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Management changed several job descriptions to emphasize customer service as a key element for evaluation during the recruitment process. It also changed the interview process from a system based on one-on-one interviews by managers to a process that evaluated the service attitude of the candidates in realistic environments.

For instance, the bank built a simulated branch in its recruiting department where candidates were placed in role-play situations to test their attitude and behavior toward customers and colleagues. It also included additional filtering criteria that would ensure the right behaviors toward customers, such as honesty and integrity in relationship managers.

Finally, the bank introduced a welcome pack that would help improve how new employees were brought on board, including a manual to help new hires navigate the company, a letter from the president, and brochures with tips. These measures resulted in a 5 to 10 percent increase in the satisfaction scores of customers served by new employees. Other companies have also discovered the connection between hiring customer-oriented people and ensuring friendly service. JetBlue Airways, for example, has embedded this philosophy in its hiring process.

To recruit frontline staff with a natural service bent, it uses group interviews. Having hired people with the right attitude, leaders need to ensure they reinforce the behaviors they want to see. Although Disney hires janitors to keep its parks clean, everyone else in the organization knows that they share the responsibility for maintaining a clean and pleasant environment.

Instilling frontline workers with purpose, not rules. Bank leadership understood early on that imposing strict rules on frontline customer representatives has its limits. In order to mobilize and engage frontline workers as much as possible, leadership decided to build the common purpose and service criteria by using a bottom-up approach, rather than by mandating change. A group of employees was selected by their peers based on their merits and attitude in customer service, and they were entrusted with the responsibility of creating the common purpose and service criteria.

To keep the common purpose from lapsing into some kind of conceptual framework, the company reinforced the concept and the service criteria through several mechanisms. For instance, frontline leaders are awarded pins in recognition for reinforcing certain service criteria with their teams. The leaders display these pins proudly in the band that holds their name tag.

Putting employees first in practice: One bank’s experience

Corporate image and communication provide another reinforcing mechanism. Each of the service criteria is represented by a color, and the bank color-codes most of its corporate communications to more closely associate them with the criteria. Tapping into frontline creativity. The customer-experience transformation brought new mechanisms to capture and disseminate ideas from the front line, such as a biannual contest to generate ideas to improve customer and employee experience. Although these mechanisms demonstrated positive impact, bank leadership decided it wanted to do more to boost positive customer experiences in order to stay ahead of competitors.

So it set out to accelerate the pace of continuous improvement and innovation generated at the front line. Its approach was to roll out a program to incorporate several lean-management practices across all areas and all organizational levels, with a focus on sustaining and improving the customer-experience strategy.

Currently, hundreds of teams in the bank hold daily huddles; in these minute discussions, they talk through results and key performance indicators, many of them related to customer experience. They also bring to the surface improvement ideas and share customer-experience stories that reinforce the customer-service culture.

The main improvement ideas are picked up again in weekly structured problem-solving sessions, where they are either solved and assigned to team members for implementation or elevated to more senior leaders for tackling in similar problem-solving sessions with other areas of the organization.

Through these and several other standard practices that the bank has implemented, it has been able to accelerate the velocity of innovation and continuous improvement to stay in front of competitors.


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Strategists know that technological changes have made it easier for customers to shift their loyalties based on how satisfied they were with their buying experiences. But for companies looking to improve their performance, the personal interaction between customer and frontline employee may still be the most important link of all. McKinsey uses cookies to improve site functionality, provide you with a better browsing experience, and to enable our partners to advertise to you.

They delayed starting projects until they had alignment, used contracts and charters to crystallize agreements, and relied on program management techniques to create transparency and measure results. This discipline about alignment, goals, and progress spread easily throughout the organization.

The organization is evolutionary. High-performance organizations are adaptive, continually detecting changes in the market and making strategic adjustments. This approach supplements rather than replaces the broad strokes of classic strategy. They empower the periphery of their organizations—far away from the classic strategy function—to spring into action in anticipation of market developments. Culture is not fixed.

It is possible—and necessary—to cultivate a specific culture. Employee engagement, meanwhile, is the willingness of employees to go the extra mile for an organization, not merely out of obligation or for a paycheck but because work matters both personally and professionally to them. Culture and engagement are different from leadership, design, people, and change management: Organizations improve culture and engagement indirectly by working on the other characteristics in the same way that people exercise their hearts by exerting other body muscles.

