Customers or Friends – Who Would You Choose?

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By Guest Blogger EJ Widun

I am curious what you would do in a situation like this. The concepts of “right and wrong” are often blurred by circumstances and our personal biases.

Here is the situation…

You are the bartender at a local bar that draws not only a nice crowd but out of town visitors who come for the fare. On this one night while you are working, the bar is about 50% filled; there are several groups of seats available. All of the customers at the bar are busy enjoying their food and the ambiance. Your friends come into the bar and want to sit down at one particular spot but there is not enough room. You prefer them to sit in this spot because it is in a corner of the bar where you can talk to them when it is not busy.

What would you do in this situation? Would you ask the customers already seated and eating to move seats or would you ask your friends to sit in one of the open sections with enough seats for them?

When this happened to us recently, the bartender asked two groups of customers in the middle of their meals to move over so her friends could have the corner. As the customers, Kristin and I felt like we were not as important as the bartender’s friends. It impacted our mood and opinion of the establishment. It also impacted the other customers who were asked to move. The first couple immediately left the establishment and their food.

Should you cannibalize existing customers for your friends? Do you move people in the middle of a meal because “regulars” show up? As “regulars”, you look forward to the familiar faces and camaraderie an establishment can give you. You also feel a certain degree of comfort in having “your seats”. I can see both sides of the argument but as a customer; I can only see my immediate impact. If I were the business owner, I see a bad customer experience, lost revenue and the potential of reputational damage.

Every decision you make may have unintended consequences because of our personal biases. It is important to see things from as many angles as possible when taking action.

Respect or Fear

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Have we ever stopped to think about how our team members respond to our leadership? Do we lead by respect or fear? I remember certain leaders whom I would go to extremes to provide them with what they requested immediately as I did not want to be on the receiving end of a tirade. Or, I would get a sick feeling in my stomach when I saw their number pop up on my cell phone, wondering what was wrong now. When I reflect back on those experiences, I find it a very sad state of leadership. I felt as if I was unable to have a productive relationship with these leaders due to their style of leadership by intimidation. You did what you had to in order to stay off their radar screen. Unfortunately, most of us have encountered leaders such as these, leaders whom we feared instead of respected.

Thankfully, I have encountered just as many great leaders that I had immense admiration for due to the way they led with respect for their team. These leaders led with high regard to their team members, not a high regard for themselves. These types of leaders were easy to be around, they expected the best out of us, but did not scare us into producing excellent work. They believed in an open and collaborative environment. Having such respect for these leaders made it easy for everyone to work hard and do what was best for the organization.

I believe that leadership by intimidation occurs when a leader’s ego gets in the way. When an over-inflated self worth overshadows the purpose of leadership, this leader believes they can get the job done any way they want, even if it means belittling team members. The sad part to this line of thinking is this type of leader believes their team has great respect for them. In reality, these teams perform out of fear.

Don’t confuse leadership intimidation with leaders who are tough when they need to be. Leaders may need to exhibit a tough facade when there are issues at hand. However, it is possible to be tough without compromising the respect you have for your team members. True, your team may not enjoy having a difficult conversation with you, but having these conversations in a respectful manner shows that you care and want the best out of them.

Respect is earned, not coerced through intimidation. How do you lead?

 

Living on an Island

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On occasion, leadership can be a very lonely place. Leaders need to embody many personalities, and it can be necessary to make a difficult decision that separates you from the rest of the organization. On the other side, there are times where a leader will reside on an “island” because they feel they are the most important person within the organization. They feel the leadership position they have been given grants them the latitude to make all of the decisions without input from others.

Unilateral decision-making can be a very damaging practice for a leader. I am not speaking of the occurrences when a leader must make a decision without consulting others within the organization. I am talking about the leader who believes their own hype and feels as if they are clearly the smartest person in the whole organization. They have this feeling of infallibility and all of their decisions are always going to be the best decisions – just ask them!

This type of leader does not gain the confidence of their organization.  If a leader sits in his or her office and fires off directives without getting any input from anyone, how can they truly understand what is going on in the organization? I have always been a big advocate of open channels of communication and transparency. If you want to know how a decision may impact your organization, go out and speak with those directly affected. Many of us have made the mistake in believing we know what is best for our organization since we are the leader. However, that type of egotistical attitude can get us into trouble. Your team members will be less likely to open up to you if you choose to ignore them and just do what you want to do. This type of decision-making also evokes a sense of distrust. People are often curious why and how their leader comes to a decision that will impact them. Making unilateral decisions on a regular basis can lead your team to wonder what you might be hiding, even if your actions are not nefarious.

Leadership is all about working and communicating with your team, not setting sail for your own private island.

 

A Disaster or an Opportunity

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I have always been fascinated by the way an organization describes a mistake. Some come right out and say, “Yes, we messed up and we accept responsibility for what happened.” Others play the blame game and try to pass off their mistakes on others. Regardless of where the blame is placed, the one thing that strikes me as interesting is how an organization puts the opportunity spin on it.

The opportunity spin is something that challenges us to think about issues in a different light. Mistakes are made and how we react to them can determine how we appear to the rest of the world. What do you think about an organization that states an issue is a great opportunity to learn and make changes? Sounds much better than telling the public that they screwed up and don’t have a clue what should be done next.

