Monthly Archive: May 2014

To Batch or Not to Batch

If you’ve been following our blogs for a while, you know that Nicole and I are self-professed process geeks, and we see the opportunity for process improvement everywhere we go.


You might even know that we are both huge Starbucks fans, even though Nicole (a former barista) is beyond annoyed that Starbucks has switched from batch processing beverages to individual beverage processing. To her (and me, although less passionately), this flies in the face of customer service, speed and efficiency, and it drives her bananas.

Allow me to explain.

Batch processing occurs when a number of tasks are grouped together and processed as one large batch. This is often very efficient for the person completing the tasks, and can save a lot of time. Think about if you were making a dozen sandwiches for a picnic. It’s doubtful you would make one sandwich at a time, adding it to the picnic basket. Instead, you would probably lay out a 12 slices of bread, butter each of them, then add whatever fillings were going in them, then put the second slice of bread on, then cut them in half, wrap them up and then put them all in the basket.

A business example might be something like having a stack of expense claims to process. The processor might do one at a time, entering data in a system, generating a cheque, and getting approval in one big file. More likely, the processor would do all the entries, then generate all the cheques, and then bunch them all together for approval. Each of these things might even be done by different individuals.

So why did Starbucks change their process? It’s only speculation, but I believe it allows the customer to feel more “special,” because they have a beverage that was carefully handcrafted. There may be other reasons as well, of course.

In our humble opinion, however, Starbucks has ignored one key thing. Batch processing in a high volume process is FASTER. As a customer, I could care less if it was the only Grande Decaf Sugar-free Soy Vanilla Latte (yes, that’s my current drink of choice) made especially for me. I just want it fast, and when I see the barista heat up the soy milk pot several different times, one drink after another, I want to hop over and help speed things up.

So as a rule, we love the batch processing thing.

But not always.

That’s right. Just to keep you on your toes, there is a caveat here.

If your process is not high volume, then batch processing is BAD and hurts your customer. Think about it. In the example with expense claims, if you only get a couple of expense claims a week, but want to wait until you have at least 10 to process all at once (batch processing), then the tenth person is a happy employee because their claim was processed super fast. The first one to hand in his expense claim, however, has to wait for potentially several weeks to get reimbursed.

We worked with a client some time ago that processed tax credits for a number of customers in the entertainment industry. Their standard process was to collect tax credit applications until there was literally a pile of them to process, perform the first process step on them, pass them off to the next person, and so on until they were complete. Interestingly, a large percentage of the applications never made it out of the first step because they were inaccurate or incomplete.

So not only was the client waiting for weeks for the application to be processed, but they often waited that long just to be told to start over and fix an error! Imagine how frustrating that would be.

The moral of the story is – high volume transactional processes often benefit from batch processing. Low volume, not so much, especially from the customer’s point of view. Click to Tweet

Next time you’re gathered around the barista’s counter waiting for your drink with a dozen other people, watch the process and think of us!

What processes can you think of that involve batch processing? Tell us in the comments below, or Tweet us @whiteboardcons.

Until next time,


Coaching Passive Aggressive Behaviour

Passive Agressive

We often teach coaching from the perspective of coaching to generational types, coaching to thinking types, coaching for difficult situations, coaching to give feedback, coaching to discover and build relationships – but recently we’ve explored the concept of coaching to behaviour types.

People love throwing around the words “Passive Aggressive”.  But what does it actually mean? Is it just a style? Is it bad? What are the repercussions of this style?

What does a Passive-Aggressive (PA) look like?

I had used the term before, and thought it was a way of exerting an aggressive emotion or feeling, but doing it in a nice way.  I never really saw it as a negative thing.  In fact I often categorized it with the ever so typical Canadian “Sorry.”  Someone bumps into me, and I say in that heartfelt Canadian accent “SOOrrry”.  Am I just super nice and subservient? Or instead of telling someone they are are jerk for bumping into me, am I hoping that jerk will feel bad that I said sorry (unnecessarily) and actually apologize to ME?

