Someone recently asked me, “Why don’t you write blog posts about positive things?” I was surprised at first (and probably a bit defensive) as I think my posts are positive – after all, I don’t just go about kidney-punching management practices that irritate me; there’s always a moral to the story, as well as a wonderful alternative from the world of systems thinking.
Nevertheless, after I stopped sulking I decided that perhaps they were right and therefore resolved to write a ‘positive’ post in the rare event that I ever encountered anything that momentarily lifted me from my permanently grumpy state.
Today was that day!
This evening I went to a well-known pizza place for dinner. Upon arrival, it was busy and there was no one at the ‘please wait here to be seated’ lecturn. A staff member who was striding purposefully in one direction noticed my party waiting and did a quick about-turn to come and speak to us. That was pleasing, as he was clearly in the middle of something else. Positive start.
Next, he offered us a choice of tables, but the table we wanted needed clearing and wiping down first. He did it himself on the spot, then brought cutlery and napkins. Only then did I notice he was the manager. I was impressed he hadn’t simply ordered one of his underlings to do these menial tasks for him. Another positive point.
Ordering the food was a doddle too. Remember the pain of trying to order non-standard food items in my post ‘Cream or Ice Cream’? No such thing here! Being a cheese hater in a pizza place you half expect to be regarded as some sort of freak, but ordering my extra hot pizza (with extra chillies of course) and – wait for it – NO CHEESE – did not fall immediately into the ‘too difficult’ bracket. Others in my party also ordered non-standard permutations of menu items without any problem whatsoever. (“Can I have extra X, no Y, some Z instead of H?” And so on). Wow! That’s positive.
I could go on. The service was fast. The food was good. The waiters and waitresses were alert. The staff clearly worked as a team. The atmosphere was good. The prices were very fair. All positive stuff.
When I went to pay the bill I couldn’t stop myself commenting to the waitress about what a great setup they had there. She told me she had recently moved from another branch of the same restaurant where waiting staff had specified areas to wait upon and as a result, there was a lot of unhealthy competition and a reluctance to help each other out. Not positive.
So, where is this happy story going? Well, the reason it was such a positive experience is because this branch have got so many elements of a pro-systems operating model right:
- Staff work across functional boundaries and are therefore not trapped in dreaded ‘silos’. (e.g. ‘I only work on the till, but don’t serve food’ / ‘I only take food orders, but don’t greet customers’ / ‘I only serve food, but don’t clean tables’ etc) Especially impressive is the fact that the manager performs all of these functions as well. This creates a multifunctional team who are more responsive to variation and demand. There is no division of labour. The result is a quicker and more effective service to the customer. Positive.
- Staff work across ‘geographic’ boundaries, i.e. waiters and waitresses are not restricted by being made to work in just ‘the purple zone’ or ‘the green zone’ of seated areas. They can cross these invisible boundaries and help each other out. It works better like that. Again, it means that variation, such as that which occurs due to peaks and troughs of table service requirements can be handled more effectively. Positive.
- Waste is reduced by this adaptive approach to handling incoming demand as, for example, someone posted only to the ‘please wait here to be seated’ lecturn would be unproductive if no one was waiting to be seated. Meanwhile, his or her colleagues might be run off their feet taking orders and delivering food to tables. Under the multifunctional model, everyone can chip in. Positive.
- Staff are trusted to make decisions when faced with requests for non-standard food items. (“No cheese, please!”) This results in happy customers, no unnecessary bureaucracy (“I’ll have to ask the manager if that’s okay”), and let’s face it, no hassle for kitchen staff. The fact that the manager is prepared to undertake the same work as everyone else when necessary further suggests that the organisational structure is not unduly hierarchical. It also helps imbue a healthy culture where respect is earnt and not imposed. (Would you believe I know managers who have been criticised for mucking in with their staff?) Positive, but not the bit in brackets, obviously.
- There is a clearly defined purpose to all the activity that goes on in this pizza place; this appears to be absolutely understood by staff. It focuses them on doing the right thing – they help each other out and are unafraid to use their initiative in order to ensure that the customer receives a good service. Deming told us that “A system must have an aim”. The overall aim of this system (i.e. its purpose) could probably be articulated by a statement along the lines of, “To please the customer”.
They did, and that was positive.
A great blog and some police teams could learn a lot from this. I say some, because lots are already doing this, where they feel empowered to do so. Good leaders are the ones who can make this happen in the service! Interestingly, I was in one of our custody offices once when a female detainee required searching and staff were about to call up for a female officer to come in. I told them that I would do it, and the staff were mortified that the Ch Supt was going to search someone! I don’t think they thought I was incapable, they just didn’t feel it was something that a Ch Supt should be doing. I put them right (on both counts!)
