Tag Archives: Quality

Poison on the Team

As charcoal to embers and as wood to fire,
    so is a quarrelsome person for kindling strife.

Proverbs 26:21 (NIV)

There is a client of mine who had a team that had been struggling for some time. While other teams around them were making great strides in their service performance, this one particular team languished in mediocrity. My quarterly training sessions with this team were sometimes painful. Silence. Arms crossed. No eye contact. No participation.

There was one member of this team who was, by far, the worst performer of the group. His performance on the phone calls we regularly assessed were so bad, that one almost had to willfully try to be that consistently awful to their customers. Over several years, the management team tried just about everything to motivate a change in this person. They tried offering cash bonuses for better performance, they provided remedial coaching (I had the joy of conducting many of the coaching sessions…ugh, also painful), they wrote him up on multiple Performance Improvement Plans with HR, and they made threats to fire him. Nothing worked. The longer this went on, I believe the more convinced he was that he didn’t really have to change and the more stubborn he became.

Coincidentally, I was asked at one point to mentor this team’s new supervisor. The newbie had been a member of the team for a long time and was promoted to his first managerial position. I watched him go through all of the same efforts as his predecessor trying to motivate behavior change in the team’s entrenched curmudgeon.

“What am I going to do with him?” the supervisor eventually asked me directly.

“Fire him,” I responded just as directly.

The supervisor seemed shocked by response. I explained.

Look,” I said, “Your management team has wasted their efforts for years trying to get this person to perform. There is a well-documented track record of a bad attitude, poor performance, and an unwillingness to do any more than the very least that is required to avoid getting fired. His attitude has poisoned the entire team and your team will never be healthy until you get rid of the problem at the source.

I had made this same suggestion multiple times to the supervisor’s predecessor and managers, but they could never take the final step of terminating his employment. I actually expected nothing different from the new supervisor, because he was new and firing a team member went against this client’s corporate culture.

I was, therefore, surprised to learn that my managerial protégé took my advice and fired the team member a short time later. Wouldn’t you know it? That year the team that had been mired in mediocrity reached their service quality performance goal for the very first time. I handed out more year-end performance awards to members of that team than ever. The team that had been so painful to train for so many years was laughing, cheering, clapping, and celebrating.

In today’s chapter, Solomon wisely says that a quarrelsome and contentious person is like adding wood to a fire. It spreads. My client’s entire team was stuck in their contentious mediocrity and poor performance because of one team member’s poisonous attitude. I wish I could say that this is the only example I’ve seen in my years of helping my clients improve the quality of their customer service, but it’s not. It’s actually fairly common. What isn’t common is a client’s willingness to do the right thing for everyone (especially their customers) and decisively extract the poison from the system whether it is firing the person or moving them to a different job with a different team that might be a better fit.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about other poisonous team members I’ve encountered in my vocational journey and the reticence, even in my own company, of confronting it. What I’ve observed over time is that these individuals really don’t want to be in their positions. Sometimes getting rid of a poisonous team member actually frees that person to find something better for themselves. I have followed the careers of a few fired team members on social media and it appears that they are much happier after finding a job that better suits their talents, desires, and personalities. And, some appear to be tragically angry and contentious people in any role no matter where they work.

At least a company can fire such a person. When the contentious and quarrelsome individual is part of a family system, it’s a far more difficult situation. Solomon had another proverb for such tragic circumstances:

To have a fool for a child brings grief;
    there is no joy for the parent of a godless fool.

<— Click on Solomon for an indexed list of previous chapter-a-day posts from this series from Proverbs!

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Footnote to a Proverb

Plans fail for lack of counsel,
    but with many advisers they succeed.
Proverbs 15:22 (NIV)

One of the things about my job is that I am sometimes placed in the position of being the bearer of difficult news. Sometimes the data from a survey, or a team’s service quality assessment, is not what my client wants to hear. Over the years, I’ve had to learn how to communicate undesirable truths in a way that they can be received and turned into tactical options for turning things around. Sometimes, that’s impossible.

One of the things I’ve observed in my career journey is that the crucial variable in these types of situations is the wisdom, maturity, and attitude of the leader who is hearing the news I have to bring. There are times when it didn’t matter how I approached the situation. I, the messenger, would be shot.

