I had one of my favorite management quotes running through my head this week as I found blood rushing to my ears and my teeth beginning to grind.
But this wasn’t a work-related problem.
I was making a near-futile attempt to help my 8th grader with a writing assignment.
He was trying to correct a draft of a couple of paragraphs that had been reviewed by his teacher. Normally, and by “normally”, I mean 30 years ago when I still understood how school was taught, this wouldn’t have been a huge deal.
But the corrections to his draft were not simple annotations. There were numbers (multiple…and some contradictory) that corresponded to a “corrections sheet” with a list of 39 standard mistakes, suggestions, and endorsements.
So even the stuff he wrote correctly had to be referenced to see why it (maybe) was correct. I was stunned at the dissection of seemingly suitable 8th grade work.
And I’m not sure if he was reassured when I told him, “Dude… I can’t figure out what some of these suggestions even mean.”
He said, “Don’t you write a lot for your job?”
I told him, “Yes, but judging by these rules… apparently not very well.”
The quote I found running through my head was from Dee Hock, the former CEO of Visa. He said, “Simple, clear purpose and principles give rise to complex, intelligent behaviors. Complex rules and regulations give rise to simple, stupid behaviors.”
I’ve frequently reminded managers that if they aren’t careful, they can unintentionally “manage” the brains and ambition right out of otherwise smart and ambitious people.
I once suggested to an EVP at a large bank that their unofficial message to teams in the field seemed to be, “We’ve done all of the thinking so you don’t have to.”
From what I observed, his teams were taking management up on that offer. They had become box-on-a-form checkers, more concerned with “doing things right” than in doing the right things.
And yet that manager wondered why his teams weren’t as “entrepreneurial” as he’d like.
Yeah, go figure.
If we find ourselves always managing to the “lowest common denominator”, we tend to nudge even our best folks toward lower levels of engagement.
And, otherwise smart and well-meaning managers inadvertently do it time and again.
Instead, encourage your best and brightest to remind you why they are.
Then, actually allow them.
Our internet went down right at lunchtime on Labor Day. The fact that I had a house full of guys ready to draft fantasy football teams did not help.
(You’d have sworn I’d taken away the barbecue.)
After the support line had me try every trick they had, I was told a technician had to come out to my home.
I was then informed that the earliest available visit was four days later. I protested…to no avail.
That week, my wife began researching other providers. We were done with those guys.
I received three different phone calls in the days prior to remind me of my appointment time. I blocked out that morning and made sure I was home.
They didn’t show up.
I navigated their tortuous phone menu to complain and was given a new appointment time one hour later.
And then… again, they didn’t show up.
Later, as my head was set to explode, a young technician pulled up. I didn’t envy him. I was not of, shall we say, an amiable comportment.
To his credit, the first words out of his mouth were, “Mr. Martin, I’m so sorry about your wait. You were on someone else’s schedule. I just got a call that said to get here next.”
I almost believed him.
Before I could tell him how awful his company was, he said, “I’m going to give you my card with my personal cellphone on it. I live around here. Next time, just call me directly, and I’ll come over. You should never have to wait that long for a technician. That was ridiculous.”
I almost believed him.
He quickly fixed the problem (a cut cable in a neighbor’s yard) and gave me his card with his personal cellphone number written on the back of it.
Yes, I called it. It was legit.
Now, I believed him.
He apologized again, and by now I was saying, “Well, that’s alright. It wasn’t your fault.” We ended up laughing and discussing our fantasy football teams.
My wife later asked if I still wanted to switch providers. I told her, “Nah. I ‘have a guy’ on the inside now.”
I would have hardly thought it possible, but days of anger went away with just one positive interaction with an engaged, empathetic employee.
I was reminded that the most impactful elements of companies aren’t our facilities or technologies. It’s our moving parts; i.e. our people.
Will yours strengthen (or repair) connections with the customers they interact with today?