The downfall of organisations, whether public or private sector, is the direction of their “focus”. All too many fall into the internally biased trap of “this is the way we do it here”, blind to the external preferences of the public. Organisations that fail to address their focus outward to the customer as opposed in how wonderful their internal process operates are ultimately destined to fail or be broken up.
This restaurant is customer (externally) focused and exceeds most customer expectations of service.
The challenge is delivering that level of external focus and success in larger organisations that have the habit of becoming inherently internally biased, losing sight of the customer. Hierarchies are created and over time, leaders lose sight of the importance of focus. Bureaucracy in systems, performance tagetting driven by financial inventives take precedence and before you know it, it’s more a case of “Stuff the customer” it’s results that count at any cost. As we have seen, in both the public and private sectors, this is a detsructive strategy in so many ways.
As a retired officer, now engaged in my own customer focused business, we overlook this at our peril. We can develop the best background systems in the world, but if they are geared more toward internal “efficiencies” rather than customer satisfaction (I prefer customer delight), we would be on the path to oblivion.
The police service faces the most challenging times since its formation. Delivering optimum service in the face of swingeing cuts depends on a huge culture shift toward public priorities. Find out what they really want and give it to them, exceed all expectations and public confidence will return. Unfortunately, those at the top have lost sight of this, misdirecting manpower to areas that deliver numerical results. Do the public care if detection rates are 28% and overall crime has fallen? (however perniiously manipulated). Do they care if it’s a West Mids or Staffs cap badge or if the officer has scrambled egg decorations on their epaulettes and headgear? Unlikely. All they want to know is that when needed, the police will deliver what is expected of them.
If there is an obvious area of concern about skip-the-ranks entry schemes, it is that the basics of policing will be forgotten (or worse, never even learnt) by the entrant. Protection of life and property, prevention and GENUINE detection of SIGNIFICANT crime. Ask front line police officers what they would rather be doing and it’s a fair bet it would fit this criteria, which pleasingly delivers what the public want most. As the restaurant staff and customers have experienced above, back to basics really does work.
Great relevant article Gaffer.
Retired West Mids
Brilliant example of how to do things well. Making the experience a pleasure for you has multiple advantages: you are likely to return and buy more meals there (more sales); a happy experience may encourage you to splash out on extras (more sales); it appears to be a more efficient system (lower costs); it appears more enjoyable for the staff to work in (less turnover, lower overheads).
It would be interesting to know whether this manager is being supported by the company in this approach. A future visit will be required!
As you highlight, the learning is:
– clear common purpose (serve the customer, make the customer happy). NB: this is different to ‘customer focussed’ or other such phrases – that tends to lead to stilted initiatives such as targets for customers not to wait more than X mins to be seated, always offer drinks first, ask if they want to ‘go large with that’, etc etc (usually all the product of extensive customer research and focus groups)
– the permission to use discretion (because I know what I’m trying to achieve – rather than just being told to follow a check-list, or else!)
– multi-skilled teams/staff (or teams/staff with a wider range of skills), not constrained within administrative silos that hinder good service.
The custody example from Barrackslass shines a light on similar issues in policing.
There are other interpretations.
Staff work across functional boundaries…
This implies that all staff are all equally competent, and hence are all trained to the same level and training costs. If they seldom or never use those skill then the training was wasted.
Staff work across ‘geographic’ boundaries …
If staff can pick and choose which bits they cover, who ensures that the unpopular parts are equally covered?
Waste is reduced by this adaptive approach…
If a customer walks in and nobody is there to greet them, and tell them a table will be free in 10 minutes, and they could wait at the bar, they will just walk away. A customer lost, you have to balance resources and because there are no crystal balls it might seem perverse, but you can only act on the info available at the time.
Staff are trusted to make decisions …
If staff let you swap the tomato on your Margarita for Swan braised in unicorn tears you won’t be in business long. Back to training again or a massive menu cover every conceivable option. And what if a customers request is unreasonable/impossible?
There is a clearly defined purpose …
That is to convince people that what is effectively “Cheese on Toast” with a few bits sprinkled on is worth a tenner! When the component parts + fuel add up to £2.
I don’t mean to be rude, but what is peddled as ‘system thinking’ is neither systematic, nor thinking. It is old ideas that have been rolled it glitter, and sold to a new generation.
I want to end positive, because despite sounding grumpy, I’m not I’ve just seen these ideas sold by consultants to the unwary before…
If you have a few spare, pinch out the growing tip when about 6” high. They should produce side shoots, and if you over winter them you can have a chilli bush, looks more impressive, better yield and an popular but inexpensive gift.
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