Editor’s Note: Chris Lyman is the founder and CEO of the enterprise VoIP service provider, Fonality, in Los Angeles. He’s also one of our favorite bloggers, penning candid and humorous essays on the many challenges he faces at his Janitor’s Blog. See Startup Math: 1 + 1 = 1/2, The Power of “I Don’t Know”, How the ‘CEO-Janitor’ Cleaned Up With DellToday we get another, this time on the dangers of employees trying too hard to please the boss, published originally as Roses Where I Walk.
A fellow blogging friend of mine gave me a hard time tonight about not blogging more. He wrote “I would prefer more than one nugget every five weeks.” So, I decided to put digital ink to ethereal paper and talk about a subject that has been on my mind of late.
This entry is issued as a warning to other employees, managers, CEOs, and janitors alike. I call this corporate disease: “Roses Where I Walk”.
See, I have noticed an insidious little pattern that arises as your company grows. As a CEO, sitting at the top of my firm’s food chain, it affects me every day. But, I imagine that in larger (thousand+ person) companies, it probably creeps all the way down to the VP and Director level. This dastardly practice is born with no ill intention – nay, narry a dash of malice nor a whim of Machiavellian bent. Quite the opposite in fact – this rose is born from the desire to please “the boss”.
And with that desire to please, comes the byproduct of removing objectivism and therefore the ability to make smart decisions based on true data and therefore the ability improve and therefore the ability to grow.
Here is how it happens:
You become a boss of any stature and naturally you have people working for you. And, as bosses seem to, you begin to notice problems in the areas that you manage (people, quality, process, etc.) So, you start to point out those problems to your team. And, they rush to fix. Only, here is the catch. While you feel you work for *the company*, they feel they work for *you*. Your goals are misaligned from the beginning and you both don’t even know it. So, their natural attempt to “fix” what you have highlighted, is actually an effort to make *you* happy and not really to fix the company. Therefore, they will naturally end up fixing what you SEE or improving where you WALK and not actually fix the CORE problem for your customers, culture, or product.
And, they don’t even know how much damage they are doing by trying to help. Let me give you two random, yet recent examples, of this dog in show:
The Internet at our office has gotten brutally slow over the course of a couple of months. I had complained a bit about it, and IT had ordered a fatter pipe some months back. But, it was never installed and the Internet continued to slow down. One day, the inchworm packet transit really hit an all time low, and I couldn’t take it anymore. I got frustrated, and demanded that something be done. Lickety-split, IT showed up with an amazing solution for me.
IT: “We are going to move you onto the ultra fast DS3 that is 50x as fast!”
Me: “Awesome! Woohoo!
IT: “Oh yeah baby, you’re gonna be a fighter jet!”
Me: “Wheee….I am so excited. Is that the earth I feel or am I dancing on clouds?”
IT: “Yah, that’s right. You’re on cloud 9 baby. Dig it.”
Me: “Uh oh. Is the rest of the company getting this too?”
IT: “No, not for quite a while, until it becomes a priority.”
Me: “Oh crap. Yank it out. Put me back on the slow connection.”
See that? In an attempt to placate “the boss” they were about to give me an incredibly fast broadband experience. Who wouldn’t want that right? Problem: If only I get it, I will get a skewed perspective of the experience the rest of the employees are having every day. I will no longer be able to accurately represent them as I will be isolated from them. Whew, that was a close one. Roses Where I Walk.
I tend to randomly “tag” a few of the thousands of customer service requests (tickets) we get each month in our tech support group. I do this to get an objective sense of the level of customer service we deliver to our customers. I then take it to the next level, by “tagging” random customers to follow *all* of their tickets. This gives me a holistic viewpoint of their experience during their entire lifecycle with our company. This tagging is one of my secret weapons and I have long used it as fodder for my cannon of change.
But, after a few months of this “tagging”, I noticed a steep improvement in our customer service group. The tickets I tagged would turn up smelling roses (hehe). The customers I watched were getting happier every day. Oh boy, aren’t we awesome!!! Uh oh. My spidey sense started tingling. Do I smell a rose? I start asking a few questions…and…my worst fears are confirmed. As it turned out, when I tagged a ticket, my Customer Service Manager surreptitiously tagged it as well. So, did his boss – the VP. Worse, I then found out that my “tagged” customers had become known as “VIP Customers” inside the entire service group and were being giving a premium echelon of service.
See how it works? My team, thinking that they were helping me, was actually HURTING the company. I want them focused on improving overall process to help every single customer and instead they have focused their extended efforts on helping just a few – the few I watched. They are being fire-fighters and not fire-marshals. Sadly, they are working against themselves; by giving my three customers amazing service they were actually having less time to improve the core processes of serviceability. Egad!
As a non-boss, you may be reading this text thinking: “What can I take from this?” Simple. Make sure you are improving the company’s entire road, not just the path your boss walks down. If you have a jerk boss who actually likes Roses Where They Walk…well…get a new boss. There is no air in their ecosystem for you to breathe anyway.
As a boss, you are no doubt reading this text, and saying: “Duh, dude. Obviously I don’t want people just making me happy.” That’s right, you don’t want it. But it FINDS you. It creeps up on you in the form of modest placation and can often be found posing (semi-nude) for actual progress. See, your staff will do it naturally and never know it. YOU have to stop THEM from pleasing YOU in effort to actually IMPROVE that which is around you. It’s trickier than it sounds, because you are at the center of every plot. So, make sure you have clear company and customer metrics by which you measure your staff that do no include how you feel about them or how they take care of you. Of course, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle (the act of measuring something inherently changes the outcome of that measurement) will limit this in the absolute. But, at least by remaining conscious of this pattern you keep it in quasi-check.
Got any roses you would like us to smell?
For more from Chris, see his Janitor’s Blog.