Satisfying internal customers means every employee must be constantly aware that customer service is everyone’s business in IT. That constant awareness generates genuine teamwork among all departments in the IT organization: Operations, Projects Department, Support Groups, IT Infrastructure, Business Applications, Process Management, etc. This challenge emphasizes the importance of internal customer service as an IT organizational accountability. Excellent customer service doesn’t just happen because IT teams and individuals want it to, it has to mandated by IT leaders into a service model that includes specific responsibilities to perform and a standard service level to achieve.
Revisiting your IT value proposition periodically is an important exercise for IT managers. This will help you understand the tangible and intangible elements that define and differentiate your services portfolio. For internal customers, the IT Value Proposition is the collection of services they receive upon investing in IT capabilities and services. We have to understand that it includes more than just the core IT services (like equipments, applications, and infrastructure), and even more than just good quality— it also involves the softer elements that differentiate the total service offering such as: responsiveness, innovation, collaboration and commitment.
These are two perspectives representing the two words of the terminology “Value Proposition” — “Value” and “Proposition” – broken down into:
- Value (Internal Customer’s Perspective) = The benefits received by the business upon investment on IT capabilities and services.
- Proposition (IT’s Perspective as Service Provider) = The total offering to the business in exchange for their investment.
Defining your IT value proposition is the first step to clearly identify how your IT services portfolio are different and better than your competitors. If you run an IT organization that is purely composed of internal employees and do not think you don’t have competitors, you are wrong. There are many 3rd party IT services providers out there who can offer the same type of service that you have. Some, I could tell you, may even offer the same level of service at a better cost than you. Outsourcing companies that provide IT services have increased and matured over the years. Advancements in technology and development of new operating paradigms have made them more accessible and acceptable. They are your competitors and they are out to get your job. If you can’t define some unique feature or benefit that makes you stand out, your internal customers may default to the other option – lower cost. And believe me, you don’t want to be forced to play the low cost game — even when you win, you lose.
Photo courtesy of Pakorn.
Strengthening IT Accountability – Lack of Accountability, a Symptom of Lack of Organizational Clarity
A very insightful comment in my blog from a well respected IT management consultant, Vaughan Merlyn, motivated me to write this follow up article. IT Accountability is an interesting topic and there is a lot to uncover and delve into. In Part One, I wrote about accountability as something that does not only happen when things go wrong — it is taking ownership from the beginning. It is continuous rather than something that has an end point. There are three important areas where IT accountability comes into play: (1) IT Accountability in Operative Teams; (2) IT Accountability Cost Management; and (3) IT Accountability to improve service delivery. These are just three of the many facets of IT organizations where accountability is an important driver for success. They are meant to illustrate the meaning of IT accountability and to provide examples.
Part Two aims to tackle the challenges on how to deal with the problem of lack of IT accountability. According to Mr. Merlyn, lack of accountability is a symptom of a lack of organizational clarity. I agree withVaughan. The main reason why IT leaders fail to address the accountability issue is a lack of clarity on what the team is accountable for in the first place. Accountability matters as much as any other IT capabilities. The key to directing individuals and teams towards success is to clarify the organizational purpose up front. The organizational purpose is a declaration of what the organization wants to be and, in broader terms, what it wants to achieve. It provides meaning to the day-to-day tasks, triumphs and setbacks that make up the daily operative grind. A lack of purpose will create disconnection among the different levels of the IT organization. Teams and individuals will not know why their effort matters. They cannot connect their work to a larger story. Their work becomes a matter of going through the motions. When that happens, team members lose accountability.
The following statement is Vaughan Merlyn’s assertion on this subject:
“If organizational purpose is not clear (i.e., the goals, values desired business outcomes and guiding principles for a given capability are defined and well understood?) then organizational commitment (i.e., sponsorship and accountabilities) will be lacking or confused. With weak organizational commitment, ability (i.e., clear processes, well-defined roles, competent resources filling those roles, appropriate tools and technologies supporting the processes) will be deficient. And with deficient ability, there is virtually no way accountability (i.e., criteria for success and related performance requirements) can be meaningful.”
Root Cause: Lack of Organizational Clarity
When there is a lack of organizational clarity, it will be harder for IT managers to inspire people because they don’t have a clear direction, performance measures and objectives to follow and to communicate to their teams. This disconnect will open the door for individual managers to interpret directions, formulate objectives and determine their own priorities. On the other hand, for IT team members, it will lead to inconsistent performance of day-to-day operations that will cause low morale and productivity. It will be impossible to expect accountability from team members who may ask themselves the question—“How do we know if we are doing a good job? How do we know if we are fulfilling our obligations to the team and we are achieving results for the company?” Without organizational clarity, chances are you will have a lack of accountability from your people.
