2011 was an extraordinary year. There were more revolutions around the world, violent and otherwise, than we’ve seen in many years. These dominated local and global news channels, political and business conversations, and the attention of people everywhere. Even Time magazine acknowledged the Protester as the Person of the Year.

Some of these revolutions were due to growing frustration at their countries’ dysfunctional systems, some were more forward looking. Most began as independent affairs, not creations of specific political parties. Many were enabled by easy access to—and the global reach of—technology (social media in particular).

They all had one thing in common – millions of people were committed and involved. These revolutions were not triggered by inspirational leaders with answers to problems – in fact, very few people even knew the solution, the sentiment that mattered was ‘I know what I don’t want’.

What does this have to do with your service culture?

Consider this: Over 70% of large scale change initiatives fail. (source: HBR)
The human and financial cost is enormous. The larger the change implementation, the higher the risk and cost. When you consider that very smart people are typically involved in designing these large scale interventions, it is apparent that ‘knowing the right solution’ is not enough.

When leaders in large organizations come to work with us, they are not looking for incremental improvements in service levels. They see the need for large scale change, almost revolutionary shifts in their culture and service performance – whether for improvement or differentiation. And they want to build a strong service culture to make sure the improvements stick.

One of the first conversations we have with every client is about scale and speed – and the need to get the entire organization involved quickly. This is not a nice-to-have for successful culture shifts – it is essential, and more importantly, easy to overlook.

Size does matter.

As human beings, we view reality as a function of, and only of, agreement. When it was ‘agreed’ that the world was flat, people lived as if the world was really flat. Most ships would turn back before they lost sight of land. In your culture for example, when it is agreed that ‘customers only care about price’ or ‘that department is always slow’, everything your organization does is a manifestation of that agreement.

We crave for agreement. Countless studies and experiments in psychology, behavioral economics and neuroscience have shown this to be true. Few people will go against a crowd, even if they know themselves to be right.

Therein lies the power as well. The key to a cultural shift is in the ability to alter these agreements. And this cannot be done by the leadership team or a few individuals alone. Everyone, from finance to frontline, needs to align with your service vision and agree that service excellence is critical. And everyone needs to understand that they can genuinely do something about it.

(Yes, you can get employees to do something by ordering them around, but that’s not an approach that produces sustainable results.)

Culture eats strategy for breakfast

Peter Drucker got it right.

Leaders and change designers typically spend a lot of time figuring out the right strategy for every new large scale change initiative. The quest for data, analysis, validations and approvals often result in huge reports and no immediate action. The conversations are more theoretical and intellectual than actionable. Many pure consulting businesses thrive on this appetite for analysis.

But only a very small percentage of all employees are actually involved during these early stages. And when a new strategy is ‘rolled out’ to the entire organization, the level of ownership, emotional involvement and commitment required is often missing. The existing culture nips the new strategy in its bud.

Organization cultures are built on long histories of conversations and agreements. Trying to shift these top down, chipping away slowly, does not work. A culture likes status quo, it’s like an organism that protects itself from the fear of uncertainty that change brings with it. The larger the organization, the tougher it is to break through.

Go big. Go fast.

Get a high percentage of your people involved early and you will see the culture shift. Leadership’s role is critical to prevent chaos and create the conversations, but not sufficient to build an uplifting service culture . What you know at the top does not matter as much as how many are engaged and involved throughout the organization.

For most companies today, to change or not to change is not the question. Change is necessary to survive. Large organization culture change is possible, and it can be done quickly and economically with a high likelihood of success. Going big and going fast—neither may be easy—but that’s another reason why those who do both, will succeed in differentiating themselves.

One example of this in your own life is you reading this blog post. You might agree with everything being said on this blog, but unless the rest of your leadership team and organization agrees and acts accordingly, you won’t see quick or dramatic improvements in service levels where you work. So, go big and go fast. Share this post quickly and widely with the members of your team.

5 replies
  1. James Daniel McManis, PhD
    James Daniel McManis, PhD says:

    Great blog. Solid grounding in the world of ideation. Culture is an amalgam of ideas or thought forms. Only adroit and passionate ‘insider’ commitment to cultural shift brings forth great results in producing a cultural shift. In this case toward conscious service orientation. How to awaken a culture to be a service culture

    Thank you for saying this in a very straightforward and grasp-able way.

  2. Elvira Galiyeva
    Elvira Galiyeva says:

    Awesome article! This is exactly what I needed at this point in time, because I was about to embark on developing the “service revolution” strategy. Since I know my organization very well, I too understand how much committment will be required from the top all the way to the line staff.
    Thank you for putting it all in the form of words!

  3. Sameh Moustafa
    Sameh Moustafa says:

    This is really true and I tried it before and it gives clear and true long term results…..I will do my homework and get back to you..thanks

  4. Moe Vorapinit
    Moe Vorapinit says:

    Well written.

    Thai companies can really adopt this proven path of Ron Kaufman.

Comments are closed.