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Leadership, not management, is needed at all levels

By Andrew McMillan

So, from previous pieces we now have a definition of our customer experience and have communicated it clearly and regularly to staff and customers.

We also have internal and external measures against which we can track how our aims for customer experience and internal culture are being delivered. 

Arguably we could stop at that point and there is a school of thought which suggests frequently publishing performance measures is enough to elicit consistent improvement against those measures. 

Sadly, in my experience, that’s rarely the case and to achieve sustainability and improvement, strong, supportive, directional and inspirational leadership is critical. 

That visible leadership has to come from every manager in the organisation from the board to team leaders.

Unfortunately, all too often, in every business sector, I see managers managing, but not leading.

A simple test for this is to look at a manager’s weekly diary and try to identify what proportion of each day is spent talking to and coaching those that report to them. 

Often that time simply does not exist as their weeks are filled with back-to-back meetings or other ‘important’ administrative tasks that take them away from being a role model for the teams they lead. 

A fast and simple way of alleviating that issue is to list all the tasks a manager has to do each month in order of importance. 

Often those at the end of the list aren’t critical to the businesses’ performance and are there ‘because we have always done that’.

A conscious decision can then be made, balancing those less important tasks against the benefits of developing an enhanced internal culture and consequently improved customer experience. 

Try asking yourself these questions in relation to any routine task or meeting that takes you away from leading your teams:

  • Does the activity directly benefit the team? Would the team agree if asked?
  • Does the activity directly benefit customers?  Would they be prepared to pay for it?
  • Is the activity business critical? Would your business cease to function?
  • Is the activity related to strategic planning (for senior managers only)?

Being brave enough to change the status quo and stop a few unnecessary routine tasks can create a significant window of opportunity for leadership rather than just management. 

Sometimes, however, it isn’t as easy as that and this can lead to a piece of organisational development work to establish what processes can be simplified and/or delegated up or down the line to free managers’ time to lead. 

Either way, this issue must be addressed as it is crucial to the development, sustainability and consistency of customer experience.

That’s likely to be the hardest part, but there can be another key leadership issue to address. 

Some managers may have historically been recruited or promoted for their knowledge or on their ability to complete tasks to a high standard rather than their leadership potential. 

Once the volume of tasks has been reduced and these individuals are expected to interact with and lead their teams on a daily basis, these managers can find themselves very exposed. 

A full suite of leadership skills training should be made available to them, particularly focusing on goal setting, coaching, and dealing with conflict.

Many may respond well to this support and relish the new challenges, but some will not and, sadly, if they cannot transition from managers to leaders, they should be removed from their positions.

That applies to all levels within the organisation.   

That is where the benefit of the individual accountability within the measurements, both internal and external, comes in.

That detailed measurement creates the opportunity for managers at all levels to identify both outstanding performance against the desired aims for recognition and poor performance for coaching and support, so making the most effective use of the time available to them. 

In this way, providing the aims of the business have been clearly articulated and the measures have been skilfully aligned to those aims, the managers can start to lead the behaviours that will deliver those aims rather than just reacting to the operational performance results.  

It is this leadership informed by frequent measurement of outcomes that gives the organisation its consistency and sustainability when embarking on a customer experience development programme. 

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