Fundamentals of Customer Interaction: A Leadership Primer

Gitomer (1998) was very specific about why customer satisfaction is worthless and provided keen insights into how to build loyalty.  While many businesses value and find the “voice of the customer” desirable to the organization, the focus is on satisfying the customer and not interacting with the customer.  Sinek (2009) adds the variable needed, why, as in why are businesses still trying to satisfy when loyalty is needeAre we in trouble?  We didn't do it!!!d?  Why are customers still being taken advantage of when logic claims the long-term relationship is more critical than short-term gains; thus, making the need for loyalty that much more valuable in dollars to the business.  Why serve the customer when the customer needs more than simple “service?”

Customer service is simply geared to expeditiously interacting with the customer in a mass environment.  For example, a recent call to a cell phone provider remains an excellent illustration of mass service hysteria.  During this call, a simple question was asked, why is my statement so high?  The representative placed the caller on hold four separate times, never answered the customer’s question, and because the customer changed their plan, the call was considered a success.  The customer then went online, spent an additional hour in Instant Message (IM) with a second customer service rep, and finally was given less of an answer before quitting in exasperation.  Foolishly, the call center sends an automatic survey to the customer asking for his or her opinion.  The customer is going to express his or her dissatisfaction in the “customer satisfaction survey.  Why was it sent?  Why place the financial future of a low-paid customer service rep in jeopardy simply because the customer remains upset, and the managers deem that information valuable?

The customer call center remains the epitome of the carrot and stick approach to customers with the customer and the front-line customer-facing representatives squeezed into numbered boxes, small cubicles, and an individuality draining environment making the customer and the customer representative soulless zombies held captive in an endless cycle of frustration.  Offer a carrot to a customer to go away, threaten the customer representative with a stick if they do not fit squarely into the business environment and achieve all the key-performance indicators (KPI’s) demanded by the business, although the KPI is in direct opposition to serving the customer.  The above incident is a perfect example of KPI’s being anti-customer.  The representative needs to make a quota for call plan changes and sales, the customer needs serviced, but to actually answer the question means that the time the representative spent on the phone would have surpassed a KPI.  The carrot and stick approach is to offer the customer bill credits to go away quickly so the representative can move onto the next call, a KPI mindset causing frustration for the representative and the customer.

Let’s use one more recent example as a comparison.  The Department of Veteran’s Affairs has been in the news a great deal recently.  Veterans remain the forced customer trapped in an endless cycle of bureaucratic red tape.  The result is that veterans are now being called for a customer service survey to determine how veterans feel they were served.  Why would this information be valuable with all the customer hostility in the veteran population?  Why waste taxpayer dollars to obtain veteran “customer” insight when the bureaucracy has not changed, the red tape remains stifling, and the officers enforcing the bureaucracy continue to kill and harm veterans as the captive customer?  Veterans are reporting that after every interaction with the various VA bureaucrats a customer satisfaction survey is thrust upon them and sold to them as an improvement tool.   Doubt remains as to the value to the veteran, and to the VA as a whole, and provides more KPI’s harming the customer, eliminating service to the customer, and destroying any hope of correcting the actual problems; but the VA is gathering a ton of additional information for office clerks to sort through and make reports upon.

With these thoughts in mind, what do we do and where do we go from here?  Better yet, why are these the preferred actions when logic relates there is a better path forward?  Finally, since KPI’s are needed, how should KPI’s be adjusted to provide more actionable data personalized to the individual employee while remaining valuable to the entire business?

On the subject of KPI’s, when was the last time that each KPI was evaluated and the questions “Why” and “What” were asked to justify that specific item on a list of measurable actions in a KPI process review?  If the answer is “I don’t know” or longer than 18-months, there is a significant problem with the KPI’s reporting obsolete data and doing more harm than good.  As a consultant in a call center, I walked item-by-item through the KPI matrix my first day on the job and successfully concluded a project shortly thereafter by simply moving the KPI matrix back into providing actionable and non-obsolete data.  If each piece of data cannot be explained and justified by the newest member on the floor receiving scores on performance, the KPI matrix is obsolete, confusing, and ineffective in driving actions that actually benefit the employee and those the employee contacts.  Ask the managers to define what the KPI’s are, what is being measured, and detail specific actions an employee should be coached in to improve a specific indicator.  If the answers are not clear and easy to understand, the KPI is ineffective and doing more harm than good.

Juran’s rule that the KPI is expected to form a pathway to progression as a business process remains powerful.  When problems arise in KPI data and employee adherence, the problem is 90% of the time not the employee, but the KPI in question.  Is Juran’s rule being applied consistently, effectively, and powerfully to drive understanding and communication in the organization or is the answer to “blame the employee?”  Dandira (2009) remains powerfully applied here: ineffective KPI’s can be, and many times are, a dynamic source of organizational cancer because of employee confusion about what to do to improve, resulting in employee morale problems.

Moving forward, the way remains clear:

  1. Never allow a business process or procedure to be older than 12-months without a full and comprehensive review justifying that process and every step in that process.

I was called in to discuss a customer influencing process.  The process had more than 30 steps involved and 12 separate employees to accomplish the task.  The process could not be described in 30 minutes, and customers were upset from experiencing this process, adding to the already upset nature of the involved customers and the frustration in the front-line employees assisting them.  Technology improved this process by a third, but the company could not determine how to improve the process.  I asked why on each step and employee involved.  Four hours of discussion resulted in cutting 8 of the involved employees from the process.  Asking “what” resulted in further steps cut in the process.  At the conclusion of the contract, the complicated process was described in a single elevator ride, which simplified the results for the customer and set the business on the road to continuous improvement of business processes.  Pick a process, look at the age, and ask in an elevator ride for the process to be described.  Keep riding the elevator until the entire process from beginning to end is detailed.  How many elevator trips were needed?  Never create a process or a measurement that cannot be explained in a single elevator ride.

  1. Who is catching the blame on recorded calls: technology, the customer, or the customer service rep? The problem is not with any of these parties, and properly naming the problem remains the first step in solving the problem.

For example, on a contract for a manufacturing company, a problem existed that could not be explained causing issues in quality control and proper billing to customers.  The problem observed was not the problem; the process and actionable data capture were the problems.  Until the company could properly identify and act on the real problem, they continued to blame the employee and burned through several highly talented employees in the process.  The action taken began with identification of the real problem and the underlying processes.  Then, we began working out the actual solution.  The first and second actions projected and beta-tested were abject failures.  Once the full measure of the problem was identified in a series of continuous events, the third proposed solution worked, not great, but worked.  The fourth and fifth solutions worked better.  Finally the sixth review fixed the problem.  Identify the problem, and then make the resolution an intuitive process of learning and developing.  Failure is okay provided the current failure is moving the problem forward towards solutions and new thinking.

  1. Who is the customer? Are we wasting time on separating internal and external customers when that time would be better spent treating them both equally?  Rarely should the internal customer be treated better than an external customer, but many times resources are limited and external customers must come first.  Do internal customers know why this decision is being made and when the experience is projected to end?

During a merger, I was contracted as a W-2 employee on start of contract.  At the conclusion of the merger, employees were told external customer resources were being moved back to support internal customers, and benefits and resources would flow back to the employees.  Upon the successful completion of the merger, this policy was not honored, and the mass of employees leaving the company was monumental, as employees felt betrayed.  Knowing the “why” and the “what” behind organizational decisions by all customers is important.  If this company had been more forthcoming about the “why” and the “what,” the loss of so many employees would not have been so great.  More to the point, the loss of employees created post-merger problems resulting in “right-sizing efforts,” “down-sizing,” and finally “post-merger consolidation of facilities,” all of which are euphemisms hiding the real problem, failure to treat all customers with respect and valuing the customers.

  1. The “Why” and the “What.” While the “Why” is critical, both remain powerful, and communicating these simply, effectively, and persuasively remains the role of leadership.  Ask yourself, can employees define “what” we do?  Can employees define “why” we do the things we do?  Do employees know “why” we compete in our marketplace the way we do?  What are the answers and why are the answers coming in with the trends?  Can you answer this, and what is the action to move forward?

