Why do we study History? Arguably, there are many reasons – to learn about past societies, learn about past leaders, to learn valuable skills and attributes of the past, to learn morals and ethical practices that contributed to the greater good of society, and so on.
The key word here is “Learn”, so that one does not make the same mistakes of past societies while concomitantly creating a “Learning Organization”, society, or generation that will sustain from prior learning for generations to come.
In 1990 David L. Steward co-founded World Wide Technology (WWT), Inc. Beginning in 1996, WWT was ranked by VAR Business as one of the Top 500 companies in the US; Inc began ranking WWT beginning in 1997. In 2004 Steward wrote a book about his company called, Doing Business by the Good Book: 52 Lessons on Success Straight from the Bible. WWT is ranked number 24 on the Fortune 2013 Top 100 listing of companies to work for.
You see, history, and the lessons there from, can be learned from a variety of sources, including the Bible, which is chocked full of leadership skills, techniques, strategies and ideals. The New International Version (NIV), Leadership Bible: Leadership Principles from God’s Word is a valuable leadership learning resource. It should be noted, and quite emphatically, that these valuable leadership lessons and practices are not intended solely for churches and other religious organization.
The Learning Organization
Success embodies life-long learning as a practical and sustaining attribute. Leaders know this – as life and organizations evolve, new policies, principles and practices create changes to improve employee effectiveness. Leaders not only train employees on new ideas and practices, they also expect them to research, study and learn on their own.
For a variety of reasons, few organizations keep the same leadership over several years. During the tenure of a particular leader, successes are achieved, affirmations proclaimed and awards are garnered. Success and the rewards achieved can peak, and unless learning continues, begin to plateau. Follow-on leadership must insure enthusiasm does not relax or diminish, which can easily decline into less than effective work ethics. People must remember past practices to sustain efficiency, learn from new ideas, and change accordingly to maintain sustainability.
An effective learning organization will inhibit periods of decline through the building process of an organizational legacy.
Five Attributes of a Learning Organization
The Apostle Paul, in a letter written in AD/NE 62 to the people of Colosse, as laid out in the Leadership Bible, Book of Colossians, outlines five major attributes of a Learning Organization. In the letter, Paul’s desire is for leaders of the church to instill an ideal of learning. In a functional organization, learning takes place at all times, during work, in building relationships, after hours, quite frankly – at all times. Each organization has a curriculum built into the daily functions of all employees. The learning organizational structure – curriculum – is outlined in five attributes.
Standards. Organizational values, employee ethical expectations, and behavioral standards must be outlined clearly, and disseminated in writing to each and every employee, as well as publishing them in the Organization’s policy and procedures.
Instruction. Just knowing of the standards – wisdom – is insufficient for sustainability. Training sessions must be held to explain their meanings and the associated ethical practices required by employees – understanding. Wisdom and Understanding help leaders achieve employee acceptance, as well as buy-in that teaches the importance in instituting the standards into their individual value systems. Employees must understand that they represent the company regardless of their location and whether working or living in their community.
Practice. Practice makes perfect. Practice creates habitual behaviors, which teach personal growth and life-skills. Practice also enables success after failure by teaching what “should” have been done versus what “was” done. Practice builds expertise in professional skills and personal life styles. Practice solidifies the value system associated with professionalism that sustains with growth and learning.
Feedback. Leaders need to constantly and consistently monitor and evaluate performance. Employees require feedback in order to insure practice is productive. And when exceptional or positively productive, public praise is required to build confidence and esteem. Conversely, private feedback is necessary when practice reflects negatively on the individual, the team, and the organization. Private feedback reinforces instruction. It re-teaches required policies and practices, to re-direct the employee’s learning and productivity. It then allows for follow-on practice and future feedback. Feedback teaches for personal growth.
Release. Micro-managing, even micro-leading, is counterproductive to growth and employee effectiveness and efficiency. Constantly keeping an “eye-ball” on those you lead creates an “ask the boss” mentality that inhibits personal confidence and growth. Leaders must release control, leaders must empower others, leaders must let employees make mistakes from which they can learn, leaders must let them grow and function on their own. Sooner or later leaders must let them “drive Dad’s car” to demonstrate that their personal values and behaviors conform with organizational norms and expectations. Release is vitally important to long-term growth and performance.
The attributes of a learning organization create an attitude of endurance, which prevents fall-back to old, unproductive ways, and enables sustainability. Employees desire standards for their own behaviors, they desire to learn and grow, they desire to be empowered to fail or succeed, and they desire to be turned loose to become leaders in their own right.
One intrinsic reward of leadership is knowing that you made a difference in the organizational learning process. Material rewards are short-lived; intrinsic rewards are life-long and become your personal legacy.
I appreciate your thoughts and comments.
