Culture Change: Better Late Than Never

by Jeremy Graves

Crisis.  Disaster. Difficult. Threatening. All of these words have been floating around the rural telecommunications industry since the announcement a few years ago of the new FCC rules (most of which still aren’t clear to many of us).  These changes are having significant impacts – mostly negative, I might add – on companies trying to provide quality broadband services to the rural areas of our country.  Rather than joining the bandwagon, though, I prefer to look at it as “Crunch Time.”

Let’s look at what Merriam-Webster says about crunch time…

Crunch Time (Noun): a critical moment or period (as near the end of a game) when decisive action is needed.

Who do we hold in high regard when it comes to crunch time?  Michael Jordan – who else?  Unbeaten (6-0) in NBA Finals, including a steal and series-winning shot against Utah in final few seconds in 1998.  Too many buzzer-beaters to count.  And don’t forget the NCAA title-winning shot against Georgetown in 1982 when he was just a freshman at North Carolina.

How about Sandy Koufax?  For six years he dominated baseball, winning three Cy Young Awards (during an era when they only gave out one for the best pitcher in the majors, rather than one for each league) and winning virtually every key game he pitched for the Dodgers… this despite the fact the Dodgers were one of the worst-hitting teams in baseball during this period.

What about Mark Messier who had his reputation cemented for being a clutch performer during crunch time with the Rangers in the 1994 Eastern Conference finals? Down three games to two and facing the Devils on their home ice, Messier followed up his guarantee for victory by scoring a hat trick in Game 6. They won the series in overtime in Game 7, and went on to beat the Canucks in seven games in the finals to end a 54-year curse.

Jack Nicklaus played his best golf when it mattered most — in the majors, of which he won a record 18 (good luck beating that, Tiger!).

Only one player, though, actually had a nickname in tribute to his clutch-ness during crunch time: “Joe Cool” (aka “The Comeback Kid”) defined grace under pressure in sports, so of course I had to include Joe Montana.

What is our story going to be?  What action are we going to take? Who will we look back on as being clutch during our crunch time?  Who are your clutch performers and how are they supported internally?  Michael Jordan will be the first to say that he needed Scottie Pippen during those years.

If ever decisive action is needed it is now, during our crunch time.  But to be honest, the industry needed decisive action long before any of these revenue-impacting regulatory changes were announced.  For too long, some companies rested on the fact that there was little competition in their ILEC exchanges.  We relied on the fact that if the service was wanted, the customer would come to us.  Oh sure, great customer service has always been a hallmark of this industry, but long ago was the time to begin incorporating this shift toward sales into our daily activities – a change from a monopolistic viewpoint that has been ingrained in our staffs to one of being more customer-centric, competitive and sales focused.

How do you institute this kind of change?  How do you change people?  How do you shift to this new mentality of fighting and clawing for every customer?  Consistent and ongoing training is the key with healthy doses of motivation and accountability.

The sad part is, this isn’t a new concept.  This isn’t something that hasn’t been discussed for years.  The writing has been on the wall, but now it is written in BIG, BOLD LETTERS.

So, what are the next steps and how do we begin?


Hearts and Minds
The most important thing to understand is that in order to change an entrenched culture, you must win over the hearts and minds of your employees.  Maybe you have heard of the Woolsey Swanson Rule: “People would rather live with a problem they cannot solve [access line loss, customers leaving, etc…] than accept a solution they cannot understand [sales and becoming revenue generators].”  To gain support for your new ideas, help your staff understand why a change is necessary and how it benefits not only them, but also your customers.  Sure, you have told them about what’s going on in the industry, but can they really understand how that relates to what they do on a daily basis?  Communicate. Educate them.

Get Everyone Involved
The next step is to approach and involve the people whose minds you want to change.  This means EVERYONE in the company.  Involve those who actually do the work.  Not only will this give you a broader perspective, it makes people feel invested and lets them know they have a stake in the outcome.  It encourages people to support change.  It also helps you find the supportive individuals within the company whom you need to keep the positive momentum.  These “staff insiders” are the folks who will be with you for the long haul and truly want to be part of the “new company.”

Start With You
Culture change begins with yourself.  Be the leader (whether you have the title or not), the champion of your cause.  If truly moving toward a more sales-focused culture is what you want to do (and we have to do it to survive) then you must set the example. Exemplify what you are asking staff to do, and others will follow.

Hold Feet to the Fire
If you are truly trying to change the culture to one that adds a significant focus on sales, then accountability is key.  Accountability means that there are consequences when people refuse to try.  We want people who try.  We want those folks who will make the effort – even if that effort doesn’t produce results today.  That’s okay.  Training can help build those sales skills but you can’t train effort.  You can teach attitude.  I feel sorry for those people who refuse to have the right attitude and lack effort.  Their services are no longer needed, but make sure to give them every opportunity to learn and get on the board with the change.

Relationships Matter
Finally, by building relationships, you can build support.  As executives and upper-level management, it’s easy to lose touch with what’s truly happening with our staff.  Get involved. Talk to staff. Tap into your staff insiders who are respected by their peers and who support your cause. Get them to champion it.  Staff insiders can shed light into what you need to do to gain the support of others.

Without a doubt, motivating staff to embrace significant change is key.  It is also one of the most challenging tasks for any manager.  But with some strategy and persuasion, even the toughest skeptic can be turned into a promoter for your new direction.

Crunch time is often referred to as the critical time when great action is needed right before the end of the game.  Let’s focus on making this change happen before we get to the end of the game. There might not be another chance.

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One Response

  1. Mike says:

    Great article Jeremy. I will share within our company.

    And as Zig Ziglar once said, “The only thing worse than training an employee and losing them, is not training an employee and keeping them.”

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