Friday, January 29, 2010

Lead or get the heck out of my way

posted Thu, 09 Jun 2005

I just finished one of my favorite work tasks: packing boxes of chocolate for shipment to the customer service reps at the factories. I work with a couple hundred service reps at over 50 factories. I am in charge of a project that requires their cooperation, even though I have no authority over them.

I give them tons of extra work – ask them learn new processes and procedures – and I am not even the boss of them. But they do it. It’s amazing what people will do if you give them a clear objective, a good reason for reaching it, the tools and the training to do the job, and appropriate incentives.

The tiaras have been an enormous hit. I had no idea. At one plant, the service rep sent me an email that she and the other reps decided they would all have to take turns wearing the tiara, even though it was rightfully hers. “Every woman should be a princess,” she wrote.

Our customer service departments are understaffed. These women (mostly women) are not paid very much and get little recognition or appreciation. Yet they are our main contact with the customer. My company has the money for corporate jets and swanky offices for the bigwigs, but can’t pay an extra $25,000 a year per factory to have another person on staff to take the burden off the existing service reps. Go figure.

So I do what I can with my corporate American Express. I load up at the Godiva store. If I am going to ask these women to do extra work, I am going to reward them for it. When a factory has made significant progress on a project, I send them a box of chocolate. They deserve it.

But it’s not just the chocolate. Do you know what a difference it makes to write someone a personal note telling her she did a great job on something? Or to send an email to a factory with the graph showing all the factories and their relative progress on a project and the words, “Great job, Boise team!” You make sure you copy the factory manager and the division director, too. Praise in public, punish in private.

Now is the part where I totally out myself, but anyone from work who has stumbled across this site and has read more than two entries has figured out who I am anyhow.

I am the SAP Queen. I didn’t give that name to myself, but the moniker has stuck.

If I am the queen, I can create princesses. When a service rep does something noteworthy, I write a note praising what she has done – and I tell her she is an SAP Princess.

Whenever I see something at Target that is princess related, I buy it. Recently, in that dollar section up front, they had a bunch of princess pens, wands and tiaras. I bought all they had. I have been sending them out, along with a handful of Baci chocolates and the handwritten note, to individual service reps for individual recognition.

I am very interested in the questions of how you lead people and what makes one organization succeed and another fail. It has been fascinating to see how easy it is to work with this bunch of great service reps – over whom I have no authority – to implement my goals yet watch the rest of my division be run so – differently. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

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