I had the pleasure of working as a W-2 employee for a company that did this right.  On the first day of training, the employee learned the “Why” and the “What.”  Then, everyday the employee learned how each process, procedure, and daily task fed into the “What” and the “Why.”  This promoted the employee to understanding and becoming an agent for action in the business.  This pattern is replicable, but employees must know the “why” and the “what” and business leaders must know the “Why” and the “What” and disclose this information to the full organization?

  1. Stop only “serving” the customer. “Serving” the customer is useless, wasteful, and ruins the power of customer interactions reducing these opportunities to filling needs, not building relationships.  If your customer-facing employees are only providing “service,” the business has settled for failure and has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

This is not a subject of semantics, word plasticity, and mind games.  This is a fundamental mindset of the power possessed by loyal customers acting as marketing tools to drive profitability.  If the customer only receives “service,” the customer is not satisfied, the customer-facing employee is not satisfied, and precious resources are wasted on fruitless gimmicks and useless action.  Worse, the ROI is zero at best, but usually negative.  If internal and external customers are simply treated as customers, how can a business leader expect to build customer and employee loyalty or experience bottom-line growth?  Make time to build customer-reaffirming experiences and the bottom-line will grow.  Stop serving the customers, stop blaming the employees, stop looking for solutions in technology without knowing the business and identifying the problems.  If not, Dandira’s (2012) counsel will be the reward, organizational cancer, and organizational death.


Dandira, M. (2012). Dysfunctional leadership: Organizational cancer. Business Strategy Series, 13(4), 187-192. doi:

Gitomer, J. (1998). Customer satisfaction is worthless – Customer loyalty is priceless. Atlanta, GA: Bard Press.

Sinek, S. (2009). Start with why: How great leaders inspire everyone to take action. New York, NY: Penguin Group.

 © 2016 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved

The 3-E’s of the Employee/Employer Relationship: Is your Organization Practicing all Three?

The 3-E’s, early, eminently, and equality, thus forming the fundamental principles of the employee/employer relationship.  Too many times only early is practiced, and the problems emanating result in reduced employee morale, purposeful negative actions, and disruption of the business by both customers and employees acting in a resentful manner.  In order to fully understand the power of combining the 3-E’s, we must first detail, define, and describe.

Early is often considered as akin to new, fresh, and initial; yet, the better application for this topic is in timeliness, punctuality, and promptness.  For example, when a problem occurs, the earlier it is addressed the faster and less damaging the problem becomes to the business as a whole.  Not taking precipitous action leaves the problem festering and infecting eventually leading to organizational cancer (Dandira, 2012), low employee morale, and managerial inertia slowing business processes and increasing the damage.  Hence, prompt, punctual, and timely action to address a situation early enough to affect positively the outcome remains the order of the day and the strongest power business leaders can take with the 3-E’s, but early action is not enough.

Eminent is often considered as akin to celebrity, paramount, and superior; yet a more preferred definition for this topic is often conspicuous and influential.  When an eminent action is taken, the action tends to supersede current policies, procedures, and overlaps or drowns normal work.  Overlaps and superseding are dangerous actions leading to increased costs, lost work, customer complaints, and a general lack of trust in business leadership to properly prior plan and produce positive performances from the business structure.  These thoughts are fed with celebrity-like marketing on new policies, business leaders, and changes, which are not fully understood and appreciated by the employees most affected.  Hence, the need to be frequently engaged, seen being influential in the lives of employees, and known as a person who cares remains the key leadership quality developed by eminent action; yet eminent actions, even if conducted early, are insufficient to properly influence and meet the demands of business.

Equality is often considered as sameness, fairness, and uniformity; yet, all of these definitions fail to capture what equality truly is and the power of equality.  For this topic, consider the following:  equipoise, parity, and concurrence.  Employees are individuals. They might have similar job titles and responsibilities, but the individual approach to the position provides power and separates the individuals and does not collect, compress, and concentrate into carbon copies.  Hence, the same approach of uniform application is not meeting the needs of the employees nor is it meeting the definition of fair.  Thus, the employee needs equality that treats them as individuals concurring in practice, but are individual in approach, and brings parity into treatment as an expression of equipoise.  While early is good and early mixed with eminence is better, but without early, eminent, and equal combined into an action, the employee and the employer suffer in an environment of disaster fed by chaos, corruption, and cancer as detailed by Dandira (2012).

Consistency remains key to employee/manager relationships.  While the principles of 3-E’s are important, all the work of the 3-E’s can be wasted if consistency is not honored and observed by the employees.  Consistency requires flexibility, firmness, and fungibility to meet the demands of creating success in using the 3-E’s appropriately.  The main factor in employee/employer relationships continues to be the individual nature of each employee, not the requirement to make all employees the same carbon copy of another employee or an “ideal” of the desired employee.

Putting these principles into practice requires asking questions, such as “Are employee communications being expressed early, eminently, and equally?”  “Are actions taken by business leaders being perceived as meeting the 3-E’s?”  “Do the trend lines in application indicate consistency or inconsistency?”  While employee perceptions can and often remain hidden, except through properly capturing actionable data in key performance indicators, the answers to these questions and more are evident.  Look at the employees, who show up to work excited, enthused, and enthralled.  Ask them why they possess these qualities.  Then, ask those employees not possessing them and hone in on the differences.  Will employees change from day-to-day; probably, but the answers continue to be important indicators as to whether communication in the organization is occurring.

Sinek (2009) offers that asking why and truly listening to the answers being returned remains the most effective question and action series employers can take from day-to-day as the pulse of the organization.  Gitomer (1998) adds that leaders after asking “why” should ask “what” to empower change and drive motivation.  Consider for a moment, an employee is asked “why” they feel the way they feel, then “what” would that employee like to see changed to aid in feeling differently, and project the employee’s reaction to having been heard.  Project that employee’s reaction if they see the changes they offered implemented into business practice.

Are all employee suggestions implemented; no, this is not feasible and the employees know this when making suggestions.  Yet, when employee suggestions are implemented, this changes the employee dynamic for all employees.  Ask yourself, when was the last time an employee suggestion was implemented and marketed to the other employees?  If the time is longer than 6-months, the program is not consistently being implemented and there is a problem with using the 3-E’s.

Steenhuysen (2009) reported on research discussing the power of praise.  Where praise is offered genuinely, praise has the power to change, and the research supports that the power of genuine praise operates on the same reward sections of the brain as cash. Anecdotal evidence shows many employees appreciate genuine praise, sometimes more than cash.  As a business leader or employer, ask yourself, “When was the last time I caught someone doing good and offered praise?”  If the answer was not yesterday, there is a problem with the 3-E’s, and consistency will be needed to rectify this problem.  Are you setting the goal to not leave the office without offering genuine praise?  Remember, Steenhuysen (2009) is reporting that praise is its own reward.  The research and anecdotal evidence present praise as being as good as cash to the brain.  Hence, praise is its own reward; can objects be added to potentially increase the reward, yes.  But start with praise, honestly provided and employing the 3-E’s.

Case in point, I have worked with a VP of Customer Service Operations who carries with them yellow and purple post-it notes.  The purple are for catching people in the act of good.  From simple actions to amazing calls, they all get recognition on purple post-it notes as a very noticeable action the business leader can take to catch and praise the good.  The yellow post-it notes go to the team leader when training is needed.  Consistent action over the years has developed a spirit of competition to earn and be caught doing an act of good.  The yellow notes are not remembered at bonus time; more serious infractions have a set process to follow, and the less serious yellow post-it notes are simply a means of providing timely feedback employing the spirit of the 3-E’s.  Upon starting this program, almost a full year passed before the employees caught on and the word of this action spread.  Let consistent action be seen, not marketed, and let the word spread by enthused employees.

