How To Escape Your Cocoon And Fly Free
Creative Communication Tools For Trainers
The following article contains excerpts from Barbara’s best-selling business book THE CREATIVE COMMUNICATOR — 399 TOOLS TO COMMUNICATE COMMITMENT WITHOUT BORING PEOPLE TO DEATH!, Irwin Professional Publishing: Burr Ridge, IL, 1993.
Are you bombarded by stacks of paper, inundated by E-mail messages, and discover often that your voice mail box is full? You are not alone! A recent study by the Chicago Tribune reported that 60% of the individuals in the United States are in some form of the information business and that the average North American worker spends over 50 hours a week communicating in some way. When Lakewood Publications polled over 500,000 subscribers regarding the most serious business problem existing today, the overwhelming number one answer was “Communication.”
In my book The Creative Communicator, I have discussed ideas in the following categories of basic communications that occur in most organizations: written, electronic, face-to-face, day-to-day feedback, enhancements and reminders, measurements, rewards and recognition, recoveries, and personal executive actions. The most important point to remember with all of these types of communication is that they involve both the sending and the receiving of a message.
My belief is that the more creatively a message is sent, the greater the chances that the message will be noticed and heard amidst the overwhelming clutter of communications that surround us. So, my challenge to you is to get out of your boring cocoon of routine business communications and fly free. Become aware of all the marvelous, innovative, and creative ideas you can use to assure that your message gets heard!
A FRAME FOR CREATIVE COMMUNICATION
Remember the Human Level of your communications. Every interaction (and that is what a communication of any kind is) contains two levels: the Business Level which is all about meeting the external objectives and getting the business done and the Human Level which is all about how the receiver feels about the interaction. Does the person feel well-treated, cared about, and recognized as a unique individual? Or is the interaction cold, indifferent, and completely based on facts?
In my speeches and workshops I often ask people if they have ever been to a doctor who treated them only on the Business Level. Nearly every hand in the room goes up. Then I ask them how they felt about that interaction. Was it a positive one for them and one that they would choose again? What was missing was the Human Level. The same thing is true for written communications–look at the words you have chosen and the tone that comes across. Have you used words that convey a welcome, customer-friendly feeling on the Human Level or is your communication all business? Which one is more likely to produce the results you want?
These examples illustrate the importance of always remembering the Human Level in all your communications. This is where your own humanness, creativity, and passion can make a difference in the way you communicate your message and ultimately in how it is received. Begin to think about each of your training sessions, every announcement or invitation you send out, and evey event that you schedule from the perspective of both of these levels.
The Chinese characters that make up the verb “to listen” tell us something significant about this skill. Not only must we listen with our ears, but we must also “listen” from our own personal experience, with our eyes, our undivided attention, and most of all with our hearts. Listening and then communicating with our hearts as the foundation is the meaning of the Human Level.
Surprise your receivers. Get your creative juices going so that you do something different to capture people’s attention. If your communication is strictly on the Business Level, chances are it is boring, routine, and rarely gets read. If, however, you do something to surprise people, you will find that they not only heed your communication, but they are eager to get the next one!
A trainer I know always sends something “3-D” with each of her invitations to a training session. It may be a stick of gum, a sticker, a tiny plastic replica, or a book mark; however, it is always something creative that ties to the theme of the training. Employees can’t wait to get the next invitation AND they sign up for the sessions! Look at such routine communications as your fax cover sheet, your business card, your voice mail message, the E-mail messages you send. Do they surprise people? Do they have a Human Level? I always end my voice mail message with something different and Human such as “I hope your day is filled with surprises!”
Make sure that your message contains something that appeals to each quadrant of the brain. There are various theories of right brain / left brain learning as well as the teachings of neurolinguistic programming and accelerated learning that emphasize different styles of learning and the importance of appealing to all of them in order for optimal learning to occur. The theory I like best to apply to creative communication is Ned Herrmann’s Whole Brain Model which is explained in his book The Creative Brain, Brain Books: Lake Lure, NC, 1988.
