Beware of Leaving Frontline People With Only Negative Power


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When your trading conditions turn down, the knee-jerk reaction is to start to re-centralize again. In a bid to control costs, power is pulled back from the front line, and decisions moved up.

Big mistake. Front line people. as relatively low earners compared with the rest of your employees, are themselves already disproportionately affected by rising food and fuel prices. Retrenching and making them feel ‘done to’ at work rather than do-ers and decision makers only reinforces a sense of insecurity and poor morale. What’s the most powerful force in the Universe? The need to feel in control of our lives.

I was invited to breakfast a few weeks ago at the home of Charles Handy, the business guru and author. So I didn’t look too ill-informed or stupid, I read his latest book ‘Myself and Other More Important Matters’ before going for breakfast.

In the book, Handy reminds us that if our direct reports, co-workers, front line colleagues etc., do not feel valued or do not feel that they matter, they can easily take it out on the people they do have some power over – your customers. If this is during a downturn, when customers are particularly demanding and looking for value and service, then you are damaging customer loyalty just when it is at its most fragile.

Here’s what he wrote:

“In one recent survey, seventy-two percent of workers said that they were dissatisfied with their organization. Nineteen percent said that they actively wanted to sabotage it.” (Sounds like he’s referring to Gallup’s annual survey of whether employees are ‘engaged’, neutral or potential saboteurs).

“…Frustrated workers can be tempted to activate the negative power that even the most humble possess. The woman in the call center who puts the phone down on me, the waiter who ignores me, the airline employee who closes the gate just as they see me rushing up – they may be exercising their negative power because it was the only way they had of demonstrating that they mattered.”

So, are you expecting front line workers to bear a proportion of company pain, if you are retrenching due to poor trading conditions? If so, be aware of the likely impact on your customers if you don’t handle it well.

Phil Dourado

Phil Dourado
Author, Speaker, Independent Consultant
Founding editor of Customer Service Management Journal in the United States, and of its companion title, Customer Service Management Journal (now rebranded as Customer Management Magazine) in the United Kingdom. He is the author of The 6 Second Leader (Capstone, John Wiley & Sons, 27).


  1. Beware of Leaving Frontline People With Only Negative Power.
    I do not know if the device likes an office to look into all the negative employees and customers. Put simply let us have one cubicle handling all the problematic people privately in a small office 24/7/365.
    Will that help? There we will have all the emotional less listeners and tell us from the recordings made how we can do better in future.
    I have done this in one tax system. All the payers complain. I listen showing no emotion at all however, I try to pretend all are right and the tax department is wrong. I get more and I cut a nice thin slice for some.
    I insist. This is very tiring.
    I thank you
    Firozali A. Mulla MBA PhD
    P.O.Box 6044
    East Africa


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