I've been involved in owning and coaching businesses for about 35 years. I have gone from being one of the worst employers I have ever seen to being one that is at least pretty good. The biggest lesson I learned was that if I ever wanted my employees to treat my customers well, I had better treat my employees well. It took me 10 years to learn this lesson, but once I did, our customer service went from O.K. with lots of effort to great with minimal effort.
For me, this starts with personal responsibility. I wanted all of my employees to be personally responsible for what happened in their area. I recently wrote a post about this in which I talked about treating your employees as experts. The problem was that I wasn't taking responsibility for myself. I wouldn't accept mistakes, and I would often blame others or, even worse, try to justify my behavior. Finally, one of my employees suggested that I take a look in the mirror and start walking my talk.
This was a very tough lesson for me to learn. Being young and successful doesn't always encourage humility. I was no different. But I can tell you that once I stopped blaming others I became a much easier person to work with.
Dan Sullivan of the Strategic Coach talks about this all of the time. He is referring to how you treat those outside of your company, but I think it's even more important to be considered trustworthy by those who work inside. Mr. Sullivan's four principles are:
- Show up on time.
- Say please and thank you.
- Do what you say.
- Finish what you start.
None of these things are hard to do. It just takes awareness that those who work with us have feelings and want to be treated with respect. But how often do we treat employees poorly and then turn on the charm when we're with a customer? Our employees see this behavior, and they don't like it. Today, when people I am working with or thinking about working with don't follow these rules, I get much less excited about the prospect of working with them.
Here's another way to show respect: Do you respond promptly to e-mails that come from outside your company but take days to respond to those that come from inside? My advice is to make sure you state your e-mail policy publicly. For me, it's simple: Don't send me long e-mails, and I won't send you long e-mails, either. And you can expect a reply within 24 hours. My own rule is that if an e-mail is more than three paragraphs, I'll pick up the phone and make a call. Yes, I realize I'm a little older than the average business owner, but telephones still work remarkably well when you need to have a complicated conversation.
Of course, you also have to return phone calls promptly. When employees call you, it's probably about something important — a problem they believe only you can solve. Sometimes, the problem will be something that should not have come across your desk. When that happens it's important for you to refer the caller to the proper person. And you need to follow up in a day or two to make sure the problem was resolved.
Following up is essential. Your employee took a risk. He or she called the boss with a problem. Don't take this lightly. Calling back to make sure the problem was handled shows respect and builds trust.
Of course, there will always be times when we blow it. I know that I occasionally fail to get back to people promptly or let something fall through the cracks. I recently had a person I wanted to work with blow me off three times. Finally, he did get back to me and let me know that he had had several deaths in his family. I felt terrible — but at the same time I was annoyed that he had not let me know why my time was not respected.
Your employees have the same issue. They will know if you blow it. So start with an apology and admit your mistake. And then make sure you don't do it again, at least not for quite a while. When I make a mistake in communication with someone, I consider myself on probation. It doesn't matter whether the person works for me or not. I have to make sure I don't do it again. Otherwise, trust will be lost.
At the end of the day, trust is what it's all about. If we don't treat our employees the way we treat our best customers, they will stop trusting us. And it's very difficult to get that trust back.
Josh Patrick is a founder and principal at Stage 2 Planning Partners, where he works with private business owners on creating personal and business value.
Thanks to Josh Patrick / Boss Blogs NYTimes / The New York Times Company
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