Steven's Notebook

Look Ma - No Hands!

Corporate Culture-Shifting

Back on the seventh, I asked if sharing is natural, and pondered if perhaps some of us have been trying too hard to take the direct approach, holding classes and running reports while “implementing” a new “methodology.”

This past weekend, sitting around the campfire watching our Scouts cook their dinners, I had the opportunity to chat with Ed, a friend who’s business is corporate education. “Is it possible,” I asked him, “to change a culture through training?” The short answer was yes, though it takes time – his estimate is 3-5 years. Also, he said, success depends greatly on two things: the target audience and real management support.

My friend’s first answer spoke right at the heart of my earlier post: “You can be most successful if you find the right people to train first.” In other words, if you can find the early adopters, the people who find change easy to make and even welcome it. Bonus points if those people are also influencers or connectors. He admitted that the other tack, training everyone and hoping that propoents will outweigh naysayers can work, but success isn’t anywhere near as likely.

Ed then turned to another familiar topic, management support. His anecdote came from years ago when he’d been asked by AT&T to change the workflow patterns of their “pole-climbers” – the guys who came out to fix a wiring problem. Where they had just been fixing technical problems and moving on, their management now wanted them to help put a friendly face to the company. When they finished with the repairs, they were then to clean their hands and find the homeowner who had reported the problem. Smile, thank them for being a good customer and reporting the issue, explain that the problem was solved and “have a nice day ma’am.” Great idea, right?

Oh, and at the same time guys, we need you to improve your “time to resolution” – you’ve been averaging three problems fixed each day; now we need you to do five.

Three guesses what the repairmen’s reaction to that was, and, as my mother used to say, the first two don’t count. In the long run, neither did the company’s desire for army of happy-faced repairmen. The managers, intent on “making the numbers”, drove any thought of quality or customer satisfaction right out of the process.

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