The best part of the program from an employee perspective is the highest earners of purple post-it notes eventually began earning additional non-cash rewards also presented in a quiet manner.  The rewards ranged from leaving an hour early with pay, longer lunches or breaks with pay, to movie tickets and dinner cards.  These extra steps were implemented when trends reflected some employees were taking extra efforts to be caught thus necessitating a need for other levels of reward to keep the interest of the employees in acting and performing to a higher level.  Never are these employees recognized openly, e.g., at a company meeting, marketed to other employees, e.g., in a company newsletter, and receiving the purple notes is not a competition.

These purple post-it notes are an expression of gratitude from a person in leadership to an employee working hard.  Quiet, consistent, application of the 3-E’s provided a failing business unit new life in employee interactions with each other and the external customers.  The actions taken here should not be rare or the exception in employee/employer relationships, but the standard and personalized to each business and business leader.  What can we learn here to apply to all business units and organizations?

  1. Whatever is done consistent action remains critical.
  2. Simple, quiet, and direct remain key to affecting positive results on a personal level. Be brave!  Be honest!  Be courageous!  Be seen acting as you would see all employees act.  These will provide an impetus for others to emulate actions taken and good will develop.
  3. Know the 3-E’s, whether you are currently an employee or a business leader of hundreds or thousands. The 3-E’s are a two-directional action possessing power for positive results.  Use this power to drive a solution that can be consistently applied.
  4. If what is being tried is not working, do not act abruptly. Quietly adjust until positive actions can be seen and verified through trend lines.  What is being done currently might simply need more time or more quiet publicity to be discussed by the employees.  Make small adjustments and act for the interest of individuals; the whole population will catch on.
  5. A word of caution. Never use this program for self-aggrandizement; this will kill the program faster than a bullet to the 10-ring.  Do not enter into this program and offer non-genuine praise or false and ambiguous words and canned phrases.  Be specific and capture the incidents exactly, ask questions if needed, but be genuine and specific.



Dandira, M. (2012). Dysfunctional leadership: Organizational cancer. Business Strategy Series, 13(4), 187-192. doi:

Gitomer, J. (1998). Customer satisfaction is worthless – Customer loyalty is priceless. Atlanta, GA: Bard Press.

Sinek, S. (2009). Start with why: How great leaders inspire everyone to take action. New York, NY: Penguin Group.

Steenhuysen, J.  Praise as good as cash to brain: study. (2009, February 26). Reuters. Science. Accessed from:

© 2016 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved




Customer Call Center Leader – Part 6: The Role of Technology in Creating a Culture of Adaptability

The role of technology is to act the neutral part in the human work relationship. Technology is a tool, like a hammer, designed for a specific role embodying potential for good or ill, delivering a specific role, and serving a specific function. Technology is not positive or negative and possesses no value matrix beyond addressing the concern, “does technology fill the role it was designed for or not” (Budworth and Cox, 2005; Ertmer, 1999; and Ropohl, 1999). Technological philosophy, detailed by Ropohl (1999), provides greater details into the underlying core issues leaders and organizations face daily when merging technology and people together. Yet, always in application do we find managers attempting to make technology more than what technology can ever be, the neutral variable in the human technology work relationship while thwarting culture and other organizational changes.

The automatic dishwasher is an example; if the dishes go in dirty and come out dirty, the blame is the technology instead of the human interaction in the technology work relationship. I was on a call to customer service recently and heard no less than five times in a 10-minute phone call, the “system is slow,” the “computer is not working right,” or some other similar excuse from the agent not being able to answer questions from the customer. How many times has human resources heard, “the car wouldn’t start,” “my GPS gave me wrong directions,” or my personal favorite, “the alarm clock failed.” The technology is not at fault as the neutral variable; human interaction with the technology is where the fault lies.

Application of technology to leadership and organizations may be summed by Wixom and Todd (2005) as they quote Fishbein and Ajzen (1975) for the specific principle espoused by Trist (1981) and applicable here, “For accurate prediction, beliefs and attitudes must be specified in a manner consistent in time, target, and context with behavior of interest” (Wixom and Todd, 2005, p. 89). Virtual and non-virtual teams are connected by the specific behaviors of those being led; the attitudes of the users predict beliefs and flow into production, especially into call centers and other front-line/customer-facing positions. Technology brings leadership into possibility, but the potential cannot be realized unless the leader knows how to harness negative beliefs, core out the actual problem, address user concerns, and then redirect the negative into either neutral or positive productivity.

The answer to leaders needing to harness user beliefs is found in proper communications aided by technology, as detailed by London and Beatty (1983). Empowering the users with 360-degree feedback, empowering the leader with another channel for 360-degree feedback, and operating a third channel for the organization in 360-degree feedback places the user in the driver seat to improve their technology beliefs and attitudes. Ropohl (1999) and Omar, Takim, and Nawawi (2012) combine to complete the puzzle in addressing how technology applies to leadership and virtual teams by underscoring the people element in the technological equation. Omar, et al. (2012) claim,

“…Technological capability refers to an organisation’s [sic] capacity to deploy, develop and utilise [sic] technological resources and integrate them with other complementary resources to supply the differentiated products and services. Technological capability is embodied not only in the employees’ knowledge and skills [combined with] the technical system, but also in the managerial system, values and norms” (Omar et al., 2012, p. 211).

360-Degree FeedbackAs the image reflects in the convergence of the three channels of 360-degree feedback, the power of communication is enhanced by the technology employed as a neutral variable in the human technology work relationship. If technology fails, the relationships in the channels remain and the relationships are not separated or closed. When discussing flexibility and adaptability in organizations, clearly understanding the roles of technology and communication empower the combined user, leader, and organization relationships.

The leader and organization need to understand and develop these principles to harness the innovative power of the human element where technology interacts with the human work relationship. If technology, especially technological improvement, is not thought through, planned, discussed, and elevated, Dandira (2012) claims the result is ‘Organizational Cancer.’ The power of technology as a force multiplier to unleash the power of humans cannot be understated, but the flip side of the technological coin is that as a force multiplier, if technology is not handled correctly, the negative aspects are as large as the positive aspects. Toor and Ofori (2008) detail how leaders need to understand and embody the differences between managers and leaders to contribute fully to the technology implementation and daily use in production. If leaders cannot lead physical teams, they will never understand virtual teams where technology must be understood more completely, and managers need not ever apply as the mindset is not conducive to creating success in the human technology work relationship.

A recent technological change was heralded, marketed, bragged, and positioned to the stakeholders in a company as akin to being better than “sliced bread.” The new system was discussed for three years before images of the new system began to be floated. Everything was prepared to have the technology play a more flexible and vital role in the organization. The problem was managers and programmers implemented the technology instead of users and leaders. User interfaces were ungainly, illogical, and made no sense in the completion of user work processes. More specifically, the impact for every single process and procedure in the current technology was not considered and revamped during the rollout of the new system. The result was chaos among users, failure to deliver the promised products and services, and a customer service disaster. Early in the rollout of the technology, managers directing the rollout were alerted that processes and procedures needed to be revamped, and the user was being left behind in how the system was “supposed to work” resulting in compounded chaos, increasing customer dissatisfaction, and further diminishing the company reputation. The managerial response was to “sit and wait” for the programmers to finish building the system and changing the technology to “fit.” Where a leader was needed, a plethora of managers existed and they actively worked to make the problems worse for the end user, the customer, and the other managers.

Creating a culture follows a basic set of principles, namely, the example of the leaders, including their words and actions, followed by repetition, and the passage of time (Tribus, n.d.). Tribus (n.d.) specifically places the core of culture in the example of the leaders regardless of whether the organizational leader is a leader or a manager as evidenced by action and word. To create a culture specific to adaptability, several other key components are required, namely, written instructions, freedom, and two-directional communication in the hierarchy (Aboelmaged, 2012; Bethencourt, 2012; Deci and Ryan, 2000; and Kuczmarski, 1996 & 2003). Two-directional communication has been warped into 360-degree communication. Regardless of name, the input from the workers and the customer is more critical than the voices of managers to organizational excellence.

