My purpose in writing to the company’s leadership is to reinforce a reality of which you are aware, and suggest certain changes in the company beneficial to all. The customer service department of which I am in charge, as you know, involves both the brick-and-mortar and online such services of our large retail business. This department has been highly successful, and I believe that awareness of why this is true may encourage a more effective and healthy corporate culture as a whole. To begin with, you should know that, from the start, I determined to manage customer service based on a Servant Leadership model. In basic terms, this is the approach focused on employee needs and concerns before any other consideration. Southwest Airlines founder and long-time CEO Herb Kelleher, in fact, virtually invented this approach, even as it reflects Greenleaf’s Servant Leadership theory. Initially, the airline faced immense challenges in an industry already struggling. Kelleher created a trajectory of success based on a remarkably simple principle largely disregarded by employees in all industries; namely, make the employee, and not the customer, the priority (Hyken, 2011, p. 60).
In my department, the formula produces both desired results and an environment employees enjoy. This then translates directly to the customers, and no matter the issues they bring to us. As I have discovered, emphasizing the employees completely translates to the best possible care for the customer. Our people invest in caring for customers, and correctly addressing their issues, because they are empowered to do this as choice, rather than an “order” from management. In dealing with both online operatives and in-house workers, I find that authentic interest in them never fails to motivate them to actually want to please the customers. I do not need to tell you how, in today’s competitive markets, customer loyalty and retention is more crucial than ever. To that end and based on the results I have witnessed, I urge the company to consider adopting management behaviors centered on the Servant Leadership principle of prioritizing the employee.
I can certainly offer evidence if the success of this culture apart from the positive customer feedback of which you are aware. On an another pragmatic level, for example, the department’s employee retention has significantly improved since the Servant Leadership culture became the norm. Employees now feel empowered to express issues negatively affecting or perceived by them, rather than remain silent and investigate other employment options. This empowerment also promotes another effect of the culture placing employees first, in that, in retail environments, workers are as obligated to serve one another as they are the customers. When management encourages open communication, mutual support, and an awareness of each employee’s being, it creates a positive atmosphere in which workers seek to “share” the respect they feel given to them by management (Dunne & Lusch, 2007, p. 475). Personally, I have encountered this positive shift in attitude in every facet of the department.
Even routine tasks such as creating reports and customer satisfaction surveys are done with greater care and commitment to quality because the workers are enabled to participate in howe these efforts are done. For example, several in-store worker, formerly only assigned to present customer complaints to other departments, helped develop better supply-chain processes simply because they were asked their opinions about the problems, and encouraged to offer improvements. Beyond any other quality, this specific departmental culture generates a self-perpetuating benefit. The more the employees consistently feel valued and appreciated, the more they value their peers and, crucially, the customers themselves. In customer service, the effects of this are seen constantly, but the same positive dynamic easily exists in any department, as well as an organizational culture in its entirety.
All of the above then leads to recommendations on effectively improving the organizational culture as a whole, and the first step lies in bringing management together and imparting the agenda. In this process, and in keeping with the leadership model itself, manager input is essential. At the same time, the company must not lose sight of the reality that shifting attention to employee needs is the most practical way of enhancing the both culture and the business. Within this “training” of management must also be a complete acceptance of diversity in hiring and job descriptions. In plain terms, the modern organization that fails to actively promote cultural diversity is the organization that cannot succeed, if only because the populations from which all workforces derive are increasingly diverse themselves (Driskill & Brenton, 2005, p. 132). Importantly, management will also come to realize that lessening restrictions and parameters in employee hiring, training, and managing, in terms of gender, ethnic, and other aspects of diversity, eases its own challenges because the more diverse workforce offers greater opportunities in employee creativity and engagement.
This element aside, however, the primary point is manager awareness, which must directly translate to how each department shares in the more open and employee-respectful culture. As the managers understand that the Servant Leadership approach will ease or eliminate known challenges, they will more embrace it themselves and contribute to the culture directly and indirectly. What must be emphasized is that this approach accomplishes what other cultures do not; namely, it logically depends on the reality that employees who feel themselves understood and esteemed invariably are motivated to perform better. The other effects of this, of course, is an organizational climate consistently pleasing, and consequently more attractive to newcomers and instrumental in retaining workers. All of the above then prompts this genuine suggestion that the company reconsider its culture, and take the relatively easy steps necessary to improve it.