South West Training Blog

Articles, tips, guides and blogs around business skills, training, professional courses and development in addition to South West relevant news.

Hero or Villain? How would you be Portrayed in an Online Customer Care Story?

Hero or Villain? How would you be Portrayed in an Online Customer Care Story?

The Somerset County Gazette featured an article on 24th September outlining a family's disgust at the accommodation they were placed in when visiting a holiday site in Burnham on Sea (a seaside resort in Somerset).

The family report what can only be described as a nightmare for any family who has spent money in the anticipation of a relaxing holiday.  Stomach turning photographs and the family's account of cigarette ends under the bed, an ants' nest, filthy hob,insect clad skylight and a lack of safety equipment  all add to the horror of the story. To add further damage, the report outlines the alleged lack of customer care by the company in question when responding appropriately to the family's issues.

Since, the British seem to love stories of this nature then, without doubt it will have been 'liked', 'shared' and commented on.

Although the company in question defend their position, the damage has been done and the situation truly reflects the impact of such stories on the internet and social media streams. Failure to deal with a customer complaint immediately and to the satisfaction of the customer does - and will continue to result in individuals using the internet to air their grievances.

The impact of such stories comes at a significant cost to the company and can undo years of positive PR very quickly. The stories can result in cancellations by people with existing future bookings and also a decline in the repeat business of individuals who would otherwise frequent the resort regularly.

Since the potential for an individual to provide toxic PR for your company through a poor customer care attitude is boundless, then a well communicated customer care plan coupled with strict customer care expectations for all staff members is essential.   Customer care training should be a core commitment of all businesses with a recognition that the business is nothing without its customers.  This commitment should be manifest in management behaviour and attitudes and training should be compulsory for all staff members. Staff should fully understand the customer care standards that the company has in place and methods for responding appropriately to even the most difficult customers.  It is paramount that they appreciate the significance of protecting the reputation of their company in such interactions and the damage that can potentially be done by mismanaging the situation. Managers should then monitor the situation closely; listen to how staff deal with customers, understand the potential impact on the customer and intervene if they feel that the customer has not received the level of customer care promoted by the company.  Ideally, there should be zero tolerance for any negligence in managing customer care needs.

Companies should also consider formal complaint procedures which allow complaints to be formally documented.  Formal complaint documents allow a company to identify trends.  For example, is this issue repeating itself?  If so, what preventative actions should be put in place to stop it happening in the first place or, if it's an issue which cannot be prevented (for example the Burnham on Sea complaint involves the invasion of ants which is common on agricultural land) then what robust contingent actions should be in place?  It may also transpire that a particular individual is involved in an excessive number of complaints.  Where this is the case,  increased customer care training becomes essential.

Good customer care stories make the news too. For example, an incredibly uplifting story, published by the Metro, in which a McDonald's employee took the time and care to help a disabled customer eat his meal went viral recently. Although this story is a genuine act of respect and kindness by the employee, it makes fantastic positive PR for McDonald's. McDonald's are certainly the hero of this particular article. Even in the event of a complaint,  a company's commitment to good customer care makes it more likely that the company will receive positive PR. For example, individuals communicating via Trip Advisor, Facebook or other avenues may report that 'despite x,y or z being an issue the company were quick to resolve the situation and took the complaint seriously'. Such stories result in potential future customers feeling assured that if an issue were to happen that the company would take immediate action to resolve the situation and they are more likely to trust making a booking with the company.

It is paramount therefore, that you protect your company from the type of bad PR experienced by the company in Burnham on Sea and ensure that your customer care processes work effectively and that your staff have equal buy in to the importance of the standards and procedures. Check your processes regularly and consider a 'secret shopper' to assess the degree to which your staff promote your standards.

Training South West provide Customer Care training and related business training to companies across the South West, including Somerset, Dorset and Exeter.

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Calling on South West Businesses to Accommodate Remote Working during the Winter Months

Calling on South West Businesses to Accommodate Remote Working during the Winter Months

I am fortunate enough to be abroad and working at the moment and I am not looking forward to coming back to Dorset, which my family have written to say is already becoming rather cold.

