8. Making It Easier for Employees to Do Business With You – Lead With Your Customer, 2nd Edition:Transform Culture and Brand into World-Class Excellence


Making It Easier for Employees to Do Business With You

When it comes to processes, employees experience many of the same challenges and frustrations as external customers. Consider these situations:

• Your company laptop needs a new battery. You contact your IT department and are told that there are none in stock, but you can’t find the correct barcode to order the new battery.

• You head to the employee cafeteria, where one queue exists to serve more than 150 employees coming through during the same hour.

• When you visit the corporate office in Dayton, you need to present your corporate identification to get in. When you visit the Omaha office, you walk in without anyone asking to see any identification whatsoever.

• Speaking of your corporate ID, you are told that you can renew it online, which you do. But you never get the new ID. Several calls later, you find out that your photo ID is no longer on file and that you need to go over to the employee services office to get it renewed.

• You return your company logo shirt because it’s the wrong size. The employee services manager informs you that she will need to a find a manager to approve the return.

Although we explore specific challenges and solutions of processes relating to external customers in part III, this chapter explores processes from the employee’s point of view. It also includes processes that are unique to the employee experience:

• supporting employees (and customers) with effective organizational structures

• giving the gift of time

• providing employee choices

• providing continuous employee improvement

• communicating clearly with employees

• learning from mistakes

• busting service silos.

Let’s consider how these processes can have the greatest impact as you seek to create a world-class organization.

Supporting Employees (and Customers) With Effective Organizational Structures

One of the most significant factors for the effectiveness of processes is organizational structure. The structure, combined with the culture (specifically, the informal rules that influence how people interact), will dictate what and how communication flows through the organization. The only way a company will be easy to do business with externally is if it structures itself internally for ease of doing business.

Inefficient processes within the operation will always affect the customer experience due to the higher costs and the extra labor required to do inefficient processing. One example of this is from Walt Disney World. In the 1990s, George Kalogridis, then vice president of the Epcot theme park, was walking through the Land Pavilion, one of the park’s largest attractions. He noticed that the fountain in the center of the building was not functioning. Because the fountain was surrounded by the food court, he mentioned the problem to the managers of food and beverage services, but they argued that the problem was not theirs—it was the responsibility of the people who oversaw attractions. When the executive requested that the attractions managers act, they, too, claimed that it wasn’t their responsibility—it was the job of maintenance. The executive then approached the maintenance managers, who claimed that they couldn’t do anything until the responsible work area filled out a work order.

It became obvious that operating in silos (the vertically organized, isolated areas of an organization’s operations led by influential people) left everyone concerned only about their specific duties rather than the overall excellence of the organization. In time, the park decided to change the organization into integrated business units, with each responsible for all the aspects of their unit’s operations—from food to fountains to maintenance.

Part of this shift included the realignment of accountability and performance bonuses. Rather than management rewarding only local performance, which undermined teamwork, it balanced bonuses between the business unit and the entire park—providing an incentive for everyone to work together as part of a larger team to achieve performance excellence.

An organization’s structure affects all aspects of its operations, from relationships and communication to processes and its overall personality. This structure has three key facets:

• chain of command

• flattened hierarchy

• matrix reporting style.

The chain of command, or the hierarchy, is the number of formal leadership layers in the company. Each layer is a step or filter through which a message must pass to be considered in the communication process.

Each additional step adds more time needed to address issues. In today’s ever-faster-paced work environment, time and speed are critical resources to remain competitive. Each layer also adds a filter, potentially changing or even omitting important information needed to make informed choices about the situation.

The second key facet, flattened organizational hierarchy, refers to the general trend for all world-class businesses over the past decade toward flattening—limiting the organization to the fewest levels or layers possible. Aspects of the hierarchy include job descriptions (responsibilities and authority), reporting structure (positions and accountability), and processes (general work and information flow). Flat organizations emphasize a decentralized approach to management that encourages high employee involvement in decision making. The purpose of this structure is to create independent, small business units that can rapidly respond to customers’ needs or changes in the business environment.

