Lia is the Assistant Director of an accounting firm. Her role is to oversee day-to-day operations, which includes all customer service and being sure systems are up and running 24/7. The reception area, where clients arrive for their appointments, is critical. They serve diverse customers with diverse language needs, and small family businesses which often means kids in the office. Needless to say, it was a vibrant, busy and thriving environment where the term “the customer is always right” meant thinking on your feet and responding with compassion.

Lia’s supervisor, Jennifer, had the last word on her performance, but was also responsible for the entire staff. Jennifer’s customer was every employee in the organization, their performance, and their ability to maintain a high level of engagement with customers, and with the company’s strategic vision.

It’s a lot to take in. Just the myriad of players can get complicated. How does one conduct this orchestra so the performance sounds just right? And how many fires are left burning before the whole thing falls down?

One day, a client came in with a very unusual request. Kids were in tow, a baby was sleeping, and a simple request for private space was met with pushback. It was an uncommon, but not intrusive request – just out of the ordinary. It was met with some sort of statement about Company Policy – which was total bullshit. So why didn’t the receptionist not want to accommodate?

There’s a fine line in organizations that require the person receiving a customer request to have the authority to make judgment calls. In turn, that person needs to understand the organization’s culture (Remember?  How we do things ’round here?) as the basis for those calls, as well as embrace their autonomy without concern of reprimand.

When the receptionist declined the customer’s request, and went on to explain why that request wasn’t going to work, the customer was obviously upset and asked to speak with the supervisor – Lia. When Lia stepped in, she was caught between supporting her staff and accommodating the customer. She was flummoxed. She went to ask Jennifer what to do.

So – to recap – busy office, kids, sleeping baby, simple request, three employees involved, two of whom run the show. In Passion Forward, there’s a whole segment about finding and taking up your personal authority – it’s super empowering!

If your employees don’t own their authority to do their jobs, problems will constantly escalate. Two things will happen: the employee will simply do what they’re told, surrender all decision-making capabilities and eventually become disengaged; and the supervisor will spend way too much time that they don’t have to give, fixing problems and basically managing every player in the orchestra individually. In both cases this creates anger, resentment, and disengagement.

There is an easy way to create a win-win here. What would you do? Here’s a great quote that’ll help. “As soon as we abandon our own reason, and are content to rely upon others’ authority, there is no end to our troubles.”  BERTRAND RUSSELL, An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish (And don’t you love the title of his writing!?)

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