Monday, February 19, 2007

Sheepwalking - A new (and kind of sad) buzzword

Customer service (or the lack of it) has been a hot topic in our family for awhile.

This past summer, we had a run-in with Air Canada, when my nephew's hockey equipment went missing on it's way to Toronto from Norway. It's a long, sad story that I've heard way too often recently.

It's always frustrating when the service levels you get are way, way below what they should be. Air Canada always springs to mind when I think of bad customer service, despite their fancy TV ads.

So I was intrigued by this recent post from Seth Godin. (It's actually been around awhile, but I'm still catching up on my reading.)

He introduces us to his latest creation -- sheepwalking:

I define "sheepwalking" as the outcome of hiring people who have been raised to be obedient and giving them a braindead job and enough fear to keep them in line.

You've probably encountered someone who is sheepwalking.

The TSA 'screener' who forces a mom to drink from a bottle of breast milk because any other action is not in the manual. A 'customer service' rep who will happily reread a company policy six or seven times but never stop to actually consider what the policy means. A marketing executive who buys millions of dollars of TV time even though she knows it's not working--she does it because her boss told her to.

It's ironic but not surprising that in our age of increased reliance on new ideas, rapid change and innovation, sheepwalking is actually on the rise. That's because we can no longer rely on machines to do the brain-dead stuff.

We've mechanized what we could mechanize. What's left is to cost-reduce the manual labor that must be done by a human. So we write manuals and race to the bottom in our search for the cheapest possible labor. And it's not surprising that when we go to hire that labor, we search for people who have already been trained to be sheepish.

His argument strikes a chord with me. Especially his summing up:

Step one is to give the problem a name. Done. Step two is for anyone who sees themself in this mirror to realize that you can always stop. You can always claim the career you deserve merely by refusing to walk down the same path as everyone else just because everyone else is already doing it.

The biggest step, though, comes from anyone who teaches or hires. And that's to embrace non-sheep behavior, to reward it and cherish it. As we've seen just about everywhere there's been growth lately, that's where the good stuff happens.

You should read the whole post.

I'm off to a blogger's conference this weekend in Vancouver, called Northern Voice. I'm very excited about it, because I know that I'm going to meet a lot of passionate people. Passion is critical for bloggers and podcasters. This isn't just a job. It's got to be something we care about.

I care about this blog, even if there are times when I fall behind on the "daily" part of it. But I've been blogging for nearly three years now and it's become something that's pretty important for me.

We need to put passion back into our workplaces. It's important. I think I'll add it to my mission statement right now.

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