I was once contracted to do some customer service training for the HR department of a financial services company that had just undergone a merger.  When I talked to the Learning & Development folks on the phone and asked what the impetus for the training had been, they said an organizational climate survey was done about a year after the merger, and it indicated very low levels of satisfaction from the employees regarding the internal service practices of their HR department.

As I probed, I heard more and more things that had to do with the merging of two cultures and a lack of teamwork between different functional areas within HR.  But when I suggested that perhaps what we needed was a teambuilding session, in which we spent some time getting on the same page with regard to mission, vision, values and norms, I was met with resistance and suspicion.  We needed to do exactly what the climate survey indicated, they said, and nothing more.  A one-day customer service workshop.

They did agree that I could interview some members of the HR department, so I spent a few days talking with the people who would be participating in the training.  They said some interesting things.  “We don’t share information,” they told me.  “People pass the buck to other departments because the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing.”   And most tellingly, “There’s a lack of trust between departments within HR.”

I talked to the L&D people again, suggesting that we take a little broader approach to their needs, but once again was met with resistance.  So, we did customer service training.  For an entire day, we talked about the behaviors that make for excellent customer service, asking and answering questions that everyone in the room was already well-versed on.  The problem wasn’t that they didn’t know how to deliver good service, it was that they didn’t feel safe enough or valued enough to do so.

It made me think a lot about how important it is to drill down to underlying causes.  I don’t believe I’ve ever worked with a company post-merger that didn’t first need to deal with the issues involved in bringing two cultures together.  It’s a foundational need; everything else follows from it.  If culture is defined as “the way we do things around here”, there will inevitably be clashes of the most elementary kind following a merger or acquisition.  Until everyone can talk about “the way we do things around here” and be on the same wavelength about what that looks like, how can there be trust?  How can there be cooperation and collaboration between members of the team?  And therefore, how can there be a strong customer service mentality?

I was never privy to the reasons why this particular company felt they needed to go the route they did.  I’m sure they had their reasons.  I hope some day they will find a way to remove the barriers that prevented them from dealing with the real issues, and then perhaps I’ll have another opportunity to work with them, and this time to truly be of assistance.

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