Service with a Smile

The Impact of Good Citizens

By In Weekly Email 5 minute read time

The Problem & The Question

You don’t have to be in MENSA to know that many company initiatives, such as continuous improvement programs, fail at an alarming rate.  For leaders and employers, adding insult to injury is the fact that the training received seems to hardly ever make its way back to the job site. 

Against this backdrop, three PhDs extend a rather novel question—are we sending the wrong people to train on these continuous improvement initiatives in the first place?  This neat study can be found here for those that are too curious for their own good.

Theory & Practice 

These researchers advance the idea that only those high in this trait called Organizational Citizenship Behavior (OCB) should be selected as service quality leaders and that will lead to steeper gains in service quality effectiveness. 

So what is OCB?  An employee that exhibits high OCB will demonstrate behavior that is discretionary and will go above and beyond.  People high in OCB will exhibit these helping behaviors regardless if the organization rewards those behaviors or not.  Crazily, they’ll do these extra behaviors for free and without even being asked! 

These self-driven people do work that is outside their job description.  They tend to be the first ones to pitch in to help out a co-worker or volunteer on a project.  To learn more about these unique individuals, check out this slide deck on the interwebs.

The underlying logic goes something like this: Employees with positive attitudes are more likely to embrace training and apply these newly learned behaviors.  Supervisors and managers don’t always have the credibility to advance change because they aren’t in the trenches.  Employee peers, the argument goes, are better at driving change than supervisors who, often, use brute force or gimmicky incentives to embrace training and to exhibit new and better behaviors from their people.

Good organizational citizens own this positive attitude and other peers may listen to a peer higher in in OCB because she walks the walk.  Because of this positive attitude and the added benefit of role modeling, peers higher in OCB are, essentially, better leaders of their peer group and can drive change. 

The Samples and Measures

The authors of the work descended on a multi-national bank and got ahold of bank tellers that were undergoing quality service improvements under a new program.  Next, the bank managers identified those high in OCB from a scale that captured things like, “helps others who have been absent” or “helps others who have heavy workloads.” And, here it gets interesting.  Tellers that were high on OCB got service quality training and were to become service quality leaders.  Other tellers, not so hot on OCB, were randomly picked to go through the same program.  And, importantly, in the third branch, there was no peer employee of frontline involvement in the initiative.  So, we have a control versus experimental scenario going on as we pit high OCB employees in branch A against normal, run-of-the-mill employees in branch B.  And branch C was just told to go forth and be good at service!

We Now Open the Kimono!

The coolness factor continues.  The two branches that experienced frontline engagement as service quality leaders did much better on customer satisfaction than the bank branch with no frontline, peer change agents.  As predicted, those higher on OCB at branch A scored markedly better in customer satisfaction than average frontline employees.  

To recap, organizational citizens can be harnessed to do even more good in their organization.  Customer service quality improved when frontline employees were designated and trained as service leaders.  But customer service quality improved even more when those sent to the training were high in OCB.  It’s likely that solid organizational citizens are seen as more credible and, for that reason, are more persuasive change agents. 

Next time you send someone to training, ask yourself if he or she is a good organizational citizen.  Asking that very simple question could mean the difference between training success and failure. 

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