Are we losing the ability to connect with people on a deep level? Is technology preventing us from making meaningful, personal connections with each other?
At least in the business world, I would say yes. Not only are we becoming a less “personal touch” society, we are becoming a less helpful society.
Years ago, before mobile phones, before email, and even before voicemail, we conducted business either face-to-face or by phone. Working with customers or handling internal business issues, you had to speak to someone. Yes, certain people, primarily executives, could hide behind their secretary, avoiding pesky sales people, customer complaints, or high-maintenance clients and employees. For the most part, though, we got to know each other – employees, colleagues, clients, customers, and vendors – by visiting face-to-face or voice-to-voice.
Voicemail was our first big step away from personal touch. We pretended (and still do) to want to talk to people, but our actions said (and still do) otherwise. “Your call is very important to me so please leave your name and number and I’ll get back to you as quickly as possible.” Really? My call is very important to you? For many people, that is simply not true.
A more truthful message would be, “Please leave your name and number and I’ll try to get back to you. If you don’t receive a return call within 48 hours, then I don’t want to talk to you.”
Our next step down the avoid-people rabbit hole was email. Why talk to someone when I could simply send a written note? Of course, in some ways, email improved our communication by allowing “conversations” even when someone wasn’t available by phone.
The flipside, though, is we now get so many emails, we have little time to do much anything else. How many messages are in your Inbox right now?
Next up – mobile phones and texting. Now, not only are we receiving short messages, this technology has ruined our ability to spell.
Today we live and work in a world of Facebook and LinkedIn, two fantastic web services which allow us to stay in touch with friends and business associates. The unintended consequence of these technologies is we now send happy birthday wishes and congratulations on the promotion with just a touch of the button. No thought required. Another step down that impersonal rabbit hole.
So I’m certainly not bashing technology nor do I wish for a time without email and smart phones (truth be known, I get really annoyed when wifi isn’t working on a plane – and I didn’t even have that option a couple of years ago!).
But what would life be like if, rather than just hitting the Like button or sending an automated “Congrats” note, we actually called our friend and offered a hearty, “Congratulations on your new job!”?
In other words, like the late-80s AT&T commercial said, "Reach out and touch someone."
I was visiting a client a few weeks ago and after turning left as I exited the elevator, I was greeted with an empty reception desk. No big deal as that has happened before. So, I simply signed in like I knew I would have to and stood there waiting for someone to enter the room and say, “May I help you?”
Standing in the lobby, I was able to see into the call center as the entire wall was glass and allowed a clear view of one entire side of the floor. The interesting thing is that not only did I have a clear view of the office, but the workers on the other side of the glass also had a clear view of me.
Two minutes turned into five minutes which turned into ten minutes. Still no receptionist. And during that ten-minute wait, I continued watching all of the employees working at their desks and multiple times locked eyes with an employee. Most of those “locks” were just glances as the employee would not look me in the eye for very long. There was even one employee who looked at me as she walked by the glass wall and, several minutes later, looked at me again as she passed by in the opposite direction!
Finally, a person from the Facilities department entered the lobby and just before she passed through the glass wall to the employee side, she stopped, turned, and asked, “Have you been helped?” Well, as a matter of fact, no! I gave her the name of my contact and with a smile she replied, “I’ll find someone who can help.”
She returned just a few seconds later with an employee who then escorted me to my meeting. This Facilities person also apologized for my wait-time in the lobby.
A similar “It’s-not-my-job” mentality took place at O’Hare airport a few years ago as I was waiting to depart for Dallas on United Airlines. The incoming flight was already a few minutes late and when it pulled up to the gate, there was no one to move the jet bridge to the plane.
At the gate next to mine stood two United gate agents talking to each other. No plane at this gate, no passengers. Just two United agents enjoying a good little chat. After a couple of minutes waiting for the jet bridge to move, I took about a dozen steps to these two agents, pointed out the jet bridge delay, and asked for some help. One of the agents replied, “That’s not my gate,” and then returned to her conversation.
So people are waiting to get off one plane and I’m trying to get back to Dallas, and all you have to say is, “It’s not my job.” Now, in their defense, maybe there was a union rule that prevented them from working that gate – maybe. But how about making a call to find the appropriate gate agent? How about an “I’m sorry for the delay” or even a smile? I guess apologies and smiles aren’t in the United gate agents’ job description either.
Exceptional customer service is an easy concept but difficult to carry out. The starting point for an outstanding customer experience is a mindset that the customer is everything. This mindset must permeate the entire organization. It must be talked about relentlessly and lived out by all levels of the organization.
So next time you see someone waiting in your lobby, even if you’re in IT, Accounting, Payroll, Operations, Legal, or any other position, make it your job to delight the waiting customer by welcoming them and asking how you can be of service.
The customer is not always right but the customer should always be king.
Our values should guide every conversation, decision, and interaction. Our values should anchor every product and service we provide and every channel we operate. If we can’t link what we do to one of our values, we should ask ourselves why we’re doing it. It’s that simple.
We have five primary values that are based on our vision and provide the foundation for everything we do:
The above verbiage sounds great, doesn’t it? These are values of a major U.S. bank in support of their vision: “We want to satisfy our customers’ financial needs and help them succeed financially.” Who wouldn’t want to work for or do business with a company that believes this?
