Striving for Omotenashi excellence: the value of “Pause & Reflect” sessions

“As a child, I often would go back home to spend my summers in Tokyo with my grandparents. A memory that stays with me are the trips we would take to Kamakura and Hayama. Hotels and ryokans treated every guest like a VIP—no matter if this was the first stay or the 100th stay. The attentive staff was neither pushy nor clingy nor obtrusive. It was a perfect balance. Everything from the first warm greeting to the way meals were prepared and served was an experience, executed smoothly and with such precision it never felt forced or unnatural. Moreover, the hotels had this uncanny sense of knowing what the guests needed. Every time I left, I couldn’t wait to come back again.

The quote (bold emphasis is mine) is taken from a blog post by Mari Yamaguchi, who comes from a Customer Experience Design and Voice of the Customer background, and gives a good illustration of the five basic principles that underpin the Japanese custom of Omotensahi.

  • Greet the customers
  • Be friendly / smile
  • Use appropriate language
  • Be presentable
  • Act appropriately

As business managers / owners I wonder how many of your team aspire to provide that level of service? Is it part of your culture too? Do your clients say, “I couldn’t wait to come back again?”

Are you able to say we have “..an implicit understanding that there are no menial tasks if the result ensures a great experience…”

In search of excellence

It doesn’t matter the size of your business or industry, operational and decision making processes can always be improved. Taking time to reflect in a non judgemental way is an essential part of the technique Knowledge & Information Professionals call Learning Before, During & After.

As a relatively young business (5 years old this month) Bees Homes has set out to provide exceptional customer service and to use it as a market differentiator. A quick glimpse of its current portfolio amplifies the strapline “Selling Beautiful Properties from the Downs to The Weald”!

First impressions count. Since 90% of property sales originate from online searches it’s essential to stand out from the crowd. Great presentation is key to getting a listing noticed and potential buyers interested and willing to pay a premium.

Bees Homes ‘Tailored Marketing’ (part of a trademarked process – 5Hive) is subject to continual improvment and refinement. Core, is the art of presenting the client’s home to its maximum potential. And to achieve that, a wide range of experienced and talented professionals with complimentary skill sets are deployed at the photoshoot along with an array of accessories and artifacts for staging and styling.

Each event is planned with military precision with estimated timings for each phase, the order in which rooms are to be staged and the role to be played by each professional.

The lead agent needs to ‘see through the lens’ of the photographer and imagine how an image will look online and in the bespoke coffee table brochure that’s produced for each property.

She/he needs to capture enough of the DNA of the property that the Copywriter and Designer can incorporate it in the brochure. And she/he needs to ensure the client is delighted with both the event and the resulting marketing collateral.

Each of these events throw up learnings that are fed back into operational processes. Here’s how:

Learning after: “Pause & Reflect”

Each Pause & Reflect session is run no more than 2/3 weeks after the event and lasts for a maximum of two hours.

It is led by someone who was not at the event and features those who were.

So many organisations fail to engage with the people who work alongside them. In the above example James (our photographer) was able to input a number of valuable insights and suggestions that will improve the conduct future projects and the result for the client.

As an illustration, a list of 10 enhancements emerged from the latest session all of which have been fed back into Bees Homes Tailored Marketing process. The latest brochure of a very desirable property in Rye reflects a couple.

And finally

Bees Homes is fortunate to be led by Ana Aguilar-Corney who is a qualified Interior Designer and experienced design blogger. Ana is able to use her skills to help the team present a property in a compelling way so that prospective buyers can imagine themselves living there.

Successful businesses draw on a variety of skills and give voice to the people who work alongside them. They are willing to hold up their hands when things don’t work out the way they’d planned but (and this is a differentiator) they are constantly seeking a pathway to excellence through process improvement. Dare I say it, to a culture of Omotenashi?

In lieu of a Presidential Library

When I set out on my Presidential journey last January it was in the expectation I would get to meet a cross section of the membership at the annual conference as well as regional events. As it turned out ‘my year’ was almost exclusively virtual. The upside: I got to meet a number of international members and speak at international events. The downside: I didn’t get to visit other parts of the UK to see first hand the important role libraries play in the community.

I’d spent much of the previous 3 years promoting the idea of an independent accreditation for the Knowledge & Information Management professional, so I had high hopes that KM Chartership / Fellowship along with the recently released ISO KM Standards might come to prominence during my term of office.

As the global community was attempting to get to grips with restrictions caused by and the aftermath of the pandemic I was intrigued: What will the new normal look like?; will work be a hybrid of virtual and in person?; will it revert to being location specific?; and will the communal spirit endure? I hypothesised that in 2021,

I am convinced that those who succeed will be agile, collaborative, tenacious, excellent facilitators and a trusted resource, good at curation.