He theorizes that most of us have preferences in more than one quadrant of the brain; however, generally we prefer to use one quadrant of our brains more than the others. The upper left quadrant thinking processes are characterized as Logical, Analytical, Quantitative, and Fact-based. The lower left processes are Planned, Organized, Detailed, and Sequential. The upper right are Holistic, Intuitive, Synthesizing, and Integrating, and the lower right are Emotional, Interpersonal, Feeling-based, and Kinesthetic.
While it is important in any communication to include the facts in a planned and organized way (left brain processes), I believe that in order for your communication to be heard and acted upon today, it is of the utmost importance to include right brain processes (creativity and the Human Level) in your communications as well. In fact, I call my book “a right-brained book for left-brained people!” The important point to remember is that no matter whether you’re predominantly right-brained or left-brained, you can choose to express your ideas in innovative and creative ways. You only need a few “whacks on the side of the head” and a little practice!
Creativity may express itself in one’s dealing with children, in making love, in carrying on a business, in formulating physical theory, in painting a picture.
Let’s look now at some specific “how-to” ideas you can apply immediately to begin to communicate more creatively in your training department.
Does your training department have a Service Strategy that communicates to your customers what you stand for? A Service Strategy is defined by Kaset International as “a tool to communicate what central service theme is critical to your work unit,” and it has three components:
- What is your core business?
- Who are your customers?
- What do you want to be famous for?
The questions to ask yourselves as you are creating this statement are: Does it focus on the customer? Does it have a Human Level? Do your employees know it? Do they believe in it?
Each letter or written communication you send creates an experience for your customers. It is important to consider each piece of communication from the customer’s perspective, always thinking carefully about what kind of image your department is presenting. Look carefully at the words you choose to state policies and procedures in your department — are they controlling, punishing, fear-inducing words? Or are they reasoning, flexible, and friendly? Look at whether or not you’ve included the Human Level. Some creative ways to do this are with graphics, cartoons, quotations, pictures, and words of appreciation and acknowledgment.
One of my personal signatures as a speaker and workshop leader is to line the walls of any place I am presenting with 40 – 50 laminated flipcharts of brightly colored quotations, in my own handwriting, many of them with small pictures at the end illustrating the quotation itself. This not only creates an atmosphere of excitement and stimulation, but it also enhances learning. Each quotation is related to the topic I’m presenting, and I purposely choose a variety of different sources to appeal to the wide variety of interests and personalities in any group. What really tickles me is when I’m setting up the night before in a large room, and the hotel employees bring others in to “read the signs”!
Does your training department have a customer guarantee? GTE’s Management Education and Training Department at GTE Service Corporation in Norwalk, CT, says: “GTE Management Education and Training guarantees that you will be satisfied with any GTE MET sponsored course or we will refund your expense.” This guarantee has been particularly helpful in creatively communicating to senior management as well as course attendees their commitment to providing the best possible learning experiences.
Videotapes have become inexpensive to produce, easy to disseminate, and easy to view. They are particularly valuable in helping off-site offices stay in touch with what’s happening at Headquarters as well as to share learning experiences. Here are some creative possibilities for the use of video in an informal way:
- To share support from senior executives.
- To gather success stories from employees.
- To tape interviews with customers.
- For testimonials from class participants.
- To share meetings and educational experiences.
- To record special performances or other events, including celebrations and parties!
When the State of Minnesota began customer service training, Governor Rudy Perpich did a three minute videotape encouraging the participants and pledging his support for this new service initiative. Every training class was started with the video. Tampa Electric produced a videotape called “Join the Winners” which contains powerful individual success stories told by actual employees. This tape is used in new employee orientation to emphasize “You are now a part of this caring, customer-focused team. You, too, can go the extra mile for customers.” Have you ever thought of sending a videotape of your course offerings? It would be much more fun than a catalog!
