November 2011

Engaging Employees By The Book

Why is everyone smiling?

When you’re visiting a call center operation – where “culture” tends to be synonymous with third-world sweatshops and 80-120 per cent employee turnover is the industry norm — you certainly don’t expect to see folks wandering around with big grins on their faces.

Yet the wide smiles of employees are precisely what prompts this question from visitors to Beryl, a company based near Fort Worth, TX, that provides outsourced call center services to the healthcare industry.

The question is so commonly asked at Beryl that Why is Everyone Smiling: The Secret Behind Passion, Productivity, and Profit became the title of CEO Paul Spiegelman’s first book.

Book number two continues the theme. Smile Guide: Employee Perspectives on Culture, Loyalty, and Profit truly is a book on employee perspectives, not the usual CEO rendering of them.

The cover of Smile Guide boasts not one but 25 author names. In addition to Spiegelman (who wrote the Introduction, arguably making this the easiest way for a senior executive to write a book), 24 of his employees participated in the writing.

I spoke with him and two of the author-employees about the experience.

Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose

But before we get into that, check out this Dan Pink video, outlining the three factors – autonomy, mastery, and purpose – that Beryl helps to develop and nurture in its employees, partly through engaging them in projects like writing a book.

[vimeo 15488784]

Lara Morrow has been with Beryl for 12 years and, having worked her way up through various HR positions, is now responsible for maintaining the strong culture of engagement that has earned the company and Spiegelman many accolades. Morrow was also pivotal in helping the CEO select which of the 370 employees would contribute chapters to the new book.

Rewarding ‘Master Motivators’

“Some people just stand out,” says Morrow. “I call them ‘master motivators,’ employees who are leaders without being managers, whose natural drive everyone follows. We approached them to see if they were interested and everyone was really excited to take part.”

One of these ‘master motivators,’ Jennifer Limon, started out as a call center advocate and is now Beryl’s HR Manager. She wrote about Beryl Cares, an initiative that celebrates employees’ successes and milestones as well as helping them during times of illness or financial hardship.

The experience of working on this book, says Limon, impacted her  in several ways:

-       She got to interact closely with other employees and discovered how many love the company as much as she does;

-       She gained greater insight into the work carried out by other departments;

-       Plus she now has a greater appreciation as to what it takes to write a quality book.

“All you see in the movies is someone sitting down to write, then handing the manuscript off to a publisher,” says Limon. “But there are so many parts to the process. I discovered how much work goes into creating the structure, editing what’s written, clarifying points that may have been misinterpreted, that kind of thing. It wasn’t at all like I imagined.”

“21 per cent time”

Writing this book during working hours wasn’t an issue, given that Beryl builds time into the working week for employees to engage in special “fun” projects, a concept Daniel Pink in Drive calls “non-commissioned” work.

“It was a very easy process for us,” says Morrow. “The writer pulled everything together then sent draft after draft for us to review and change where necessary. It was an iterative process of thought gathering, organizing, writing, and editing.”

During which time Morrow noticed how the experience enhanced each writer’s confidence, pride, and determination to advance in the organization — particularly among the call center advocates who were included.

“There are many benefits to a project like this,” says Spiegelman. “The book cover went viral on Facebook because those that wrote it were so excited to have their names on the cover. And the employees who took part learned the importance of writing quality content that could be relevant to any type of company, not just those running call centers or working in healthcare.”

And for Beryl’s bottom line?

Adds Spiegelman:

These books allow me to have conversations with other business leaders that are elevated above service or product because they’re absolutely interested in how to build a corporate culture like ours. It’s relationships like that which turn into business down the road.

Comment Prompts/Conversation Starters

1. To what extent is autonomy, mastery, and purpose a reality in your organization?

2. Have you considered engaging your employees in a book writing project such as this? If not, why not?

3. What’s your perspective on the “non-commissioned” work time (typically 20%) that organizations such as Beryl, Best Buy, and Google carve out for employees?

Smile Guide will be available early 2012, published by Brown Books.

10 Reasons Your Book Isn’t Written Yet

The secret of getting ahead is getting started ~ Mark Twain

Here’s an interesting fact about procrastination. It’s not a problem for some people; usually those of us who write for a living.

