For decades there has been a chasm between frontline employees, typically hourly, and management. Frontline employees recognize a problem and feel powerless to "fix it." They blame management and expect them to "fix it!" They perceive that management does not listen to them. They feel discounted. So they rebel. Managers are sometimes overwhelmed with responsibility and cannot cater to every upset and idea. They are responsible for results and sometimes do not care, or take into consideration, whether employees like their decisions or not.
Tension created as the result of power struggles ripple through the undercurrent of an organization and the effect is translated to customers. Work related policies and procedures are set, typically without much research on how the policy/procedure might affect the stability of the people performing the work, and this subsequently affects customers. Employees are routinely given a memo or short training on a new software program or policy and the expectation is one of, "deal with it! We gave you training!"
When your workforce is upset your customers are affected. It pays in retention coin to acknowledge and change this outmoded method of communication. Competition for power between the top, middle and bottom of an organization is counter-intelligent and borders on asinine. The interesting thing about this is that it gets fed by those that should have the "smarts" to mitigate it in a positive way! Managers sit in conference rooms and mind map strategies to counter or one up the latest employee ripple. In Union environments it can get really nasty. Unspoken anger, resentment and resistance seek out like feelings, mirrors them and they grows. "Like attracts like" so to speak. Negative feelings leak all over the place and can be felt. Anyone with a modicum of sensitivity can feel the resultant stress and tension in the very air of the buildings. Why counter employee upset with resistance when you can dissolve it by using more advanced strategies to bring about resolve?
Seeing the Bigger Picture:
Education, exposure and experience gives people a different point of view. It is understandable that more evolved employees will see the bigger picture when setting policy, and necessary that an organization has these more educated or otherwise experienced employees "running the show." Even though it might anger other employees, typically those perceived or labeled as being subordinates, there is most likely a bigger picture business purpose for it being in place. Even when the policy is a must, the question is, how was it presented to employees?
Seeing the Bigger Picture:
Were they given the respect of an explanation for the purpose or was it assumed it was not their call and left at that? Were they given the opportunity to express their opinion before implementation? If their ideas and suggestions were over-ridden were they thanked and given a brief reason why another approach was taken? It is always about respect, and communication. Trying to please all employees is crazy and impossible. Giving them the respect of being included in the communication loop however can inspire an employee to perform and give more freely to the cause; in this instance, satisfying customers. Put key frontline employees on previously management only committees and you might be surprised at discovering hidden talent.
What Fuels the Ripples of Discontent? Managers that have a pulse on the current ripples of discontent may need to open their minds to new strategies for calming the waters. "Too bad if they don�t like it" is an attitude that feeds the problem. When customers are telling you there is a problem, there is a problem, whether it is "just perceived as a problem," or not. It is the same thing with employees. Better to sit with these folks, and listen with your emotional intelligent to get the deeper picture. Ferret out how they are feeling about things and then CARE enough to strategize compromises that will ease the stress. The biggest complaint frontline employees have given me is that they are the ones doing the work, and they experience how certain practices cause the job to be more difficult, or cause customers to react, but when they bring the problem to management, even with solution, it may or may not be acknowledged and nothing is done about it. Morale goes down the tubes in this case and the customer feels the lack of enthusiasm. It is as if a manager feels insulted or embarrassed that a subordinate might have a better solution than the one they came up with! If you as a manager do not care what your staff thinks, then you do not care about your customers. If you refuse to consider empowering them by giving them a say in setting policy, ask yourself what that might be about? What is the self talk at that point? I am the boss here and I know best? Really! Then why are your employees disgruntled? Why is it there is this chasm, and its inherent undercurrent of negativity, coming back at you demanding your attention on a regular basis. You might be thinking something to the effect, "If they want a power job, they need to get an education and go out and get one!" Arrogance is so blatantly obvious to staff and only serves to fuel the fires. Do you see how subtle the pillars of the bridge of discontent are? People read attitude and respond with their own similar attitude. Feeling discounted breeds unhappiness. Do you see where I am going here?
Management has to get real about wanting customer satisfaction and list it as a key objective and then strategize for success. If you really want satisfied customers you will need to examine your current levels of employee satisfaction. One affects the other greatly.
What Fuels the Ripples of Discontent?
Change how you perceive the value of frontline employees. You do not want to hire with the notion that this is an entry level job and no experience is necessary. You are handing over your valued customers to someone who has little or no expertise for handling the difficult challenges of successful communication and resolve with the vast array of personalities they will encounter any given day. Setting marginal requirements for employment will bring you a big stack of marginally qualified applicants. If you hire at an entry level wage and skill level you�ll get an occasional diamond in the rough, but you will also get marginally motivated or qualified people, in droves The job of serving customers is just too important to hand it over to amateurs that lack the skill set to maturely and confidently communicate with the public. With that said, either a person has the talent required to successfully interact with your customers�, or they do not. All the training in the world does not replace a heart for service, even if that heart is inexperienced. Better to hire someone with no customer experience, but apparent empathy and compassion, than a seasoned customer service professional that has developed a tough, insensitive heart over time.
Finally, be sure to have a good training program in place that meets the needs of new employees and assists in revving up the skills of existing employees.
Change the Mindset: Routinely companies across America set rigid working standards and put supervisors in charge of micro-managing to ensure rule after rule is followed or else. Sometimes this is necessary. What can you give dedicated employees working the frontline to mitigate the degradation of being an adult treated like a child that must be babysat and controlled?
What Fuels the Ripples of Discontent?
Toolbox of Solutions for Increased Employee Satisfaction: Low cost-No cost Ideas:
Frontline working conditions are by nature fast paced, stressful and demanding. The employees performing the work chose it, so there are no victims, but support from caring managers is essential. More than anything simple ideas like the following maintain harmony and good attitude for the work group.
Toolbox of Solutions for Increased Employee Satisfaction: Low Cost-No Cost Ideas:
Make a commitment to dissolve the age old tension that exists between management and frontline employees. Include employee and customer satisfaction in your strategic plan and budget for both.
Dorothy Pederson is A 26-year veteran of teaching corporate personnel how to deal with customer complaints, Dorothy is now the owner of the communication and customer service training company Frontline Consulting, LLC. She is available for speaking, workshops, teambuilding training and management consulting. Speaking topics include:
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