Turning management thinking on its head

Differentiation through people is a major factor that will enable companies
to be winners in 2004 and beyond. But what makes for a winning service

A top performer must have strategic vision. So a clear understanding of the
market you’re seeking to serve is paramount.

Second, be customer-driven. Don’t get so preoccupied with your own problems
that you forget your customers’ needs. Remember, being a top performer will
require transformational leadership based on a vision of what’s needed.
Communicate that vision to staff so they embrace it.

Then, empower your frontline people. They need clarity, commitment and
competence to superbly handle personal transactions with each customer. But
they also need a degree of autonomy so they can take responsibility for their
actions. So push responsibility and authority increasingly further down the
organisation. Also, work with your suppliers, staff and distributors to achieve
defined levels of customer service.

Last but not least, never underestimate the importance of training – its a
strategic weapon.

What’s the common factor in all this? People. They define whether your
organisation is good, bad or indifferent. It seems obvious, so why don’t more
organisations recognise it? Why is it a struggle to consistently achieve high
service levels?

Most companies train their staff to be skilled with customers – to smile,
use the right words, and so on. But they don’t teach them values. But however
good staff attitudes are to customers at the start, as routine sets in, people
become increasingly focused on tasks and less on collaborative relationships.
And people tend to behave towards others as others behave towards them.

What then, is the solution?

An organisation must determine where it wants to be. Then it must determine
where it is now. Finally, turn the organisation pyramid upside down so that
serving the customer becomes the major focus.

Consider people in the frontline as the most important level in the company,
supported by the rest of the organisation. Give them clear understanding of the
outcomes expected of them, and instill in them a desire to achieve goals. Give
them the resources, equipment, training and facilities necessary to do their
job well.

The role of each management level then is to support and respond to the
needs of the level junior to them, yet above them in the upside-down pyramid.

Some may find this revolutionary and threatening. After all, managers sweat
to achieve influence and knowledge denied to people below them. But in the successful
service organisation of tomorrow, that’s exactly the wrong attitude to hold. Be
warned HR: this lesson applies as much to you as it does to any organisation’s
board or operational management.

By Stephen Hall, Director, Stephen Hall & Associates

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