Nationwide Insurance Company uses closed circuit TV’s in its training center in Columbus, Ohio. These have continuous messages for employees who are there for training as well as information about the center such as pool hours, cable movies, and menus for the day. Students at the University of Waterloo and the University of Guelph, both in Ontario, Canada, can now attend graduate level physics classes through videoconferencing on either campus. “Our goal was to create an electronically transparent wall between two classrooms on two separate campuses, ” explains University of Guelph physicist Jim Hunt, project manager. Not only have the universities creatively communicated their commitment to the students by solving some problems on the Business Level, but they have also saved them travel time and hassle on the Human Level! How might you use videoconferencing creatively in your training department?
In his book Principle-Centered Leadership, Stephen Covey says:
The key to effective communication is the one-on-one relationship. The moment we enter into this special relationship with another person, we begin to change the very nature of our communication with them. We begin to build trust and confidence in each other. In this context consider the value of a private visit with each employee, a private lunch with a business associate, a private chat with a client or customer–a time when your attention is focused upon that person, upon his or her interests, concerns, needs, hopes, fears, and doubts.
It is also my belief that we can make the greatest difference by focusing on one-on-one interactions. When I have a difficult or non-responsive participant in a workshop, for example, I invite him or her to have lunch with me if this is possible. Never has this human contact failed to change the attitude of that participant!
Tom Peters asks, “Whom do you eat lunch with each day in your organization?” He challenges people to go to lunch with someone from a different department at least 3 days a week. THAT is an example of creative communication–networking and creating relationships across the company. He also suggests that you hire a few “off the wall weirdos” just to keep those creative juices alive in your organization! Another interesting and creative idea about hiring is from Southwest Airlines. They have started asking frequent flyers to interview groups of flight attendant candidates. These potential attendants must prove themselves with customers even before they get on a plane!
All training is a part of the face-to-face interactions in an organization. I encourage you to look not only at each of your individual training sessions but also at the kinds of training your department does — how much of your training is on the Business Level (technical, product knowledge) and how much is on the Human Level (customer service, communication, personal and professional development)? What does this say about your organization’s values? What kinds of training might you need to do more of according to your departmental beliefs and values?
Bob Ward, a trainer from the Department of Professional Regulation, State of Florida, has created brown bag “Video Lunches” for employees. Every three weeks on Tuesday and Thursday, a training video is shown during lunch. Employees bring a bagged lunch to a large conference room and watch the video while eating lunch. Immediately following the viewing, they hold an interactive session to discuss and recap the main points of the video. Bob says this interaction appeals to those employees who feel they cannot take time away from their jobs for training as well as demonstrating to those employees who are unsure about formal training that training CAN be fun! Several enhancements for this idea include using movie tickets in place of class registration receipts (if you even use receipts), a movie marquee to advertise the “show of the day,” and free popcorn for all.
Provident Bank of Maryland has a program they call “In-Touch.” This is a program designed to have Operations employees trade places with Branch employees for 2 to 3 days. As a part of this program, the Operations employees go through one day of teller training and even run a teller window for a day, all to experience “what it feels like on the other side.” This has promoted a new understanding and feeling of teamwork in the organization. Does your organization provide any forum, formal or informal, to allow employees the chance to share their concerns and to get to know one another across divisions, job functions, and positions? If not, let these ideas stimulate your thinking and plan a vehicle that can combine sharing as well as some fun!
Does your training department encourage employees to appreciate and affirm one another on a daily basis? Constant and sincere appreciation will add a new spirit of both fun and commitment to your workplace as well as helping everyone feel as if they are making a difference.
The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles each month gives its employees pads of 30 “DMV Grateful Grams,” which say “thank you” in many different languages. These can be shared either internally or externally, with the idea being to give one away each day. At Bonneville Power Administration in Portland, Oregon, personal recognition cards are available on every floor in the service centers. Anyone can give one whenever it is appropriate. One of them says “BRAVO” and the other says “THANK YOU.”
