RANTS & RAVES!
Randomly Timed Musings
“Lazy Does It”
By Kathleen M. Peterson
Chief Vision Officer, PowerHouse Consulting, Inc.
I recently came across an article by Matt Rees entitled “Lazy Does It” in the Wall Street Journal(1) and was immediately interested. “Lazy Does It” says it all when it comes to certain behaviors we all observe from time to time. Let's say you ask your ten year old son to clean his room. My sons at that age were “expert” at shoving everything under the bed and declaring the room as "clean." Well, that is one version of “Lazy Does It” also known as “How can I exert the least possible effort to make it look like the task was actually completed?” Sound familiar?
In his article, Rees presents the theory that today’s workforce and perhaps the population in general is becoming “lazy.” He sets forth some general findings from the most recent U.S. Census to support his theory. Indications point to a drop in productivity and entrepreneurship and even to the fact that “the percentage of Americans who moved from one dwelling to another was at its lowest point since 1948.” According to Rees, this demonstrates a lethargy or complacency creeping into our society and having a negative effect on workplace performance.
One interesting connection made in the article is the proliferation of “matching.” Matching makes it easier than ever for people to find precisely what they want (or what an algorithm thinks they want) in everything, from music to a mate. There is now a dating app, created by Oscar Mayer, specifically targeted to “bacon lovers.” Imagine!
We are being sliced, diced, and labeled by our “preferences” - captured by our heavily-monitored online activities. Preferences yield interfaces that adjust to our own "profiles" and attempt to make whatever we are doing “customized.” This means less straying to the “unknown” where curiosity, creativity, and excitement reside. While this customization makes light work for the user, it can contribute to an unhealthy reduction in effort, a considerable drain on ongoing talent development, and a general decline in the requisite attributes of a connected workforce.
Have these shortcuts and accommodations left the workforce and particularly, the Contact Center challenged? I say absolutely yes! Today's Contact Centers are increasingly handling more complex issues. The more mundane and routine have been automated or eliminated, leaving complexity to the human mind. However, if our minds are being numbed by a “Lazy Does It” attitude the ability to resolve complex issues successfully and handle a significant cognitive load is compromised.
I hear more and more from Contact Center leaders that among the issues they encounter with frontline staff are a lack of interest in learning and self development, a lethargic approach to solving problems (illustrated by an increase in escalations), and a chilling lack of pride in their work. These are the kinds of issues that are very difficult to resolve. No new KPI, quality program, or pizza party will do much to alleviate this trend. Recently, a colleague made this statement about members of a new-hire training class: “Some of them appear to be too lazy to learn!”
This makes me wonder whether Human Resources (HR) has also become lazy. Are HR efforts yielding a workforce that is too lazy to learn? I know that HR folks work very hard in today's high employment condition. But there are times when one must wonder whether “Lazy Does It” has crept in and reduced HR recruiting efforts to “posting” and waiting for a response. Sometimes when we recommend and discuss “guerilla” recruiting - the art of using multiple methods (e.g., online postings; hand written index cards posted in the local library’s children's reading room, day-care center, and/or corner store; job fairs; and college placement offices) to attract candidates - some HR professionals hesitate because these methods require more time and effort than they are willing to exert. They shun these methods as ineffective despite never having tried them and then hire those that are too lazy to learn. Yet these folks believe whole heartedly that this is the best they can do.
The Contact Center's own approach to managing the operation may also appear lax, especially if there is a willingness to abandon or lower standards rather than correct issues. Here’s an example from an eCommerce operation in which the most frequent call type has remained the same year after year. We asked the Contact Center’s business leader, “What's your most frequent call type?” The response: “Returns - they take so long to process and customers call again and again.” I asked about the most frequent call type last year. The response: “Oh, same thing.”
Many Contact Center efforts focus on how to handle repeat calls politely and reduce customer frustration instead of finding and fixing the root cause, the actual problem! “Lazy Does It.” Fixing big process issues is HARD!! So some choose to again BELIEVE that there is nothing they can do but live with it. This is what “Lazy Does It” does to people!
Take the frontline agents that don't “bother” to put notes in a customer record because there is no consequence to THEM for NOT doing it. But be clear; there are consequences to the customer, to your efficiency, and to your own personal “brand.” Don't make your brand “Lazy Does It.”
And what about the IT team that goes about the business of acquiring new technology of which the Contact Center will be a key user without so much as a conversation around needs, requirements, or configurations? Zero, Zippo, Nada! The result is that bad feelings, resistance, and mistrust emerge cross-functionally. This in no way enhances the organization's competitive edge. “Lazy Does It.”
But is there really more to it than just being lazy? I recently came across John Gardner’s 1990 article, entitled “Personal Renewal.”(2) John Gardner is a very interesting individual who was active in business, government, and education for decades. He makes a statement in this piece that may have relevance today and may be a contributing factor to today's “Lazy Does It” attitude. Gardner states, “We have to face the fact that most men and women out there in the world of work are more stale than they know, more bored than they would care to admit. Boredom is the secret ailment of large-scale organizations.”
Maybe people are so bored that lazy feels right. So what is a leader to do? You must encourage discussion and engagement. In fact, demand it first from yourself, then from your peers and from those who report to you and to whom you report. Boredom and laziness are indicators that cannot be ignored if we are to differentiate ourselves from our competitors by providing excellence in the Customer Experience. Some of the good news is that it doesn't take much to stand out in a marketplace of boredom-driven mediocrity. Any initiative to drive out boredom and lazy tendencies is best accomplished via actual “conversations.” These are apparently also at risk.
In her book, Reclaiming Conversation,(3) Sherry Turkle points out some of the real dangers facing the next generation workforce due to our dedication to digital devices. (But we’ll save that for another Rant.) Suffice it to say that there is a current risk in the workforce that lazy behaviors potentially driven by boredom and the ongoing distraction of digital devices is damaging not only the Customer Experience but the talent pool. Leaders must recognize that it may be time to create learning experiences that deliberately expose those who engage with customers to, in fact, ENGAGE! Consider adding the “fine art of conversation” to your training program. Create an environment where interactions are encouraged, problem solving is a shared job, and creativity dominates add-on sales, de-escalation, and customer engagement. Understand that it is challenging to become comfortable in facilitating the fine art of conversation; it takes more than a single “meeting.” The condition did not happen quickly and it won't be fixed quickly.
Be on the lookout for “Lazy Does It.” Interrupt those sluggish behavior patterns with interesting and productive activities. Make work fun again. In general, people don't tend to be lazy or bored when it is fun. Make it fun to solve problems, to engage and learn more about the customer, and to be part of something meaningful. This is what shields talent from laziness, complacency, and boredom.
Talent is the bottom line. There is a lot of it going to waste; so kick it up a few notches. Talent that goes unutilized shrivels up and dies. Tend to your talent garden and blow your competitors out of the water!
Inspiration is a guest that does not willingly visit the lazy. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Composer
PowerHouse Consulting, Inc.
360 Route 101, Suite 6, Bedford, NH 03110
(#98 Lazy Does It, May 2017)
Gardner, John, Personal Renewal,1990, http://www.pbs.org/johngardner/sections/writings_speech_1.html
Turkle, Sherry Reclaiming Conversation, Penguin Books, 2015
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