I was once asked to sit in on a CEO’s advisory team as he launched a new initiative. I was impressed with the team that had been assembled and was actually excited to participate as an “outsider.” What became clear, however, was that the CEO wanted team members who only provided advice deemed positive and encouraging to the ego. I’ve seen this before. A client asks us to create a quality assessment scorecard that ensures every employee will get nothing but perfect marks all the time. The motivation for this request is the mistaken notion that everyone will “feel like a winner” (the customers are the losers who are still getting a poor service experience from the company’s representatives, while those representatives are continually rewarded for their mediocrity). I didn’t last long on that advisory team. I was good with that.

In today’s chapter, wise King Solomon shares that success comes with “many advisors,” and I believe that to be true. However, I found myself wanting to add a footnote to the proverb. The heart of both the leader and the advisors are crucial. The advisors have to be willing to say what the leader needs to hear, and the leader must be willing to hear whatever wisdom the advisors feel necessary to share (even if it’s not what the leader wants to hear).

As I was mulling these things over I found myself reminded of a recent Board meeting of our company in which one of our Directors really challenged a decision. Even though it didn’t ultimately sway a change in the decision, we needed that challenge. We needed to discuss a different point-of-view. It helped bring clarity to the issue and forced me, the leader, to consider the wisdom of other options. I want my Board members to be honest, and I want to be wise enough to heed their counsel even when it goes against my personal feelings, thoughts, and opinions.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself reflecting on several experiences as both leader and advisor along my life journey. I’ve learned that I can’t really change others. I can only be responsible for myself in the role of both leader (accepting wise counsel) and advisor. My time is most wisely spent with those who really want my honest input, whether they ultimately heed it or not. Those who don’t really want to hear what I actually think and believe are better off finding another advisor.

<— Click on Solomon for an indexed list of previous chapter-a-day posts from this series from Proverbs!

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

The Thrill of Pursuit

“If the king regards me with favor and if it pleases the king to grant my petition and fulfill my request, let the king and Haman come tomorrow to the banquet I will prepare for them. Then I will answer the king’s question.”
Esther 5:8 (NIV)

A number of years ago I was asked to speak to a group of middle schoolers. I costumed myself with the best secret agent look I could pull off and, after being introduced, I entered the room to the theme from Mission: Impossible being blared on the auditorium sound system. I then announced to the rowdy bunch of young people that I had a secret mission for them (should they choose to accept it), and there was one rule. When their parents asked what I talked about or what the lesson was, they could only respond with, “I can’t tell you. It’s a secret.” I told them that if their parents got upset, to tell them to contact me directly.

I then talked to the kids about simple practical ways to honor their parents, not because they had to, but out of a covert operation to respect, honor, and show gratitude for all their parents do for them. I also assured them that, if they followed my operational procedures, they would be driving their parent’s crazy wondering who kidnapped their middle schooler and replaced them with a well-behaved clone.

It was less than an hour after the night’s program ended that I started getting texts from curious parents going crazy because their kids were simply laughing and refusing to tell them what they’d learned that night.

That night was a lot of fun. I ultimately don’t know how effective it was at teaching kids about being respectful and honoring of their parents, but I certainly got everyone’s attention. There is something we human’s love about the thrill of pursuit, delayed gratification, and prolonged curiosity. One of my all-time favorite birthday gifts for Wendy was the year I started her off by letting her open one present. It was a GPS device on which she discovered there was a programmed route for her to follow. At each waypoint on the route, she found one of her friends waiting for her to get a manicure, have a cup of coffee, and etc. We love the tease of the unknown and the thrill of pursuit.

In today’s chapter, Esther uses the thrill of pursuit to heighten her husband’s curiosity about her request. Actually, Esther was following a common practice in ancient near-East civilizations when it came to making a specific request of someone in power. It was a culturally prescribed method intended to honor the one of whom the request was being made and to engage our human love of curiosity and the thrill of pursuit. We see the result in Haman who is excited to tell his wife and friends all about it.

In the quiet this morning I find myself thinking about the ancient practice that Esther employed in contrast to our 21st culture. I wonder how much technology and the instant gratification we enjoy for so many things in life has robbed us of the thrill of pursuit and the positive character qualities that are developed with delayed gratification. In the Customer Satisfaction and Customer Experience research my company regularly produced for clients we are finding that customers are increasingly expecting instant gratification to their desire to reach a human being in Customer Service or getting access to information they desire. I sometimes wonder if where it’s all leading.

