Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Building a sense of ownership and responsibility into business operations and processes, and into core business culture

Posted in strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on December 26, 2010

I like to post to this blog to share positive stories and the lessons they can convey as far as good practices are concerned. As I have said in other postings, however, it is the negative experiences that can convey the most lasting and enlightening lessons. This applies to management and learning how to supervise and lead. It also applies to business processes and business models, and in developing them to work together.

If I were to start this posting with a bottom-line message it would be that good business practice always seeks to develop and promote a sense of ownership in its employee and for all of them, regardless of their title, area of responsibility or position on the table of organization. Effective businesses instill a sense of community and involvement and a strong pride of ownership and responsibility. Employees in these businesses pick up on problems when they spot them and certainly when they impact on their customers. And business processes and practices are developed so as to facilitate that.

Without naming the business, I will simply state that my wife and I have an account with a large business for cable TV service. One of their field technicians came to correct a problem that our next door neighbor was having and in taking care of that, they accidently cut off our service as well. I told this company representative what had happened, he took a quick look and said our cable box was now “fried” and he then left. In principle at least, he could have called his supervisor to tell them what had happened and ask if he could take the time to address this problem too – even if it was not on his current work ticket. But it is likely that business policy and processes would not allow that and even for circumstances like this, and his attitude made clear he would not so that anyway. And I spent over an hour on the phone before I could get an appointment scheduled to get my service restored. This company, unfortunately, has a local monopoly on providing cable service – a situation that virtually never serves in the interest of the consumer. But that is a somewhat separate issue. The more important one here is that this business needs that monopoly to remain competitive, given its organizational and customer service failures and disconnects.

Think of this posting as a discussion of a complex puzzle.

• You want your employees to be actively responsive to the needs of your customers and potential customers, and to be willing to take that extra step to meet customer needs and concerns.
• But this cannot happen if the rules and processes they have to follow in the course of their work performance do not allow for or permit it. Otherwise good employees get penalized for seeking to do the right thing for their customers.
• Effective rules and processes have to actually be followed, and without corner cutting. Employees have to see and believe the value in good customer service and follow through and avail themselves of the opportunity to do things right where rules and procedures, and the pressures of their schedules permit.
• This all needs to be instilled in the corporate culture to be sustainable long term.

Competition for the consumer is the principle source of incentive for a business to do this right. Monopoly takes away any incentive to meet customer needs beyond the bare, minimally endurable lowest possible level.

A good business needs to plan and act as if their competition were breathing down their necks and waiting to capture their market share – even if they are working in a blue ocean strategy marketplace and (at least currently) operating without any significant competition.

Building customer service from a sense of ownership and pride of ownership can be the source of unique value in your unique value proposition. When you are offering products and services in a mature market this may be the only real way to offer a truly unique value proposition – but if you do this with a distinctive and unique level of effectiveness that can be quite enough to bring you to a market leadership position.

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