“So what do you think about the new place?”
“it’s al-right, I’d much rather be in the old place, but I will adapt. There’s lots of changes in between.”
This is a brief conversation I had yesterday with a close friend of mine, who I will call B.
B recently moved business premises, because the company employing B decided to shatter the headquarters superstore into a state-wide shower of localised customer service outlets.
There has been a shift in personnel too and the people, B was once working with, have been assigned to other places, leaving B as the only member of the original team left standing in the locality of the old headquarters.
Despite the briefness of the conversation I had with my old friend, I was fascinated by B’s perspective of organisational change. B’s expectation of more changes to come before getting to changed, intrigued me because B doesn't like change, especially if that change is initiated by someone else. I found myself immediately crediting B with a tolerance for other people’s goals, until it dawned on me that we were sitting on the alert signal of traffic lights.
While it seemed to be that the organisation was about “all systems go” for an increase in the amount of green going into the till, my friend saw the change like an orange traffic light, with the promise of red or the promise of green, depending on how factors, beyond B’s control, went. The light may go up or it may go down. He was sitting at orange waiting for the order to go or the order to stop.
B’s preference is for the past. B lives in the music of his childhood and follows the same routine of activities every single day. B likes to maintain life and rides the waves of change with a mixture of fear and excitement. B likes novelty changes, but simply can’t afford them.
The strategic specification tsunami took the old life away and its waves caused a storm that helped increase B’s income and that pleased B. Yet, what was once an accessible place for customers and staff is gone and in its place a smaller, less appointed place has been born. In the old headquarters customers had plenty of room to park. The new premises has limited parking facilities and B wonders how this is going to impact on customer trade, but the decision was out of B’s hands. Such is the nature of organisational changing. The process from change decision birth, through its life of changing and onto its final death as changed is the complete life cycle of business. This life cycle contains lots of other change project life cycles and a premise move is a big one because the very nature of changing lasts until the extinction of the species. The species in this case is B’s customer service environment that was re-organised in accordance to a foreign strategic planners vision, and in so doing the need for space for customers to park has become an after-sight.
For all employed people to enact a desired change goal, as say written up as a strategic plan, the changing process tends to reflect an empowerment of multiple intelligences¹. Under the umbrella of Professor Howard Gardner's theory of intelligences, the outcome of any new learning curve (moving premises) is largely the result of the learning preferences of the doers. Moving premises is a learning curve for those who have not done it before. Fortunately for B he had been there and done that.
In all large organisations, it is always one person who initiates a change idea, that becomes decided through a process of presentation, group discussion and persuasion. The decided change then enters into various performances of communication, which, if it gets enough nodding heads, culminates into a jumble of input and output variables. In this case the new jelly bean stores forgot to incorporate parking into the engineering specification. An important variable that may cost B’s livelihood if the customers can’t shop because there is nowhere to stop and park their vehicles. Front line people like B can see it, the customers can see it, and the decision makers consultation process either forgot to include the front line or didn't think their perspective was important enough.
This omission of customer service from the change blue print might see otherwise loyal customers going elsewhere and it may also see new customers arriving. Time will tell and by watching the orange traffic light, B is not doing any forecasting.
Change for most employees represents something new like eating in a different restaurant, going to see a recently released movie, travelling to experience foreign culture and scenery, investing in a new recipe, taking out a mortgage, leasing a car, starting an accreditation journey. Some employees also come up with change ideas including a re-structure of the organisation. In the quest for bigger and bulging profit margins, innovation can mean the making or breaking of an employment contract.
What nearly all employees have in common is their desire to keep their wage and what almost all non-God fearing humans share is their desire to initiate change in their own image, as opposed to it being impacted upon them. Control of the environment for human gain has been going on since humanity discovered that they could influence the hand of God². But human change actually does mean work and work is all about changing and changing is all about continuous learning that is impacted on modern-day folk all of the time, whether they consider it to be a pessimistic reality or an optimistic one.
The reality is, there are people in this world who make decisions in the name of change and, the economic changing process tsunami that hits the population, depends upon how many permission votes those people get from the circles they represent. The customer vote is a particularly powerful one, for without customers no amount of re-structure will make any difference. In a world of supply and demand, trust is the biggest thread that can be woven into any transactional fabric. Trust is all about fear reduction and not being able to park next to your favourite store.. well you do the equation.
To be successful within a bureaucracy, employees generally have to establish a routine, irrespective of whether or not the employee has more to offer the world in initiative, intelligence or skills. Bureaucratic structures that pigeon-hole employees with status profiles, also stifle customer service and working people like B live this political reality every single day. Where leaders of organisations are expected to initiate change, followers are expected to interpret them, and it is in this interpretation that the best of all intentions can break down. Employees, like B, are not so much expected to make changes, but to ride them out, warts and all, if they want to keep their income steady. So change is a skill denied to some employees until it is required, say during a performance appraisal, where the employee is encouraged to suggest what else they can offer the organisation, as if customer service was not enough.
There are millions of people in the world who need change and by this I mean monetary reward. There are millions of workers in the world who are over ruled by the change decisions of others. Workers who heavily rely on changing in accordance to their own decisions about how to surf the waves.
