Evie Boustantzi gives an insight into the enablers that can help improve the workplace culture
When was the last time you had a “wow moment”, a deeply satisfying and memorable experience as a customer? One that you still share with friends and family at every given opportunity and use as the benchmark against which you measure all service interactions. A reverberating question tickling your mind, again and again, “how do they do it?”
When things go wrong in service, we are quick to point at the lack of staff training, language barriers, rude or disinterested employees, management ignorance, or apathy. And we may be right in our selection -in more cases than not- albeit slightly shortsighted as we need to zoom out and look at the business more holistically.
What is it that needs a complete overhaul so that we transform our way towards creating brilliance? They say that “culture eats strategy for breakfast” and it is massively underrated. At the same time, creating the right culture is neither an easy task nor a quick fix or a standalone panacea that will abruptly solve all problems. It must be underpinned by the right enablers that will ensure full workforce alignment, consistency across the business, and long-term viability. Let’s visit those enablers briefly.
As a bare minimum, the leadership team ought to genuinely live and breathe the desired culture and values of the company. This is the one reference point the employees will always return to. Accordingly, they will either be inspired to be at their best behaviour mimicking the role-model leaders or demoralized and sarcastic because of leadership deviation from the values and customer promise.
This is the very basis of the culture we want to instill and brings together all the elements that help materialize it. The vision, purpose statement, values, definition of the desired culture, cultural behaviour, mechanisms, design, and implementation procedures. Ideally, the purpose statement is a team exercise, designed along with the employees, stimulating engagement while answering the question, “why are we here and why does it matter?” The values and desired cultural behaviour must be instilled across the ranks, and incorporated into the processes and tasks performed daily. As a result, a common, culture-driven service language will be spoken by every single person in the business. What does that look like in practice? When things go wrong with a customer, the employees know exactly how to behave based on the values and behaviours they represent. And they are empowered by the company to do so. Do take note of the empowerment element, as none of this will work in its’ absence.
The employer-employee relationship is most effective when based on fairness and mutual benefit. A culture that smartly rewards performance goes a long way in engaging and motivating the workforce, who will embrace a performance system that drives ownership and creates value for the shareholders, business, and employees. Aligned to that, a learning and development system offers an opportunity to every single person in the business to unlock their potential, learn new skills, and grow.
We need to rethink our strategy when it comes to managing people. We are witnessing the biggest shift in the world of work, whereby the pandemic emphasized the desire for better work-life balance forcing us to re-evaluate what matters in life. Employers have been at the receiving end of a “great resignation” movement, from a “reborn” workforce that values flexibility and emotional engagement through a sense of purpose and belonging. They choose fulfilling work at a workplace where learning and growth needs are respected alongside well-being, especially in an era when we live and work much longer. Not all people are the same but also the same people have different needs and desires at different phases of their lives.
In short, be more creative, flexible, and actively listen to your people while keeping an eye on shifting practices in the marketplace. Retaining your best people and attracting top talent is contingent on the way you behave as an employer.
The process is ever-evolving, challenging, and with no end, but well worth the effort.
Do you need to improve your service? When talented people are unable to deliver results, it usually is the work environment that needs fixing. Engaged, motivated people can move mountains and will go the extra mile for you and your customers. Keep an open mind, assess the gaps between your current and desired culture, and bravely commence your transformation journey!
(The Author, Evie Boustantzi is a transformational leader and a well-known C-level Executive in the built environment. She is also the President of London Business School’s Gulf alumni community)