Creating a service culture through effective goal management

15th May 2013

To truly excel at customer service, the behaviours and attitudes that underpin it need to be fully engrained in your organisational culture. Every employee, regardless of their level of interaction with customers, needs to play a part in delivering outstanding customer service and achieving customer service goals and targets.

So how do you achieve this level of "single-mindedness"? One of the most powerful tools you have at your disposal is your performance management process, and more specifically, your goal management practices. For those who aren't familiar with the term, your performance management process is the HR/management process by which managers assign individual employees goals and development plans, identify the core and job-specific competencies important to their role, give them feedback on their performance, and review progress. Here's a look at how performance management and goal management best practices can help you create a culture of customer service.

Set clear organisational goals

The first thing you need to do as part of your performance management process is set one of more high-level organisational goals related to customer service. Clearly define what it is you want the organisation to achieve, by when and how you will measure success. Are you looking to improve customer satisfaction scores or your net promoter score? Do you measure customer service in terms of loyalty? Are you looking to reduce response times?

Make sure the goals you set for the organisation are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time bound. They should not simply be aspirational statements. The point is to clearly define what you want the organisation to accomplish from a customer service perspective.

Then use your performance management process to communicate the goal(s) to the entire organisation. You can include the goals in your performance review forms, or, if your process is automated, make them accessible and visible to the entire organisation through your performance management tool.

You may also elect to then create top-level customer service goals for particular divisions or departments that break down your high-level organisational goals into more specific and/or relevant targets. If you do, these too should be communicated to your entire staff using your performance management process.

Align everyone in the organisation

Next, as part of your performance management process and goal management practices, you need to challenge every manager and every employee to set individual goals that in some way help the department/division/organisation to achieve its high level customer service goals. Employee goals should not just support their direct managers' goals. They need to directly link to and support the accomplishment of an organisational goal, even if they seem to only in a small or indirect way.

It helps to make this goal linking explicit and direct. In this way, you give each employee a context for their work and help them see how they, in their daily work, are helping the organisation improve in the area of customer service and achieve its targets.

What you hope to achieve by this is organisational alignment and commitment. Every employee should know what the organisation is trying to accomplish, that they are expected to help, and how they are helping.

A perfect illustration of this form of alignment is the story of the janitor working at NASA in the 1960s who, while sweeping the floors in the hallway, told a visitor he was helping to put a man on the moon.

Every employee, regardless of their role, can in some way help you build a culture of customer service and achieve your organisational goals. So make sure they do so.

Make everyone accountable

But simply setting and communicating goals isn't enough. To truly achieve alignment and ensure success, you need to make everyone accountable. So build regular reporting and status updates into your goal management practices and performance management process. Everyone, up and down the reporting chain, including the executives or leaders who are responsible for organisational goals, should regularly report on their progress in achieving goals and the status of their goals. These regular updates and communication help keep goals top of mind and communicate to everyone that the achievement of goals is important. Without this regular communication, it's easy for managers and employees to set goals, document them on a form, then file them away and forget them until the next performance review/goal setting period.

As part of this regular review, you should include a revisiting or re-examination of goals at all levels to ensure they are still specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time bound. If needed, they should be adjusted to reflect changed business needs.

This goal alignment/linking, regular review and status update is critical for driving accountability and performance. In fact, in recent research, Bersin by Deloitte found that organisation who align and regularly revisit their goals (quarterly) dramatically outperform their counterparts who create and cascade goals only once per year.

Keeping a focus on customer service

By leveraging your performance management process and goal management best practices, you can align your workforce to achieve your customer service goals. In this way, you gradually build a shared understanding of excellence in customer service and ingrain it in your organisation's culture.

As a Certified Human Capital Strategist and senior product analyst at Halogen Software, Sean Conrad helps organisations of all sizes and in all sectors align their workforce to achieve greater results. He writes and speaks regularly about the power of goal alignment and other talent management best practices. You can read more of his thoughts on the Halogen Software blog.


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