Creating a Culture for Service


I recently walked into my local car dealership and was making my way over to the reception desk when I noticed that the receptionist was reading a book. I waited for a few minutes, inching closer to the desk with each passing second. She eventually looked up.

I could tell I was an inconvenience for her and the faster she helped me find what I was looking for, the faster she could get back to her sci-fi novel.

The funny thing is – I don’t blame her. Who wouldn’t want to pleasure read at work? I blame the culture of the company. The leadership, the manager, the other associates who permit this behaviour to take place. The receptionist obviously felt it was okay to read a novel during work hours and attend to customers when necessary. Dr. Henry Cloud says it best in his book, Boundaries For Leaders: “You get what you tolerate”.

Ask me what the most troubling character trait is in any business, especially a service-oriented one, and I’ll tell you straight out it’s an attitude of indifference. It happens when employees feel powerless, when there’s a lack of communication and understanding from the top, when people become critical, then cynical and, finally, indifferent. Once this happens, it can only be fixed by replacing leaders and employees who are unwilling to change. It’s a situation no one wants to be in because it’s upsetting, stressful and costly.

So how do you stop this from happening? How do you foster the right culture that drives performance? Get the behaviours right.

Articulate the values and behaviours that reinforce your unique value proposition.
For example, a core value at Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts is the golden rule: “Treat people the way you want to be treated”. The behaviours that ensure this happens include “Be the first to say hello” and “Be alert and ready to serve the customer needs first”. The key is to have stated core values and then define the behaviours for employees so they understand the expectations. These behaviours should lead to fulfilling your value proposition as a company.

Hire people that have the right attitude to carry out the desired behaviours.
It’s extremely hard to train people to have the right attitude and personality that are needed to fit the behaviours. If a positive attitude is required, make sure you hire people that already have this and have demonstrated this in their past. You can train people to do tasks but behaviours are how they perform those tasks. Make sure you have a system, interview questions or methods for determining attitude.

Reinforce the values and behaviours all the time.
Yes, all the time. Reinforce them in every team meeting. Talk about them. Get people to memorize the core values. Ask one person each day how they carried out a certain value or behaviour today. Provide every employee with a card with the values written out. Repetition sinks it into memory and this leads to positive habitual behaviour.

Measure and reward people for carrying out the values.
This is critical. Peter Drucker is famous for his line that states “what gets measured gets managed”. Are fulfilling the core values part of the performance reviews and incentives for all employees? If not, they need to be. They also need to be clear. This is why honesty has never been a core value for me. It’s a given standard in life. Values must be behaviours such as “on-time delivery” and the measure is “how many projects were delivered on time?” When there’s a scorecard and an opportunity to win something of value, people are more willing to make changes that reinforce the right behaviours.

Fostering the right culture is hard work and it takes a lot of time to get it right. However, the payoff is massive for owners, leaders and employees alike – especially in a service-oriented business. At the same time, it’s a journey to be enjoyed and worked at because it speaks to how much you care about your customers and your employees.

Happy culture-building!