First let’s describe what this type of behaviour is:

Passive Aggressive behaviour is typically categorized as someone who expresses negative emotions in a seemingly positive manner.

  • Am I (or a member of my team) passive aggressive?
  • Do they use sarcasm regularly as a means by which to express their dissatisfaction with others’ behaviour?
  • Do they often agree to requests, yet less often fulfill their obligations?  (ie. procrastinate, fail to deliver, sabotage efforts)
  • Are they often forgetful, and use it as a scapegoat for fulfilling obligations? (i.e. often arriving late, losing items frequently, cancellations)
  • Do they take offense and become defensive or angry when their behavior is pointed out, believing it was the other person’s fault?
  • Do they use denial or evasive strategies when in challenging coaching discussions? (i.e. changing topics, using the obligations they forgot or procrastinated as a reason not to discuss the issue?)
  • Do they often feign misunderstanding? Arguments turn into a matter of semantics rather than the real issue at hand? (i.e. “Oh you mean you wanted that done today? I had no idea, you didn’t SAY THAT!” .)
  • Does their tone or behavior indicate anger, but their words say something completely different? (“I’m not mad!” – paired with distant or evasive behavior. This is the classic “Whatever” or “I’m fine” line that we toss around when we don’t want to get into a confrontation.)

If these sound familiar, you may have a passive-aggressive on your hands.  People with this behavior dislike expressing emotions honestly or confronting situations.  Often this cam be traced back to childhood where it may have been inappropriate to articulate dislikes and likes honestly.  Instead they please the audience with their words in an affirmative way (this is the passive part) and add behaviours (usually non verbal ones, like facial expressions) that seem to conflict with their words (this is the aggressive part). This behavior is very confusing to recipients who are hearing one message, and witnessing or experiencing another one altogether.  (Click to Tweet.)


Passive Part

Aggressive Part

“Whatever”. This is fine, I’m not concerned. Eye rolls and silent treatment to accompany the statement.
“I’m not mad”. I am not angry with you. I am mad, and I am not talking to you anymore as a result of it.
“You said that this was the MOST important thing to you. Now you are saying there are other important things as well?” I am repeating what you said to me, indicating active listening and compliance with your demands. Evading the discussion of the issue at hand, and focusing on an issue of semantics and clarity to defer and procrastinate from the issue at hand (prioritizing issues).

While this behavior is sometimes categorized as abusive, controlling, and manipulative – we take the approach that this is a habitual learned behavior that the PA may not be aware they are exhibiting (or the impacts it may have on recipients). Also, PA’s are good at this – and they see success (namely not having to confront) so their inclination is to keep doing what they’re doing. If we use our kindness and curiosity we can identify their fears, insecurities, and concerns and create a safe environment to express their emotions directly.

4 Tips for Coaching to Passive Aggressive Personalities

  1. Point out the behaviour (be consistent).  For example: You are telling me that you aren’t mad and I’m seeing you pull away. If you are angry let’s talk about why.
  2. Use contrasting statements (don’t/do) to indicate safety. For example:  “I don’t want you to think that I am going to be angry with you for being honest. I do want us to be able to talk openly and build our relationship.”
  3. Ask open-ended questions.  This is a classic coaching technique and the PA can often circumvent this line of questioning.  If you can, think about possible reasons that the PA is upset, and test it out. “Are you scared that I am going to be angry with you? Tell me about that?”
  4. Stay Calm and go back to step 2. PA’s are masters of their skill.  They are able to divert your attention to other issues causing the recipient to overreact. They may even exhibit pride in their ability to frustrate you. Stay calm and allay their fears and concerns.

Take the time this week to listen to yourself and others for passive aggressive behaviours.  See if you can’t be more assertive (in a kind and curious way of course) without fear of confrontation.  See if you can deal with a passive aggressive personality at work.  Tell us about your success with it @whiteboardcons #betterfasterandlesspassiveaggressive.