Creating the culture of accountabilty starts with the IT leaders – to me this process is always top-down. They define the IT strategy and vision based on the desired results and business strategy of the company (IT to Business Alignment). The desired objective of IT or the entire company could be to: become the easiest to conduct business with, be the most innovative organization in the industry, have technological excellence, increase profitability, or create the best sales and distribution network. IT leaders must clearly understand the business strategy of the firm which it provides services to. They must also work to provide the right IT strategy, platform, experiences and actions to achieve these results. The role of IT leaders is to communicate this organizational purpose clearly to the whole team. It requires persistent effort and a clear message to get the right commitment. By doing this, they can be certain that their subordinates know or are reminded what they are accountable for. This is where IT leaders make all the difference. Leadership is about reminding people what it is that we are trying to achieve—and why it matters.
Photos courtesy of Renjith Krishnan and Sheelamohan
in collaboration with Ira Fialkow and Ivy Remoreras
|” You can have as many mentors as you need – people that excel in different disciplines and that exemplify different values. In my career, I’ve learned that mentoring is a process of engagement and inspiration, in as much as it’s a process of learning from someone. Truly successful people raise others up. They don’t feel threatened. Instead, they find reward in seeing others succeed. “|
Is there a secret formula for success in business – and in your career? Probably not. But I believe it makes sense to learn from the people I respect and who have been successful themselves.
Case in point: Ira Fialkow was the Executive Vice President for Shared Services at CEMEX, until recently. His career spans 25 years and he is a highly respected leader in his field. I consider myself fortunate in having had the opportunity to work in his organization. Our collaboration continues, even today. I continue to learn from Ira, and he says he continues to learn from me! I believe that people thrive best, and succeed, when they have the opportunity to develop under the tutelage of those who precede them.
This series marks the culmination of 25 business lessons documented and developed by Ira over the past 25 years of his career. They were learned the hard way: through experience. Ira used to distribute these lessons to the team every year. The lessons changed slightly, over time, as new ideas emerged and new learnings were incorporated. In this series of 25 short articles, I will endeavor to share the 25 business lessons that I’ve learned from Ira and our shared services team.
The series is split across five sections.
- Section 1 is about continuous self-improvement. In any endeavor, change begins with oneself. You cannot create a successful organization, nor be successful yourself, without the drive to do better and be better.
- Section 2 is about creating a better work environment, and leads on from Section 1: Improving oneself means improving one’s professional atmosphere; no real change can be achieved without this.
- Section 3 is about customer service: Every business unit has a customer, whether internal or external. And just because you don’t have direct dealings with the company’s external customers doesn’t mean you don’t have customers of your own. If you work for the payroll department of a large fast-food company, your customers are the employees in the payroll, and you need to know how to provide good customer service.
- Section 4 relates to improving productivity. This includes eliminating bureaucracy and other things that hamper good service delivery. Let’s say you have great products and can provide good service. If it’s not affordable, easy to use, and timely to the customer, then it just doesn’t matter.
- Section 5 involves competitive advantage. Much has already been written about competitive advantage, I know. But you’ll be surprised at some of the simple things you can do.
Section 1: Become addicted to constant and never-ending self-improvement
Each journey begins with a single step. In terms of change, this means starting with oneself. The six business lessons in this section suggest that everyone, irrespective of the successes already achieved, benefits from continuous self-improvement.
Business Lesson 1 : Have a mentor (even if they don’t know it). Be a mentor (someone is watching you).
Have a mentor (even if they don’t know it)
Most guides to mentoring start with advice on how to find the right mentor. This generally takes the following approach: (1) you have to look for a mentor with broad knowledge about the industry as well as expertise in the area you specialize in; (2) you have to find a mentor who is successful and on whom you can model your career; and (3) you have to formalize the relationship between mentor and mentee to make it long lasting and successful.
Given all that – how can you have a mentor(s), and they don’t know it?
Ira explains his philosophy: “Formal mentoring programs are great but why wait for one to come around? Mentoring is about behavior. It’s about doing the right things in the workplace, because first and foremost, it’s about personal integrity and character – as well as the fact that someone is watching you, and will emulate your behavior. I was extremely lucky, early in my career, when I was able to work with some great co-workers and supervisors who had a solid set of personal values coupled with results-oriented work disciplines. I emulated many of these behaviors and they helped shaped my leadership style.”
What you do in the office is observed by the people you work with. Positive behavior creates positive impressions, which people will emulate. On the other hand, consistently below-par behavior can cause problems in the organization by creating dysfunctional teams.
