News + Views

Who’s Behind the Wheel?


ROI by Frank J. Rich







By Frank J. Rich




Few wish the worst to happen. We are ever hopeful in most things, not least our children. In the midst of the late economic malaise we might add “work” and “economic security” to a growing list of the “hoped-for.” More people were out of work or “gainfully employed” than at any time, save one, in the history of the U.S. But when things aren’t going so well for us we look to others for help and to blame.

Such is the case today, and there is plenty of blame to go around. Even after this protracted global meltdown, the most severe economic slowdown ever short of The Great Depression, the discussion is dominated by what “governments” can do to pull us out of this downward spiral. And since we have largely relinquished control of our fiscal, monetary, and socioeconomic decision-making to government, it is reasonable that we look there first for solutions. But is the wrong person in the front of the car?

Most agree that “growth” is the issue. Virtually every sector is declining but health care and government—the things “we the people” are unable to afford. If the argument is that both are out of control, does it make the most sense to let those institutions solve their own problems and also others—housing, credit debt, investment, exports, energy independence, overrun borders, and infrastructure? The condition of America’s roads and bridges, for example, is among the worst of developed nations. According to the ASCE (American Society for Civil Engineers), roughly 33 percent of America’s roads rate below “acceptable ride quality,” costing us each between $300-$400 a year in vehicle repairs. And America’s deadliest roads are closest to home, not the superhighways that speed us between cities. Worse, 28 percent of America’s 600,000 bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.

But if growth is the issue that solves most problems, who is responsible for it and how is it accomplished? Simply, there is no clear evidence that government work or “stimulus” programs are successful at solving unemployment or growth objectives. They are slow and typically lag the collective results of individuals acting on their own behalf. Okun’s Law reveals that a 1 percent reduction in the unemployment rate requires a GDP growth of 2 percent higher than the annual growth trend. Today that trend is 2.5 percent, which means we need a 4.5 percent growth rate to reduce unemployment to 8 percent.

According to Milton Friedman, among the great economic thinkers in modern history, “… there is no alternative way so far discovered of improving the lot of ordinary people that can hold a candle to the productive activities that are unleashed by the free enterprise system.”

Life is hard, but opportunity is real for those who seek it, and by their own hand. America was built on the backs of immigrants whose hope lived in their willingness to work, their genius for finding opportunity in their circumstances, faith in themselves, the freedom to act on their desires, and a system of free enterprise that encouraged it. When you look around you and inside you’ll find all these things. If you read “government” in these words you have failed to see the opportunity in yourself to get behind the wheel.

Happy New Year!


January 5, 2018 |



ROI by Frank J. Rich







By Frank J. Rich




In her signature song by the same name, Barbra Streisand, the extraordinary vocalist and actress, uncovered an essential condition in us — our child-like nature.


People who need people,

Are the luckiest people in the world.

We’re children, needing other children,

And yet letting a grown-up pride,

Hide all the need inside,

Acting more like children than children.


The opening line in the celebrated book by Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, “Happy families are all alike, every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” is testimony to the dysfunction common to man, and a poignant view of the fundamental workings of the human condition. Tolstoy, in this engaging novel, positions the crises of family life with his desire to find the meaning in life and social justice.

People, as we have all discovered, are the single most important and influential “others” in our lives. Yet, though we are social beings by nature, living with each other in harmony may be the most difficult thing we humans accomplish. Historians, international business persons, teachers, politicians, poets and novelists alike, and even our pets, know all too well the difficulty in accomplishing a “single organizing idea” among a group of people. Frankly, not even the almighty God — for all that people of faith believe He has done — has, yet to join the world in peaceful coexistence. People, it would appear, are loath to be, well, “people.”

A defining theme in the book, Anna Karenina, is the idea that predestination is an incontrovertible fact. It means to suggest, as the philosopher and theologian John Calvin offered, that God (in His omniscience) both knows and pre-ordains all that will happen to us here on Earth. The idea that we have anything to do with the ultimate outcome of things is antipodal to this view, and divides the Church in a theological rift between predestination and free will, itself a fundamental tenet of world faiths and behavioral science. Calvin was, perhaps driven to this “legalistic” view by his formal training as a lawyer. Tolstoy, on the other hand, in proposing the same view, found it impossible to reconcile it by his actual experience with people; thus, he proposed that while “predestination” was a known fact, one could only attain the hope in harmony with others by imagining “free will.”