I wrote an article recently on behalf of Training South West which urges businesses in the region to allow more people to avoid the nightmare of commuting during winter months and accommodate remote working arrangements.  

For some people it's essential that they attend the work place but for many others it's not critical to their role at all.  They can probably get a far better job done at home.

Urge your business to look at possible remote working options for you and your colleagues - the benefits to both you as an employee and the environment are even more pronounced for the employer.  They will have a happier workforce, reduce costs, enhance employee retention and increase the geographical scope of the talent pool that they have to chose from.

It's a win win all round!

Training South West provides business training courses to South West companies

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How well do you Performance Manage your Team?

How well do you Performance Manage your Team?

For those of us, fortunate enough to have worked under great managers early in our career, we rarely forget them and aspire towards their management attributes as we progress within our careers. I recall a conversation not too long ago with members of the team in which we discussed the ‘best managers’ for whom we’d worked and one colleague in particular was adamant that all her management skills were learnt from the manager that she held in such high esteem. She remained connected with him and would often approach him if in need of management advice or mentoring.

Management roles present us with an opportunity to really make a difference to an individual and to become that person that positively influences and shapes the development of team members as they progress within the organisation.

If you are new to managing a team, then be sure to get as much support as you can in the early days as this will undoubtedly shape your management success.

Open training programmes are a fantastic start as they give you the opportunity to meet other individuals new to field and to gain an insight into their experiences. These training programmes will also equip you with the fundamental, core performance management skills and challenge you with scenarios and case studies which you will undoubtedly have to deal with as part of your role.

For those of you not in the position to participate in training, here are some key considerations to help you along the way:

·         Ensure you fully understand the roles of your team members.  Where necessary, take the time to sit with them with and shadow them as they do their role.  Understand the challenges of their roles, the tools they use, the way in which their role is integrated with other roles across the organisation and also the success measures of their roles.  Why has the organisation invested in these roles?  What must these roles absolutely deliver in order for them to be of value?

·         If not already mapped, then map out Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for your team members. KPIs are the key objectives of the role; collectively the KPIs of individual roles help the overall organisation to meet their broader objectives

·         Since poor communication can often underlie performance issues, then be sure that all your team members understands their KPIs and what you expect of them – clearly prevention is better than remedy

·         If at any time it becomes apparent that one of your team members is having a difficult time with their role then speak to them immediately.  Performance often becomes an issue if managers leave the individual to it and hope they will find their feet.  Again, prevention of an issue is certainly easier for you and healthier for the self-confidence of the employee concerned if potential problems are averted

·         If discussing performance with any of your team then always ensure that the discussion is as open as possible. It should always be the individual and not you that dominates the conversation.  Failure to listen and failure to facilitate an open discussion will undoubtedly result in the core issues remaining undetected.  The issues are not always what you might assume they are as a manager, do don’t attend the meeting thinking that you have all the answers.

·         During this discussion, you will ultimately want to understand where in the cycle of their role they are finding challenges. On this basis, why are the challenges there?  Is it an issue with training?  Is it an issue with communication (perhaps the needs of the role have not been sufficiently clarified with the individual)? Does the employee lack the tools or materials essential to do their job properly?  Perhaps these tools or materials are not fit for purpose?  Do they need to be further developed / amended? Are other team members being helpful?  Is anyone inadvertently making the role of this individual more difficult than it need be by not fulfilling their own role adequately? Is the individual managing their time properly?  Could they benefit from time management training?

·         Undoubtedly, this conversation (coupled perhaps with additional shadowing of their role for a defined period) will throw light on the issues which need to be addressed. Discuss your findings with the individual and ensure that they are in full agreement with both the issues and your suggested solutions.  Can the individual further add to the solutions?  Is anything missing?

·         Create a shared document with the individual and outline each issue clearly; adding the activities which need to happen in order to correct the issue.  Discuss the document regularly with the individual and take a keen interest in their progress.

