THE NEXUS OF EX/CX AND CULTURE

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By Carolyne Gathuru

In the recently concluded national survey dubbed :  ‘The State of Employee Experience to Customer Experience Success in Kenya’, that sought to determine the nexus of customer experience and employee experience, key elements emerged that would be beneficial for every organization seeking sustainable success to mull over. The ‘voice of the people’ as expressed in this study, both quantitatively and qualitatively, indicate four key areas for attention: the need for a stronger focus on employee experience; better employee experience to customer experience alignment; active demonstration of aspirational leadership; and the embedding of a stronger positive culture within organizations.

Spontaneous

Whereas all the four elements cited are of critical importance and need to form the backbone of organizational strategic plans worth their salt, the undisputable fact that culture eats strategy for breakfast (and as it  is now more aptly put, lunch and dinner inclusive) as averred by legendary management consultant and writer Peter Drucker, is a call for a deep dive into this particular outcome with specificity. The workforce has clarity about the cultures that are prevalent at work, having identified them in specific terms, and that what is of essence is to have the positive cultures emerge stronger.

The survey explicitly sought to elicit spontaneous top of mind reflection from the respondents who hailed from different sectors of the economy, about their current workplace culture by asking the question “How would you describe your company culture in three words”. The batched responses on organizational culture descriptively fell into two well defined groups with both positive and negative descriptors. Those that described their company cultures positively described them as: fun, caring, empowering, inclusive, diverse, innovative, collaborative, customer-focus, energetic, disruptive, creative, progressive, forward-thinking and agile. On the opposite end of the spectrum, those that described their organizational cultures negatively indicted they were:  hierarchical, bureaucratic, profit-oriented, formal, toxic, unsupportive, micromanaged, discriminative, aggressive and manipulative. These sentiments were expressly echoed from qualitative responses on a different query seeking the rationale for employee satisfaction ratings, with some intense samples captured both ways as:

‘Many work in toxic environments and only remain there because they have not found a better place. Worse still, many still remain trapped in toxic work environments thinking they will change the environment or the environment will change for the better in future, not realizing that it is taking a toll on their mental and emotional well-being.’

‘Toxic culture where employees are expected to give 200%, give up their free time ;  thinking and  asking questions is discouraged’

‘I am happy with my organization. The leaders are forward thinking and open. They’re also inspirational. I love where I work.’

‘Our company is very deliberate on voices of the people…they conduct a yearly survey on the same and benchmark with our peers in the same industry.  We touch on areas like leadership, management, DEI, Safety etc.   Directly using the feedback from the surveys would help a great deal’

Culture health check

With these telling outcomes in mind, and with the need for organizational strategy to have a key pillar on human capital acquisition, management and retention, it would be important for every institution to find out where they lie on the culture rating spectrum as adjudged by their staff. Organizations must shift away from what is commonly labelled by employees as ‘toxic workplaces’ to spaces where there  is  open communication, freedom of expression, clarity of purpose, and overall wellness. The ultimate litmus test of organizational culture is what emerges from anonymous feedback shared candidly and without the anxiety of traceability. Every organization needs to conduct a culture health check and determine if they will be rated in the culture triage room as being fit for purpose, or requiring critical illness emergency care.

Culture starts with and is embedded from the top. It is the leadership right from governance level cascading down the organization structure that determine the company culture and seek to ensure that the desired culture is maintained. Based on the emergent matters arising from the employees on culture, and the need for a stronger focus on this, several areas for attention need to be instituted:

Flatten The Decision Hill

Current structures, hierarchy and red tape in organizations towards decision making and getting things done, form insurmountable barriers that are causing the workforce to hold back. This cuts across both government, non-governmental and private sector institutions. There is a call for a leaner flatter decision making structure that allows not only for quicker access to resources and solutions, but also ease of sharing ideas, brainstorming on product and service innovations and moving forward. The open door policy – simply defined as having leadership leaving their office door “open” to encourage openness and transparency from team members, needs to be the go-to without fear or favour.

