Home > Uncategorized > When process clashes with culture

When process clashes with culture

In my travels to the US, I often prefer the food in diners, to the posher places. Largely, because it gives me a chance to see and engage with the local folks. Normal people, if you like.

Last month was no different.

I visited a diner near my hotel called Scotty’s. 20160410_084059

As you know a diner is a simple,  no frills place where you get eggs done a 100 ways, pancakes done 50 ways and so on and endless flow of coffee. Simple, basic food.

The customers typically tend to be regulars from the neighborhood, or people working near by. About 25% tend to be people like me. Who are visiting and popping by for a bite.

So when I went there last month, it was the typical bunch of people around. As I sat down, a couple walked in who were guided to their booth. Now, the first question asked of any new customers is ‘would you like coffee?’. It was not different this time too. And in a strong Australian accent came the response ‘ Can I get a latte?’. It was probably the first time this year someone had asked for a latte, but it didn’t faze the waiter who said ‘Sure, of course’ and went off to get the order. Food was a similar complicated one ‘Can I get my pancakes, with strawberries and berries, on the side, with a topping of cream and honey, and some nuts and…’ I think that was sorta the order. The loud voice of the guest rang through the diner, so we all could hear.

Now, this is not a typical diner customer. Diners operate on pretty much standard fare and get customers in and out. And here was a customer who was asking for the unusual and getting it with a smile.

Contrast this with my check in experience at a luxurious 5 star hotel 24 hours earlier. I had arrived after a long flight from India. I was going to be staying in the hotel for 5 nights. Quite a long stint, I expect, compared to the average stay. I asked for what I always do when I check in. ‘Can you please ensure I get a good room? On a higher floor, with some sort of view?’ The guy at the counter went ‘Well you have been booked in the standard room, but for $30 I can upgrade you to a bigger room, on our 30th floor, with great city views’. In my state of exhaustion, I said ‘I’ll take it’, figuring I can get approvals for the increase cost later!! 5 minutes later I was in my room. Didn’t look all that big and when I opened the bathroom door, I found, that I could barely fit in. Figuring paying $30 more for a room that seemed like any other room and having an exceptionally small showered made no sense, I trudged back down to talk to the guy. He had already forgotten that he was the one who had checked me in, literally, 5 minutes earlier. On hearing my issue, he responded’ Well I can put you back in the room previously booked. It’s not very good and has no view’. I was really tired and all i wanted was a shower and change of clothes urgently so I agreed, and off I went. Feeling rather pissed off and irritated, if I may add.

The check in counter guy’s remarkable unwillingness to do anything to make my stay better, contrasts significantly with the attitude displayed by the waiter at Scotty’s.

I know many of you will say that, that’s the difference between a small organisation where there is a lot more flexibility than in a large organisation where the room to maneuvre is low, if at all. Processes and systems come in the way.

And you would be wrong.

See, the reason I checked into this hotel the second time, was my experience the first time. That time, when I was standing in line to check in, there were 2 people in front of me. A lady came up to me asked me to follow her to a new counter she opened up. I asked for the usual ‘Can you please ensure I get a good room? On a higher floor, with some sort of view?’. She went : ‘Of course, let me see what I can do.’ After a couple of minutes of searching, she cam back with ‘Ok here you go. I’ve moved you into a corner room, which is slightly bigger. It has good views on both sides. Here are a few bottles of water for you. I see you are a member of our loyalty program, so you get free wi fi reserved for the loyalty program users as opposed to the free one available to other guests. Wishing you a god stay, and if you need anything when you are here, just buzz guest services and ask for Natalie’.

It’s the exact same hotel. But because of the person at the counter, they were delivering two completely contrasting experiences.

And this is a challenge that large organisations face. As they become big in terms of numbers of people and locations, the only way to manage it, is to ensure there are processes. This way, a location in Vietnam is operating the same way as a location in Sao Paulo. It makes for consistency. And takes away the humanity. Especially, if you are in the service business.

The opportunity before leadership is to wrap a strong culture around the process. A culture that reinforces the primary purpose of the business. A culture that ensures, employees don’t forget that the process is only there to ensure that there is a skeleton to keep the muscles and flesh in place. Processes are created by management consultants and procurement people and people like that. To keep things moving. But they don’t run the business. That is the job of leadership. Business leaders in large companies, especially, need to ensure that the culture they create is stronger than the processes in place, to ensure that innovation, flexibility and agility flourish and everyone gets a Scotty’s experience.



Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Aj
    May 2, 2016 at 10:25 pm

    Super post Harish! And so true! If the culture and attitude is right, processes will follow! eep posting – always a pleasure reading your posts!


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    On Sun, May 1, 2016 at 10:58 AM, Harish Vasudevans Collection wrote:

    > HARISH VASUDEVAN posted: “In my travels to the US, I often prefer the food > in diners, to the posher places. Largely, because it gives me a chance to > see and engage with the local folks. Normal people, if you like. Last month > was no different. I visited a diner near my hotel call” >

  2. Vik
    May 9, 2016 at 9:34 pm

    Guess it’s the “people in the organisation” vs “Organisation Debate”.. We are aware that any time working with a vendor, we tend to generalise “Oh this organisation is crap” but say “John was outstanding though” … I’m wondering and struggling that if you create a process around customer excellence service wise how would it be effective and it goes back to that particular person (in this case the receptionist who handled you second time) that made the difference.. Is it giving the autonomy to person handling customer services or is it a built in capability of an individual ?

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