While standing in the check-out line in Publix, I listened as a Lady in line ahead of me was explaining some customer service techniques and skills a young female checker needed to improve her expertise: “greet people, smile, be positive, she said.” The young checker never responded, either verbally or non-verbally. I whispered to the Lady, “They don’t teach them customer service skills.” She said, “I know, that is why I do it.” While the young Lady did at least greet me verbally as I paid for my goods, she remained expressionless and failed to even express Publix gratitude for shopping at her store.
Joan Maddox, VP of Client Services for School Dude says, “Client service must be reliable, responsive, reassuring, and empathetic.” She stresses that client service is a commitment, and that it must not be an option, but a requirement of your job. In her Client Service presentations, Maddox quotes Dr. Leonard L. Berry, who is a Distinguished Professor of Marketing and former Texas A&M Professor. Dr. Berry says this about customer expectations:
“Customer expectations of service organizations are loud and clear; look good, be responsive, be reassuring through courtesy and competence, be empathetic but, most of all, be reliable. Do what you said you would do. Keep the service promise.”
Customer Service, customer relations, client services, regardless of how you brand it, it can either positively or negatively affect revenue, organizational vision and customer attitude about the organization. In fact, if you are a customer service representative – and who isn’t? – then “you are” the company or organization you represent. As such, there is a “Servanthood” attitude that must be portrayed in every exchange you have with a client.
J C Penny, founder of JC Penny Company, is famous for saying, “The Customer is always right.” His idea was that Customer Service is priority one at JC Penny. CEO Emeritus of Southwest Airlines, Coleen Barrett, always said about her company, “We are a Customer Service Company, we just happen to fly airplanes.”
Customer Service is a leadership skill that must be trained, practiced, and perfected to insure employees represent the company in the brightest pane possible. Servanthood is a major aspect of customer service, which says that one is “serving” the needs of others. Using Greenleaf’s Servant Leadership ideals, “serving” in this context means “to make them better” than they were when the encounter began. In other words, “healing” the customer’s stress and pain, while relieving them of their perceived burden is a characteristic of quality customer service.
The following are from my experience of over 40 years of providing customer service.
Top 5 Customer Service Principles
1. Establish a vision of Customer Service Expectations. If the company vision and/or mission statement says you will focus on customer service, then establish a program that insures you will do what you say. Follow the practice of Southwest Airlines: “Hire people with a ‘servants’ heart. Customer Service representatives need to care about fostering and promoting the vision and/or mission of the company. Establish standards for those you place in customer service positions: caring attitude; cheerful, happy demeanor; outgoing personality who are assertive and proactive conflict resolvers; courteous and respectful; good communication skills; and gracious in personality.
I recommend a Customer Service Motto that will not only tell the customers your attitude about providing superior service, but also to remind representatives of company expectations. In my last position, our Custodial Services Motto was the following:
“Customer Service is our Purpose, Quality Service is our Goal.”
We used the motto in our Standards and at the end of all our communications. Everyone in the organization knew our standards and our goal of providing superior customer services.
2. Establish a Customer Service Training Program. Train new employees, and re-train periodically current customer service reps, on the visionary expectations. Servanthood is the “practice” of serving. Teach the common behaviors of customer service representative: telephone etiquette; conflict resolution techniques and skills; develop an attitude to resolve the problem to make a positive impression on the customer; and impress upon employees to not take the customer’s anger and negativity personally. Keep the quest alive to resolve the customers complaint.
Customer Service expert Glen Hamilton advises, “Create Happy Employees. Employee beliefs, attitudes and behaviors determine the quality of the customer service provided. Happy employees create happy customers.”
3. Establish relations with customers. JC Penny knew that a happy customer was a returning customer.
Shawn E. Gilleylen, author of “Success with Etiquette: Books of Etiquette” explains the importance of etiquette toward customers – “make customers feel comfortable, valued, and appreciated. Treat them with respect, empathy, and efficiency.” She also says, which I call most important, “Say “Thank you” and “Please” graciously.
4. Monitor and evaluate their performance. Leaders must proactively monitor and evaluate customer relations practices in action – inspect what you expect is a proven leadership principle. Glen Hamilton maintains that if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it; the same is for leaders. He suggests several ways to measure customer satisfaction, including surveys, telephone contacts, customer feedback forms, and observing employees to insure they are functioning within prescribed customer service standards.
5. Maintain Customer Service Pride. Recognize employees who demonstrate customer service excellence, who are recognized by customers for superior performance, and who promote company goals within Customer Service missions. Advertise the recognition through company Newsletters. Create a “Customer Service Plaque” and hang it in the main entrance area of the company for everyone to see.