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For example, performance management systems, an element of the people dimension, can have a powerful impact on culture. Culture accelerates strategic objectives. Good corporate culture is not accidental. High-performance organizations set, manage, and monitor culture to achieve strategic objectives. As strategic priorities change, so should culture. In the process of their recent merger, two European banks needed to combine two very different business models and cultures. One bank was skilled in direct sales, while the other focused on traditional branch banking. Senior leaders first needed to agree on the key desired behaviors of the new organization and their consistency with core values.

In order to cascade these behaviors beyond senior management, the bank tailored training to the specific challenges of each level of the organization and developed tool kits to help convey each core value. To ensure that the changes would take root, the bank built behavioral expectations into performance reviews. Since the merger, it has tracked both employee engagement and customer attrition, and scores in both domains have been strong.

The bank is also ahead of schedule in reaching its financial and head-count targets.

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Engagement is measured and cultivated to generate discretionary effort from employees. At a high level, engagement is built through two equally important dimensions: High-performance organizations keep a finger on the pulse of their people, regularly measuring engagement levels and actively managing engagement through difficult times, such as a reorganization or large-scale change effort.

The newly minted CEO of a global transport company faced significant challenges centered on employee engagement. The business had recently gone through a protracted labor dispute with its engineers, and other employee groups were also disaffected. The CEO knew that long-term business success hinged on improving employee engagement. To establish a base line, the company conducted an engagement survey, first with its top several-hundred managers and then with all employees.

The survey showed that although employees had pride in the company, overall engagement was low. Realizing that improving engagement would require strong and united leadership, the CEO initially concentrated on uniting his top leaders before expanding the focus to middle managers. He reduced the number of layers and improved spans of control.

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The executive team collectively established role charters in order to improve and clarify accountabilities. Each senior executive then oversaw the creation of role charters for his or her direct reports. For the first time, leadership behavior became a major component of the evaluation process. The company also invested in coaching, leadership, and mentoring skills for senior and middle managers. These leaders became accountable for raising engagement scores in their parts of the organization, and they all have targets to reach within four years.

The early returns suggest that the focus on engagement is paying dividends. Levels of accountability and engagement have already significantly increased at senior and upper-middle-manager levels, and positive behaviors are taking root. Companies often make changes to their organization and people elements in knee-jerk response to external events, adding people in heady times, cutting staff during slack periods, and then providing leadership training when morale inevitably falters and the organization suffers whiplash reactions to shifts.

Others take a laissez-faire approach, with few deliberate initiatives. Neither of these approaches yields sustained performance records. High-performance organizations just work differently. They understand the need to have all 14 characteristics present in their organization and take a coordinated approach to implementing them. They also decide which of the 14 are the most critical to sustained competitive advantage and actively work to improve weak spots by engaging in a disciplined set of interventions and activities.

Furthermore, these organizations closely monitor and measure their adherence to these characteristics with the same intensity and skill they require of themselves for financial and operational performance. The pursuit of the right organizational and people characteristics is no longer an undefined black box. Just as the development of MRI technology provided physicians with a previously unavailable visual image of organs and musculature, this framework gives companies a window into internal dynamics that have been only vaguely understood, and access to this knowledge can lead to sustained performance.

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The secret to delighting customers: Putting employees first

The organization effectively translates business strategy into a powerful people strategy, attracting and retaining the most capable individuals. The organization has the ability to drive and sustain large-scale change and to anticipate and adapt to an increasingly volatile environment. The culture is shaped to achieve strategic goals, and its employees are motivated to go beyond the call of duty in pursuit of corporate objectives. How we find energy comes down to one question: Now, go out and make it happen. Kristen Marano covers women and their work for publications around the world.

She has interviewed some of the most influential business leaders in Canada and the most passionate change makers in towns and cities as isolated as Perth, Western Australia. Most recently she interviewed Canadian businesswoman Zita Cobb about reinvigorating the economy in Newfoundland through the arts. Kristen's work encourages women to share honest and open perspectives about the emotional challenges of their journeys.

Welcome to YouInc Join or Login. Sign in with Facebook. Sign in with Twitter. Sign in with LinkedIn. Sign in with Google Plus. Blog Video Media The Digest: With the negativity associated with 'being salesy' and sales and even coach isn't without its drawbacks- I'm losing potential clients AND depriving them of my extensive experience too. Would love to hear your feedback on this. I have been asked to be a guest speaker for a podcast.