Alvesson and Willmott (2002) add another component to this discussion. As the organizational culture takes hold of an individual employee, the employee begins to embody the culture, for good or ill, in their daily interactions both personally and professionally. This hold becomes an identity adding another level of control from the organization over the employee binding them to the organization. The identity control becomes a two-edged sword because the employee will form loyal opposition that can be misinterpreted to be intransigence, and the loss of that employee causes other employees to question their identity and the organizational culture. More to the point, the changed employee becomes habitualized into the current culture and then hardens into intransigency when changes are needed to help the organization survive.

Creating a culture attuned to adapting, the organizational leader needs to communicate, be seen exemplifying the organizational culture, and building that culture one employee at a time; until the changed employees can then begin to sponsor other employees into the organization’s new culture. The organizational leader must set clear goals, define the vision, and obtain employee buy-in prior to enacting change, then exemplify that vision after the change (Deci and Ryan, 1980, 1985, & 2000) while remaining open to the possibility of a need to change direction if indicated. Key to this process is Tribus’ (n.d.) [p. 3-4] “Learning Society” vs. “Knowing Society.” The distinction is crucial. The organizational culture must be learned and the process for continually learning honed and promoted to protect the culture while adapting to variables both internal and external. Learning societies know change occurs because of new thinking and inputs and remains adaptable to that change as a positive force in improvement. Knowing societies remain afraid of changes due to the fear of losing perks, benefits, or personal power and actively thwart change at every turn, usually while preaching the need to change.

To be clear, technology is a neutral force and can neither be a positive or a negative in an organization. The need for leaders cannot be overstated as the driving force in organizational change, or simply day-to-day leadership. Leaders must be seen and heard living the organizational culture. If, and when, changes are required, leaders must listen to user, customers, and the managers, but the weight and value are not the same and should never tilt in favor of the managers. Finally, if the organization needs to adapt, the organization must provide employees in front-line/customer-facing positions with freedom to act and the technology to record the actions, which are supported by back-office processes and procedures that respond to the front-line, not the other way round.

With the “.dot com” bubble burst in 2000, the world of business changed dramatically. As more baby-boomers leave the workforce and are replaced with millennial workers, the business culture is going to change more. To adapt, the engaged and determined business leader needs to embody a spirit of freedom and adaptability into the business culture, into the processes and procedures that define “work,” and into the customer relationship (internally and externally) or the business will continue to fail, struggle, and breed chaos.


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Alvesson M, & Willmott H. (2002, July) Identity regulation as organizational control: Producing the appropriate individual. Journal Of Management Studies 39(5):619-644. Available from: Business Source Complete, Ipswich, MA. Accessed July 27, 2014.

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© 2016 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved


The Call Center Leader Part 5 – Tacit Knowledge Combined with the Power of 4-C’s Produces Competitive Advantage

Tacit Knowledge, as a competitive advantage, remains a highly misunderstood topic in business due primarily to the difficulty in spotting, acknowledging, and then measuring this form of knowledge.  Because managers, who preempt application, see tacit knowledge as a threat, leadership is required to implement its benefits.  Tacit knowledge relies upon people implementing daily processes and procedures.  Tacit knowledge as a competitive advantage requires freedom to improve those processes and procedures of daily work to understand how to improve.  The principles of tacit knowledge are discussed and enhanced by Ambrosini and Bowman (2001) providing excellent discussion material for leaders to contemplate.

In detailing an operational definition of tacit knowledge, Ambrosini and Bowman (2001) designed a definitive definition for tacit knowledge as “context specific, … [generally] acquired on the job or in particular situations.”  Proceeding further, Nonaka (1991) reiterated that tacit knowledge is “… deeply rooted in [both] an individual’s action and commitment [to] a profession, product, market, work group, or team.”  Tacit knowledge contains elements of “practical knowledge” and remains “difficult to describe” unless the knowledge is described as a “process” to perform work.  Taken together, tacit knowledge is a person’s commitment and knowledge gained in experience to understand processes and improve the same.

Let’s use an analogy to drive this point home.  John works for call center A; Mark works for call center B.  The leadership in call center B is very demanding, but rewards those who meet the challenges and provides freedom for front-line personnel to meet customer needs.  Call center A does not demand much from front-line personnel except to perform their jobs as dictated, and managers are in place to ensure the job is done and nothing more.  Both call centers have high employee churn numbers, both call centers are matrix driven, and performance is measured in seconds; both call centers compete with each other for the same customer base.

Because Mark has freedom and call center B is willing to reward, Mark has been focused upon improving daily operations and customer support.  Mark sends several ideas to his manager and onto senior call center leadership.  Several of Mark’s ideas find their way into organizational change and are implemented.

John has a personal desire to see call center A succeed and develops ideas to improve customer support while decreasing organizational inertia.  John’s manager sees these ideas, discovers the ideas are good, and decides to take them as their own.  John is pressured to leave call center A over the next 8-10 months; by this time, the ideas are practically worthless and cannot be implemented due to shifts in business conditions.

Tacit knowledge was at play in both scenarios.  Call center B employed tacit knowledge to compete.  Call center A employed tacit knowledge to thwart and denigrate.  Herein also lies the leadership challenge and the need to understand and implement the principles of combining competition, collaboration, compromise, and cooperation, also referred to as the “Principle of 4-C’s” (4-C’s).  Thomas (1992) extols the virtues of combining competition, collaboration, cooperation, and compromise as a tool to achieve success in conflict resolution, organizational improvement, and people development.

The continued application of all four principles, cooperation, collaboration, compromise, and competition, provides fertile ground for resolving problems and advancing organizational objectives.  These 4-C’s must work together with no single principle more important than the other.  Like the four-legged stool my grandmother used to reach high cupboards, the stability of the stool depended upon all four legs to ensure strength and flexibility to work exactly.  Compromise and competition do not work without collaboration and cooperation.  They are all interconnected, and the business leader, wanting to lead well, would remember this relationship.

Collaboration is strengthened by cooperation, compromise, and competition.  Competition must end in collaboration, cooperation, and compromise; in fact, competition will breed collaboration and cooperation to reach a compromise, before those being competed against provide collaboration, cooperation, and compromise, and remain attached and honored as successful means to reach the desired win-win agreement.  The fires of competition are crucial to purifying those collaborating, compromising, and cooperating into a single honed unit that can more effectively work together.  Cooperation can do nothing without the shared responsibilities of collaboration and compromise; when competition is added, the cooperation is strengthened.  Compromise without cooperation or collaboration is ineffective, and competition is an added value to ensuring stronger compromise.  None of these can stand alone without elements of the others to support, edify, and multiply; along with the stated relationship comes the knowledge that if the agreement is not win-win the agreement is a straight lose scenario.

The inherent discussion above is condensed from Thomas (1992), who advocated this combined approach to organizational design as a masterstroke to getting people working together.  The same basic philosophy can be seen in the writings of Goldratt and Cox (2004), Lencioni (2002), Lundin, Paul, and Christensen (2000), Boynton and Fischer (2005), and Boylan (1995), among many others.  Notably, these principles have been understood throughout time.  Jucius (1963), in speaking of the broader issues in personnel management, understood the combined power of collaboration, cooperation, compromise, and competition and wrote extensively about how to use these effectively in the organization.  Cruickshank and Davis (1958) understood these principles to be a combined and more effective tool than separate strategies of the same general direction and strove to ensure business leaders understood the practical application and inherent need for the organization to adhere to these principles as a combined effort of all organizational members.  McNichols (1963) endeavored to keep these items combined in the minds of executives; thus, empowering them to discover solutions employing all the strengths in the consolidated collective use of competition, collaboration, compromise, and competition.  The empowerment felt combining these tools elevates the individual focus into a collected focus, and the solutions for an organization are improved dynamically.