How accurate was this hypothesis?

Presidential Musings

One of the initatives I introduced was “Presidential Musings. I invited a variety of prominent industry figures to examine some of the questions I’d raised. These were captured in CILIP’s flagship publication Information Professional and can be accessed below.

We started with the ISO KM Standard and it’s likely take up. We then looked at the rapid growth in digital publishing and it’s potential impact on Libraries. Following on, we examined the impact of onboarding new employees in a virtual world. We looked back to look forward in assessing the role of Libraries over 100 years. We tracked the journey of a senior University Librarian who changed roles and continents. We debated (and captured thoughts on) distributed working and its impact on urban centres. We rounded off with a look at the role Knowledge & Information Professionals played in helping to run a successful Olympics during the pandemic.

As I look back at each article I am extremely grateful to everyone who gave of their time and knowledge. I hope you find them as enjoyable to read as I did to research and write.

Bibliography

Acknowledgements (in alphabetical order)

Carol Aldridge, Rob Cottrill, Patricia Eng, James Macfarlane, Chris Payne, James Robertson, Luis Suarez, Kate Thompson and Neil Usher

How to end the day with a satisfied feeling

Isabel De Clerq and I have never formally met though, like many, we are virtually connected. So. it was with great pleasure / anticipation when this little green book, with a nice note from Isabel inside the front cover, landed on my doormat a few weeks back.

This is a book you will not want to put down. As one page merges into another, the dog eared pages multiply and whomever is in the vicinity hears “listen to this, we do that..”, accompanied by nodding. I knew I was going to enjoy “Hybrid Work: A manifesto” as the opening paragraph is set in Isabel’s kitchen and my good friend Luis Suarez‘s thoughts on #distributedworking are referenced early in the book.

I promised Isabel (who has a love of Portugal) I would read it overlooking the Rio Tejo.

New Year’s Day by The Rio Tejo

It’s a book that spawns ideas. Here are some of my reflections.

What complements my thinking?

  • Meetings: Isabel places great emphasis on meeting preparation and conduct. A few decades back I was Business & Strategy Advisor to a fledgling dotcom business Sopheon. Globally acquisitive, with offices in Amsterdam, Maastricht, Minneapolis, Denver and Guildford, we added to the portfolio of companies by acquiring a software business in Frankfurt. It became rapidly apparant that work was needed to get everyone on the same page especially when holding meetings. We drew up a code of conduct “Meetings Matter” around preparation, attendees – roles and purpose and proposed outcomes. It worked and I use it for all client meetings.
  • Connection between people and organisation: This stood out

The presence of that greater good; the knowledge that your contribution matters; a match between your values and those of the organisation; and the fact that you can develop yourself through your work, these four elements ensure a strong connection. A connection that goes further than an office building with a trendy lounge and a matching coffee corner.

Unanswered questions?

  • In Suggestion 4 – “The office as a vibrant hub” – Isabel casts doubt on its future role and that of the ubiquitous coffee corner unless underpinned by a deeper connection between people. While I totally agree with the importance of a collaborative and supportive culture (see my most recent blog Simple steps), as Gillian Tett wrote in an excellent article in The Guardian last year quoting from a study on performance of virtual vs in person co-located trading teams:
    • “in-person teams had more incidental information exchange and sense-making, and at times of stress this seemed doubly important.”
  • In “Suggestion 7” Isabel dares to dream. “I dream of an organisation where knowledge workers end the day with a satisfied feeling.” The term “knowledge workers” has never sat comfortably with me since I heard it back in 1994! To some extent we are all knowledge workers not merely those tasked with white as opposed to blue collar tasks. Tradespeople who use their hands also draw on knowledge. Likewise farmers, who might equally be termed agricultural engineers, often develop a sixth sense of weather and growing patterns based on knowledge. Where, if at all, does the term knowledge worker start and finish?

What are my takeaways?

