What if your most important moment of integrity is right after you lose it?
Every business will face growth and attrition, and a certain amount of near-unavoidable attrition - natural attrition - is part of operation; decision makers come and go, politics happen, properties are bought and sold. What we can control, however, is attrition due to our own efforts - lackluster responsiveness, disappointing product quality, staff behavior.
Despite sincere efforts to "put our best foot forward", both the first time and every time, every team will face the test of Issue Resolution. Things instantly leap from everyday operation to urgent situation, and we find ourselves on trial in two simultaneous ways: the test of our competence at the craft, and the test of our character as a company.
Whether this is our first moment of crisis management in a young business or our biggest trauma to-date, lets take a deep breath and focus ourselves on a proven strategy for successfully passing both tests and emerging stronger:
- Personal Peace: Much like how various people handle change differently - fear, anger, neutrality, or leaning in - people handle crisis differently. Resolve to be the presence of calm and poise at the table; allow everyone else to have their own emotions, but this is our test; we set our own tone. We can do this.
- Define The Issue: Our character test is the more important of the two here; fixing the client issue but losing client trust means the relationship is over. Start with character. Admit the problem. Examine it thoroughly. Define it bluntly. Probe how we got here with open-ended questions. Let our team, and our client, see we are not messing around, influencing each toward an appropriate response.
- Reiterate Who You Are: By first allowing others' emotions and displaying our calm and character big enough to carry the moment, we hope to find just enough earned influence to shift the client's emotions back to the larger context of our sustained excellence - very humbly, and very carefully. Example: "I'll admit I'm emotionally torn right now. Two hours ago I was at a snow property six times as big where everyone is 5-out-of-5 stars happy, so I know we're the right partner to pull this off; but, we need to get this fixed and to make a plan moving forward so it doesn't happen again." Pay close attention to body language; either people are calming, remembering why they picked us, or... move on quickly.
- Make A Commitment: Imagine for a quick moment being the client contact. They likely have a boss to whom they are responsible for our performance, and that boss either knows about the issue or has a finite amount of time until they will. Thus - back to us - serving the client today is just as much about resolving the issue as it is about protecting their reputation, so we need to empower them to look like they are in the driver seat of momentum towards a good resolution. We can either commit timeline to completion if we know exactly what it will take and already have what we need; timeline to arrival if we are more confident of when we can get there than of how long this will take; or timeline to assessment if we need to first make sure we have a wise plan in order to avoid adding the problem of wasted money on top of the problem already at-hand. Regardless: only make a commitment we know we can keep.
- Get It Done: Keep whatever promise was made, then repeat steps #1 to #4 in each talk thereafter until the issue is fully resolved. Fail the test with bravado and adding an unfulfilled promise on top of doubts of our character and competence; pass the test making a sequence of smaller, well-selected promises we keep.
- Fix The Root Cause: Always try to not just fix what happened but why so it cannot reoccur later. Some fixes might even be okay to share with the client. Example: "That mowing team that just did an outstanding job fixing your weed and quality control issues? We've decided to reassign your property to them permanently moving forward." What a great way to solidify restored confidence!
David Rempfer is an Executive Consultant to the Landscape and Snow Removal Industries, including ASCA-C and SIMA-CSP accreditation. David currently serves management and ownership initiatives targeting business improvement and quality of life.