Wednesday, March 28, 2007

No Hand Backs

I’ve noticed in my dealings with various companies that one of the significant factors that impacts my satisfaction is the manner in which I am moved through an organization’s bureaucracy. So, for example, I deal with a couple of financial firms who work with me on a number of levels in different ways. In some cases I am a personal client, in others I am a corporate client. With a bank, for example, I might have different kinds of accounts including a checking account, credit card, and mortgage, and I may deal with the same bank through my work. Inevitably, it seems, I start by calling the wrong person or department. A couple of years ago it seemed that SOP (that is standard operating procedure) was to give me the phone number for the right department… “I’m sorry Mr. Neary, you need to speak with someone in the mutual funds department… they can be reached at 1-800-blah-blah-blah.” That was good service because usually the person on the other end of that call (Ok... really it would be the person I would eventually get to after responding to several automated prompts) could help me.

These days it seems that SOP is that, rather than giving me another number to call (thus handing me back my problem), organizations are more carefully handing customers off to those who can solve problems… “I’m sorry Mr. Neary, you need to speak with someone in the mutual funds department, please hold… hi Joe, I have Mr. Neary on the line, he needs you to help him with his mutual fund account… you should have his information on the screen… I know that you can solve his problem.”

Hand offs are far superior to hand backs.

An organization in pursuit of superior customer service should adopt a no hand backs policy. No matter what, once a customer (student, parishioner, patient, constituent, influencer, etc.) presents you with a problem, you don’t get to give it back to the customer. It is either yours to solve, or you need to thoroughly hand off the problem to a colleague. No hand backs, only hand offs.

This approach could help fix some common misconceptions including:
  • Customers understand and appreciate the fine lines of delineation that exist in our organizational structures. If I were a bank employee, for example, I might better understand why the mutual fund representative can’t answer questions about a money market account… but I’m not an employee and all the problems, as well as all the various customer service representatives, look the same to me. We can’t expect our customers to be all that skilled in navigating our bureaucracies.
  • Getting involved in another department’s work is the unpardonable sin. I think that most people most of the time do hand backs not because they are uncaring or lazy, but because they are afraid to touch another department’s business. Once the problem is solved, the customer will likely go merrily along their way… but I have to work with Joe in accounting for ever! For the sake of our customers, and ultimately for the sake of our organizations, we need to get over our fascination/fear of our organizational structures.
  • It is bad form to dump problems on others. I get that; we call them wet babies in my office. If we hand back, we might be able to do so anonymously; hand offs tend to implicate us in the problem. Again, we need to get over ourselves. Besides… if we do a good job of handing off, helping to identify the problem and getting good communication going, we are already more a part of the solution than part of the problem.

This is all pretty rudimentary stuff, I know, but it seems pretty important.

I’m thinking about making a no hand backs rule in the organizations that I have a part in leading. Think it will work?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Creatio Ex Nihilo

There are so many mysteries that accompany our walk of faith. Like Winnie the Pooh, I walk this path of faith realizing that I am a bear of very little brain… so I can only handle one, or maybe a few, of these mysteries at a time. So as I deal with one mystery, I have to let the others take a back seat in my mind; it is a simple tactic in pursuit of some measure of sanity.

I think the mystery that lingers at the forefront of my mind more often than the others is this: Why does God choose to accomplish most of his work in partnership with the likes of us? There are, of course, those instances in which God completely and sovereignly overwhelms a situation, changing the course of things with a dramatic miracle. But the usual way that God accomplishes his purpose is through His people. Why does God degrade His work by mixing his perfect and powerful ways with our flawed and puny ways? Why risk it on us? If I were God I would likely do it all myself.

Yet, His primary mode of operation is to accomplish His work through people. I think it probably has something to do with God’s mission not only being about what he accomplishes through us, but maybe even more importantly, His mission is also about what He accomplishes in us. Furthermore, I believe it is at the forefront of God’s mission to not only accomplish His will in us and through us merely individually; He desires to work in and through us corporately as His people. More than just a vast number of persons, we are called to be His people. God’s mission is to accomplish His work and will, both through us and in us, as what the New Testament describes as the Body of Christ. God’s plan is to work through His current, bodily representatives on earth, that is the Church.

So with that theological framework in mind, I press a bit more into the mystery by asking: What kind of work would God be doing through His Body/Church/People? To answer that question, we are forced to get to know God, which leads us to His Book. If we start with the first words of His Book, we read, “In the beginning God created.” God as creator may not be the most important theological understanding, but it is certainly one of the first (actually, I think it is the second since the first theological understanding is the preexistence of God stated through the first three words “In the beginning”).

It is a pretty easy jump for people to understand that the Church ought to be creative. Creativity is a God-like quality that should mark the Church. But what about the kind of creating that is referenced there in Genesis 1:1? What about creatio ex nihilo? The standard view is that only God can create out of nothing… that creatio ex nihilo is what distinguishes God from us; creation out of nothing is off limits for us mere mortals, even off limits for the Church.

But I wonder if creatio ex nihilo is really off limits for the Church. I’m not proposing that we suspend the laws of conservation of matter or conservation of energy, but are there real areas in which these laws do not apply? I think that wealth is one area in which the laws of conservation do not apply. Creation of wealth is more than the sum of its parts. A productive enterprise should create more wealth than the sum of the values of components and natural resources, even more than the component values of soft resources like knowledge, skill, and even labor. When business works like it should, there is some part of wealth that comes from nowhere… creatio ex nihilo!

Could it be then that the Church ought to be more intentional about the intersection of our faith and business activity? Could it be that the creation of wealth is a Christian endeavor, especially when we are approaching this all with a proper view of stewardship?