Why Leadership is Critical to Building an Uplifting Service Culture

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Many CEOs and senior leaders have risen to the top as experts in their industries or as specialists in technical competencies – not as experts in building a strong and sustaining service culture. This often results in initiatives to improve service being considered a frontline or a human resources issue. This is a fundamental mistake.

Building a service culture needs great service leaders and leadership teams. The power of senior leadership to set the vision, focus the entire organization, reward success and remove roadblocks, and role model correct behavior cannot be delegated to others.

Leaders and leadership teams must embrace four key roles to ensure a service culture building effort does not fail.

1. Create a vision, set the direction

What is the purpose for building a service culture? Why is this critical, and why now? Leadership must create an engaging service vision that gives employees a sense of purpose, value and meaning.

This vision needs to apply not just externally to customers, but internally among colleagues and departments. Organizations that want to deliver world-class service at the frontlines must build outstanding service throughout the organization.

Change begins with alignment around a strategic objective. A powerful service vision galvanizes employees’ ambition, enthusiasm and commitment. A compelling service vision gives direction and provides an unmistakable idea of what is sought – and what is not.

2. Engage, focus and inspire the entire organization

Building a service culture is the responsibility of an entire organization, not just the customer service, human resources or organizational development department. This mandate must come from the very top: the CEO and his or her essential leadership team.

Active and visible involvement by senior leaders is essential to ensure that building a service culture is not perceived as only a tactical effort to improve service, a frontline skills training program, or another ‘a culture thing’ from the HR department.

Leadership must keep building a service culture high on the agenda. ‘Talking the talk’ at the beginning must be reinforced with visible commitment throughout the entire culture building process.

3. Prioritize and commit resources

While building a culture of service excellence can leverage a proven methodology, each organization has unique values, structure and objectives. It is leadership’s job to regularly review progress, make decisions on business priorities and commit resources across the building blocks of a service culture.

In many instances, roadblocks to service culture can only be removed by senior leaders.

4. Role Model

Building a service culture needs leaders who understand why service is truly important – and behave accordingly. Leaders’ actions must demonstrate excellent service to customers and to colleagues.

It is just as important for leaders to recognize and encourage behavior from employees who are ‘doing the right thing’, even when they do something wrong! Mistakes will occur when people take new action. leaders can make it safe for employees to take prudent risks, demonstrating with their own words and action that mistakes are opportunities to learn, improve and grow.

Finally, the use of a common language is a key building block of service culture. Effective service leaders consistently use ‘service language’ in their own meetings and communications to speed up and strengthen the service culture.

Talking about service culture is easy. Is the leadership in your organization ready for responsibility and up to walking the talk?

Many CEOs and senior leaders have risen to the top as experts in their industries or as specialists in technical competencies – not as experts in building a strong and sustaining service culture. This often results in initiatives to improve service being considered a frontline or a human resources issue. This is a fundamental mistake.

Building a service culture needs great service leaders and leadership teams. The power of senior leadership to set the vision, focus the entire organization, reward success and remove roadblocks, and role model correct behavior cannot be delegated to others.

Leaders and leadership teams must embrace four key roles to ensure a service culture building effort does not fail.

1. Create a vision, set the direction

What is the purpose for building a service culture? Why is this critical, and why now? Leadership must create an engaging service vision that gives employees a sense of purpose, value and meaning.

This vision needs to apply not just externally to customers, but internally among colleagues and departments. Organizations that want to deliver world-class service at the frontlines must build outstanding service throughout the organization.

Change begins with alignment around a strategic objective. A powerful service vision galvanizes employees’ ambition, enthusiasm and commitment. A compelling service vision gives direction and provides an unmistakable idea of what is sought – and what is not.

2. Engage, focus and inspire the entire organization

Building a service culture is the responsibility of an entire organization, not just the customer service, human resources or organizational development department. This mandate must come from the very top: the CEO and his or her essential leadership team.

Active and visible involvement by senior leaders is essential to ensure that building a service culture is not perceived as only a tactical effort to improve service, a frontline skills training program, or another ‘a culture thing’ from the HR department.

Leadership must keep building a service culture high on the agenda. ‘Talking the talk’ at the beginning must be reinforced with visible commitment throughout the entire culture building process.

3. Prioritize and commit resources

While building a culture of service excellence can leverage a proven methodology, each organization has unique values, structure and objectives. It is leadership’s job to regularly review progress, make decisions on business priorities and commit resources across the building blocks of a service culture. In many instances, roadblocks to service culture can only be removed by senior leaders.

4. Role Model

Building a service culture needs leaders who understand why service is truly important – and behave accordingly. Leaders’ actions must demonstrate excellent service to customers and to colleagues.

It is just as important for leaders to recognize and encourage behavior from employees who are ‘doing the right thing’, even when they do something wrong! Mistakes will occur when people take new action. leaders can make it safe for employees to take prudent risks, demonstrating with their own words and action that mistakes are opportunities to learn, improve and grow.

Finally, the use of a common language is a key building block of service culture. Effective service leaders consistently use ‘service language’ in their own meetings and communications to speed up and strengthen the service culture.

Talking about service culture is easy. Is the leadership in your organization ready for responsibility and up to walking the talk?

Posted On: 22 December 2010
Categories: Service Leadership
Tags: , ,


12 Responses

  1. LEONARD ORR says:

    I don’t know if there is such a thing as sustainable organization without all or most people in it being senility graduates, or at least being wisely committed to unraveling the birth-death cycle. The average life of the Fortune 500 is 40 years, the unconscious “death urge” eats them alive.

  2. Pete Fuentes says:

    I face this issue everytime I meet with management in Mexico, and Central America. Most leaders in companies I work with are political appointments within the company. I could write a book on the mentality there, but would rather embrace the knowlege in this newsletter. I will put it to use. Thank you Ron, Pete

  3. clive Turner says:

    Outstandingly well said. Stating the obvious, because as with all common sense issues, for some reason the glaringly obvious is often what is missed. I will be quoting this statement (with proper credit to Ron) because it needs to be said LOUD and L O N G so we can get real change under way in England too. The customer service revolution is under way!

    My dear corporate leaders, I do hope you are listening and preparing to act – some will be stepping UP, those that don’t will be slipping down.

    Thank you Ron, for sharing your eloquence.

  4. Barrett Hazeltine says:

    Lots of wisdom there. People need help knowing what to do

  5. Liza Huang says:

    In our organisation, we always believe and always make known that:
    We should take the OAR – ownership, accountability and responsibility
    Avoid the BED – blame, excuses and denial.
    That’s our present organisation culture…

  6. Ehtisham says:

    Its really wonderful to read your posts all the times. Please throw some light on the fact that all this come from the top i.e from CEO or the boardroom. What contribution a subordinate can do to make his/her leader like this….

  7. Sukanya Patwardhan says:

    All this boils down to to the “spirit of service” within each individual. How do organisations awaken this? It is not possible for the leaders to demonstrate about service culture through their talk and walk unless their own “spirit of service” is awakened.

  8. Khuda Baksh says:

    Wise and eye opening. I agree that building a customer service culture internally and practicing it among the employees and departments is key to achieving it externally.

    It is important that we believe in it and practice so that it spreads out and reaches the customers. It is like a beacon of light. Once the light is on internally then it is definite to reach the outside world.

    I thank Ron for sharing his valuable thoughts.

  9. Raju Kotagal says:

    Well articulated Ron. The sad part is that many in management – even if they are aware of importance of service culture – turn a blind eye. Such articles and education is mandatory at the most senior levels to begin a successful culture improvement project.

  10. Ray Bigger says:

    To look at Ron’s comment from another perspective how many CEO’s arrive in that position via HR or Sales & Marketing, both of which are ostensibly the internal and external customer components of the business. How many? – you can count them on the fingers of one hand! I think Ron’s comment actually triggers a deeper thought and that is: “Should the role of the CEO change substantially so he/she really understands the opportunities and threats to the business?” – and that will only happen when today’s CEO’s start asking more questions and listening more. I had the opportunity to ask Jeffery Immelt the CEO/Chairman of General Electric what he would be doing personally to up his game (to quote Ron’s tag line) and he said “I will be listening to more people I don’t listen to now”. Then CEO’s might uncover some truths so they realise there are many things they cannot delegate as they do now.

  11. Katja van Wel says:

    Great advice. It seems so easy but to put it in practice is difficult enough as we can see around us. I love the inspiration of Ron Kaufman. But what to do as an employee, just keep on waiting for the management to start acting upon it? Pick up the challenge yourself as well: act on it even if your management does not do it (yet?), go find a job with a company which embraces this principle or start your own business instead of waiting for others to step up to the challenge. Don’t wait for others to get inspired, inspire others.

  12. Katja, your comment inspires me! There are many problems in the working world, and every one of us can be part of the solution. We have a fundamental service principles at UP! Your Service called “Take Personal Responsibility” – this stands above the recognition that “Blame”, feeling “Ashamed” and having “Excuses” are all common human responses to disturbing situations – but none of them by themselves lead to new or better action. Our image for this shows playing “Above the Line” only happens when each of us commit to “Take Personal Responsibility” – which you have demonstrated with your perspective and your writing. Thank you!

    You can see this icon, and others from “Achieving Superior Service” (Course 100) at this link: http://www.upyourservice.com/images/workshops_pdf/ProductSheet_Achieving_Superior_Service_101214.pdf



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