Are you hindering 95% to stop the 5% that break the rules?

Focus on the majority and make it easy for them to achieve your best results, says Steven van Belleghem.

A few years ago, I was invited to the offices of the American company Evernote. As we were shown around we passed an ordinary looking vending machine, but instead of the usual unhealthy drinks and snacks it was filled from top to bottom with technological gadgetry including keyboards, mouses and USB sticks.

After staring in amazement for a few seconds, our host said, “Our people can come and pick up IT stuff whenever they need it. They just punch in the right letter code and out pops whatever they want.” It all sounded so simple and logical, and most of our group nodded in approval.

Everyone, that is, apart from a senior executive from a large Belgian company who clearly had his doubts. “How do you know if someone really needs a new keyboard?” he asked. Our guide answered “We don’t. We just let the staff decide for themselves. How do you do it in your company?”

A culture of building processes and procedure for the 95%, and making life as easy as possible for the good people, is the kind of change that will help you succeed. 

We then heard a lengthy process involving IT support teams, line managers, department heads and finance teams, before the Evernote host smiled and said “Well, I guess we just trust our people a bit more. We are convinced that even if 5% of the workforce occasionally takes something home, our system is still quicker and more efficient than the way you do things in your company.

“We ask our people to give the best of themselves for the company every single day. We sure as hell ain’t going to bother them with long and complex processes for routine daily decisions.”

The 95% – 5% rule

This discussion at Evernote highlights just how rules and procedures are often made in companies. The vast majority are developed simply to prevent misuse. We create internal processes that make employees’ lives much more difficult, simply to stop them from doing something that the vast majority were never planning to do in the first place.

This is the illusion of control. People who want to abuse their positions of trust are often far more ‘creative’ than people think. In other words, the bad employees still find a way to misbehave; the good employees get saddled with a mass of complex procedures.

A 100% perfect recruitment policy is impossible, but let’s say that every company has its 95% good, reliable and honest employees. Are your processes and procedures made for that 95%? Research shows that our brains naturally attach much more emotional weight to negative than positive matters, so perhaps it is just human nature to focus on the minority who have bad intentions.

One of the keys to creating ‘the offer you can’t refuse’ for talent is to offer them ultimate convenience. A culture of building processes and procedure for the 95%, and making life as easy as possible for the good people, is the kind of change that will help you succeed.

Don’t slow your people down with long-winded and irritating rules, and you will give them more time and energy to make a real difference for your customers and your company.

Working from home versus the office

The COVID-19 lockdown created an interesting test for confidence and trust between companies and their employees. Millions of people had no option but to work at home and it all went much better than many people had thought.

A manager of a large contact centre I work with told me, “Before the crisis we had one large contact centre with 500 employees. We now have 500 small contact centres. At first, I was against this, but I have been forced to change my mind. Our customers are still receiving excellent help, the team are doing their work efficiently and we can see that they are more relaxed and more satisfied.”

Before the lockdown this manager would have been exactly the type of person who was against home working. Why? Because he was worried about the 5%. Now he understands the positive impact that the 95% can make.

It will be interesting to see how many companies reverted to their pre-pandemic working processes in the coming years. Will individuals still be allowed to work at home? Will they be allowed to choose which days best suit their personal family agenda?

Could the crisis become a turning point that makes organisations realise that it is the actions of the 95% that really count?


About the author

Steven van Belleghem is one of the world’s leading thought-leaders, speakers and authors on customer engagement. His new book, The Offer You Can’t Refuse is out now


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