Having a mentor means finding someone to emulate and learn from (even if they don’t know it). You can have as many mentors as you need – people that excel in different disciplines and that exemplify different values. In my career, I’ve learned that mentoring is a process of engagement and inspiration, in as much as it’s a process of learning from someone.
At its very core, mentoring (whether mentor or mentee) is about wanting to improve yourself, in alignment with your goals.
Be a mentor (someone is watching you)
The shared services organization that Ira established and led for many years was the first recipient of the SSON’s “Best Mature Shared Services” Award in 2003. How did the organization earn this prestigious award? Ira has always attributed success in shared services to excellence in providing service to customers at an overall value that is better than other options. We have a very strong customer service culture within the organization, and this culture actively encourages mentorship.
Ira explains: “If you choose a positive attitude, show respect towards your customers, and treat them as if they are the reason for your organization’s existence (which they are!), this behavior develops into norms and values and permeates your culture, subsequently becoming the core of your service culture.
“But creating an excellent service culture requires that you practice the positive behaviors that will govern the value system of all the members of the organization. Mission and values statements are all well and good, but it’s the consistent behaviors that are emulated and put into practice, that become the values of the organization.”
This lesson reminds me that I can become a mentor simply by doing the right thing. And I can do this in every aspect of my life, wherever I interact with people – in the office and at home. Mentoring is two-way, or multi-way, each individual learning from the other. However, if I want to be a mentor, I need to understand myself first. I have to work hard in pursuit of excellence and integrity, and I have to be generous in sharing my knowledge.
Douglas Lawson describes it well: “We exist temporarily through what we take, but we live forever through what we give.” I believe truly successful people raise others up. They don’t feel threatened. Instead, they find reward in seeing others succeed.
Being a mentor means inspiring commitment, building insights and motivating people to focus on the goals and behaviors that matter.
Business Lesson 1 Takeaways:
- Mentoring is about behavior and doing the right things in the workplace; not just because it’s right, but because someone is watching you and will copy your behavior. It becomes the norm, and the norm underpins the values of the organization.
- Positive behaviors create positive impressions and people emulate them. Consistently observed poor behavior, on the other hand, could spell problems in the organization and create dysfunctional teams.
- Creating an excellent service culture requires that you practice the positive behaviors of the organization’s value system. “Customers” are the reason you are there!
- At its core, mentoring (or having a mentor) is about seeking inspiration to improve yourself in alignment with your goals. Mentoring is two-way or multi-way, each individual learning from another.
- Whether you know it or not, you are a mentor to someone right now.
We encourage you to write (as comments in the post) your own thoughts and experiences about mentoring (in business and life). This will enrich the topic and discussion for all the readers. Thank you.
About the collaborators:
Ira Fialkow is the SVP of Member Services at Peeriosity. Peeriosity is a confidential network of leading companies from across the world committed to collaborating openly with each other in a completely secure environment with interactions free of consultants and vendors. Prior to Peeriosity, Ira was EVP of Shared Services at CEMEX and Rinker Group (acquired by CEMEX is 2007) from 1990 through joining Peeriosity in October 2010. Rinker Group was the initial recipient of the Best Mature Shared Services Award in 2003. Ira lives in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida and has been the champion of his fantasy football league in three of the past five years.
Glenn Remoreras is an IT Manager at CEMEX. He brings over 12 years of experience as an IT director, business processes manager, project leader, and consultant. He has focused on enabling business solutions through the use of IT capabilities. Glenn has been involved with various post merger integration projects.
Ivy Remoreras is a marketing professional with eight years of extensive experience, particularly in product management, communications and promotions as a manager, university instructor and consultant. She believes in constant learning and has a Masters degree in Business Administration (MBA). Having resided in Europe, Asia and North America, she speaks four languages.
Photos courtesy of www.ssonetwork.com.
Why do your employees feel uncomfortable about being empowered? Why don’t they follow the instituted risk and change management processes? Why don’t they put customers first? The answers may lie in your control systems — and the fact that mediocrity is too easily accepted.
Whenever an IT organization excels in providing services to its customers, its customer service orientation is guaranteed to be deeply embedded into its culture.
Culture is one of the softer elements of an organization’s identity but it’s extremely important when you want your organization to improve its service delivery system.
Culture offers answers to some really difficult issues in IT services delivery, such as:
- Why employees feel uncomfortable and somehow do not want to be empowered (Review your control systems — your controls might be too tight to encourage empowerment. You might also be surprised to find that making mistakes is severely punished.)