Examples of the combined efforts of collaboration, competition, compromise, and cooperation are found in the writings and research of Collins (2001 & 2006), Collins and Hansen 2011), and Collins and Porras (1994).  These books contain many organizational examples of companies employing the combined strategy as outlined and collectively harnessing the power in cooperation, compromise, collaboration, and competition to make the long-lasting change from “Good to Great” organizations.  Collins (2001) discusses Walgreen’s transformation and employs the combined power into the new highly successful Walgreen’s store model.  Mitchell (2003) discusses the same principles as CEO of Mitchells/Richards Clothing Stores.  By embracing the combined power contained, this CEO has kept the family business growing.  Both organizations, Walgreen’s and Mitchells/Richards, embraced the energy of collaboration properly supported by compromise and collaboration and invested in internal and external competition to drive the needed organizational changes.  What Collins proves is that the collective power is not particular and rare, but available to all who choose to combine not separate, collect not disburse, connect and retain not divide, partition, and mutate.  Leadership demands higher practical performance than management (Robinson, 1999; Punia, 2004; and Mintzberg, 1980).

The ability to rise higher must include all the attributes, strengths, and collective power found in collaboration, competition, cooperation, and most especially compromise.  Having standards does not mean compromising personal or organizational standards for collaboration.  Having standards is the discovery of common ground in collaborating for a common goal, enhanced in the fires of competition.

How does a leader begin to take tacit knowledge and combine it with the power of cooperation, competition, collaboration, and compromise, to achieve positive results; the answers are quite simple.

  1. Allow and encourage idea submission. As a small business consultant, I am continually amazed at how many ideas are already in the minds of current employees to improve the organization.  Open lines of communication in the organizational hierarchy for ideas to percolate.  Train the employees to use these lines of communication.  I cannot count how many times I have heard frustrated employees say, “I do not know who to submit my ideas to.”
  2. Train people to think and improve. Quality control is not just for the quality group to monitor.  Quality assurance is a minute-by-minute process every employee should be engaged upon to help the company improve.  Train this principle from day one with new employees and revisit this idea at least quarterly and every time idea submission drops.
  3. Competition is for external forces, but the 4-C’s principle is for everyone internally. Why have customer service teams competing against each other creating division and chaos inside the company?  While sometimes healthy, many times petty in-house competition does nothing but destroy, denigrate, and deride already stressed and harried people.  Stop tearing the company down in the front-line; cease the petty competitions between teams.
  4. Rewards and awards must contain value to the individual or they are meaningless. I worked with an employee who had an award from a previous employer on his desk.  The award was a horse’s rear-end in bronze, and the employee was exceedingly proud of having been part of the team that won that particular award.  The employee had not worked for that company in 20-years, but remains proud of that award and the reward that came along with it.  I was also part of a call center that handed out awards that went into the trashcan before the end of the award ceremony.  Rewards and awards must be valuable to the recipient.  To make this happen, choose to build people by showing the award and reward.  Why is the Stanley Cup in the NHL so coveted? Individual teams and players are inscribed permanently as a reminder of greatness; more importantly, everyone in the NHL sees the cup.  This is a pattern that can be and should be replicated in the call center; just do not let the competition become chaotically competitive or meaningless and petty.  Remember, many teams in the NHL have never won the Stanley Cup.
  5. Tacit knowledge has value. Cherish this knowledge as the genetic power of the company to thrive.  Ask questions, listen to the answers, and remember the person providing input.  Too often the person providing input is not recognized, and this failure to recognize contributions does tremendous harm to morale, dampening desire to contribute, and removing further access to potentially amazing results.


5.5 Let the tacit knowledge and award/reward systems live.  Tacit knowledge has a life cycle as sure as every product, service, work process, and daily procedure.  Allow change to live, allow knowledge to live, and allow the freedom to change to meet new needs.  This is probably the most important point in this list of actions leaders can take to employ tacit knowledge as a competitive strategy.  Recognize the life cycle of ideas and stop being afraid of employee freedom and change.


Ambrosini, V., & Bowman, C. (2001). Tacit knowledge: Some suggestions for operationalization. Journal of Management Studies, 38(6), doi: 0022-2380

Boler, J. (1968). Agency. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 29(2), 165-181.

Boylan, B. (1995). Get Everyone in Your Boat Rowing in the Same Direction. New York, New York: Barnes & Noble.

Boynton, A., & Fisher, B. (2005). Virtuoso teams: Lessons from teams that changed their worlds. FT Press

Collins, J. (2001). Good to great: Why some companies make the leap…and others don’t. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers.

Collins, J. (2006). Good to great and the social sectors: A monograph to accompany Good to great. London: Random House Business.

Collins, J., & Hansen, M. (2011). Great by choice: Uncertainty, chaos, and luck: Why some thrive despite them all. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

Collins, J., & Porras, J. (1994). Built to last: Successful habits of visionary companies. New York: Collins Business Essentials – A Collins Business Book: An Imprint of Harper Collins.

Cruickshank, H., & Davis, K. (1958). Cases in management (2nd ed.). Homewood, Ill.: R.D. Irwin.

Goldratt, E. M., & Cox, J. (2004). The goal: A process of ongoing improvement. (Third Revised ed.). Great Barrington, Massachusetts: North River Press.

Hickman, G. (2010). Leading organizations: Perspectives for a new era (Second ed.). Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications.

Jucius, M. (1963). Personnel management (5th ed.). Homewood, Ill.: R.D. Irwin.

Lencioni, P. (2002). The five dysfunctions of a team: A leadership fable. Hoboken, NJ. John Wiley & Sons.

Lundin, S. C., Paul, H., & Christensen, J. (1996). Fish! A remarkable way to boost morale and improve results. New York, New York: Hyperion.

McNichols, T. (1963). Policy making and executive action; cases on business policy (2nd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Mintzberg, H. (1980). Structure in 5’s: A synthesis of the research on organization design. Management Science (Pre-1986), 26(3), 322. Retrieved from

Mitchell, J. (2003). Hug your customers: The proven way to personalize sales and achieve astounding results. New York, NY: Hyperion.

Punia, B. K. (2004). Employee empowerment and retention strategies in diverse corporate culture: A prognostic study. Vision: The Journal of Business Perspective, 8(81), 81-91. doi: 10.1177/097226290400800107

Robinson, G. (1999). Leadership vs management. The British Journal of Administrative Management, 20-21. Retrieved from

Thomas, K. W. (1992). Conflict and conflict management: Reflections and update. Journal Of Organizational Behavior, 13(3), 265-274.

© 2016 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved



Leadership: Winning the External Customer Through Improving Internal Customer Development

Internal-CS-Attitude-Low-ResThe following situation drives home the need for every employee to become more cognizant of the power of internal customer service. A nurse approached an internal business unit officer. The internal business unit officer provided access so the nurse is more able to do his/her job effectively, timely, and serve external customers efficiently in the performance of nursing duties. The internal business unit’s sole customer base is the internal customer, especially other nurses and medical staff members. The nurse received half of the access he/she needed to perform his/her functions and told the simple process needed to finish granting access must wait for some amorphous time in the future. Finally, the nurse received instruction to chase down business unit representatives, who will ultimately visit the work environment to complete the process; the final action from the business unit to complete granting access, while simple, was not going to occur at that moment in time, the nurse’s sixth visit for access.

This is a perfect storm of internal customer service affecting external customers and potentially could be life threatening for the external customer, all because the business unit officer’s convenience was more important than internal customer service. Granting access occurs often enough that specific processes and procedures should be in place to make the granting of access smooth and efficient. The nurse had made five previous visits to this business unit before finally obtaining half of the access needed. The example provided proves both a lackadaisical attitude to internal customers and an organizational culture of failing external customers.

