Friday 23 August 2019

How to put your clients first - and make your employees feel that they are appreciated

Employees want to feel appreciated by bosses — and will work better if this is the case. Stock image
Employees want to feel appreciated by bosses — and will work better if this is the case. Stock image

Bob Lee

Q: I run a business and I recently overheard a member of staff complain that I don't care about the employees and that I am purely money-driven and client pleasing. I found this statement to be quite hurtful, as this member of staff clearly doesn't understand that my role is to keep the client happy while they complete the work. We all have our part to play and I feel my staff don't understand that. While some are engaged, I feel others would rather be anywhere else except at their desks. I often monitor their work to ensure that we are all staying on track but I am beginning to feel some hostility within the office. Is there anything I can do to break this cycle and do you have any advice as to why this happened?

A: You run the business, so you have bottom- line responsibility for everything that happens in it. A useful analogy is that of the orchestra and its conductor. It can seem that the conductor does little else but show up, engage in witty banter with the audience from time to time and generally look good, all the while waving her little stick in the air in a seemingly random manner. Meanwhile, the orchestra does all the work.

Of course, there's much more to it than that. Each orchestra member is talented and highly skilled with a unique and vital role to play, but to add value their efforts and enthusiasm must be synchronised with the contributions of everyone else. And that's where the conductor comes in.

She ensures that everyone knows exactly what is expected of them, when it is needed, and how it must be done. She understands her role and their role, and they in turn understand their role and hers. That's why it works.

You see where I'm going with this? You're the conductor, your team is the orchestra. You understand that your job is to keep the client happy, and that it's your team's responsibility to deliver your company's core service to the clients. So far, so good. Your team also seem to understand the work that they are required to do, but don't seem to understand your role. And because they don't understand your role, it's not surprising that they don't appreciate it either.

An employee suggested you are client-pleasing and money-driven, and that you don't care about employees. Being client-driven is good. Clients pay the bills, and serving them well is a key purpose of any business. Being money-driven is also good, because without money you don't have a business, and without money you can't pay your employees.

It's not enough to care for your employees (although I'm sure that you do), you must also show them that you care. Why? First, because it's the decent and correct thing to do. Second, because employees who feel respected, valued, and appreciated tend to give their best work, to give 'all of themselves' to their work. That's better for them, better for your clients, and better for you.

Your caring may not always be evident. I suspect that you've developed resentment towards at least some of them and that probably comes across in how you talk to them and act towards them, which in turn affects how they are with you.

It's time to break the cycle. Arrange a lunchtime meeting with the team and provide (and pay for) a simple catered lunch. At the meeting, don't - whatever you do - talk about what you overheard. Say nothing negative. This meeting is the first step towards a more positive future together, so strike that positive note from the outset. Explain that the business is doing well, and that clients are very pleased with the work 'we' do for them.

Acknowledge that you can sometimes be so focussed on keeping 'our' clients happy and the money on which we all depend flowing that you forget to check in with them, and that's why you thought it would be a good idea to get together for an open chat.

But please remember that communication only works if it's two-way. Otherwise it's not communication, it's just talking. Before you communicate anything to your team you must first hear, understand, and reflect on their perspectives.

For the future, commit to keeping the lines of communication fully open. Regular meetings like this one will help, but be sure also to create opportunities for individual team members to chat informally with you.

Bob Lee is the author of Trust Rules: How the World's Best Managers Create Great Places to Work, the international best-seller on how to build a workplace culture that achieves remarkable business results.

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