Customer Service Starts With Leaders

GREAT CUSTOMER SERVICE is critical to business success — loyal customers are the ultimate competitive advantage.

Many companies espouse that they provide great customer service, but few deliver. The inconsistency often stems from a failure to model it internally. The quality of customer service that co-workers provide to each other invariably shows up with outside customers.

Sadly, not all co-workers treat each other with the same kind of respect and care that they treat their customers. Perhaps you’ve heard the relationship advice of, “Treat your spouse/partner as if they were a guest in your home.” With co-workers (not unlike spouses), there are times we forget we are all rowing for the same team!

Challenges, conflicts and turf wars between co-workers from different company groups or departments are often a result of conflicting goals, budgets, resources and priorities. There are many examples: sales vs. finance (or service), human resources vs. operations, or information technology vs. any group depending on them. The differences between most internal company groups are often astounding in objectives, activity and the skills required to be successful.

Many company units have opposing perspectives and motivations. Take the common tension between “service” and “sales.” The service people want ownership of their jobs without the oversight and “butting in” of their demanding sales counterparts (who put the pressure on service when they identify customer relationships are at risk).

One has the technical experience to fix the product properly, the other has the interpersonal skills and understanding to develop and maintain customer relationships. Each operates in different worlds — it’s no surprise that their differences and dependencies create conditions that foster friction.

Internal infighting often escalates and is emotional. But it most often ends the same, with participants retreating back to their corners, where the battle, roadblocks and unresolved core systemic issues continue. Senior executives are often buffered from the battles below them, but the dysfunction between the groups is often felt by almost everyone else in the organization (and ultimately by the customer). If not addressed, this evolves into company culture with significant consequences (talented people get frustrated and leave, or key customers just go away).

To get rid of the “not my job” company culture, senior leaders need to help workers see the big picture, provide unifying goals and reward team achievement (so a co-worker’s request from another department is viewed as an opportunity to help a team member out and meet overall company goals vs. an “irritating interruption”).

Most employees simply don’t understand the priorities, day-to-day challenges and motivations of other departments (an underlying cause of the common “turfdoms” that plague many organizations). Feuding co-workers aren’t focused on collaboratively resolving the needs of the external customer. The fault for all this infighting often lies with senior leaders. It’s their responsibility to create a culture of united vision, understanding, accountability and teamwork.

As a coach, I often hear managers complain about the “personality” problem of a team member (usually presented as “so-and-so is difficult to work with”). Sometimes this is true, but more often than not, what I find when I dig deeper is the presenting “personality” concern is often a result or symptom of a greater systemic issue. Often the person deemed “difficult” turns out to be at the mercy of another department that isn’t being responsive and is demonstrating pent-up frustration at a culture that lacks internal customer service accountability and/or the inability or willingness to change.

What to do next:

  • Senior leaders need to foster an internal culture of great customer service and accountability. This requires solid sponsorship from the top down, where all managers are on the same page of providing great customer service to each other (remember, what gets measured is what gets done).
  • Survey your internal customers and find out if you are meeting their needs. Hold “debriefs” and postmortems following project completions. Target internal customer improvement.
  • Provide training for workers to develop healthy conflict resolution and feedback skills.
  • Make sure feuds are addressed; provide help to identify differences and options to effectively resolve them.
  • Find ways to bridge departmental gaps. Host social and team events to boost morale and understanding between groups. Promote teamwork across departments by creating teamwide goals. Reward individuals based on team success.

Demonstrate gratitude to co-workers who go the extra mile for you — like those IT support people who resolve your computer crisis! Just like external customer relationships, internal customer relationships require “maintenance” to foster teamwork and trust.

Invest in yourself by hiring me as your coach! I can help you learn, develop and grow your leadership and coaching abilities.  I coach leaders all over the world via Skype.  Call me:  360 682 5807 or email:

Engaged Workers Perform

WORKERS WHO ARE eager to come into work each day are “engaged”– fully involved in what they do at work and enthusiastic about their contribution and workplace environment.

Disengaged workers are the opposite — clock-watchers waiting for their workday to end (and put them out of their misery) or those who are physically and mentally exhausted by their jobs. Signs of disengagement include absenteeism, low morale, “zombies” going through their day avoiding eye contact and “checked out” workers (think surfing the Internet vs. working).

Sadly, surveys indicate fewer than one in three employees is “engaged” at work. Studies confirm that disengaged workers lead to low productivity and high employee turnover. One study, from The Hay Group, revealed that offices with engaged employees are up to 43 percent more productive.