Here is another recent example displaying internal customer service destroying external customer relations. To obtain a credit for a customer deserving a credit, a front-line employee approached a supervisor for authorization. The front-line supervisor reviewed the problem, granted the needed approval, and both completed the business-mandated process to officially request the credit issued to the external customer. The granting authority, whose position is to support internal customers as a backroom office aiding internal customers, refused the request, multiple times, across several months. Higher and higher, the request for the credit moved through the organization’s monolithic leadership structure to no avail. The leaders could see the needed credit, see how the organization was at fault, and agreed to the credit approval. However, forcing action from the back-office support team to act was “too politically expensive,” which resulted in the company changing the official position so that the customer was at fault. The credit was ultimately denied since the external customer failed to follow the company’s rules.

At each stage of the request, to obtain relief for the customer throughout the lengthy process, the front-line employee informed the customer the service being provided was an outreach for customer satisfaction. With the final request for reprieve denied, who is to shoulder the customer anger, frustration, and hurt feelings; not the back office causing the problem, but the front-line customer support representative. The final nail in this horrible customer service example was the back office person refusing the request did so because he/she personally did not like the manager making the request and made this known to the business leaders approaching the back office for assistance. In fact, every time this back office representative could make life hard for that manager, he/she actively choose to impede, distract, deny, and hamper external customer service, through internal politicking. The manager, blamed for not being “polite enough” to the needs of the back office personnel, received a reprimand from the business leaders for causing hurt feelings. The internal investigation proved the manager and the back-office personnel never met, had never interacted outside of the business process requesting service, and the back office personnel simply expressed an opinion of dislike for this single manager.

It is time and past time for internal functionaries to realize this truth: if all your customers are internal, without the external customer, the first job cut or lost is yours. Without external customers, business fails. The daily actions supporting internal customers decide the war for external customers. This is a cold hard truth. Internal customers, e.g. fellow employees, not properly serviced, supported, and respected, directly cause external customers suffering exponentially. Regarding the nurse example, how many times will this nurse need access, not have it, and patients suffer needlessly? If the nurse has to ask another nurse for their time to grant access, more patients will suffer needlessly, all because an internal business unit failed internal customer support. If the manager in the second example is directly in charge of twenty service representatives, and those twenty service representatives write tickets requesting support through the business unit manned by the unprofessional staff member 300-times in a month, how fast has a simple unprofessional act snowballed into disaster for the external customers?

Leading to the question, “how does an organization begin to change internal customer support to win external customers?” Shown below are the five first steps:

  1. Start today, start with you, and start by changing how you see your fellow employees. When asked a question from a fellow employee, consider whether the question is an “interruption” or an “opportunity?” This simple choice powers the internal customer service culture and attitude.
  2. While reports and statistics are important, has the voice of the internal customer become lost in those reports and statistics? When was the last time a report included actual internal customer voices, not a survey with a sampling of voices specially selected, groomed, and cleansed to support a point, but actual voices from internal customers? VITarSS powered communication is the phenomenon of voices echoing in the halls of decision-making.
  3. When conflicts between processes or procedures and internal customers arise, who wins and why? If a process, a method of working, trumps an internal customer, this is going to reflect in how that person treats the next internal customer onto the destruction of external customers. If a procedure, even if the procedure speaks to compliance issues, trumps people, the external customer will suffer greatly. If the worst thing an external customer can hear from a company representative is, “This is policy,” how much more damaging is this to internal customers to hear and suffer? Why is it not company policy to find every option to say, “Yes,” before saying, “No” at every level of internal customer support, from the boardroom to the grounds keeping staff?
  4. It is okay to say, “I don’t know,” provided the next statement becomes, “Let me find out and get back to you by the close of business tomorrow.” This is good policy for external customer service. Why does internal customer service not use this more?
  5. “I am sorry.” This simple phrase carries power, provides respect, and opens opportunities. Yet, how often is power stripped from this phrase and the apology is left a vacuous non-entity, because action failed to follow the phrase? If a situation warrants an apology, apologize, discuss actions needed to rectify the situation, and then perform the actions.

Winning the internal customer is easier than winning external customers. Keeping internal customers is easier by magnitudes than keeping external customers. The power in achieving excellence in internal customers is that external customers notice and desire to remain customers to continue to experience great customer service.

Human Resource (HR) people talk of winning the “Talent Battle” to find and keep the best workers; yet, HR does not fight this battle; nor does HR have any power in the battle for talent; this battle is in the daily actions of internal customer service. The single most powerful action a business leader can take is to change how they approach internal customer loyalty building. Want more market share, a larger bottom-line, and promotions, win internal customer loyalty. Not psychopathic followership and not cult worship, but active internal customers working diligently to be the best worker they can be solely because you provide them the best service you can.

© 2016 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved


A Poor Customer Service Example: How NOT To Treat Your Customers

I experienced a wretched example of a series of poor customer service incidents from an organization I trusted, honored, respected, and invested time and money that will forever leave a scar from their betrayal, their false accusations, their belittlement, and their deception. This example is the ultimate prototype of poor customer service. I am not the only person to suffer at their hands.

Almost from the beginning of more than 10-year association as a customer with this organization and having worked with this organization in several different capacities in multiple states, I have had to fight for the most elementary customer service. Poor service representatives, leaders, directors, and managers evaded their responsibilities by refusing to answer questions, by not performing critical timely actions that were detrimental to accomplishing needful procedures, by not engaging in proactive communication, and by causing additional expense because of their negligence. Sometimes resolutions would be forthcoming, but most of the time the struggle was unending and their lack of responsibility and proper engagement have cost my family needless, excessive money.

The events occurring in June of this year (2015) began a personal exodus from this organization. My support team changed from one group of disinterested people to a new group of disinterested people. I use the word “disinterested” because I initiated all the contacts to these support personnel since I was not hearing from them and was not able to ascertain critical timely information they were to provide to me or perform necessary procedures only they could perform. Proactive customer communication is their only job. Their only job is building customer relations, supporting customers in long-term relationships, and building the brand with loyal customers. Their only mission is customer contact, proactive, engaged, value added, customer contact, and not performing their jobs is customer service suicide. Good customer service representatives find reasons to contact the customer and check-in, check up, and set expectations for the next contact. In our current day, email and Instant Messaging have added less time intrusive communication tools than the phone. Successful customer service employs the customer’s desired mode of communication so the customer may communicate on their preferred time and using their preferred method. When I did hear from my previous or current support teams, they disregarded my preferences and held me responsible for their errors. This is customer service suicide.

In July, the organization initiated a minor change to my account that forced massive revisions to my account. No proactive communication occurred; all reactive responses, similar to a “knee-jerk,” happened after I initiated communication asking for an explanation and assistance. From the middle to the end of July, these “knee-jerk” auto-responses of simple platitudes and organizationally mandated verbiage continued. I hoped a manager would see the mounting customer frustration, proactively audit the account, and passionately take-charge and communicate with the customer. This could have been an opportunity to stop the customer service suicide, rectify a situation, and begin building trust in the organization again. This did not happen and an opportunity was lost due to personal managerially driven choices.

In August, managers, finally, became involved beginning with praising team members for handling difficult clients like me. All my communications, professionally written, occurred in email fashion and are available for perusal. In addition, this month (September 2015), I initiated contacting directors, leaders who are vested in the health of the organization. Not once did they respond. The organization does have a group specializing in dispute management. When I contacted Dispute Management the first time, I deliberately discussed the possibility of finding solutions without pursuing an official charge. I simply wanted to resolve these core customer service issues. However, nothing resulted, no responses, no opening in the organizational communication chains, only silence; more customer service suicide.

In September, outside agencies contacted me soliciting for money still in dispute with the organization because of the events that occurred on my account in June and July. I called the office handling dispute management and was sent the proper email form to fill out. I listed in an email my concerns, which were ten individual points and problems that created the current issue. After eight successive email messages restating, re-explaining, and re-detailing my position, the end communication from the organization comes: “Thank you for contacting our department. We find you as the customer was not diligent enough in proactively communicating, and we will hold training for the issues discussed. Your situation is now concluded.” When did I receive the information and service requested? Where is the remuneration for the organization driven costs to third parties I now have to pay? Where is a sincere apology, followed with an action plan, to prevent this situation from happening again? Yet, the dispute team has concluded their investigation, found the customer was to blame, and have closed the case. Customer service suicide is not descriptive enough when an organization blames the customer for the problem, in writing, and acts with such impunity.

