If you asked each individual leader within your team to go away and write down step by step exactly how they would deliver feedback. Do you know what they would come back and show you? Would they all say the same thing or would there be lots of differences (variation)
In my experience working with leadership teams when I ask this question, most respond with “YES”, although when I put this exercise into action, what shows up is that although we think we all provide feedback in the same way – usually we don’t; each team member did something different; each team member had their own process or their own version of a process.
In most cases, it becomes clear that there is no system or process in place for team to follow or to learn.
Nor has there been any best practice developed in this area and therefore no standards to train or coach into these teams.
Reading this article will show you the key elements required to develop a better leadership culture within your business as well as just how important it is to understand the variation of any process and the best ways to minimise it, to deliver a 10/10 experience.
94% Systems – 6% People
One of the biggest challenges identified by many companies, in fact, the top 500 companies in the world. Identified that one of their biggest issues is the failure to implement their ideas.
Systems that identify the action, not the intention, and identifying who is responsible to implement and by when will build on best practices and decrease the variation; the areas of improvement.
If you think about my example above in relation to giving feedback what is evident is that our teams are a direct relation to the training we provide.
Developing systems and processes in all areas of our business allows us to create standards that can be learnt through training and coaching our teams.
A critical action is to do your research to identify the variation to change and improve your system through best practice to minimise variation; this is when developing a standard becomes possible.
So, What is Variation?
Dictionary.com tells us it is – the act, process, or accident of varying in condition, character, or degree.
Whilst the Oxford Languages Dictionary says it is – a change or slight difference in condition, amount, or level, typically within certain limits. a different or distinct form or version of something.
When it comes to variation, however, my go-to is and has always been Dr W. Edwards Deming and his theory of profound knowledge. Deming developed his system of profound knowledge to describe the work of organisations.
The System Of Profound Knowledge
Dr. W Edwards Deming brought new knowledge to Japan and the leadership of Japan beginning in 1947. He taught on the topics of variation (understanding it, how to react to it, how to reduce it), quality, seeing the organisation (and country) as a system, and the benefits of collaboration.
In the late 1980s, Dr. W. Edwards Deming began to articulate the knowledge from which the 14 points were derived.
The system of profound knowledge is made up of four components through which the world is looked at simultaneously. These components function as lenses through which we see, and all four are related to each other:
- Appreciation for a system,
- Knowledge about variation,
- Theory of knowledge, and
- Knowledge of psychology
The reason that Deming believed his theory of profound knowledge was so important was that it would help individuals to transform within their organisations, which would, in turn, improve the outcomes in quality improvement efforts. Understanding and applying the four parts of Deming’s theory, he believed, will create a better leadership culture.
And as Mike Stoecklein highlights in his guest post on W. Edwards Deming Institute,
We Need To Understand Variation to Manage Effectively
“Why did something go wrong?” “Why are results so poor?” “How can we repeat this success?”
The job of management is to not only ask these and other important performance-related questions but also to find the right answers and take the right course of action. Deming provided the means for management to do just that through knowledge of variation.
In any business, there are always variations, between people, in output, in service, and in the product. The out of a system result from two types of variation: common cause and special cause variation. Common cause variations are the natural result of the system. In a stable system, common cause variation will be predictable within certain limits.
Special cause variations represent a unique event that is outside the system: for example, a natural disaster.
Distinguishing the difference between variation, as well as understanding its causes and predicting behaviour, is key to management’s ability to properly remove problems or barriers in the system.
I Call This Appreciation VS Variation
Now that we have outlined the first 2 Key elements to developing a better leadership culture within your team – Systems and Variation let’s go back to Deming’s belief.
Again, let me quote Deming,
If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you don’t know what you’re doing. It is not enough to do your best; you must know what to do, and then do your best. It is not necessary to change. Quality is everyone’s responsibility. A bad system will beat a good person every time.
Now it’s time to get into action.
Develop The System To Minimise Variation – Standards
Standards are more about people’s behaviour and peoples interactions, and the procedure is defined as a non-personal interaction.
Where there are human interactions standards provide the behaviours required to ensure clarity, consistency, and efficiencies within our teams and our business.
Not doing this means your team will do what they think rather than utilise the best practice standards as outlined in my feedback example at the start of this blog.
So, think about your team, and think about the standards you want to cover. Include, providing feedback to your team, your customers, your contractors etc, look at inbound and outbound communication as well as handling complaints.