- Why employees don’t follow the instituted risk and change management processes. (Check the extent to which anyone actually follows protocol.)
- Why getting employees to put customers first is so complicated and why there are so many complaints about poor service. (Review what happens when employees fail repeatedly in tasks and have so many complaints against them—most likely nothing! Mediocrity is tolerated!)
- Why critical IT problems are recurring. (Check approach to problem management. Most likely you are reactive in terms of issues resolution. You do not address the root causes of the problems. Do you have a culture of preparedness, contingency and proactive problem management?)
- Why employee turnover is so high even though they are paid competitively well relative to market standards. (Check the extent of camaraderie, teamwork and cooperation. Review learning practices. Are employees mentored or coached by managers and leaders of the organizations?)
If you want to improve the IT service culture of your organization, you have to understand that it is not an overnight endeavor.
Organizations don’t create culture overnight. Culture develops. There is no instant formula for creating culture or else you will end up with an artificial one with a weak foundation. Such type of culture is not sustainable. You don’t create culture by merely creating or declaring mission statements and rules. You don’t create culture by simply implementing new applications and best practices copied from other successful IT organizations. Culture happens through consistent behavior over time embedded and encouraged by leaders.
What does an excellent IT services culture look like? Like any culture, it is a collection of service traits, and behaviors that get repeated over time and embedded in the organization’s subconsciousness. The values, behaviors or traits you need to nurture and develop in your team to improve your IT services culture are as follows:
1. Customer First – Internally and Externally.
Fostering a “customer first” attitude means creating a work culture that values the customers. It needs to be applied internally and externally. Customer-friendly behavior should be encouraged. It is important for IT, at every level of the organization, to build a meaningful relationship with its customers. This practice will help IT to understand the requirements and needs of the business and allow them to align their services accordingly. Every interaction point — from frontline service desk personnel to managers handling customer engagements — should provide a consistent level of customer service.
This “customer first” focus must also be practiced at every unit of the group — and even between themselves. Customer service behavior should not only apply to the external customers of the organization. Each individual, department or function is interdependent. At any point in time, one could either be a supplier or a customer to the other. It is simple logic. If one part is a weak link, it will impact the service of the whole. If customer service behavior is practiced on a consistent basis, externally and internally, it becomes part of the IT group culture.
2. Collaboration and Teamwork
The best teams have a commitment to help each other. The culture of shared responsibility is all about teamwork and collaboration. Developing teamwork is about creating a group culture that values collaboration. With teamwork, no one completely owns an area of work or responsibility. It is shared by members of the team. Each member is encouraged to be involved and contribute to the attainment of the group objectives. In a group that has teamwork, members believe that working, planning and deciding is better done collaboratively.
3. Proactive Approach, Not Reactive
It is important to find or identify patterns and get to root causes of recurring issues. There has to be a strong drive to solve problems and stop recurring critical issues. In addition, teams need to prepare for critical incidents because these will happen. Problem management and disaster preparedness should be built into the IT culture. This is not an individual task. It should be managed collectively and involve all areas of IT.
4. Learning Organization
Learning is the best way to create culture and transmit culture. IT must have a culture of continuous learning. Employees who are well trained take more ownership and have an active role in operations. Attitudes become more positive and people aim to do things better. Learning in an organization should start early. This means starting the moment you hire an employee. An on-boarding program is one of the best ways to prepare employees and cultivate the kind of traits and behaviors you expect from them. In organizations with a strong service culture, new hires — who are selected in part for their service skills — quickly find out that the organization is serious about customer service.
5. Creativity and Empowerment
Creative people don’t accept standards as a given. They are obsessed with innovation and change. They are impatient for progress and will always look for ways and means to improve how things are done. For IT organizations to embed creativity and empowerment into their culture, IT leaders must learn to value negative results as well as positive ones. When you create something new, you don’t always succeed. The culture of encouraging creativity and empowerment will lead employees to be more collaborative, effective and innovative.
Being service oriented, or more specifically, being successful and excellent with providing services can’t be achieved swiftly. A service culture has many attributes that may be difficult to achieve. If you are trying to make your organization more customer-oriented, you need to assess what customer service traits are more prevalent and what needs more work. Creating a culture of service requires that you practice the service traits we covered earlier consistently in order to develop the attitudes and norms that will govern the behavior of all the members of the organization.
Photo courtesy of Ivy Remoreras Photography.
Follow Glenn Remoreras on Twitter.
When I reflect on where I am today, I remember the journey that I have been through — my childhood in the humble hometown of Catbalogan (in the Philippines) where our parents raised us three boys. I see how the daring dream of parents, nurturing love, and early childhood lessons can shape a wonderful life. I know that by truly knowing who you are, your strengths and core values, you can relate to others better, gain more friends and be successful in life.