This entire story illustrates customer service suicide. Leadership driven suicide occurred from managerial loyalty to those who can secure their positions, rather than loyalty to securing a successful customer service resolution. Discontinuity suicide comes from having one customer facing department following one set of guidelines, processes, and procedures, whilst another customer facing department follows a different set of rules, guidelines, processes, and procedures, and a third customer facing department follows a completely different set of rules, processes, procedures, and guidelines.

From a plethora of organizational evidence, the organization knows they have these problems, is aware of potential solutions to these problems, provides lip service to fixing the problems, but has no plan, no leader, and no organizational will to change. Although the organization makes every other change imaginable, based on the current “flavor of the month” quick-fix antidote, the business is committing inertia suicide. From all evidence, without appropriate intervention, this organization will eventually implode. The time has come to end this relationship worth more than a $100,000 USD, a lost goal, a failed relationship, and an unfathomable amount of work hours that will never come to fruition. Our time together has come to an abrupt and pitiable end. I will not laugh as this organization slides into the wastes of infamy. I will weep for you because you pioneered something special and then betrayed your legacy, thwarted all attempts to change, and sacrificed yourself in such a contemptible manner. I would like to wish you well; in fact, I wish you nothing.

© 2015 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved

Shifting the Organizational Communication Paradigm: VITarSS

VITarSS is an acronym I created to help focus the efforts of business communication during change processes, initial organizational design, and facilitating communication in the truest sense of the word. Too often, small and mid-sized businesses are functioning in communication like a large corporation. Confused communication plans, entrenched managers, inflexible processes and procedures, but worst of all, sending communication and employing statistics to measure adherence. It is time and past time to stop using statistics to replace actual voices for customers, especially internal customers, in business processes. This post is the introduction to VITarSS; coming shortly will be examples of how poor communication creates problems and how employing VITarSS would have helped the situation.

When considering organizational communication, several elements need to come together to create communication with power. These elements include: value, imagination, targeted audience, specific purpose, and significance for the audience and business as a whole, (VITarSS). Value: This refers to the receiver answering the concern, “Will the communication be valuable to me personally?” If not, value in the communication is lost and the sender fails to communicate. Knowing the audience remains key to building value; asking the audience what they want, the channel or mode they prefer, and what leaders can do to improve communication, helps to customize the communication experience. A desire to build value through knowing the audience and communicating in the same language style is critical to building value. Yet, communicating in the audience’s language often is perceived as condescending or paternalistic if verbs and tenses are not similar. Translating into the audience’s language occurs when leaders are engaged in listening and asking clarifying questions. Value builds when standards in sending and receiving same channel, two-directional messages improve.

Imagination: Communication should never settle for something that has previously worked well or worked well for another organization or department. This is the “lazy man’s” method to organizational communication. Imagination does not refer to marketing gimmicks and sales techniques or silly games to garner interest. Imagination refers to relying upon human-to-human knowledge transfer processes. Girdauskienė and Savanevičienė (2007) offer useful advice on the processes of knowledge transference by insisting upon the principles VITarSS is based upon. For example, when a problem is realized, listen to potential solutions, imagine them at work, maybe beta-test a couple, but keep imagining the future and communicate the future to solve the problem.

Targeted: Targeted communication, especially when moving mass amounts of data, requires a personal touch. Specificity and knowledge combine to send and receive knowledge on a topic. In many ways, targeted communication remains similar to the United States Postal Service (USPS), massive amounts of data transferred to targeted destinations in small little packets to and from senders and receivers to meet communication standards; regardless of whether the message is a poster, an email, a face-to-face, etc., target the communication specifically to that audience. Even when a person receives 100 packets of information, the communication is targeted, specific, and honed to a single issue. Anonymous (1994 and 2006) both make similar appeals where communicating is concerned, and they represent a small minority of people begging business organizations to onboard the VITarSS principles of communication.

Specific: While similar in many ways to targeted communication, specificity is individually important to communication. Each audience member will receive the same message, but each audience member will perceive the message differently according to individualized value matrices, ability to employ the message, and questions about applicability. When specificity is lost, the message is lost, and Dandira’s (2012) counsel on organizational cancer is not far behind. Poor organizational communication remains a force multiplier: a problem develops, poor communication lacking VITarSS releases to employees, and instead of solving the problem, there are now 10-problems. Like biological cancer, these 10-problems metastasize into a much larger problem. “Work arounds” and “Band-Aid solutions” as “temporary measures” become a permanent way of avoiding the problem, and the cancer grows. Soon, another problem develops in a different area. The resources being sucked into the first problem makes handling the second problem more severe; VITarSS works as a tool in solving communication concerns. Without VITarSS, poor communication multiplies problems exponentially, and VITarSS must be applied with strong leadership, not additional “Band-Aid work arounds.”

Significant: Valuable communication focuses on application to the individual, but significant communication focuses upon long-term relationships between the message, the sender, and the receiver, along with the ability to move communication in a back and forth manner between the sender and receiver. In many ways, Brown (2011) along with Cable, Gino, and Staats (2013) intimate VITarSS is embedded in organizational design, focuses the efforts of many organizational leaders as senders and lower hierarchy employees as the audience onto the problems of communicating, and into actions as a single cohesive unit.

Alvesson and Willmott (2002) add additional caution and insight into the process of melding individuals into an organizational culture, which makes organizational communication a control mechanism. Alvesson and Willmott (2002) provide a unique counterpoint to the focal point of communication, the give and receive nature inherent in communication, e.g., two-directional on a single channel, when considering organizational identity each individual gives and receives from the organization. Thus, the question becomes why the reliance upon one-way communication strategies employing statistics to substitute actual voices of internal customers? Mintzberg (1980) discusses many of the key aspects required in designing organizations. The fundamental principles discussed regarding organizational design provide the needed backdrop to visualize how communication changes and becomes embedded upon every relationship in the organization.

The field of communication is not so much lacking as it is re-using principles and paradigms that do not work. The knowledge is there, and many examples exist displaying the principles of VITarSS in action, but the general usage of these principles is lacking due to various reasoning. The reasoning runs the gamut from internal risk control measures and organizational design, to cost effectiveness and lack of training, and into individual bias towards not interacting with other people or desiring to not interact with people as reports and meetings take precedence and are easier to shoe-horn into one’s professional day.

Without strong organizational communication plans, strong leadership, and less management, the hierarchy of the organization becomes less knowledgeable, which creates internal friction, reduces internal communication opportunities, and fulfills Dandira’s (2012) organizational cancer prophecy. VITarSS holds the elemental knowledge to construct the communication policy, design the organization, and create the needed hybrid solutions required for the current organization while planting the seeds for the future organization to grow. Researchers and business consultants continue to write on the direct line of congruence between managers controlling communication and lack of knowledge in the manager’s subordinates. This link is how genetic knowledge in an organization becomes lost, placing the business into perilous waters as employees retire and churn. Losing employees and deteriorating communication speeds employee churn and exasperates the communication problem. If your organization wants to save money on employee churn, improve communication, open doors and dialogue, listen, and follow VITarSS.


Alvesson M, & Willmott H. (2002, July) Identity regulation as organizational control: Producing the appropriate individual. Journal of Management Studies 39(5): 619-644. Available from: Business Source Complete, Ipswich, MA. Accessed July 27, 2014.

Anonymous. (1994). What is communication? The International Journal of Bank Marketing, 12(1), 19. Retrieved from

Anonymous. (2006). Strategic communication. The Business Communicator, 6(7), 2. Retrieved from

Brown, D. R. (2011) An experiential approach to organization development (8th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Cable, D. M., Gino, F., & Staats, B. R. (2013). Breaking them in or eliciting their best? Reframing socialization around newcomers’ authentic self-expression. Administrative Science Quarterly, 58(1), 1-36. doi: 10.1177/0001839213477098

Dandira, M. (2012). Dysfunctional leadership: Organizational cancer. Business Strategy Series, 13(4), 187-192. doi: 10.1108/17515631211246267

Girdauskienė, L., & Savanevičienė, A. (2007). Influence of knowledge culture on effective knowledge transfer. Engineering Economics, 4(54), 36-43.

