As part of our recent research, in partnership with Netcall, we found that organisational culture (or lack of it) was a major barrier to a business’ ability to change. But at a time when change is most needed, can organisations really afford to ignore the issue of culture?
In our recent report Future proofing CX: How can organisations drive transformation effectively? We asked 360 senior Customer Experience (CX) leaders what they considered the primary barriers to building agile CX in their organisations. ‘Complexity of legacy systems’ and ‘lack of technical expertise’ (both mentioned by 44%) were the top two barriers. But these were closely followed by ‘our organisation does not really embrace change’ (39%) and ‘lack of senior management focus on driving change’ (38%). This latter point is echoed in a study done by faculty members at Duke University which found that over 90% of leaders said that they could probably improve their culture. However, fewer than 20% said that they had actually done anything about it. So, if people get it; why aren’t they doing anything about it?
Why is culture so important?
Until recently corporate strategy seemed to be based on the principle that, of the three primary stakeholders in business, the shareholder should take precedence over customers and employees There were some notable dissenters to this rule, not least Herb Kelleher, the former CEO of SouthWest Airlines who believed that: “Your employees come first. And if you treat your employees right, guess what? Your customers come back, and that makes your shareholders happy. Start with employees and the rest follows from that.” His view is one that continues to gain currency to the point where corporate culture and employee engagement have become ‘must-dos’ on the strategic agenda.
The domino effect of a healthy organisational culture is remarkable. After all, happy employees are more likely to deliver a good customer experience and create happy customers; happy customers are more likely to be loyal customers; loyal customers are more valuable to your business (they cost less to acquire and tend to buy more). Happy employees are also more likely to stay in their jobs for longer, getting better at what they do and making customers even happier. This ‘mutual gains’ view of motivation and people management lies at the heart of employee engagement and the development of a strong brand.
So what makes a strong culture?
Brands with a strong culture tend to be those that demonstrate: a core ideology; strong leadership; engaged employees; and a customer-centric approach. Let’s take a closer look at each of those ingredients:
- Core ideology
When a brand has a clear sense of what it stands for and what its values are so do all its employees. There exists a common understanding across the organisation of the behaviours that are expected and of the experience that customers should have when they encounter the brand. But corporate cultures are not easy to come by. In his 2016 letter to Amazon shareholders Jeff Bezos wrote: “A word about corporate cultures: for better or worse they are enduring, stable, hard to change. You can write down your corporate culture when you do so, you’re discovering it, uncovering it – not creating it. It is created slowly over time by the people and by events – by the stories of past success and failure that become a deep part of company lore.” Bezos is clear that corporate culture is not some shiny wrapper to be applied by an expensive consultancy. His words explain why programmes to overhaul company culture are so seldom successful.
- Strong leadership
The best leaders mix a number of skills and attributes but will demonstrate their ability to be:
- Visionaries – inspiring the people they work with
- Interpreters – identifying the role that every employee has to play in delivering the core ideology
- Coaches – encouraging performance in good times and bad
- Communicators – with the gift of talking everybody’s language.
In companies that deliver great CX, leaders can be found at every level of the organisation. Brands like Amazon and John Lewis – who regularly top the Institute of Customer Service’s (ICS) CSAT index top 50 – practice leadership ‘upwards and downwards’. They have brand guardians throughout the company who are prepared to challenge their managers if they identify a process or experience that is not true to the brand’s culture.
The Institute of Customer Service has highlighted five actions that companies need to implement to build effective employee engagement:
- Equipping managers with the skills to engage effectively with employees. Effective managers are: good communicators; good listeners; good project managers; good strategists; and show trust in their team.
- Authentic, regular, relevant communications with employees. Constant feedback up and down the chain is an essential for employee engagement.
- Giving employees clear opportunities to voice opinions. Good employee engagement is built on a strong platform of feedback – a Voice of the Employee programme.
- Ensuring every employee has appropriate training and a personal development plan. Companies that have engaged employees tend to place attitude above aptitude. Put simply they hire for attitude and train for skills.
- Recognising excellent customer service performance. Saying thank you for a job well done is the simplest, most effective way to reinforce positive behaviours and a strong corporate culture. As Dale Carnegie said: “People work for money but go the extra mile for recognition, praise and rewards”.
There’s a lot of work to be done to get organisations to understand the mutual gains of a healthy organisational culture. But there is also a wave of change occurring. Employee wellness, linked directly with engagement, is having its moment, showing that maybe more organisations are starting to understand how important their workforce is in creating a healthy, customer-driven culture.