  • Importance of neutral space and focus time: a few years back in advance of a masterclasses with Martin White on Managing Virtual Teams we ran a survey that asked contributors where they had their best ideas and conversations and where they worked best. The overwhelming response was “Not in the office”, universally they noted the importance of a space that was not home! In my 3rd CILIP Presidential Debate (Shift happens – the future office / library in a connected world) the premise was that “In the future, rather than being fixed in one place with a single purpose, people will move seamlessly between different contexts – home, work, college, community – at a time and place that suits them, enabled by always-on smart devices.” The conclusion, that people wherever they are working still need some neutral (decompression) space.
  • It’s ok to clarify: – “I heard you to say and understood you to mean” is a phrase I’ve often deployed with organisations with a polyglot of nationalities where English is a second language. It is especially important in hybrid work where the propensity for miscommunication is great. I advise every team I work with to develop a practice that encourages clarification.
  • Virtual peripheral vision: When I am giving an in person speech or masterclass I can guage the audience’s response and if need be to focus more on areas of uncertainty. I’ve not yet honed my virtual peripheral vision so build in more “I heard you to say” time to understand what landed.
  • From 90 to 60 minutes per session: Hybrid work is tiring and as Isabel suggests it is most effective when everyone adopts the same mode of communication rather than having virtual outliers. I try and build breaks every 60 minutes when working virtually rather than the traditional 90 minutes blocks I use when conducting in person sessions.
  • People who ‘wing it’ tend to get exposed in a Hybrid Work environment so preparation is one of the critical success factors!

And finally

Hybrid (Distributed) Work is undoubtedy the way to go – it’s revolutionised the way we interact with each other. Imagine how without it we would have coped with the effects of the pandemic. Our challenge now; how to retain the human characteristics that differentiate us from AI powered machines and create environments that allow everyone to prosper not merely those with access to technology?

Isabel’s lovely little book poses many questions as well as answers, it gets you searching for your own solutions. I commend it to you!

Taking the thought to court

The combined effects of lockdown, helping my town respond to the pandemic, managing a growing business, while having to be in too many (virtual) places at the same time has taken its toll.  About 6 weeks ago I was advised to take my foot of the pedal and join a group of 20 on a 5-week virtual “Living Well with Stress” programme run by the NHS.

I mention this not to evoke sympathy more to raise awareness of the increasing incidence of mental health issues. “My” Zoom group was one of 3 being run concurrently in Sussex. Participants, ranging in age from 18 to 70, were encouraged to be on camera and contribute via the chat.  Admitting you have an issue is a challenge; facing a screen full of people with moving stories is harder still.

We finished the programme a week ago. What did I take away from it?

The value of images and metaphors to help describe feelings: As I’d previously described my situation as being like a sponge that was full to overflowing and needing squeezing dry, I found the metaphor of a stress bucket compelling and apposite.

Everyone has their demons: many on the programme spoke of a lack of confidence in dealing with others exacerbated by the lack of personal contact these past 18 months.

“Taking the thought to court”: when we are down and thinking negative thoughts its vital to examine whether those thoughts are valid or distorted and exaggerated. 

Being able to recognise the symptoms and triggers: this is key to employing some of the coping strategies above.

The importance of ‘me’ time and physical exercise: walking helps as does Yoga.

By the time you read this I hope to have concluded my ‘time out’ with a visit to family and friends in Lisbon and Cascais where as you can see I managed to switch off for a few days and catch up on some great books.

I am eagerly looking forward to returning refreshed and resuming the “in conversation with…” sessions from October and resuming my presidential duties representing CILIP on the global stage.

Presidential “Debate” & Presidential Musings

The 3rd in the series is only a few weeks away (on 29th September).  It’s a stellar line up and the topic very timely.  To whet your appetite, this edition’s Presidential Musings column features the three speakers, Luis Suarez, Neil Usher and Rob Cottrill.  Here’s a snapshot of what to expect from Luis quoting from a recent study on distributed working:

     “…remote work is a win-win, because the employee can move to a location of choice and save money in cost of living, and the employer will see higher productivity and lower attrition and save on real estate costs People will gravitate to a location where they want to live, rather than where they have to live”.

And finally: in search of tolerance

These past 18 months have exposed significant divisions in our society and exacerbated the gap between the haves and have nots.  Those dealing with the public have witnessed new lows in behaviours. Many of you are in the front line and I marvel at your ability to dust yourselves down and come back fighting when abused.

As autumn approaches, schools return and people grapple with the challenge of returning (or not) to their place of work, my sincere hope is that all of us take a moment to reflect before condemning another and if you get good service, tell that person or their boss.  We all need a lift!

Thank you for reading this.

“Old people must die!”

It’s New Year’s Day and I’m in Lisbon. I arrived Sunday 20th, the day the British were declared persona non grata by most of the world as a consequence of the rapid spread of the “English strain” of the Coronovirus. Our easyJet flight from Gatwick was one of the last permitted ahead of an exclusion for travellers from the UK for non Portuguese or non residents.

On arrival that night we arranged Covid tests at the drive through centre that sprung up close to the airport. Some 12 hours later we are in a queue (this will become a familiar theme over the next 10 days) and a further 12 hours later our negative results are confirmed. We can now begin looking after my mother in law who is currently in remission from an ongoing condition.