Another of my personal signatures is that whenever I speak, I give each participant a small card that has a butterfly on it. It reads, “Some people make the world more special just by being in it ” On the back of the card it says, “Pass It On.” Since the beginning of this year, I have given out over 4000 of these cards. It is exciting to think that they are being spread all over the world! After I had spoken to IBM, they created their own “Pass it on” card–is this something your department could do?
ENHANCEMENTS AND REMINDERS
Enhancements and reminders are those delightful, creative ideas, giveaways, and events that keep the experience alive! In the March 1989 issue of Psychology Today David J. Abramis writes, “Job satisfaction is certainly important, but fun is just as essential to productivity, and often harder to find. . . Compared to people who don’t find fun in their work, employees who do, report they are: less anxious and depressed and more satisfied with their jobs and with their lives in general; more convinced that other people have fun at work; more motivated by their work; more creative at work; and better able to meet job demands and less likely to be absent or late to work.” Enhancements and reminders are ways of adding some creativity and fun to your workplace!
Does your department have a “Fun Committee”? Odetics, a high-tech firm in Anaheim, California, has a fun committee that sponsors activities such as a 50s and 60s Day, featuring Hula-Hoop contests, bubble-gum blowing competitions, and telephone-booth stuffing. The corporate office of a large bank issued a “Laugh a Day Challenge” to all its employees. They were challenged to bring in a joke or a cartoon every day for a month to share with their co-workers. Anyone who completed the challenge received a Corporate Challenge t-shirt and a book containing the best jokes and cartoons.
Do you have a departmental mascot? Rosenbluth Travel uses the salmon because they are always “swimming upstream!” How about a contest of your department’s children and grandchildren drawing pictures of what happens in your training classes each day? Then display these where your customers can enjoy them. Do you have a bulletin board where you display family pictures, customer letters and pictures, training cartoons, and thoughts for the day? What do the halls of your department look like? Standard Insurance sponsored a “Poster Party” for all frustrated artists and coloring buffs. In just a few hours they created many wonderful, brightly-colored posters to hang throughout the hallways.
I just heard of a very special enhancement being used by St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria, Illinois. Throughout his day there, a visiting consultant would occasionally hear strange lullaby music. When on a tour of the facility, he inquired about the music. He was told that every time a baby is born, they play a lullaby. Because hospitals are so often associated with sickness and death, they wanted to celebrate the joy of birth!
Whenever I do a keynote speech or a workshop, I always give each participant a giveaway that is a reminder of the theme of the presentation. One of my favorite and most popular presentations is “Send a C.A.R.E. Package — Regenerate the Spirit in your Workplace.” When I finish that presentation, I give each person a tiny brown cardboard box stamped with the letters “C.A.R.E.” on an angle just like the packages which were sent during World War II. In the future I hope to fill the little boxes with many quotations which support what I’ve said. Get your creative juices going to come up with a small giveaway for each of your training programs.
In their book Managing Knock Your Socks Off Service, New York: Amacom, 1992, Ron Zemke and Chip Bell list “10 Ways to Get Information for Improving your Delivery System”:
- Customer Surveys
- Focus Groups
- Employee Visit Teams
- Customer Visit Teams
- User Groups
- Employee Surveys
- Customer Advisory Panels
- Mystery Shopping
- Toll-free Hotlines
Think creatively about exciting ways you might implement some of these measurements in your department to see how well you are communicating the information in your training sessions.
When Hal Rosenbluth wanted feedback from clients and associates, he took the advice on the back of a 64-pack of Crayola crayons: “Crayons help people express thoughts they can’t always put into words.” He sent 100 of his clients construction paper and a box of crayons and asked them to illustrate what Rosenbluth Travel meant to them. He created a tradition that has never ceased to produce new insights into the business.
REWARDS AND RECOGNITION
One of the most significant things I have learned about rewards and recognition is to ask your employees what they would like. It is human nature to give someone something you’d like; however that gift might not be meaningful to them at all. Because the importance of rewards and recognition is to honor the employee, it is important to communicate with them to determine what is, in fact, a reward for each of them. Remember Maslow’s hierarchy of needs? If an employee is at the survival level struggling with putting food on the table, it is pretty ridiculous to reward them with a plaque!
I suggest that you talk with each employee in your department individually, encouraging them to be open and creative, to find what will “turn them on.” Then record those ideas in their employee file and USE them when that employee excels. Creative recognition can include such things as “free” entrance to a training class, an extra hour off at lunch, a hallway or room named after them, wearing casual clothes to work, a subscription to a favorite magazine, dinner for two AND babysitting if needed, a “sit in” with an upper level person for a day, their choice of a special project to work on, or a letter to their spouse, family, or significant other.
Centel Cellular in Raleigh, North Carolina, rewards its “credit consultants” for going out of their way to help customers with a “Dollar Tree,” an artificial Christmas tree decorated with many different things that cost a dollar: Post-it notes, candy bars, Pac-man note cards, stickers, and other things. Whenever a rep has gone above and beyond for a customer, internal or external, he or she gets to choose a reward from the dollar tree.
At Wisconsin Power and Light, every employee is given $200 in $20 certificates at the beginning of the year. These certificates are for employees to recognize one another for excellent customer service. Do you have a reward program in place for your employees? If so, is it creative and does it exemplify the beliefs and values of your department? What kind of input have your employees had in creating the program and the rewards? If they have not been actively involved, perhaps it’s time to create a task force and design a new program.
Recovery means “to make whole again,” and there are four steps in the recovery process:
- Apology with empathy
- Urgent reinstatement (fix it)
- Symbolic atonement (do something extra)
- Follow up
One of the keys to recovery is that it is most effective when it happens quickly and surprises the customer. Therefore, it is important that your department have a planned recovery system for those mistakes which are predictable. However, for those which cannot be anticipated, each person in the department should be empowered to recover spontaneously with a customer, and this is where one’s creative juices become important. Just as in other communication, the more dramatically you recover with customers, surprising and delighting them, the more likely they are to return to a normal state AND to tell many others!
One recovery I will never forget occurred when I was working as Director of Quality in Training for Kaset International in Tampa, Florida. A person in the Financial Division had inadvertently spelled a customer’s name wrong. That customer called the company and requested that the error be corrected in our database. For some reason, the error never got corrected, and the next time the customer received information from the company, his name was spelled wrong again! Understandably, the customer was furious. Using her creative juices to come up with a recovery, the person who had made the mistake not only personally called the customer and sincerely apologized after she had fixed the mistake, but she gathered the entire division together and posed the following picture which was sent to the customer. She sat in a chair, tied with huge ropes, while the head of that division held a water pistol to her head. The background showed all the division members wagging their fingers at her, and the caption under the picture read, ” _____________ WILL NEVER SPELL YOUR NAME WRONG AGAIN!” The customer loved it and is still a loyal customer 7 years later!
PERSONAL EXECUTIVE ACTIONS
Intellectual strategies alone will not motivate people. You must have people’s hearts to inspire the hard work required to realize a vision.
John Naisbitt and Patricia Aburdene, Reinventing the Corporation
Executive actions are critical in the commitment to creative communication in an organization or department. Their visibility, their humanness, their creativity, their authenticity, their personal commitment, their actions–all determine to a great extent how it goes in the organization. In my work with executives in hundreds of organizations all over the world, I have found that most of them truly do subscribe to the importance of creative communication and belief in the Human Level. However, a great number of them do not know how to demonstrate those beliefs. They have become so mired in the demands of the Business Level needs of the organization that often their own humanness has gotten buried. You, then, in your training departments can help these leaders to learn new ways of thinking and communicating. In as many ways as you can challenge them to “walk their talk” and to communicate in a clear, creative, inspiring way.