It is most likely that the activities outlined above will go a long way to addressing the situation; winning the respect of your team member and the preservation of their dignity and self-confidence.

Where these actions do not correct the situation and where the issue continues, it may be necessary to implement the formal disciplinary processes of your organisation. It is a legal obligation in the UK that companies have formal disciplinary processes in place and that these are followed as required. 

If you need any formal training support in this respect then do not hesitate to get in contact.  We partner South West businesses to deliver Business and Management related training courses across Somerset, Dorset, Wiltshire, Gloucester and surrounding areas.   

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Do Blanket Training Policies Work?

Do Blanket Training Policies Work?

Training approaches differ greatly across companies and with experience working across large corporates through to small privately owned companies, I’ve found that the value and nature of the respective policies vary greatly in tandem.


Within the corporate world, my experience has been that there is a tendency to ‘pin everything down’ – if it can’t be measured, quantified and reported on, then the attitude is that efficiencies are lacking.  With the luxury of ample training budgets, the corporate world has the ability to arrange regular training courses which are delivered by fantastic trainers.  One would assume that the courses would be well received but my experience suggested that these programmes were not.


Often the training policies in place operated a blanket approach which ensured that staff working in particular areas would be trained in a, b, or c; regardless of delegate willingness.  I appreciate this is a need when health and safety or basic job training are at stake, but, what happens when they are not?


Having been a delegate myself on endless courses, I witnessed many people attend merely because the organisation expected them to attend and not because the delegate had opted to.  It was a day out of the office and a chance to have a buffet lunch with colleagues coupled of course with the opportunity to finish early (training often finishes by 4pm). I found that when the ‘want’ factor is taken away from the delegate then the return on investment expected by the employer wanes. They dutifully attended the training session, learn less than would be anticipated and then return to work for business as usual.


Ok, this might be a really negative perception and it’s not as black and white as I write, but there is a great deal of truth here.
When working in a smaller (and often more creative environments) where there was an absence of prescribed training programmes, I found that staff were more motivated to train.  In these particular environments I found that staff members would find something applicable to their roles, that they really enjoyed and would then request training.  The training would then be arranged in response to something that the staff member really wanted to do.  They were motivated to learn and got more from the programme.


When training works from the outside in, i.e. pouring information into a vessel that isn’t necessarily keen to be there, then some (if not all) the information often pours out through the other end.  When, however, the need is generated from inside out i.e. the individual has personally recognised a need for the training and has requested it, the vessel holds far more information. Learning is more likely to be retained and the individual is more likely to apply their learning within the work environment.


Note also the use of the word ‘learning’.  Within this context, learning can be perceived as individually inspired whilst ‘training’ can be perceived as externally instigated. I’m not saying ‘don’t have a training policy’, instead I think companies should really think through how the policy is applied.  Does training really need to be something that is quantified across the board?  Do all courses really need to be mandatory? Perhaps there’s a little freedom that companies can apply when thinking through their policy.  My preference is to present an environment in which, during one to ones and appraisals, employee and employer engage in a conversation which has as little ERTT (Employer Talking Time) as possible and enables the employee to talk about how they are doing in their role and personally identify potential learning paths which meet either current gaps in know-how with their role or learning opportunities to meet the needs of future roles to which they aspire.


As such, my ideal training policy is to ensure that managers know how to facilitate good quality discussions with their staff and are able to promote the learning topic as a key feature of their discussions with their employees.  If the employee recognises a need (and if it’s relevant to the company or the employee’s role) then consider allowing the employee to investigate possible learning or training environments.  It may even be that training which is not entirely related to a role is sanctioned as a retention tool.  A number of times in my role as Manager I have sanctioned Diplomas and other post graduate courses, not because they have directly benefited the role, but because I’ve known that the employee has a deeply held interest.  As such, sanction of such courses has become a retention tool in kind as the employee feels valued and perceives the employer as caring about their personal development.


