At this time of year, groups are knocking on my door collecting bottles, selling cookies and asking for support. It has me reflecting on instances where I'm asked to intervene on issues of customer and co-worker interaction. What I'm seeing at the door helps to explain the lack of decent customer service and collaborative instincts present in new grads and younger staff.
There is something both parents and leaders can do about it.
I grew up being a boy scout in the early eighties. To raise money for my troop, we used to have annual bottle drives. We would walk the communities, in pairs, ringing doorbells, while a parent would follow in a vehicle, which we would load with donated bottles and cans. When asking for donations, even the youngest and shyest were taught to smile and be polite. We all wore the uniform of our troop and would diligently explain what the donations would fund. I remember being given a script when I was seven years old, which I memorized and used into my early teens:
“Hi, I’m Tim Sweet from the Dalhousie 141 scouts. I’m asking for bottles today to pay for our camps and activities this year. I also want you to know that the 141 is here to serve. If you need help ‘we’ll do our best!’ Can we do anything for you today?”
Whether the homeowner contributed or not, we kindly thanked the neighbour before leaving. Sometimes, even without a donation, my fellow scouts and I found ourselves raking leaves or moving a pile of junk to the curb when asked, true to our motto.
Now on the other side of the threshold, my observation is that able kids – from scouts, school bands, football teams, etc. who ring the doorbells look more disgruntled by the process than anything. Un-uniformed and unidentifiable, they stare at their feet and don't explain being there other than a curt “Got any bottles?” Is it a sense of entitlement? Laziness? Shyness? Fear?
Parents have picked up on this discomfort - and many seek to save their kids from it. Sometimes, no one visits door at all. Instead, we receive flyers that state some group will be accepting donations and if we wanted to contribute, we should have our bottles bagged, labeled and on the curb by nine-o-clock Saturday morning.
Come Saturday; the kids that do make it to the door are not required to interact or show a modicum of professionalism when asking for donations. Whizzed through the community, the child sits in the front of a warm vehicle on a device while parents do much of the work. This strategy might be more efficient, and keep toes warmer on a cold Canadian morning, but at what cost?
Collaboration and Service
As leaders and professionals, our ability to serve colleagues, staff or customers require empathy and communication. These are traits that develop through experience. Rescuing our children from having to initiate a conversation or make a request from an adult robs them of a character-building opportunity.
Is it any wonder that we're often disappointed by those manning tills and taking phone calls today? I don’t believe that the youth is to blame… they are traveling the road we as a society have laid out. Unfortunately, we are all poorer for making this path a smooth one.
Raising Performance and Professionalism
Making introductions and explaining your purpose isn’t about just politeness – this is about learning to connect with other human beings. It’s also about representing yourself and the brand of your organization. I was a scout from the 141 – that gave me a sense of pride and confidence that I've carried with me since. Many years later I was awarded a "Calgary White Hat Award" for outstanding customer service by my city's tourism board.
It’s not too late to start building these skills in ourselves and others. To improve performance and accountability, I coach my client-leaders to instill confidence in adult staff by following these principles. As a parent, I try to follow the same guidelines.
As parents, it might be uncomfortable and challenging to put our kids out front. Collecting bottles or selling cookies might lead to cold toes, but it will also lead to warmth with customers, suppliers, employers and coworkers.
Trust they can do it and will learn good things from the experience, and we’ll all be better for it.
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Be the leader you were meant to be.
For over 15 years I've helped leaders get more from their careers, and give more to their people. My research and techniques have been required reading in Canadian business schools. I write, speak, and coach full-time. I am the luckiest husband alive, and a father with a daughter and two sons. I live near the Rocky Mountains in Calgary, Canada.
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