Thursday, December 06, 2007

NO! - It need not be 'just the way it is.'

As a customer one of the most annoying statements I hear is;

‘Sorry nothing I can do - that’s just the way it is’

What it portrays to me is that employees inside organisations have become tired, and lost their passion to challenge a culture that obviously need challenging!

So often I have heard that expression, or a variation of it, when customer expectations have fallen below the standard the customer expected.

If employees in any organisation say that sort of thing, don’t you think it is sad?

In short it means they have ‘given up’ … and I don’t think we should ever give up trying to change cultures that are wrong.


David said...

For me, it is another example of leadership giving up first. The fish rots from the head down and as goes the CEO and his/her leaders, so goes the culture more often than not. US statistics indicate over 70% of employees are disengaged at work. This is tragic but we, as leaders, need to make it safe to try and fail and to lay a foundation for excellence. Safety is also a requirement for dialogue to occur and the pool of shared meaning to expand. Unsafe equals disengaged employees "doing time" in a culture of scarcity rather than possibility. In my experience, a relative few are willing to act as catalysts while others are making sure they don't get sacked. Tough to tell the wife and kids that the only change at the company today was you losing your job.

Anonymous said...


I am confused - these are the front liners that Trevor Gay and Tom Peters claim are the "heart and soul of the business/organisation".

I thought these people were your heroes? Aren't these the people you advocate to replace middle management, et al.

I am not sure what your experience is or what your success rate is in regard to changing organisational cultures but whenever I have had a decent go at it (eg I went for one month and ended up spending 3 years as the Culture Change Consultant at the Department Of Foreign Affairs and Trade in my country). My point is when I have tried it I have found that "continuing to change a culture" will not cut it.

Instead you have to make profound changes and that demands a great sense of humour, absence of prejudice, openness, humility, money/resources/ideas, political capital, an iron will, ability to jettison your ideological baggage, and a willingness to work 14 hour days 7 days a week.

Culture is "the way things are done around here".... These people you are complaining about are the culture and if you can not change their attitude, work habits, mindsets, ways of being in the world, etc as customer then what hope has management got of doing it.

Ever noticed that if you go back to the same place at a different time and get a different "front liner" the whole experience is different.

Also any conversation, experience, or relationship (no matter how brief is a two way street). I always look to myself first when I get that type of reaction - am I the one who is being the tragic here? Guess what it is usually me and my attitude - the bad one I bring to the conversation - that leads to a response like it is "just the way it is"... Frankly if I come with a "black dog" on my shoulder then what better response am I entitled to get....

David Wike said...

Very interesting inputs to this and the previous junk mail posting. It is very easy to get up on a soap box and rant about the state of all sorts of things. I do it all of the time! However, despite the admirable aim to make things simple, it isn’t always quite so easy as we ranters make out. In terms of junk mail, I sure that much of the reason is that ‘we’ve always done it this way’. Or that our competitors do it so we can’t afford not to. When I was in the car industry, the S&M people always wanted certain features because the competition had them, so that was what was expected by the customer. I might rant against it but ultimately I would have to, or be told to, shut up. That’s the way it is. You toe the line or you leave. So I think it entirely unrealistic to expect the front line, often the most junior people in an organisation, to start rattling cages.

Change has to come from the top. If the top isn’t willing to change, or even to listen to the reasons why it might be good to change, well, then that’s the way it is. The only way to change things is to vote with your feet if you are a customer and to write to the chief exec to explain why. The problem is that you know that your letter will probably be ignored, and if you transfer your custom, the new supplier probably won’t be any better. So I conclude that trying to move mountains is probably a waste of time, but maybe, just maybe, I could shift a molehill, so much better to focus my efforts in that direction.

Trevor Gay said...

Wow!! – I go to bed and get up to three brilliant comments!! – In different ways I think we are all saying similar things.

I am not getting at front liners at all – I celebrate front liners all the time - I am getting at leaders.

It is the leader who sets the tone and creates the culture. I worked for over 30 years in healthcare management, allegedly ‘managing people’ (in reality people manage themselves) I was a ‘middle manager’ for most of those years.

The people who ‘didn't get’ this stuff were mostly senior managers who were all for a quiet life and no ‘boat rocking’ while the people who did understand about customers were ALWAYS front liners.

I have more faith than David W about the power of front liners to change cultures and good leaders always recognise the front liners who want to see changes.

My main point in this posting is ‘That’s just the way it is’ is not always acceptable as an answer.

If we accept that without questioning it then we might as well pack up and go home now.

David is right that it is tricky to explain to your wife that ‘I’ve rattled the cage a bit and I’ve lost my job as a result’ (maybe that is not a good place to work anyway), David W is right that sometimes it is difficult for front liners to move mountains but as Margaret Mead the immortal Anthropologist said “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Richard I hear what you say about the mood of the leader setting the tone – depressed leader – depressed organisation.

I will continue to promote the front liners ability to change things. Effective leader’s will always have awareness of the value of front liners

The wonderful thing for me is that in the new world of work rather than the old world it is the front liner who has most to gain from technology. They can now question the ‘manager’ more to justify her/his ‘leadership’ role – and the good manager will welcome that – not dismiss it by virtue of seniority - i.e. ‘It’s not your job to question me.’

There was (is?) always an assumption in the National Health Service that the higher your place in the organisation the brighter you are – I don’t think that has ever been the case and it certainly isn’t now. People who call themselves ‘managers’ have to prove what they are actually ‘managing’ that entitles them to earn more money than the people ‘below them’ (what an awful expression that is) in the organisational chart

Anonymous said...


In the new world of work there is less and less need for C20th style leadership, management, etc. simply because most of the old fashioned people work is going or gone.

In C21st most people in a business or an organisation are "front liners". Google Inc has around 12,000 people working for it and most of them are developers, recruiters, or customer orientated "front liners". The management role is focussed on the broad direction of the company rather than micro-managing people.

People management is the least of the task at Google, Skype, eBay, Amazon, News Corp, etc. Retail is becoming even less people intensive too - self-service at check outs , etc mean the customer is becoming the "front liner" of the business more and more.

The focus is beginning to shift - where we once were hired to manage staff we are now being recruited to "manage" the customer. As a new age "manager" you are judged on your ability to provide a good customer experience - which obviously includes getting the very best from your co-workers....

Trevor Gay said...

Hi Richard

Brilliant comments and I am with you 100%. The new front liner is in fact the REAL manager!! - Amen :-)