In addition to changing the way the public views your organization, turning a disaster into an opportunity will also put a different spin on a situation for your team. When everyone is running around wringing his or her hands in despair because they messed up, this creates chaos and doesn’t do much to address an issue. Something as simple as a word choice of “opportunity” can take a little of the fear out of a situation and drive everyone toward a positive result.

Do you see a disaster as an opportunity for future success or just a disaster?

 

The Tank is Empty

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You are driving down the road and don’t give much thought to how much gas you have in your car until that little light comes on telling you it is time to fill up. Unfortunately, humans do not have that little light that comes on when you are starting to feel depleted and empty. What happens when a leader runs out of fuel on their journey? And more importantly, how do they continue to lead when they feel they have nothing left in their tank?

Leadership can be difficult when you are consumed with caring for your organization as well as everyone within it. When times are good, it is easy to remain upbeat and energized to lead your organization forward. If you have the knowledge that everything is going well and all of your team members are happy and satisfied in their positions, leadership can be a more enjoyable experience. While we may have periods of this organizational utopia, it is difficult to maintain this type of environment on a consistent basis. People are not always going to be ecstatic to come to work every day, the ebb and flow of business demands can create challenges to how you operate your organization. These everyday tests can erode your spirit and make leading your organization drudgery instead of your passion.

When you find yourself dealing with the challenges that can wear down the most seasoned leader, from where do you draw your energy and spirit to keep leading?

Getting Real with Corporate Standards

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At one point in our professional lives, we have heard the term “corporate standards.” Whether it is a standard of appearance, conduct or product, we have all had to adhere to a corporate standard in order to succeed in our position.

I understand the need for a set of standards within an organization. Focus on the delivery of a culture as well as a consistent product is the main purpose of enacting an organization’s corporate standards. Everyone has a different perspective of the world, and what might be appropriate for one person may be completely inappropriate to another.

Consistent delivery of service was always something that was stressed throughout my career in the hospitality industry. The goal was to provide each guest with the same level of service in the same manner each time. Early in my career, I worked as a reservationist for a national hotel chain. Our standard operating procedure in service delivery was extremely strict, right down to the words we used when answering the phone. We spent two intense weeks of training in order to perfect our prowess on the reservation system as well as the exact script we were to use when speaking with a guest. This is a scenario when a corporate standard was imperative. When a guest wanted to make a reservation, there was a very specific dialogue that needed to take place; we needed to obtain information from the guest, and they typically had many questions for us. In addition to obtaining the correct information, we also needed to complete the call as quickly as possible. Without these standards, we would not have been able to effectively assist the guests.

How do you think a customer feels about a standard operating procedure? Most likely they don’t actively think about it until something goes wrong with their experience. This thought occurred to me while checking in to a hotel recently. The front desk associate was very pleasant during the check in process, going through an explanation of the services and amenities of the hotel. As a consumer, I have always taken note of the “information dump” that service personnel must bestow on the customer. I always get a laugh out of organizations who give their employees a list of specific information they must provide to the guest, and do not train them how to convey this information in a natural way. Without this training, you end up listening to a recitation that puts you in mind of the most boring class you have ever been forced to sit through. In this situation, the front desk associate handled this beautifully. She went through the process of checking us in, but did so in a very friendly conversational way. I learned what I needed about the hotel without feeling as if I was being lectured.

How much latitude do we give our team members when it comes to a corporate standard?  Obviously when a standard applies to the safety and security of your customers, you cannot budge on this. Do we allow a standard operating procedure to take the humanity out of our teams? How do we still deliver the same high level of service while allowing our team members to use their best judgment to serve their customers instead of sounding like a pre-programmed robot?

 

Keeping You Honest?

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Remember the childhood story Pinocchio – the puppet whose nose grew every time he told a lie?  Does your organization believe that you can hide things from the public when we are all living in the social media fishbowl?  You may think you can get away with not sharing the truth, but social media can literally show your nose growing to the world!

Today, social media requires us to be honest with our actions and words.  If you knew that someone had the same exact access to information that you did, would you be more concerned with ensuring the information you provided was accurate?  I am often surprised with the lack of discretion some people use when posting all of the intimate details of their lives online.  I am more surprised when prominent people try to lie about something stupid they did.  If you send an email, a Tweet, share a You Tube or Vine video, post on Facebook or Google+, it is too late – whatever ridiculous thing you did will be out there for the world to see forever.  At that point, telling a lie just isn’t going to work!  We need to remember that practically everyone on the planet is carrying around a smart phone, and in an instant your mistake could be fodder for the evening news, so if you are going to fail, be epic and own it!

Social media has created a transparency of knowledge, which can be very useful if an organization chooses to use it to their advantage.  No one is thrilled with negative publicity splashed across the Internet.  However, if you beat the naysayers to the punch and take a preemptive strike, you can control how this information is shared with the public, ensuring the truth comes directly from you.  This can also create a sense of trust between an organization and consumer.  By nature, we have been taught not to trust the “big bad corporations” due to our past experiences.  When organizations reveal themselves through the various social media channels, it is far easier to establish trust with the public.  Consider this scenario, your organization sends out a mass email to millions, and oh no – there is something obscene in it!  How would your organization handle this?  Do you blame someone else and try to hide, praying that it will go away quickly and quietly?  Or, do you expose your mistake to every media outlet that exists and make sure that everyone knows that yes, you did mess up, but you are sincerely sorry.  Which organization is a consumer going to trust?

People see social media as a way to connect with their customers, to “keep it real.”  Are you keeping it real by staying honest, or are you a social media Pinocchio?