As a result of that which occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School I have done some reflecting – on how the staff ‘showed up’ in the world, on my experience in management, and on customer experience. In this post I wish to follow up on one or more of the themes I touched upon in the last post.
Reflections on Sandy Hook Elementary School
This is the question that keeps coming to the centre stage of my awareness: how is that the Sandy Hook staff did right? What I notice is that an event occurred and each of the members of staff acted/reacted without central intervention. Put differently, there was no boss in place to hand out orders and insist that the staff follow them. And as far as I can see their was no prescribed process to follow.
Is there any value in creating a blueprint for the process that needs to be followed by staff in the case of a gunmen turning up at the school? And if such a process blueprint was produced would it advise the janitor to run around the school corridors letting people know that a gunmen was on the loose? What would this process have advised the principal to do? What would it prescribed for the educational psychologist? Would it have stated that the teachers had to shield the children in their care by using their bodies and putting their lives at risk? Would a ‘blueprint’ dictating what the staff had to do (in the case of a gunman showing up) been useful or a hindrance to the Sandy Hook staff? I say it would have been a hindrance – it would have stopped the staff doing what human beings are great at doing generating the right response to the unforeseen.
Some people have mentioned training. That the staff had been trained in how to respond to such an event. Really, the training trained the principal and the educational psychologist to master their fear – to leave safety and head towards the gunman? And, the training trained the school janitor to master his fear and risk his life running along the school corridors as opposed to sneak off into a safe place? I have seen people reluctant to get a move on and leave the building when the fire alarm goes off – contrary to the training they have received. No, I do not buy that the training was the key factor in the way that the staff ‘showed up’ – did right and saved lives even to the cost of their lives.
Reflections on my corporate recovery days
I was 26 years old and I had never managed a business of any kind though I had led/managed teams doing audits of large companies. It had been just two weeks that I had joined Price Waterhouse’s Corporate Recovery division and as yet I had received no training to outfit me for the job. I did not even know what my job involved in concrete terms. Yet, I got a call at 14:00 telling me that I had to be in Leeds at 20:00 to be briefed on my role in a big receivership (Chapter 11). I turned up at Leeds along with lots of other people and we were briefed for two hours. The next day, early in the morning, I made my way to Morecombe – on the other side of England.
At 9:00 am I turned up at the Paul Dixon motor dealership in Morecombe. And I was nervous! Why? How was I going to manage this dealership when I knew nothing about motor dealerships? How was the General Manager of this dealership going to react? How are the rest of the staff going to react? What do I need to do to keep the staff onside and improve the performance of the dealership?
Out of necessity I decided the best approach was to act as if I was confident about myself, about them and about our ability to improve the performance of that dealership. Operating from this context I approached the General Manager of the dealership and explained the situation. He offered to vacate his office and I declined the offer telling him that he and I had to work as a team to turn round the dealership. He relaxed – he got that I was being genuine. And once relaxed we spent on hour or so developing a game plan on how we could work together effectively including how to break the ‘bad news’ to the staff.
I ‘managed’ that dealership for several months. I built great relationships with the staff despite their initial concerns. And we did a great job of running the dealership – keeping it going and improving performance. How? I was clear on the outcomes we had to generate as a team and I made it my job to communicate those regularly. And I was clear that we had to have a team spirit and I cultivated that by creating the context in which the 20+ staff worked together to come up with a game plan for generating the outcomes. Then I left the people to work out how best to do their jobs and make the required contribution.
Actually, I did not just leave them to it. I did hold weekly sessions where we reconvened and honestly shared what was and was not working. And then we revised the play. After two weeks I did have a straight conversation with one person and spelled out the implications for him of not honouring his word and letting the team down. After that he behaved differently – he did what he promised as opposed to just promising. This experience was and has been the foundation of my management style to this day.
Reflections on Customer Experience – do you really need a CX blueprint?
It is fashionable for gurus and consultants to say the organisations need to put together detailed customer experience blueprints which clearly state the customer experience the organisations wishes to deliver and how exactly that will be delivered. I ask, is this blueprint really necessary? Put differently, is it possible to generate a great customer experience without such a detailed blueprint? Let’s consider this through an example.
Imagine that we are dealing with the customer experience in a retail store. Is it really necessary to produce a customer experience blueprint which sets out how specifically the customer is to be treated whilst she is in the store? Is it necessary to spell out if and how the customer is greeted? What to say to the customer as she leaves the store? And how the staff are to behave in between?
I say that a customer experience blueprint is not necessary. I say that generating such a blueprint and insisting that your staff follow that script can be counterproductive. Why? Because it kills the human spirit, it kills spontaneity, it kills authenticity. Put differently, making people do stuff that they do not want to do kills the magic that shows up when one person genuinely want to be of service to another. And as human beings we notice when that magic is present and when it is absent – that is to say we pick up when someone is following a script / going through the motions. Let me give you a personal example.
At an educational seminar I was told by my manager to stand at the door and greet the ‘guests’ as they arrived. I did not want to do it yet I had to comply. So I stood by the door and went through the motions of greeting the ‘guests’ and I am clear that a genuine greeting was absent. And I am clear that the guests picked up on this: they faces did not lighten up, they did not smile, they did not engage in even a brief conversation. No, the interaction was superficial one – from both perspectives.
At another educational seminar I chose to greet the guests with the self generated mission of ‘being great with the guests and easing them into the seminar’. In that instance, I was genuinely present, I had a sense of mission/purpose, I greeted each guest by tailoring my enthusiasm/tone with the way that the guest looked. And I made myself useful by asking if they had any questions and then answering them. I soon figured out a key question that was on many minds – in which direction should I head to get to the seminar – and I answered this question without being asked. At the end of this session I had tired feet and a glad heart – I was delighted with myself as I had made a difference, I had enjoyed interacting with the guests and I had learnt some stuff about people/human behaviour. And part of my job was noticing the impact that I had made on ‘my guests’ – the smiles I had engendered, the ‘thank you’s that I had received, the laughter that I had created.
If you want to generate a great customer experience then learn from Sandy Hook. Get that people can do the right thing without top down control whether in the form of a boss or a blueprint that they have to follow.
I say go further and get that the very act of top down control can and does kill the human spirit – the spirit that makes the difference between a great customer experience, a well functioning organisation and simply an average one. Which is my way of saying that top down systems of control are counter productive in situations where human authenticity, flexibility/adaptivity, and ingenuity are required. And that is exactly what is often required when you and your customers interact!
I say listen to the wisdom of John Timpson. What is this wisdom? It starts with recruiting the right people and involves the following principles and practices:
- All colleagues have the freedom to do their jobs they way they choose;
- Every boss’s job it to help his or her team;
- No KPI’s, no boxes to tick;
- Bosses don’t issue orders;
- Head Office is a helpline – it does not run the day to day business.
If you want to learn more about John Timpson and how he has generated an organisational context that calls forth the best from his staff and in the process generates happy customers and a successful business then read the following post, Timpson – shifting/transforming the culture through language and practices.