Why the psychology lesson under the guise of Return On Investment (ROI)? Ms. Streisand, for all of her artistic prowess, is legend for her absolute requirement that she control all aspects of her work and its results. And while we might agree that the result justifies her means, it is by her own admission that deep insecurities are what had driven her to perfectionism. Each of the individuals above, it seems, has formed a method in which to make decisions, that which is at the root of our behavior as humans. In fact, according to some: “We all do exactly what we decide to do; we are the sum of our decisions.” Decision making, then, may determine who and what we are more than anything we do. Decisions are sometimes quick, and others may take years. Yet, for the influence they prove to be in our lives, the process remains mysterious and wizardry or art.

Stogdill’s Handbook of Leadership: A Survey of Theory and Research, lists over 5,000 studies and monographs on executive decision making. But when asked to reveal the common thread that qualifies an effective leader, its editor was unable to do so. The confusion over the practice is enlightened by the comment of former Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, who divined: Once — many, many years ago — I thought I made a wrong decision. Of course, it turned out that I had been right all along. But, I was wrong to have thought I was wrong.

The process of business can seem chaotic at times. Indeed, some have concluded that accepting the condition may be the only hope of success within it; adding that control over the chaos is the only hope in successfully managing it. As former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski revealed: “much of what happens is the product of chaotic conditions and a great deal of personal struggle and ambiguity.” Virtually all of our problems, then, may trace to poor decisions — those made by a process that is poorly understood.

Clearly, managers spend more time making “people decisions” than on anything they do. Most would agree that it is time well spent since people are the single most valuable asset of organizations. They are, however, unique in their ways, quirky, unpredictable, and possessed of more power and grace than most organizations (even they themselves) can use to productive ends. How then do we unlock the power of people to grow our organizations to the level of our aspirations for them, especially when studies show that selection of the right people is, at best, a 30 percent proposition? This may be good for a baseball player, but is the single largest and most uncontrollable cost to growth organizations.

Organizations whose people are productively engaged, and see growth and opportunity in their work, are usually the leaders in their market segment. Somehow, they have found the secret to tapping the energy and productive juices of their people; they have learned to understand them and how they turn to productive ends. Sometimes understanding people is more than an organization is capable of doing in the normal course of business. Few have the talent and internal organization to grow capable people into a majority of its workforce. More expedient and simpler is to transition those that reveal themselves as “holes in the boat.” This too, may seem costly, but increasingly, organizations opt for it as a cost effective methodology. Many of us are aware of General Electric’s practice of vetting the bottom 10 percent of their workforce annually, in favor of higher producers.

In his telling of the success of CrossCheck, Inc, the third largest transactions-guarantee company in the U.S., Tim LaBadie, founder and chairman, confronts the conventional wisdom. Like most entrepreneurs, Mr. LaBadie claims to be different. So, when he started his company he said he wanted to create a home for “strange” people like himself; “people who won’t accept mediocrity, who won’t take no for an answer, who love pushing themselves to the limit, who thrive on change, and who will ‘do windows.’” It is, he continues, “… not a place for everyone. The survival rate is low, the casualty rate is high, and we love it.”

Mr. LaBadie is saying, “ … that there are not many places that CrossCheck people could thrive (tolerate).” Such places were likely to stifle the imaginations and productivity of their people and stunt their growth and enthusiasm for personal achievement. Apparently, it worked for CrossCheck, though most organizations could only have conversations about achieving such a workplace. People, it would appear to some, are worth the trouble.




December 29, 2017 |

A Christmas Prayer


ROI by Frank J. Rich







By Frank J. Rich




When Jacob fled his father’s house because of threats from his brother Essau, God promised him the land of Canaan, as He had promised his grandfather, Abraham. Jacob made a promise to God that if He would:


Be with him,

Provide the way,

And what he needed to eat, and clothing,

And to return him to his father’s house in peace,


Jacob would:

Make the Lord his God,

Build God’s house on the stone before him,

And tithe all of his income.


