Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Mutual Agreement

I recently met with a friend who works in a customer service position for another industry. She was talking about a challenge that she was facing at work in which she felt like management was "feeding the team canned statements to use with customers." She said that offices in another part of the country had this idea, received higher customer service scores, and now it was being informally rolled out in her area. The problem was that her and her peers felt awkward and corny with many of the new lyrics and, as a result, the process wasn't being used in most cases.

Now, I purposely left out the specifics. They don't matter as most of us have seen this same scenario in our workplaces - one person/office/region tries something and gets results and suddenly it's the hottest thing to have a meeting about. Mostly, it makes sense. Good companies should spread the good news when a new method produces better results. Another thing that good companies should do is understand team mentality.

My friend used words like "feeding" and "canned". Those aren't very positive words to use when describing her perception of the implementation of the new lyrics. With no offense meant, I might guess they are indicative of her success with them as well. The problem isn't with the staff here though, it's with the delivery method.

A team will stand together against canned change almost without fail. It can be different when training a new employee, but experienced employees know their business. In this case, they know the customers coming into the office, they know the local culture, they "know" a lot of things about their office that they are pretty sure some colleague across the country cannot know. For this reason, a leader needs to be prepared to have a conversation that facilitates healthy conflict around the topic. The key is to understand that the person/office/region that made it work, made it work because of a shared vision and agreement to make changes to deliver a new consistent approach to the task.

If the challenge is achieving better results for customer service scores, then you start the conversation about customer service rather than success stories from a far off land. As a leader you share current results, suggest that you feel the team can do better, and share the story of the person/office/region as evidence that there are solutions to your challenges. Once the conversation starts, let it happen - let it blossom. If your team already feels comfortable speaking openly, you'll likely find that they agree that they can achieve better results.

Now you can turn the conversation back to the new method being used elsewhere. You will likely meet resistance, but don't set out to copy the lyrics of the other person/office/region, rather copy their mentality. To make a process their own, a team has to air out all of their feelings, they need to play "devil's advocate" and challenge the idea. Inevitably, someone will introduce reason back into the conversation, heads will nod, and progress will start to flow back in the direction of the original proposal. This conversation of healthy conflict is a crucial step to getting everyone to buy into the idea. When it gets skipped, challenges are unanswered and remain barriers to implementation for those individuals. By helping your team agree on a vision of what (in this case) better customer service scores should look like, you are on the road to getting participation from the team towards achieving that vision.