A Manager’s Guide on How to Cope When Team Efforts are Taken For Granted
I had an interesting discussion with a colleague who manages an internal service department for a medium-sized organization. She’s a supportive manager whose team takes pride in providing quality service to internal clients. However, she finds it a challenge to keep her employees at the top of their game when some internal clients are unappreciative of their efforts. Part of her dilemma is rooted in an organizational culture where administrative support is taken for granted.
She and her team acknowledge the situation and focus on how to work effectively within – and despite – the culture. She also encourages employees to rise to the challenge of working with unappreciative clients. Yet there are still occasions when team members find it hard to muster enthusiasm to serve such clients.
You can’t fake it and other important tips
How does she continue to motivate her team? She knows she can’t fake her own engagement, so she starts by staying positive. She also focuses on how she can best support her team and internal clients with the following actions:
- Keep the “big picture” front and center by reminding employees how they support the department’s mission and contribute to the organization’s mission in the process.
- Engage employees in sharing what works to keep them motivated, such as providing peer support and finding the humor in their experiences and ways to safely blow off steam. This is done regularly in staff meetings and when difficult situations arise.
- Share and reinforce client service success stories with the manager’s boss as well as with the team itself.
- Acknowledge those clients who are appreciative of staff efforts, while also diplomatically standing up for employees dealing with difficult clients.
- Maintain a positive culture within the department that values both clients AND team members.
- Continue to acknowledge and recognize employee efforts with little gifts, food, and ongoing professional development.
Just as importantly, she models and reinforces what Chip Bell describes in his new book, Kaleidoscope:
“We are what we serve to others. It is our signature that sums us up each time a customer is on the receiving end of our efforts. And your customers remember how you served long after they have forgotten what you served! How can you deliver service in a fashion that says, ‘This is me, and it is my very best gift to you?'”
An organizational culture that recognizes, understands, and supports administrative functions is a rare bird indeed, but it’s not one-sided. Areas of an organization that exist to serve the needs of internal customers seldom seek opportunities or take the time to really understand the roles and responsibilities of the programs and operations they serve. Often, while their efforts are well intentioned, they have trouble balancing control and service and that creates tension. Administrative functions must make a concerted effort to see the world from their clients’ perspectives and there are many ways that can be tackled. Lastly, I’ll say it’s up to the CEO at every opportunity to make the essential connections, educate staff about the symbiotic relationship between those who carry out the mission and those who support those efforts and often make them possible, and publicly give credit where credit is due. Without that, all the other efforts by the manager will only keep resentments bubbling beneath the surface.
You’re right, Andrea, about the tension that can exist between operational and support functions especially when it comes to “balancing control and service” — often a result of internal politics, ego, posturing, etc. Ideally, it should be a symbiotic, mutually respectful relationship that is encouraged and supported by the CEO and at all levels, rather than a culture that encourages internal competition for power and/or bragging rights.