Until Next Time,


Women and Leadership

Woman-leadershipThis week at Whiteboard Worldwide Headquarters, Ruth and I have been thinking about Women and Leadership, particularly with respect to training.  I have to be honest that my first thoughts were, “Why would women need Leadership training that is any different than the training we would offer to men?” I hated the thought of saying that women needed something different or special – to us leadership meant building relationships, coaching your team, developing and executing in a “one-size-fits-all “strategy.

The literature and media I looked at seemed to emphasize that women need more training, whether it be in order to debunk  media’s presentation of “stereotypical” women and their roles, or to add some additional skill-sets that would make women more successful. I reached out to a few feminist women in my circle who hold leadership roles, and was overwhelmed with their excitement and passion on the topic – but I still wasn’t convinced.

“Part of the hesitance to embrace powerful women is embedded in feminism itself,” says Buzzfeed’s Anna North. “Feminism is a movement founded on women’s status as a marginalized group,” North writes, “and as a woman moves closer to the centers of corporate or government power, she can come to seem like, for lack of a better word, the Man.”

Could I agree with this? I’m not sure!

My government leadership experiences have all been peppered with a wide array of women leaders, many of whom were stellar strategists and coaches, and seemed to kibosh any and all barriers to women being successful in leadership.  I have been fortunate in my career to have these leaders to guide me to take on leadership roles and excel in them.  So my experience makes it hard for me to say that women are treated differently than men in the workplace.

But how do others feel?  Do women need to learn how to react, mitigate, and respond to situations where they are being treated differently? (Click to Tweet)

This week, Ruth and I delivered some “executing on strategy” training to a team of 30+ engineers (95% male) and my mindset changed a little.  Talk about a tough crowd. My inner-self was torn between being my best, teaching the material that I knew was great in the ways I know how – and running out of the room to have a nice cathartic cry.  Wow. I don’t think I had ever experienced that before, and it was alarming to me. Did I have to win over this crowd because I am a woman? Was it because I’m not an engineer? Were there other reasons? I don’t really know. To be honest, my biggest issue is that I cannot prove that any of those reasons was the culprit. So many questions, so few answers.

While I still have questions and a lot to learn about the topic, I’m going to start this series of blogs on Women and Leadership with the concept of like-ability.

Do women prefer to be likeable over successful?

Do I need to be affirmed to feel successful? Ruth and I had a retreat last winter – and we learned that we feel the most satisfied about our work when we receive positive affirmations – either from each other, our clients, or especially training participants.  It made us re-focus our strategic plan on training in 2014 – because we like that feeling and want more of it.

To quote Jessca Vallenti – to be driven by this like-ability – “means that your self-worth will always be tied to what someone else thinks about you, forever out of your control.”

I felt a little out of control in that session of engineers who were highly skeptical of the methodology we were trying to teach. Deep down inside, however, I knew that I could turn them around. More, I knew Ruth and I could turn them around.

So I actually knew things were in fact in my control.

My ability to relay the content to the participants and get them to “get it” (or “grock it” as Ruth would say), was completely in my power. My ability to comprehend their engineering examples and summarize and repeat them would improve my credibility, would get me to understand their world, and would ultimately get them on board.

But is that unique to me? Is that some skill that I have that other women don’t? And if so – WHY?

Now, I think we did turn the course around and reach the curious and open side of that group of engineers, and we saw success.  I’m still considering the concept of how much they liked me in my mind – and how that impacted me.

It’s still early in my research, and I  have a lot of work to do to solidify my views, however, I did learn a little about myself in that room.  Most importantly I wondered if I could harness that learning and help other women . Am I a feminist yet? Stay tuned for this series in Women and Leadership to find out more.

Do you have thoughts on women and leadership? What concepts do you think a leadership course on women should have?  Comment below or send us a Tweet @whiteboardcons with the hashtag #womenleaders.

To be continued……

Until next time,