Southwest Airlines is known for two things: low fares and high levels of quality customer service. United States Automobile Association (USAA) seeks to be the provider of choice to the military community. Their employees are personally committed to delivering excellent service and great advice by putting their memberships’ needs (customers) first.
Customer service is “serving” others first. When customers walk out the main entrance of your company fully satisfied, everyone feels good about their accomplishments. Maintaining company Servanthood is vitally important to organizational success.
Thank you for your comments and feedback.
A team, regardless of its size, is a mixture of personalities, values, beliefs, leadership styles and practices, and intellectual levels.
The responsibility of leadership is to unify the team members toward organizational vision, mission and goals. Because of the variety of personal characteristics, producing a cohesive group of employees is challenging, requiring simple and complex practices.
Ideally, leadership expects the team to work together on all tasks, in every situation without conflict and disruptions. However, ideally does not always occur. In these situations, leaders must be proactive in the process and create an approach that will re-unify the team to insure a smooth-operating group.
Here is an easy and simple method that I used successfully in the past. The exercise produces within the team – 1. A singular purpose, 2. Behaviors that are acceptable (Ok), 3. Behaviors that are unacceptable (Not Ok), and 4. Team member accountability practices to follow that help maintain teamwork at optimum performance levels.
This exercise is completed at an “All Team” meeting at a time and place that is arranged by the team leader. The facilitator – you the overall leader of the organizational entity – begins with explaining what is about to happen, the steps of the process, and that “they, the team”, are going to come up with the team standards that all team members will follow.
You explain that everyone must contribute to this process. You as facilitator insure everyone does contribute, and that all questions are answered in very step before continuing to the next step. When this process is clear to everyone, you, the facilitator begins and will act as the primary note-taker to document the standards of the “Team Norms” as created by the team.
Step 1. What is the Team’s Purpose.
The purpose must be in-line with and support the overall organizational vision and mission. Limit the discussion to about 15-20 minutes, during which every idea is written on newsprint so that no one forgets what is put forth.
The purpose can be a complete sentence, short and concise. It can be a listing of activities or actions that the team displays each work shift. No one comments on other’s suggestions, either good or otherwise. All ideas are written down.
Next, the ideas are narrowed down to what they feel is their overall purpose. Some ideas are discarded, some are combined into a single statement. When finally agreed upon as their “Team Purpose”, and there are no more comments or questions, move on to Step 2.
Step 2. What is Ok?
Team members produce a listing of acceptable behaviors for the team when at work during their shift. A list of about 10 behaviors is determined acceptable by team members. Examples include: 1. Come to work ready to work; 2. No talking about others behind their back; 3. It is ok to help others; or, 4. Treat others with respect and dignity.
When complete, move on to Step 3.
Step 3. What is Not Ok?
Team members produce a listing of unacceptable behaviors for the team. Follow the same procedures as in Step 2. Examples include: 1. Yelling at your teammates; 2. Taking co-workers work products or tools without permission; 3. Skipping steps in your schedule; and, 4. Watching TV when not on a break.
The team will have plenty of “Not Ok” behaviors for the list. It could be a little longer than the list in Step 2. Again, the facilitator must refrain from adding to the list, or attempting to “pencil-whip” others just because you are taking notes.
When complete, move on to Step 4.
Step 4. Team Accountability Actions.
In this process, the team formulates a listing of actions that team members will follow when others on the team exhibit behaviors that are outside the team norms as establish and agreed upon by team members. Examples include: 1. Address others with respect about the concern or behavior; 2. Ask if you can teach them a better way to behave; or, 3. Intervene when necessary to correct behaviors that interfere with team cohesiveness.
Accountability practices empower team members to exhibit leadership within the team. This accomplishes two things: 1. It solves problems at the lowest level in the organization; and, 2. It develops leaders and leadership skills within the organization.
When complete, the facilitator reviews, without changing what the team decided upon, each step. When everyone on the team is in agreement with all steps and their contents, explain what will happen next (Steps 5 & 6 below).
Step 5. Facilitator Documents Steps 1-4.
The Facilitator combines all steps into a formal “Team Building Policies & Practices.” I suggest that each step be on a separate page for clarity. As you document, do not “word-smith” unless grammatically incorrect, which you will explain to the team in Step 6.
You will also want to make a “Signature Cover Sheet” that each team member will sign as their agreement to follow the policies and practices.
Step 6. Follow-up Team Meeting.
Hand out copies of the Team Building Policies & Practices for each team member to review. Hopefully, no corrections will need to be made. When all agree, have them sign the Signature Sheet, explaining that this is their agreement to follow the procedures they have outlined.
As the team’s leader, you monitor with the team leader the affects of the team building on the team’s behavior and performance. I found that team members will not only adhere to the practices, but also they will be empowered to take corrective action within their realm of authority.