There were many times, as a freelance features writer, when I had to imagine the hot, fetid breath of a deadline on my neck before I’d start to write an article. Usually I’d completed the research for it in advance; but still couldn’t put pen to paper. Not until I was experiencing, in my mind’s eye, a disgruntled commissioning editor telling me I’d never work for them again. At which point I usually pulled something terrific out of nowhere. Weird how that happens!

Have you experienced that?

I guess what I’m pointing out is that procrastination is not an issue unless we’re unable to optimize our performance because of lack of time, lack of forethought, or lack of material.

Having shoved that label out of the way, what other reasons might be causing your book – or any other big writing project — to stay imprisoned in your head?

Here are ten possibilities (which, you’ll no doubt realize, are strongly linked). Which ones do you relate to?

1. DISTRACTION

Tweeting, Facebook fanning, ensuring you’re LinkedIn, commenting, blogging, updating your status, checking who’s posted something on your wall, responding to emails…the opportunities for distraction are endless.

I’ve known many a client rebel at the idea, but if you sense that you’re becoming distracted by social media (or friends dropping in unannounced or anything else that shifts your attention away from your writing) try this: Designate particular times for these activities. For example, I know several people who state under their email signature the hours at which they check their messages. Depends on your relationship with technology.

I prefer to be the master, not the slave!

2. OVERWHELM

Writing a full-length book is a big endeavor, make no bones about it. I’ve been doing this for almost a quarter of a century and still get that knot in my stomach at the beginning of a writing project: there just seems so much to do! The common advice, and really I’ve not found anything better, is to try and have fun breaking down the BIG thing into lots of little things.

Think of your book as simply a series of pages (which it is), and a collection of chapters (which it is). Focus on one little piece at a time. Chew on the bite size portion rather than try and stuff the whole pie in your mouth!

3. PERFECTIONISM

We could always tell the perfectionists in graduate school. They were the ones who had to run just one more study, read a few more journal articles, speak with a couple more people. As one professor advised: unless you plan to be here for the rest of your life, let this be good enough.

No dissertation, journal article, book is going to represent the sum total of who you are and what you know. Do the best possible job with the material you have–and get it done. Then, if you choose to, you can build on that work with something new.

4. FEAR

I wish I had a dollar for every person who told me they could write a book, get their Ph.D., start that business or whatever, but always have some excuse for not doing so. Oftentimes what lies at the heart of their inaction is a fear of failure. Because if they tried and “failed” then they would no longer be able to boast that they could have written a book etc. Fear of success is another pernicious impediment to starting anything. What might you be afraid of?

Remember, as Mark Fisher and Marc Allen wrote in How To Think Like A Millionaire:

We’re born with two fears: falling and loud noises. All other fears are acquired.

They’re usually also unfounded.

5. TIME

Sorry, I don’t buy this one. We all have the same 10,080 minutes every week. Time is like money; it’s not that you don’t have enough, you just choose to spend it on something else. Which brings us to…

6. MOTIVATION

If your book has been whirling around in your head for months, years even, or if that manuscript you started in 2008 still hasn’t seen the light of day, then publishing a book is obviously not a compelling enough outcome for you.

As motivational speaker Charles “Tremendous” Jones is reputed to have said:

Everyone has a success mechanism and a failure mechanism. The failure mechanism goes off by itself. The success mechanism only goes off with a goal.

Maybe writing a book isn’t a big priority; does that mean you should give up trying to write one? Not necessarily. But the secret to finding the motivation to write is to align the book with some other important goal or outcome.

Writing is so much easier when you have a why.

7. OTHER PRIORITIES

This is a cousin of motivation. If you are achieving all sorts of other, supposedly less-important things while leaving your book to languish in the unseen then this is a motivation issue. Review your values, the sine qua non of your life and see if you can make any connection at all between what you profess is important and the action of writing a book.

If you can’t find a relationship, great insight! Cross that book off your “to do” list and get on with what makes you happy.

8. NOT ENOUGH INFORMATION

Sometimes I find it hard to begin writing because I sense a piece of vital knowledge is missing. I may not know what it is, so it’s hard to know where to look for it. It sounds kind of woo-woo, I know, but I’ve learned to trust that whatever I need will show up when the time is right. And it does.

In the meantime, there are always other book-related tasks that don’t involve writing but still are necessary to move the project forward, so I get on with them.

