Have you ever taken a moment to ask yourself how you would define the culture in your organization? Not just at the corporate level, but within the service organization. Now, take a minute to think about the answers you would get if you asked your employees that question. If you think asking ten employees would yield ten different answers, maybe it is time to explore a framework for defining and driving a culture aligned to your values and integrated with your goals and strategy. This was the problem we were facing until 2018. It was then that we embarked on a journey to change how we led the organization; with a framework that could stand the test of time…a framework we call the value chain.

The value chain is simplistic in form, but complex in implementation. It is made up of four key tenets, in priority order, starting with Leadership Excellence, which creates the right Employee Experience, to generate the right Client Experience, and yield desired Business Results. The graphic below shows each of the tenets and a sampling of the topics that fall within each one.

Leadership Excellence

How did we realize we needed the value chain? I will answer that with a few questions:

1. Have you spent a great deal of time and effort on process improvement initiatives, like Lean or Six Sigma, just to find out you couldn’t sustain it or had to unwind some of the savings you realized?
2. Have you spent a lot of time pushing the right idea without achieving long‐term sustainability?
3. Have you focused on employee engagement initiatives that yielded successful outcomes, just to see the culture devolve following key leadership or organizational changes?

All these questions point to the same root cause. A leadership team focused on the business results without focusing on the tenets that yield those results in a sustainable way. It is like taking the first two tenets out of the value chain or putting them at the back of the chain. It was this problem that caused us to finally realize we needed the value chain.

The value chain does not fly in the face of conventional wisdom. At the heart of it all is Employee Experience. However, you must have a strong leadership foundation first. Like a garden cannot grow without the right soil and water, so too are the needs of Employee Experience.

Leadership Excellence, therefore, is all about leading in support of those that impact your outcomes in moments of truth. People want to have pride in what they do, but to have pride, they need to feel valued and understand the positive impact of their work. That means your leaders need be focused on developing people to leverage key skills. To do that, you need to establish the right coaching philosophy. One that ensures coaches have the right frame of reference, and technical abilities, to coach someone from the right perspective. It means having knowledge of behavioral elements that drive people and change. It means incorporating change management techniques in everything you do, to help people through the behavioral change curve. It means having performance conversations at the line level that are behavioral‐ based versus metric‐based…and allowing people to fail forward. It means talking in terms of ongoing development, both within someone’s current role and with thought into the next role. It means leading a diverse team and creating a safe and inclusive environment. And it all comes together through a connection to purpose.

With the right leadership culture developing, you can start to use those new behaviors to drive Employee Experience. For example, by being behavior‐based, coaches and managers can focus on developing a service representative’s ability to service differently, using new behaviors to change outcomes, rather than focusing on a metric number that needs to change. For example, having a conversation about call control skills will influence handle time without having to talk about handle time or the specific number. If you focus on talking about how people’s behavior impacts others on their team, a “We Before Me” team culture starts to form. And as people start supporting each other differently, schedule adherence will come into alignment without having a single conversation using the metric name or number. Recognizing people both frequently and publicly should become the norm. Schedule flexibility will be organic as people start backing each other up proactively to help facilitate what people need to do in their life. Team members will grow together and build long‐lasting bonds, which will also build pride in team outcomes. And as conversations turn towards service behaviors further, critical thinking skills will develop, leading to a shift in service to be more consultative, thoughtful, proactive, and comprehensive. And with continued focus on manager development, including understanding the nuances of developing a diverse team, you can drive performance through development plans tied to career pathing. This was our path…and what a ride it has been!

For us, as behaviors changed and were focused on the art of service, our Client Experience started to change. The evolution of our behaviors and skills drove sentiment up and made us more proactive…increasing first call resolution. It also led to more insights, which sparked our ability to drive new technical capabilities to mitigate demand and further our ability to focus on consultation and problem solving.

In the end, the Business Results came. Efficiency and savings came from demand mitigation, and transfer rates dropped from over 20% to under 14%, which also boosted our capacity and service levels. Our customer NPS increased from 55 to 63, first call resolution increased from 52 to 61, a new focus on a competency‐based quality program led to an increase in employee engagement, as reflected by our employee net promoter score that went from ‐44 to +83 over three years. And the external world took notice as well, as JD Power awarded Northwestern Mutual #1 in customer satisfaction among life insurance companies in 2019, and this year FORTUNE® named us as one of the “2021 World’s Most Admired Companies” with a #1 rating for “People Management.” And the results have been sustained, because we focus on our embedded value chain to drive our decisions about culture and how we lead the organization. So, I ask you again…where does culture show up in your service organization? Good luck on your journey!

Known for his thought leadership in the service industry, Jim LeMere has over 25 years of experience in service operations and contact center re-engineering, with a specialization in leading cultures to outcomes that drive employee engagement and operational efficiency to boost client experience and business results to new levels.

A servant-leader, Jim believes the secret sauce to transformation is having a laser focus on enabling the success of the front line by creating customer-focused cultures, enabled by technology and driven by ownership and accountability. His focus on organizational development is rooted in a specific value chain that sparks cultural evolution.