Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

The importance of taking ownership in your work and your business 6: control and leadership when things go wrong

Posted in strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on November 13, 2013

This is my sixth posting to a series on taking ownership responsibility for the business you work at and regardless of your position or title there, or your financial ownership status (see Business Strategy and Operations – 3, postings 445 and following for Parts 1-5.)

I have been writing in this series about the value of everyone at a business taking an ownership level of commitment to that business and its success, and with a focus on best practices when everything is going smoothly, and in carrying out ongoing business processes and practices. As a specific case in point, any employee who directly works with a business’ clients or customers should be encouraged to make an owner’s level of commitment to meeting these customers’ needs and to representing their business for the best it can offer and every employee should strive to make the customer’s experience go smoothly and effectively. But what do you do when problems develop, processes break down and if not in general then at least in the particular instance, or when miscommunications or other disconnects arise to interrupt this flow?

To an owner or manager,

• I would argue the case that a default starting point for addressing breakdowns should be to assume that employees are acting in good faith and from a desire to positively represent the business. I essentially always recommend starting assuming the best of intentions, and that if developing evidence indicates otherwise, then revise this assumption accordingly – but only then.
• This is not about being naïve; it is about being fair and it is about not blunting the potential of employees who may simply need training – or who may have acted as correctly as possible under the circumstances where systems and processes have in fact broken down in ways out of their control. A problem can develop that blindsides even the best and most capable and dedicated employee. So start out at least by offering any employees caught up in a developing problem with respect and by giving them the benefit of the doubt.
• Then look into what happened and how, and with a priority on fixing this for any customers impacted by it. And then step back and address employee behavior and performance, and with at least the possibility that they may have been trying to make the best out of a bad situation in mind.
• I am writing about being a good boss who employees can rely on. This type of good boss may still face problems and even problems stemming from genuinely poor employee performance, but this type of managerial and leadership behavior more than makes up for that by bringing the best out of all of their employees and by significantly improving the quality of experience that all customers face.

For an employee,

• Be open about what is happening and be willing to ask for help if you really need it. Employees should be self-starters and problem solvers and should be able to resolve normal ongoing work issues on their own and without requiring that their managers take over or micromanage.
• But sometimes managerial support, or help from more experienced and senior co-workers can be necessary too. This is important in employee training, and it can be even more important for finding and resolving emerging problems, and for bringing them to the attention of the right people in management so they can be resolved and so any addressable underlying cause can be corrected too.
• And to connect this back to my bullet points directed more to management and owners, if you as a manager or owner are open and supportive, you will learn of any new and emerging problem that you need to address earlier, and more clearly and with less “protective obfuscation” from employees who are concerned that they might face criticism for delivering a negative message.

Managerial and owner behavior, and employee behavior fit together in this and if there are misconnects in that, problems go unresolved and they can fester and multiply as a result – further breaking down the essential communication required here.

I am going to turn in my next series installment to consider employee commitment during times of change and uncertainty in a business, and how this shared sense of value can be the glue that holds the business together. Meanwhile, you can find this posting at Business Strategy and Operations – 3 and related material at Page 1 and Page 2 of that directory.

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