Creating a workplace culture that supports engagement is important.

Here are several key factors:

The worker’s personality, talent and skills match the job. If employees aren’t a good fit in a position, they “check out.” Bored workers are likely overqualified and not given opportunities to work to their strengths and potential. Job-hoppers frequently report to me they are leaving because they are “underutilized” or aren’t given enough responsibility. Personality matters — an extroverted creative individual will likely disengage if the bulk of the time on the job is spent on mundane, menial tasks.

People believe their job matters. Leaders need to make it clear to their people how what they do contributes to the big picture. Most employees are inspired knowing how they are positively affecting the quality of the company’s products or services. Help them “get” how their daily output/tasks/responsibilities matter. Engaged employees feel valued.

People have clear but reasonable expectations. Engaged employees know what success looks like in their job. They are challenged but not overwhelmed by what they are being asked to do on a daily basis. Challenge should energize and inspire workers, not lead to exhaustion, stress, illness or burnout. As a coach, I see a disturbing trend of more and more people suffering from job stress. Many are exhausted (all trying to do more with less) — it’s taking a toll. These people are crying out for leadership and help. Most are angry, tired and disengaged. They need leaders who can help them sort out priorities, provide necessary support/resources and remove obstacles to success. Wise leaders help their people work smarter — not harder.

People are given feedback and growth opportunities. We all want to know how we are measuring up. Learning and improvement happen with feedback. Unfortunately most bosses aren’t giving enough of it to satisfy their employees. It’s important for workers to grow and develop and understand next steps to moving beyond their current job responsibilities (and pay scale).

What to do to increase engagement?

  • Monitor burnout and exhaustion. Your people working all hours of the day and night isn’t a good thing.
  • Create a company culture where people want to come to work. Encourage social interactions at work (dare I say even fun!), reasonable work life balance and opportunities for people to grow and advance in their careers. Engage people’s hearts and minds with inspiring visions — help them imagine and achieve the possibilities.
  • Help employees identify their personal strengths and weaknesses (or areas for improvement) and coach/support them in finding alignment at work.
  • Give responsibility. Most people like having initiatives or projects that they can run with. Most will prove they are capable (and will come into work with a new pep in their step because they finally have ownership of something).
  • Talk to employees about the daily nature of their work and what might be getting in their way of engagement. Fix broken systems or processes that are exhausting or frustrating your people.

Educate, train and coach company leaders about the importance of engagement and how to increase it.

Invest in yourself by hiring me as your coach! I can help you learn, develop and grow your leadership and coaching abilities.  I coach leaders all over the world via Skype.  Call me:  360 682 5807 or email:

Delegate to Lead Well

The more senior you are in the organizational hierarchy, the more you will need to rely on delegation to be successful.

Senior managers serve their organizations most effectively when focused on strategic planning and other high-level activity, including getting the most out of their people — in other words, leading. In most situations, they do not have the luxury of direct involvement with the actual “doing” typically completed by associates or direct reports with specific skills and responsibilities. Many managers struggle with how to delegate effectively. It’s not easy. The biggest offense: micromanaging or delegating without sufficient or specific consideration to establishing accountability. The greatest challenges for most leaders are determining under what circumstances you can (and should) delegate, to whom you can delegate and how to establish accountability.

Effective delegation can help your people develop and deliver to their highest potential. Most professionals credit their greatest growth to someone delegating to them along the way. Most workers are eager for more challenge, autonomy and responsibility (aren’t you?).

Yet many managers are uncomfortable delegating for fear of having tasks out of their direct control. Individuals who pride themselves on their high performance can particularly struggle with the paradox of “no one can do the task as well as I could” (i.e. as fast, thorough, insightful, creative) and recognizing that the key to leadership success is leveraging the skills and talents of others in the organization.

What kinds of tasks can you delegate? The answer is, of course, it depends. However, generally speaking, you can comfortably delegate most routine duties and questions, relatively minor decisions without great risk or consequences, and minor staffing issues (scheduling and coordinating). Another rule of thumb — you should be able to delegate anything you would expect your employees to do when you aren’t there. From there, it’s trickier and you will need to rely on good judgment.

One important step is identifying the right person to take on the delegated task. According to Ken Blanchard, author of “Leadership and the One Minute Manager,” responsibility and authority should be given to those who have demonstrated both commitment and competence in the skills and abilities required to complete the task. To determine commitment, consider their motivation, enthusiasm, trustworthiness and confidence. Evaluating relative competence involves taking into account their relative education, knowledge, skills, experience and track record. Understandably, new or inexperienced hires often need more training, direction and supervision. The “unproven” will generally need to prove their commitment and competence to you first, especially for projects with the potential of significant impact to the organization.

I encourage managers to think of delegation as a process. Don’t just automatically turn everything over to someone. Do it in stages; this will increase your comfort level and theirs. To be successful requires ongoing communication, feedback, confirmation and monitoring. Recognition, accountability, defining and supporting required authority and defining consequence (both for achievement and non-achievement of delegated tasks) are also important.

Truly effective leaders understand that delegating does not mean abdicating. You are still ultimately responsible so remain involved. Let the employee know you are available and willing to answer questions. Communicate expected outcomes — what you want done by when (what success looks like) — and provide the necessary resources and feedback for success. Don’t forget to tell them why you chose them for the task (what skills and talents you see in them that give you confidence they will be successful). I recommend that managers also ask one final question after delegating a task: What else do you need from me to be successful?

A common delegation pitfall — when leaders fail to assign or relay the necessary authority required to be successful. Employees want (and need) clarity about authority, responsibility and expectations. While important, personal authority in many cases is not enough to get multilevel or complex tasks accomplished. As a manager, delegates will look to you for protection and direction, as well as the authority they need to be successful.

Lastly (and perhaps most importantly), remember that accountability and delegation go hand in hand. If you aren’t willing to hold someone accountable, don’t delegate. It’s a mistake (and unreasonable) to delegate something important and then walk away and never look back. Ask the person you are delegating to how they will communicate back to you that the task is completed successfully, or if they are having trouble. Make them a partner in defining how you will know they have completed the task successfully. Engage in a collaborative discussion to define success parameters and expectations that both of you are comfortable with. This will greatly improve the chances for success and positive growth of the employee.

Invest in yourself by hiring me as your coach! I can help you learn, develop and grow your leadership and coaching abilities.  I coach leaders all over the world via Skype.  Call me:  360 682 5807 or email:

Empowering Bosses

For most companies, their most valuable yet underutilized resource is their people. While many business owners and managers espouse that they want their people to take more initiative and “get their skin in the game,” it’s surprising how few actually give their people the authority and support to do so.

In an empowered organization, employees take personal responsibility for the day-to-day running of the business under appropriate leadership direction. Effective leaders delegate and empower talented employees, coaching them to use discretion and good judgment when faced with obstacles and opportunities. The happiest, most satisfied and productive employees that I coach are those who are empowered and have some level of autonomy and responsibility over what they do.

Unfortunately, the notion of empowerment for many leaders is a double-edged sword. While bosses want their employees to take responsibility for getting results, they often fail to give them the necessary resources, support and decision-making authority to actually accomplish their objectives. Bosses reluctant to provide their people more autonomy often either lack confidence in themselves (or others), or have control issues.

Is there risk in delegating decision-making authority? Of course. But if you’ve got the right person with the right skills and are giving them what they need to be successful (with clear parameters), the risk should be acceptable and minimal.

Jack Welch, former GE CEO and author of “Winning” (a book I recommend), once sent out a letter to shareholders stating, “If you want to get the benefit of everything employees have … you’ve got to free them so they can make the right decisions by themselves.”

For many years, customer-service-driven Nordstrom had a one-rule employee handbook (actually, it was a 5-by-8 card) that read, “We’re glad to have you with our Company. Our number one goal is to provide outstanding customer service. Set both your personal and professional goals high. We have great confidence in your ability to achieve them. Nordstrom Rules: Rule #1 Use good judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules.”

Seattle-based Nordstrom provides a great example of how to empower. From day one, employees were told they were appreciated and trusted to make good decisions. Management set clear expectations “to provide outstanding customer service.” My experience as a Nordstrom customer has been consistent. Employees have the latitude to do the right thing by the customer, and display a genuine “I care” attitude. This cultural example stands in sharp contrast to the extreme levels of micromanagement pervasive in other companies (and often poor customer service).

An option for many “traditional autocratic” companies is to act like their smaller counterparts — uncluttered, with minimal politics and mind-numbing meaningless processes. Small-company cultures tend to encourage entrepreneurial behaviors, autonomy and individual creativity toward making things happen.

