As it appeared in the Daily Nation on April 26th 2016
“That is how it has always been here” “We have always done it that way” When we hear these words we need to realize that they paint the culture of the organization. Culture as used in business encompasses shared values, beliefs, attitudes, behaviours and practices that characterize an organization. Culture has a major impact on business success and every business leader must be interested in understanding his or her organization’s culture and its impact on business success. Many organizations have gone through culture change initiatives however a culture of service excellence remains elusive to most.
In the book “The Culture Engine” renowned management gurus Ken Blanchard and Chris Edmonds point out that culture drives everything that happens in an organization day to day and that culture can steer a company up or down. The values, the attitudes, the behaviours seen in an organization are a true reflection of its culture. It is for this reason that I often like to look at service excellence from a cultural perspective. A key question I often seek answers for is “Why do we serve our customers the way we do?”
Culture is built over time and it could be healthy or unhealthy or even toxic. Many companies that serve their customers with excellence such as the Virgin Brand are known to have healthy cultures while most that take customers for granted such as most Matatus often have very unhealthy cultures. How customers are treated is greatly influenced by the underlying values and belief systems that form the fabric of the organizational culture. The values and beliefs are seen in the attitudes and behaviours of business leaders and the staff alike. Do we value our customers? Do we believe our customers are important to us? Do we have a positive attitude towards our customers? The answers to these questions are greatly influenced by an organization’s culture.
Building and sustaining a culture of service excellence comes down from the top. The leadership must reflect the heart of the company “the customer” in the culture they seek to build. The leadership has a vital role of inspiring and exemplifying a culture that drives service excellence. Making a culture of service excellence a reality for every staff requires great effort and honest commitment by the leadership, it does not just happen. In most organizations that I have interacted with a lack of urgency, a lack of shared values and poor internal communication kills these most such efforts making a culture of service excellence elusive.
To succeed in making a culture of service excellence our way of life, we need to take a deep look on the inside of our organizations. This means questioning the status-quo and looking for new meaning in our relationship with or customers and a common identity that steers us forward to a new normal. When this common identity is genuinely tied to the customer then a culture of service excellence will become a reality.
Lucy Kiruthu is a Management Consultant and Trainer and can be reached on email@example.com/old or via twitter @kiruthulucy