Recently, I had the pleasure of presenting “Charting a Course in Change Management” with Courtney Kearney for The Society of Marketing Professional Services Southeast Regional Conference.In the presentation, we outlined Dr. Kotter’s 8-Step Process for Change Management. I had presented this topic with Courtney about 6 months ago at a Zweig Conference in Las Vegas. It’s amazing how much can change in such a short time. During our initial presentation, Covid-19 wasn’t even on the radar. When we were addressing questions from the audience, they focused mainly on how to handle implementing technological changes to accommodate growth in an expanding market. Now, our presentation featured questions from the audience on how to manage changes forced on our business based on a global pandemic. Although change is the only constant, why does it still feel so hard even with the small changes? Why do we resist something that is so natural? Even though I’d like to think of myself as someone who can handle change well, Covid-19 has taught me that I still have so much to learn. If you’re curious to hear more about change management, please check out the presentation that Courtney and I gave on July 10, 2020.
A little more than a year ago, I became a mother and never has my life become so small and large at the same time. I went out a little less and I focused quite a bit more on raising my son. I thought I had settled into my new routine until Covid-19 hit.
Since beginning to live a more socially distanced life, I thought my very small world would get even smaller. However, in this time of increased stillness, I’ve found an opportunity by beginning to question my deep-rooted beliefs as I watch an ever-increasing Covid-19 death count and social media exploding with racial injustice.
It was once said, “Never waste a crisis.” In this current crisis we find ourselves in, I find myself asking more questions than ever before. And what makes this time more challenging than previous times in my life is I could distract myself by going somewhere or creating tasks to keep myself busy. Now, I have to be still, look into my son’s eyes, and really think carefully about the important “stuff” life is really about.
The Covid-19 health crisis has forced me to ask questions about my purpose and if I’m the type of wife, mother, and friend I want to be. The Black Lives Matter Movement has inspired me to think that maybe change is possible. Maybe we’ve reached the tipping point as a nation that real change can start to take place.
In this moment of uncertainty, I find the questions comforting because I’m no longer plugging away in my day-to-day without a focus. I can make everyday count just a little more because I’m more contemplative than I’ve been in months.
In my life, the times when I’ve felt the most stuck or isolated are the exact times when the most growth is happening. I hope I will be strong and focused enough to not let the current crisis be a wasted moment in my life, rather I hope it will serve as inspiration on how to do better in the next chapter.
Recently, I stumbled across an article in the Harvard Business Review about wartime and peacetime CEOs. I found this topic fascinating in how leaders approach times of crisis versus times of relative peace.
What Does a Wartime Leader Look Like?
In the article, Bill Taylor, Taylor epitomizes the Wartime CEO as that of Andy Grove. Grove’s book, Only the Paranoid Survive, epitomizes the philosophy behind the Wartime leader. A wartime leader must maintain focus in order for his or her organization to survive. OKRs or objectives and key results were born out of this idea.
What Does a Peacetime Leader Look Like?
A peacetime leader is focused on growth and expanding the boundaries of the existing organization. These leaders pride themselves on creating culture, inspiring growth, and creating economic value. Eric Schmidt (former CEO of Google) is an example of a peacetime CEO.
Maybe a Little of Both
Be careful about labeling yourself a wartime or peacetime leader because many leaders that prefer one label or another will actively create scenarios so that they can practice the type of leadership strategy that most comes naturally to them.
Wartime leaders will create chaos so that they can become shortsighted and only focus on short-term results. Peacetime leaders can be so focused on building consensus and growth they may unconsciously choose to overlook issues because they what to remain optimistic about their plans.
The best approach is to be open to both ways of leading. A good leader needs to know what kind of challenges their facing and what kind of strategy might be better suited. If peacetime, align key staff to build growth plans. In wartime’s, make sure the right resources are armed and ready to go.
When a client leaves you a message along the lines of “We need to talk,” our first reaction is to cringe and start thinking of all the bad things the client is going to throw in our face. We instantly tense, and formulate our push-back strategy when the client starts bringing up the issues they find unsatisfactory, or worse, we think of hiding in the closet and trying to avoid the conversation altogether.
Stop right there.
A client calling you and letting you know that they’re not satisfied with the service or product you’re providing is the start of improvement. It is a GIFT! I know it doesn’t feel that way in the moment. No one likes to receive criticism. But if you can open your mind up to the idea that your client is trying to help you improve, then every piece of criticism doesn’t lend itself to “you’re not good enough” or other fear-based thinking that isn’t helpful for growth. Instead, this type of feedback can be transformative.
In this post, I’m going to talk about three types of negative client feedback, and how we can overcome them:
- “I’m not satisfied with [X], and I want a discount!” Our initial response is to push back on something like, “Well you have access to the other 90% of the features, don’t you? Or I’ve given you great service except for the ONE day you called me when my kid had a 103-fever, and I wasn’t available!” At the bottom of this statement, is your client saying that you as a service or product provider hurt their trust, and now they want to hurt you too (in the pocketbook).” Your client is saying, “I’ve seen this issue, and I’m worried that you might be like the other product or service providers out there and you’re not going to meet my expectations.” Your first response is to acknowledge or restate the experience your client has had. Restating the problem might sound like, “I understand that recently, our product has not had all of the functionality we promised,” or “I understand that I wasn’t there for you on the day you needed me.” It’s critical that your client feels that you HEARD them. Next, you want to work on a strategy for working through this trust issue together. A good follow-up question might be, “Moving forward, can I give you updates on how the repair is going so you’re always updated on the status?” Or “Would you like to meet on a more regular basis, so we can address items that come up more proactively?” You can even ask a more open question than that, “Moving forward, what can I do to make you feel more confident in my [product/service]?
- “Your [product/service] looks funny.” Clients may pick apart the aesthetics of a design feature or something you created. The bottom line is, your client is picking on something that is more of a personal preference rather than something you can definitively say is wrong. Although you may not necessarily agree with the feedback, the best strategy here is to look for a middle ground where the client is getting what he or she is asking for, and you don’t feel like you’re putting your firm’s reputation on the line by creating a product you don’t feel proud of. If you do a little more digging into “why” the client is looking for the change, this can uncover hidden drivers which can, in turn, help you learn how to steer the design towards something better. Either way, it’s an excellent place to have a conversation and make sure you and your client are on the same page for the project’s goals.
- “Your [product/service] has a proven defect.” If you’re dealing with software, maybe the software application has a bug, if you’re dealing with graphic design or a writing project, perhaps it’s that you have too many typos. Either way, at some point, a client will bring up an issue pertaining to quality. Quality problems are the best opportunities for growth. When you uncover quality issues, these are vast areas to look for improvements in your process. Are you rushing through critical portions of your project to meet deadlines? It might be time to look at your QA process. Although it’s never fun to have a client point out quality issues, it’s a massive benefit to your company if you use it as an opportunity to innovate and improve.
Creating a strategy for responding to client feedback (negative or positive) is critical for growing your business. Although we don’t usually look forward to challenging conversations with our clients, these conversations are often the most significant catalysts for organizational change. The next time you are facing a challenging discussion with a client, remember this is a tremendous opportunity for growth.