Jacob’s conditional faith was even more transparent in light of God’s promise the day before; it asks for proof before it commits. One of the saddest statements in the New Testament may be that of the father of a demon-possessed boy – “If you can do anything, take pity and relieve us of this burden.” Jesus replied: “If you can? All things are possible to him who believes.” In saying this Jesus puts the condition of faith squarely where it belongs – on us. Jacob knew the promise of faith better than most as he committed himself to a night of prayer in seeking the promise of God. It changed the very nature of his evil brother Essau, and delivered Jacob to Canaan.

In this season of celebration, and traditional largesse, we are made contrite by the words of the poet Edward Dyer.


Some have much and still do crave,

I little have, and seek no more.

They are but poor, though much they have,

And I am rich, with little store.

They poor, I rich; they beg, I give;

They lack, I leave; they pine, I live.


It is the prayer of this organization and its people that all would see a creator that loves you unconditionally, and that “if you believe” on that creator, you can do all things that charm the world into goodness in this enlightened hour. May God bless you richly with the humility that cures a hopeful world.


December 22, 2017 |

When Greater Is Less


ROI by Frank J. Rich







By Frank J. Rich




“Heaven sends no fools; the illusion of gain that defines them is man-made.” These days, we live in a world of churning hot caldrons. Few eras have produced the fluidity of opinion, that peaks interest and ire, as this age. We are at once the soldier of the righteous and the fool that finds us at the point of his own sword. Daily, we are served the victuals of discourse, acrid and fulminating, for their inveigling battlements. What manner of ethic is this that most initiatives must be cautiously attended to navigate those whose watchful eye (on others) is so easily offended. There are no excuses for mean-spirited prejudice, sexual impropriety by any, or misdeeds that disadvantage another for personal gain. Notwithstanding, few among us that are free of guilt, on some level. Perspective is lost to elitism as though feeding on GMOs were free of consequences. Opinion is the habit of thinking species, and today, the personal right of individuals.

Our desire to paint all things the color of ideals often leads to a defense of results less than optimal—the right of way to all roads, however dishonorable they may be at times. In efforts to find self-worth and grow influence (on others), we too often trade activity for achievement and humility for the superlatives in “first person single” CV’s. As such, the model of self-actualization builds a “me first and only” platform of behavior that drives others to arm’s length, risking the intimacy that alone builds productive relationships and the opportunity that naturally grows from one serving another.

Routinely, we are served a diet of discrimination, sexual harassment, and the confused and distasteful food of opinion. Seldom is guilt shared in our efforts to find the victim in all things. Where there is a victim there is also a wrong-doer. As seldom are those so named awarded explanation for the reality that either validates or reveals a wound in need of curing. It helps little that the perfect state of the elitist shares no guilt.

Examples of the egregious misbehavior of those positioned to address the social issues that frighten bumps to the surface of the skin abound. Politicians, not least, whose natural cause is a Gordian Knot of myopia, for the good of the party, are best at fueling any fight that chooses sides and confuses issues. The ends to which they, and we that take up with them, have prepared fault in others is frightening; perhaps no more than for their unwillingness to suffer the self-effacement of error in themselves. When forced to join with a counter-culture president, for the sake of serving the good of the electorate, they have instead formed alliances with those that see open disrespect for the office a self-aggrandizing art form, not counting that humility precedes honor.

The CEO of any organization must see herself as the servant of the house, giving respect to others first before assuming her right to it. Subordinates, in the hierarchical military caste, routinely salute their superior officers. It is convention given as a sign of respect. Its ranks learn to honor leadership and obey its directives (orders). The model is buoyed by an honor code that encourages leadership, which by its practice, models an example of respect for the contribution of others in leading them to mutual goals achievement. They are never divided over how this system works and its value to all.