Partnership and Collaboration

 Knowledge sharing both perpendicularly and laterally across the organization has been touted as a fundamental solution towards creating a culture of equitability. Knowledge is indeed power and when knowledge spreads through all levels of the organization, it empowers action. Effective partnership and collaborative efforts from staff teams need to be built on the bedrock of informed initiatives and actions. Having pockets of persons ‘in-the know’ and others ‘in-the-dark’ creates unhealthy silos that cause disintegration. The workforce is calling for more involvement and updates to allow for plugging in to drive organizational missions forward.

360 Degree Accountability

 The workforce is looking for all round, holistic accountability from all corners. The need is expressed in the push for the use of meritocracy for organizational decision making and activities. That the yardstick of use will be for one’s work to speak for them and the demonstrable outlay of effectiveness. Accountability from leadership to the teams and for the teams back to leadership has been requested to enable a work atmosphere of clarity on what begets what. With responsibility comes accountability and the call for more responsibilities to be assigned for delivery, to enable ownership of actions and outcomes has been made clear. With this culture in place, success will be both  self-driven and collectively acknowledged.

Driving Employee Inclusion

 The more inclusive the workplace is, the more buy in from the internal teams, and the more delivery of actionable outcomes. Although inclusion continues to take on many dimensions and facets – some leaning on the extreme and teetering off kilter – what is clear is that employee inclusion in terms of provision of opportunities without stereotyping, stigma, bias and divisiveness remains a winning strategy. When employees are treated fairly, they in turn in the spirit of human reciprocity will treat customers fairly. Both customer inclusion and employee inclusion need to feature largely in organizational mandates and codes of conduct/ethics.

Fostering Cohesion

 The ‘same old’ ‘same old’ pitch for the need for great teamwork, promotion of team spirit and the importance of team building activities appeared in the survey results. This has remained static over time and clearly needs to live on in the culture plan for organizations. The bridging of gaps and demolition of silos, and replacement of these with building a well-knit, well-functioning, well-synergized team remain a solid way to ensure culture percolation and absorption. Leadership however needs to be cautious to ensure that these do not become run-of-the-mill, standard items on the organizational annual calendar, and are actually well planned to deliver lasting and sustainable impact for the institution.

Promoting Empathy

 In the Forbes March 2024 leadership opinion piece, contributor Ms. Soulaima Gourani avers that “Empathic leadership isn’t just a bonus—it’s a necessity. Employees are no longer satisfied with distant, detached bosses; they yearn for leaders who understand and share their feelings.” This resonates completely with the findings of the survey where there is a call for employee wellness at work and the reduction of mental health challenges that are currently on the increase, with work stress as a source. The need to lead and work with the ‘entire’ employee and what concerns and affects them, rather than the ‘work place only’ employee often likened to machinery, is a required shift. Work place cultures also need to have zero tolerance for toxicity, with documented actions for uptake in the event of occurrence.

That culture is a ‘way of life’ for human beings in different communities that guides day to day behaviour and habits as well as their attitudes toward each other, is no different in the work place. Institutions need to normalize cultures that serve to edify both the internal and external customer, and to have a supportive framework for inculcation and sustenance. This survey has amplified the voice of the people in workplaces and thus behooves all leaders and those responsible for internal customer management, to conduct an organizational culture audit to determine the status quo. This will then provide the way forward in terms of what needs to continue, what needs to be uprooted and what needs to be instituted for success. The time for action presents itself with immediacy to enable a positive shift in the nation ahead of the next temperature check.

Ref: https://icxkenya.co.ke/icx-ex-for-cx-survey-results/

Carolyne Gathuru is the founder and director of strategy at Lifeskills Consulting. She has a wealth of experience in customer experience strategy development and training.  Share your feedback with her on: cgathuru@life-skills.co.ke

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