At the Heart of Services is Participation

July 24, 2023

When you think of your company’s ability to impact the lives of customers and generate business value through the performance of services, what comes to mind?

Is it participation? I’m guessing that’s not the first thing on your radar.

Consider the last time you had to navigate a complex, fragmented company process that required a lot of time and effort on your part to navigate or had to resolve a service issue on your own. Did you complain to your friends? Did you feel aggravated or exhausted? Did you want to cancel? Did you explore other companies? Did you leave? My recent experience involved a mandatory cable hardware return to change the name on the account, only to receive the same devices back to restart the service under the new name. In our case, we ultimately moved to a competitor.

The experiences we have with a company are a direct consequence of how the organization works. This makes end-to-end service performance a cross-functional concern—because, in today’s world, even one frustrating interaction with an organization can result in a customer (or employee) rethinking their relationship with a company. From finance and marketing to operations and information technology, each function holds a piece of the service creation and delivery puzzle. Instead of distance across functions and people working in isolation on competing solutions (which leads to service fragmentation laced with costly repairs), it is essential that companies in our highly competitive economy orient towards services and invest in fostering a culture of collaboration to remain relevant and create new forms of value.

But collaborating across functions to make good services happen isn’t easy—because it hinges on a person’s willingness and ability to actively participate. It’s not uncommon for fixed attitudes, competing priorities, lack of time and resources, limited support, internal task demands, different ways of problem-solving, rushed motions for fast solutions, and limited competencies that promote effective services to get in the way. So given these challenges, how might an organization open up space for active participation and a culture of collaboration? Consider the following: 

1. Begin with relationships—to establish a strong foundation.

The quality of relationships in an organization is crucial to success.

  • Focus on things that can unify a group rather than dealing with things that may divide it. Shared care for improving service performance? Common hopes? Perspectives? Objectives?
  • Help people across functions see the value and benefit of each other’s contributions—as mentioned, each person brings something unique and holds a piece of the puzzle.
  • Bring into view existing value creation “design” practices that may interact with new service-oriented participatory design practices; identify relationships and opportunities between different ways of doing, logics, and identities. Use as stepping stones for impactful collaboration.

2. Approach participation strategically—so collaboration works.

Effective collaboration enhances business propositions and the performance of services.

  • Participation must be sustained over time for people across disciplines to come together cooperatively and meaningfully. The excitement generated by the initial connection can quickly dissipate when people are back in their routine work environments.
  • Create an agreed-upon roadmap for participation over time that helps members deal with day-to-day realities and situations that may hinder contributions.
  • Form a common vision for collaborating. Anticipate and identify likely obstacles to participation; preemptively devise strategies and actions to dissolve possible blockers.

3. Act on readiness states—so people fully participate in value-creation activities.

When readiness for participatory activities is at a high level, people are more likely to engage in the process of “the new,” be more persistent, engage cooperatively, and put forward greater effort.

  • Determine the degree of readiness (willingness and ability) to participate throughout the life of an initiative—this is not a fixed state. It is relevant across all stages of the work.
  • Work individually and with others (a manager, for example) to intervene and dissolve obstacles to sustained participation.

4. Nourish the right conditions—for cross-disciplinary teams to thrive.

We are psychologically safe, creativity empowered, rewarded for collaborating, decision empowered, driven by purpose, honoring each other’s disciplines, strengthening bonds, sharing leadership, and outcome focused.

  • Regardless of where you sit in the organization (or on a team), you make a deliberate choice to participate in a way that contributes to creating favorable conditions.
  • As a team, each person takes responsibility for the health of their team’s climate.
  • As a leader, you support and help create the space for people to actively participate.
  • As an organization, you treat participation in the design of services as an integral strategic approach to creating value.

So when you think of your company’s ability to impact the lives of customers and generate business value through the performance of services, it’s important to remember that effective collaboration across functions is essential—and this necessitates active participation from each and every person. Because when each person is willing and able to bring their focus, expertise, perspectives, skills, and energy to the value creation table, great services happen. Services that help your company deliver better quality and value, lower costs, enter new markets—and achieve a greater competitive edge.

What might you try doing differently in your organization over the next 100 days to open up space for active participation and a culture of collaboration?

Drawing in part from:

  1. Weiner, B.J. A theory of organizational readiness for change.
    Implementation Sci 4, 67 (2009)
  2. The Technology of Participation, Oyler and Harper (2008)

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