Not so in the civilian world, that molds opinion (and action) by a social constructionism endowed of unilateral logic and distaste (fear) for others; in short, opinion and fear. The current epidemic of POTUS disparagement, that seems to collect its minions by the habitual tracking of the lemming, is a case in point. It would appear that style determines the purpose, motivation, and skill of the current office holder. Despite the attrition in his style, the office deserves more respect than it is given. More accurately, acts of open aggression toward the office and office holder—little distinction is awarded in the relentless demeaning of one without affecting the other—are a reflection of the sense of self that remains incomplete in those that persist in their defaming of both. Healthy concern, constructive criticism, even anger, are all reasonable responses to the things we wish were different. Vehement opposition, slander, war mongering, and misrepresentations are not. Indeed, the Constitution names some as anarchy, if not treason.

We speak of the presidency being “all about character.” Though the appearance of leaders is often askew of their humble human form, we hold to the notion that they must be error-free. Unfortunately, expectations kill more opportunities than cancer, though our own fragilities dampen the generation of them little. The enemy is us, as is so often the case.

Psychology, in its continual search for models of workable societies, warns that our tendency toward self-aggrandizement (narcissism) costs the very goals it hopes to achieve; that of a cooperative society of givers. Studies show that narcissism has increased 65 percent in the American population over the last 30 years. The idea of the “small self,” as proposed in APA (American Psychological Association) “studies” reports, in ways that reflect a shift in attention toward larger entities and diminishment of the individual self—a shift that is vital to the collaboration and cooperation required of social groups, enhances prosocial behavior.

As this shift associates with “awe,” an emotional response to perceptual stimuli that rises above our current frames of reference, a sense that we are a part of something broader than ourselves, such as a community (work and other roles), a culture, the human species, nature, or art, emerges as a collective emotion that serves that broader perspective of self, more fully. Teams, operating on the ethic that each member is selflessly devoted to the success of others on the team, routinely achieve collective goals quicker, more completely, and with greater individual fulfillment. When we commit to a generous spirit about the things we do, the people we encounter, and the world around us, we compose a prosocial view of them that increases ethical decision-making and cures the urge in entitlement. Data from meditations suggest that the effects of “awe,” by feelings of a “small self,” confirm increased leanings toward prosociality, which help us grow a broader social concept and enhance collective concern.

If we were to divine a model of exchange between our leaders and their constituencies, we might (then) find it in the most unlikely of places. Imagine that POTUS, in this case, were an unlikely choice, who appeared by circumstances outside the control of government and its people. Having arrived by an uncommon route, suspicion quickly forms, making tenable her footing as the “leader of the free world.” One by one, she addresses the needs of those around her, while accepting the charge of office and of the doubts surrounding her competency. She works to gain the confidence of each by her steadfast model of ethical thinking, matched decision-making, and sincere regard for the people she serves, from assistants to “all” branch members of government, including the opposition. Issues that naturally present are considered from the bottom up (not top down), and she pushes decisions down the organization as much as possible, while encouraging consensus decisions. When circumstances require it, she acts decisively, after best efforts by support teams to inform them, and takes full responsibility for every decision that issues from the office. Further, she acts out the manner of a servant in a full-disclosure approach to the public trust, explaining the “what” and “why” of all decisions. She sees none as better than another, and reaches out to all in need from the least to the greatest, with compassion and the willingness to lend whatever assistance is available from a system (public and private) she believes is capable of most things. She sees everything and everyone as an opportunity, and works hard at the self-effacement that achieves a small self.

If this model appeals to you, you may find it in plain view in the TV series called, “Designated Survivor.” The virtue in it may make weekly attendance mandatory.


  • Journal of Personality and Social Psychology © 2015 American Psychological Association

2015, Vol. 108, No. 6, 883–899




December 15, 2017 |

Planning for Achievement


ROI by Frank J. Rich







By Frank J. Rich



Every day most of us go to work. We do so with the expectation that what awaits us is familiar and within our ability to accomplish. The usual preparation notwithstanding, some of us keep a schedule of “continuing education” (CE) to ensure the competency we might otherwise take for granted. Apart from professionals, most of us find our own path to CE, either by personal study, structured programs, or by the hand of a coach. Common among all approaches is that we see opportunity in the exercise. I regularly read books, view CDs, and attend online seminars to achieve the same result.

