S5E2: CEO Fires 900 Employees on Zoom

Sometimes we have a hard time defining what good or great leadership is, but we also know what bad leadership is.

I believe in Improv leadership, which is more about the team and less about an individual. No matter what business we are in, people are our most important asset and we need to begin to treat them better.

The firing of 900 employees by the CEO of better.com via a zoom call is a tragic example of how not to manage people.

How do you inspire when you are leading a large number of people and can’t interact with them individually? You can by tone and attitude. Being in a toxic environment where you are ridiculed when you make comments or question will lead to either choosing to keep your job and silencing yourself or choosing to leave and finding another job.

Intimidation is not a form of management and this type of leadership needs to go away and be replaced with some type of leadership that has compassion. One that looks at their people who are productive as an ethical part of the organization and show respect for their employees. When you show respect to your employees, that puts you apart from a lot of other leaders out there who look at their employees as just a number and something that is replaceable

Ego has a lot to do with good and bad leadership. The leaders who are willing to put it aside will be more successful than those leaders who still want to tell everybody what to do and how to do it, and look at them as a replaceable asset. It goes back to being human and going back to thinking about a fellow person, being tolerant and supportive.

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S5E1: Keeping It Human with Kathy Klotz-Guest

“When we have compassion and empathy for ourselves, we will radiate that to other people.” Kathy Klotz

Kathy Klotz-Guest is a speaker, author, comedian, and founder of Keeping It Human. Kathy started Keeping It Human after 15 years leading tech marketing and communications. Her mission is to help leaders, teams and companies use Improv and humor principles to be happier, healthier, and more creative all the while having more fun.

Cathy has worked for global brands such as Amazon, Dow Jones, and Deloitte and has spoken internationally on company and conference stages, including South by Southwest, Inbound, and coming soon, TEDx salon. In addition, Kathy studied and performed Improv at Comedy Sports and Sketch at the second city La. Kathy still performs and teaches improv and stand-up. Kathy is a graduate of Stanford University and UC Berkeley with an MBA and a Masters of Arts. She is currently working on her third book and still barely makes her teen kids laugh.

The challenges that organizations have today stem from fear and uncertainty and this keeps people from moving forward because they get stuck in old patterns that have to be unlearned. Leaders thought that they had to have all the answers but with a shift of mindset towards improvisational thinking, we reframe leadership and suddenly realize that leaders don’t have to have all the answers and that it is okay to let go.

Leaders constantly send these conflicting, contradictory messages, which are shut-up signals. Suppose we don’t do something about honoring the way people learn and how they check for credibility and honesty in an organization. In that case, we are just shooting ourselves in the foot repeatedly because we’re doing the same things and expecting that it’s going to be different.

Leaders must let people experiment and know that it’s safe to fail. Part of growing that muscle is to be okay with failure and see it as learning. The difference between people who succeed and those who don’t is that the people who succeed keep trying and keep showing up every day.

People have a template mentality about how things are supposed to work, but that’s not how humans or life works. The reality is so much of the bravery, boldness, and the art of learning to show up human, making mistakes, learning, and improving. This requires us to use this muscle of trusting the process.

Lead with compassion. Give yourself permission to play, be human, and make mistakes. When you do that for yourself, you are more likely to show up that way for other people, which will automatically make it safer for other people to connect with you.

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Listen To Your Customers. They Will Tell You All About Why Excellent Customer Service is a Lost Art.

Growing up, I worked in a family restaurant in Lexington, KY, because I am a Greek American, and that is what most of my family did for a living. However, my father took another approach, and he owned a liquor store. In both cases, providing excellent customer service was the standard because that is the formula to success in business. They didn’t use words like – the customer experience because that is a synonym for excellent customer service.

Then what the hell happened to excellent customer service because it seems like that is harder to find than the Loch Ness monster, bigfoot, and a roll of toilet paper all put together. That is a scavenger hunt for the adventurous.

For example, I am a recent customer of AT&T TV, which provides a streaming TV service through their recent purchase of Directv. When I contacted them to begin my new service, it was in the middle of the month. As we were finalizing the purchase, I asked, will you be prorating the service for this month. The customer service person responded, ‘We don’t prorate our service anymore. We thought it was silly to do so.” WHAT?! Silly? When I think of silly, I think of the MTV show Ridiculous or YouTube Cat Videos or The Office Memes.

I needed to look up the definition of silly to see what I was missing. According to the Oxford Language Dictionary, the definition of silly is “having or showing a lack of common sense or judgment; absurd and foolish.” I am beside myself why any organization would think it would be silly to charge the customer the exact amount of money for the service rendered. Or are they thinking that providing excellent customer service by overcharging the customer serves that purpose? In business improv, this is a genuine lack of respect for the customers they are serving.

