View out of a tunnel of a waterfall in Khao Yai national park in Thailand.
Editorial

The Path to Excellence, Part 4: Commitment, Cohesion and Waterfalls

5 minute read
Brian P. O’Neill avatar
What does a naval commander and waterfalls have in common as it relates to business and customer experience success?

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

The best dad jokes are the ones that play on repeat and often require some patience to get to the punchline. On July 9, 2016, we announced a new employee recognition program, and to ensure we got everyone’s attention we had a little fun with TLC and chasing waterfalls.

The joy of a dad joke.

So, while I'd like to tell you that this post is about T-Boz, Left-Eye, and Chilli and a deep dive into No Scrubs, Creep, and yes, Waterfalls . . . I thought I would share with you a modern-day CX view on TLC.

Modern-Day View on CX

Early on in The Path to Excellence journey, I had the opportunity to see Michael Abrashoff speak at two conferences in about three months' time. For context, at 36, he was selected to be Commander of USS Benfold and was the most junior commanding officer in the Pacific fleet. 

The challenges of this underachieving destroyer were staggering, with low morale and the highest turnover rate in the Navy. Few thought the ship could improve. Yet 12 months later it was ranked #1 in performance — using the same crew. So, how did he do it?

His own website answers that question directly: "By replacing command and control leadership with commitment and cohesion. The lesson was clear: Leadership matters and culture is everything."

Related Article: The Path to Excellence, Part 1: Guide for CX Leaders Begins Again

Culture Is Everything

Ah yes, culture.

That elusive goal of all great organizations — a high-performing, rewarding, client-focused, responsive, yada yada yada environment that consistently delivers. Or, as I shared in my last edition about culture, "how senior leaders act when everyone is watching."

So, what does a Naval Commander and Waterfalls have in common?

Not only did Abrashoff replace command and control with commitment and cohesion, but he was also purposeful in recognizing behavior that would change the culture, a culture that yielded low performance to one that would ultimately become "the best damn ship in the Navy."

He'd see something, he'd reward it. He'd announce it: literally to the entire ship. He'd provide the sailor with a pin that recognized their performance, fostered an opportunity for quicker promotion, and an increase in pay.

Prior to my role as head of client engagement/chief client officer for FIS, I had the privilege of running an exceptionally high-performing sales team. While we had quotas, new sales targets, renewals and retention goals, we took a very simple approach to what defined success in managing these relationships.

Learning Opportunities

The TLC Way of Defining Success

It was TLC.

  • Teach: In every client interaction there is an opportunity to share insights and leverage the expertise of your own organization. This is not a lecture or a product pitch, but rather something that creates value for your client.
  • Learn: Equally important is the ability and willingness to listen to your clients to really understand their challenges and needs. Learning is interactive but happens when you are listening and are engaged in active dialogue.
  • Challenge: Here is the difficult-one: it's that toe-curling moment when you ask a tough question or share feedback with a client that may cause the room to go quiet. Why would you challenge someone? In the absence of a challenge there is stagnation, a place where all relationships go to die.

Related Article: How Do You Measure Customer Success? Very Carefully

Beyond the Swag: Be Relentless in Rewarding Good Work

Back to our Naval Commander . . . to completely change the culture, and with it the performance of this ship, with the same crew in a very limited period of time, there must be belief that what is stated can be accomplished.

Slogans don't work. Nor do T-shirts.

The reality is that you must commit and be intentionally relentless in your pursuit of change, of developing and defining a culture and for ensuring your team is engaged. Fully engaged. Excited. Proud.

With Captain Abrashoff as our inspiration, we began embracing our TLC approach and awarding pins to our colleagues that exhibited these traits: whether it was to a client, to a colleague, or in the community.

And then we invited our clients in and started awarding TLC pins for members of our advisory boards, those that provided feedback and challenged us to get better, and even our board of directors.

You don't need to chase waterfalls and I would suggest avoiding the passenger side of your best friend's ride, but a TLC-like program can do wonders for a team that is seeking an identity and a culture that recognizes performance.

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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