The teams I’ve been a part of throughout my career have been tough. Working in customer service is often seen a thankless task particularly in contentious industries and other departments don’t always have the best impression of it, this has riled me my entire employed life.
The truth is that customer service has historically been deemed a ‘loss’ department – technically, it is the only branch of a company that is not seen to contribute to making money, therefore everything they spend is a loss when it comes to the bottom line. It is an understandable perspective if you are looking at a spreadsheet but that mentality filters down from the top and it does not always make it easy to create a positive environment. Corporate culture is embedded in every aspect of a business right from the head honcho through to the cleaners, I know from experience that to shift this into a more appreciative direction can be a painful process as many people are not on board and this stubbornness becomes insidious and often leave teams feeling undervalued, burned out and turnover high, especially when it comes to the typically old school / boys club industries in which I’ve predominantly worked.
Don’t let my writing fool you I LOVE the industries I have worked in, these companies are taking great strides to modernise their mission and strategy but like with anything, it is often all too easy to slip into old behaviours. It is a learning curve for them and it is the underhanded nature of *some* of the middle managers that causes ongoing discontentment. They are the ones that tell their bosses what they want to hear in relation to positive management but their actions towards their team say otherwise.
This is not a dig at middle management, it’s not even a post about male dominated industry – it is a post about ALL people who work and one of the simple ways to get the best out each other. This is a system that works whether you are a manager, entrepreneur or just barely on the bottom rung of the career ladder.
I can hand on heart tell you from experience that as a leader your team whether employed or outsourced are more productive, more engaged and more representative of the business you’re in, when they feel appreciated by you.
As a very young manager many, many moons ago I was taught to lead by targets and reprimands using the carrot and stick methodology. The teachings from my then managers would be something along the lines of ‘ Amy, you’re being too positive, don’t praise them too much or they’ll expect a raise when in actuality they’re just doing their job’. It would be appraisal time and the common theme would be ‘we have to find something they did wrong and bring it up so they don’t get too big headed’ and I am ashamed to say against my better judgement, as an inexperienced manager, that’s exactly what I tried to do. After all, the positions I aspired to be in were held by people that did exactly that.
I hated every second and I saw the energy drain from the people around me when that happened. I never resonated with that style of management and I didn’t do well with it at all. As a senior member of staff I would see my subordinates wilt under the dissatisfaction and then I as a manager felt a deep and abiding sense of failure towards them, I would take the brunt of any of their unhappiness because I felt as though, regardless of the instruction coming from my boss, I was still the one enforcing this type of management.
It wasn’t until I ditched that mentality and said sod it, these are good people and good staff and I’m going to make sure they know it, that things changed.
At the time, it didn’t go across well with my immediate manager and I actually ended up in a form of mediation with them after my appraisal. I was horrified at the time but now I wear it as a bit of a badge of honour. Not because I refused to do things the way I should (in their opinion) but because to the detriment of myself I made it clear that a culture change was necessary to best support an amazing set of staff that deserved better from their management team. I was told that being so openly supportive and appreciative was a weakness but I grew to realise that being able to show gratitude for the efforts of others in life and business is the difference between a true leader and a middle manager.
It’s important to state here that I am still in contact with nearly every team I have ever worked with, in fact it is these previous colleagues who have been the first to hire me as a virtual assistant.
Letting someone know that they are good at x, y and z and that you really appreciate their hard work costs you nothing. I have never known an appreciated employee give less of themselves or refuse to use their skills and become ‘lazy’ or ‘above their station’ simply because you told them ‘thank you, you’re doing great.’
Instead, when I put this into practise I saw the individuals in my teams feel validated, like their role in the team had substance and that I appreciated the value they brought to what could sometimes be a very difficult coal face. They worked harder, stayed a little later, came in on days off, asked for training in other areas, taking ownership of their progression within the company.
I talk mainly from my experience managing customer service teams but really this spans any industry and any position. I also believe that it works not only down the chain but up it. Telling your line manager so to speak, that you appreciated the way they handled a situation or that their project is doing well under their management goes a long way to letting them know that their style of management is working and as they see you raise your game, they too will raise theirs.
Anyone can manage, management is a faceless to do list that you can check off but very few people lead. Leaders encourage the greatness of their teams and thrive on the successes of their juniors, managers place their team in suffocating bubbles for fear of becoming obsolete.
In my opinion it’s the ability to see, appreciate and develop potential that sorts the wheat from the chaff and more employers SHOULD be looking for this in their managers and it’s certainly a quality you should be seeking in your contractors – it breeds a solution focused and forward thinking mentality rather than a problem plagued easily frustrated unproductive type.
Ask yourself, do you want your people to manage or lead?
Don’t forget, liking, commenting and sharing helps keep small businesses like The Amy Johnson visible so thank you for your support.
Thanks for reading,