All organizations have a culture. Culture simply reflects “the way we do things around here.” It influences the way members of an organization think, behave and interact with one another. Cultures can be helpful and supportive of an organization’s mission or purpose or they can create impediments to an organization’s success.
Essentially, cultures are based on values. When values are shared and directed toward the achievement of the organization’s objectives, it can facilitate success. However, if values are shared, but not directed toward the organization’s objectives, the organization is not likely to succeed. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the employer to work to develop a shared set of values that supports the organization’s mission and objectives.
Recently, several colleagues and I have become concerned about the decline of a “service” culture in business. Service is a primary concern of most consumers, and it should be a primary objective of many organizations in today’s society: banks, insurance companies, airlines, delivery services such as Amazon and UPS, hospitals, etc. But it should also be a primary objective for many smaller businesses: restaurants, doctors’ offices, retailers, specialty shops, etc.
A “customer service” focus is important even within larger organizations in departments like human resources and information technology that allegedly provide services to other aspects of the company. When I first assumed responsibility for an HR department in a large organization, I noticed that our department members saw themselves as analysts and processors of information. They appeared to have little or no time for other company employees who needed their assistance. Some company employees could only come to our department during their lunch hour, but our departmental employees had previously closed the department during the lunch hour. The culture was anything but customer-centric.
At our first departmental staff meeting, I asked our employees about this behavior and was informed that this was the way the department had always operated. We discussed the situation further, and it was agreed that the department should be staffed during the lunch hour and that departmental employees would work together to develop a schedule. I also had a large sign prepared to place over the doorway so our employees would see it whenever they exited the department. The sign said something to the effect that “We’re Here to Serve Others.” The sign was used to reinforce what I hoped to achieve. It was a small step toward changing our departmental culture, and it worked.
Examples of poor service can be found almost daily in our lives: late deliveries, lack of assistance, long waits, multiple errors, inadequate repairs, etc. A service culture exists when employees are motivated to take a customer-centric approach to their regular duties and work activities. It involves training and rewarding an organization’s employees to create a culture that puts customers first, that helps customers obtain the result they are seeking.
Here are some questions to guide your efforts:
- Do our employees understand what values are needed to make the business successful?
- Do they demonstrate those values?
- If not, what have I done to make the desired values real?
Here are a few suggestions for strengthening your desired culture:
- Hire individuals who share your desired values.
- Share your desired values during the hiring and onboarding process.
- Include adherence to the desired values as part of your performance review process.
- Recognize and reward employees who consistently exhibit the desired values.
- Highlight desired values periodically in company media.
- Act quickly to investigate and discipline employees who violate key values, especially those related to employee misconduct such as bullying, sexual harassment, etc.
- Walk the talk! Demonstrate adherence to your key values in your daily actions.
To paraphrase the famous line from the classic film, Field of Dreams, “If you provide it (a customer-centric culture), they (the customers) will come.”