Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management

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Employee Empowerment: A Key Force in Leadership

Guest post by Ken Myers

Empowerment is an important skill to learn as a leader. Most who rise to the upper echelons of a company get there because of their attention to detail and ability to handle any situation. Unfortunately, these skills do not often translate into engaging with employees. Leaders who assume all of the business’s duties and responsibilities aren’t doing their employees any favors. In fact, this very hands-on approach breeds resentment and disengagement. Empowering your employees to achieve greatness, on the other hand, helps you, your employees, and the business.

Empowerment Leads to Positive Customer Experience

We’ve all had the frustrating experience of talking to an employee who is simply in over their head when it comes to handling your situation. They desperately want to help, but they’re unable to override a sale or present a refund. Perhaps a manager is present to take care of the problem, or maybe you have to wait for a phone call; either way, neither you nor the employee are pleased with the lack of progress during your interaction.

Employees who are empowered to grant comps, issue upgrades, or simply answer customer questions are more engaged in their position, which leads to a more positive customer service experience. Customers site excellent customer service as a reason for remaining loyal to a brand or company year after year. Empowering employees to resolve customer concerns breeds a happy, loyal following.

Employees Cite Lack of Responsibility As Cause of Disengagement

No one wants to feel useless at their job. Whether you’re working part-time at a clothing store or are the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, you want to have a positive effect on your workplace. Unfortunately, many leaders don’t recognize and harness this desire even though it could benefit the company and the employee.

This disenchantment is painfully clear in the Gallup 2013 State of the American Workplace survey. Most disengaged employees are frustrated by the lack of responsibility and inopportunity for growth in their positions. These employees are costing their employer’s money in lost time and resources. Worse, their frustration is understandable. Employees need to be engaged to be effective. Empowering employees to do the best job possible can help prevent disengagement.

Empowered Employees Ease Managerial Stress

Managers are asked to carry a lot of responsibility in the workplace. While this increase in work is often counteracted by increased pay and better hours, many managers continue taking on responsibilities rather than delegating them to workers, leading to gridlock. Payroll and scheduling may be a necessity in the managerial role, however, other tasks can be done by employees, such as ordering supplies or completing quality control checks. Delegating these tasks to employees allows managers to focus on improving company morale and advancing workplace projects.

Businesses are better served when multiple workers know how to do each job. The conventional wisdom of being indispensable by being the sole person able to order supplies or contact vendors is misguided and hurts businesses. In addition, it injures employee morale, causing disengagement. Reallocating responsibilities to employees provides the empowerment they need to feel more engaged in the workplace and allows managers to focus on the important tasks only they can complete. Delegating duties to employees helps both managers and employees.

How to Properly Empower Employees

While the benefits of empowering employees may be obvious, letting go of the reigns and allowing employees to take on extra duties may scare even the most seasoned leaders. To properly empower your employees you need to determine their needs and the business’ needs, and you need to fully convey your expectations when dispensing power.

Employees work the front lines of the business world and know what would best benefit customers and the business. A full investigation and survey of employee wants and needs should yield some recurring issues that can likely be resolved by employee empowerment. These wants and needs must align with the business vision and create a better business. Finally, you have to explain your expectations to your employees.

For example, a customer service representative that frequently deals with upset customers over fees may have to ask a manager for permission every time a fee is waived. Making the employee constantly put the customer on hold to track down the managereven though the fee may always be waived can create unnecessary tension. Empowering that employee to waive the fee would increase customer service, empower the employee in a way that makes them more engaged, and help the company by creating customer loyalty. If you’ve spoken with your employees on when and why to waive the fee, it’s a no-lose situation.

Employee empowerment is a powerful force in creating a happy workplace. With employee engagement lagging in most companies, the best way to jump ahead of the competition is to create a motivated workforce. Properly empowering employees with clear expectations will benefit the company, the employee, and the customers.

Ken Myers is a father, husband, and entrepreneur. He has combined his passion for helping families find in-home care with his experience to build a business. Learn more about him by visiting @KenneyMyers on Twitter.

The Product Management Perspective: Compelling products (or services) create success. To the extent you create great products, that people want to buy, you will achieve success. Creating compelling products comes back to the people. You need people who focus on getting the right products to the right market at the right time. Successful companies establish a product management role (or group), empower them with the ability to make decisions, and hold them accountable for their actions.


Five leadership practices for improving customer service

customer-serviceMany blog posts have been written about customer service. Add those to the many magazine articles and books, and it’s safe to say there is no shortage of advice on quality customer service. Serving the customer is an important topic, and given the importance of keeping customers engaged, it’s amazing how many organizations still don’t get it. Too often the sales agents and support engineers taking the calls either are not empowered to make decisions, they are too lazy or they just don’t care. It’s sad to think that a companies with great products would not make customer service their highest priority.

In almost every case, when customers (or worse, potential customers) feel they received substandard customer service, they automatically blame the person across the counter or on the other end of the phone. However, the culpability ultimately rests on the leaders of the organization. What happens at the customer ‘touch point’ is the responsibility of upper management. If they want to keep customers they need to lead out in the efforts to elevate customer service.

Following are five leadership practices for improving customer service:

  • Decide to create the culture: The leaders of an organization must decide that customer service will be a top priority. They need to establish this culture at all levels. The decision will come from the top of the organization and permeate through all levels. It must be done on purpose.
  • Hire the right people: The leaders will hire people who know how to work with customers. They will look for people with experience at helping customers understand the products and get the most value from their services. Leaders will look for people with a proven track record of doing the right thing for customer (which occasionally might mean referring them to another company’s product). Leaders looking to hire the right people will do thorough background checks and ask a lot of questions.
  • Coach them: As you establish a culture of customer service and hire the right people, train them to effectively work with customers and teach them how to handle difficult situations. Identify a few of the top performers and put them to work coaching others in the company. This infuses the service culture more deeply and promotes a more unified approach throughout the company. If you do not yet have people in-house who are capable, hire a coach to train your teams, and work with the coach to identify people within the organization who can extend the right principles throughout.
  • Inspire them: Motivate the people in your organization — at all levels — to want to serve others. Establishing the right culture is key. Financial incentives and career advancement only go so far. When the leaders of the organization place customer service as one of their top priorities, they have the prerogative to expect everyone to do the same. Let your actions and behaviors inspire others.  As Ralph Nader said: “The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.”
  • Empower them: Finally, grant people — at all levels of the organization — the authority to make decisions. The scope and magnitude of decisions will vary by title and responsibility. However, every person at any level should be empowered to make decisions on behalf of the organization. Start by asking leaders at all levels to make a list of five things their people can do without having to escalate to their supervisor. Place appropriate guidelines around the actions that can be taken, and trust your people to make the right decisions. Provide a “back door” in case they get into a tight spot. The “back door” should instill confidence that the organization will back people at any level in their decisions. When people know they work for a customer-focused organization they will give much more to their individual efforts.
We live in the information age and quality customer service is becoming more important as time moves forward. Each of these steps is critical for true customer service. It must come from the top and permeate the entire organization.

Let us not take the attitude portrayed in this classic Dilbert cartoon:

Dilbert on Customer Service

Dilbert on Customer Service

The Product Management Perspective: Customer service is at the heart of product management. Whether gathering customer inputs, writing problem statements or creating requirements the next product or release, the customer is (or definitely should be) the focus of what product managers do. While they may not hire people into the company, they have an influence on the people who get hired. Furthermore, product managers are in a key position to affect the culture of the company. The interactions with both internal and external people provide excellent opportunities for product managers to spread the culture of customer service.