In the most recent training policy I developed, I also ensured that staff returning from training / learning opportunities shared their learnings with other staff members.   These events are a great way to get teams together and to allow them to share knowledge and learning within an open environment with people they trust.  The sessions should be employee led and open floors should be allowed to ensure that other employees can contribute their opinions or experience of the subject matter. It also helps consolidate delegate learning through the action of relaying it to others.

To summarise, yes, training is important but I question training policies which are structured to such an extent that training is ‘imposed’ blanket like on employees.  My belief is that regular discussions in respect to learning and development are vital to identifying needs and allowing individuals to reach their own conclusions as to learning needs. Finally, bringing the training back into the work place and allowing the discussion of training points lends itself to greater training consolidation for the delegate and team building for the broader team.  
 

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8 Essential Lessons the German Mannschaft Can Teach Every Business

8 Essential Lessons the German Mannschaft Can Teach Every Business

Last month we witnessed a breathtaking World Cup final which saw the Mannschaft (‘team’) win after a 24 year drought. As well as appearing in the World Cup finals eight times and having won the tournament four times, Germany is now the first European team to have won the cup on Latin American soil.  

Clearly, the German Mannschaft is a fantastic team. After all, we can’t neglect the fact that they played against Argentina, a country which is - unlike Germany - not known for its team but for its star player, Messi, a.k.a “the best player in the world”.

However, do you wonder what their secret was? Was it German efficiency? The quality promise of ‘made in Germany’? Or is there more to it than being German? Coincidence and luck were definitely not part of the equation; for me anyway.

I believe we can learn 8 vital lessons from the team’s performance, attitude and the way they conducted themselves that every business can, and should, learn from.

•    A strong vision: the German team knew what they were about. Combined with a set common goal, hard work, discipline and a positive mindset this creates a powerful entity. If businesses know who they are, what they want and how they want to get there, there is little that can stand in their way.


•    A strategic leader: in a radio interview, Germany’s coach Joachim Löw expressed the team’s confidence in their strength and the ability to stick to their well-established strategy. This comes from good leadership.  It is the leader who gives the team this sense of purpose, direction and commitment to get the job done.


•    Ability to adapt:  as we all know, life doesn’t always go to plan and football is no different. Prior to the final the team lost two key men, Kedhira and Kramer, however the team adapted. Just as with business, it is vital that teams remain flexible and open to situational adaptation, e.g. change of deadline, project amendments, etc.


•    Generational mix: the German team was a perfect balance between old-heads and new blood. One could argue that it was the oldies that kept the team in the final but the new guys such as Götze who won it. In business it’s vital to always have that solid experience as well as new, fresh ideas and impetus.


•    Cultural diversity: the German team had many second-generation Germans such as Mustafi, Özil, Boateng and Podolski. Having people in your business with different backgrounds, experience, ideas and values only strengthens the overall offering and should never be underestimated.


•    Staying focussed: as we saw with the team, when under pressure, and in a critical situations, they never panicked. Panicking is of no help to anyone. For want of a better phrase, it’s so important to always keep your eyes on the goal.


•    Reliance on structure: perhaps better demonstrated by the passion and somewhat disorganisation of the Brazilians, having a structure in place is vital. The German team knew their places, how they had to work for each other and what to do in certain situations. Having a structure in place, along with rules is necessary if any business wants to see success.


•    Stay humble, passionate and genuine: as perhaps personified most by Schweinsteiger, the Germans were the epitomy of class. There is no place for egos in a team and we witnessed this throughout the competition even when they managed to put 7 goals past the hosts. Just as in business, you need to temper any sense of superiority and just put your head down and do the best job you can.


Author: Désirée Gergen is about to graduate in an MA in Intercultural Communication for Business and Professions at Birkbeck College, University of London.

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Managing Multicultural Teams: A Participant's Feedback

Managing Multicultural Teams: A Participant's Feedback

We ran a Managing Multicultural Teams open course on January 30th. We asked one of the participants to tell us about her experience of the open course – what was covered, what her key take-aways were, and how this experience will be applicable back into her role at an international NGO.

