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Are People Problems Really the Issue?

By Jeff Mowatt |

I've discovered an interesting phenomenon when organizations bring me in to help 'motivate their people.' They may be suffering from customer complaints, staff turnover, or a lack of teamwork. At first glance, these appear to be front line people problems. What we frequently find however is that most problems involving attitudes and teamwork are actually just symptoms of flawed infrastructures. Let's see if this could be true in your organization.

Check-off any of these people problems occurring in your organization:

Employees are not getting along with each other. Individually, each person appears to be hard working and capable enough, but when working together their personalities clash.
Conflicts exist between departments. One group blames another for foul-ups. They are unwilling to share information, key people, or resources.
Employee turnover is an ongoing challenge.
Employee theft is an ongoing challenge.
People are complaining about certain employee behaviors.
Your team's service has been good, but you are having difficulty taking their service to the next level.

If your organization has none of the preceding issues, then either a) you are already your industry's Service Iconâ„¢ or b) you have so few employees that no changes are needed (providing you plan on staying small). If however, you have circled one or more of the preceding scenarios, then you know you have a problem. The question is what's the real problem? Frequently, managers conclude that they have a personnel problem. What often lies beneath this tip-of-the-iceberg, however, is a flawed infrastructure. These underlying systems not only affect morale but also impact productivity, customer satisfaction, and profits.

To see if your infrastructure may be causing the people problems, score your organization with a 0, 1, or 2 as follows:
0 = That's exactly what's happening in our organization.
1 = We are not as bad-off as that, but there is room for improvement.
2 = Statement does not apply to us. We have formal systems and processes that have addressed this issue.

____Customer service training consists of a job orientation, then learn as you go.
____Either no corporate mission statement exists, or there is one but no one refers to it or uses it in a meaningful way.
____You either have no written service standards or you do have service standards but they are all focused on speed and fast turnaround times.
____Employee and customer feedback goes to managers, but there is no formal system for converting feedback into product & service improvements.
____There is no formal employee recognition system.
____When it comes to developing employee skills, managers do more correcting and reacting than proactive coaching.
____Training events and team-building events appear to improve productivity and morale momentarily, but eventually people revert back to the old ways interacting with each other.
____Your Score (Maximum is 14)

What your Score Means
12 - 14Congratulations! You have the systems in place to become your industry's Service Icon.â„¢
8 - 11There is room for improvement with your infrastructure.
0 - 7Your organization is vulnerable to employees and customers leaving. Time to focus on your infrastructure.

The bad news
If you scored less than 12, chances are that your people issues are actually just symptoms of deeper problems with your infrastructure. By infrastructure I'm referring to your formal systems for customer service training, service standards, customer feedback & implementation, and employee recognition. You can waste a lot of energy trying to fix the people problems, but unless you fix the underlying infrastructure, you are just painting over rust - the problems keep resurfacing.

The good news
Most managers think that fixing their infrastructure takes a huge amount of time and resources. That's a myth. Working with dozens of organizations over the years, we've found the solutions to be surprisingly easy. We developed a process for making slight adjustments to the organization's existing practices that creates substantial results. One client for example, a government crown corporation, found that within 6 months of making the adjustments … “employee morale improved significantly… employee productivity improved by 34% …and public complaints decreased fourfold” The bonus is the process can be conducted in-house by your own staff in just 90 minutes a month. So much for the idea that this requires an onerous commitment of time and resources!

Bottom line
If you are suffering from people problems make sure you're not expending time, money, and management focus treating the symptoms of instead of addressing the underlying cause.

This article is based on the critically acclaimed book, Becoming a Service Icon in 90 Minutes a Month by business strategist, consultant, and international speaker Jeff Mowatt. To obtain your own copy of his book or to inquire about engaging Jeff for your team, visit or call 1-800-JMowatt (566-9288).

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