The Next Level of Intelligence for 21st Century Leaders

buzz from Jeff Gearhart, Executive Vice President, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

“Over the past five years, Dr. Reeves has helped our legal department integrate diversity and inclusion into our leadership principles. We are excited about The Next IQ, which is both an analysis of what we need to do to effectively step into today's leadership challenges as well as a guide on how we can actually take individual and organizational action to become better and more inclusive leaders."

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The Next IQ in Action…

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them. ~ Albert Einstein

The Next IQ in action…

I’ve been working with a senior executive at a large corporation who brought me in initially to increase leadership competencies in his leadership team.  As we worked on increasing the collective intelligence of his leadership team, I discovered that a major stressor for almost everyone on the team was one particular customer service center where the lines were ridiculously long, the customer complaints were increasing by the day, and the turnover in personnel was skyrocketing out of control.  This executive and his team were charged with reducing the wait time for customers and increasing the customers’ overall rate of satisfaction with the service they received.

Instead of creating a hypothetical case for the leadership development project, the team agreed to apply The Next IQ principles to the particular challenges of turning this customer service center around.  We started gathering the information and the various perspectives we needed to define and then solve the problem.

The first thing we realized was that, given the nature of the problems that were solved at this customer service center, the hope of reducing the amount of time that each customer service representative spent with each customer or the number of customers that needed assistance every day was beyond our control.  No matter what we did (or thought we could do), the lines were going to be long!  More importantly, if we worked to reduce amount of time that customers spent with the representatives, the customer satisfaction rates would further decline.  We explored the option of hiring more personnel, but that was not an option for both space and budgetary reasons.

The wait time had to be reduced even though the number of customers was not about to diminish and neither was the complexity of the problems the customers faced.  So, how can you reduce the wait time in a line when you can’t reduce the number of people in line, decrease the amount of time each representative spent with each customer or increase the number of representatives?

This was the question that had frustrated the leadership team for months, and the collective level of skepticism about solving this problem was very high.  Yet, as we dove deeper into the process, they realized that they had defined the problem without any real input from anyone in the service center.  Long lines were bad, right?  So, reducing the lines had to be the problem!

The team had reached out to personnel in the service center to generate solutions to the problem, but they had never sought multiple perspectives on what the problem actually was.

The feedback from the service center personnel and customers was eye-opening.  No one, not even the customers, had any expectations that the wait time would decrease, but as the leadership had focused on reducing the wait time, they had implemented initiatives (such as creating one “snake line” instead of several individual lines) that had made the customers’ time in line more and more unpleasant.  As the customers became irritated, the representatives communicated with them less and less.

The aha! moment for the leadership team occurred when they realized that the way they had defined the problem was the problem.  Instead of asking “how do we reduce the customer’s time in line, they needed to have been asking “how can we make being in line more enjoyable for the customer.”  The intelligence on the team would never have been intelligent enough to realize this error without adding the additional perspectives necessary not just to find the right answer but, more importantly, to ask the right question.

As soon as the problem was reframed, the team first made a list of all the different constituencies whose perspectives needed to be mined for solutions, and this time, they included perspectives that they had never before considered.  The customer service representatives.  The customers.  The administrative staff.  The maintenance crews for the facility.  The various teams in the corporate office involved in solving the problems faced by the customers.  The billing staff.  Etc.  All in all, we identified about 12 different groups whose perspectives needed to be included, and the team went about the task of asking, listening and gathering those perspectives.

The list of possible solutions generated was long:  provide chairs for the customers to sit in instead of standing in line, create a waiting room feel with a number system for queuing, install vending machines with food and drinks, offer a couple of internet terminals for customers to use while waiting, play BINGO and offer small prizes, install a television, paint the walls bright colors, create a children’s play area and a homework corner, change the bright white lights to soft ivory lights, and on and on and on.

The team compiled a list of all reasonable suggestions and went back to the respective groups to ask for opinions on which suggestions would net the greatest “joy” in the shortest period of time.  Within 3 months of embarking on this project as a leadership team, the waiting room was transformed, and while the wait time in line did not change, the customer complaints decreased dramatically, and the attrition rates of the staff slowed down considerably.

The customers waited just as long in line as they had before, but their  waiting experience had been transformed.  That led to happier customers, more relaxed customer service representatives, and more engaged managers.  We didn’t solve the problem the way the team had originally defined the problem, but, with the addition of multiple perspectives, we solved the real problem, and that is The Next IQ in action.

-By Arin N. Reeves