 
What did the training cover?


The training was nicely structured but also informal at the same time allowing us (attendees) to ask as many questions and share our own experiences as we went along throughout the day. The training started with looking at how culture affects business and leadership.  We looked at how cultural self-awareness ties in with managing multicultural teams and we assessed our own cultural awareness, management and working/communications styles.


Afterwards we looked at the different levels of culture: the impact of corporate culture, national culture and individual culture. The session also examined team development and group processes - the influence of culture on the length of development stages of team development. Motivation, conflict resolution practices across cultures was also looked at as well as on how to give and receive feedback. Finally, we looked at the strategies for success – how to develop trust and build relationships with the team and create synergy within the team.


We had the opportunity to discuss and share our own values with the team. There were fun practical team building exercises throughout the day, which enabled us to better understand how to manage and work well within a team - and most importantly, to experience what is written in the slides rather than just listening throughout the whole day.


What was your ‘aha’ moment (ie. your key take-away)?


By looking at culture in depth and understanding it throughout the training, I began to think in terms of 'the platinum rule'. Essentially, this means to treat others how THEY would like to be treated – opposing to the famous saying 'treat others how you would want to be treated'. The emphasis throughout the training was on how THEY would want to be treated.


What will you apply back in your job?  


I will take on board with me that it is critical to be open-minded to all various situations. Even though you are not necessarily accustomed to a cultural practice, it is essential to do the best possible to comprehend situations in a cultural context (especially during  conflicts). With this, I think it is also important for me to take my learning in order to educate others through what I have learnt throughout the training. Culture is something that is instilled in each of us from a young age, however it can also be learned. It is therefore important to ask questions and dig deep.


Who would you recommend this course to?


I would recommend this training to anyone - as we live in a globalised world - which means understanding culture is essential and an individual will also be working within a diverse team - therefore I would say this training would benefit anyone. However, I think that it would especially benefit those working specifically in an international context, particularly those responsible for managing multicultural teams. This training could also be insightful for anyone who has not yet had experience working in an international background, however is looking to work within an international organisation.

If you would like to join our next course, please visit the Managing Multicultural Teams course page for more information.

Want this course in London? We are running this training course in London on 3rd April 2014 in London. Please refer to Findcourses for more information.

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Contagious Leadership – Emotional Intelligence and its impact on Team Performance

Contagious Leadership – Emotional Intelligence and its impact on Team Performance

In today’s business world, hard skills are no longer seen as the sole key to success. While in the past there was no room for emotions in the workplace and the importance of soft skills was largely underestimated, they have come to be considered as indispensable and well worth striving for – and rightly so, I believe.


Just think about your own experiences. Wouldn’t you agree that your emotional state greatly influences your thoughts, attitude and behaviour and consequently, your personal wellbeing, your relationships and your performance both at work and in your private life?


This is why Emotional Intelligence (EI), the ability to identify, assess, and manage emotions in a positive way, is extremely valuable for every individual. EI not only includes being able to “read” others’ emotions, and react accordingly. It is equally, if not more important, to understand and control one’s own emotions. And self-awareness doesn’t stop there. It is also essential to understand in what way and to which extent your own emotions impact others, especially if you find yourself in the role of a leader.


Neuroscientific research has proven that emotions, positive and negative likewise, can “rub off“ on others. This phenomenon is called emotional contagion. The psychotherapist Elaine Hatfield, PhD, and her colleagues discovered that “all of us imitate facial expressions, postures, and voices of the people around us. Those expressions trigger certain emotions - the same ones experienced by the person we mimic. But the process happens so fast, we're completely unaware of it”.

Hence, the emotions conveyed by one person can spread like a virus and infect others. Think about your own experience as an employee: Doesn’t it lift your mood and don’t you feel much more appreciated and motivated if your boss has a positive attitude and encourages you, rather than constantly focusing on what you did wrong? Did you ever notice that your colleague’s anxiety started to make you shift from one foot to the other, because you were starting to grow nervous yourself? – Now, judging from your answers, what implications should these findings have on your behavior as a leader?


