I had a fascinating and eye opening experience this last week. A vendor we’ve been working with, who is wonderful and has always been eager to be helpful…was not her normal self. I’ll spare you the details, except to say that here’s what I noticed: her energy was off, she was short with me and tense, and when I asked her to help me with something – that I knew she wanted to help me with – she said “it’s out of my control, my power has been taken away.” I left there feeling less excited about and connected to the company, bothered about my customer care person and the experience, deflated, and not really eager to go back. I also felt a breach of trust (no great reason for it, just the feeling I had.) I left there wondering if I should find another vendor, drop the deal (it’s a BIG deal – high dollars, high value), or just blow it all off. The more I thought about it, the more bugged I got...it was incongruent with my experience of the past. I went back to find out what was up…In a word…”leadership.”
Here’s the scoop. The economy, in many peoples’ perceptions – and in truth in many cases, is…yes…kinda…in a….rut. The perception and belief that it is bad, is creating more of the same perception and belief. While some people are having better years financially than ever, some are struggling. This goes for private families and it goes for businesses, depending much on their scenarios and the types of business they’re in. This particular vendor is definitely being affected by the economy…and it’s not feeling good…and the person who often feels it the worst unfortunately, is the customer; and not necessarily in the financial way, but rather (even more importantly) in emotional and energetic currency due to their experience with the people in the organization. It’s a ripple effect.
So what happened to my beautiful, empowered, lovely, helpful, “I’d stop by to say hi for no reason just to see her because I think she’s so great” vendor? Her executive team…”upper management.” Apparently, the day before I stopped in, she’d received a series of emails from her manager telling her that MANAGEMENT had the power and authority to make decisions with customers, “she had none”. It was all up to MANAGEMENT. BIG MISTAKE. The emails she received were rant with tone, disempowerment, agitation, panic. (Really? Do people really still lead this way? Really?) And why? In this case it was all because this customer care rep had tried to help another client out…just like me…to make something work so that everyone won. By the time I came in the next day, this employee shared she was considering quitting, she had no authority to help customers, and she was on the front lines with them everyday…responsibility without power or authority…deadly for morale, deadly for your bottom line. Not only was the job challenging in this economy…but now her support system, her champions, the people who have the “power” to help her be her most effective in her role (her leaders)…in a panic, they ditched her. And now they may lose an employee. And if it doesn’t get resolved quickly and kindly, they may lose a customer. We’ll see.
While we’re working it out, I’ve been struck repeatedly by two thoughts (well many, but let’s focus on two): 1) the huge and important and critical difference between managing and leading – you may be a high level manager, but that does not mean you are leading – and if you’re in that role and not leading effective, you are likely hurting your bottom line, and 2) validation of the power of mindset and how we perpetuate our own problems (individually, as teams, as families, as whole organizations.) The economy is low – true. The housing market sucks – true. Everyone is being affected in some way – yes. But we can still be good to each other, we can still lead ourselves and our team well, and as leaders in our organizations we can do EVERYTHING we can to help set our employees up for success in their roles – ESPECIALLY when they are on the front lines working with our clients.
So, if you have caught yourself in the belief that your business is not doing well, or your team is not doing well, or your kids are not doing well…whatever….and you’re blaming it on the economy or external sources, the invitation is to take a look at yourself and your executive team. How are you doing? What are you doing to help things go right today? How are you making your people feel? Are you helping things go better or worse? You may find you’re doing great, fantastic! You may find people are smiling everywhere, wonderful! (In that case you may just need a refreshed vision or strategy or values alignment as a team, who knows.) But, if you are in a panic about the financial state of your business, or your home, or your product…check yourself. Check your presence, the energy you’re bringing to the table, the lens you are looking through, and the way you are treating people around you. For if your team is not doing great…you, my friend, likely have some work to do.
I am optimistic that this wonderful woman, and someone who I’ve come to care a lot about, will be able to navigate through this new challenge with her team (yes, full disclosure, I did jump into coach mode and give her some hot-seat coaching on how to move through it), and I’m also fairly optimistic that her management team will perhaps chill a bit and re-evaluate impact, and yes, I am hopeful that we can continue to work together. There are a lot of moving pieces here and an incredible opportunity for learning if we’re all open to it – what a great case study! I thank this company for the great example they gave me in how all of this ties into the bigger picture. Of course I’m holding them in confidence for privacy, and they know who they are. :-) (Guys, “get those boots on, let’s go!”)
Here’s to helping things go well and giving responsibility WITH authority and power. For without it, it just doesn’t work and you have sad employees and irritated customers. That is what we call “bad profit”, bad mojo, bad stuff. Good luck.
*Some of the details of this story have been modified slightly to protect privacy and to shorten the point. This is a real example, and also represents a composite of vendors and situations my team and clients have engaged with. Unfortunately, stories like this are common. Fortunately, this is a great time and opportunity to make sure they become less common. I believe that if we all lean in, work together, and help each other “help things go better”, we can move some pretty great economical and spiritual mountains.