How often managers get into this tangle between “The Customer” and “Employees”?
In a normal mode of operation, both your customers and employees work as “one team”. There is trust and transparency in the team and the work environment is very conducive. Employees are motivated and eager to work with the client and client reciprocates. All going good and managers are delighted.
Now consider a scenario, where Client is a tough one, fixed time-line, and team is new or burnt. Requirements are not clear, resulting into lot of debate/arguments during the development phase. Not enough analysis done before estimation resulting into delays. Eventually, status meetings become a finger pointing exercise than a healthy discussion. The delivery is either late or not with quality and so on. And we all know, scenario like this is not imaginary!!
So, here are the challenges for a manager:
- Team is unhappy as they are working overtime and always under pressure.
- Customer is unhappy as they are not getting what they wished for and investors on their head.
- Management is unhappy because above 2 are unhappy and as this may result into loss of brand/revenue and employee attrition etc.
There are some key questions here:
- Where does manager stand?
- How can this situation be avoided?
- How can this situation be improved (there is no other choice than to improve)?
Let me share my view on these.
Where does manager stand in a stand-off situation?
Being diplomatic helps here!!
It’s easy to say that managers should manage both customer and employee’s expectations and ensure delivery. There will be times where as manager, one needs to take a stand for employees because if you don’t do that, you lose trust with your employees. This could be more damaging than losing a customer. On the other hand, one also need to assess the situation as a neutral person. So it is for the manager to decide at that point of time.
No matter which side you are, the important thing is to take a call based on your judgement and back it up with data points.
How can this situation be avoided?
These are 3 important factors to consider:
- Setting the expectations right and review them regularly to avoid last minute surprises.
- Build Trust and Transparency from start and persist with it (Openness, continuous feedback, visibility, courage).
- Deliver what is expected first and then take it from there.
Just like any other relationship, initially, there will be challenges as it takes time to understand way of working and the thought process. But as the team starts to deliver and customer starts to predict the delivery, work becomes fun and issues are solved together.
How the situation can be improved?
First of all, it is really difficult to turn this around quickly. Everyone (Team, customer, management) wants to see the positives ASAP but this requires constant effort and short cycles of good delivery. Putting a medium/long-term plan with actions doesn’t help much and all of that slips through the cracks as people get busy doing stuff. At the end, the situation is worse than before.
There are certain basic things that can be adopted to further relax the team a bit and then improve this over a period of time. Remember, there is no magic wand here!!
Irrespective of where the manager stand, following things will help improve the situation:
- Take a step back and tell everyone (customer & employees) to do so – A day-off may be. Then regroup and take a stock of what has happened.
- Be open to accept the criticism – Don’t be defensive about it. Hear them out, have a discussion and avoid debates.
- Bring people to a common platform and together work on this –Involve people as it is easier to blame from outside than work together on a problem.
- Go into details – Receive and share as much details as possible to provide enough visibility to everyone. Plan the next steps and involve key people in your planning exercise.
- Plan for short improvement cycles – To me the most important thing. Keep showing improvements on a weekly basis rather than a month long plan.
- Set expectations & deliver as per them – And at last, set expectations rightly and review them regularly. Take the appropriate time, resources, and tools and then deliver.
The biggest motivation for the employees is to deliver on time and make the project a success. And you know what, the same is true for the customer as well. So, start delivering less (but on time) and with quality and then improve it further.
Keep delivering value!!