It’s fitting I should be in Lisbon the day the UK formally assumes it’s stand alone status as I was here (giving a keynote address) the day the Brexit vote result was announced. Then, most Portuguese were bemused by the decision and today, as Portugal assumes the presidency of the EU for the next 6 months, the desire to leave is still greeted with a shrug of the shoulders. Reassuringly, as the UK’s oldest ally, Portugal has gone the furthest to reassure UK expatriates of their right to remain as residents under the previous pre Brexit terms.

Christmas (Natal) is a big deal in Portugal which is unsurprising for a country described by Barry Hayton in his acclaimed tome The Portuguese: A Modern History as follows:

With an easygoing and seductive lifestyle expressed most fully in their love of food, the Portuguese also have an anarchical streak evident in many facets of contemporary life.

That 39% of disposable income is spent on food confirms it’s importance in daily life and rituals which are very much to the fore this time of the year. Food is not merely fuel, its a healthy obsession that provides a backdrop for most conversations. Whereas few in the UK would wait in line (unless to panic buy in the pandemic) here it is obligatory if you wish to get the best cut of meat, the freshest vegetables, or the right cake on the right day!

The food and wine are delicious, ridiculously cheap and though as yet I am unable to determine which “Kings Cake” one has on which day over Christmas and the New Year the inevitable wait is worth it.

Perhaps the single biggest difference with the UK is that being in service is not viewed negatively and most of the established coffee shops / pastelerias are staffed by indigenous catering veterans.

2021: CILIP Presidency

It is ironic /sad that, concurrent with the commencement of my term of office as CILIP President, my good friend Karen McFarlane should be stepping back from involvement as a Trustee having completed her term of office. Karen was the instigator of my appointment as well as reviewer on the first book I co-authored Navigating the Minefield… Her contribution to the Knowledge & Information Management profession has been immense and I will be proud to continue to serve alongside her on the BSI KM Standards Committee as well as CILIP’s Knowledge Management Chartership & Fellowship Accreditation Project board.

I did not know my predecessor Judy Broady-Preston prior to my nomination a year ago. In the intervening period I have come to respect both her humanity and intellect and thoroughly enjoyed the many virtual conversations (and occasional dinner) despite Covid restrictions. I am delighted Judy will continue to be involved as part of the Presidential team. More on that in due course in CILIP’s flagship publication, Information Professional.

A few weeks back Judy, Nick Poole and I had a long discussion about the Presidential role. I’d previously suggested that where possible the theme for a Presidential year should map back to the aims and objectives of CILIP and dovetail with previous and future incumbents. I am delighted to report that Kate Robinson (President Elect) is onboard with this approach and that my year will overlap with both Judy’s and Kate’s in terms of objectives. Professionalising the profession (at home and internationally) will be at the core and I will seek to build on what Judy has acheived.

I’ve previously spoken and written about:

  • the absence of a home / body that Knowledge Management professionals can coalesce around;
  • the need for a universally recognised professional qualification; and
  • the importance of a set of international standards that organisations engaged in Knowledge Management might adhere to and benchmark against.

“Striving down the path to corporate legitimacy” is a phrase I’ve used before and it will be at the heart of my efforts to position CILIP at the centre of this move.

And finally

Inevitably discussions and the news over the festive season were dominated by the depressing statistics on the spread of the pandemic emerging aound the globe. As I write this Portugal is in a 3 day curfew with movement of unauthorised vehicles prohibited from 1pm to 5am daily. Our town Eastbourne recently entered Tier 4 so on our return this weekend we will be in quaratine though fortunately we can work virtually.

In case you are wondering, the phrase shown in the title was spoken by a friend at a socially distanced and compliant family dinner a few nights back. Her 88 year old father had recently passed, her husband was hospitalised for 5 days and another good friend had died as a result of not attending hospital due to a fear of contracting Covid. Her point (and this is where translating from one language to another can be imperfect) was that the mortality rate of Covid is very low. By focusing exclusively on that, the impact on other conditions will be adversly affected not to mention the lives of the rest of the population.

I asked everyone at dinner how they would rate the performance of the government. 7/10 was the consensus. Though mistakes have been made, Prime Minister Antonio Costa has acknowledged them. This has engendered a feeling of trust I sense absent in the UK.

2021 has the potential to be a bounce back year but it will require a shift in mindset and the state of political rhetoric. I am looking forward to kicking it off with more KM Cookbook virtual Masterclasses this month with Chris Collison and future collaboration with the likes of Lee Bryant, Martin White and Luis Suarez.

I wish you and your family “Feliz Ano Novo”.