Some recent bad experiences
My area of experience is creativity and alternative thinking, not customer service. However, I was inspired (or perhaps driven) to put pen to paper after recent experiences with several large organisations here in the UK. I will not name them directly but the two worst offenders provide my telephone and banking services.
Large organisations just want to give us what they think we want. They might be so arrogant as to be saying “this is what you are going to get”. Recently I wanted answers to some questions regarding banking. I checked the company’s website for possible answers. After determining that the answers were not there I used the secure messaging system to ask my questions. I did this 4 times and each time the reply was a section of the help text from their website that had been cut and pasted into the response that had been sent to me.
When trying to contact my telephone company I tried 5 times via telephone and their chat service to resolve an issue. Each time I was told what they thought I wanted to hear i.e. you will get xxx within 14 days. They seemed to see themselves as an information service. I was being told how the system should behave. Exceptions were things that they seemed unable to deal with.
What can be done?
In most cases it is not actually the fault of the individuals providing the service. It is the actual system that needs revamping. Use a little creative thinking guys. Ask why I might be emailing or calling you. It is usually because my query is technical or non standard. I want some real help. So why employ knowledgeable people as supervisors rather than let them answer the phone. Just think, if you answered your queries the first time, you would ultimately cut down the number of calls to your call centres.
The future of Leadership (and also Management) continues to be debated. It is widely recognised that things cannot remain as they are. We are in a challenging era and we need organisations to be more effective (not necessarily efficient), to be better places to work and to be sustainable. Up until now, these have mainly not been attainable apart from in a few organisations. These few do, however, show that what we are all striving for is in fact possible. The question is, how on earth do we get there?
There are professional bodies that see themselves as the custodians of Leadership or Management. Are these the bodies to take things forward? In fact, should there be representative bodies at all? The problem is that we are trying to paint a picture of the future which a) obviously does not exist b) which we wish to be different from the present.
This means that if we use the current knowledge and models from any existing sources then we are likely to be interpolating in order to create the future. Even current management thinking tells us to be wary of this. Surely what we desire is a way of extrapolating from what we already know. Fans of Douglas Adams will only be too aware of how the ‘Infinite Improbability Drive’ was extrapolated from an exceedingly hot steaming cup of coffee in The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy (please read it if you have not already done so). If Douglas Adams had interpolated then he might have just created a frothy Latte rather than an ‘Infinite Improbability Drive’.
So what does this mean for Leadership? In terms of concrete actions, I am not entirely sure. However, to find out I believe that we need to paint a picture of the future which does not have to be complete fantasy. It should, however, not be limited by current thinking. This should maybe focus on organisational structures (or not), behaviours and the ways in which employees communicate as well as the requirements of organisations. The let us consider how we get there.
We should not throw away what we already know. Neither should we accept an interpolated future just because there are aspects that we are unclear about. If there are no Leadership and Management models then let us invent them. If we do not like the language used then let us create new language. Even if we cannot do that, let us experiment and create a prototype of the future which others can borrow or add to.
The danger is that this will be seen as too high a price to pay for creating a brighter future. What price are you and your organisation prepared to pay?
These thoughts were inspired by some works of the comedian Steve Martin and have been toned down a little!
“All knowledge is or is about to become old-fashioned. There is room for something new”.
Remember that all but the greatest theory, most of the data and knowledge acquired by scientists will become increasingly irrelevant as it is supplanted by new theory and applicable data. Someone has to provide that new theory and data, why shouldn’t it be you?
“There is no harm in charging oneself up with delusions between moments of valid inspiration”.
It’s OK to fantasize about success. Dream your wild-ass dreams. Creativity is often manic. Just remember that there is a reason folks talk about manic depression. In the end, most of your ideas won’t work out. That’s normal. Creativity is about generating 100 ideas, so that you can recognise just one good one.
“It was easy to be great. Every entertainer has a night when everything is clicking. These nights are accidental and statistical. Like lucky cards in poker, you can count on them occurring over time. What was hard was to be good, consistently good, night after night, no matter what the abominable circumstances”.
When you find your niche, when you have your business idea, make sure that you are consistently good at what you do, no matter what the circumstances or market conditions.
I like this list of paradoxes of creativity from leading creativity thinker Michael Michalko (author of Thinkertoys).
He states that to create, a person must:
- Have knowledge but forget the knowledge.
- See unexpected connections in things but not have a mental disorder.
- Work hard but spend time doing nothing.
- Create many ideas yet most of them are useless.
- Look at the same thing as everyone else, yet see something different.
- Desire success but learn how to fail.
- Be persistent but not stubborn.
- Listen to experts but know how to disregard them.
This is not a trick question. Many of us have undergone change programmes over the years and many have not worked or had no effect. Why is this? The answer is quite simple, the initiatives have not been Change programmes, they have mostly been renaming exercises. The phrase ‘rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic’ springs to mind here and it is most unfortunate that such exercises have largely been carried out in the public sector in the UK since the economic downturn began to bite.
So what has actually been happening, particularly in our councils and Civil Service? Luckily for employees, the public sector currently has a policy of no compulsory redundancies, which means that only costs other than labour can be cut which in turn leads to the desire for greater efficiency. The desire for greater efficiency then leads to the reorganisation of people. Structures, responsibilities and titles change but job descriptions, behaviours and attitudes do not.
Why does this matter if the organisation has not had to shed employees other than through voluntary schemes, after all efficiency has been addressed and costs cut! Let us go back to the reasons for change, to alter the way in which the organization works (effectively and efficiency) and ensure that it is fit to face the future. To do this we have:
- Shed staff, often indiscriminately
- Adopted best practice from external sources
- Changed the organisational structure chart
- Amended job titles
What we have also done is:
- Lost valuable knowledge and experience
- Failed to communicate the reasons for change and expectations
- Addressed any necessary changes in behaviour
- Failed to address insecurities regarding the future
We are likely to end up with an organisation that wants to work as it has always done (but when it has let valuable employees go) but which its masters want to go in a different direction. Think of a train running on tracks with the Chief Executive running alongside shouting ‘no, over here. Go this way’. Many will say that this is all that can be achieved in the current climate in a short space of time. My point is that the work should have been carried out properly over a longer period of time if those in power had the skill and foresight to begin the changes a couple of years ago.
This all sound very negative but is easily sorted by:
- Ensuring a transfer of knowledge when staff leave
- Employing change agents within the organisation to help with real change
- Engage the employees at the ‘coalface’ – in a hierarchical organisation you could be ignoring 80% of the workforce
- Focus on required behaviours rather than simply changing job titles
- Encourage transparency wherever possible