I recently learned from a senior manager with a long-time vendor that the company would no longer offer me a benefit they had given in the past, saying it had never been their policy to do so. When I provided them documentation to show I had always enjoyed the specified privilege, the vendor relented – but not before berating her probably-minimum-wage receptionist for “not understanding policy” and taking pains to tell me she planned to talk to the receptionist about it as soon as the call ended. From her tone, it was clear the talk would not be gentle.
When Bad Conversations Go Worse
There were many things wrong with this customer service experience, and to delve into all of them could keep me in the blog business for weeks. However, the overriding leadership issue at play here can be found in the first chapter of any “Management 101” textbook – the distinction between fault and accountability.
Having a routine vendor tell me that I never had the right to certain services I had enjoyed for quite some time was insulting enough. Listening to a senior manager blame a low-level employee for over-delivering to a client as though she had committed a multi-million-dollar accounting mistake made it far worse. Rather than assuage my concerns about the mix-up, it merely piled on more.
The comments about the receptionist tripped my “justice trigger,” giving me this overwhelming desire to ask the manager, “Unless you’re telling me she is openly defying company policy – which would be a fireable offense – then the only other option is that she didn’t know or understand. And if she didn’t know or understand, isn’t that on you?” However, I withheld, fearing that it would make things worse for her employee.
This experience has remained with me. Employees have the responsibility to operate within the confines of company policies, mores, and procedures. However, managers have the responsibility to educate their employees on the rules. They also carry the weight of accountability when that guidance breaks down. It may not be our fault, but it is our responsibility.
Anyone can tear someone down. Correcting a mistake in such a way that it keeps a valued employee focused on the future instead of bruised over the past is much more difficult. The more conscientious the employee is, the more of a challenge this will be. Repeat offenses are one thing. Honest mistakes to fulfill the core mission are something entirely different.
Feedback is Part of Our Succession Plan
At the end of every day, employees decide whether they want to return the next. With an unemployment rate under five percent and industries from construction to IT to food service complaining of the lack of available workers, it really is hard to find good help these days. Does being embarrassed in front of a customer—being thrown under the proverbial bus—for the sin of over-delivering services increase the chances that the employee will want to be with the company long-term? Not likely.
Not every employee will be a manager or even aspire to be. However, each is learning from his or her leadership how to be one. Every interaction between a manager and his or her subordinates reflects the company’s culture, and the pool of talent in that company is being grown from within that culture. The way we reward and penalize our employees today is laying the groundwork for how they will lead their own people tomorrow.
Accountability: Park the Bus
Before this opportunity with MasterMinds Leadership, I had a wonderful first career beginning in politics and ending in intelligence – which is to say that I have seen the best and worst of diverse senior U.S. officials in a thousand scenarios on the national stage. I have learned from all of them, trying to emulate the best and repress the rest. In the end, I learned something from this small vendor, too. Note to self: never work for that manager.
Written By: Greta Creech, Manager of Client Analytics at MasterMinds Leadership