Thought Thursday – Seeing Systems Part 5: Understanding the Customer Space
All of us have had the experience of being a customer. In short, you know you are in the role of customer when you’re relying on the goods and services of a provider in order for you to meet a personal or system need. Whether you are waiting on a medical diagnosis, waiting to be served at a restaurant, waiting for a contractor to give you a quote on a major home repair, waiting on a member of your IT department to fix your computer, waiting in line to renew your license at the DMV, or waiting on some critical information from a department within your organization for you to meet an immovable deadline, the customer experience usually requires patience and a whole lot of waiting. It also may benefit from taking specific proactive steps to ensure great service.
I remember, over fifteen years ago, sitting in a session with my mentor, Barry Oshry, and hearing him turn this simple, elegant phrase: “Enter into the customer- provider relationship early as a partner, as opposed to late as a judge.” First, let’s go back to the predictable conditions Oshry says await us as we enter into a space in a system. Referencing back to our analogy of the dog jumping into the lake, when we jump into the “customer lake”, we experience neglect. In response to that experience of neglect, we react with a reflexive shake, which is to stay aloof and hold the system responsible for our condition. After all, we are the customer, we paid good money for the service! Didn’t they get the memo: “the customer is always #1”?
So what does this strategy of staying aloof and waiting to get served do for us? Does it get us better service? Depending on how much neglect you experience and how patient you are as a person, you are likely to react with a pallet of emotional responses ranging from mild disappointment, to frustration, to “royally and righteously screwed”.
What are our alternatives? Sure, we can dash off a scathing review via some social media outlet, or we can share direct feedback with a powerless customer service representative. And yes, we can even do our best to make sure our friends never work with person X or frequent store Y ever again. But at what cost and with what gain? In order to pivot out of the position from complaining to satisfied customer, Barry suggests that we take a stand for partnership and Become a customer who gets in the middle of delivery processes and helps them work for us. In other words, rather than waiting to be served, take an active stand to help shape the service you would like to receive.
Barry Oshry suggests there are four strategies that can bring us into positive partnership with service providers so that they are more likely to meet our expectations:
In many of the schools I consult with, too much time is spent criticizing other stakeholders, parents, students, fellow administrators, faculty and staff without adequate empathy and or awareness of the condition of the spaces they are operating out of every day. Barry Oshry’s exploration of the space of Tops, Middles, Bottoms and Customers unravels the mysteries of organizational life and opens up pathways to partnership that can create more powerful and robust systems. It’s not easy, but it is possible.
In case you missed it, click here and to read introduction about the Top, Middle, Bottom, and Customer spaces. To learn about previous spaces discussed, click the following links:
Concentrics offers strategic planning, leadership coaching, team development and meeting and retreat facilitation to help prepare leaders and organizations to work in partnership and implement best practice in decision-making. For additional questions call us at 610-696-3950 or e-mail us at email@example.com. You can also visit us on Facebook and Twitter!
Thought Thursday- Seeing Systems Part 3: Leading from the Middle Space
Most of us can think of a time when we’ve been in the middle of something, where we are pretty sure that if we please one party, we will displease another. One of my oldest memories goes back to being a resident assistant at the University of Pittsburgh. Back in the early 1970’s, I was lucky enough to receive room and board and half tuition for taking on this classic middle space role. My job was to provide peer counseling and mentorship while making sure the students on my floor abided by school policies. For those who have navigated this tricky space, you know the dilemma, which can easily be boiled down to a few choice words: build trust or make the bust. I remember sitting in my dorm room, as the parties raged on, and steeling myself for the interventions to come. Do I ignore this party? Do I shut that party down? Do I “write-up” the students for underage drinking or smoking pot and put them through the disciplinary process, at the cost to their academic futures? What position will this put me in when students with real problems on the floor come to me for help? What do I really believe is the right thing to do? Why did I take this job anyway?!
The other day, I was coaching a Department Chair who was in a similar position. She was being asked to implement a curricular change, which came from the central administration, and get the buy-in from her fellow faculty who had no interest in making the change. Worse yet, she too was uncertain about the impact of the recommended changes on student learning. She asked me, “What responsibility do I have to the administration, my fellow faculty and the students?”
This is the dilemma of the Middle Space. Whether you are a coach trying to advocate for a student athlete with the Admissions Office; a Development Director trying to steer a donor’s giving toward a specific school need; a Division Head responding to a parent’s complaint about a faculty member, or a parent trying to mediate a conflict between two children, life is filled with Middle Space dilemmas.
Barry Oshry explains that you know you are in the middle space when you have the experience of being torn. In reference to the analogy of the dog jumping into the lake, Oshry explains that the “reflexive shake” while being torn is an attempt to “slide into the middle” and try to please everyone. He says our most natural response is to run back and forth listening to all the parties and, in the process, we lose ourselves. We come off to others in our organization/system as wishy-washy, a pawn of one side or another and lacking leadership. To avoid losing ourselves, Barry says we need to take a stand. The stand for the middle space is: “Be a middle who maintains your independence of thought and action in stays in service to the system.” This stand leads us to alternative strategies for taking leadership:
1) Take top when you can. This means make a call and be willing to live with the consequences of your actions. In other words, do what’s needed and ask for forgiveness later.
2) Be the bottom when you should. This means you must be a reality check. As ideas from higher ups hit the ground, they sometimes do not have the desired effect. As a middle, when you see that things are not going to work out well, be courageous and push back. Be prepared to share alternative approaches that might fare better.
3) Be the coach, which means coaching either end, or both, so that they can effectively implement their ideas and/or share their feedback in ways that will serve the mission/system well.
4) Be the facilitator- Invite the key parties to a meeting and then design the format and process so that all voices are heard and you leave with shared agreements.
Sometimes we start with one strategy only to find that another is needed. As long as we stay focus on serving the system, rather than specific individuals, the potential for being effective is there. It takes courage and support. Support can often come from fellow middles in the system. Oshry explains that the place of greatest leverage in a system is the Middle Space. After all, they are the folks who are likely to partner with all levels of a system on a regular basis. When middles integrate with their peers regularly (especially without their bosses present) good things tend to happen. Here are agenda items for “Meetings of the Middles”, recommended by Oshry, which are to be used as a guide for meetings:
There is great power and great challenge in the middle space. Remember, slide out first, maintain your independence of thought and action, and lead with intention. Don’t be afraid to develop/refine your skills as a facilitator and a coach.
Tune in next week to learn how to navigate the bottom space!
To learn about the other spaces discussed, click the following links:
Concentric’s offers strategic planning, leadership coaching, team development and meeting and retreat facilitation to help prepare leaders and organizations to work in partnership and implement best practice in decision-making. For additional questions call us at 610-696-3950 or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit us on Facebook and Twitter!