When I wrote about customer service and the difference between the treatment from large corporates vs small businesses the other week, some saw it as a call to arms and the start of a revolution …
Many commented that treatment received from call centres has indeed impacted on their businesses. Some had even written to the MD/CEO of said organisation, who promised to look into it and had never received a reply. And the consensus was that this did truly reflect the culture of the organisation which starts with the Board and “a couldn’t really care less attitude”.
It was heartening to read a comment from a Northampton based MD who said that such things don’t happen in his organisation since the staff are empowered to make decisions and respond to customers if an issue arises; this not only resolves the issue but no doubt strengthens that relationship. “The difference is that in my small businesses, people are empowered to think, make decisions, use common sense and do the right thing in the knowledge that I won’t chew their head off for reaching a compromise with reality.”
And there’s the rub – common sense has been overridden by processes and procedures and support, from within the organisation, for someone who has made a decision is often lacking, so people simply don’t do that. Even more so in the culture that has been growing during the last few years where businesses are operating from fear – losing customers, lesser spend from customers and need – the need to meet targets and keep shareholders happy and often greed – if we look at how they work with suppliers in dictating pricing and payment terms.
Furthermore there was the feeling that SMEs are feeding on the back of the large corporate contracts for ‘crumbs’ and have to go through many hoops to put expensive systems in place to win those contracts. Even though what they are supplying is invariably tried, tested and proven and the people working on the contract will be the same whether or not those systems are in place.
So is it time for an evolution perhaps one where there is more collaboration amongst smaller businesses? And I use the word evolution and not revolution since as my good friend Richard Wilkins pointed out at the weekend, an evolution is where something is already happening and from the research and reading that I’ve been doing on authenticity in business, there are many out there who are already starting to change how they do things; so an evolution has indeed started.
In his latest blog Neil Crofts spoke about the businesses that are doing things differently and cites Goretex.
WL Gore has a flat, lattice-like organizational structure where everyone shares the same title of ‘associate’. There are neither chains of command nor predetermined channels of communication. Leaders replace the idea of ‘bosses’. Associates choose to follow leaders rather than have bosses assigned to them. Associate contribution reviews are based on a peer-level rating system.
Bill Gore articulated four culture principles that he called freedom, fairness, commitment and waterline:
Associates have the freedom to encourage, help, and allow other associates to grow in knowledge, skill, and scope of responsibility.
Associates should demonstrate fairness to each other and everyone with whom they come in contact.
Associates are provided the ability to make one’s own commitments and are expected to keep them.
A ‘waterline situation’ involves consultation with other associates before undertaking actions that could impact the reputation or profitability of the company and otherwise ‘sink the ship’.
What an amazing business ethos and one that we could, perhaps, all learn from.
I shared my vision for authenticity in business to a group of people at the weekend. Where businesses were open, the culture from the top down and the bottom up was a clear demonstration of a values based business whose ‘why’ was understood by everyone and making a profit was as important as making a difference. Indeed, the latter supported the former and not the other way round. Where markets are open and supportive of all businesses, philanthropy isn’t just something that many speak of and few contribute to, but a part of the very fabric of all businesses and organisations.
We also need educational reform – even as early as high school – teaching the philosophy of business and business ethics must become part of the curriculum. It should be an education system that is fair and supports everyone. Instead of just recognising that it’s ok that not everyone is good at sports that it’s ok not to be good at academic subjects too. We have a culture in schools of constant testing, predicted grades and so on that puts immense pressure on the young people and ignores the fact that education is about preparing people for the world. Not everyone is going to go to university or college nor do they want to; and nor should they need to.
We could argue that much of this is the job of the parents, but they too have invariably been let down by the education system and so often don’t have the skills or understanding to advise their offspring. So in supporting young people differently in the education system, it’s not only that generation we are helping but future generations too. Clearly, with the level of suicide amongst school children, something is amiss and it’s surely time to stop debating and finger pointing and start doing?
So yes, in some ways these blog posts on authenticity in business are a call to arms. It’s something that’s way bigger than just one person. There are changes happening and more change is needed. The way we do business simply isn’t working anymore is it? And the way that we educate children and support them isn’t either.
“How many of us are prepared to put our head above the parapet and say I’m in?”
When I shared the vision it was to a group of people who I’d not met before, whose background I didn’t know and neither did I know their values. They were in; some even said “so how are we going to do it?” And the honest answer to that, at the moment is, “I don’t know.” It will start with baby steps, but there is no doubt that the evolution has started. I’m in – are you?
If you would like to be part of the evolution, please call me on +44 (0) 1296 681 094 or click here to ping over an email and I’ll get straight back to you.
Until next time …