How do you know if you need to improve staff engagement? Have you heard the phrase “We don’t do that here” used by staff in organisations when we ask them about something we need or want. But if you listen closely, I think you can also hear “I don’t do that,” “I don’t want to do that” or in fact even “I can’t be bothered to do that.” You see it’s very easy to say we can’t or we don’t do something. It’s much harder to say “Let me see if we could do that” and then look to see if it is actually possible to do it. Sometimes all it needs is for us to alter how we do something so that it could be of benefit to our customers or service users. Maybe a small change could mean we can answer “Yes, we can do that for you.”
Let me give you an example. I’ve been looking at buying a telephone answering service and thought I had chosen one which suited all my needs. After much discussion I said to the sales person, “That’s great. All I need to do now is know how to port my telephone number across from my current provider.” “Oh,” she said, “We don’t do that.” I quoted Ofcom info at her about moving numbers but she was adamant, “No, we don’t do that.” I made various suggestions as to how it could be done. I even spoke to the firm I use now about moving the number. They said “Yep, that’s easy. We can sort that. The new company just need to ask and we will take care of it all.” I returned to the sales girl and she said “No, we don’t do that.” I returned to my current company and they said “Oh, that’s not right,” but then asked “Why did you want to leave us? What did we do wrong?”
I explained I needed some additional services with the way my calls were directed and answered. “Oh,” he said, “I have a solution to most of it. Not to your last problem, but I know what you could do instead.” Now after 20 minutes on the phone with him we have resolved all the issues I had. I’m really happy and he saved me money. The final problem I had is still unresolved but he did give me some ideas of how to fix that and it will still be cheaper. You see it’s not always about what can and can’t be done, but how you’re told and dealt with.
If we think about it, when staff members say “We don’t do that,” are they really saying “I’ve not been told what to do in this situation?” Or is it that in their experience if they do something and the boss doesn’t like it, they may get in trouble so it’s easier to say we don’t do that?
How do you combat this negative mind-set?
Staff who lack confidence in their ability to make a decision need support to ensure they grow in confidence and understand the levels of their decision making power. They may also fear their manager’s reactions if they are unsure how their decisions will be received. Consider how your staff are treated. Do they worry about consequences because in their experience with either your business or a previous employer they have received harsh consequences? There may also be a lack of consistency or predictability in the level of support or negativity they receive when making a decision.
Staff who feel valued and supported are less likely to be negative towards clients. They will in turn value clients and wish to do what they can to help them. Take my local town for example. We have two supermarkets. Both are nationwide chains, but they are very different. One is run down, the staff always seem glum and they look untidy. In fact, the store looks untidy and if I’m honest I don’t like shopping there. In addition, if you ask staff for help in finding anything they are uninterested, wave vaguely in the direction of the item or say “We don’t stock that here.”
In the other store the staff are always tidy, the store is immaculate and if you ask for help the staff are friendly, chatty and helpful, often offering alternatives or special ordering service if they don’t have what you want. Now, I don’t know for a fact but I would think the difference is based on the way they feel about their work, the way they are looked after, treated and are valued.
With the poor supermarket, the whole environment is likely to affect the type of people they recruit and retain. In addition they must know the other supermarket is much nicer. How does that make anyone feel? So they are on a downward spiral with difficulty in recruiting and retaining the right staff, which results in poor quality of service and unhappy customers which then causes the staff to receive poor experiences. You can see the downward spiral already.
Truly can’t be bothered staff members
Of course, it is possible that you have some staff members who say “We don’t do that” because they really can’t be bothered. I choose to believe that everyone can be bothered if they are valued, given opportunities and supported in their work, but if you believe that you do value, support and provide opportunities to your staff and they still are not bothered then I would review whether these are the right staff for you?
As harsh as it seems I am a firm believer that if someone isn’t right for a team or an organisation then it’s in everyone’s interests that they move on. You might suggest that the staff in my supermarket example have a choice to move on as well, but often staff become stuck, fearful of moving on, believing this is what they deserve. They become fixed in their mind-set of what work is like.
Finding a better way
It is easier to work with staff in finding a better way. Getting them involved in the development of the business will help them feeling valued. Listening to staff and give them an opportunity to have ideas and put them into action for the benefit of the business can all help.
I so wish to help this supermarket get sorted as I know it wouldn’t take much for them to fall back in love with their store, their products and their customers. It would give me more choice at the very least.