Igniting Workplace Enthusiasm
 
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Team I Have Got Your Back

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We don’t run perfect organisations stocked with perfect people, led by perfect bosses. There are always going to be failings, inadequacies, mistakes, shortcomings and downright stupidity in play. If we manage to keep all of these within the castle walls, then that is one level of complexity. It is when we share these challenges with clients that we raise the temperature quite a few notches. How do you handle cases where your people have really upset a client? The service or product was delivered, but the client’s representative is really unhappy with one of your team.

 
Often, being the boss, you are the last to find out what is going on. Japan, in particular, is excellent at hiding bad news from bosses. "The less the boss knows about the source of the trouble the better" is the mantra here. Japan is a zero mistake tolerance culture and so everyone has learnt to be circumspect about sharing the bad news around.
 
The irony though is the boss is the one person with the capacity of power and money to fix a lot of issues. It gets easier to fix issues when you know about them early, rather than trying to sort things out later when the proportion of the problem has grown larger.
 
I found this when I was working in retail banking here. Compliance violations occur and have to be dealt with. Usually, they are not fatal errors and the person committing them can recover, learn from the mistake and keep going.
 
The bias toward hiding mistakes though creates problems in the work environment. That minor compliance violation has to be hidden, the perpetrator believes and this is when the problems really begin to kick in. The hiding part is the bigger issue.
 
The problem is like a balloon that keeps inflating and inflating. You stick it away in your desk draw hoping no one will notice. Discouragingly, the problem gets bigger and bigger until it breaks out of the bounds of secrecy. It now looms large across the landscape at an immense threatening size. The genie once out of the bottle can’t be stuffed back in again.
 
At the bank, people were getting fired for what were minor compliance violations because they tried to hide it. This was unnecessary, but that didn't change the effort to keep problems away from the boss. Why is that?
 
The usual boss reaction to the trouble in Japan is yelling abuse. This somewhat hampers the effort to have more transparency. HR recording a black mark in their secret book of employee misdemenours and crimes doesn’t help much either. So we are pretty much guaranteeing that when things go bad, the boss will only hear about it at the worst possible moment. This is usually when the window for a helpful intervention has been slammed shut.
 
There are always going to be two sides to the story and the boss’s job is to find out both. Sometimes the client’s representative can take personal dislike to our guy or gal, or they can become emotional because they are under stress within their own organization. In Japan they can be feverent about doing a perfect job. If perfection is your standard then there are bound be shortfalls in delivery at some point.
 
How do we sort this mess out without destroying the relationship with the client and killing the motivation of our own team member. Our team member can genuinely be trying to help the client, but may not have enough capability to do that to their satisfaction. These gaps are what test the loyalty of the team. If the boss hammers their staff member for causing the problem, the rest of the team carefully watches and works out that telling the boss bad news is a losing proposition. They will become experts at hiding trouble until it is too big to hide anymore. This is not an ideal outcome. So we have to back our people, apologise to the client, sort out monies involved with a partial or full refund if they are genuinely not satisfied.
 
The boss’s job is to switch the brunt of client anger away from their subordinate to themselves, as the senior representative of the organisation, and also become the one to find a solution which satisfies the buyer. In Japan, that means bringing expensive gifts for the client, lots of deep bowing in apology and listening sincerely to tirades from grumpy clients.
 
If there is going to be any on-going business, it can also mean switching that team member out of that project and bringing in a new person to be the contact point. The air needs to be cleaned up and that means reassigning those previously assigned to the project.
 
This has to be communicated in a way so that the staff member understands we support them and we trust them. We are now in the modern business era in Japan of recruit and retain. Hanging on to people, even when there have been issues, becomes a much more delicate calculation than in the past. We have to be comfortable with much more complexity than earlier. Simply firing people if the client complains, berating people publically for mistakes, ranting to the whole team about not making mistakes are tools that have seen their used by date pass by. We need to be more sophisticated and nuanced than that today.
 

 

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