The Lead Yourself First Blog

When Customers Walk – The Business Consequences of Disengagement

Please help meAfter a seventeen hour journey from Australia to Canada, plus forty-five frustrating minutes talking to airline staff about a pair of prescription glasses that were left on board, our friends left Vancouver International Airport knowing that the chances of anyone caring enough to resolve their concern was almost zero. A young woman who listened to their plight while repeatedly attempting not to yawn informed them that if found, the glasses would be taken to the appropriate location for lost articles. She scribbled down the company’s website name and told them to fill out the on-line form for lost and found articles. It was time to go on her break and there was nothing else she could do. The fact that their airplane was still at the gate, and the fact that the “at your service” agent could have easily communicated with airline’s ground staff to check for the glasses seemed all too difficult.

This scenario is not merely an example of poor customer service. It demonstrates something much deeper…a problem that is reaching endemic proportions in many workplaces of every description: Skyrocketing levels of employee disengagement. The results of a new Aon Hewitt study, reported in HRM Online, found 47% of workers are disengaged from their work – the lowest employee engagement levels in North America in five years.

Healthy levels of workplace engagement indicate discretionary effort, i.e. wanting to do, rather than having to do a job. HRM online also noted that “the drops in areas such as diversity, customer experience and leadership lead to an overall decrease in how employees felt about their overall work experience.” In the case of my friend’s lost pair of glasses, she encountered an individual who was not only unwilling to ask another colleague at the gate about the status of the glasses in that moment, but gave no thought to the bigger picture regarding the future buying decisions of an unhappy customer in her highly competitive industry.

Workplace cultures, together with employees’ perceptions of their role in the grand scheme of impacting the bottom line are key indicators of engagement. A recently published report entitled: The impact of the new long-term employee…Dealing with the Increasingly Shorter Definition of “a Long Time with the Company” defined engagement as: “the degree to which employees are psychologically invested in your organization and motivated to contribute to its success.”

The above definition ought to become the new benchmark for assessing the entire spectrum of organizational effectiveness. Employers of any size and industry that continue to ignore the significance of their staff remaining disengaged do so at their own peril. Unfortunately, the front line is not the only cohort who is psychologically “checking out” on the job. Management are also disconnecting for a host of reasons that include pressures to achieve higher performance and productivity with reduced staffing levels, limited resources, and increased workloads. As a result of being pulled in divergent directions, they are compromising their own abilities to lead, inspire, and motivate in order to meet or exceed senior leadership’s expectations.

Sadly, the story of my friend’s lost pair of glasses continued on a downward spiral. Email communications with supervisors and managers proved futile, as it became evident that their apologetic responses were obligatory rather than empathetic. At no time did my friend get a sense that there was a genuine desire to resolve her concern, from the top down.

When individuals at every level of an organization lose sight of the “how” and “why” of their job function, the disengagement cycle continues to build, job satisfaction wanes, client service is affected and opportunities for business growth are lost. As a leader, are you personally setting the example for your team to be highly engaged? Is your customer service a reflection of a team doing what they do because they have to or want to? Disengagement is not only evident within your internal operations; it is also evident to your customers who may ultimately experience its consequences and take their business elsewhere.


Entrepreneur or Intrapreneur…Is it an either/or question?

During an afternoon break at a conference, a participant who had just attended my breakout session on building collaborative workplace relationships approached me to discuss his dilemma regarding whether he should stay with his company or start his own business. He spoke candidly about his managers, colleagues as well as his future employment path, and whether he was ready to take the plunge and venture out on his own. I admired his honesty and appreciated the challenge he faced in terms of making a decision. Based on our conversation, I got the impression that he really enjoyed his work and had great camaraderie with his managers and peers, but wasn’t as enthused about the prospect of being his own boss and running his own company. It is a fascinating quandary that many of us face. I began to ponder whether this needed to be an either/or question?

Being an intrepreneur is defined as follows:

in-tra-pre-neur (In¹tre-pre-nur) n. A person within a large corporation who takes direct responsibility for turning an idea into a profitable finished product through assertive risk-taking and innovation [intra(corporate) + (ENTRE)PRENEUR.] -inftrapre-nouri-al adj. -intra-pre-neuri-al-ism n. -in’trapre-neuri-al-ly adv.

Consider the success story of  Dutch-owned Optiver Asia-Pacific, an algorithmic trading company that was just named Australia’s best place to work. CEO Paul Hilgers says the company has a genuine open door policy and a philosophy that working with “brilliant minds attracts brilliant minds”. Hilgers says: “A brilliant mind isn’t only skill-based. We really want to know who we are hiring and we want to make sure that people know us before they decide to work for us.”  The 2013 study to determine best workplaces was made up 179 competing organizations and their 25,905 employees nationally.

Entrepreneurial skills are highly sought-after by companies that support an innovative culture. If you are an individual who can identify a huge need for ground-breaking approaches regarding any aspect of your  organization’s operations, you could be handsomely rewarded for speaking up and sharing your ideas. Being the catalyst of creativity and change is a very rewarding experience, in terms of career satisfaction and financial compensation. Here are three core concepts to keep in mind:

 1. You CAN make a difference in your workplace

Passion for your work , together with a proactive mindset will always be desirable attributes. When you believe that your initiatives can positively impact your workplace, be assured that people will listen. Especially when your ideas can benefit your customers and the bottom line. Learn to present your recommendations from the vantage point of your leaders. When you demonstrate an understanding of the business from their perspective, you will be in a great position to have their undivided attention.

 2. Build alliances with like-minded people

Surrounding yourself with naysayers is a sure fire way to zap your enthusiasm. On the other hand, seeking out individuals who support your solutions-based way of thinking will energize you as you pursue your plans. Entrepreneurs make a point of aligning themselves with others who can challenge their ideas in a positive manner. Start your own internal mastermind group. When your personal values regarding success, creativity and originality are in sync with those who think and act similarly, you will find opportunities to grow your career path.

 3. Recognize and create opportunities within your organization

There is a difference between critiquing and criticizing…whether it is a system, internal process or someone else’s idea that can be improved upon. You create opportunities to rise through the ranks by demonstrating a willingness to take the initiative and express your ideas for change in proactive manner. When you demonstrate your expertise and innovative ideas in a particular area or job-function, you are carving out your own, entrepreneur/intrapreneaur opportunity.