We need authentic conversations NOT divide and conquer

In the midst of a constantly changing economy, one thing remains constant, to keep our customers we need to reduce the cost of providing our services while improving customer’s experience when interacting with us. In the current economic climate this need is a necessity and with it comes to focus on waste reduction.

In the past five years, we have encountered two contrasting economic environments. One with exciting growth opportunities and the other with the stress of staying in business. In the midst of these changes one thing has remained constant; to keep our customers we need to reduce the cost of providing our services while improving the customer’s experience. In the current economic climate, this is a necessity.

Activity Based Management method defines waste as inefficient or non-essential activities that consume resources. Lean provides us with an alternative but not dissimilar definition; ‘Waste is an activity that consumes resources but adds/creates no value’. In practice, we all have varying views on waste and only give attention to the kind of waste that culturally we can respond to.

There are Customer Service Centres that direct their agents to minimise the time spent with individual customers. Some underwriters view meetings with customers as a non-essential activity. Front-office staff often don’t see the value of spending time gathering information needed by operations teams in order to fulfill promises made to customers. These are not hypothetical scenarios. They happen in most organisations causing delays, repeat activities, poor services, and dissatisfied customers. These are wastes created by acceptable or tolerated behaviours in our current culture.

To define waste we need to start from the customer and work our way across the organisation’s value chain. Any activity that does not contribute to satisfying customers or building strategies for improving customer experience can be considered as waste.  This provides us with a new insight but doesn’t equip us to deal with the challenges involved.

To manage and enhance performance we systematically divided organisations into discrete parts each with its own goals and targets. This is where our self-interest and tribal instincts get in the way. Self-interest encourages ‘over the wall’ style of execution while our tribal tendency leads us to believe that everyone is influenced by their own self-interest except us.

We intuitively know that significant waste lies in the nature of the relationships that connect various business functions but we haven’t a way to systematically deal with it. This is mainly because we design organisations and processes logically and do not put human behaviour at the centre.

  1. We all have our own unique reality which is based on our own unique interpretations.
  2. We interpret events and make assessments about people and situations purely on our unique views of reality.
  3. We intellectually understand through conceptualisation. But we often forget this understanding is only a concept.
  4. Our intellectual understand often doesn’t govern our behaviour and actions. This is especially true when we are in stressful situations.
  5. We conceptualise what the future holds. This could be simply a version of our past experience or no more than just an extrapolation of where we are today.
  6. We create the future by mobilising actions through conversations.

It is through conversation that we build our interpretation of the world, invent future possibilities, establish relationships and mobilise actions. It is also through conversation that we can create mistrust and resentment.

A client of mine was delighted with their latest business improvement initiative, commenting, ‘our Lean change programme has been very successful; we now have efficient processes. The only difficulty is our people say yes to everything’. Efficient processes have limited use when we have dissatisfied customers.

  1. We listen to requests with limited care for the other person. We often fail to emotionally acknowledge that there is a person there with a concern asking for our help.
  2. We don’t engage in authentic conversations to understand each other’s concerns and ambitions; and to establish a clear understanding of the outcomes. Our business interactions often resemble heartless transactions.
  3. We make shallow promises either naively or with little commitment to follow through.
  4. We don’t consider our success to be linked to the success of our (internal or external) service provider; just making over the wall requests and demands.

To change these we need to reorient ourselves and develop a new language, the language of co-invention. We can start by taking a simple step; stop saying yes, no or maybe; instead say let’s spend time together to understand each other’s concerns and ambitions, and to make commitments to each other which we can rely on.

Author: Saiid Ordibehesht

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