Those who I refer to as “Fusion Leaders” know how to make one’s vision become a reality because these leaders fixate on the process of “fusing” their organization together around a shared goal. They also know that when employees band together around a shared cause, they find deeper work fulfillment and meaning in their jobs because they know that their role has purpose and is important to achieving something that is bigger than themselves—the vision.
As the CEO of Integra Telecom, my vision was to make our customer service experience the best in the communication provider industry. Unlike the giants in our industry, who centralized their monolithic call centers and provisioning groups, often in other parts of the world from their customers, our company focused on locality. We sought to create a customer experience unlike anything the market had experienced before- based on a human-to-human relationship.
In our attempt to disrupt the traditional model of “customer service” we implemented a unique organizational plan, with most all the “customer touching” functions (sales, installations, operations and customer service) in local, close-to-the-customer offices. This dramatically contradicted the large, centralized “silo” structure employed by our former monopoly competitors. Our plan was to not let customers “fall between the silos” and overwhelm them with “high touch” responsiveness.
This model proved successful, catapulting the company I co-founded from start-up to national prominence, becoming one of the ten largest competitors in our industry, with among the highest financial margins. Xchange Magazine, years later, featured our company as the cover story titled “A Study in The High Touch Approach.”
The problem, however, was that the executives I recruited in the early days often came from our traditional competitors and were accustomed to calling the shots from the “ivory tower.” That attitude of “corporate knows all” was in direct conflict with our “vision.” A local service office would never succeed in “high touch” responsiveness if it constantly deferred to corporate headquarters for every decision.
Disrupting our industry’s service model required that my team and I reverse the traditional hierarchy, shifting the organizational power to innovate and drive change to the local field offices, leaving our headquarters in more of a support role.
In order to earn “buy-in” to the vision and the vital following of my organization, I attempted to do two things.
The first thing was to model the vision. I fixated on my daily, weekly and monthly behaviors, prioritizing those behaviors that demonstrated my commitment to the vision. Because locality—the source of human-to-human relationships—was important to our service model, I traveled to our many offices every month to meet and learn from front-line employees. Moreover, I demanded that my fellow c-suite executives get out of their offices, board planes and do the same.
The second thing was to implement change, even small change that proves the vision works. This shows how smaller steps contribute directly to your larger vision.
When traveling to the 35 local offices I often looked for what I called “a golden nugget,” something that would create an opportunity to make our model slightly better, something that would help elevate our service from a solid A to an A+. I prospected for these golden nuggets everywhere I traveled within the company, asking front line employees “what can we do to make our customer experience better?”
Over time, my team and I implemented many golden nuggets in the form of streamlined processes, billing system modifications, improved products or other initiatives that advanced our business model . Because each of these business model improvements came from our front line employees, they communicated the message that “you, as our close-to-the-customer representative manifest the vision” or that “you know better than those of us in headquarters where our business model is working or failing.” Ultimately, these golden nuggets helped create a reward system that imbedded the importance of our local operations within the larger corporate culture.
Our most astute executives leveraged this subtle shift in the cultural center of gravity from headquarters to the field offices to become more effective and successful. Fred, who ran our marketing group, provided a compelling example. Every time he would recommend a new product or some form of change, he would start by saying, “this idea came from so-and-so sales representative in Phoenix because a customer was having such-and-such a problem.” Not surprisingly, Fred rose to the top through a series of promotions and became one of the most crucial executives at the company.
Of course, it’s also necessary to fiercely defend the vision . People who didn’t support the vision or did so kicking and screaming eventually found their way out of the company or got with the program. If someone isn’t committed to the vision, they don’t need to be there. I didn’t see those people leaving as a bad thing.
Taking time to regularly travel to Integra’s many offices challenged my schedule and personal life. Pushing my team to get out of their offices and evidence their commitment to the local, human-to-human service model created strain in my relationships with my co-leaders. While difficult, I learned the core thesis of Fusion Leadership
Forcing myself to evidence my commitment to the vision, allowed my employees to connect their roles to the vision, and ultimately made all the difference. Over time, it became clear to me that connecting every person in the organization to our vision was THE most important job, and therefore my job.
|Dudley R Slater is co-author with Steven T Taylor of Fusion Leadership: Unleashing the Movement of Monday Morning Enthusiasts.
Learn more at Fusionleadership.org