Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Products Do Not Compete - Cultures Do

“Excuse me, do you mind if I ask you a question?” were the words I heard from a young lady I know by sight from our joint 11 am morning coffee habit.

“Of course,” was my answer noting an appearance of concern across her brow.

With a piece of paper, she covered most of another page and asked me if I could read out the number on the right side at the bottom of the page, which I did.

She asked me to repeat the number and I obliged. She then asked me to confirm the second last numeral of the nine-number sequence and I answered “5”.

She asked if I thought it could be anything else and I looked again and confirmed, it could only be a 5.

Naturally my curiosity was pricked and I asked her what the problem is.

She explained they had a client who was due a refund and had provided an account number for the payment to be processed to, however it was credited to the wrong account and the client has complained.

The reason for the wrong account being credited was the second last number in the sequence she asked me to read out being entered as a 6.

She was aware from other dealings her company had had with this client that a number of things had gone wrong over recent months and he was inclined to be volatile. She also knew the client was aware payment had been made to the wrong account.

She went on to say her supervisor had instructed her to call the client and explain he had provided incorrect account number details, the fault wasn’t with them and while they would attempt to recover the funds, they are not responsible.

She said there was not a single person apart from her supervisor who believed the number in question was anything but clear and she didn’t know what to do.

I made a few suggestions and she was most grateful and I subsequently learned it went quite well.

But it got me thinking about the insecurities of her supervisor who did not want to admit an error and set a relatively junior member of staff a task that could only result in further escalation of the issue, not to mention exposing her to a known volatile client.

Sure, the supervisor may be under pressure from their Manager to make it go away and is simply pushing it down the line, but that is no excuse. You need to own the action you are taking or asking another to take.

I wondered about the culture within such an organisation where errors cannot be admitted, owned up to and addressed. It suggests an environment of fear where staff and Management have no pride or belief in what they do.

I won’t mention the organisation by name except to say it is not exactly a household brand or a large player in its broader industry.

The business does however operate in an increasingly competitive market place and I will watch its progress with interest over the coming years. If the situation I became aware of today is representative of the overall company culture, I doubt its long-term success.

It also emphasises the importance of “Culture”. In reality, products don’t complete with other products in the Market Place. The true competition is the Culture of one organisation versus that of a competitor that determines long term, sustainable business success.

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