Embed Trust, Energy and Joy in Work: A Case Study in Empowering Employees

Have you ever played service roulette?  Here’s how it goes:  you’ve got a problem, and you call in or chat in, or tweet out the problem. The more urgent the issue, the more direct communication you want. During your first conversation, you explain your problem and get told immediately, the reasons for your predicament, the company’s stance on the matter, and the rules of the road.  You just reached a “policy cop.”

These are good people following the rules of the road. But you’re hoping for a little more in the way of understanding your situation so you can try to get out of the jam you’re in. And so you disengage and begin again. Because you hope that if you keep dialing or texting or tweeting that eventually, you will find someone who starts with your life, and really listens.  And you can find a partner to help you figure it all out.

This learned “service roulette” behavior that we all practice as customers costs companies in three ways:  service costs, customer value erosion, and employee disenchantment. The inconsistency of folks responding to these situations sends customers to hang up and start again. That increases costs.  Customers who repeatedly encounter company policy cops disengage and share the experience.  This leads to customer value erosion.  And employees put in the position of defending rules or escalating unhappy customers often seek more fulfilling work.

Start with the Life, Not Company Policy.

This is our opportunity to flip the conversation and give people permission to begin with the life.  It is to develop the front line to be able to understand the customer’s predicament. And it is to never put the frontline in the position of doing something to a customer; they would never do to their mom.

You most likely know the main reasons that your customers need you and the rules that they bump into during those times.  Don’t make your frontline the policy cops in those moments. Give them the training and the tools that they need, and the opportunity to be a communicator and problem solver, instead of being a rule enforcer.

Give your team permission to solve problems. This is our opportunity to flip the conversation and give people permission to begin with the life. Share on X

Case Study: SOL Decided to Let People Set Their Own Targets.

A pioneer in encouraging employees to lead themselves well before the movement of Zappos and others, in 1992, when Liisa Joronen acquired SOL from the family business, she shook things up by stating that there would be no titles or secretaries.  She believed that status broke down the working unit where people govern themselves and the groups unite to govern their work.  Joronen gave all employees one single uniform…to make them one team…with people rising to what she believed they were capable of.

Elevate People: Give Them Control.

You may have encountered frontline people you interact with that don’t seem engaged.  People are given targets, process and rules that they dutifully perform.  But day after day this can become numbing…it is why you may not hear energy when you call a call center, or notice a spring in the step of someone working in a building. That is not the case at SOL – because they have a system to embed trust, energy and joy in work.  SOL establishes an accountability culture by asking teams to look at the work they do as their own. When SOL wins a contract, the field salespeople and local cleaning team are trusted them to set benchmark performance targets. “The more we free our people from rules,” Joronen says, “the more we need good measurements.” Like other companies that choose to think of trust as fuel for innovation, SOL finds that targets people set for themselves are often higher than what would have been set for them.

Teams in the field have complete trust, and they step up, making themselves accountable. They include the frontline and elevate those ready to participate in budgeting, hiring and negotiating contracts, as people show their capacity and initiative to do the work. In other words, they remove the caste system of what someone can or can’t “do” based on the role they happen to have. To continue enabling people to take initiative and advance, SOL commits 2% of their annual revenue in training folks to achieve these elevated levels of individual accomplishment so they can meet those tough goals they set for themselves. SOL training is about upgrading mindsets — turning cleaners into customer-service specialists.

SOL Trusts Its Employees to Set Performance Targets.

Impact: Often people are surprised to see SOL teams at work without a manger present. Trust at SOL is what guides.  With that, they organize, check their own work, and succeed.  Under the path that SOL expanded under, it achieved 15 percent growth for over 22 years.  SOL has expanded to operate nationwide in Finland and in Estonia, Russia, Latvia, Lithuania and Sweden. SOL has nearly 10,000 registered customers.

What rules can you diminish to give people the freedom to innovate, and permission to create a place where they can thrive?

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