I guess I’ll have to wait to find out ;-).

Have a great week, my friend.

Judgment, Fruit Inspection, and Mixing Metaphors

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”
Matthew 7:15-20 (NIV)

For over 25 years I have been in the business of the behavioral analysis of human interactions (e.g. “Your call may be monitored for training and quality assurance purposes“). One time the Quality Assurance (QA) manager of a client told me that she gave an agent a score of “0” on her call. There were about 30 behavioral criteria analyzed in a given call so that the score reflected a generally accurate picture of what the customer did and didn’t experience in the interaction. To get a “0” an agent would almost have to pick up the phone and immediately stroke out, but even then the agent would be credited for not rushing the caller off the phone. Getting a zero is practically impossible if the agent had blood pressure and a pulse.

As I asked a few questions I soon discovered that the manager didn’t particularly like the agent who took the call she scored “0.” I suspect there were other employment or personality issues between the two. When the agent did something the manager didn’t like on the call, the manager took the opportunity to exercise her power and dismiss the agent and her performance as utterly worthless.

In today’s chapter Jesus continues His famous Sermon on the Mount with a direct command not to be judgmental of others. He goes on to illustrate what he means by describing those who will find a “speck” of something wrong about someone else which they use to justify their judgment, grudge or dismissive attitude towards that person. The judgmental person is, of course, ignoring the glaring 2x4s of their own personal flaws as they do this.

Later in the chapter Jesus is speaks specifically about “false prophets.” In Jesus day there were all sorts of religious teachers, cult leaders, and false prophets making all sorts of religious claims. One of the things we fail to realize is that teachers and preachers claiming to be the Messiah were quite common in Jesus’ day. Just like televangelists and cult leaders in our current era, it was a lucrative gig to convince the crowds you’re the Messiah.

Jesus then gives a word picture to help his listeners be discerning and objective in their Quality Assurance assessment of these “false prophets.” Look at the fruit of their teaching and ministry. Is it the things of God? Goodness? Humility? Generosity? Repentance? Reconciliation? Changed lives? Or is it the things of this world? Wealth? Arrogance? Pride? Power? Control? Hatred? Look at the outcomes and results of these prophets and teachers. That’s the way to know if they are servants of God or servants of themselves.

Along my life’s journey I’ve run into many of my fellow followers of Jesus who will proudly and loudly proclaim: “I’m not supposed to judge other people, but I am called to be a fruit inspector!” These individuals then quickly find a “speck” on the “fruit” of another person’s life and feel perfectly justified in claiming the power and authority to dismiss or condemn the whole tree for quality issues. They use Jesus’ call to be “fruit inspectors” of false prophets to justify their judgement of anyone and everyone’s “specks.”

This morning I’m thinking about the ways we mix up Jesus’ metaphors and twist His teaching to justify the very things he commands us not to do. Even as I write this I’ve got my own 2x4s staring me square in the face. I’m praying for mercy this morning, and confessing my own critical and judgmental attitude towards others. God’s Message tells us that the “fruit” of God’s Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control. In order to consistently produce a good crop there is regular regimen of cultivating, watering, tending, and pruning. I’ve been following Jesus a long time, but I constantly have some pruning to do.

Lord, have mercy on me.

 

Faith & Love Analysis

source: debord via flickr
source: debord via flickr

We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing. 2 Thessalonians 1:3 (NIV)

Yesterday I was on-site with a client. I sat with four Customer Service agents walked through the criteria that we will use to analyze the quality of service they provide over the phone. The process requires us to ask, “What does good service sound like? What behaviors are evidence of a quality service experience?” By listening for evidence of these behaviors in the calls we analyze, we can determine how consistently our client’s customers are receiving a quality experience.

This morning as I read the reasons Paul gave for being thankful for the Jesus followers in Thessalonica I suddenly saw it through my vocational lens. “What is the behavioral criteria that points to doing a good job in my faith?” Paul gives two:

  • Faith that continues to grow
  • Love that continues to increase

This morning, I’m asking myself some hard questions. What evidence is there that my faith has grown over the past week, month, or year? In what ways has my active love of others tangibly increased during those same periods of time? To what can I point for substantiation of measurable growth?

I’m not sure I like the answers to my questions. Lord, have mercy on me. Some days I look at the path and realize just how far I have to go.

