwined nature of geo-political, economic, technological and environmental events has taken the world to where it is today.

A world characterized with increasingly distributed wealth is more democratic when it comes to economic power (yes, political democracy is slipping globally based on recent analyses). Citizens in such countries as Indonesia, Vietnam and Brazil are more enabled to lead decent lives. Out of a population of 1.3 billion people, China has a middle class estimated at 300 million, and growing. That’s almost the population of the United States. One of China’s priorities is to shift from a reliance on exporting manufactured goods to the West, to meeting rising domestic consumer demand.

Before one comments that these countries, along with dozens of other emerging economies, have significant gaps between the haves and have-nots, just look at the United States and its deteriorating condition with respect to income disparity. Anyone recall the 99 Percent? Canada, incidentally, has one of the fastest growing income disparity gaps in the world.

With a redistribution of wealth, driven by a global rebalancing, come new threats and alliances. Rather than wring one’s hands in anxiety, the more appropriate response would be to identify the challenges and opportunities and then act on them strategically and quickly.

Enter leadership.

Predictions are good therapy, arising from a human thirst for certainty. That might have been reasonable in some ancient world, but is hardly right for today’s.

– Nassim Nicholas Taleb (The Economist, The World in 2013)

Leading in Multipolar World 2nd editionClick here to download my complimentary e-book Leading in a Multipolar World: Four Forces Shaping Society, 2nd Edition.

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Jim TaggartTake a moment to meet Jim.


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