Mar 062009

Why is it that leaders find it so difficult to make changes in their organizations? After years of conducting a couple-hundred-or-so operations reviews, I believe it starts when we try to make changes from the top down. We seldom ask our customers or our own employees who serve customers, and when we do, real change is never implemented.


We allow this top down pyramid approach to shape our policies in dealing with people, and it doesn’t work.   


How can business change things for the better by taking quality concepts to make them part of the culture and organization?


I believe it starts with Leadership– through integrity, innovation and intelligence. Leaders, no matter where they are in the organization, must ask some basic questions– What’s working? What’s not? What needs fixing? 


What’s working?

The best approach I find is to ask leaders to have a positive and open mind while looking for solutions to problems.  All companies and their staff have lots of things they do well. Giving people credit where credit is due is what leaders build on while trying to eliminate areas of weakness. ‘If it ain’t broke don’t fix it!’ The problem is that people, like things, are often taken for granted. Systems and procedures are implemented that threaten their effectiveness, and nobody seems to recognize that it is people who make organizations work. These leaders who lead by example are the real unsung heroes in companies. They’re the “20” in the 80/20. If management wants to find out what’s actually needed, they have to ask the very people that are making it work now.  This, supported by the leadership who encourages staff to be more than they thought possible, is a powerful combination.


So ‘what’s working?’ in leadership? It usually starts with people.



What’s not working?

If you get a group of staff together and ask that question, you usually don’t have to ask twice. They’ll bring up everything from lack of upward communication, management commitment, and leadership; to service quality, supervisory control systems, lack of individual training, high management expectation, low management support, poor staff motivation, and lack of teamwork.


And if you think that’s bad, just ask your customers– because if you don’t ask, don’t expect them to tell you. Studies show that less than 50% of all complaints are registered. Since bad news travels ten-times faster than good, customers gradually stop supporting a business and they’re not replaced. This leads to staff cut backs, which results in burned out service reps, poor service, poor sales, and more cutbacks.


Leaders must counteract this by earning the trust and respect of others by communicating a vision of service for themselves and others to follow. Martin Luther King Jr. said: 


Everyone has the potential for greatness not for fame, but greatness, because greatness is determined by service.


That’s what I believe leadership is:  to us, to our customers, to each other.    


Customers expect what we all expect from our suppliers. They want to be treated as individuals by companies that are responsive to their needs, reliable, empathic, look like they know what they’re doing, and convey the assurance that they will be looked after in times of trouble. This takes personal plus organizational leadership and responsibility. 



So ‘what’s not working?’ It usually ends when there’s a breakdown in leadership between the customer and service.


 What needs fixing?

The simple answer is to address all the structural, system and research issues mentioned previously. But unfortunately it’s usually not that simple. First, people have to be willing to serve and have the ability to serve. Management and staff must have the will, knowledge and/or skills to move the organization forward. Top leadership must ask of their people: What is it I can do for you – how can I help make the workplace more meaningful for you?


Secondly, top management leadership must use their power to ensure that a service-oriented culture exists– one in which office politics are discouraged, and all employees are encouraged and supported in their initiatives, even if they don’t always work out. Leaders in the front line (supervisors and workers) have to trust their staff, and be supportive of the new realities of doing business today– it calls for constant change. They can start by making complicated, new things, simple.


Thirdly, it remains for leaders in middle management, who are central to everything, to decide if they want to ‘join the party’– but they must be consulted by the leadership in upper management.  They often see things being done to their departments, without any input. They simply are given their ‘marching orders’ and ask to implement them, then they are asked to be transparent about measures which they (and their staff) know aren’t realistic. Obviously, this crushes any enthusiasm for company-wide change. How much better it would be if they, and their staff, were empowered to get results as a team?


Ken Blanchard, author of ‘The One Minute Manager’, says that to affect change leaders must align their values and purpose with their practices – so that their people can really see a difference.  (Let’s face it, if our dealings don’t result in a win-win, it naturally defaults to something else.) So how can we make a difference?


Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change.”

Fred Parry

Fred Parry

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