Mintzberg, H. (1980). Structure in 5’s: A synthesis of the research on organization design. Management Science (Pre-1986), 26(3), 322. Retrieved from

© 2015 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved

Shifting the Organizational Communication Paradigm – 5 Tips for Improving Your Organizational Decision-Making

Current philosophy entertained by business leaders is that organizational decision-making is about avoiding choice, freedom, and risk in most business decisions and decision makers. Freedom of choice becomes limited when commentary regarding a message sent is restricted to the same channels and people. Choice and risk become pawns in the communication game when choice or risk are used as an excuse to shutdown responses or monitor using statistical analysis.

Ask yourself, “If an employee has a question about the message content, how would they ask, whom would they ask, where would the information to clarify come from?” If the answer to this is a manager, where does the manager obtain this information? Many business researchers and authors discuss improving communication that would open the innovation of front-line employees to improve the business. Yet, always the factors of liberty or freedom, agency or choice, and risk become insurmountable obstacles to obtaining that innovative idea needed to improve. In fact, several times it has been discovered that managers do not consider business communication part of their role or daily tasks. Where are your front-line employees obtaining their information on business communication; from a disengaged manager, a co-worker with tenure, or are they just sitting waiting further messaging?

Often the risk component is the all-encompassing reason to say, “No” when the answer should or could have been “Yes!” No single answer constitutes a guarantee of customer loyalty, and no decision-making tree spells out how to reach out to customers and improve business. Hence, decision-making is about training, guidelines, and patterns.

  1. Controlling risk is good; managing risk is a misnomer. Never should risk be the reason to avoid trying something new, allow more openness, and drive improvements. Controlling risk is an exercise; managing risk is an excuse. Embrace the risk, set specific controls, and work the controls into the business standards for performance.
  2. Place the decision-making as low as possible in the hierarchy to be effective; this cannot be stressed enough. Money is lost if a manager is making decisions a lower-level employee should be making. Support your people’s decisions by allowing front-line workers to make decisions, even if they are wrong or you would do something differently. Support your people. Yes, this means risk; see above.
  3. Freedom and agency. People need to feel confident in making choices and accepting consequences. Thence, allow them freedom to choose, knowing that accountability and responsibility are neither a punishment for negative consequences nor a promotion for positive consequences.
  4. Decision-making is all about patterns. If people have freedom to choose and agency to act, proper patterns can be trained. This does not mean decision trees need to be drafted. Let your people know the process, procedure, and the standards; then promote proper decision-making as a constant learning process.

Communication is about passing information, a sender initiates and a receiver accepts. Yet, when questions arise, how does the original receiver communicate to the original sender? If a new idea is generated, who receives this information and is accountable for this idea? These questions and more are all contained in two-directional communication efforts.

  1. Two-directional communication remains a simple philosophy and easy fix. Two-directional communication will drive improvements in decision-making more than any other single item on this list. How your organization communicates inside from front to back office and from front office to business leaders makes the difference in how people think, feel, and make decisions. This is where the support for making decisions is felt and confidence sprouts.

Current organizational communication models incorporate some type of statistical collection for measuring adherence to communication broadcasts. A friend refers to these messages as “commandments from on high.” The responses to these “commandments” are then measured in statistics of performance. When managers are asked to whom do we direct comments and questions, the answer is invariably either “I don’t know” or “myself” meaning that the manager is the receiver and the decision maker. Whether your comment is passed onto a higher level sometime in the future is at his or her discretion. As a side note, if the personality of the manager is sufficient to not see your comments as a threat to their personal power, your comment might be passed onto a higher level sometime in the future.

Decision-making and communication should not rely upon such hazardous and emotionally charged thoughts and opinions. Making proper decisions takes time and experience. This is why poor decisions are sometimes made requiring a manager to step-in, coach, and allow that decision-maker the opportunity to correct the oversight and improve decision-making performance. Inherent in this argument for improving organizational communication is the culture of fostering learning. A culture of learning allows people, who do not know everything, be confident in learning that which they do not know. Then the organizational hierarchy becomes leaders, not managers; supporters, not taskmasters; developers, not critics. Encourage the freedom to communicate, make decisions, and foster relationships internally to improve the external customer experience. A little freedom and support goes a long way!

© 2015 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved

Shifting the Paradigms – A Fouled Anchor is your business with old processes.

In the US Navy, a fouled anchor chain symbolizes the rank of a Chief Petty Officer.  An anchor, including the attached chain, provides stability to the ship and is a useful tool when not holding the ship at anchorage.  A fouled anchor chain is usually deemed not repairable and is cut loose and replaced.  The anchor chain becomes fouled through ocean debris, twists in the chain, marine life, etc.  Inherent in every business is a “steady as she goes” mentality, a “don’t rock the boat” culture, compounded by an “if it works, don’t fix it” managerial belief.  These beliefs are the fouled anchor chain in your business and can be fixed for increased success and improvement.

If your business has not and is not doing an 18-month periodicity review of all business processes, a fouled anchor chain is dragging your business.  If you have a process review, does it automatically launch upon new technology adoption?  If not, a fouled anchor chain is dragging your business.  If your managers are comfortable with the status quo a fouled anchor chain is dragging your business.  If your front office is frustrated and disconnected from the back office, a fouled anchor chain is dragging your business.  Dare I go on?

The future is very hopeful and the anchor chain does not need to be abandoned and can be fixed with these five easy suggestions, following the KISS Principles (Keeping It Supremely Simple), to unfoul that anchor chain.

  1.  Before improving external customer focus, be sure your internal customers, e.g., employees, are enthused, communicating, and thinking.  This means the leadership team needs to listen.  Sit down with a new person for a few minutes each day, listen to what works and what doesn’t work, act, then follow-up.
  2.  Select a manager. Put that one manager in charge of one process, provide that manager with proper resources, and hold him or her accountable for that process.  Repeat until all your managers have a process assignment for which they are directly accountable and responsible.  Processes and work procedures cannot be generated in a vacuum nor can they be improved in a committee.
  3.  Internal customers, e.g., employees, are the main source for success or failure for your organization. Address the ‘FUN’ feature. FUN means allowing creativity in workspaces, flexibility in completing work, and promoting ingenuity.  I cannot tell you, nor would I dare try, what FUN means for your organization, but your internal customers can.  Remember to listen, ask, listen, act, listen, follow-up, and listen some more.
  4.  Accept change, promote change, but keep a thought in mind; change just to change is not effective.  This means very simply that change must have a purpose, which can be easily and efficiently communicated.  Change on the organizational scale should include everyone.  When only one business unit changes and the business leaders “hope” the change will “catch on” for the rest of the organization, a fouled anchor chain develops, and useless, mind-numbing, resource-sucking change initiatives that go nowhere fast occur!
  5.  Stop “servicing” customers! Earn their loyalty and trust. Cars are mechanical and therefore serviced; people are human and therefore respond.  Cars have interchangeable parts and anyone can “service” them.  People are not interchangeable, and if they are to be accommodated, the emotional connection must be made to win their loyalty and trust. Many authors have discussed this principle since mid-1990.  Internal customers are your first focus; external customers will be attainable only if internal customers are assisted to be proficient and effective in their jobs.

Often managers use linguistic gymnastics to avoid change that drains intellectual improvement from your organization.  That must be addressed and stopped. Managers are not leaders; leaders never manage but are innovative problem solvers; therefore managers must become leaders as referenced in (2) above or eliminated.  The bureaucracy of administration at every level can and should to be eliminated or transformed into working accountability, responsibility, and innovation, and your anchor chain will continue to be useful and your organization will be better.

© 2015 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved