13 August 2007

Flatten, empower - and train, train, train

Robert Heller, author of The Naked Manager, and described as Britain's best-known author on business management, ticks a number of mediocracy boxes in last Wednesday's Telegraph. First, it appears individual employees cannot be efficient unless their corporate environment empowers them to do so.

... as customers, everybody wants high standards of quality and service. But a company's culture may have developed so that lower standards are acceptable. The employees know they should do better. They may indeed want to do better. But you cannot simply ask them to do better. You have to change the company culture which has developed that stops them from doing better.
Well, that may explain why it seems harder these days to get old-fashioned human responsiveness as opposed to robotic pseudo-service, if employees are regarded as incapable of dealing with customers unless they have first been suitably moulded by corporate culture, or otherwise 'trained'. I'm reminded of this quote I used in the Mediocracy book, reported from a Marks & Spencer training course:
When a customer approaches, step out of his way. If a customer declines help, say “That’s great! Please enjoy your shopping. My name is ... If you need help later, my colleagues and I are here to help. Just let us know.” *
Heller enlightens us further about the principles of building culture, which apparently is 'technical' and involves three stages.
Building a new culture is, in one sense, technical. It involves a three-stage process: knowing what to do; knowing how it should be done; and actually doing it.
Aha! But it gets more complicated. Stage three, acting, involves four steps.
As a rule, acting requires four steps:
  • Flatten the hierarchy
  • Empower the workers
  • Get close to customers
  • Train, train, train
  • 'Flattening' and 'empowering'. Yes, well that's the kind of stuff Tom Peters has been selling for years: phoney pseudo-egalitarianism in the workplace. It's also what Carly Fiorina was touting before she was, er, asked to leave by Hewlett-Packard.

    More critical thoughts on Heller's article are available from Rick at Flip Chart Fairy Tales.

    * courtesy Private Eye

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