Whenever I go on record saying, “Most employees don’t choose to deliver poor customer service; they just don’t choose to deliver exceptional customer service” (or something similar), there are always pundits who emerge from the dark recesses of the Internet to lay the blame on management for employee indifference toward customers.
Blaming “low pay”, “unsupportive culture”, “insufficient training” or “poor managerial modeling”, these defenders of frontline mediocrity attempt to give indifferent, entitled, or disengaged employees a pass for their poor performance. Instead, they argue, it is these employees’ managers who are responsible for their employees’ performance.
Anyone who has taken Management 101 or read anything by Drucker, Blanchard, or Peters, knows that managers should be held accountable for their employees’ performance. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s look at the responsibility of the employee:
In the perennial book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey leads off with Habit 1: Be Proactive. In other words, take responsibility for your outcomes. Be assertive. Take action. Later in the book, Covey shares this related tidbit: “there is a gap or a space between stimulus and response, and the key to both our growth and happiness [and, I would add, the product and service quality we deliver to others] is how we use that space.”
If the stimulus is an unsupportive culture where managers don’t appear to model the organization’s values, the employee has a choice: he can respond with indifference using the rationale: “If management doesn’t care, then why should I?” Or he can choose to be proactive by exercising integrity – being integrated around principles, such as the principle of “service” – in the moment of choice. Doing so enables the employee to apply the human endowment (or gift) of independent will: the ability to act based on self-awareness, free of all other influences (including an unsupportive culture or poor managerial modeling).
Excellence doesn’t require permission. You don’t give people initiative; they take it. The decision to expend discretionary effort in the moment of choice to improve product or service quality rests solely on the individual.