Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Interesting trend in retailing customer interaction

This has nothing to do with knowledge management.. I think.

Something I've been noticing of late (which doesn't mean it has not been happening for a while) is the following interaction at a retail store:

You go up to, let's say a coffee counter. You order a coffee, are given the product, and informed of the amount due. Let's say the amount due is $3.57. So you had over a $5 or a $10 bill. The person behind the counter gives you your change, to which you respond "thank you," and you receive a pleasant "you're welcome" in return.

It strikes me that in this exchange, as a customer, you are never thanked for your business, but, instead, thank the clerk for giving you back what is yours in the first place.

Isn't this a bit backwards?

It makes even more precious those few situations where staff at retailers go out of their way to thank you for buying from them, or even coming into the store. Fortunate I do run into these occasionally, and it sure encourages the next visit.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Cognitive Barriers to Collaboration

I attended a management seminar earlier in the week, hosted by master storyteller Frank Rambeau, to verify the alignment of the seminar's core principles with those of collaboration and knowledge work (and fortunately they were), and of course, to reinforce, remind, and learn as well. It's hard to move ahead if you don't have the basics right, or if you unconsciously develop bad habits!

The workshop focused on the need for managers to create a highly collaborative, participative"climate" that encourages staff to contribute to business outcomes, and enables their staff to develop and succeed, as opposed to a mechanistic approach to directing and controlling actions and behaviours in simplistic, rather Pavlovian (or in some instances Machiavellian) ways. Some of the core competencies referenced were collaboration, facilitative leadership, and good communication based on empathetic listening. (Hey.. where did all that cheering come from!)

Much of the discussions was about what managers should do to create the right climate for knowledge work, and what they, or should I say "we", often do that gets in the way. We are all "our own worst enemies" at some time or other are we not, often acting in ways that defy all logic and overwhelming evidence to the contratry?

Have you ever wondered, after a particularly unproductive meeting or conversation, why people have difficulty working together / collaborating? Why people can hear / read the same thing and take away a different meaning? There are many reasons, but in the context of collaborative work, "cognitive biases" play a major role in disconnecting and derailing even the best of communications, information and knowledge sharing intentions.

What are cognitive biases? I generally define them as ways of thinking that, singly or in combination, are limiting, or inappropriate, for a given circumstance or context. (It may not be technically accurate, but it works for me.. )

As an example, the a common critique of having "having blinders on", can be linked to one of the cognitive biases called "anchoring", which is basically to use a past event, or a single piece of information, to make a decision, ignoring broader valid information.

Being told "we don't do it that way here" in the context of resisting change, can be associated to a "status quo bias".

Take someone who says, in reflecting on a recent event or outcome, "I knew that would happen all along!" If they didn't / couldn't have predicted the outcome in advance, yet tell themselves they did, they're likely exhibiting "hindsight bias."

When I look at a more extensive list of the various biases (for example http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cognitive_biases) I certainly wonder how we humans get anything done!

And that's only the start! Imagine what can happen when an individual unconsciously defaults to their "home" type of reasoning (e.g. deductive, inductive, abductive, fallacious) when a situation calls for a different one, or when conflicting types of reasoning implicitly held by participants collide in a meeting or conversation! (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reasoning)

For me, different ways of thinking and viewing the world represents a never ending challenge to collaboration, but also a never ending wealth of possibility and potential.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Courage of Constructive Candor

In his exploration of facilitation, and facilitative leadership, Roger Schwartz describes and promotes what he calls a "mutual learning model", adapted from work by some acknowledged thought leaders in learning. This learning model can also form the foundation of good collaboration, as Schwartz presents in his article titled Using the Facilitative Leader Approach to Create an Organizational Culture of Collaboration, which he currently makes available on his web site.
When you examine the model, even superficially, there are some interesting elements (e.g. free & informed choice, share all relevant information, discuss the undiscussables) that point to the need for something I call "constructive candor."
It is very hard to collaborate effectively unless everyone involved speaks their mind - but in a way that is productive, contextual, and leads to the agreed upon outcomes.
If you've heard people ask "May I be brutally honest?" - that is not what I'm referring to. Someone being brutally honest is often commenting on something unrelated or overly tangential to the shared objectives, promoting their own agenda, or not willing to take a few minutes and be "un-brutal".
On the other end of the spectrum are people who are not candid at all for a number of reasons, ranging from: fear of repercussions or consequences - often unknown or unpredictable; being ill equipped to respond to a reciprocal challenge or tirade; appearing incompetent in front of colleagues, subordinates, or supervisors; wishing not to disclose a personal agenda (or failure).
Have you ever been to a "collegial" meeting with a number of well meaning people who have wide ranging pleasant, conversations, accomplished nothing, only to immediately launch into a series of one-on-one and small group bilateral conversations about the same topic? I would say there is not a lot of constructive candor going on, nor a lot of collaboration.
Constructive candor takes courage. The courage to do it, because it has significant payoffs in collaborative work. The courage learn and practice doing it, in particular for those who feel it's "not in their makeup." The courage to be persistent at it, since falling back into old habits is all too easy. The courage to live with the personal consequences of candor, which often are not so bad if it's truly constructive.
The bottom line is that if candor is constructive, it generally benefits people, and people certainly don't mind being benefited.