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Have you ever overheard a conversation on a topic you know a lot about and but you decide to keep quiet? The other day while on my 45-minute commute via the GO train, I did just that. I was sitting quietly like most passengers while working away on their computers and I overheard this middle-aged man trying to deescalate a client situation over the phone.  I wasn’t trying to listen in but it was so difficult to ignore what was unfolding.

Let’s call this man John. His client appeared to be upset due to their order not arriving.  I was impressed by John’s empathic, courteous approach to resolving his issue.  He assured the client he would take ownership of the situation, listened attentively and was focused on creating a positive experience for the customer.  I quickly glanced over and gave him a smile while thinking to myself “I would like to deal with John if I had a problem!”
To my surprise what happened next shocked me!  I heard John mobilizing the plan to resolve the customers problem by talking to a colleague. From what I could gather he worked in another division and his team’s actions were reliant upon ensuring the product was delivered to the customer.  Like Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, John went from being an empathic leader to an egocentric commander, while raising his voice and speaking to his colleague with a sharp and intrusive tone.  To make matters worse he hung up from his call visibly upset and played off his behaviour by explaining to the passenger beside him that he hates his job because he must deal with “Idiots”. He followed up by saying “If I don’t yell and threaten, nothing gets done, there’s no accountability unless I treat them like this”.
Immediately my previous smile turned into utter sorrow for John and his colleagues. Here was an experienced middle manager who worked in a large bank and treated customers with amazing skill (I know who because I heard it during the conversation). Yet, it was a completely different story when it came to his colleagues.  Did he not understand employees are a company’s real competitive advantage?  Or that working collaboratively with others will create sustainable, high-performance cultures over the long term?  Did he not like his behaviour or the people he worked with but felt there was nothing else he could do?
Maybe this type of toxic work environment doesn’t surprise you. According to a 2017 CBC article, rudeness and incivility is one of the biggest issues facing workplaces today. After all, I had just witnessed this firsthand in a public place. It made me wonder what happened in the office for those who disagree with team leaders!
Would you have handled this situation differently if you were John?
Although John was clearly tired, exhausted and overwhelmed; an issue facing many employees that has been described for the past few years in Bersin by Deloitte research, in my opinion John could have reacted in a way that would have empowered his colleagues vs creating fear.  Your behaviour influences everyone you work with and understanding the impact you have on people is essential for both leaders and individual contributors to be successful.
Do you know the values that are driving your behaviours? Values the building blocks of an organizational culture and they guide what behaviours will be acceptable and how decisions are made.  Clearly, the values operating for John were not optimal and did not engender trust with his colleagues.
Successful companies know that employees are their most important asset. They create values to line up with this belief and reward behaviors aligning to these values. Customers might be the reason the lights stay on, but those customers wouldn’t exist without the hard work and dedication put forth by employees.  With that being said, let’s take a closer look at the benefits of creating a work culture where employees are treated like your best customers.
Here’s Why It’s Smart to Treat Your Employees Like Your Best Customers.

You’ll have better insight.

You’ll serve your customers better.

You’ll get buy-in.

They’ll stick by you in tough times.

In my book, Rules of Engagement, I share 4 simple rules to help workplace cultures thrive. The first and most essential rule is focused on individual behaviour and reminds us to connect to people not process. Organizations are hyper-focused on process to drive efficiencies but that same mindset doesn’t transfer to humans. We need to feel connected to build trust and without trust decisions are slow and laborious.
 How are you connecting to people? What can you do to build trust?
  • Have a 5-minute conversation with a colleague. Get to know them as a person. Remember to keep the topic light and simple. (i.e. Stay away from personal topics like religion or politics). Try to find similarities with the other individual. Maybe you read the same book or vacationed in the place.
  • Reflect on your behaviour over the week. Did you build trust or reduce trust with your actions? What do you think someone else’s perspective would be on that?
  • Identify actions or words that others do that results in you generating more trust with them. This will increase your awareness and help you realize what others value in building trust.
Unfortunately, most of us work in a dynamic, volatile and uncertain business environment, where predictability is unrealistic. That doesn’t mean however, that your behavior can’t be predictable and consistent. When it is, your working relationships will be enhanced which leads to faster and better decisions. You don’t have to be best friends with people at work but it does pay off to invest time in connecting with them.
Carolyn Swora
Carolyn Swora is a workplace culture architect who facilitates development in three core areas; Courage, Resilience and Belonging. Join Carolyn in a conversation via email, LinkedIn, and Instagram. Carolyn’s book, “Rules of Engagement”, is available on Amazon. You can also listen to PWE & ME, Carolyn’s Podcast.