I’m working up in London a fair bit at the moment and most days I head for sushi at the itsu on Sackville Street. The staff there are warm, welcoming, smiley, prompt, efficient and the store/restaurant always looks great. They remember me, they engage and they never do anything but enhance my day. The food is always lovely and the soup is healthy and great value. They also follow up when people mention them on Twitter…
Last week they had some people bouncing around the store giving them feedback, asking them questions, laughing and joking with them. I asked one of the staff who they were and they said ‘it is a head office visit’ and then they grinned and said ‘so I better pretend that I’m talking to you’. It was a joke because we were both aware that the observation by head office didn’t make any difference to the way I was being treated. They are nice every single day.They didn’t have to fake an experience for Head Office to see – the experience they give comes out of habit and passion.
A week before the itsu visit I had been chatting to someone who works for a large Financial Services firm. They were also due a Head Office visit – so the following things had happened.
- Desks tidied
- Meetings rearranged
- Dress down Friday had been cancelled.
Essentially for the duration of the visit by ‘Head Office’ a fake environment would be created in order for that office to pass muster.
I had a similar experience when I worked in retail (yes, retail) when a Head Office visit to the store I worked in resulted in the following
- holidays cancelled
- extra shifts brought in to tidy the store
- double staffing on the day of the visit to ensure no queues at the tills
- large scale panic
The knock on effects were that in order to hit staffing budget for the rest of the week after the visit the levels of cover were cut , so you had a superb service if you happened to be there on the same day as the Head Office visit but ‘not just queues, but M&S queues’ for the rest of the week.
There are a number of tools available to better understand culture. I favour Burke Litwin for looking at causality and interrelationships and Johnson and Scholes’ Cultural Web for drawing things on napkins that can readily be communicated. I was once told that making complicated things simple is an important trick and the cultural web does that well.
Or you can just look at what people do differently when leaders are about – and understand how strong the culture really is.
- Whether observed or not the team at itsu are committed to doing an excellent job for their customer. Their standards don’t vary based on if they think they can be seen. There were good conversations happening that I heard about how to make things better for customers. There was trust and a desire to get things right. There was energy. Everybody wins
- At the FS company there is obviously a level of concern at local management level that if the senior team saw the state of the office as it normally is they would be displeased. That dressing down on a Friday wouldn’t be acceptable. That speaks to a lack of alignment and a lack of trust – also of the emergence of a subculture that isn’t brave enough to exist in the open. The leader that did the visit won’t have been able to learn about how things really operate. Nobody gains
- At the retailer the impacts were even worse. Having worked there for several years I can say that the usual commitment to customer was excellent. What I saw was genuine customer detriment being caused by leaders attempting to get closer to the situation. Leaders who created such fear that they disrupted work that they would actually have been proud of. If they had done an unannounced visit normally they would have been relatively pleased but found the odd mistake. If they did an unannounced visit the day after their tour, when staffing levels were down…Everybody loses
I heard a wonderful speech a couple of weeks ago about leaders being treated like police cars on a motorway. People stick slavishly to the speed limit so as not to get in trouble with you. It creates an artificial strip of motorway where the behaviour is different – and then people revert back to breaking the law.
Great leaders and great customer focused cultures operate on the understanding that people should be focused on doing things well, not avoiding getting in trouble. This operates at team as well as organisational level.
- Ask yourself if your team are the same when you aren’t around (or even ask them…)
- Ask yourself if you would be happy for a customer to observe your meetings
If the answer to either is ‘no’ then you might just be a police car.