“We felt we had stayed in our comfort zone for too long. Our organization had been doing quite well in recent years and would continue to do so – or, at least, that’s what we thought. However, various changes in the environment started to hurt us more and more, making it painfully clear that we were losing our value to clients. We, as management, realized that it was not us but the employees who were the decisive factor for the results of the organization. Our people at the counters took a decision every six minutes, that is 80 decisions per day per person. And with 400 counter clerks that meant 32.000 decisions any given day! Such a number could never be regulated by protocols or instructions from ‘above’ so clerks had to take these decisions autonomously. And if they would simply follow a checklist provided to them by us, instead of thinking about client needs themselves while making decisions we would never create added value for our clients. We became aware of the need to build an organization that would facilitate employees making good decisions and turn the work floor into the most important layer of the organization: we needed to become a high performance organization. But the sixty-four thousand dollar question was: how?
First we had to get out of our comfort zone, which required us to abandon the old traditional idea of wanting to achieve higher turnover and profit growth. We had to broaden our horizon and get used to thinking about new ways to deliver ever increasing quality and made-to-measure services to our clients, which would eventually translate into growth and profitability. This meant we had to work ‘smarter’, be more entrepreneurial, listen better to our clients, and develop a true service-minded attitude. As management, we had to move from giving top-down instructions and always wanting to be in control – creating uninspired employees and killing creativity – to being managers who could facilitate, coach and inspire people and by that increase our value to employees. Speaking about myself, I had some tough questions to answer: What did I need to do? How was I going to approach the upside-down pyramid? What would it mean for me personally? I felt that I had to confront my fears: Did I really want this? Was I capable of doing this? Where would we end up? At the same time I knew it would be a lonely journey, certainly at the beginning, as the organization wasn’t really welcoming change. In addition, I realized that the course would be uncertain and that others could and probably would react negatively. As a leader you just have to accept these uncertainties and dare to tackle them. Only after I had faced up to this reality could I start my journey to make the organization a high performance organization.”
The above is compiled from interviews held with the former chief executive officer (CEO) of Dactylo, part of the Randstad Group.