Most professional and creative service firm leaders surveyed, often over 90% of them, indicated they think they provide great value to their customers, and that they customers are very loyal to them.
Surveys of those same clients indicate, often up to 80% of them, marginal satisfaction and openness to switching firms.
Most professional and creative service firm leaders think their employees are satisfied and loyal.
Research reveals approximately 70% of employees are disengaged, many of the actively. And many of them are actively looking to or open to work for someone else.
When I engage with a new client, as part of an initial audit process to immerse myself in their business and define and qualify the current state of business, I often interview clients and employees to learn their observations, thoughts, and feelings from their perspectives. And in every single instance, the responses reveal substantial gaps and differences in thoughts and feelings between the firm’s leadership and these two groups of critically important stakeholders.
There’s no fault or judgment being exercised or expressed here. Just observation. I don’t expect this precarious situation is created or exists wittingly. But that doesn’t make it any less precarious.
The situation I describe here is not what we want as owners and leaders. In SWOT terms, it can be a weakness and a threat. The consequences are surely counterproductive, and often potentially grave.
But if we don’t want it, and we didn’t intend it, what can we do to reduce, eliminate, and ultimately prevent it.
- It’s not good enough to “think” we know. We must know. If we want to know what someone observes, thinks, and feels, we have to ask them. And we have to listen, without prejudice, defensiveness, or dismissiveness. We need to know what they see, think, and feel, and why. It is not a debate, or argument. What they will tell us is influencing how they behave and interact with us.
- We must establish trust to get the truth. But wait, some of us have dialogue with customers and employees, maybe even regularly or frequently. But if there isn’t trust in the relationship and commitment to mutual benefit to inspire truthful answers, then we get deflection, incomplete or untruthful responses. Clients hesitate to speak truthfully because they don’t want to hurt feelings, or they think expressing negative criticism is unpleasant and not worth the discomfort and trouble. And many employees are afraid of negative consequences, including punitive reaction and damage to their stature and future prospects. So we must explain that we are asking, and want to know, so we can make the relationships more mutually productive and valuable. And we must be sincere. Sometimes it is helpful to get an experienced, objective third-party to do the interviews. I know that when I have conducted interviews, it is very common for that interviewees confess they tell me things they haven’t or wouldn’t tell leadership. Take advantage of this dynamic.
- Follow up on your communication. Confirm your common understanding with the interviewees. And then act on it. Address and resolve problems. Capitalize on opportunities revealed. Demonstrate your integrity – that you mean what you say and say what you mean.
- Make this dialogue part of your standard client and employee relations practice.
It is a win-win-win for you, your clients, and your employees. It is a win for your business.
To download or print: What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You – 4 Actions To Develop Stakeholder Loyalty