If you’ve ever felt the pain of a robotic, script-abiding customer service representative, then you know the downside of a systematized workforce. The experience of waiting while an employee searches for his or her semi-memorized lines, practically reading them verbatim, is enough to make anyone dread being trained in a system. Most certainly, it’s enough to make a tough technician run for cover.

The truth is; however, that to not commit to a system is to commit to unreliable business results.


So, how does one deliver consistency and personality? The answer lies in mastery. Only when we become an expert of a sales and service system do we find true freedom to be ourselves. When a system becomes well-engrained, we learn to play within it.

Mastery of a system is not an immediate conversion. Among the thousands of technicians I’ve trained in Nexstar’s six-step Service System, the learning process is nearly identical. Initially, technicians may resist the system, feeling they don’t need it. Then, as they reluctantly acknowledge the need, they resist the discomfort of not feeling like themselves. But, after conscious effort and a commitment to master the system, they cannot believe they lived without it. Suddenly, what was once foreign and awkward has become their default process.

Training a system takes time, and we have to allow ourselves to be patient with the process of human learning. In the 1970s, Gordon Training Intl. identified four stages of learning that are still relevant:

1. Unconscious incompetence exists when we are unaware of our lack of expertise. Essentially, we don’t know what we don’t know. Like a boy learning to tie his shoes, at this stage, he is strapping up the Velcro, psyched about life, blissfully unaware the big kids are wearing laces.

2. With conscious incompetence, we have become aware of what we’re not doing or what we’re doing wrong. The kid with Velcro shoes finally agrees to his first pair of lace-ups and quickly realizes he’s going to need some assistance.

3. After several lessons, we transition to conscious competence. The boy has been through the frustrating experience of not knowing how to tie his shoes, and he got some help. He meticulously follows the steps he’s been given, such as carefully constructing each loop, etc. At this stage, we can perform a task, but we really have to focus on it.

4. After enough time, our boy can tie his shoes without even looking. We have arrived at unconscious competence, where we perform the skill without even thinking about it. If you pause and reflect for a brief moment, the manner in which you tie your shoes to this day is a competence that was only achieved by having a system and repeating a process.

Most technicians who attend a three-day immersion training leave at stage three: conscious competence. They’re excited about their newfound skill, but they’re still diligently considering each step. This is the critical moment. At this point, it will only take one or two failures, a little bit of awkwardness, and a lack of coaching and follow-up for a technician to revert to strapping up those Velcro kicks.

Although the transition in belief and introduction to behavior is best delivered by an outside trainer, it’s the fundamental responsibility of a management team to reinforce the behavior. In order for this to be achieved, it takes a commitment to in-house training and skill practice. Now, if role-playing is referred to as a four-letter word among your technicians, it’s not their fault. The truth is, the environment and approach make all the difference. First of all, stop calling it role-playing. Do your technicians want to “role-play?” Definitely not with you. Will they “skill-practice?” Maybe. Especially if you guide them by modeling the desired behavior at the front of the room and then trust them to coach each other in pairs, rather than force them up on stage.

While we often remind ourselves in this industry not to dwell on old processes as we move forward, treat your past experiences with systems the same way. Maybe you’ve tried to implement a system before, and it didn’t work out. Well, if there wasn’t a commitment to mastery of the system, then it was never given a fair shot to begin with. In the end, if you really want people’s personalities to shine, and you want to create consistent results, mastery of a system will allow your technicians to be the best version of themselves. It’s only with this commitment to mastery that a system becomes so liberating.

Publication date: 2/1/2016

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