Entries Tagged as 'Leadership'

When an Employee Just Isn’t Cutting It

badappleOne of the most challenging situations that faces any leader is having to deal with a wrong fit employee. Leaders should, of course, give the employee a chance to improve through coaching, additional training, etc. But when those remedies don’t work, we have to let the wrong fit employee go. I find that too many leaders avoid the situation far too long, causing frustration for customers and for other employees.

Delay tactics are often justified with statements like, “Opinions about performance issues are sometimes too subjective to take such drastic action.” Management guru Mark Sanborn addresses the issue in a blog post titled, “7 Clues You’ve Got the Wrong Person on Your Team.” I especially like clue #1. While a certain amount of subjectivity might still be involved in such difficult people decisions, Mark’s list sure helps clarify the situation.

Taking Pride In the Job


My wife and I are in the middle of a major home interior renovation. Seeing my home completely torn up has caused me several times to get on my knees and ask my wife, “How did I let you talk me into this?” She quietly assures me that it will be worth it when it’s done. She seems so sure of herself that it calms me (at least for a few minutes).

Right now workers are installing travertine throughout the house. I must say that seeing them work does bring me a sense of confidence because of the very evident pride they take in their work. In fact, rather than workers, they’re really artisans. They’re creating a beautiful floor that I can already tell I’m going to love.

How do I know they’re proud of their work?

  • They take the time to explain what they’re doing and why they do it that way. They’re proud of the techniques they use and why those techniques result in a superior outcome.
  • They take care of our house. Even though the house is torn up, it’s obvious that they know we still have to live here. They’re doing the work in a pattern that allows us to still function and get around the house.
  • They minimize the dust. When we began the restoration, many of my friends gleefully told me about the dustbowl my house was about to become, especially when the original floor was to be torn up. But when our guys showed up to tear up the floor, they told us how they would minimize the dust using a careful process. Yes there was dust, but not nearly the amount my friends were apparently hoping for.
  • They care about precision. Watching them plan, cut, and lay the travertine, I can see why the process is taking a bit longer than I originally thought it would. I’m okay with the time it’s taking because I can see that artisans are at work.

So what does this all have to do with business?

As customers, we can always tell when a person takes pride in his or her job. From their tone of voice to the look in their eyes, pride is evident. And a lack of pride in the job is just as clear, maybe even more so. I find that employees who are proud of what they do have some consistent traits:

  •  They’re happy to serve. They don’t see serving people as beneath them; they see it as a noble calling.
  • They don’t simply complete tasks; they create an experience. Getting the task done is important, of course. But proud employees take it a step further and ensure that customers have a good experience.
  • They take ownership of problems. Proud employees don’t blame other departments or other employees for problems; they take ownership of the issue and do whatever they can to resolve it. And in those times when no resolution can be reached, you can tell it truly pains them because they truly care.
  • They don’t cut corners. Because of the pride they take in their work, they make sure it’s done right. Even if a customer asks them to take a shortcut for the sake of time or for whatever reason, proud employees ensure the customer knows the ramifications of taking the shortcut.
  • They never, ever say, “That’s not my job.” Proud employees know that they represent the entire organization.
  • They have stories. I find that when I ask proud employees about their work, they’ll share stories about what they do and why they’re proud to do it. They don’t simply list their job duties; they bring the role to life with success stories.

I’m sure you can come up with other traits of proud employees (this wasn’t meant to be an exhaustive list), but I think it’s a pretty good list.

Now think about employees you’ve experienced who demonstrated the opposite of what I’ve described. Those employees who simply process you through their system, blame other employees or departments for problems, or exhibit an “I just work here” attitude. You would never describe those employees as proud, would you? And how long would you continue doing business with an organization that is filled with employees who have no pride in their work. The only thing such companies can compete on is price – and that’s a pretty tough thing to compete on (and not very rewarding).

6 Actions leaders can take to build pride in the workplace

  1. Demonstrate your own pride. Through your words and behaviors, let employees know that you are proud of the organization and proud of the work you do.
  2. Recognize employees who demonstrate pride in their work. You know who your proud employees are – be sure they know how much you appreciate them.
  3. Don’t tolerate poor or mediocre performance. If you allow poor or mediocre performance to go unchallenged, you’re saying poor or mediocre performance is okay.
  4. Share stories. In team meetings, share stories and examples of excellence in action. Even better, get team members to share their own stories with the rest of the team.
  5. Create a shared history. Most organizations have a rich legacy that can easily be mined for stories that build pride. When employees carry a rich legacy on their shoulders, they understand that the legacy is on the line with every customer interaction.
  6. Involve employees in the improvement process. When employees know that their input is valued and that they play an instrumental role in improving the organization, the pride factor increases exponentially.

