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!
This past Sunday morning while enjoying time with my beautiful bride of almost 30 years, I also enjoyed another one of my favorite things, observing excellent leadership.
As we pulled up to Eggsellent Café in Carrollton, Texas, we noticed people standing outside waiting to be seated. While we wanted to get home to do some weekend gardening, we were not in a huge hurry so decided to join the others who were waiting for their breakfast.
As we sat outside enjoying the wonderful spring weather and making a few new friends as we waited, the restaurant’s owner (“My name is Meff. Just like Jeff but with an M.”) was busy adding names to the waitlist, calling other names to be seated, and visiting with everyone, making all of his customers smile and feel welcomed. He never stopped moving!
After a short 15-minute wait, Meff approached us with a big smile and said, “Your table is ready. Enjoy your breakfast!” Immediately after being seated, our coffee was poured and from that moment on, I never saw the bottom of my coffee mug.
Since our table was right by the door, we saw Meff walk in and out, ushering in new patrons and saying “Thank you. I hope you enjoyed your time with us,” as satisfied customers walked out the door. During a brief break, Meff stopped at our table to ask if we needed anything. I responded by saying how impressed I was with the service. Meff said, “Customer service is everything. If a customer has to raise his or her cup for more coffee, I am disappointed. We must pour the coffee before they ask for it. It is important to make the customer happy.”
Meff went on to say that he works hard to ensure his staff works hard. “I want them to see me constantly moving. If I set the example, then they will work hard as well. After we close, I will buy the entire staff drinks and all the food they want. But while we are serving customers, we must work hard. There is no standing around.” So that’s why my coffee mug was never empty!
Leadership examples don’t get much better than Meff. He cares deeply for his customers. He realizes that other restaurants can cook eggs and pancakes (although I would put Meff’s Belgian waffle against any competitor – it was outstanding!) but setting the tone for the customer experience starts with him. Meff expects his staff to work hard but doesn’t just demand it. He models it! And after a day of serving customers, Meff serves his staff, showing appreciation for a job well done.
That’s why people wait at this restaurant. They could probably go down the street and get seated immediately. But will they get that personal touch from the owner or general manager? Will they receive outstanding customer service? Will they see the bottom of their coffee mug?
So on a beautiful Sunday morning, Meff entered into my personal Leadership Hall of Fame. He gets it. Meff understands that leadership isn’t something you talk about. It isn’t an attitude. Leadership doesn’t bark orders and expect things to happen.
Leadership sets the example.
Why don’t more leaders live by this philosophy? What keeps leaders from leading?
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