Friday, June 26, 2009

Customer Experience Pt 7 - Leadership

Post series written by Andrew McMillan (Principal Consultant at Charteris specialising in customer experience). Before joining Charteris, Andrew had a 28 year career with John Lewis and spent the last eight years of that career being responsible for the quality of service and selling across the UK department stores.

So we now have measures against which we can track how our aims for customer experience and internal culture are being delivered. Arguably we could stop at that point and there is a school of thought that stems from some lean practitioners which suggests frequently publishing performance measures is enough to elicit consistent improvement against those measures. Sadly, in my experience, that’s rarely the case and to achieve sustainability and improvement strong, supportive, directional and inspirational leadership is key.

Enough time?

That visible Leadership has to come from every manager in the organisation from the Board to team leaders. Unfortunately, all too often, I see managers managing, but not leading. A simple test for this is to look at a manager’s weekly diary and try to identify what proportion of each day is spent talking to and coaching those that report to them. Often that time simply does not exist as their weeks are filled with back to back meetings or other ‘important’ administrative tasks that take them away from being a role model for the teams they lead and often add little tangible value to their customers i.e. those that report to them.
A fast and simple way of alleviating that issue is to list all the tasks a manager has to do each month in order of importance. Often those at the end of the list aren’t critical to the businesses’ performance and are there ‘because we have always done that’. A conscious decision can then be made, balancing those less important tasks against the benefits of developing an enhanced internal culture and consequently improved customer experience. Being brave enough to change the status quo and stop a few unnecessary routine tasks can create a significant window of opportunity for leadership rather than just management. Sometimes however it isn’t as easy as that (often in regulated environments) and this can lead to a piece of organisational development work to establish what processes can be simplified and/or delegated up or down the line to free managers’ time to lead. Either way, this issue must be addressed as it is crucial to the development, sustainability and consistency of customer experience.

Another leadership challenge

That’s likely to be the hardest part, but there can be another key leadership issue to address. In the same way as we previously looked at recruiting for attitude, some managers may have historically been recruited or promoted for their knowledge or on their ability to complete tasks to a high standard rather than their leadership potential. Once the volume of tasks has been reduced and these individuals are expected to interact with and lead their teams on a daily basis, these managers can find themselves very exposed. A full suite of leadership skills training should be made available to them, particularly focussing on goal setting, coaching, and dealing with conflict. Many may respond well to this support and relish the new challenges, but some will not and, sadly, if they cannot transition from managers to leaders, they must be removed from their positions. That applies to all levels within the organisation including the Board.

Measurement again

That is where the benefit of the individual accountability within the measurements, both internal and external (referred to in the last article) comes in. That detailed measurement creates the opportunity for managers at all levels to identify both outstanding performance against the desired aims for recognition and poor performance for coaching and support, so making the most effective use of the time available to them. In this way, providing the aims of the business have been clearly articulated and the measures have been skilfully aligned to those aims, the managers can start to lead the behaviours that will deliver those aims rather than just reacting to the operational performance results. It is this leadership informed by frequent measurement of outcomes that gives the organisation its consistency and sustainability when embarking on a customer experience development programme.


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