This is the time of the year when you reflect on what happened during the year and the years that have gone by. Christmas is always filled with emotions and longing to be with your family and loved ones. I have spent 31 out of 33 Christmases in my life with my family in Catbalogan. Last year, I was there too. This Christmas is the second one that I won’t be spending at home. We are pregnant with twin boys and obviously, the doctor won’t allow my wife to travel. So we are spending this holiday season in Florida for the first time.
I would like to dedicate this post to my parents, Ignacio and Leonita Remoreras. They are the best parents in the world and I attribute most of what I am and what I have become to them. These are the values and lessons they have taught me and my two other brothers, Lemuel and Ryan, when we were growing up.
The importance of hardwork was a lesson I learned early in life. Leading to Christmas, at this time of the year, I remember my brothers and I would be busy helping our parents operate the store. My parents own a small store in our hometown in the Philippines. We initially sold mostly school and office supplies but eventually offered more and more gift items, especially in the months leading to Christmas. December had always been a special month for the family — a month of lots of preparation and work. After school breaks for Christmas, my classmates looked forward to vacation while my brothers and I looked forward to working everyday during the Christmas break. Our parents instilled in us the culture of shared responsibility. They did not hire store helpers early on and they expected us to help in every aspect of the business.
About 30% of our store’s annual gross sales come from the month of December. That’s how important the month is for our livelihood. You can just imagine the amount of work that it represented to us. It was a family affair to help out, and it was a tradition admired even by other friends of the family. My parents tasked us to help in the store in different ways — wrap gifts, man the cashier, assist customers and move stocks around. It was just the five of us operating the store. When I was in high-school, my parents began to entrust me with managing the store during the summer when they both travelled to Manila to buy inventory for the school opening. When I went to university in Manila, my younger brother Lemuel took over this role. (I think he was better at it than I was.) When my brothers and I moved to Manila to go to university, my parents started hiring people to help in the store.
“Cenintavo” and Malasakit (Deep Caring and Empathy)
During the store’s off season, the business mostly concentrated on retail of school and office supplies. We sold ballpens, pencils, scissors, crayon, and many others. We even sold paper (typewriting paper, yellow pad paper and the like) by piece to customers — mostly to students of Samar College (located across the street from our store). I wondered why we sold paper by piece. My father explained that it’s about earning “cenintavo” (meaning — earning by centavo or the cent) and centavos put together make a good sum. That’s how we earn a living — “cenintavo”. That’s how my father taught me the value of working hard for small things. My parents were raising us to be responsible and self-motivated, to understand the value of initiative and caring, to appreciate the value of money and earning a living the hard way. Filipino values were inculcated in our upbringing. Values such as “pagmamalasakit” (deep caring and empathy) and “kusang loob” (initiative).
Again, when I reflect where I am today, knowng the journey is far from over, I see that my next step is daring to dream big for my children, pursuing the same lessons and discipline, and passing on the same core family values my parents taught me.
I am citing a very old poem that I wrote during my childhood (this one is from 1992, when I was 15 yrs old). I will leave you this year, with this poem about me, my parents and my hometown. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!!
My mother lives by the sea,
eats fish, crabs, shrimps for her everyday meals
She wanders the Samar island.
Walks with bare emptiness.
Crying with droplet tears of pearls.
My father braves the bridges and the soars.
He leaves home through a nightingale cast
and reaches the island of dreams,
searching pearls from oysters undersea.
the last day of the first month known,
the mild brook begins singing songs.
The billowing wind excites
the crystal water to fall downstream.
No mural drawn, no trumpet sung
no fuming incense and amber cunning.
My rapture to the gates of the world
bears no wonder and warmth.
The firmament where I seek residence
is a town of willow and grass.
Treat and retreat come the waves
ashore to the town of wedge.
Strait of San Bernardino to the north,
the great Pacific to the east,
Strait of San Juanico to the south
the Maqueda Bay to the west.
Waters I see in every point I trudge.
Water I see in every edge.
I can go nowhere without the sea I see,
I can’t live without the sea.
I print the map of my hometown,
roaring through, the pins print
the old town’s map.
Printing pins, printing pins,
It prints the narrow street of Rizal,
Del Rosario, San Francisco and San Roque.
It prints the narrow street of Mabini,
where I live and grow.
I print the map of Catbalogan
its schools, churches, halls and parks.
The pins go tired and weary-
they print for years now,
ever printing the changes of the town.
Photo Courtesy of http://catbalogan.lgu-ph.com/