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Jonathan Kettleborough

Corollis Limited

Managing Director

Read more from Jonathan Kettleborough

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The power and value of execution pt3


In the third article of this series, Jonathan Kettleborough continues his look at the key ingredients for ensuring flawless execution within a successful L&D department.

In the first two articles I looked at the three key issues that L&D professionals need to focus on to ensure they execute flawlessly. These were:

  • always deliver to meet expectations,
  • make sure the front line is really empowered, and
  • work tirelessly to improve productivity and eliminate excess waste.

I’ve already talked about the importance of always delivering to meet expectations and in this article I’ll be looking at ensuring that your front line is really empowered.

Make sure the front line is really empowered

I always like to think of the front line as being ‘any place where you interface with the customer’. This could include:

  • a trainer delivering courses to an internal or external audience
  • coaching or mentoring colleagues or clients
  • recruiting a new member of your team or a customer’s team
  • providing professional advice
  • giving a presentation and so on.

Businesses have long recognised that the point at which a customer interacts with the business is critical to success and that empowering people to deal with situations is a sure-fire way to support flawless execution. I’m sure you’ve been in a situation where you’re faced with someone who, knowing that the information they’re holding in their hands is wrong, looks at you and says, “Sorry, there’s nothing I can do about this.” Empowerment? Hardly! Compare this with two other companies that are world famous for their empowerment and execution - Nordstrom and Amazon.

Nordstrom is a US retailer famous for its employee handbook. For many years employees were given a single 5” x 8” grey card containing just 75 words. It’s such a landmark that it’s worth reproducing here.

Welcome to Nordstrom - We’re glad to have you with our company. Our number one goal is to provide outstanding customer service. Set both your personal and professional goals high. We have great confidence in your ability to achieve them.

Nordstrom Rules:

Rule #1: Use best judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules.

Please feel free to ask your department manager, store manager, or division general manager any question at any time.

OK, things have changed and Nordstrom now provides a whole booklet of additional information, much of it legal, but I’m sure you get the picture. The experience at Nordstrom is legendary because the business is incredibly passionate about ensuring that employees are empowered to deal with any issues in the manner they see fit. It’s a really tough thing to do, to let an employee make decisions, but it’s absolutely essential to achieving flawless execution. Each time a decision has to be passed up the management chain it causes delays, costs money and wastes resources.

And now to Amazon, which states that it wants to be 'the best customer service company in the world'.  As Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos says:

“If there’s one reason we have done better than any of our peers in the Internet space over the last six years, it is because we have focused like a laser on customer experience, and that really does matter, I think, in any business. It certainly matters online, where word of mouth is so very, very powerful.”

Amazon’s customer service has been built up over the years despite being a relatively new company (it only went live in 1995). Their introduction of the Kindle has only increased that status as people around the globe echo the great service they receive. Let me add one other.

I do a reasonable amount of writing these days and I adopt the rather old-fashioned approach of writing everything by hand in Moleskine notebooks – expensive perhaps – but it’s one of the few notebooks that doesn’t fall apart, will take ink without bleeding through the pages and can also survive some pretty rough treatment. I urgently needed some new Moleskines together with some other supplies and turned, as always, to Amazon. I asked for the delivery to be sent to my mother’s house as I was staying there for a few days. For the first time ever, the package didn’t arrive. I checked the delivery tracking information and I could see that the carrier was clearly stating that it had delivered my goods two days ago. I decided to contact Amazon to see what was going on, and here’s where the magic began.

Firstly, there was an option for them to call me. They did this immediately.

The person who called me was sympathetic and checked with the delivery company right then and there. Because they couldn’t get a satisfactory answer they said they had already shipped my order again, for free, and that they would sort out the original order with the courier.

As a customer I was dealt with courteously, my issue was resolved without my having to repeat myself a number of times over and Amazon made sure that I had my journals the very next working day. The person on the phone was totally empowered to solve my issue and this they did with consummate expertise - and boy did it show. The front line was empowered and Amazon executed flawlessly.

The challenge this story raises - and which I place on you - is that as L&D professionals can you honestly say that your front line staff are really empowered to deal with issues in the way they are at Nordstrom and Amazon?

I mean really empowered? Or are they just rule-followers who constantly have to refer issues to middle managers when something goes wrong?

Jonathan Kettleborough has over 25 years’ experience in the learning and development profession. He has held senior positions and worked with clients in the nuclear, retail, financial services, stockbroking, business and technology services, telecommunications, government and integrated learning. Jonathan can be contacted via email, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Jonathan’s new book, Seeing Eye to Eye is available via Amazon and a number of other major online booksellers in hardback, softback and all major electronic formats

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Jonathan Kettleborough

Managing Director

Read more from Jonathan Kettleborough

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