The Doormat Effect in Business
Setting Precedence that Leads to Complacency
Great entrepreneurs will tell you that the retention of quality employees is one of the most important aspects to building success. Fostering employees who exemplify your company’s values and standards may seem like a simple truth and common-sense goal, but as with much in the business world, the truth is rarely pure and never simple: employee development requires leadership, a solid foundation, and standardized accountability.
The Leader versus The Boss
As you’ve probably seen on various social media outlets and even heard from affluent business owners, there is a recognizable difference between a “boss” and a “leader.” Successful teams require strong leaders, or at the very least, competent ones. Whether you are the owner, manager, or route leader, if you find yourself enjoying dishing out orders more than leading from the helm, then your employees have noticed it too and your team’s productivity will suffer for it. The key to displaying strong leadership is the willingness and ability to connect with your team, understand their needs and wants, and ensure that you are a community working toward a common goal. Strong leaders understand that the way they present themselves to their employees dictates the image their employees have of them, not unlike the way that a technician’s appearance and bearing affects a customer’s view of the company. Leaders must hold themselves to a high standard and set an example that their employees can follow. Regaling employees with drunken stories or tales of wild parties may be all in good fun but it undermines the manager’s position as a leader. Professional separation is important to maintaining respect between employees and management; while this is not hard to achieve when bringing someone in from outside of the company to fill a management spot, promoting a technician to the role of management can create conflict with the employees as they view that person as a peer instead of as a manager. It is equally difficult for the newly promoted manager to exercise authority when employees are viewed as peers and friends. This is why choosing a technician to promote should not be a flippant decision. The technician who is the most skilled does not always make the best leader. Strong leaders are confident in their position, willing to lead by example, and hold everyone accountable to company standards.
Building a Foundation
Being a strong leader requires a strong foundation. The downfall of many small businesses can be directly linked to a lack of foundation. The measure of a foundation is found through the strength of its company policies, procedures, and systems. If your company does not have a procedures manual, a handbook, a mission statement, and company goals and values, your foundation is built on sand and is waiting for the tide of hardship to wash it away. Building a strong business system, supported by processes, documented by procedures, and enforced and upheld by strong leadership will ensure that your business foundation runs deep. A leader needs a system of support to fall back on; without common policies and procedures, the motivation to listen to a leader becomes a “because I told you to” game, which converts the position from a “leader” to a “boss.” Using an “I told you to” model usurps the employees trust in their leader; a boss who tells people to do things without any bounds causes employees to assume that personal agendas or prejudices may be influencing their assignments. Alternatively, having documented procedures of which all employees have read and agreed to puts the leader and the employees on the same team and reinforces the concept of community within the company. It makes everyone accountable to the same principles. This is a far more productive method of building manager/employee relationships than the “I told you to” method of leadership.
The Doormat Effect
Other than a lack of foundation, negative precedence causes a breakdown in manager/employee relations and can create the Doormat Effect. This concept refers to the idea that forgiveness can be taken advantage of to the point of treating the victim as a doormat – something that people walk all over. This not only produces bitterness and tension between the employees and management, it reduces productivity, decreases quality of work, and degrades work culture. Simply being a leader and having a strong foundation isn’t enough – the systems and processes must be followed. The only way to have a fair work environment is if everyone is treated equally and the company policies are enforced uniformly. Leaders must hold their team and themselves accountable to the rules of the company, lest the doormat effect take hold and usurp their authority. Without a doubt, there will be instances when policies or procedures are broken by an employee. Maintaining company policy does not mean being a Nazi, and understanding when an accident has taken place versus clear insubordination is important and at the discretion of the manager. Setting the precedence that policies can be broken without fear of disciplinary action will undermine a manager’s authority and ultimately they will become a “doormat” to be walked on by the employees. Sometimes employees walk all over their manager without malicious intent, but because the precedence is there, complacency is allowed to set in. Once a negative precedence is set, it is very difficult to re-implement your company’s policies as there will be push-back from the employees who will adopt a “well you’ve never cared in the past” attitude. When this happens, leaders must cite company procedures to reinforce that everyone must be held to common standards. This again defeats the idea that this is a personal retaliation by the manager and instead focuses on rebuilding the team through common adherence to the company’s goals.
Building a business is a difficult task. Employee management can make or break a company, but by being a strong leader, developing solid foundations through policies and procedures, and holding everyone accountable to your company standards, you can create a quality team of technicians who respect you and themselves. This positive attitude will increase their productivity, quality of work, and dedication to your company.
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