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Nov 30

Building Upon the Foundation of Others

Posted by: Steve Marr

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During his first weeks as customer service manager, Mike was determined to improve efficiency. In an effort to shorten the length of incoming calls, he insisted that each customer service representative get to the point, identify the problem, and then move on to the next call. Over the next several days, more calls were handled, but more calls were also received, because often the problem was not fixed during the first call. Mike's well-intended drive to improve efficiency actually resulted in a decline in departmental effectiveness and customer service.


Whenever we are promoted to a supervisory position, or given the assignment of managing a different department, or we acquire a new business, it's natural to want to dig in and make an immediate impact-and that's good. The challenge is to ensure that our early impact is a positive one. 

The apostle Paul writes, "I have laid the foundation like an expert builder. Now others are building on it. But whoever is building on this foundation must be very careful" (1 Corinthians 3:10, NLT). Likewise,we need to be careful when we build upon the foundation of the work of others. Mike was so focused on improving efficiency that he failed to understand the importance of dealing with each customer service issue completely. His customer service reps had developed the experience to go beyond the customer's initial question-experience that allowed them to ask good follow-up questions and get to the root of a problem. The result was longer calls, but there were fewer repeat calls and customer satisfaction was high.

When you're selected for a promotion, ask your manager if he or she sees any pressing issues that need to be addressed promptly. Ask what he or she sees as the key strengths and weaknesses of the department,and solicit input about how best to develop those strengths and minimize the weaknesses.

When you start the new job, chat with your new colleagues. Ask them the same questions you asked your manager, and compare answers. Before you initiate a major change, take time to understand the workings of your department, and how they relate to other departments and customers.Your early steps will go a long way toward establishing your credibility.

A new shipping manager who focused entirely on getting product out of the warehouse and into the customer's hands, created chaos in the accounting department by leaving important billing information sitting in an "out" basket. If he had developed a complete understanding of the existing process before implementing changes, his improvement efforts might not have adversely affected others.

If you do make a misstep, be willing to retreat quickly. I ounce implemented a new system designed to move merchandise faster to our customers. Although the system accomplished my immediate goal, it circumvented our credit department, increasing the company's credit risk. Realizing my mistake, I admitted that I had goofed, and together we plugged the credit hole while keeping merchandise flowing. By confessing my mistake, I enlisted the rest of the team as partners in fixing the problem, instead of having them hang me out to dry.

Sometimes, quick and decisive action will be required. When Nancy was appointed as a bank branch manager, she discovered on her first day two significant problems: security was lax, and staff members were taking every third Friday off, covering for each other, and falsifying their work records. Nancy immediately called the staff together and announced that fudging on work time would cease and that all proper security procedures would be followed. Having quickly solved these two key problems, Nancy was able to initiate other changes more gradually.

If possible, score an early victory by finding an obvious problem and implementing a timely solution. One client I coached was promoted over a large geographical area. After chatting with his new staff, he determined that a major frustration was slow response from the head office. By focusing intensely over the first few weeks on improving the system, he earned the respect of his colleagues and made a significant improvement in the structure. 

Build your career by picking your battles carefully and building well upon the existing foundation.

Steve Marr, Your Christian Business Coach

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