The third key facet, matrix reporting style, has become more common as corporations have become larger. In a matrix structure, teams are formed and team members report to two or more managers. Functional and divisional chains of command are used simultaneously for one-of-a-kind projects. The matrix is often used to develop a new product, to ensure the continuing success of a product to which several departments directly contribute, or to solve a difficult problem. By superimposing a project structure upon a functional structure, the matrix allows the organization to take advantage of new opportunities. This structure assigns specialists from different functional departments to work on one or more projects being led by project managers. The matrix facilitates working on concurrent projects by creating a dual chain of command—the project (program, systems, or product) manager and the functional manager.

The balance between having enough steps or layers to process information efficiently and having too many steps or layers is constantly evolving. World-class organizations have found that this balance is best achieved with open and honest communication and engaged employees closest to the operation or the customer.

Giving the Gift of Time

Giving your employees more hours in the day can be a powerful way to create greater internal satisfaction. Here are a few exemplary, innovative practices that organizations—rated by Fortune as among the 100 best companies to work for—are implementing for their employees’ benefit:

• Genentech offers doggie day care and an on-site farmer’s market.

• Many firms offer healthcare clinics; Qualcomm’s on-site primary care clinic quadrupled in size.

• Law firm Alston & Bird offers concierge services.

• Russell Investments offers a free on-site gym.

• Valero Energy makes its corporate jet available for employees with medical emergencies.

• The Walt Disney Company has on-site haircuts, a car-care center, various workout facilities, and numerous on-site childcare operations.

Providing Employee Choices

In recent years, many employers have begun customizing work options for their employees. For example:

• Ericsson allows employees the option of bringing their pets to work.

• Principal Financial Group allows you to buy time off.

• Despite many challenges in moving, Interaction Associates, a small consulting firm with about 100 employees, allowed them to choose the actual physical location of their new headquarters (Lorber 2008).

• A growing number of companies are accommodating their employees’ requests to work remotely—even from distant parts of the world.

Many companies urge employees to give to charities, but excellent companies help make it easy to give. Telefónica Europe, a British mobile telephone company, has a program called Give as You Earn that enables employees to donate through their payroll. The process is quick and easy, encouraging employees to sign up then and there.

Analytical Graphics Incorporated doesn’t just provide a flexible schedule option for its employees, many of whom work on schedules spread across all hours of the day. It serves three meals in its dining room and invites employees’ families to come, too. An in-house laundry and gym are additional choices that support the employee experience.

Clearly, there are numerous ways to give employees a greater voice in what occurs at their workplaces.

Providing Continuous Employee Improvement

In the same way that employees should be continually improving the customer experience, they should also be focused on improving themselves and the workplace. This shouldn’t be a temporary “program” but rather an ongoing business philosophy in any organization.

The makeup powerhouse L’Oréal launched an initiative to attract new talent. They took a traditional route of enlisting employees to share testimonials on L’Oréal’s social media, but that strategy failed to get significant results. The company discovered that, according to a Nielsen study, consumer trust in brands was falling, but that trust was actually rising among family and friends. L’Oréal decided to engage their employees in advocating for their company to their own social media family and friends. To do this, they created two hashtags: #LifeatLoreal and #LorealCommunity.

#LifeatLoreal was for corporate communications to keep abreast of what fun events were happening and showcasing the company culture. The effort went viral and excitement exploded both inside and outside the company, growing to include contests with iPads and GoPros or even opportunities to be showcased on L’Oréal’s official social channels. The second hashtag, #LorealCommunity, focused on how employees interacted socially with colleagues both inside and outside work. The net result of just those two hashtag campaigns was L’Oréal realizing an increase of 200,000 unique impressions on Instagram, deepening their engagement with both employees and fans, and differentiating their brand.

Here are some other examples of continuous employee improvement:

• At Evernote, employees can sign up for “Officer Training,” where they can attend two extra meetings every week in departments they don’t work in, and are encouraged to participate and ask questions. This is to allow a more transparent flow of information to all parts of the organization. They also have a video wall to help those in the studio office more easily interact with those at headquarters.

• At the small business software firm of HCSS, open-book management and courses on ownership thinking led to savings of $500,000 in its operating budget.

• The 142-year-old textile producer Milliken has had an eightfold safety incidence rate decline since 1981, when frontline employees took control of the safety process.

The purpose of any employee-led improvement process is to see how well the company is serving these internal customers, enabling effectiveness, efficiencies, and product improvements that will lead to superior external results.

