Eagles and ducks

Eagles soar.  Ducks quack.  It’s that simple.  Yet it’s one of the most impactful things I’ve learned about customer success hiring in my career.

The concept comes from Ken Blanchard, author of many books on leadership.  He says that ducks quack – citing rules, regulations and policies rather than actually helping customers.  Conversely, eagles soar – rising above challenges to own problems and “use their brains” to solve them for customers.

While I agree with and love Blanchard’s original concept, I have applied it slightly differently in hiring.  For me, a duck on a customer service team is problematic because he or she would rather complain (quack) than own an issue and see it to resolution (eagle).  While this isn’t tragic in isolation, ducks influence others to quack, creating what Blanchard calls “duck ponds.”  This negative swirl affects team morale and puts your eagles at risk of leaving because (a) they don’t want to be ducks, and (b) they have to spend so much energy avoiding duck ponds that it affects their ability to soar.

So when I meet candidates, I look for signs of optimism (or conversely, negativity).  Sometimes these things are subtle, other times they hit me over the head.  For example, if the candidate is quick to complain about his or her current employer, that is a sign of quacking.  Now, a little of that can be natural in an interview (he or she is changing jobs for a reason), but if the candidate goes there without my prompting or comes back to it throughout the interview, I know I’m interviewing a duck.  Another spot I check is when candidates talk about what they want in their next employer.  If it’s framed positively – what they truly want and aspire for – I get eagle feelings.  But if the framing is negative – that they want something unlike what they currently have or had before – I know I’m in duck territory.

Adding “eagle or duck” to my interview scorecard is quite likely the most significant change I’ve made to my customer service hiring so far.  If you wake up one day and realize your team is a duck pond, or someone on your management team is a “mallard” (head duck, per Blanchard) there isn’t a lot you can do to change it.  Author Mac Anderson has a book titled, You Can’t Send a Duck to Eagle School, and the title says it all.  It feels basic but the long-term, collective impact of hiring eagles versus ducks is huge.  If you hire for positivity and eagle attributes, you can teach everything else – your product, your industry, your processes.  But you’ll never, ever teach a duck to be an eagle.