‘Treat a colleague badly, and within two weeks they will treat a customer badly.' Tony DeNunzio, CEO of Asda, understands the business significance of making principles live. Leave the good intention to care for colleagues mouldering in your desk drawer and you are storing up a poor customer service record. Bring it into everyday life, and loyalty, service and commitment begin to shine through.
At Asda, leaders see their job as serving colleagues, ensuring that they receive the same level of care as customers. For example, they work to the ‘sundown rule': any issues that come to Asda House from the stores are sorted by the end of the day - and there is a ‘sundown sheriff ' to measure and ensure that this is happening. No waiting weeks or even months to hear back from those magical people at the top of the tree who are too busy to take the time on a ‘minor' problem.
Imagine how this impacts on managers and colleagues working at the sharp end with supplier problems or tricky customers, striving to do their best job. Knowing the leaders at head office are available when they need them makes a major difference. They are definitely not alone, it is a team effort at Asda - but they are not unusual. This theme is common in great companies: they do what they say they will do, and are measured on it to ensure that it is not just rhetoric.
I can hear the cry already: ‘I just don't have time to do that. It's easier for them.'
This is where principles come in - by helping you decide priorities. I do not for a moment suggest this is easy - in fact, I know it definitely is not. But that does not mean it is not the right thing to do.
Despite all the rationalisations that will come to mind, consider the following questions:
Think of a specific time when you had a request for action/advice that you put to one side.
What was the impact of your non-action? Did you hold up the work? How much time was spent in trying to get hold of your answer?
What was the impact on the customer sitting at the end of the chain?
I suspect you had a profound effect on a number of people. The ‘sundown rule' builds trust, raises standards throughout the company and provides excellent service for the customer. If you want this in your company:
Go through the issues on your desk, including requests for action.
Using the time management ‘Important' and ‘Urgent' boxes (see Table 1), allocate each issue to one box. Be mindful of your principles as you do this. You will be tempted to put most things in the Important/Urgent box - do not give in to that temptation. Restrict yourself to a maximum of 25 per cent!
This will form the basis of your actions today. Your first action will be to inform those low on the priority list that you will not respond quickly, to suggest a better person to speak to, or to say when you will get back to them.
You will have to deal with those that are Urgent and Important at this point. In the longer term, your aim is to work from the Important/Not Urgent box. This provides maximum support for those who await your outputs and takes much of the stress out of the working day, thereby ensuring that you can do your best work.
If you have so much that you cannot work your way out of the Important/Urgent box - speak to your manager about support and/or look to what you can delegate.
Table 1: Time Management: Important/Urgent Tasks
This is where you are aiming to work in the long term. If you are effective, the number of urgent issues will be significantly reduced.
You will want to put everything into this box. Restrict yourself to 25% and work at reducing it further. Some emergencies will always crop up.
If something is not important to the business, why are you doing it? Consider if it needs doing at all, and if it does, whether you are the right person to be doing it.
Watch out for these tasks. Although they are easy to do and to cross off your list, they take time and have little impact on the business.
Many companies have principles about being respectful of people, chosen and acted on with great effort and care. The facility to speak to senior leaders is one way of honouring this and it makes good business sense. Keeping everyone in the loop, top down and bottom up, ensures that nothing gets lost.
Some companies have ‘skip-level meetings', in which senior leaders meet colleagues from two to three layers down to find out what life is like in their part of the business. This can be done over lunch or a coffee, in general discussion or a question-and-answer session. Others spend time going back to the floor regularly, on the basis that working alongside someone makes conversation easier. E-mail is another way to reach the senior leaders with ideas, as long as the leaders involved are good at handling their e-mail.
Any idea is only as effective as those taking part. To listen and not act will always cost in terms of trust. I recall well the disillusionment of one woman who sent a suggestion to the CEO by e-mail. After six months she re-sent it, only to be ignored again. How does that feel? These leaders say they want to hear from people, but their behaviour belies the fine words. Those moments are defining of future attachment- every let-down costs a little more heart, until the person leaves or settles for doing a ‘good enough' job, saving their excitement and enthusiasm for elsewhere in their lives - and this has a direct impact on the bottom line.