Sadly, the above words, taken directly from the Wells Fargo website, mean absolutely nothing. A slow-burning scandal that took place for years, low-level bank employees siphoned money from customers and opened bogus accounts and cards using current customers’ personal information, all to meet sales quotas and get sales bonuses. Obviously, this bank’s belief in ethics and customers was simply rhetoric.
In the end, Wells Fargo customers lost money and 5,300 bank employees lost their jobs. One of those employees was Carrie Tolstedt, the senior executive in charge of Wells Fargo’s branches. Amazingly, even though arguably she was the senior executive in charge of the fraudulent scheme, she was able to walk away with a $125 million bonus!
How can this happen? How can a company that espouses the customer and ethics have such widespread fraud? I believe it’s a lack of accountability and a lack of leadership.
I’m confident that if you asked Wells Fargo employees, “What are Wells’ values and how do you live them?” you would get blank stares in return. In fact, asking employees to simply recite the values would be met with that same blank response. Obviously, no one at Wells Fargo was asking employees to name and live out their values. To Wells Fargo employees, those values were simply a nice plaque that hung on the bank branch walls.
While all employees are responsible for living out the corporate values, the person who should live out those values more than anyone is the top leader, in this case Wells Fargo’s CEO John Stumpf. Even when announcing Tolstedt’s departure, he complimented her for being “a champion for our customers.” Apparently, employees, ethics, and customers were just words on a wall for Mr. Stumpf as well.
So how can organizations avoid Wells Fargo’s situation? By openly talking about corporate values, by practicing those values daily, and by having a leadership team that models those values. If you aren’t putting deliberate effort against those values, they will not become ingrained in everyday behaviors and actions.
But what about your company and your leadership? What if your leaders refuse to live out the corporate values? First, you have a choice to make. Do you stay or go? Do you remain with your current organization where “gutless leadership,” a term used to describe Mr. Stumpf’s governance, could lead the entire organization down a very wrong path? Or do you find another organization where leadership believes in and lives out their values?
Second, and most importantly, think about your own actions. Regardless of how leadership and everyone around you behave, you can be true to your corporate values. With every action, decision, and conversation, you have an opportunity to align with your organization’s mission and values.
So hold yourself accountable to making your organization’s values ring true. Doing so will most likely help you engage more with your work and your colleagues, ultimately finding greater job success and satisfaction.
Do you have any corporate values stories, either good or bad? Please share and start a conversation!
In his article “Core Values or Corporate Dogma?” author and Talent Acquisition professional Ed Nathanson questions the need for corporate values. With a very negative spin throughout the article, the author suggests a corporate values program is “pushing corporate dogma and rules down employees’ throats.” Mr. Nathanson also says values-based companies force employees to “get on board or get out” and states some employees, particularly “innovators or disruptors,” most likely don’t “want to have to forcefully prescribe to a belief system created by someone else.”
When asked about their workplace, Mr. Nathanson says happy employees “are likely to talk about the work they are doing, their great teammates and the environment/culture they work in.” I agree with Mr. Nathanson here. The author continues, though, arguing that by not mentioning values, those happy employees don’t want them or believe in them.
But what makes for a great culture? Values!
In her article “Core Values: Wall Posters or Culture Builders?” for Psychology Today, author Jennell Evans defines core values as the “behavioral norms expected to be upheld by all when interacting to accomplish work together.” More simply, values are how an organization thinks and acts. So even though employees may not give credit to core values as the source of their happiness as Mr. Nathanson argues, it is those values that produce a healthy culture that in turn makes employees happy!
While I disagree with Mr. Nathanson, the question posed by Ms. Evans is spot on. Do values shape a corporate culture or are they simply “words on the wall”? Sadly, for many organizations, core values are meaningless. Unless an organization, particularly an organization’s leadership, is willing to spend exhaustive energy making their core values come alive and stay alive, words such as respect, trust, excellence, and customer service will be just that – words.
Most if not all organizations have values that are acceptable to all employees. Take the above-mentioned “Excellence,” for example. Four of the Fortune 10 companies mention Excellence in their Values proposition. I’ve also seen Accountability, Integrity, and Caring. Who would argue with any of these values? In fact, many people will say these values along with others such as Commitment, Hard Work, and Flexibility are not just their organization’s values; they are personal values as well.
So why not let employees live by their own Code of Conduct? Why should an organization expect employees to “get on board” with core values? Because an organization’s performance depends on everyone rowing with the same cadence. This means all employees must know what the company stands for, how they expect employees to show up every day. If these core values line up with an employee’s personal values, so much the better!
Core values also help organizations make decisions, particularly in difficult situations. What if the business finds itself over-staffed when mired in a challenging business environment? How is an employee treated when they make a mistake, even a costly one? How does the company respond when an employee breaks the rules or is dishonest? Core values deeply rooted throughout the organization helps it “live by the rules,” and helps it move the business forward in an impartial, consistent manner.
So core values, if proactively promoted by the organization and lived out in daily interactions among all employees, build a healthy culture. That healthy culture allows employees to do their best work and enjoy their organization. And if employees enjoy showing up every day and they do great work, that organization is going make a “Best Place to Work” list, a list every organization should strive for.
So know your corporate values. Live them daily. If you’re a supervisor, know them and hold your people accountable to them. Doing so will build engaged employees and an engaging culture, two critical components to business success.
Agree? Disagree? Do you think employees should memorize corporate values? Do values make a difference in your organization? So many questions! Tell me what you think!
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