As Edgar Cayce pointed out you have to, “Start where you are.” If that means in the middle of your book rather than on line one of page one of chapter one, start there!

9. NO ROADMAP

This is another variation of “not enough information,” but is more about not knowing how to craft a book, rather than missing content.

This one is easy. If you don’t know how to scope out and structure a book then find someone who has done this already and work with them professionally. Or maybe someone in your social circle has written a book in a similar genre (if you’re writing nonfiction it’s best to stick to those guys rather than novelists) and would agree to being taken to lunch in exchange for some pointers? There are plenty of books out there too.

Type “how to write a book” into Amazon and you’ll get over 11,000 authors willing to help.

12. THINKING TOO MUCH

 This might seem like an odd inclusion coming from someone like me who believes most people don’t think enough. But,  as Dr. Vance Havner once said:

It is not enough to stare at the steps; we must step up the stairs.

Do something, anything. Stop thinking and take action. Try Julia Cameron’s technique of “morning pages.” Take a pad of paper (and I recommend writing by hand rather than working on the computer…there’s something about handwriting rather than pecking on a keyboard that stimulates creativity), and start writing.

It could be total cobblers in the beginning. Just don’t censor yourself. Determine to enjoy the experience. Who knows what you might start by thinking less and doing more.

Now — are you ready to get started with that book? Seems an impossible dream? Be inspired by St. Francis of Assisi who said:

Start by doing what’s necessary, then do what’s possible; and suddenly you’re doing the impossible.

Two And A Half Secrets Of Compelling Case Studies

What’s wrong with him? How can his career survive? When are they going to haul him off for treatment?

Part of our fascination with the exploits of Two and a Half Men star Charlie Sheen, is in not knowing what’s going to happen next. Whether it’s fiction or real-life, we’re always looking for “dramatic tension” in storytelling. Just when you think that the dust is about to settle, the hero’s feet are held to the fire once more. In Sheen’s case this may be self-inflicted, but the result is the same: tension and conflict are what keep us listening, watching and reading.

Our brains are hard-wired for this. Part of our cerebral cortex called Broca’s Area acts like a nightclub bouncer, letting in what’s surprising, impressive and unexpected, while keeping at bay the ordinary and predictable.

Why, then, aren’t more businesses taking advantage of this fact?

It’s no longer hokey for businesses to talk about the power of storytelling. Frequently, in the Harvard Business Press and other prestigious management publications, you’ll find articles about the value of stories. A recent HBR blog post, for example, discussed the way good business leaders “tell stories that turn fear into a powerful motivator.”

You’re probably already familiar with some of the enduring “origin’” and “values” stories of big name organizations. How Sam Walton of Wal-Mart, walked anonymously around his stores to get a better feel for the needs of the “average” shopper. Or that Bill Hewlett, co-founder of Hewlett-Packard once took a bolt-cutter to the lock on the supply room door, forever spreading an unspoken “truth” about the importance of trust at HP.

Businesses, like Hollywood, are awash with good stories. Unfortunately most companies poorly communicate one of the most common: the case study.

This form of marketing communication, about a time when you helped a client overcome a challenge, appears on websites as well as printed materials. Case studies are often referred to as “success stories,” but that’s not accurate. Not because of any lack of “success,” but because most case studies don’t adhere to a classic story structure that draws us in and keeps us reading or watching.

CRAFTING THE OLD WAY

Traditional case studies are typically crafted in three paragraphs, as follows:

Challenge: What was the client’s problem that brought him/her to you?

Solution: How did you help solve their problem?

Results: What were the benefits (preferably tangible/measurable) experienced by the client after implementing your solution?

Here are the two and a half problems with that format and how you can make your case studies stand out from the crowd:

Don’t confuse the “inciting incident” with “challenge.”

In the mythic story structure known as the “Hero’s Journey” we first meet the hero in their “ordinary world.” This is quickly followed by the inciting incident or “call to adventure”: Harry Potter is living in suburbia when Hagrid turns up to reveal that Harry’s father was a wizard. Prince Albert gets by as a stammerer until his brother abdicates and “Bertie” becomes King George VI, a man who must communicate confidently and powerfully with his British subjects on the eve of World War II, which is the storyline of the Oscar-winning The King’s Speech.

