Catalyst Strategic Consultants

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Cautionary Mindset: Prudent or Costly?

I stopped in at the bank. Needed to pick up my new credit card and had it sent to the branch to avoid delay.
The young lady greeted me. Hearing my story, she said:
“If the card had arrived here, you would have gotten a call.”
“Would you please check to see? I’m going to Switzerland on the weekend.”
“Can I see your ID?”
“Have you gotten a call from us?”
“Well, it’s not here.”
“Can you check please?”
“Let me look at your profile” – turns to the ubiquitous screen – the source of all knowledge and direction – a refuge in uncertainty…
“Your phone number – is it 403 777 1144?”
“The better number is 403 680 8454.”
“I’m just updating…just a moment, please?”
“Could you just check to see if the card has arrived?”
“Just a moment. We can’t trace the card from the branch..”
At this point, the intelligent and longer serving Nancy, whom I often seek precisely to avoid this dance, overheard.
She looked in the pouch and produced — The Card! A quick signature and I was on my way.
But not before the young lady had me produce my driver’s license yet again. Just to be safe. She had to get her due process licks in. So, just for spite, I signed “Prince Phillip”.
It’s always been with us, this continuum of human availability from stepping forward to retreating in the face of risk. We pride ourselves on our appetite for potentially risky business. In North America, unwittingly perhaps, we’ve taken a gigantic swing toward the former.
How does that show up?

  • Employees afraid of making mistakes
  • Associates who must be led through each mindfreezing step of a transaction
  • When they come to the end of strict instructions or policy, they stop. Cold.
  • No coloring outside the lines – slaves to “due Process
  • Excessive permission seeking and affirmation requests from customers to the point of exasperation – “Is it Ok if I …”

Now, many think is absolutely right! Correct! People working should check at every pause rather than make an error, presume something or do something unauthorized. Except when people are reduced to this, they are no better than apparatchiks.
Most systems are stupid. Granted, they’re gradually getting smarter, but it’s a slow and incomplete march.
When Don Harrison was teaching me Implementation – he said a hallmark of success was when users of a new working model exhibited:

  • intelligence
  • judgment
  • discretion

as they put it into practice.
These qualities are why we pay big bucks for people, until computers can be taught every nuance.
Many transactions and all relationships require improvisation. There just can’t be enough instructions to cover off every possibility. As if detail were always the answer! It’s not.
I have heard this so many times I can’t count.
“Why can’t they just use common sense?”
Well, for a few reasons:

  • they are blanketed by processes and detail intended to completely instruct them – they block its expression
  • They have been dumbed down by the monstrous societal adoption of algorithms for everything
  • They are mesmerized by screens that tell you everything
  • They are fearful and insecure otherwise

People working in systems are used to everything working out “perfectly” because the system is closed. It subdues variation. Except when it doesn’t. When it doesn’t friction is introduced.
Friction measures the chafing when the system and the customer don’t dovetail in real life. If you’re a total believer that should never happen – you might as well stop reading now.
Friction is expensive. Clumsy handling of customers – putting them off, wasting their time with excessive formalism. It just plain takes longer with friction. And opportunity – to extend, explore, enhance – goes out the window.
So if the story I started with is common in your company, you might be curious as to how to get around this dumb phenomenon and get some speed and slickness into the equation.
What can you do?

  • your systems – are they cloying? Do your people chafe under them every day?
  • Do you interview for people with a bit of flare – a healthy ability to see beyond the regulations to the point.. you know. Forests, not trees.
  • Rather than do surveys by numbers, do you talk to customers about the experience? Gain qualitative feedback? Whether their experience is ponderous or delightful..?
  • Do you anticipate and set up your customer experience so the default path flows to fit the majority without asking them to affirm the obvious.

Let’s do this!!!


Doug Bouey
Catalyst Strategic Consultants Ltd.

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What’s Our Business?

Bringing out the best in you, your company and your people.

Doug Bouey, President
Catalyst Strategic Consultants Ltd.

Calgary, AB // Phone: 403.777.1144


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