For example, how do you communicate with your team?
- On the internet?
- Face to Face?
Once you have listed the areas you would like to address, list the standards that you would like to implement.
And then look at HOW you will create these standards, how will you clarify best practice in each of these areas and WHO can support you in this process.
Let me give you a hint;
Everything you need to know to create solid grounded standards has been provided to you by your team.
- What does your team tell you is important to them?
- What do your team say they want from you?
- What have they asked you to continue to do or to change?
When developing standards with my clients I always look for the ‘best practice champions’ in the team.
I want to know two things – Who are most effective? and What is it they do?
Why do I want to know this?
Because I DON’T want to recreate what’s working – I want to capture what has proven to be working really well and create this as best practice.
Best practice standards that can be replicated, systemised, and trained into these teams.
Behavioural training is often the best method as many people are unconscious about their own behaviour. We call this unconscious incompetence, see diagram below, training and feedback helps people move through the different steps.
As I have outlined in another blog 10 Actions To Implement A Customer Loyalty Research Program once we have worked with our team to create the standards we must train and coach our teams to deliver on them.
Spell out clearly what standard of performance is required in order to deliver a 10/10 customer experience.
These standards must be observable and measurable behaviours that can be trained and coached in others to produce ongoing performance improvement.
Each staff member must be able to understand and demonstrate each of the standards they are accountable for.
Provide ongoing coaching and training to all staff to ensure they are implementing all standards all the time.
Have a think about Service: Distance and Close Up – Customers form many impressions about your customer service before any direct interaction with staff takes place.
By the time they arrive at the counter or are on your radar, customers have nearly always made several important evaluations about your service. Perhaps even prejudging it.
Customers Assess Staff In Two Ways
From a distance (e.g. as they approach the counter) and closer up (e.g. while they are being served).
From a distance, they form a number of impressions. These initial impressions maybe even more significant than the service itself, which can be brief.
Initial evaluations certainly create expectations of the service that will follow. Good or bad impressions can effectively form the basis of customers’ judgements of staff performance, as well as your own.
Image walking into a store and coming across these two team members. Although none look unfriendly which is modelling the best behaviours that you would want to replicate into a service standard.
I know who I would want on my team and I bet you do too!
What are the behaviours differences between them?
The 4 behaviours that create a great first impression
Following a standard does not mean that we become transactional, we must trust our team members to deliver the standard in a personalised way.
I was on a plane once and the flight attendants were serving drinks, the lady sitting in the row in front of me ordered a bottle of water. The flight attendant served the bottle of water whilst saying here is your 2020 Mt Franklin and gestured the handover as you would receive a bottle of wine. It seemed like a nice touch and stood out as something extra, but then I heard her say exactly the same thing to every customer who ordered a bottle of water, word for word, right throughout the plane. I thought it was a shame, what had seemed like a personal and playful interaction lost its specialness and became a part of the transaction.
It is important to give your employees the freedom to naturally express their version of the feeling you are selling rather than creating verbatim service standards and training teams in transactional behaviour.
Transactional behaviour is never about selling a feeling.
However, on another flight through a different airline, I was sitting in the front row and as I had boarded early, I watched as 135 people, (yes I counted them) board the plane to a warm and friendly greeting, yet not one greeting was consecutively the same.
Each customer was greeted with a personalised greeting that provided a warm and friendly feeling BUT each time the flight attendant used different words. They followed exactly the 4 behaviours that create a great first impression.
We must encourage our employees to add their own personal expression whilst delivering the feeling we are selling.
Think about a successful business that you know of where you get a consistently good experience no matter to which location you go to?
McDonald’s set the standard, literally, for having a replicable system that created a consistent service delivery of both the product and the customer service across the world, not just in one country. They have systems that tell you exactly how to cook them and present the food, their service standards cover the behaviours that are required to serve every customer, they train and train and train their leaders and frontline team members, they reward the top performers.
I think the latest company that has exceeded McDonald’s in maximising appreciation with minimum variation is Apple, I highly recommend you read the below article about how they do it.
Variation is the devil for appreciation, the best way to decrease variation is to develop your system to deliver the best practice service, developed from observation ad research, you must know what your customers want. Developing service standards that focus on the behaviours that create the right feeling are the key.
If you need help with this area feel free to contact me to discuss.