Recently, I took such an opportunity at an association meeting my wife and I attended. The main purpose of the 2-day session was to prepare a strategic plan of sorts, and for this the association hired a professional management consultant to facilitate the process. I met him the night before the planning session was to begin. The more we spoke the clearer it became (at least in my humble view) that Andy had all of the right principles firmly in place, and that the collaborative results of the ensuing sessions would bear fruit. Andy Hoh was doing it right, and I was encouraged that my wife would be in good hands over the next two days.

A strategic plan is usually not something you can accomplish in just a couple of days. Few of us are capable of pulling together the thoughts that inform a realistic view of the future in the short span of a day or two. The competition, internal and market initiatives, resource development, and technology forecasting, to name a few, can be complex issues to plan. Consensus, which must follow, is not always a given under the circumstances.

I took the opportunity to join the group for a short segment of the sessions, having already reviewed what had gone before it with my wife. It was a good learning experience. Not only was Andy a capable facilitator, he was equipped with the knowledge of best practices, and a style that transferred it easily. Taking the opportunity to “check” the competition proved to be as valuable as I had hoped it would be.

Andy began by asking board members to visualize their future. It’s no surprise to discover the opportunity in our future when we take the time to consider it. You’ll see the same advice from Jack & Suzy Welch in their weekly column: “Start with a clear purpose and vision in mind.” A mission statement resulted. Next, he asked the most fundamental of all questions, “What do we want to accomplish more than anything else?” It’s the right stuff. It’s hard to know how to get somewhere if we don’t know where we’re going. As Andy listened to responses, he wrote them down on a flip chart and organized them on the walls of the room for easy reference. Why? Because “what’s not on paper turns to vapor.”

Andy moved quickly through the process, ever sensitive to the need to do “real work” and in the time allotted. Another honored principle was revealed—to do what you can, with what you’ve got, in the time you have—and gave needed perspective to the process. Right again! When Andy moved the discussion to goals he was careful to encourage specificity, measurability, attainability, realism, and targeted output. Few goals without these guidelines end in the desired results.

Organizational strengths and weaknesses were next; the stuff of opportunity. Without problem identity there can be no solution. We cannot solve a problem that doesn’t exist. Root cause analysis followed in an effort to avoid a cursory view of the opportunities for the association. Symptomatic failure is the number one reason for not achieving one’s goals. When we see blue lips on a friend, it’s fair to conclude that he is oxygen deprived. The same holds true for organizations. Without a careful analysis of the symptom (problem) we often throw good money after bad. Too many organizations are starving for oxygen.

After the strategies were in place it was time to put together an outline of the action plans for each of the strategic initiatives put forth by the team, a critical element of which is team building. This was a loosely constructed group of volunteers, not people with clear ties to an accountability system. It was necessary for Andy to do two things at this point: emphasize ownership of the goals and their outcomes, and encourage a spirit of teamwork that positioned team members’ success above their own. This may be the most significant accomplishment of any group effort because the yoking of determinant minds is like going against the goads.

Responsibility for tasks within each of the strategic initiatives was assigned, and the group concluded with an enthusiasm for the desired outcomes that I thought might not be impossible to achieve under the circumstances. They agreed to keep short accounts of progress in each area of development, and established a review and reporting mechanism to do so. On the way home my wife continued the discussions of the two days, reviewing for me the process and excitement in the opportunity to realize the mission of the association—unity and prosperity for all members.

Andy had done his job well. He had prepared the group to do the thinking and the doing of strategic planning. What an interesting idea—think about the future by looking at how we got to the present, then project a better future. I think we can all take a lesson from this story of planning for achievement.


December 7, 2017 |

“Where am I hiding?” or “Why can’t I parallel park?”


ROI by Frank J. Rich







By Frank J. Rich



“Now, I’m not saying I have trouble doing it, I’m saying I can’t do it. For someone who prides himself in being able to weave big trucks through traffic like a ballet dancer, this is an embarrassing character flaw.