To gain access to monetary change, workers have to accept the imposition of change, again and again. It’s as simple and as complex as that. In this way, change is essentially about order. The monetary system is structured in accordance to the laws of economic rationalism.⁴ However, for most employees, economic rationalism simply means keeping a roof over their head and food on the table by paying the bills as they come in. When bills get bigger than the financial reward, the desire of the employee to be the best at changing might increase, or diminish, depending on what Professor Martin Seligman⁴ calls their explanatory style. The stress a pessimistic explanatory style can place on an employee, who fears unemployment, can translate an organisational re-structure into one filtrated with anxiety. The result of which could be an ignoring of who is truly giving the orders in any business, the customer. For without customers there would be no business. In a competitive market place, ignoring customer need equates to ignoring the financial reward needs of those investing in the business. Should the customer take their business elsewhere, the investment in time and effort does not get fed. If the investment does not get fed, the employee suffers. It’s an economic dependency that I think requires a re-think about changing as being all about the human side of customer service. It requires this because of the lives of people like B who are constantly on the front line. B absorbs orders from the back and orders from the front and B manages those orders in the best way B can. People like B use the best of their personalities and acquired professional knowledge, to solve human customer problems and provide revenue generation solutions for the employer. People like B are worth their weight in gold.
When an employer decides to make a change, it is people like B who turn the cogwheels and take the knocks. It is people like B who move the decision forward into the arena of changing and it is people like B who wear the mistakes of others with the fragility of their employment servitude and dependency. Organisational decisions are way beyond B’s control, but this does not stop B from adding influence. B knows that in business the true decision maker is the customer. If the customer decides to go elsewhere, no amount of environmental re-structuring is going to make a halfpenny of difference. The loss of parking worries B because if the customers leave, B may also be asked to leave and B's survival depends on the income. The customers listen to B. The customers ask for B and the customers rely on B to give them what they need to get their job done, so they will also get paid. B is an important cog in the wheel of fortune. B is also an important customer of the organisation because good customer service is about knowing your product and people like B have not only bought the products, but have used them and intimately know how they perform. Customer service people, like you and B are the thoroughbreds of all trading posts and your opinions deserve to be recognised. Zig Ziglar explains the customer service role this way,
“ Many years ago, I was selling a product I did not believe in. You guessed it, I did not sell it often. The product was dictation equipment. Since I didn't use dictation equipment for my correspondence, I didn't have a deep belief in the benefits of the product. Consequently, I did not sell it. However, once I began to use the equipment, I began to see the advantages it offered. It saved time and energy when I produced proposals and letters. I began to believe and I began to sell dictation equipment. You have to believe “ ~ Zig Ziglar
B has that belief. Without employees like you and B, there would be no one changing the business of the change decision makers. Even though B has no extrinsic decision-making powers, B’s personal decision to go with the flow, absorb and contribute to the changing landscape means that B can adapt, and a desire for adaptation in order to keep the flow, is the key to my friends resilience in employment.
It could be argued that adaptation is about modifying the environment as opposed to resisting it. This would mean that there is a certain amount of resistance in any adaptation process if the employee is to survive the onslaught of waves. In B’s case the resistance is called denial. Despite any change intelligence my friend may or may not have, the employment contract is about providing a service. This means that should the circumstances of that employment be changed, the process from change to changed rests in the hands of those who can process changing. Professor Howard Gardner helps us to think about any process of changing as containing multiple intelligences in accordance to personality preferences. What this simply means is that people learn best when they are able to learn in their own way. In this case, the learning curve is about acceptance of being denied a voice in A's decision about C (change) that impact upon B. In this way B is the orange light.
There are millions of employees throughout the world who have the changing capability. Anyone who can achieve schooling can succeed in the work place. We are all capable of changing and we are all capable of making change decisions. However not all of us has the prerogative of being the initiator of change and when it does happen the result can cause a lethargy instead of a moving forward, simply because the self – imposed change may be outside the comfort zone of employment conditioning.
My friends acceptance that the move was a ‘had to be done’ helped shift A's decision into C through another day another dollar customer service actions. So while B’s preference was to remain in the old place, B had the emotional intelligence to recognise a lack of decision-making control. B silently mourns the loss of space, toileting facilities and decent air-conditioning, but B also recognises the new place has benefits. B accepts change by modifying personal data for acceptance and this is an internal fight. Through modification of attitude, B is able to contribute to the learning curve through actions that will move B closer to identifying with the new wave. As B’s area of speciality is customer service, B applies customer service to the wave. In so doing, B is able to take control of the wave influencing customer service by going with the flow and offering his expertise to all of the customers involved.
B is a front line worker and line managements actioning of the leading humans decision to change the environment landed on B’s service lap. By replacing the change order into more customer service, B was able to accept defining change impacts as requiring more of the same. Serving the changing process allowed B to take control of the situation by focusing on what had to be done. So B “mucked in” and the new premises emerged with B as key contributor in the changing process. B’s determination to will adaptation with an eye on "more changes to come" helped B to drive a personal stake into the new mould.
B’s psychological traffic light on orange, means that B is prepared for the green to go and B is prepared for the red to stop. B is a customer service solider ready for the next order and until a sometime in the future when his working day arrives as changed, B will keep on changing using service as a powerful register.
© Chris Tyne, 2012