A simple phrase is keeping you from greatness.
Many phrases are so commonly used that we actually start believing them! But, when these phrases lead to behavior that will degrade the level of service we deliver, service managers beware.
If you have read any of my earlier articles, you know I prefer to share stories or practical application of some of the theory we often learn about as service management professionals. I like to keep things simple and focus on the human, or emotional, side of service delivery. This article builds off my earlier article, Culture of Caring.
Every day, I find myself in conversations around the office that I can set my watch to. Some of the more common phrases I hear throughout the week are depicted below.
These comments are typically followed by some sort of anecdotal reference to how overworked people are and how the work never ends. This might be a topic for another article, but I have often wondered if people would complain more if they had no work to keep themselves busy, or how they would do any of the things people feel they are missing out on without a job to fund their interests. But, like I said, adjusting attitudes might be a topic for another time.
Back on the topic at hand, are these comments productive? Do they help us get work done better, do they build relationships, or get more done? Don’t get me wrong, small talk is not meant to be so engaging that it improves the quality or output, and in most of cases, it just breaks the silence, right? But it does set a tone and really does have weight to your overall “service attitude.” Do you agree? Do you have people in your organization who always complain until Friday? Does the small talk become more than just passing comments? In my experience, it does. In my experience, the correlation between those speaking about the “I wish I never had to be here” comments and quality relationship building are locked together TIGHT! In fact, there is also a close correlation to the overall quality of work. These team members typically don’t communicate well with team members either and create a gap in how knowledge is shared. It makes you start going through your team members and thinking about this doesn’t it!?
This article is not so much on how small talk turns into unproductive behaviors, although I could continue to write on this topic. This article considers those with generally good attitudes and how a common phrase drops service delivery into the “adequate service” performance category compared to propelling service delivery to “exceptional.” Since we all have a strategy set to continually improve, this should resonate well with you.
“No news is good news.”
Sounds simple and innocent enough, right? Not so fast. Let’s think about this a bit and consider the ripples a statement\behavior like this has on our ability to continually move towards exceptional service.
The definition of this phrase, retrieved from Writing Explained, simply means “If you do not hear that something bad has happened, it is probably because nothing bad has happened.” There should be a few words in this definition that stand out to you. Words like “if” or “probably” do not seem to be a conjunction or adverb you want to see when you are talking about “bad” things happening. As much as we, as service leaders, want to predict the future, we know we cannot. But we know we need our services to be predictable. Anything that is “probable” needs to be considered “expected,” and since bad news may be “probable” we should, well, be very concerned.
If I lost you completely with that last statement, that’s OK. I will clarify!
Applying the theory around “No news is good news” to other industries providing a service would seem absurd, although we probably all have examples where this was or was not assumed and we preferred the latter! What if project managers only communicated to stakeholders when someone asked for help or reported an issue? The Agile methodology helps prevent this, but still does not subscribe to this phrase. What about your doctor’s office? Say you had a cancer screening, but the test was negative (i.e., no sign of any cancer). Assuming you are OK doesn’t make you feel very confident. Knowing you are OK is what I would need! My last example would be from your auto mechanic. Having them only answer questions that you asked would be so frustrating wouldn’t it? Unless you knew enough to ask about tire wear, fluid quality, etc., how would you know the warning signs to a failure? “We turned your car on and everything came on fine, no noise is good news.” YIKES!
Do we treat those we are supporting like this? Think about this for a second. I bet you can recall instances within the last week where you had an incident and when verifying if everything was good someone (maybe even YOU) said something like “No issues reported, all good.” Be honest! This wouldn’t be the worst assumption we could make, but it sure doesn’t instill confidence or build relationships with those we are supporting.
I do think this is a growing issue across IT organizations as the complexity grows with the services we support, multiple integrations across multiple platforms, and the expansion of services into the cloud. We simply struggle to grasp all of the points of failure and to understand the business impact of all of these services. How could we get away with even the smallest of assumptions? Our business partners need us to compensate for these assumptions by talking with them, partnering on communication, and consistently verifying things are good.
Let’s talk about this a bit further. Let’s say you had an outage that was big, but not catastrophic. Multiple business units were impacted by this incident; the communication owner kept major stakeholders informed along the way via email. When a change was made that would eventually resolve the issue, you wouldn’t just send out an email to say everything is healthy, right? The communication owner would get verification from each business unit that all is well. Stakeholders would feel informed and that the information was relevant and flowed in a timely manner. So why would we expect something different from within our incident management process? Shouldn’t we treat all incident communication with the same verification? Again, be honest! I have been in the support industry long enough and have talked with many of you, so I know this goes on.
Let me illustrate how we can make this happen within the operational aspect of incident management. Take outages or changes out of the equation, and let’s talk incident management. Consider that incident that comes in all the time. Let’s say someone reports an issue that their mapped drives are missing. You go in and realize that the reason their drives were missing was due to a group policy issue that did not assign the drives a persistent connection. You remote into their machine and make the change, drive mappings reappear, and boom, you saved the day! During the conversation, the employee mentions that this happens every Monday when they arrive. You feel strongly this will not happen again, but the employee is less than confident as they have heard this all before. Next Monday comes and the employee does not call in. Must have worked right? Maybe! Maybe it did not work, and the employee is working their normal crazy Monday schedule and is limping along until they can reach out. As the technical owner to this issue, I hold a key in my hand to help, but I am waiting for someone to come and ask for it. Does that sound like the best we can offer, or just mediocre?
Playing this out for other scenarios is easy and, in some cases, very fun. Look into areas where small improvements can be made that will have monumental impacts to the quality of support you offer your customers. Imagine how an employee would feel if they got a Skype message from you in the morning asking, “Did your drives show up today?” With just a little extra effort and organizing your follow up calls, customers you support will see the results of a team that has service as a fabric to their organization.
Look into areas where small improvements can be made that will have monumental impacts to the quality of support you offer your customers.
My example is extremely simple to illustrate the point. But think about how many systemic “problems” we would uncover if we put the “No news is good news” assumption aside and asked the hard question, “Is everything still OK?” Will your repeat calls or re-opened ticket metrics show a decrease in volume? What about your customer satisfaction? More importantly, how would your focus on service reduce the business impact of incidents? That is a hard one to quantify, but I would rather know there is currently no impact than assume “No news is good news.”
Kevin Kwasiborski is an 18-year IT veteran with more than 15 years’ experience leading teams around IT service and asset management. He has worked in several industries from B2B to healthcare to consumer electronics. His professional passions are people, technology, and learning new things. Kevin focuses on leading by example, being humble, driving a culture of optimism, and inserting crazy wherever possible. Personally, his biggest passion is his family.