“I’m not kidding! Street mimes have been known to make a killing off the crowds that gather to watch me try. Metro Boston police officers get overtime pay to direct traffic around the site of my attempts. During the holidays, church choirs schedule their sidewalk performances near the point of my targeted empty space, knowing it will draw crowds. Give me a Volkswagen Beetle and two open parking spots and I’ll turn a simple act into an arduous process.

“Oh, but give me a truck and trailer, park two Porsches at the docks with only six-inch clearance on either side and I’ll back that puppy in on the first try, all while sipping coffee and singing “I’m a Little Teapot” at the top of my lungs.

“After years of fighting the obvious, I finally hit upon a great plan: I let my wife park!”

In the vignette above we can see the conflict in us over what we do with our talents and abilities. Every day, managers push workers into roles unfit for them that they simply cannot do. Every day, workers do the same to themselves. In each case, they are setting themselves up for failure.

In the competitive environment that we call “work,” we’ve somehow decided shoving ourselves into the fast track is the only way to achieve success. So, we consign our unused gifts and talents to the wastebasket of our lives in order to keep pace with others’ perceptions of success.

Or worse, we stand on the banks of the river of life and throw our bodies into the waters, allowing life to take us where it will, making the best of what comes along, slipping and sliding ’til a spot to climb out presents itself. Whether we’re new graduates facing the “What should I do with my life?” moment, or workers in limbo wondering what’s next, this leap of faith has nothing to do with God, but rather, ignoring the unique way that we are made.

“Someday—” we say, as we promise ourselves we’ll find time to be who we were made to be, when we’ve achieved security or success.

For far too many, “someday” never comes; it is hidden in our failure to see that the ladder of success is too often a treadmill.

We may even perform our roles competently, but the stress of working outside our unique abilities grates on us, making other parts of our lives difficult, especially for those around us—family, coworkers, and community.

When we’re unhappy or bored in our work, we often blame circumstances, managers, or others for not using us properly. Truth is, most of the time we’ve chosen to be used out of sync because it fits the objectives we’ve set for ourselves, objectives often set without consulting our inner selves. We want to be significant, we want more money, we want more power, we want security, we want more leisure, we want—, WE want—. It creates a turbulence that prevents clarity of purpose.

“I am an accountant because—” “I am a truck driver because—” “I am a CFO because—” “I am a legal secretary because—.” How we answer those questions often teach us how little we consider the way we are made and its unique value to us and to others.

Who’s using you?

This may be the pivotal question in assessing our goal of being used according to the unique way in which we are made. It’s a question we want to ask in preparing our children to meet the world on their own, and on their own terms. This last note is as important as the first, because so many of us are ill placed in the work that we do. For children in pursuit of music, art, or service, parents often try to reorient them for fear they may find it harder to make a living in a world that more easily rewards other areas. When we do, we place them in conflict with their inner selves—something that costs precious moments of contentment in the future.

It is no less at work. Some 85% of workers claim to dislike their work, many forming a deep dislike of it. What is it like to feel compelled to rise each day to labor at something inimical to our natural talents and gifts? Sadly, most of us can answer the question from experience.

If you are fortunate enough to work for an organization that sees people as their most valuable resource, and that “walks the talk,” the opportunity to find yourself again is something to take full advantage of. Good managers must attend to the same detail. That is, identifying and using the unique talents and skills sets of individuals for the more productive contribution they make.

When we meet with our staff to evaluate their performance, have we first evaluated our own? Have we asked of ourselves how well we have gotten to know the individual? Well enough to learn of his unique abilities? Have we worked at applying those unique abilities to tasks and functions that take fuller advantage of them? Have we helped chase them and ourselves from our hiding places?

December 1, 2017 |

Sorry, I Don’t Handle That


ROI by Frank J. Rich

By Frank J. Rich



Few of us need to recount the times we heard a service worker bellow that unforgivable phrase that either tickles the sardonic side of our funny bone or curies the ire that maddens. You’ve heard them, and if you’re anything like me, twice the first time. The rude, the crass, the indifferent. The cashier, who seems to have much to do besides checking out the goods of those waiting on line; the waiter who blithely chats in the corner of the restaurant as though attending to you was a tertiary function of his job; those who treat your questions as though guns and knives were the choice of weapon, should they be on hand. And, not least, those policy-bound lemmings that can devise no solution, nor even lend themselves to the idea, but who are the artifices of policy—the “I cant’s” following with lockstep precision.