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Spiritual Home Improvement

shack at the landfill
(Photo credit: margaretkilljoy)

Chapter-a-Day 1 Corinthians 3

Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. I Corinthians 3:12-13 (NLT)

Down in Missouri, on the lot next to our Playhouse there sits a house on a poured foundation. Years ago the owners poured a nice concrete foundation and began to build on top of it. They enclosed the house, furnished the inside and added a patio door that opened toward the lake. Then, they abandoned it.

No one has been to the house on the lot next to ours for decades. The roof collapsed. The furniture and walls are covered in black mold. Local wildlife have lived on the inside and caused more destruction to the contents. The house is a health hazard and an eye sore. But, the foundation is still solid. We have more than one friend who has eyed the property and come to the conclusion that you could bulldoze the house, clean off the foundation, and start building a new home on it.

That house (or what’s left of it) is the perfect word picture of exactly what today’s chapter is trying to communicate. When we come to the point of decision and choose to follow Jesus, the Spirit of God indwells us and pours a rock-solid spiritual foundation in our hearts. From that point on our motivations, our thoughts, our words, and our actions are the construction materials with which we build our spiritual “house” on that foundation. As we live day-to-day, the quality of our choices and lives determine the quality of the spiritual house we’re building. Some of us throw up a shack and are content to live in spiritual squalor. Others take the time, develop the discipline, and make the sacrificial investment to build a spiritual mansion. Like our neighbors at the lake, some of us abandon our spiritual building and its foundation altogether.

Today, I’m meditating on this simple word picture and considering the quality of the spiritual house I’m building on the foundation of salvation Jesus poured in my heart 30 years ago. As all homeowners know, the work is never finished. I have sections of the house I’m proud of. I have other sections that need to be gutted and renovated from the ground up. As one company reminds us: “never stop improving.” As long as there is life and breath, the building and renovation of my spiritual house will continue.

 

On Leading and Leading Well

In questi occhi potrei perdermi / I could lose...
(Photo credit: cigno5!)

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 62

So many enemies against one man—
    all of them trying to kill me.
To them I’m just a broken-down wall
    or a tottering fence.
They plan to topple me from my high position.
    They delight in telling lies about me.
They praise me to my face
    but curse me in their hearts.
Psalm 62:3-4 (NLT)

Since being elected captain of the Woodlawn Elementary School Safety Patrol in 6th grade, I’ve spent most of my life journey in one form of leadership or another. Student Councils, Chaplain, Youth Pastor, Pastor, Elder, Committee Chairman, Director, Producer, Board of Directors, Employer, etc., and etc.  Over the past few years I’ve been investing a good bit of soul searching, reading, quiet time and mental effort ruminating on my leadership.

The truth is, I feel less comfortable as a leader today than I ever have in my entire life. Perhaps it’s the old saying “the more you know the more you realize you don’t know.” I know I can do the job, but the further I get down life’s road the more I want to do the job well and it’s the doing it well part which I find myself pondering incessantly. My personal assessment shows more room for improvement than I care to admit.

As I read King David’s lyrics today, I instantly identified the groans and frustrations of a man who has experienced the burden of leadership in ways I never will. Still, I feel an odd sense of familiarity with the emotions he expresses in his song. Leadership at all levels can leave you feeling alone at the top with a target on your back. You see smiles and hear one thing said to your face while hearing nasty things whispered behind your back.

I appreciate David’s response. It is easy to react to criticism, negativity, and open hostility with anger, vengeance, and aggression either passive or active. I’ve learned, however, that our natural reactions tend to weaken a leader’s position. Leadership requires thoughtful response. When David chooses to respond to his critics and enemies by waiting quietly for God,  he is making the choice of a wise leader. He is avoiding the trap of emotional reaction, he is making space for his own thoughts and meditations on the situation, and as a leader he is recognizing an even higher authority to whom he is accountable.

Anyone can be elected or appointed to a position of leadership. Sometimes we just find ourselves in the position and wonder how we got there. I believe every parent knows this feeling. One minute you’re having fun in bed and the next thing you know you have these big, innocent eyes looking to you for provision, protection, and all of life’s answers. Welcome to leadership. Yet, for the sake of our children, our neighbors, our communities, our businesses, our nation and our world we need leaders who do their jobs well.