Getting Your Organisation Creative Fit

fit for creativityDid you think that this article would be about creative techniques and training courses? That would be too simple!

First of all let us think about training to be an athlete. We have to put in lots of effort – hours on a bike, in a boat or maybe the gym. Then we have different types of training where we train for intervals and have short breaks or perhaps we do something completely different. Finally we might think about tapering our training before a major competition. Most coaches will tell you that to get the best out of our bodies we need to push them hard and then rest. If we do not push hard we cannot improve and if we do not rest we injure ourselves.

It is exactly the same with our own organisations. If we wish to embrace creativity and reap the benefits then we cannot pull out our book of techniques once in a while, we need to use them so that they become second nature. We also need to work hard i.e. practise on real problems not trivial issues in workshops and have regular breaks. If we use creativity all of the time then it ceases to be creative. But what about tapering before that big event? Well in the calm before the storm we get ourselves organised. We ensure we have the right equipment (pens, flip charts etc.), right environment and right people so that when we get to the starting line we are ready to go.

And if you really wish to push the point, British sprinter Linford Christie always said that you ‘start on the B of the Bang’. For us this means getting ahead of our competitors.

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How Culture Affects Customer Service

customer serviceCulture can have a huge effect on customer service. This can manifest itself in many ways but this week I have been on the receiving end of some poor customer service yet again.

This time the offending company was a courier company who shall remain nameless. I had ordered some sportswear online and was excited to receive an email the following morning telling me that my goods were with a courier and they supplied parcel tracking information. During that day I tracked my parcel from arriving at the depot to going out for delivery.

Later on the status of my parcel changed. Apparently a card had been left because nobody was at home. The next day this also happened which was strange because although nobody was at home, no cards were left. Since I had no card I did not have the contact details for the courier!!

Being fairly resourceful I tried to find contact details by searching the internet but all I found were bulletin board posts by disgruntled customers. Finally I did find a number but for the wrong part of the company. The person answering the phone was very helpful and gave me 2 further freephone numbers.

At last I could talk to someone who knew something about my parcel! A nice chap told me the name of the courier and gave me his mobile number. He also revealed my suspicions that the parcel depot left the phone off the hook because of the large number of complaints. These, he said, were mainly because of the couriers themselves.

I called the courier on his mobile and arranged delivery for Saturday morning. He was very helpful and polite so  I asked him where the cards had been left. ‘I did not leave any’ he said ‘because I could not get into the security gate and that was the only option I could tick on my PDA’.

So we have overworked couriers (they are given too many parcels to actually deliver at any one time) with dodgy systems in place who seem not to trust the rest of the organisation causing huge numbers of complaints that cannot be heard because the people they do not trust (and who don’t trust them) leave the phone off the hook! Wake up guys, your customer service will not improve until you start talking (as opposed to shouting) to each other. And Mr MD you have your part to play in this too.

Just one example of how poor culture can affect a business. And to fix it? Get couriers to talk to the rest of the company in a meaningful way and stop the huge number of complaints so that the phones can be put back on the hook and used in the way in which they were originally intended.

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The Workplace of Tomorrow

workplace of tomrrowDespite all of the predictions of a futuristic workplace we all seem to inhabit vastly different offices and factories. So will there ever be a workplace where everything is ideal? What actually will the workplace of tomorrow look and feel like? The answer is probably not because of the compromises that must exist but it is likely to offer flexibility and empowerment to the people that work within it. Such a place must try to accommodate the requirements of the business (usually in line with commercial stakeholders) and those of employees (and social stakeholders).

These fall into 3 main areas:

1. The organisation, Leaders and Managers
2. Employees
3. Working environment

Leaders and Managers will find their roles changing, they will be the ‘senior citizens’ of the organisation and will no longer exert influence through power and hierarchies. Influence will be through their experience, knowledge, wisdom and vision for the future. These senior citizens may very well have portfolio careers (a term used often by Charles Handy) and work for more than one organisation. They will exert influence but with less cost than the full time management of old.

Employees are the citizens, still able to contribute knowledge and experience but not to such an extent. Contracts of employment may very well be zero hour i.e. employees will not be contracted for a minimum period of employment per week. Instead, their efforts will be summoned on demand. Perhaps 30 hours one week and 40 the next (or none). This will give businesses flexibility but could also leave employees some freedom to create valuable IPR in their time off as a trade off for the new contracts.

The working environment is perhaps the thing that we are currently closest to. Efficiency dictates some sort of hot desking, perhaps hot desking with feeling so that the immediate working environment is not sanitised and can be decorated or personalised. With a distributed workforce, a certain amount of sickness absence and site visits, we no longer need the amount of office space that we did in the past. Making such environments ‘modular’ also means that we can add or subtract capacity easily.

The name of the game in the future is compromise and flexibility on the part of all parties.

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Customer Service – do you deliver?

customer serviceMy area of experience is creativity and alternative thinking, not customer service. However, I was inspired (or perhaps driven) to put pen to paper after recent experiences with several large organisations here in the UK. I will not name them directly but the two worst offenders provide my telephone and banking services.

Large organisations just want to give us what they think we want or they might be so arrogant as to be saying “this is what you are going to get”.  Recently I wanted answers to some questions regarding banking so I checked the company’s website for possible answers and after determining that the answers were not there I used the secure messaging system to ask my questions. I did this 4 times and each time the reply was a section of the help text from their website that had been cut and pasted into the response that had been sent to me.

When trying to contact my telephone company I tried 5 times via telephone and their chat service to resolve an issue. Each time I was told what they thought I wanted to hear i.e. you will get xxx within 14 days . They seemed to see themselves as an information service, relaying how they were told the system should behave but not actually being able to deal with exceptions.

In most cases it is not actually the fault of the individuals providing the service, it is the actual system that needs revamping. Use a little creative thinking guys, ask why I might be emailing or calling you. It is usually because my query is technical or non standard and I want some real help. So why employ knowledgeable people as supervisors rather than let them answer the phone. Just think, if you answered your queries first time, you would ultimately cut down the number of calls to your call centres.

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Undercover Boss – would you try it?

undercover bossMany readers will have seen either Undercover Boss or Undercover Boss USA where the boss goes undercover, working with frontline staff to see how the business is really performing. I’m sure that these companies are selected for their entertainment value but they do throw up some real issues.

In many cases the businesses are not performing but the bosses seem not to be playing the blame game and realise that in many cases head office is a little out of touch. What they do seem to get though is that if they support their staff then they will get the best out of them and stand a fighting chance of beating the recession.

So, you’re the boss. Do you dare to go undercover and find out what is really happening? How will you react when employees do not worship your photograph or have less than ideal things to say about you, their pay or working conditions? What will you do when you find that front line staff are abused, spat at or are targeted by armed robbers?

You’re not the boss. Is your the sort of business where the boss would come and find out how you are doing? If so then great, if not then how can you attract his attention? If the boss (or bosses) is not interested then I recommend you look for a new and better job right away!

Finally, no bosses should be going undercover anyway. Employees should know who the boss is and how to contact them (about important issues) and be able to equate those at the top with company vision and values. Bosses should also have their finger on the pulse and have a much better idea of the workings of their business and the opinions of frontline staff. Sounds like a call for a cull of middle management – make up your own mind about that!

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