Many have spoken of them, but the need to do so pales by comparison to the need to do something about them. Why? Because they can destroy your business. These unfortunate “representatives” of your organization are slaying sales and driving customers away. As with the jawbone of an ass, every day millions of dollars in sales and goodwill are slain by it. And, it seems to be growing worse by the increasing dependency on service workers in America. Hell itself has delivered them it seems; will none among the duty bound to the principles of best practices do anything about it? Alas, the excuses for inaction are as familiar as the nocuous cause for them. “I can’t find good people in a booming economy. Schools have done a poor job of preparing a solutions ethic in people. We are training but people don’t seem to get it. I haven’t the time to worry about what my people say to customers; I can’t even keep up with demand. If it weren’t for the customers, this would be a great business.”

Let’s take a look at the literature on the subject. As part of The Wall Street Journal’s 1999 centennial survey, pollster Peter Hart asked 1,034 consumers what irked them most about service people. The number one complaint, chosen by 40 percent of respondents, was sales and delivery people who say they’ll be at your home or office at a certain time but never show up. Other complaints on the list revolved around face-to-face encounters: “poorly informed salespeople” (37 percent); “sales clerks who are on the phone while waiting on you” (25 percent); “sales clerks who say, ‘It’s not my department.’” (25 percent); “salespeople who talk down to you” (1 percent); “sales clerks who can’t describe how a product works” (16 percent). My nemesis is the service worker who will say anything, and with authority, as though “it” were truth simply by the expression of it. They not only don’t know what they are talking about, but also don’t have any idea that the customer is on to them.

In his book At America’s Service, San Diego-based consultant Karl Albrecht (a favorite business behaviorist of mine) contends that service workers exhibit seven categories or types of behavior to return.

  • Apathy: an attitude that tells you the server could not care less about serving you. One distinguishing feature is what comedian George Carlin called the DILLIGAD look: the one that says, “Do I Look Like I Give A Damn?”
  • Brush-off: trying to get rid of the customer by brushing off his problem. Practitioners try to “slam dunk” the customer with some standard procedure that doesn’t solve the problem but lets the service person off the hook in doing anything special.
  • Coldness: hostility, curtness, unfriendliness, and thoughtlessness–any behavior that says to the customer, “You’re a nuisance; please go away.”
  • Condescension: a patronizing attitude toward the customer. Nurses, for instance, are notorious for this. They call the physician “Dr. Jones,” but they call you by your first name and talk to you as if you were four years old. They check your blood pressure but don’t believe you are intelligent or mature enough to be told the result: “Dr. Jones will tell you if he thinks you need to know.”
  • Robotism: the unfocused stare, the pasted-on smile that tells you nobody’s home upstairs. The fully mechanized worker puts every customer through the same pale routine, with no trace of warmth or individuality: “Thank-you-for-shopping-with-us-have-a-nice-day. Next”
  • Rulebook: the service worker trapped by (or hiding behind) a set of company policies that leave no room for discretion in the name of customer satisfaction or even common sense. Any customer problem with more than one moving part confounds the system.
  • Runaround: “Sorry, you’ll have to speak to so-and-so. We don’t handle that here.” The airlines have turned this into an art form. The ticket agent tells you the gate people will take care of it; the gate people tell you to see the ticket agent when you get to your destination; the agent at your destination tells you to talk to your travel agent. Ever had a computer problem? The hardware manufacturer tells you it’s a software problem, so you call Microsoft. You can guess where they tell you to go—back to the hardware manufacturer.

However you see them, service workers from hell are every bit as real and challenging as customers from hell. In fact, it’s likely that if you have the former you also have the latter. It just works that way. The good news—there are ways to break the cycle of madness for any organization that is willing. And, you have a lot more power to change the behavior of your own people than that of your customers.


November 22, 2017 |
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