Is Your Workplace Environment Hurting Business?

Dr. Purushothaman
December 5, 2013

Cisco Innovators Forum guest blogger Marilyn Suttle interviews some customer service superstars - the leaders and front line staff of highly successful companies who excel in customer care:

I was invited to participate in a spectacular train-the-trainer program run by Jack Canfield (best known for co-creating the multi-billion dollar Chicken Soup for the Soul brand.) This year-long intense training granted me permission to teach the success principles developed by Jack over the last 30+ years. It's exciting to notice how the lessons I've learned from Jack and his employees paralleled the interviews from the other company leaders featured in my book, "Who's Your Gladys?"

During one of the trainings, Jack introduced a success pie chart that had a huge impact on me. It originated from business builder Jim Bunch. The chart shows that 50% of success comes from your environment, 40% from your mindset, and only 10% from skill. It makes sense when you think about it. Many capable people don't live up to their potential because of their beliefs systems and unsupportive environments.

If 50% of success comes from creating environments that support your goals, how can you upgrade your workplace environment to attract and retain more long-term customers?

-What can you remove to make room for something better?
-What can you add to the environment to uplift and inspire better business practices?
-As I looked at the weight that environment plays on success, example after example sprang up based on my interviews with successful professionals.

One example came from Sky Lakes Hospital. Its customer satisfaction scores rose from the 41st percentile to the top 10% in the nation after a three year customer service culture change. Custom Learning Systems was hired to give the leaders at Sky Lakes tools to support service excellence. One wonderful tool that Sky Lakes adopted was the "Six Foot Rule."

Every employee, hospital-wide, is required to look up, make eye-contact, and say something pleasant when they pass within six feet of anyone - a patient, visitor, or even a fellow employee. This rule has changed the environment at Sky Lakes. The expectation was non-negotiable. People were held accountable. What happened?

For some, the workplace got a whole lot friendlier and much more enjoyable. Unfortunately, for some of the Sky Lakes staff, this new rule was intolerable. In fact, some of the employees actually quit their jobs because they didn't want to follow the new rule. It didn't match their cynical dispositions. The upside? This new environment organically weeded out those who didn't fit the new service excellence culture.

This serves as a great illustration of the power of your environment in creating success. Just imagine being an employee of this hospital. Let's say your name is George. You're not great with customer service but it's okay because your particular job doesn't require customer contact.

According to Jim Bunch's pie chart, your environment counts for 50% of your success. Put in an environment where there are no expectations that George socialize, he won't. However the Six Foot Rule changed the expectations and the environment.

The environment George works in now calls forth a new degree of interpersonal warmth and connection. His coworkers are his internal customers and are positively affected whenever George looks up and greets them. This rule improves his coworker relationships and delights the occasional patient that he passes in the halls.

Brian Lee, the President of Custom Learning Systems explained that the moment you take your eye off of customer service, it reverts back to the way it was. It makes sense, especially when you think about it from a personal standpoint.

You don't just put gas in your car, shower or eat a meal once. You do it on an ongoing basis, monitoring your levels of fuel, cleanliness, or hunger, and taking action to keep things running effectively. You don't just organize your office once, you need to keep your eye on it, or it won't take long for it to revert back to chaos. Are you keeping an eye on your workplace environment? Is it supporting all the time, money, and training efforts you've invested in service excellence?

I met a disillusioned sales person who was recently hired into a new company. She said, "The Company I came from paid less salary, gave smaller expense accounts, and less substantial health care, but the employees LOVED working there. The environment was charged. The company was run smart and lean and the quality of the product along with a strong team commitment made customers happy. I was proud to work there.

The company I'm at now pays more, we have longer vacation time, bigger expense accounts, and better health care coverage, but... the environment is depressing. My manager is uncomfortable with conflict so there are ongoing issues that pollute the workplace, and the products we sell aren't as impressive as I hoped they would be." An environment filled with communication breakdowns and unclear expectations will cause confident, talented employees to look elsewhere for a workplace that will support them in achieving and enjoying an environment of excellence.

If 50% of your success with customers comes from the environment, what can you add to it, and remove from it, to draw out the best in yourself, your coworkers, and staff? Here are three quick tips to upgrade your environment. Please feel free to add your tips to this blog entry. Your contribution may make a positive impact on the way readers approach their workplace environments.

1. Observe your workplace. Walk through your company as if you had absolutely no ties to it. As a customer, what would make you want to do business with this company? What might push you away? As an employee, what would make you want to get up in the morning and come to work each day? What might be hindering your enthusiasm?

2. Be accessible - consistently. Create an environment that encourages management to communicate with staff. Make a habit of walking around on a regular basis, specifically to create opportunities for casual conversation. Offer a customer service box that employees can use to leave anonymous messages to management for those issues that are too uncomfortable for them to share openly. One example: A spa employee complained that the room she spends eight hours a day in was not being kept clean enough for her comfort. She didn't want to be known as a complainer so without this form of communication, the issue would have continued to hinder her workplace satisfaction. By having an anonymous way to complain, management stepped in and addressed the issue with the cleaning staff. Set specific time aside to ask your employees what's working and what's not working. Encourage them to share what might be helpful to them so that they can be more helpful to their customers.

3. Set environmental expectations - You get what you measure. Whether you use a secret shopper, an outside customer rating system, or your own internal reviews, make sure your people understand what you expect from them. Make every department accountable for their service excellence scores. Spend time focusing on what they are doing right. Clear expectations combined with a positive focus draws the best out of all concerned.

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