Guest post by Jeremy Scrivens about how taking an Appreciative Inquiry Positive Change approach and by extending the learnings from the best customer experiences to become the norm a company can be completely turned around, and become a growth story out of the ashes of ruin. Jeremy's story illustrates Peter Drucker's maxim on leadership "The task of leadership is to make an alignment of strengths, making our weaknesses irrelevant".
I was asked to help a transport company in Melbourne, Fastest Freight (FF), who were in trouble - not making a decent profit for six months.
The CEO had lined up his best customers for me to talk to about all the bad things they didn't like about the company. I went and saw their best customer, Alan, and he said 'I've been waiting to talk with you, I have two pages of issues I have with the company'. I said to Alan 'before listening to these problems, could I ask start with one question; you might think this is crazy but please humour me?' He did.
I asked Alan 'tell me about a time when you experienced outrageously great service from Fastest Freight; a time when you thought - if only it could be like this all the time?' Alan thought I was mad and off-topic but I was gently persistent and after a while he told me this story:
"It was about a year ago. Just before 5pm I got a call from my customer in Bendigo. We supply them with spare parts for their production run delivered every Monday morning by FF. Their production line had broken down and they needed the spare parts tomorrow, Saturday, in order to fix the problem before Monday's production run. I said to myself 'there is no way that FF will come to the party; they will have knocked off for the night but I will give them a try'. So I rang the transporter and a voice answered 'G’day this is Bob here, how can I help you?' I said 'who are you?' and Bob replied 'I'm am one of the semi drivers here - how can I help?' I explained the issue and Bob said 'no worries mate, I'm going back home to Bendigo tonight with an empty trailer, I can swing by and pick up the load; we can worry about the paperwork later.'
So Bob did just that; he swung by to my depot here and not only picked up the load but jumped onto a forklift because my forkies had gone home. Not only that, but Bob offered to take the load to my customer that night, if the customer could still be there. So I rang my customer; of course he would be delighted to wait for Bob that night. So Bob drove the load to the customer's depot in Bendigo and again jumped on a forklift to finish the job up there. My customer was delighted, and so was I."
As Alan was telling this positive story, I observed that his whole demeanour changed - his face lit up and he became animated. I asked him 'how good was that story?' and he replied 'the best'.
I then said 'Alan, what I have just done is ask you an Appreciative Inquiry question – looking for a positive deviation, rather than a problem. If somehow this positive experience could become the norm, what is possible?' Alan replied, 'if this were possible, then I wouldn't need to play off four transport companies against each other, I would award FF all my work'.
We never got to talk about the two pages of problems Alan had prepared for our conversation. Instead we gathered more positive stories from key customers and pulled a Fastest Freight team together to rebuild the core customer process. We deployed the Appreciative Inquiry Positive Change approach by extending the learnings from the best customer experiences to become the norm and designing a new customer service process entirely from strengths aligned to possibility thinking.
Six months later, Fastest Freight returned to making profits and Alan awarded them all his work.
Jeremy Scrivens is a Guest Blogger, Work Futurist, and Principal of The Emotional Economy At Work whose work involves mentoring business leaders to engage more of their people emotionally on a shared journey of contribution, resulting in sustainable profits, achievement of vision, business goals and happy staff because they are engaged from who they are to be all they could be. Contact Jeremy @jeremyscrivens Linkedin: /jeremyscrivens
Hear Jeremy speak on this topic at our Business Leaders Luncheon February 27th, in Melbourne. Free, by invitation only.