Three Questions to Manage Performance in a Service Culture


Building a service culture in any organization requires that systems and processes reflect and support service as a key business driver. One system is performance management.

Performance management, performance appraisal, employee review – whatever name you have for it – is a common, often dreaded, and largely under-utilized process for managing an organization. Yet it can be one of the most effective tools for leading change – ensuring a service culture, or any cultural focus, can be created and sustained over time.

Performance management practices range from a sophisticated, leader driven, technology-enhanced core business process to an HR-only-driven, form-based compliance process that becomes irrelevant to the success of the business. They can be a multi-faceted, with ongoing measures of performance, or simple once a year events. They can be highly formal (often in large organizations) or casual discussions (common in smaller organizations). Regardless, this is an organizational system that can be tapped, improved or reconstituted to drive a major service culture change.

Any effective performance management process, no matter how sophisticated or simple, must answer 3 questions for employees. Defining these and connecting them to service excellence transforms the performance management system into a leadership tool to align the focus on service at all levels of the organization and keep it alive over many years.

The three questions to answer:

1. What do we need to accomplish? These are the larger goals and the specific objectives, targets, or outcomes the business must meet to succeed.  This starts at the top and must cascade down through the organization so everyone’s actions are alignmed. If the CEO sets a critical goal to increase customer retention to drive revenue and profitability, one objective for the CEO may be to “conduct executive review meetings with our top 10 clients by June 1.”  An aligned objective for an entry-level customer representative, supporting that same retention goal, might be to “respond to all current client enquiries within 4 hours of request.”  Different objectives, and both supporting the same business goal.  Traditionally companies set annual objectives for employees, but in today’s rapidly changing markets, 90-day objectives may keep the process more relevant and responsive.

2. How will our people accomplish these goals and objectives? What are the 5-6 key competencies or behaviors that employees will use to meet the business goals? How employees conduct business must also align with your values. For example, it is doesn’t work for a sales person to achieve a sales target by promising a service you do not offer, or by offering what you do provide but not embodying the service values you profess. You might reach a revenue target in the short term, but will sacrifice the service culture you need for longer-term success.

“Providing superior service” may itself be one of your values, but other common values such as continuous improvement, innovation, driving for results or teamwork must all support, not conflict, with the service culture you are seeking to create.

3.Where do we need to grow? Individual and organizational talent must continually be expanding and improving to meet new goals, to compete in changing markets and to support the values that ensure success. Where does the organization need to develop talent? Each individual must also have a plan to develop needed skills and behaviors. Related to service this may include such skills as Building Partnerships, Increasing Customer Loyalty, Proactive Communication, Collaboration or Effective Following-up.

Identify skills that will build service talent across all functional areas for better internal and external service. This is good for the business and good for the individual. Document, track and provide ongoing feedback on these plans as part of the performance management process. While this is critical for people continually stepping up service excellence, this development piece is often missing or lacking in performance management systems.

If you have a good system – use it as a leadership tool to drive the development of your service culture. If you have an old system that is out of date or stuck in the mire of compliance, then reinvigorate and streamline it to focus clearly on service culture. And if you don’t have any performance management process, create a simple plan that answers these 3 questions to align your team to focus on uplifting service.

Categories: Service Culture Support
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8 Responses

  1. Vimal says:

    Thanks for this Jeff – for me very timely as I work on exactly this problem in my new company. I was just wondering,do you see the above 3 questions changing depending on whether you are a B2B or B2C business? I’m guessing not, since they are so general and inclusive. In addition, one normally approaches this issue from the perspective that we all have blank canvasses to start from – and the reality is far from that. More often than not, we have sub-plots of intra- or inter-departmental walls, the baggage of soured relationships, the burden of lack of trust between colleagues/departments etc etc. The more challenging issue then – how do we institute better performance management within such a difficult environment? Would the same 3 questions help?

  2. Vikas Saxena says:

    Extremely informative, insightful, well-articulated, and immensely useful.

  3. Jeff Eilertsen says:

    Vimal — very good questions thank you! I have seen performance management systems in almost every industry using these 3 basic elements. I think it applies to both B2B and B2C businesses. Of course the objectives, competencies and development plans will be more specific to your industry and especially your unique business. Ironically the challenging environment you describe is exactly where a good performance managment system is needed. The most effective performance systems are not just for setting and tracking business goals but are designed to create alignment and drive behavior throughout the organzation — both what you want to accomplish and how. Organizations with sub-plots and sour relationships are suffering from a poor “people culture.” The first step for a strong performance system is to be sure your vision and values are clear, true and bought into by the leaders. These may be worth revisiting. Only then can you determine the right objectives and competenices/behaviors needed to win. Your values will paint a different picture than “lack of trust” and “baggage” — and it will be up to leadership at all levels to use the performance managment system to communicate, gain agreement, find examples, give feedback and develop people to act out these values in addition to accomplishing the business goals. Phew — a long paragraph — but this can be a critical tool for changing your culture of distrust Vimal. Thanks again.

  4. Vimal says:

    Thks Jeff for responding 🙂 Much appreciated. Actually, your suggested starting point – to ensure that the organisation’s leaders buy into a common MVV (mission, vision and values) – is exactly where I’m pushing the buttons now. And just to share – it’s tough getting people to even get started on this! Reticence, lethargy and disbelief are just the beginning of it! But I shall persevere! Thanks again. Happy 2012!

  5. Richard Whiteley says:

    Jeff has “netted out” the critical three questions that are core to creating high levels of performance in a service culture. The three questions cut through the sometimes overwhelming approaches to this subject and give us a clear path to follow. Well done.

  6. Mario Martini says:

    As a broad observation, I believe that it is just as important to have a valid internal “Bottom Up” method of appraisal, as having a “Top Down” one.
    360 degree, while it may be confronting to the leadership of many organizations, under the right circumstances, unites in purpose, and execution. Conviction alone will not ensure a quality outcome, irrespective of the applied metrics to ensure individual’s alignment.
    One in, all in. “Buy in”, I believe, is open to interpretation. Open measures for all, in the pursuit of excellence in the delivery of service.

    …….perhaps a little revolutionary, even for 2012

  7. naeem says:

    As above observation are based on realistic and professional approach. I believe on three major services oriented organization rules (1) Target (2) Performance (3) Motivation their staff members.

  8. Sobia Ze says:

    Thanks Jeff, for sharing such a complicated process in just 3 simple questions 🙂

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