Communicating Clearly With Employees

How employees communicate reflects quite a bit about the organization’s health and the ability to execute excellence. The primary gauge of world-class business communication is how well the organization’s values and vision are consistently reinforced.

Consider the opportunities you have for communicating and reinforcing the messages you want to permeate your organization. There are many examples that enhance communication with employees:

• Adventist Health Celebration Hospital campus hosts a company-wide expo where employees can take time off to learn about significant company activities.

• At Rackspace Managed Hosting’s bimonthly open-book meetings, all financial issues are laid out for the employees.

• Microsoft’s Consumer Support Services uses gamification to not only communicate but also develop skills, motivate sales, and improve outcomes.

• At Adobe, the CEO answers emails within 24 hours.

• Four times a year, Nike holds a meeting for all employees, currently numbering approximately 74,000. Adventist Health Celebration Hospital holds similar events.

• Ryan Holmes, founder and CEO of Hootsuite, places an emphasis on using social media in the workplace, not only because that is their product offering, but because it adds to employee engagement, morale, and customer exposure. (Research from a 2015 study by CEO.com shows that 61 percent of executives have no social media presence at all.)

• Time Warner’s CEO, John Stankey, holds a series of lunches with small groups of high performers who typically have little or no access to him. The time is spent discussing his vision and answering questions.

One of the reasons communication is so important is that it is foundational for building relationships. For instance, when Disney’s Epcot theme park was being constructed, a particular engineering division of Walt Disney Imagineering, called 510, was struggling to work well with others. The artists and architects who dreamed up the rides and attractions were disappointed that the engineers in division 510 weren’t living up to the earlier vision of what was to be built. Meanwhile, the construction team was angry that it was taking so long to get the blueprints delivered. A new manager, Art Frohwerk, came up with the idea of putting money into the budget for employees in the division to take others out to lunch. The condition, however, was that they had to use money to take people at their level out for a meal.

The result was transformative. Colleagues got to know one another better and, as a result, started collaborating more effectively together, leading to dramatically improved results. Corporate acknowledged the engineering department with T-shirts that read “I love 510” and held a celebration to honor the previously hated division. Eventually, engineering division 510 became known internally as the team that “picks up where dreams left off.”

Your Assistant, the Chat Bot

Employees need support whenever and wherever. Most workers would like a personal assistant; in times past, that would have been financially impossible, but that’s changed with technology. Chat bots are the new virtual assistants, and they provide greater access to information than ever before. They may be the perfect assistant. But do you call your chat bot an assistant?

The backbone of every organization is the professional partners, supporting leaders in vital responsibilities such as logistics, communications, organization, and coordination duties. Chat bot assistants can take on the more mundane, routine functions and free up professional partners to devote their efforts toward the higher-value skills demanded by that position. And playing that more significant role allows them to feel more valued, engaged, and significant in the workplace.

Furthermore, chat bots allow everyone to have an assistant. One survey of 350 HR leaders conducted by ServiceNow found that 92 percent of them agreed that providing an enhanced level of employee service would include chat bots in the future (Bharadwaj 2017). Consider the support you might get from a personal chat bot by asking:

• What are steps I could use to provide performance feedback?

• As a dad, what time off do I get when we have a child?

• What promotion opportunities could I apply for?

• Can we float our holidays?

• How do I make coffee?

According to Deepak R. Bharadwaj (2017), of ServiceNow, “This survey underscores the potential and enthusiasm behind new technologies to finally deliver what employees want and need—a consumerized and compelling experience. With self-reliance as the goal, HR teams will start to add new channels to their employee experience rapidly.”

Learning From Mistakes

In 1980, a floating dormitory for oil workers in the North Sea rolled over during the night and killed more than 100 people. Officials eventually discovered that shortly before the accident, a crack in a support structure had been painted over instead of being reported and repaired. This seemingly insignificant mistake caused the structure to roll over, sinking the dormitory. The findings indicated that a culture of avoidance of responsibility added to this tragedy (Berkun 2005).

Having a culture and the processes in place that allow people to report, manage, and learn from their mistakes is paramount for world-class organizations. An example from a state prison paints a clear illustration of why learning from mistakes is so imperative. One important policy for the prison’s corrections officers was that “failure to do a head count will lead to termination.”

The problem with using policies to run an operation is that, eventually, more effort is spent ensuring that the policy is followed rather than understanding why the policy was created. In this instance, some inmates started keeping track of the guards and who was doing head counts and paying attention to inmate activity and who wasn’t. Eventually, two inmates broke out of the prison, wreaking all sorts of havoc.

The good news is that both escapees were eventually captured and returned. The press inundated the prison with reporters and media equipment. The governor’s chief of staff, who was fairly new in office, turned to his equally new deputy of corrections. When he asked for the names of who was going to be fired for the mistake, the deputy offered only his name. This deputy happened to be brand-new to the role—he’d barely had the opportunity to visit the operation, much less provide meaningful administration. His opinion was that first-time offenses should be learning opportunities. Imagine if everyone was fired for every mistake, then no one would be open to learning—only not being caught making any kind of mistake. The true problem, according to the deputy, was that the prison had a culture of placing blame rather than correcting mistakes. The deputy’s new approach transformed its results in a very short timeframe.

When employees make these kinds of mistakes, what should you teach them to do? Here are some guidelines from world-class businesses:

Rule 1: Admit to it right away. Let your manager hear about it from you first. Be proactive and seek out everyone who needs to know. Take responsibility. Don’t create blame.

Rule 2: Clean it up. Do whatever is necessary to make the situation whole again for those around you. Remember, making a tighter cycle will help you to not create a problem so big that you become bogged down cleaning up after your mistakes.

Rule 3: Learn from the experience. Focus on what worked while addressing what did not work. Communicate to others what you have learned so they don’t make the same mistakes. Also, learn from your challenges, but don’t make them so big that they hinder your ability to move on.

Rule 4: Do not make that mistake again. Continue pursuing different possibilities. Keep the cycle moving. There are plenty of new potential solutions to explore while being mindful to not repeat the initial error.

Rule 5: Regain focus—move forward. Come back to your initial goal and continue to move forward. You can’t create results if you constantly focus on what has gone wrong. But this doesn’t mean that you don’t learn the needed lesson. For example, it’s said that a key strategy for great golfers is that they don’t dwell on how they got to where they are on the green; instead, they place their entire focus on getting the golf ball into the hole.

There’s a saying: “If you hit the bull’s eye every time, then you’re too close to the target.” If you aren’t making mistakes, you’re not taking sufficient risks—and are likely undermining your potential. In business today, that could be the riskiest thing to do. As Microsoft chairman Bill Gates has said, “You can tell a lot about the long-term viability of any organization by how they handle mistakes” (Nelson 2002).

Busting Service Silos

The example of the fountain at Epcot illustrated the challenges that happen when people work in silos. Service silos are ineffective, vertically organized, isolated areas of an organization’s operations led by influential people who are characterized by the following:

• They avoid taking any responsibility for areas not directly under their control.

• They expect bureaucratic processes to support their agenda.

• They hold key information close to themselves, failing to share it with other involved parties.

• They speak in terms of you or I, not we or us.

• They are obsessed with what they can control rather than with what they can influence.

• They often act in an overbearing fashion toward others, rather than collaboratively.

• They are frequently slow or the last to get on board with a new program.

Service silos prevent an organization from creating an optimal service experience. Some have characterized the people who support these silos as cancers within an organization—caring basically only about their own well-being, to the detriment of the company. It’s critical for leaders to identify ways to break down those silos and rid the workplace of these attitudes by influencing change for the better.

Summing Up

It is clear that many processes have an impact on the employee experience. Regardless of differences, every organization seeking to become world class must pay attention to those rules, policies, structures, and guidelines that support its optimal organizational culture. Processes are often the least-regarded but usually the biggest roadblocks to creating a successful organization. The bottom line: World-class organizations make sure that their processes make it easy for employees to do business within the company.

Next Steps for Building Your Organization’s Culture Through Efficient and Effective Processes:

How can you make waiting more bearable for employees?

How can you deliver service more consistently to employees?

How can you give the gift of time to employees?

How can you break down barriers to great service?

What options can you give to customers to optimize their employee experience?

How can you continually measure and improve upon the service you provide?

How can you flatten your organization—or better yet, flip the hierarchy so it better supports employees serving the customer?

What can you do to better get the word out to employees?

How can you enhance working together to attain results?