In gloomy autumn day group of friends are hiking in a park on a wooden board that provides a path. There are three people, with a man holding a drone.
Editorial

The Path to Excellence, Part 3: Culture Is No Accident

5 minute read
Brian P. O’Neill avatar
Customer experience leader Brian O'Neill continues his Fall 2022 series for CMSWire on creating and inspiring excellence.

Editor's note: Brian O'Neill, CMSWire Contributor and former chief client officer for FIS, wrote for CX and other teams in his former organization a series of articles. Each were titled, “The Path ... " with each edition being a new take. For example, he would discuss culture, leadership, ownership, purpose, etc. In his six-plus years in his CX role, he sent out 286 notes with the intention to empower, reinforce and frame his company's mission by sharing insights to help his team improve its game and increase its level of engagement in what it wanted to accomplish. He revives some of these notes and adds some current perspective in this Fall 2022 CMSWire series

Culture Lessons from Bacon-Egg-Cheese

Over the course of six years writing the weekly missive known as The Path, culture is without a doubt a Top 3 subject.

The first formal time it appeared in The Path was on Dec. 17, 2016 under the sub-header of "Culture is No Accident." The driver for that edition started with a bacon-egg-cheese biscuit from Chick-fil-A.

Sorry, I know you want one now.

My wife had gone into the local cow peddling chicken dealer for a morning pick-up and came home gushing about her experience. Her exact words were, "it is obvious to me that they are following a Ritz-Carlton training manual on how to deliver service."

While I'm not here to extol the virtues of the customer experience at a Chick-fil-A, it does provide a direct connection between the service experienced and the culture that fosters and facilitates that service: Consistency.

In the spring of 2018, for some unknown reason, I was allowed to provide a "Ted Talk" (ish) at our two annual client conferences. Well, to be fair, the reason was to help our clients better understand the journey we were beginning to help improve the overall client experience.

In that presentation I shared the following thought: "If integrity is how you act when no one is watching, then culture is how senior leaders act when everyone is watching."

Yes, you can quote me.

It struck me then as it does now that the topic of culture is one that tends to be nebulous and varies from providing ping-pong tables and free lunches, to fostering a hybrid work environment. Candidly, none of that is culture.

Further, you'll read about product-centric or client-centric cultures . . . again, while well intended, they rarely speak to what is ultimately the foundation of a culture. In short, it is you. The leader. You are the owner and driver of the culture.

Related Article: The Path to Excellence, Part 2: Your CX Team's Strengths

Culture: Purposeful, Intentional and Compelling

Here is what I wrote in December of 2016:

Learning Opportunities

"That's the thing about culture, whatever kind of culture it is, you can guarantee it is repeatable. That means good or bad — engaged or indifferent — polite or rude. The reason? Culture, by its very definition, is a reflection of how leaders of an organization behave. The team, in turn, recognizes this behavior and makes it their own."

For Chick-fil-A their approach is purposeful, intentional and compelling.

In Dee Ann Turner's book, "It's My Pleasure: The Impact of Extraordinary Talent and Compelling Culture," she shares the secret sauce that has made Chick-fil-A a fast-food industry icon. In short, it has to do with their three keys of "enrolling" people in their culture:

  1. Recruit for Culture: Finding people who embrace (your) culture is not an exact science, but as Turner notes, it can be done (as noted in this Forbes' piece in 2015) by focusing on character, competency and chemistry. These 3-C's support the culture and ensure its consistency across a large group. Struggling between two candidates? Go with the cultural fit. Full stop. 
  2. Nurture Talent by Telling the Truth: Transparency is key and with it ensures a foundation of trust. Conveying the truth in a respectful way when it comes to performance or expectations not only fosters accountability, but it is amazing to see how people perform when you treat them like adults. And yes, you can quote that one, too.
  3. Engage Clients in the Culture: My wife was directly engaged in the culture of Chick-fil-A; she experienced it and she lived it. In the modern world, she probably posted something on Facebook or Instagram about it.

A culture isn't just about the employees, it is meant to be experienced by the customers. That connection is what builds buzz.

At FIS, we developed a TLC recognition program (for a later edition) and we'd award our clients that were partaking and helping shape the culture. Ultimately, a positive culture can be infectious and the difference in keeping or losing a client / customer.

To close this out, I'd encourage you to think about a time when you experienced incredible service. Something that stood out. Perhaps it was your local coffee-shop, or maybe even the Ritz-Carlton.

Now, ask yourself, "what had to happen to make that experience so memorable?"

My sense is that a lot had to happen, and it starts with you, as a senior leader, and ensuring that in every step in an employee's and customer's journey that the experience you demonstrate is the one you want replicated.

Enjoy the journey!

About the author

Brian P. O’Neill

Brian, a global CX professional, was most recently the EVP, Head of Global Client Engagement, at FIS where he led the Global Client Relations, Global Product Implementations, Professional Services, Client Outcomes and Learning Solutions teams for the Banking Solutions business segment.

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