How High Standards Can Hurt Your Business
I was sitting in the reception of a new client the other day and I always take the time to look around, as reception areas start to tell you what the organization is like. I noticed on the wall there was a big sign that extolled the vision of the organization. It said; ‘We will exceed our Customer expectations at all points of contact’. I knew then that I was in for an interesting debate with this organization. This may sound odd coming from a Customer Experience person but the reality is that it is totally unrealistic to exceed Customers expectations at all moments of contact. No organization can afford that. As I sat there I reflected on why companies set these unachievable goals.
In a world where global competition is forcing businesses to work harder, it’s understandable that high level management find it appropriate to set lofty goals to help drive customer experience, sales and – ultimately – profits. The problem, though, is that too many organizations set goals for their employees that aren’t just lofty, but are actually entirely unrealistic. These goals might be admirable in nature, and they might sound great on a piece of paper or as a vision/mission statement on the wall, but they can actually do far more harm than good over the longer term.
A Fresh Perspective: It’s true that “almost” doesn’t count
There’s a well-known saying, or acknowledgement, that “almost doesn’t count.” Regardless of its origins, the phrase is supposed to be both motivational and competitive. If almost doesn’t count, then people need to try harder, play harder, and reach their goals more successfully – essentially, it’s a nice way of telling people to do better next time around. That’s fine, and a great ethos to have, but what if almost achieving the impossible goal still doesn’t count?
Another great example I’ve come across is when people tell me ‘we want to ‘wow’ our Customers’. Firstly, what does “wow” even mean, and secondly how can you ever hope to achieve that while remaining profitable? This shows me that people haven’t thought through the implications of this.
When senior teams proudly share this vision/mission with everyone, one of two things is bound to happen. Either employees are going to be completely demoralised due to their perceived poor performance as only a certain percentage of customers are “wowed”, or they’re going to understand that the goal is impossible, meaningless, and not worth trying for. In either case the end result is likely to be either nothing at all or even a decrease in morale.
The solution? Be aspirational if you are actually going to follow through with the actions to support it. If not, aim for something you are willing to support.
If you can see your mission statement still being on the wall in 5 years time, with little or no progress towards achieving it being made, it’s probably time to come up with something new. Think about your customers and how they interact with your business. Look at where you excel and the areas that you’re weak; identify opportunities; really think about whether you could achieve what you want to, and then come up with a plan to do it.
Having a vision is one thing – knowing that you can get there is an entirely different animal.
Consult employees about their own goals and expectations
Part of being realistic is to understand that numbers and objectives are not human, but employees are. At the end of the day, any new corporate goal will have to be carried out by the employees on the front lines. Do they think it’s achievable? Get them to articulate to you what it will take to get there. In my experience it is the management who do not support the vision/mission with actions, not employees. Will employees be driven to reach a new goal or simply intimidated by how high that goal is? Does a goal line up with the first hand knowledge of their department, their customers, or their past experience?
Goal-setting and defining a corporate vision should both be collaborative, community-based activities that get everyone involved. This exchange of ideas will not only allow the business to set new benchmarks and metrics for itself, but it will also give employees a time to offer their input and advice to more senior levels of management. This two-way exchange breeds success and confidence. It leads to realistic planning that is as human as the company’s own workforce.
Be ambitious but realistic, aspirational but approachable
There’s nothing wrong with setting high standards and lofty goals, and then putting in place the pieces needed to achieve those things. New strategies, though, should be realistic in nature and in line with what an employee feels they can achieve. By working collaboratively and with realistic expectations grounded in prior goals and growth, businesses will experience better employee morale, higher levels of productivity, and a feeling that everyone is going to make this new benchmark happen together. It’s a winning strategy with real, long-term value.
|Colin Shaw is founder & CEO of Beyond Philosophy, one of the world’s first organizations devoted to customer experience. Colin is an international author of four best-selling books. Beyond Philosophy provide consulting, specialised research & training from offices in Atlanta, Georgia and London, England.
Follow Colin Shaw on Twitter: @ColinShaw_CX