Ok, I know the blog title is harsh but today I observed a defining moment in staff disempowerment. I was in an airport (which shall remain nameless) watching a staff member at a food cart take complaint after complaint about a non-functional coffee vending machine by their cart. Each time the employee told the customers that her company owned the machine but that she could not refund their money or do anything about their problem until “her boss got in.” After watching this for about 45 minutes, I went up and asked the employee if she might want to put a sign on the machine noting that it was out of order. Guess what her response was, “I can’t do that until my boss gets in.” When I asked why that action required her boss, she said because “she will be mad if I do anything other than what she tells me to do.” Since I wasn’t subject to the wrath of her boss, I put up my own sign!
Leadership anger toward employees or employee fear of it has to be the source of much of the malaise to which we are all subject. Conversely, the absence of praise for employees taking customer-centric initiative must be a similar contributor. Maybe all of us should re-check the positive and negative messages we are sending when it comes to staff “coloring outside of the lines” in support of customer needs. This was really a case where the coffee cup was not half but totally empty!