Again, this isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list. But imagine the outcome of implementing these six strategies. Imagine having an entire team of employees who take intense pride in their work. Imagine the trust that would be generated with customers who interact with an organization full of proud employees. I think that’s the key business outcome of all of this: customer trust. When customers deal with employees who are clearly proud of their roles and of their organization, they trust those employees to take good care of them. And a high level of trust equals a high level of loyalty. I totally trust the artisans installing the new floor in my house. My wife and I would happily use them in the future, and will confidently recommend them to others. We trust them because their pride shows through in their work.

Something to think about: What specific employee behaviors in your workplace demonstrate intense pride in the job? How often are you seeing those behaviors?

Do Standards of Performance Stifle Creativity?

In one of my customer service workshops not long ago, I shared some of the practices I learned while working at Walt Disney World. A clearly agitated participant stood up during the question and answer segment. “I’m a university professor,” he announced, “and I’d NEVER encourage any of my students to work at Disney World. They turn employees into robots and stifle all creativity.” He then stood there in anticipation of my response.

Although he hadn’t really asked a question and seemed more interested in provoking, I had to admit it wasn’t the first time I had heard the comment, and it deserved a thoughtful response.

Walt Disney World does have specific rules for its cast members that are non-negotiable such as never eating or drinking while on stage, picking up trash, focusing on interacting with guests rather than chatting with coworkers, etc. Violation of these rules will likely result in some kind of coaching, and continued violation can lead to being fired. They’re not guidelines; they’re rules.

But within those rules, cast members have plenty of room for creativity and for letting their own personalities shine through. I worked at Disney World for twenty years and can assure you that there were (and are) as many personalities as there are cast members. We were empowered to add our own personal touches to how we interacted with guests. The non-negotiable was to make every guest feel special. (Within reason, of course. Making a guest feel special by offering a sip from your hip flask would certainly not be the Disney way).

Having non-negotiables is good business. Every organization has a brand image; hopefully one that is by design and not be default. Behaviors out of alignment with that image damages it, and allowing such behaviors to continue can permanently damage the image.

I’m all for creativity and stretching the boundaries, but it has to be done intelligently, not simply out of a desire to “break the rules” and demonstrate individuality. Imagine going to see the play, “The Phantom of the Opera,” and the lead one evening decides to play the role as a comedian instead of as the Phantom. I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t go over well with the audience, the other members of the cast, or the producers of the show. Even improv troupes, for all their creativity, have rules such as performing with a “yes, and,” approach, adding to the statements of fellow performers, not negating them, etc.

While I didn’t actually do it, I thought about asking the indignant professor about the classes he teaches. Does he have expectations for his students regarding assignments? Does he have expectations about how students are to behave in the classroom? Does he have criteria for what constitutes an A grade on an exam and what constitutes a C grade? I’m guessing the answer is yes to each of those questions, but I’m sure my professor friend would argue that none of those rules stifle creativity; they’re simply part of being a student in his classes. Ironic.

Great organizations are very clear on who they are and what the customer experience is supposed to be. Great organizations also make sure that they encourage employees to think and to be creative, while expecting  employees to use their creativity to enhance the brand image, not detract from it.

There is nothing wrong with having clear, non-negotiable expectations for employees. It’s simply good business.

Something to think about: Are your organization’s service non-negotiables truly non-negotiable, or are they more like “suggestions”?

Four Steps for Creating a Culture of Customer Service Excellence

In this video I describe four steps that I believe any organization can use for creating a culture of customer service excellence. Don’t let the simplicity of these steps fool you; they work!

If you receive my blog via email, you may need to click here to view the video.

Four Steps for Creating a Culture of Customer Service Excellence

In this video I describe four steps that I believe any organization can use for creating a culture of customer service excellence. Don’t let the simplicity of these steps fool you; they work!

If you receive my blog via email, you may need to click here to view the video.