Let’s take a different turn and put the focus on those professions that tend to be very technical in nature – accounting, medical and health care, engineers, scientists, etc… Being very technical, in essence, means they speak a very different language than plain English. But, unfortunately, these professionals tend to forget that their audience does not speak their technical language.

For example, a few years ago, I had some tests done, and I received a phone call from my doctor on a Friday afternoon. That’s right, my doctor, not the nurse. I didn’t think she was calling to offer me Ohio State Football tickets for the next day. Instead, she said that the test results came back, and I may have – gibberish sounding words. Lots of gibberish-sounding words, along with more gibberish-sounding terms. I interrupted her and said, could you please explain this to me in plain English. She paused for a moment and said that “I may have cancer.” How hard was that? Was there an attorney sitting across from her desk making sure she was speaking in medial gibberish? Who knows.

Let’s bring this example into the world of accounting, particularly public accounting. I hear story after story after story about CPAs clients leaving a meeting and having no clue what the CPA was trying to communicate because the CPA was communicating in ACCOUNTING Gibberish. Similar sounding words that my doctor spoke to me. The language of business – accounting – is a foreign language to those who do not have the same depth of knowledge and speak. Have you ever traveled to a foreign country and, before arriving, not invested anytime in trying to learn the basics of the language like – “where is the bathroom, how much for a beer, why is everyone taking an afternoon nap?” Instead, we get frustrated because they don’t speak English in their own country. Arrogant.

To top it all off, when CPAs are trying to explain something to a client using an excel spreadsheet, they should be arrested for exceeding the speed limit and abusive behavior. They are going a mile a minute AND bouncing around the spreadsheet-like a super ball. If they continue to do this either in person or on Zoom, they need to issue air sickness bags before they begin.

There is a communication problem that exists, and it is a prominent blind spot for the CPA. You know why because they continue to act this way even though you “the client” did instruct them that you don’t speak ACCOUNTING or TAX, and you don’t need to see all the detail. This type of behavior is affecting the overall customer service they are providing to their clients. However, when I have asked those frustrated clients why don’t they change CPA firms, their response is usually, “this is my second or third firm, and they all have the same issues. Therefore, I will keep my current firm because I trust them even though I don’t understand what they are trying to communicate to me.” That to me sounds like a loveless marriage, and we are staying there because it is easier.

Earlier this year, a colleague contacted me asking for a referral to a CPA firm. A family member had been doing the books for several years, and the business outgrew the capabilities of the family member. On a side note, the family member suffered from excessive Accounting Gibberish and using excessive speeds while operating a spreadsheet. I suggested two regional firms and one small local firm.

The decision was made to go with the smaller CPA firm, thinking they would communicate better with them. My colleague did share early on that they are not fluent in accounting and keep the conversation at a high level and put it in language that they understood – let’s call that plain ENGLISH! Since signing on as a client, there have been some struggles until recently, when it escalated to a full-blown meltdown.

My colleague called one afternoon in TEARS after a Zoom meeting with the CPA firm because they didn’t understand what the CPA was trying to explain to them, AND they were trying to explain this via an excel spreadsheet with 50 columns and 500 rows. The spreadsheet was not that big, except it felt that big as the CPA was trying to explain it at Mach 4 speed while Tigger was bouncing around the rows, columns, and cells. They just wanted it to be over and did not want to ask any questions because they felt stupid enough and didn’t want to feel worse.

No client or customer should ever have to go through this same type of treatment even though the CPA had no clue the negative impact they were having on their client. On a selfish plug, that is why I wrote the book Taking the Numb Out of Numbers: Explaining and Presenting Financial Information with Confidence and Clarity so CPAs can better connect, communicate, and collaborate with all of their clients.

Once a firm realizes that explaining the financial information in plain English and using stories to help understand, they will have a substantial competitive advantage in the marketplace. So be that firm whose clients rave about excellent client service because you are a translator of financial information so that your client’s business bottom line will improve way beyond their wildest dreams. BTW – you know that referrals are the best and cheapest form of marketing.

Let me help you become better translators of your complex financial information so that you can gain the competitive advantage over your competition. Please contact me at peter@petermargaritis.com.

A Dose of Humor Will Help Manage Your Stress

I’ll be the first one to tell you improv isn’t all about comedy and making people laugh. However, my introduction to improv resulted from finding and using comedy as a coping mechanism to deal with several challenges life threw my way. 

There is great power in being able to leverage comedy, laughter, and improv. The fundamentals of improvisation have been a literal lifesaver for me in dealing with highly stressful situations throughout my life. The fact is, stress is a part of our everyday lives. Stress can come from a variety of sources. For example, stress can come from daily frustrations, including our jobs, others from unexpected challenges, such as significant health issues, or a looming deadline as your work piles up around you. 

You remember this saying, “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” Mary Poppins was onto something here: to digest something undesirable but necessary – add something sweet to go with it! I favor taking this advice literally – sweets and snacks made available when you are in a crunch can undoubtedly go a long way, but so can humor. 

Is there anything better than experiencing a terrific laugh? It’s one of those sensations that lightens your mood and makes you want more. When something is funny, it feels good – it’s sweet that can make medicine taste a little better. So, why are so many workplaces seemly devoid of humor? I often ask my audiences, “When was the last time your coworkers burst out into laughter, and it wasn’t at your expense?” Of course, the answer depends on your culture and your colleagues. But all too often, that humor isn’t as typical and present as it should be, and stress can be a big reason for that. 

But, a regular dose of laughter reduces stress, and it’s desirable. A Forbes article written by Jacquelyn Smith cited a few statistics that validate the importance of humor. According to the article, “A Robert Half International survey, for instance, found that 91% of executives believe a sense of humor is important for career advancement; while 84% feel that people with a good sense of humor do a better job. Another study by Bell Leadership Institute found that the two most desirable traits in leaders were a strong work ethic and a good sense of humor.” 

I get it though, people are in survival mode, just trying to get through until quitting. When you’re facing a strict deadline or enduring an impossible task, the last thing you probably want to hear is some joker saying, “Hey, did you hear the one about the priest, the rabbi, and Bill Clinton walking into a bar?” You want to rip their tonsils out. However, humor need not be a stand-up routine – it can be present in how you finish a request in an email or a brief quip in passing to a colleague in the lunchroom. It can also take more sophisticated forms that take more time – such as [kind] pranks when it’s someone’s birthday, or someone reaches a career milestone, or if your college football team beat your colleague’s football team. 

The following are a handful of ways you can help decrease stress and hopefully increase humor and fun (all while being incredibly efficient and productive): 

Smile. It seems so simple, but body language – especially a smile – can dramatically impact how you and all your coworkers feel. It takes the edge off tense moments; it communicates that you aren’t consumed with negative feelings; it makes you more approachable, and others will feel comfortable around you; it invites positive emotions. 

Be prepared. The clown amuses no one at work that isn’t pulling their weight, shows up late to meetings, and can’t be relied on. Having humor in the workplace doesn’t mean you shirk your responsibilities. Humor is enjoyed with you, and those around you are confident – and that confidence, especially in the workplace, comes with being prepared for your job. Preparation for the days and weeks ahead will allow you to be less stressed and more confident – which will not only help you and your clients. It will help your colleagues. 

Adapt. Adaptability is a HUGE part of improvisational humor – it IS improv. Many things in life can be stressful, but we can “go with the flow.” Adapting is simply the ability to readjust as you experience things – whether that readjusts your sales pitch or the time in the morning you give a presentation, or having to select a different menu item when your first choice is sold out. No matter the situation, it takes flexibility and confidence to address change head-on – and let’s face it, things are constantly changing, things rarely go as planned. 

Have the right attitude. Your attitude affects everything. Since being little children, we’ve been told this – depending on our mood, and we’ll see the world a certain way that can either be positive or negative. It’s also incredibly contagious. No matter the source of your stress, your success in overcoming it depends on your ability to perceive things positively. You either can see your situation as a challenge and make the most of it, or you can succumb to it and let the stress win. Your ability to positively approach the workday will dramatically affect the vibe of your group – even if you have some Debbie Downers. Perhaps you won’t be able to win everyone over, but there will be plenty who will positively respond to your cheerful and witty vibes. 

So you’re committed to bringing more levity to your workplace – good, you all need it! As you make an effort to get to know your team members and engage with them, you’ll soon be able to determine your comedic boundaries. Of course, most of you probably know your colleagues well enough to know your limitations already – but consider times where you need to collaborate with other teams, new clients, outside resources, etc. Just remember, wit and humor are appreciated, and it’s needed! So, let yourself laugh; doing so will reduce your stress and helps others reduce theirs. Laughter is the proven antidote, and it comes naturally when the company culture is conducive to it – so, be a part of it! 

How Do You Eat an Elephant?

Has anyone ever asked you this question “How do you eat an elephant?” This question has never been asked to me, and I discovered it while reading an article. This question and answer is a powerful metaphor for learning and development for all professionals.  The answer to the question is “one bite at a time.”  

Think about it, and if you tried to eat an entire elephant in one sitting, you would get sick. From that experience, you would never want to try to eat an elephant again. However, when you take your time eating one bite at a time, over a period of weeks or months, you would be able to consume the entire elephant.

Another way of thinking about this metaphor is that you have back issues and decide to strengthen your core by doing stomach crunches.  You have not done any abs exercises since Nixon was President of the United States.  Day one, you choose to do ten crunches, and you have success without any muscle cramps. You continue this daily trend, and by day 20, you might be up to 30 crunches by adding one additional crunch a day (small bites). By the end of three months, you might be able to do 75 crunches. However, when you look in the mirror, you don’t see any difference in your body shape, and your back is still giving you issues. Yet, you don’t give up, and you keep on putting in the daily work. This is the journey I started back in November of 2020.  This morning, September 3, 2021, I successfully did 1,000 crunches which took me 14 minutes. As a result, my back is stronger, and I even have a better definition in my abs. 

The question now becomes – How long does it take to create a habit?  If you search the internet, you will find that it takes 21 days.  However, that is a myth.  According to research, it takes 66 days to start a habit. That’s right, a little over two months to START the habit AND don’t forget to continue this habit development every single day, if possible. So if you miss a day or two, don’t get discouraged, start again, and try not to put too much distance between when you stopped and then started again. And don’t beat yourself up because you miss a day or two or even a week. 

I began 20 + years ago adopting the mindset of an improviser.  I would leave sticky notes around the house, my car, and my office that said Yes! And. I wanted to keep those words accessible to me so I could create a habit and enact change. Unfortunately, over the 20 + years, I have fallen off the improv wagon way too many times than I wish to count. I would have to force myself back on the improv wagon and away from my old habits in the early years.  Getting back on the improv wagon was not easy at all. I was very comfortable with my earlier bad habits – letting my ego get out of control, not being a good listener, and trying to make it all about me.  However, I felt that those were not the suitable characteristics for a good leader and business professional, despite the behaviors I was witnessed by my current bosses/leaders.  

So, I would get back on the improv wagon and keep working toward my goal.  I learned that the amount of time it took me to get back on the improv wagon decreased because I was building up solid improv skills.  

Why is “one bite at a time” essential to learning and development for all professionals? Let’s break it down into two pieces – technical learning and development and non-technical learning and development.

Technical learning and development is the mastery of your technical competency. 

You want your surgeon to be technically sound as they cut into your body. You want your attorney to be technically sound while they are representing you in a jury trial. You want your insurance salesperson to be technically sound in the insurance policy they are offering their clients. Features, benefits, and side-effects are valuable information that is memorized to avoid getting policies confused with other policies or products. 

You developed the foundation for these technical skills during your college years. That foundation allows you to elevate into developing your complex technical skills.  

Non-technical learning and development, ahh, okay, let’s change this to Power Skills learning and development.  Today’s technical professionals (accounting, finance, engineering, health care, etc.) need to develop the mastery of power skills: communication, critical thinking, emotional intelligence, listening, adapting, strategic thinking, innovation, and more. When you sum all of these power skills into one, it becomes LEADERSHIP.  

Okay, I see some Scooby-Doo heads tilted and thinking, why?  I am technically sound in my craft, so why do I need to invest time into developing my so-called power skills to become a leader.

Let me sum it up in two parts. 

Part 1, the technical knowledge, jargon, and acronyms you spent years developing are now considered foreign languages. Have you ever had a meeting with your CPA, and you had no idea what the person was trying to say when you left? For example, I had a conversation with my doctor concerning some test results, and a massive tsunami of medical lingo consumed me.  I stopped her and politely said, “I have no idea what you just said. Can you tell me in plain English?” She paused and then said, “You may have cancer”. Okay – I heard and understood those words. And that gives me the knowledge I need to know what I possibly am dealing with (it was not cancer, thankfully). 

Anyone in any technical profession needs to become a better translator of their knowledge and expertise into plain English so others can understand and act upon the information.

Part 2, what business are you in?  It seems like a silly and simple question to answer, right? Yet, when I ask this question during a keynote or workshop to a group of CPAs, I get replies like auditing, tax, consulting, data analysis, etc.  I reply, “that is not the business you are in. That is the by-product of the actual business you are in”.  I take it to the point that either someone gives me the correct answer or it looks like someone wants to punch me out.  The correct answer is – you are in the people business, first and foremost. Without PEOPLE, you have no business!

I hope you ponder this thought for a while and come to realize that I am correct.  Since we are in the people business, we better develop those critical skills, or we will be out of business.  Business improv develops all of the critical people skills that everyone in an organization needs to master. Business improv is about letting go of your agenda to listen intently — to be empathetic and open-minded in the present moment — so you can truly connect with colleagues and other stakeholders to generate optimal results.

Think about that elephant and what that elephant represents – Leadership. Now, take one bite at a time and start investing in your power skills so you can have a greater impact on the people you hire, on the people you lead, on your customers and clients, on the people that are your business partners, the people in your community, and the people of the world.