The word “challenge” used in the first paragraph of most case studies is a misnomer for what is really the inciting incident or the event that requires companies to seek out a new product, service or approach. Their challenge doesn’t really end there, nor should it if you want your case studies to be compelling and interesting to read.

THE POWER OF INCLUDING CHALLENGES

Don’t omit the heart of your story – the ongoing challenges

The most compelling stories are those that acknowledge ongoing obstacles and impediments. For example, what challenges did your client face from other stakeholders who didn’t immediately buy into the solution? What apprehension did your internal advocate feel about your plan, even after you came on board? To make out that the path from challenge to solution is straightforward is neither truthful nor interesting, yet most case studies suggest exactly that.

A key advantage of plugging this omission is that you get a more complete picture of your client’s actual experience (obstacles, apprehensions and all) during the implementation process, which makes for a meatier story. To uncover this, you might ask questions like:

a) What was the strongest opposition to our proposed solution?

b) Why was there no buy-in from these stakeholders originally? What were their fears and concerns?

c) What did you/we do to change that?

d) How might we have helped you overcome those objections earlier?

½. Yes, you included a hero – just the wrong one!

WHO IS THE TRUE HERO?

Luke Skywalker (Star Wars), Harry Potter (Deathly Hallows etc), King George VI (the King’s Speech) and Nina (Natalie Portman in Black Swan) are the heroes of these stories because they are the people who are most changed from beginning to end. As a solution provider, you are more akin to a mentor (think Obi Wan Kenobi or Dumbledore). You’re not the hero because you haven’t changed, your client has. Or they should have, if you did your job! Don’t hog the limelight here; make others the hero, not you.

Crafting your case studies around the hero’s journey story structure can result in marketing communications that are not only more interesting to read, but resonate more truthfully and powerfully with prospective clients.

The vast majority of case studies overlook the compelling nature of stories that openly and honestly address the obstacles and apprehensions people have before and during the change process.

By making your existing clients the heroes of these stories, you are shining the light where it really belongs. Because, let’s face it, everyone loves to feel they are heroes.

Including, we assume, Charlie Sheen. For whom we can only hope his ongoing story has a happy ending.

MaAnna Stephenson

Founder / BlogAid

I was struggling with how to make an important case study interesting for my blog readers and potential clients. Dr. Liz provided excellent guidance for taking a unique angle that helped me turn it into a captivating story, with my client at the center as the hero.

What Sherlock Holmes Teaches Thought Leaders About Uniqueness

Watching the BBC’s brilliant TV series Sherlock (set in contemporary London for a change) has caused me to reflect on the many advantages of being Sherlock Holmes.

Having someone you can count on, like Watson.

That prestigious London address.

Being the world’s first consulting detective.

How many of us can be the world’s first anything these days?

But even if we authors can’t always be unique, we do need to be able to communicate what is special about our books.

If you plan to self-publish, particularly, it helps enormously with your marketing and promotion efforts if you can clearly articulate what’s so special about your book that it warrants the reader spending money on it as opposed to some other title.

Here’s one way to identify your unique take on your book’s topic.

In Ten Steps Ahead: What Separates Successful Business Visionaries From The Rest Of Us, Erik Calonius talks about how visionary individuals are able to awaken to a higher level of thinking. He uses the example of the 1960s ads for Lady Clairol to illustrate this.

When you think simply about what Clairol is, chances are you’d respond “hair dye.” Not much uniqueness there.

When you consider what the product does, you might say, “it lightens hair.” But, then, so does all its competitors.

The “higher thought” that the Lady Clairol advertising team came up with back in the 60s–which is no different to what they try to do today–required eliciting an emotional reaction from potential purchasers.

Hence the slogan: “Is it true that blondes have more fun?”

Thinking At The Next Level 

By raising their thinking to the next level, the advertisers were able to articulate the emotional hook that enticed women away from all those other brands that were marketing themselves just as “hair dyes”.

Try this three step process for yourself, in relation to your book:

1. Your book is about what?
2. Which means what?
3. And finally, moving more in the realm of emotions: what does that mean?

I’d be interested to hear where that thinking leads you, so please leave a comment below.

Oh, and do check out Sherlock on DVD…it’s bloody marvelous television as only the BBC can do!

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