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Monday, April 16, 2012

Build a Cathedral

Three guys laying bricks are asked why they’re doing it.  The first guy says, “I am doing it for the wages.”  The second guy says, “I’m doing it to support my family.”  The third guy says, “I’m helping to build a cathedral.”

Changing organizational culture is much like building a cathedral.  It is a slow long-term process and not everyone is on board with the cathedral idea.  Many employees go to work as the first two bricklayers, “I am doing it for the wages,” or “I am supporting my family.”  They are very real concerns, and let’s be honest it is the bottom-line why we all work.  But to build a cathedral requires fundamental change your workforce, one brick at a time.

Where Service Culture Initiatives Go Wrong

This has been my experience with major culture changes.  There is a kick-off meeting with beautiful new snazzy collateral, a catchy slogan, and the executive leaders telling the team something to the effect, “Today is a new day.  We will now provide X (transaction of business), at a superior level than yesterday.  You will attend a training class and all your leaders are on board. It’s a great time to be at X.”

Inevitably, there would be a training class for a couple of hours, again accompanied by said beautiful new snazzy collateral and this time a way too many power point slide presentation that had little to no real world relevance to my normal day-to-day work life.  It sounds like a wonderful idea, but not followed with many details.

So I would put the new promotional product on my desk, do what was asked of me, but did my heart change?  Did I behave differently?  No, and neither did my fellow team members or leaders.  We jumped when a big person wanted us to, but it was all for show, i.e. not to get yelled out.  We were not building a cathedral. 

In my opinion, and I have many performance reviews to support my hunch, I was pretty good at providing X service before so, was what I was doing yesterday so bad we needed to rewrite the book today?  I think in general it confuses the team, the people in fact whose hearts you need to change to start building that cathedral. 

How Would The Customer Service Gurus Change a Culture?

One word, slowly.  It’s ideal, and yes I know this isn’t always possible, but I am stating how I think you truly change the culture of an organization.  Using this format superior customer service becomes organic, not something that needs a new logo.  Behavioral change takes only three things, application, repetition, and positive reinforcement.

The approach I advocate is taking one small change and hitting it using multiple methods for a designated period of time, but at least one month.  For example, almost every customer service program starts with creating an effective greeting.   Typically in a traditional in class event, about 20 minutes is spent on the subject. First the facilitator demonstrates an effective greeting. Next he or she will lecture why it is important, and then give the class a few minutes of practice time. 

But the employee will go out of the classroom and their immediate director will walk right by them without saying a word, or acknowledge their existence.  What are the overall chances of true adoption of the behavior?  Not much, because it will get muddled in with the other points of the eight hour class and by an environment that does not ‘walk the walk.’

Using the Customer Service Gurus method, the organization first would only focus on the greeting of any transaction for one month.  This might also be provocative, but I would only quality control the greeting through formal or informal monitoring for that month.  

The next piece to create it in the environment is make everyone, executives on down, use a warm friendly greeting in the office.  Emphasizing positive reinforcement, give everyone a token of some sort to hand to other employees, and all are empowered to reward a genuine warm greeting.   It’s possible to offer an incentive, whoever has the most tokens wins a prize.  The key here is it has to be everyone!  Promote the greeting concentration in all employee communications, in all your meetings, and I just might tell my customers too.  There is nothing wrong telling your customers you are building a better tomorrow, one brick at a time.

Why would this work?  As we all know, if your greeting is sincere and friendly, then the likelihood of having a successful transaction increases exponentially, either in an office meeting or with a customer.  

Imagine what your culture would look like if all truly embraced this? 

Now the organization is ready for month two to start again with another small, but a repeatable positive behavioral change that involves everyone.  It will take time, but in even two months the change will be meaningful and long-term.  Your customers will truly feel the difference and not feel as if they are simply participating in a checklist. 

This could work with other initiatives besides service.  Think of whatever is the desired change in the workforce and break it down to small detailed actionable behaviors.  Then use the approach above, enacting a specific repetitive campaign for change.

And that’s how you build a cathedral.  

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