A senior project team of a major retail organisation is presenting to their Executive group. They have been tasked with developing an approach to achieve the first stage of transforming the customer service experience.
The CEO, listens for some minutes and then interrupts, “I know what our long-term goals are, but to start with all I want is for them to say ‘hello’ to our customers. Don’t overcomplicate it”.
The project team leader responds by saying “we have focused our people for so long on the ‘task’ part of their job, getting them to focus on ‘service’ is a big change for them”.
“Then just tell them it’s another task”, the CEO implores of them. “In fact, let’s make it black and white. Tell them that every time a customer comes within ten feet of them, they must say ‘hello’. Tell them that we’ll be measuring it through mystery shopping and I expect 95% compliance”.
A short time later, an HR Advisor from Head Office walks purposefully around the store that has been designated as the pilot site for the new approach. She’s popped into the store at the end of the day on her way home. In the previous 2 weeks, all the staff from this store had attended a workshop session (generally 2 hours) to introduce them to the new approach on customer service. The workshops are one part of the solution. She notes a number of instances where staff who are stacking shelves, manning counters or preparing prepacked fresh goods, have NOT said ‘hello’ to a customer that passed them by.
The HR advisor approaches and questions one of the staff.
“Have you attended the service workshop?”.
“Yes, 3 days ago” says the young man who had been busy filling the banana bin. “I really enjoyed it, better than any training I’ve been on before”.
“So, you know that we want everyone to say ‘hello’ to customers” the HR Advisor asks. He nods in the affirmative. “So why did you not say ‘hello’ to the last two customers who walked by you?” she asks. He sheepishly shrugs his shoulders, and she moves on to another.
Later the HR Advisor reports back to her Head Office colleagues that the new approach...“is not working!”.
Eventually word filters back to the store management that Head Office is not happy. The store team are shocked and confused. Being on the inside of the store environment they know things really ‘are’ changing. Everyone can ‘feel’ that there is a new energy and attitude developing. Sure it’s not perfect yet, it’s not evenly spread, and confidence is fragile. But the buzz is growing, staff and managers are interacting more, teams are helping each other out. People are joking about the fact that a couple of senior managers have had ‘personality transplants’.
The store management have also started changing or introducing a number of practices – morning team briefs with everyone that help set the day up well, capturing and sharing great customer stories (dozens of them), and supervisors shifting their focus more to guiding and coaching their teams. These are not things they were ‘told to do’, but ideas that emerged through facilitated conversations they were now having on a regular basis. And people are noticeably happier when they arrive at work and when they go home. It’s becoming a fundamentally different place to work in than it was just a few months before.
This true story goes to the heart of the conundrum of cultural change. Sure, saying ‘hello’ to customers seems like simple stuff. It should be easy. It should be straightforward. And surely it should just happen!
Changing products,changing packaging and signage is easy by comparison. And the change is immediately visible. The ‘cause-effect’ is ‘direct’.
For cultural transformation, read ‘social change’. This requires different reasoning, different tactics and different expectations to other types of change. And actually, there are no guarantees of success (even with the best analysis and planning).
However, by applying certain core principles and using important technologies, you can maximise the probability of success.
One thing is for sure. Taking a compliance approach will (in most instances) minimise the probability of success.
Compliance (and command-control management) maximises the resistance and stress involved in change. “Tell people what to do”, and subconsciously they push back. Sure, you can hold a gun to someone’s head and many (but not all) will comply with the required behaviour. But when you consider that in the current age much of the transformation being sought typically includes higher ‘engagement’ (emotional resonance) – both between employees and the organisation, and between employees and customers, you quickly realise that such an approach is also counter-productive. It creates an ‘emotional dissonance’ within and, between people. They become stressed and tired, while the quality of decision-making and creative thinking is also significantly reduced.
Cases in point (from our retailer):
So, where do we look for those principles of success. Fortunately, in recent years a good deal of research has been undertaken, which provides us with much more guidance. For example, in 2010 McKinsey conducted a global survey of major organisational transformation, analysing the data to understand what drove the difference in levels of success.
Three critical and consistent themes emerged:
1 - The importance of engaging employees (including the front-line) collaboratively throughout the transformation journey
When frontline staff felt a sense of ownership and were able to take initiative to drive change (i.e. staff were able to contribute their own ideas and ‘co-create’ the change initiatives at their localised level), the success rate of the transformation rose to 79%. By comparison when these principles were not applied, the success rate was only around 10%.
2 - A focus on strengths and achievements (not just problems), throughout the entire transformation process is strongly tied to success
Of the ‘extremely successful’ transformation strategies identified, 63% focused on strengths at least as much as they focused on weaknesses. In contrast, in those transformation strategies that were ‘not successful at all’, 80% had focused more on weaknesses than strengths.
3 - Explicitly identifying the underlying mind-sets that must change for transformation to success is critical
In fact, 60% of ‘extremely successful’ transformation strategies had focused some of the initiatives entirely or mostly on ‘changing mindsets’, while only 12% of unsuccessful transformations had done so.
Those that have worked with ON-Brand Partners on transformation initiatives will appreciate that each of these principles is deeply embedded into the ON-Brand approach and methodology.
While an appreciation of these principles are useful, studies such as the McKinsey survey do not answer the deeper and more important questions: ‘Why’ these principles are important and ‘How’ they should be applied.
More on how ON-Brand Partners answers those questions in The Art and Science of Transforming Cultures - Part 2