I quickly realized I wasn’t interested in doing what would traditionally be done by someone in my position, which would be to write about topical business subjects, customer service, safety, performance metrics, quality goals, etc. So I decided to write about something I believe is the foundation of achieving success with customers, or any of the aforementioned topics; Openness in Business.
The concept of openness at work may be foreign to many of us, let alone openness with a customer! It may be difficult to imagine what it would be like to work in an environment of openness and accountability; where blaming, shaming and “CYA” is virtually non-existent.
The reality in most organizations is that I am not focusing on getting the work done when I am busy defending myself. I am defensive when I am in an environment that unknowingly, or sometimes knowingly, foster a low level of trust. If I don’t trust people I don’t feel safe. I am worried about what others are thinking and saying about me and afraid to ask. Worst of all, I am usually unaware that any of this is happening! It has become one of the business culture’s unspoken Standard Operating Procedures.
There is a very tangible “cost of defensiveness” in business; among other things it results in less than optimal decisions, substandard products, poor safety performance, bad customer service, poor morale, higher stress levels and dare I say higher costs.
How can true customer value be delivered under these “normal” circumstances?
I believe that most people want to work as effectively as possible. When my team is comprised of open and accountable members, then I feel safe and I trust the people on my team. Instead of wasting valuable time trying to protect myself, I have the energy to focus on getting the work done. People become more willing to give of their “discretionary” energy. I am not referring to putting in more time, but putting in more valuable time.
A high level of trust results from each of us being open and accountable - with each other and with ourselves. Most of us are not very open and we rationalize being that way. We don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings, we are afraid it will result in retaliation, or we don’t think people can handle the truth. The fact of the matter is that everyone already knows what I’m not saying to him or her. Even if we’re wrong, we think we know. We all make up stories about what someone is or isn’t saying to us.
When we don’t trust each other, our work is more far difficult than it needs to be. Instead of working on work, we spend much of the day “working” on each other or avoiding each other, which is extremely common.
While we cannot work on trust directly, it is an outcome of being more open and accountable. Can you imagine what you could deliver in terms of customer value if everyone were just 50% less defensive? How is that for a competitive advantage!
As each person in our organization becomes more self-aware, open and accountable we’ll move closer towards providing greater value to our customers, and equally as important, the overall quality of our life increases.