Friday 30 March 2007

Service maturity

Just recently we started allowing one of my sons to make tea. We decided that he was now mature enough to use the kettle and could be trusted to pour boiling water safely. Obviously the first few times we were there to assist him but also to make absolutely sure he could be trusted to do it himself without endangering either himself or anybody else.

That is how you allow a child to grow up, to develop his or her skills and to become self-sufficient. You start by doing things for them, then teaching them how to do things independently and finally you let them get on with it themselves, remaining available for when an emergency arises. It’s the ways things are.

So why do some companies seem to be so determined to behave like children? Why can’t they grow up?

Just recently I heard an interview with the head of a company who was asked how he was going to react to some complaints that he had received. His answer was simple. “We will engage consultants”.

If you know who this is, please don't let him use the kettle, OK?

I still don't understand the obsession we have here in Botswana with engaging consultants. Whether it is local consultants helping us to fix the simplest of problems or international consultants telling us the blindingly obvious I think it all just serves to keep us in a childish state of mind.

Of course I am not saying that consultants have no place. I just believe that they should be restricted to specific, “technical” services. If I want an environmental assessment done then clearly I don't have the skills so it is obviously best for me to pay a specialist to do it for me. If I want to find a new CEO for a company it is obviously much better to approach a top-level recruitment company. If I want my company accounts doing perfectly I will engage an accountant.

But if I want to know how to teach my front-line staff how to treat customers with respect I can do that myself and SO CAN YOU! I have read the books. I have seen the TV programs. I have read the newspaper columns that go on and on about how to do it. I have even written a few. I don't need a consultant for this. No, I don't.

The other thing that my children do sometimes is use long words. Part of it is them developing their language skills, another part is experimentation but it is often amusing to hear them just showing off, using a word they just heard on the TV.

The trouble is, adults do it as well. Take this example taken from a speech recently given at a conference and reported in the newspapers. Talking about the conference the speaker said it:

“should provide much-needed leverage to enable the country to upscale its present operational threshold through taking advantage of the latest concepts.”


I challenge you to translate that into English without reading it at least 4 times. I think what he meant was:

“we will learn new things and get better”.

So why not say that? Why are we so ashamed of using simple language? Yes, certainly you can use a long word if it is the best way to get a concept across. There is nothing wrong with long words if there is no alternative but very often there is. For instance I have never understood why anyone uses the word “utilise” instead of “use”. Why say “we will benchmark it against” when you can say “we will compare it with”?

And every time I hear the phrase “results-oriented” I have to wonder how the speaker did things in the past. Did he judge performance by something other than results? At their recent “Results-based Monitoring & Evaluation Workshop” did the Ministry of Agriculture announce that they were no longer going to judge performance by something other than results? What else is there? Surely agriculture specialists are some of the best-placed to know about results?

Every time I hear words or phrases like “paradigm”, “process re-engineering” or “stakeholder” I wonder who people are trying to impress. Probably just themselves.

I think that this is all actually a bit childish. One of the signs of maturity is confidence and I think it is actually very mature of a business leader to suggest that his or her ideas are actually quite simple and that they can be expressed simply. It is not necessary to clothe them in pretentious words. Surely that is just a smokescreen for sloppy thinking?

Sorry, I must finish now. I need to go and get my son to put the kettle on so I can upscale my present results-based operational tannin-oriented capacity threshold. I need a cup of tea.

This week’s stars!

  • The company that objected to what we had been saying about them in Mmegi (without even giving their name) and on the radio and got their attorneys to call us and suggest we had been defaming them. Given that we only reported the exact truth as reported to us and in our experience it really made our day! We knew we were doing something right. Thanks guys!
  • Candy at Stanbic Fairgrounds for fantastically good service.
  • Mpho at African Banking Corporation, nominated by her colleagues (yes, that’s permitted!) for outstanding service and always being willing to help out.
  • Ivy at Capitol Medical Centre for being amazing.

No comments: