On a recent business trip, I got stuck behind five people at the car rental check-in counter. Only one employee was working, and I quickly became fascinated with watching how he was handling the situation. At first I was impressed, because he had clearly noticed the line and was using his radio to call his team for help, suggesting that he was trying to get us, the customers, serviced as quickly as possible. It became clear that his motive was very different, however, when his co-worker came out from the back office.
“I have been here since six this morning,” the first employee said. “I have to go on break.” Then he disappeared, leaving his co-worker stuck with a long line of increasingly frustrated customers.
This is just one example of many instances I’ve witness lately where it’s seemed that the people involved were only interested in what was best for them. In this case, the employee did not put himself in the shoes of being a customer waiting in line AND his manager did not put himself in the shoes of his employees, since he obviously hadn’t staffed enough people to allow his team member to take a well-deserved break.
As a people leader, there’s no excuse for not putting yourself in others’ shoes before you act—and it’s also your responsibility to influence your team members to do the same. You can accomplish this with 3 simple actions:
#1 Revisit your vision and mission.
I actually searched for the vision and mission of the rental car company where I had the above experience after the fact—and found nothing. That is problem number one. Your vision and mission must demonstrate the purpose of your business and the experience that you want both your customers and your employees to have. With no vision or mission, we will do what comes natural to us: protect ourselves. When a team has a good understanding of their company’s vision, however, they are more likely to look outside themselves and do what it takes to live up to that vision.
#2 Value-check policies.
This is a hot-button issue for me. My experience with most company policies is that the people who write them are not impacted by them. In many instances, they are designed by a company’s legal representatives—people whose primary goal is to protect the company from lawsuits. And yes, it is important to ensure that your company is not violating any laws; but it is just as important to ensure that your policy is valuable to the individuals who have to administer and adhere to them (your employees) and those who are impacted by them (your customers). In the case of my rental car experience, it was clear that there was no good policy on how to properly service a long line of customers while also meeting the needs of the employees.
#3 Take a 360-degree view.
This is a fancy way of saying, “Put yourself in their shoes.” In order to do this, you must stop and consider who will be impacted by your decisions and actions before you make or take them. And this isn’t always easy. In some instances, taking other people’s feelings into account may lead you to take risks that you don’t want to take because you know doing so is better for everyone else involved. Or you may have to make a decision that could leave you vulnerable in the eyes of a manager or an executive. For instance, the manager of the rental car counter may have budget constraints that caused them to be low on staff. However, looking at it from a 360-degree perspective, they might decide that the potential reduced revenue of losing loyal customers due to long lines/poor customer service is far more damaging than spending a little extra to have more people working the counter. Of course, it’s not just up to leadership to think about others: every person in a company or organization should do the same exercise, and should be bold enough to make the best choice for the good of everyone.
True people leaders think about all people, not just themselves. They ensure that their vision, mission, and policies are aligned with the people who are involved with their company—both employees and customers. So put yourself in other people’s shoes; when you do, you will deliver outstanding results and cultivate long-lasting relationships.