One of the ways they can do this is to truly “manage by walking around.” Here are some guidelines:
- Ask “How are you doing?” rather than “What are you doing.”
- Do it frequently and consistently.
- Make sure you get to all areas of the organization or department, including the night shifts if you have them.
- Ask questions that indicate your commitment, both to the organizational or departmental mission and to the employees.
- Be human and have fun doing it.
One executive I know keeps a number of $5 bills in his pocket and passes them out as he sees employees doing great things. He feels $5 is an amount big enough to pay for the employee’s lunch but not significant enough to cause resentment from other employees. Southwest Airlines has a mandate for all managers to be out of the office for 33% of the time to see “what’s going on.” They sell tickets, throw baggage, and work in many different capacities to truly understand what it’s like for their employees. If you’re a training manager, how long has it been since you actually facilitated a class?
Greenville Utility Commission has an “Eat ‘N Chat” program in which employees can have an informal breakfast or lunch with GUC general management. Buy filling out a coupon, randomly selected employees get to know Mr. Green and Mr. Ferren and have an opportunity to get together with co-workers they don’t ordinarily see.
Cadillac has a program it calls “Training by Example.” Members of the executive staff are the first to undergo any training considered critical. Then, no matter what the subject matter–technical skills, statistics, or leadership–the executives teach at least one class in the program.
At Seafirst Bank, executives are encouraged to get out of the office and visit branches. Chairman Luke Helms personally visits 10 locations per week. Gary Wheaton/First Chicago Bank has found a unique way for its managers to meet its customers. Office by office, the bank president and the senior managers spend time out in the drive-ups washing customers’ windshields while they are waiting in line! How long has it been since you visited any of your customers?
Finally, one of the ways senior managers can show their commitment creatively is to take some societal responsibility to contribute to their communities, to protect the environment, to give something back to the world in some way. And it becomes especially important to involve all members of a department or an organization in these efforts.
Performance Systems Corporation in Dallas, Texas, created what they called Project PSC. Because it was a profitable year for the company, they decided to “share the wealth” in a very unique way. During the holiday season, each employee was given $1000 to contribute to the charity of his or her choice. PSC was awarded the 1993 Outstanding Volunteer of the Year Award by the City of Dallas for their generosity. What is your training department doing to creatively contribute to our world?
It has been fun for me to share with you many of the creative ideas I have found being employed in organizations large and small all over the world. Tom Peters calls this the “Age of Creativity, Imagination, and Curiosity.” We, according to him, have passed through the “Age of Information,” and now we must learn to live in an age of reinvention. It is my deepest belief that in order for us to survive in today’s workplace, we must get out of our “mental locks,” we must be bold and daring and constantly innovative in the way we do our work, and we must take personal responsibility in each interaction to truly make a difference. We must return to a recognition of the importance of the Human Level in all that we do, and we must communicate in ways that surprise those around us. Only then will our important messages be heard.
One thing I know: the only ones among you who will really be happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.
© Barbara Glanz Communications. All Rights Reserved.
Barbara Glanz Biography
A member of the prestigious Speaker Hall of Fame and one of fewer than 700 Certified Speaking Professionals worldwide, Barbara Glanz, CSP, CPAE, works with organizations to improve morale, retention and service and with people who want to rediscover the joy in their work and in their lives. She is the first speaker on record to have spoken on all 7 continents and in all 50 states. Known as "the business speaker who speaks to your heart as well as to your head," Barbara is the author of twelve books including The Simple Truths of Service Inspired by Johnny the Bagger®, CARE Packages for the Workplace, and 180 Ways to Spread Contagious Enthusiasm™. Voted "best keynote presenter you have heard or used" by Meetings & Conventions Magazine, Barbara uses her Master’s degree in Adult Learning to design programs that cause behavior change. She lives and breathes her personal motto: “Spreading Contagious Enthusiasm™” and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and www.barbaraglanz.com.