The old saying, culture eats strategy for breakfast, might be true, but friction, my friends, is grinding that culture into a sad little pile of gravel.
Most brands have been thinking about friction for a few years now, and well they should. Reducing customer friction during the purchase process and, more importantly, throughout the customer service experience make a bunch of sense.
I believe that Uber succeeds, in large part, by removing points of friction commonly encountered in taxis. These include irritable dispatchers, muddled meeting points, unaccountable drivers and, my favourite, the credit card machines that always break just as you pull your card out of your wallet. Click here to read more on how Uber disrupts with customer service.
So while the marketing, sales, product developers and customer service folks are running around trying to solve friction, there’s one other group that could use a bit of help, too. That would be your employees.
Just like their market-facing counterparts, employer brands should be looking at the points of friction that pervade most employee experiences. Friction takes its toll on consumer relationships, and it can also grind away the sharper edges of a great company culture, and make a mediocre one quite dismal indeed.
All your tree planting and beer pong nights are ultimately not going to offset the three main sources of employee friction: dumb policies, productivity punishers and, of course, other people. Let’s take a closer look.
Policy-induced friction is one of those pernicious things that slowly eats away at the souls of employees and kills off engagement, one tiny paper cut at a time. This might include something like requiring all purchases, regardless of amount to be approved by a senior executive. It sort of makes sense on paper, but most VPs have better things to do than approve a $10 parking charge, and most employees have better things to do than fill in the paperwork on a $10 parking charge. How about that three-month probation period for new hires? Now that just screams engagement, doesn’t it? Other policy friction-makers:
- Ridiculous attendance rules, and the more ridiculous paperwork that goes along with enforcing them
- Requiring doctors’ notes for sick days (see above)
- Banning the Internet (really?)
- Not allowing personal items on desks
- Requiring a manager’s permission to apply for other roles
- Insisting employees bring the empty printer toner to the supply trolls as evidence the printer is out of toner
- Requiring receipts to be printed, taped to a sheet of paper, scanned and then uploaded to expense system
How long does it take to reimburse expenses? Is your expense system a time-sucking dinosaur? How about that printer that never works? I once worked in an office where the ladies’ toilet was broken for over a month. When the line outside the men’s room got too long, we would carpool to a local coffee shop to use their facilities. Friction. There are countless employer-imposed productivity speed bumps eating away at the employee experience, like these:
- Time sheets that take so long to submit there’s a time code for the time it takes to submit the time sheets
- Applications that crash and crash and crash
- Networks so slow your employees go to Starbucks to download files
- Ticketing systems that take longer to raise, assign, resolve and close a ticket than it ends up taking to resolve the issue
- Cumbersome shared services groups that keep your employees on hold for half an hour to reset a password
- Open workspaces that require headphones, blinkers and a clever disguise to avoid constant interruptions
- Constant interruptions from messaging and collaboration platforms that don’t care about your costume
- Ancient systems that don’t connect
- Mandatory meetings without any apparent purpose
This sort of friction has two origins. The first are those people who are, friction personified. The bullies who make life miserable, the disorganized folks who waste time, the people who just don’t know what they’re doing and other humans at work. But the more problematic people frictions, in my view, are the ritual humiliations of organizational life, for example:
- Protracted recruiting processes that bring people back over and over and over for the same interview with different people
- Terrible recruiters using horrible systems to keep good people out
- Wretched onboarding including waiting weeks for a network ID, hardware, a desk, employee number or even a pay cheque
- Lousy, or missing, communication about changes, especially the kind involving coworkers who disappear in the night
- Dismal executive town halls and roadshows
- Humiliating annual performance reviews
- Annual engagement surveys
It’s easy to dismiss the casual griping that goes on around terrible coffee, achingly slow processes and boring meetings, but these are the whispered frictions managers need to keep listening for, digging in on, clarifying and attempting to solve.
On their own, these are familiar elements of life in a larger organization; taken together, and lived day in and day out, employee friction becomes brand erosion.
When your employees can’t love your brand, is it reasonable to expect your customers to love it?
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BizMarketer is written by Elizabeth Williams
I help companies have better conversations
Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org