The People and Process vodcast Episode 7: Borg, Bear traps and The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole.

James Crawley: So, Kirsten, last time we spoke about keeping the soft stuff fresh.  And previously, we’ve talked about what the soft stuff is. We also spoke about some of the human elements of that. Maybe today we need to talk about the bear traps. How companies can avoid them. So come on then, what are some of the bear traps, and how do you fall into them?

Kirsten Gibbs: Well, number one, creating process and expecting the organisation to simply assimilate it.

James Crawley: So assuming that your people are part of the Borg collective, basically,\

Kirsten Gibbs: Yeah, exactly. It doesn’t happen by osmosis. You have to instil it as part of an induction or business change process. You have to actively get it in to people’s heads.

James Crawley: Okay, that makes sense.

Kirsten Gibbs: Yep. Another one is failing to get the right structure in place at the beginning, a structure that can be adaptable and develop as your business develops.

James Crawley: So, for example, you have a new customer asking for a new type of service,

Kirsten Gibbs: Yeah, and that should be a trigger for another process to look at whether your existing processes are suitable or need development, which might also mean looking at your people.

James Crawley: So that sets an alarm bell for me. So remember back to our youthful days, and Sue Townsend’s “Diary of  Adrian Mole”.  He would do a very good revision planner for his exams. The trouble is, it was so good, by the time he finished that process, he had less time to do some studying. So he had to do – redo revision timetable. Is there not a danger of the business running processes ad infinitum? Rather than processes running the business and fulfilling the promise of value.

Kirsten Gibbs: Yes, well, how you handle that, how you avoid that situation is by making the revision process agile. You do just what’s needed to handle this new service offering and then use the feedback from that to keep improving it. And the best way to do that, actually, is to push as much as you can down on the front line. Because the people on the front line are the people who get the feedback soonest and therefore can act on it soonest.

James Crawley: Yeah, so that sounds like we’ve avoided one bear trap.

Kirsten Gibbs: Okay, So change can be easily adopted if you have the right empowered frontline staff.

James Crawley: But there are risks associated with that?

Kirsten Gibbs: Yes. So what happens if somebody optimises their part of the process. What happens downstream of that? So, for example, if immigration control is made very slick at an airport, but no one improves the baggage handling, all you’re doing is moving people very quickly to a blockage. They’re going to get really upset at the baggage handling instead of in the queue for for getting through immigration control. You can also see something like this going on at the new London Bridge station, too. So in order to avoid crowded platforms, what they’ve done is make everyone go up and down to change from one platform to another. Is that what the customer wants? I wonder. I know it drives me mad.

James Crawley: Absolutely, absolutely. I’m sure they know best.

Kirsten Gibbs: I’m sure they do.

James Crawley: So what other are traps out there?

Kirsten Gibbs: Okay, well, irregular or infrequent feedback loops.  Evolving needs feedback.

James Crawley: So a bit like a cox in a rowing boat. So if there isn’t a cox or feedback loop (to use your terminology) to give the timing, sure the boat will  move, but it won’t move efficiently and more importantly, some people will be having to put in more effort than others. So I suppose the other danger with feedback loops is that you listen to the same people who shout the loudest.

Kirsten Gibbs: Yes, So how do you avoid that “shouts loudest syndrome”.

James Crawley: So, quite simply, from my perspective, the feedback loop has to have a number of elements. Elements that play to different people ‘s style. Whether that’s a group meeting, a workshop, an anonymous suggestion box, all these tools should be in your toolbox and used consistently. So just as your customers want to walk through different channels, so do your employees. That’s why in one of our businesses we use Zendesk, for example, which is a customer service management tool. It receives all our emails, our texts, our tweets, our Facebook messages. They will come into the system.  And what’s clever about it is when you reply, it goes out via the system it came in. So if someone contacts us on Facebook. They get a Facebook message back  Vice versa with email etc.

Kirsten Gibbs: Now that is lovely, and people should do that. People should do that with their customers. I know. I’ve heard people complain that their customers are texting them when they really want them to call etc.  Something like that helps the customer talk the way they want to talk.

James Crawley: Yes, If the customer texts you. There’s a good chance they want a text back. Unless they say, can you call me back.

Kirsten Gibbs: Okay, So are there any other pitfalls to avoid that you know of?

James Crawley: Yes. Avoid shooting stars. So what do I mean by that?   Well company culture, and therefore the collective performance can be seriously damaged by a disruptive element. And this is particularly prevalent in a sales environment, where a maverick high performer comes into the business, doesn’t acknowledge the processes, achieves some success and then encourages others to head down the same path. And the trouble. with this is that these high performers can often be one hit wonders who burn out and then leave a trail of destruction behind them.

Kirsten Gibbs: Oh, yeah. So the best way to avoid that is, as we’ve discussed previously, having a great recruitment process that can identify these individuals before they get in and also strong business processes which highlight them if they already exist, so they could be effectively managed or expelled if necessary. Okay,

James Crawley: So in summary, then if you don’t keep the moving parts oiled, eventually the engine will seize.

Kirsten Gibbs: Yep. And what we’ve talked about in the last two podcasts is how employer brand and promise of value have to kind of mesh internally. So an interesting question really is what’s the difference between them? What’s the difference between employer brand and promise of value?

James Crawley: Well, I think we need to save that discussion for another day, and I think we also need to bring in our friend Anwen Cooper from, Get Fruitful Marketing to help us answer that.

Kirsten Gibbs: Oh, yes, that’s a brilliant idea. Excellent.