What leaders can do:

  • Set expectations for performance and empower employees to make decisions they need to succeed. We are all being asked to do more with less. Managers need to understand their employees need to make more decisions with less of their day-to-day involvement. Delegate with clear parameters of freedom (budget, resources, etc).
  • Eliminate unnecessary bureaucracy and decision-making approval processes. Remove things that get in your people’s way of doing what’s right for the business (and what you’ve asked them to do). Give them access to the information, feedback, authority and resources they need.
  • Bosses are responsible for setting employee priorities and expectations. Bosses should work hard to create a culture where their employees feel safe coming to them for direction and clarification when they are overloaded or confused by competing or conflicting priorities (particularly those that come from other managers who aren’t their boss).
  • Be supportive of decisions your front-line (customer contact) employees make to keep customers happy. A less-than-perfect decision resulting in a happy customer is markedly better than losing a customer because of an employee who has no power to make a decision. Don’t renege on an employee’s commitment to a customer; it’s bad for business and employee morale.
  • Continually engage employees in improving how things get done in the organization. Train, teach and coach them to make bigger and better decisions without you.
  • As a leader, keep your eye on the big picture versus getting mired in the small stuff. (Do you really need to approve that $100 line item?)

Invest in yourself by hiring me as your coach! I can help you learn, develop and grow your leadership and coaching abilities.  I coach leaders all over the world via Skype.  Call me:  360 682 5807 or email:

Decision Making Styles for Leaders

Leaders must make decisions every day. The most effective leaders are transparent about their decision-making. They communicate to their people how decisions will be made and establish a clear definition of decision-making authority for their teams and direct reports to follow.

Different situations call for different styles of decision making. Leaders have several to choose from — there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Here are four primary styles to consider:

Authoritative: With this management decision-making style, the leader decides and then delivers a unilateral decision. There are certainly situations (a crisis, or when you are the only one with the insight or information necessary) that call for this “old school” style. Leaders need to be able to take charge and/or champion a cause. Yet wise leaders avoid overuse of this style. They know that using it means risking little or no buy-in to their decision.

Consultative: With this style, leaders consult with their people and gather input before making the decision. When used effectively, they communicate to those providing input where they are in their process. For example, “I want your input from the beginning on this,” or “I am down to two options, I am leaning toward x … and want to get your opinion.” As an organizational development consultant, I often encourage leaders to use this style more than they typically do. Why? It allows for influence and input from others (thereby increasing buy-in, commitment and reducing risk) but keeps clarity around who is making the decision (you, the leader) intact. A word of caution: If you aren’t open to influence, don’t pretend you are. It’s a huge mistake. Effective leaders will be prepared to discuss their rationale or reasons for not following recommendations or suggestions.

Consensus: With this style, essentially everyone agrees to support the decision of the group. You lose your right to veto as the leader. The plus — this often results in buy-in and commitment from team members. The minus — trying to achieve consensus is difficult and time-consuming. One person can hold up the process (the “tyranny” of consensus). Local author and consultant Robert Crosby wisely writes in his book, “The Authentic Leader:”

“The positive intent on consensus is to significantly involve people in decision-making. The negative intent and frequent consequence is to stifle action and give power to the most stubborn.” Consensus can be a great choice for those decisions that require a high level of team commitment to succeed. But trying to make all team decisions by consensus is a recipe for team frustration and struggle. Consensus shouldn’t be attempted with challenging decisions that require responsiveness and timely action.

Delegation: With this style, leaders give their decision-making authority away to others. This can be a good strategy to allow those closest to the task at hand to make the call, to grow the skills of others and/or when someone else clearly has more experience, skill and understanding than you do. In a nutshell, when delegating, make sure to offer clear parameters, then ask those taking over this responsibility to summarize their understanding. See next week’s column for tips about how to delegate wisely.

Here are a few important guidelines around decision making:

  • Communicate your decision-making style (depending on the situation) so that others in your group or on your team know how the decision will be made.
  • Honor the followers’ role in the decision-making style that you have chosen (don’t say, “I want your opinion,” if you have already made an authoritative decision).
  • When practical, avoid only bouncing between the extremes of making authoritative decisions and consensus; delegation and the consultative methods are more reliable styles that support organizational teamwork

As an external consultant, I am frequently asked to observe and coach team meetings and often ask the question, “Who has decision-making authority over this?” Too often, no one knows. Meetings are a tremendous investment in resources; having clarity around decision-making authority, commitment and accountability are critical to bottom-line results. For critical or complex initiatives, or if the majority of your meetings are spent wasting time, getting expert help to achieve results may be in order.

In today’s dynamic workplace, effective decision-making is critical to achieving organizational objectives.

Invest in yourself by hiring me as your coach! I can help you learn, develop and grow your leadership and coaching abilities.  I coach leaders all over the world via Skype.  Call me:  360 682 5807 or email: