Managers: Drive out fear—one thing you can do this week

When people work in isolation—or with incomplete information—their imagination can run away with them (and usually not in a good way.)  Here’s an example.  Has something like this ever happened to you?

My wife has started a new job recently.  Like many people, it involves working in a cubicle interacting with customers primarily by telephone or email.  Even though she works in a large office setting, she is by herself for the most part and doesn’t see her boss in person very often except for a short weekly meeting. Most of their conversation between those times is via email only.

A recent customer issue she was working on was something new she hadn’t done before.  She did her best to figure it out but couldn’t come up with a solution that satisfied the customer.  In the end, the customer spoke those dreaded words, “Can I speak with your manager?”  Maybe that was best, my wife thought to herself, and so she transferred the call to her manager’s voice mail.  She also sent her boss an email documenting some of the supporting information.  Maybe her boss would have some additional resources or ideas on how to handle the situation.

The next morning my wife had an email waiting for her from her manager.  Her manager had sent the customer issue back to my wife with the reply, “Didn’t you see the recent company memo regarding the procedure for escalating customer service calls?”

A pretty standard (if slightly cryptic) type of response that goes out from bosses thousands of times each work day.  A simple reminder to review some earlier policy memo detailing the steps for handling situations like this.

Off to the races

“What did this mean?” my wife thought to herself. “What was her manager trying to say?”  She had seen the memo and it described how to evaluate and escalate calls to supervisors when necessary.  She felt she had followed the procedure.  She reread the memo, looking for details she might have missed.

By the time she talked to me about it that evening after work, the issue had escalated in her mind.  “Why do they make this so hard?” she asked me.  “Can’t they see I’m just trying to help the customer?”

“Maybe I’m not a good fit for this company,” she finally told me.  “This just isn’t the way that I work.”

The solution

“Have you talked to your manager?” I asked.

“I sent her a second email, but I haven’t heard back yet.”

“Okay, let’s wait and see what she says before we get too far ahead of ourselves,” I responded.  “Give me a call when you find out.”

I never did get that call, so at dinner that night I asked how it was going.

“Oh, that’s all set,” my wife replied.  “My manager stopped by and we talked about it.”

Managing By Wandering Around

Time is a precious commodity at work these days.  Everyone has a lot on their plate.  Still, managers can do a lot of good for their organizations by occasionally getting out of their offices for a little stroll.  In addition to regularly scheduled one-on-one meetings, check in with the people who report to you at least one other time each week by stopping by their desk, checking in with them via telephone, or just making yourself accessible.

Don’t let small things blow up into big things.  Nip them in the bud and make it easy for people to get back to work. It will make your company more productive and it will increase your connection with your people too!


9 thoughts on “Managers: Drive out fear—one thing you can do this week

  1. Great advice! I have seen this happen so many times in my career with people that I’ve managed and supervised. When communicated through email, I know I have to be very clear and be careful how I word things first of all but if possible I rather talk to the person by phone or face to face to deliver messages. Sometimes a leader knows their people well enough to know what levels of communication are necessary for certain situations. Thanks for posting this!

  2. A good read on what happens when employees are left alone, too much. I have several clients hire staff working remotely from a home office, especially in sales or customer support work. It’s not for everyone and this type of staffing does require different level of skill and awareness by management in order to be effective.

  3. Great read. So important that managers remain in touch with operational teams and make it an integral part of their role to create an environment where the team have the ability to share knowledge and problem solve together. A quick chat is often all that is needed to ‘top up their knowledge base’ and restore confidence to problem solve. It is also a way of acknowledging and validating the individuals on the job.

  4. It is far too common, especially in large companies, to just send off an email and hope everyone receives it. Or to put the fear of the dreaded pink slip into the hearts of your staff just to get your point across.

    To be an effective manager, you have to start with being an effective communicator. Here at Broughton Advisory we get calls in regard to this all the time.

    “My team isn’t listening. They don’t follow procedure.”

    The first thing we look at is how are the managers communicating to their team? Emails are good for certain situations. But when you want to implement a new policy, a new procedure, talk to your team. Get their input on the change. After all, they are the ones who have to truly implement it right? It can be far too easy to just sit back and drum up new ways to handle things, without truly thinking about the end result. How is this change going to affect your team’s ability to do their job?

    The answer: ASK them.

    You’ll get more respect and collaboration with good, strong communication than you ever will ruling with fear.

    Team Broughton Advisory

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  6. This is a great article, a common occurrence in most organizations on daily basis. Many a times I feel like e-mail and e-communication is bane to organizational efficiencies and effectiveness. So often, employees and managers send e-mails and expect that communication has happened and receiving party knows what they are supposed to do. Old art of follow through and touching base (face to face or over the phone) is almost non-existent in many organizations, leading to inefficient organizations where fear and frustrations amongst employees is high.

    There are many reasons at the root of this problem, but more often I see that many organizations do not have proper coaching, mentoring and training in place for managers and leaders. People are promoted in positions of management without a proper tools and enablement to assist them in their new role.

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  8. Great read! Communication is very important and I always promote that if someone has an issue they need to get it addressed ASAP because it might not be as bad as they think it is. Our mind creates a lot of unnecessary drama that hardly ever happens.

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