In a rapidly changing market, with accelerating workflows, responding to urgent operational issues is an increasingly common occurrence. Often, there is no time to wait while senior leadership decides how best to respond, so front-line, customer-contact employees are challenged to make “in the moment” decisions which can have a serious impact on the company’s reputation, brand awareness and finances. Situations like these provide teaching opportunities that support talent development. High impact, urgent and rapidly evolving scenarios will continue to multiply, so leaders are compelled to train and nurture their customer-contact personnel to manage these circumstances in accordance with their expectations. In 1999, Charles Krulak, a highly decorated, deeply experienced, retired General in the United States Marine Corps published an insightful article about leadership in such situations. His core leadership principle, which is often described as Krulak’s Law of Leadership, is “that the future of an organization is in the hands of the privates in the field, not the generals back home.” The premise is that leaders are “ultimately judged by the quality of the leadership reflected in their subordinates.” Ensuring that their employees make the right decisions is a leader’s primary responsibility. As familiarity with Krulak’s Law grew among business leaders, the context of its message evolved. Recently, business mentor, Seth Godin, stated it this way: “The experience customers have with your brand is in the hands of the people you pay the least. Act accordingly.” To develop your customer-contact people’s competency to successfully resolve urgent customer issues as part of the exceptional experience they seek to deliver, Krulak proposes the following approach:
- Offer them the freedom to fail and with it, the opportunity to succeed;
- Avoid micro-management;
- Pair supervision with proactive mentoring;
- Empower them to act within the boundaries you’ve established, but hold them accountable for their actions;
- Cultivate the leadership potential within each of them.
Your front-line, customer-contact people are among your company’s most valuable assets. Investing in them strengthens their sense of purpose and your competitive advantage.
What support do your front-line people need from you?