Sunday, July 18, 2010

Is your company treating you fairly?

I recently witnessed two incidents that had me shaking my head on how they were handled in local stores. At Safeway in San Leandro on a day when the temperature was near 100 degrees, a checkout clerk turned around and took a sip of water. A supervisor came up to her and said not to drink with people in her line. She could have easily told her that on a break.

At a Wal-Mart in Livermore,on a busy express checkout a supervisor told the harried person at the checkout to apoligize a little better to the people waiting. Why the supervisor did not open up another line is beyond me.

It seems like some companies treat their copiers better than their employees.

Stress and customer service go together like love and marriage. They have been intertwined since someone first realized that customers will go elsewhere if there is no service to back it up. However, a corollary is that whenever service and customers come together stress is not far behind. Since the majority of our employees are human there is little doubt they are affected by stress. I believe it is the major reason for poor service regardless of the service industry.

But the stress that typically causes employee burnout or frustration is caused not by the customer, but by the environment created by management. For example, take a look at your exit interviews (you do them don't you?). Now look at them again. Are you reading just what is on the surface or are you really looking at the root cause that is there?

When customer service personnel know that management treats each employee as an individual, has created an environment that is supportive, and understands that stress is a part of the business day, they will be able to tolerate and bounce back from even the worst day.

Know your employees. Each employee works for a different reason, whether for recognition, advancement or just wanting to be "shown the money". Management must know those reasons otherwise productivity and attitudes will suffer.

Let your employees vent. Listen to them. Don't judge. Don't fix. Just listen.

Honor work schedules. Do not try to force your part time employees to be full time employees. You may succeed in coercing them to work in the short term, but the risk of losing them permanently or damaging a great attitude is not worth the risk. They, like you, expect commitments to be honored.


1. If you desire a mediocre workforce, make sure your employees know you don't trust them.

Nothing spells "You're dirt to us" like a corporate culture that screams, "We don't trust you as far as we can throw you." I refer to company policies that require employees to clock in and out for lunch. When employees know they're not trusted, they become experts at "presenteeism"—the physical appearance of working, without anything getting done. Congratulations! Your inability to trust the very people you've selected to join your team has cost you their energy, goodwill, and great ideas.

2. If you want to drive talented people away, don't tell them when they shine.

Fear of a high-self-esteem employee is prevalent among average-grade corporate leadership teams. Look how hard it is for so many managers to say, "Hey Bob, you did a great job today." Maybe it's a fear that the bit of praise will be met with a request for a pay raise. Whatever the reason for silence, leaders who can't say, "Thanks—good going!" can plan on bidding farewell to their most able team members in short order.

3. If you prefer a team of C-list players, keep employees in the dark.

Sharp knowledge workers want to know what's going on in their organizations, beyond their departmental areas. Leaders who can't stand to shine a light on their firms' goals and strategies are all but guaranteed to spend a lot of money running ads on Monster.com. Marketable top performers won't stand for being left in the dark without the information they need to do their jobs well.

4. If you value docility over ingenuity, shout it from the rooftops.

How fearful of its employees would a leadership team have to be to forbid people to gather together to solve problems? The most desirable value creators won't stick around to be treated like children. They'll hop a bus to the first employer who tells them, "We're hiring you for your talent—now go do something brilliant."

5. If you fear an empowered workforce more than you fear the competition, squash any sign of individualism.

Leaders who want the most docile, sheep-like employees more than the smartest and ablest ones create systems to keep the C players on board and drive the A team out the door. They do it by instituting reams of pointless rules, upbraiding people for miniscule infractions ("What? Twenty minutes late? Sure you worked here until midnight last night, but starting time is starting time.") and generally replacing trust with fear throughout their organizations. Their efforts will be hamstrung by their talent-repelling management practices.

How long will it take these enterprises to figure out they're shooting themselves in the foot? It doesn't matter—you'll be long gone by then.

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