As a leader you need to be even more aware of the contagious effect of emotions, because your team will look towards you, and your emotions are likely to spread quicker and more persistently than others’. Making derogatory or negative comments and having an unwelcoming attitude can get down the whole team, leaving each team member feeling drained, unmotivated, or even reluctant.


However, when talking about emotions, their viral nature can actually be something very positive and useful. If you learn to harness and emit positive energy as a leader, you can foster enthusiasm, put your team members at ease and make them feel appreciated and encouraged. By doing so, one person can positively influence each individual team member and improve the dynamics and the performance of the team as a whole.
Mastering EI and harnessing the forces of positivity will lead to enhanced results and greater business success and it will make you a highly valued leader in any business sector.

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Developing Soft Skills as a Manager Today

Developing Soft Skills as a Manager Today

Management and leadership as we know it have undergone a significant shift in recent years due to globalisation and the increasing need to work virtually and across time zone and cultures. Previously, a manager was seen as someone with largely specific technical/hard skills, today that perception of the role has largely developed.


In last decade, and as the world is becoming an increasing ‘global marketplace’ (Lane 1997), human resource development has also taken on a more international outlook which means that the global talent search has focused increasingly on finding, developing and retaining those individuals with a specific skillset: self-efficacy, interpersonal skills and perceptual skills (Harris and Brewster 1999) amongst others.  


In addition, it has been found that good management/leadership skills at home, does not necessarily mean success abroad (Jokinen 2005). Although there has been very little research done in this area,  it is now a rapidly growing field which with an increased hunger to decipher and gain a better understanding of the competencies required to manage/lead effectively and successfully on a global level.


So what are the characteristics that make managers and leaders successful in the global marketplace? Interestingly, the research points to broadly soft skills:


•    ‘Social, creativity/resourcefulness, positive outlook, responsiveness, self-knowledge, cultural sensitivity’ (Brownwell 2006)
•    ‘Knowledge of how to use their personal influence, strong character, knowledge of how to motivate others, act like entrepreneurs (…) (Connon 2000)
•    ‘Relationship, cognition, organising expertise, visioning (…) (Mendenhall and Osland 2002).

Even Learning & Development professionals in companies tend to focus less on producing programmes for hard/technical skills because these often need specialised knowledge and some can be via blended learning programmes, reading or other methods. The challenge for today’s Learning & Development professionals is developing people skills or ‘soft skills’ especially at the global level in order to get things done.


So you may be asking yourself, what’s next? How can I start improving my soft skills? Here are a few practical suggestions:


1)    Build positive relationships with your employees
a.    Spend time with your employees, give them your full attention and develop trust
b.    Understand who they are and what motivates them
c.    Be fair and resolve conflicts in a respectful and sensitive manner


2)    Develop self-awareness of your preferred working, communication and management style
a.    Try and read between the lines and gauge the effect you have on other people
b.    Listen actively and show real interest
c.    Practice speaking and writing clearly. Do not be afraid to ask for constructive feedback and in return practice giving feedback too.
d.    Be flexible in your management style – different people respond differently to different styles – find what works


3)    Inspire
a.    Practice what you preach to demonstrate that goals are achievable
b.    Celebrate success
c.    Learn from mistakes


Effective management and leadership today requires an addition ‘touch’ as expectations of what it means to be a good leader has changed. Generally speaking, employees today expect their leaders to have the necessary soft skills to build positive relationships, be self-aware and inspire others to get things done.


As Steve Denning summarises in a recent Forbes article, managers today are capacity building instigators: “Management is not simply a menial set of technical directives. At its best, it clarifies and magnifies human capacity. By opening those pathways by which human beings become productive, it brings an increase in existence for those doing work and those for whom the work is done. Through creating the space where we can live mindfully and wholeheartedly, it enlarges what may be known, what may be felt, what may be done.”

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