Cougar Automation

Striving for 10 out of 10

In 2004 Cougar Automation committed itself to delivering 10 out of 10 service to all of its customers all of the time. Since this requires perfection the company recognises it may never get there. However its entire strategy is dedicated to closing the gap with that vision, no matter how big or small the gap may seem.

Cougar is a UK-based company which designs and supplies automation systems for diverse customers including those in air travel, food production, water supply and waste management. Its competitive advantage lies in high levels of customer service which in turn depends on happy and fulfilled staff, and the elimination of waste.

Cougar’s Chairman Clive Hutchinson bought the company in 2002 and is a passionate advocate for enlightened management: “Over the years we have learnt that the way to deliver great service is to be clear about what we are trying to achieve, match people to work that they really love, and then set our people free”. 

The starting point is clarity of purpose. Everyone needs to understand that “we want our customers have such a great experience that they would never want to use anyone else to deliver their control system projects”, an ethos that should run throughout the company. This includes openness and transparency. Clive argues that if you want people to get behind the company you must be willing to let them know what is going on. In Cougar this means opening the books and providing employees with the training required to understand financial information.

Allowing people to play to their strengths is also a key factor in achieving excellent customer service. For Clive “Strengths are simply those things that you love doing. Just take a moment to think of something that you do well and that when you do it you lose track of time.” An online assessment tool helps people to identify their personal strengths as a means of focusing their energies and the way that they approach issues.

Once people understand the purpose of their work and are being encouraged to play to their strengths “we can really start the magic flowing by setting them free”. Clive believes that most of the control and supervision that managers are expected to do is because they don't trust their people. They believe people will only do the job if they are given incentives and deterrents: the old carrot and stick. But people playing to their strengths are self-motivated: they love their work and know what they need to do. So the paraphernalia of control and supervision can be dismantled:

“We no longer need to demand reports from our people. There is no need for our people to seek our approval and authorisation before doing things. And, there is no need to write rules and procedures. None of these things help deliver value to our customers.

They are all waste. Just think how much time you would save by eliminating these practices”.