employee ownership

Watch Out For The Blame Game

When something goes wrong, there’s rarely a shortage of blame to go around.  Self-protection mode engages and people end up wide eyed and pointing in both directions like The Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz – and that’s a tame response!  There are also people who will happily hop on their soap box and fashion a scarlet letter for every individual who can be charged with the crime.  For example, just the other day I bought a bottle of water from a mini-mart at a gas station when the woman making change for me ran out of dollar bills.  She had more in the other register – it was no big deal at all, but I got the deep breath, eye roll, slam the drawer shut routine as she explained that the situation was due to her atrocious co-worker, Lauren.  I think she was trying to make me feel better because it was going to cost me a full 30 seconds of my day – but the truth is she just seemed unprofessional and drew attention to something I wouldn’t have even noticed.

This is just a teensy peek into a big world of blame – but I suspect you’ve just conjured your own memory of a situation similar to the one I described. The funny part about it is that it usually comes from really well-intentioned people!  Those who really care what customers think sometimes get nervous about causing disappointment or let-down and they miss the memo about embracing the “we” and instead go straight for the excuses and blame making things worse.  Any of these sound familiar?

  • Sorry you had to wait so long, we’re really short staffed – 3 people called in sick today!
  • Sorry we’re out of coffee, the delivery guy is always late on Wednesdays!
  • Sorry we don’t have your hotel room available, my boss always overbooks us and makes me deliver the bad news!

Ownership is a really big concept with a lot of moving parts – this concept happens to be a big one.  The more you can do to instill ownership, the less likely this sort of behavior will pop up and degrade your hard work.  This is a hard one to train – it’s more of a coaching/culture combination.  If your people feel confident about the teamwork, the management, and the processes – you’re off to a good start.  From there, be a good example of accepting responsibility – if you make excuses internally, your people will take their cues and do the same with your customers.

Employees sometimes forget that to a customer, a disappointment is rarely with an individual, but lies with the organization as a whole.  Customer facing people have the honor and chore of accepting the accolades and complaints on behalf of the whole organization – so it’s important to remember the responsibility and ownership piece.  What are you doing to encourage ownership instead of blame?

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Embracing the “We”

Accepting responsibility and taking blame are hard on the ego!  They are especially large and bitter pills to swallow when the fault is not our own.  The problem in an organization is that if employees are carrying a score card and keeping a tally, your customer service is surely floundering.  To flip that coin, if the organization’s performance is unbalanced and internal corrections are being overlooked it’s only a matter of time before employees are fed up and want to keep score.  Great leadership and accountability will solve many problems, and this is one of them.  Since those are really big concepts, let’s break the concept of “We” down strategically and then tactically.

Strategically, building this concept starts with sharing.  Everyone from top to bottom and all the way around get to celebrate victories and recover from setbacks together; employee ownership and responsibility then drive behavior and culture.  Taking ownership means that your people see themselves as an important piece of your puzzle.  They can actually see how their contribution produces the widgets or innovates the technology that makes your company successful.  If they feel that their contribution is far away from the end result, you’ll get performance that matches that distance.  The companies that continuously make appearances on the lists of best companies to work for are companies that have nailed this concept.

Tactically, teaching your customer-facing staff to gracefully and humbly accept responsibility on behalf of the organization regardless of where the hiccup occurred is of paramount importance.  This isn’t an inherent ability for most people.  There are born people-pleasers who figure this out early – but for the rest of your staff you’ll need to shape this behavior regardless of the size of your organization.  You need to know that when deserved or undeserved fury is unleashed upon one of your people, they have learned the skills to neutralize and regain that customer’s confidence.  The absolute first step to this, at all times, across all organizations and lines of business, is accepting responsibility.  Admitting failure and showing the customer that there is a united front there to fix the problem is the ideal.

Maybe it is a receptionist that can smooth the feathers of a long customer wait for a meeting.  Maybe it is a server in a restaurant who handles your botched meal remarkably well even though they had nothing to do with the preparation.   When people like what they do and for whom, the “We” becomes ownership, which becomes return customers.  Please share a success you’ve had or witnessed.