“Budgets have been cut again,” the boss says on her way out the door, “so it’s vital that we all re-double our efforts to deliver better results. If we don’t, there could be serious repercussions.”
OK, but what are the odds that her staff will take the “crisis” seriously when the whole office knows that the boss is leaving two hours early for a hair appointment?
Do as I say — not as I do — isn’t very credible managing. If you consistently say one thing and do another, your employees are guaranteed to follow your actions. Granted, sometimes you get new information, or change your mind, or forget. But if you can walk your talk most of the time, you’ll be out ahead of the pack. Here’s how.
• Follow the rules. You’re looking for trouble if you believe that there is one set of rules for you and a different set for your employees. If you insist on punctuality, for example, don’t show up for work whenever you want to without explanation. If you ask people not to eat at their desks, don’t let people catch you dropping sandwich crumbs into your keyboard. If you don’t respect the rules, others won’t either. They’ll just break them behind your back.
• Make decisions based on core values, not expediency. Business gurus James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras have built their careers on the simple premise that the companies that do best over the long haul are those that formulate core values, such as honesty, ethics, or continual improvement, and stick to them, even when it would be easier not to. Their book, Built to Last, cites examples that range from Procter and Gamble to Wal-Mart.
This is good advice for individual managers, too. If you say you value honesty, for example, then be honest, even if it means admitting that your competitor’s product might better serve a client’s need. If you say you value creativity, don’t postpone your decisions so long that every new idea dies on the vine. Employees know that values are tested when times are tough, and they’ll look to you to pass the test. If you do, they’ll know they can count on you to support them when they rely on those values to make a decision.
• Don’t be careless. Months have passed, and you can barely remember that you had to make this decision once before. You certainly can’t remember what you decided. And if you can’t, no one else will either, right? Wrong. You can count on at least one employee recalling exactly what you decided.
Before you make a decision, stop and consider the precedent you’ve set. Then follow the precedent unless you have a really good reason not to. If you can’t remember the precedent, ask.
• When you don’t walk the talk, explain why. Times will occur when you’ll have to do something that appears inconsistent with what you’ve said. For instance, suppose a core value is to ensure customer satisfaction. That may be a great overall philosophy, but you may have a customer who is never happy, one who demands endless corrections, custom options, and special treatment. Suppose you run the numbers and realize that the time invested in this customer is so great that you can’t make a profit on his jobs.
It would be a smart decision to decline further business from him. To your employees, however, that might seem like you’ve abandoned your values and that all the work they did to satisfy the customer was a waste of time. Save the situation by explaining why you’ve decided to walk away from his business. Employees may not agree with every decision, but they’ll respect your integrity and the fact that you were open about your reasoning.
• Face the music. If you articulate values and then act in a way that contradicts them, it’s only reasonable to expect employees to call you on it. When they do, pay attention. Strength will come from rethinking your actions and apologizing if need be. Don’t be “right” just because you’re the boss.
Real Life Example
“They say we should provide the best possible customer service,” says Charles, an employee of a retail store that promotes its excellent service. “Service is the whole focus of the training we get. We hear the mantra every day, and they include examples of what they want in every employee newsletter. But they don’t really mean it.”
Charles points out that employees were docked pay if they were so much as a minute late from their break, even if a manager could see that they had stopped on the way to answer a customer’s question. “You can imagine how many questions we answer now,” he says.