In Order to Grow, Service-Based Employees Must Let It Fail
In a service-base industry, we must let things fail to grow. This may seem counterintuitive but hear me out. Having lived in a service organization for over two decades and finally realizing my sheer presence was a Band-aid to a broken arm, I now see this conundrum over and over in organizations.
Dedicated employees stretched to not only their personal limits, but well beyond what should be expected on average. A do more with less company mentality that is straining their very rubber band of life to the point of breaking.
It is in the moment just before the rubber band snaps where dedicated employees go from a space of loyalty to the cause into a dangerous place (for the company) of no longer caring. Or worse. Affecting their own mental wellbeing.
Unfortunately, in more and more cases the only way for the dedicated employee to highlight the issue of this stretch in an organization is to let it fail.
LET IT FAIL, are some of the hardest words to hear and probably sound a bit blasphemous. Whether you are a perfectionist, a sales rep, a customer service person, or just a person with a generous and helpful spirit, THOSE WORDS FEEL IMPOSSIBLE.
The IT I speak of? Could be a process. A deliverable. Maybe even the product delivery to a customer or PARTNER. Because let’s face it, in service the customer IS a partner and often a friend if you are doing the servicing thing right.
Whatever the IT is for you as a service employee, in order to highlight how doing more with less in an already stretched workforce, the answer is… to let it fail.
Which therein lies the crux of the problem. You won’t let it fail.
In fact, you won’t let it fail for three reasons: reputation, fear of failure, and being the noise.
1 — REPUTATION
We’re all the same. Service-based businesspeople that is. Customer first. Do anything you can for the success of the project, the delivery, the customer deadline.
At any cost. Work additional hours. Take on more even though the org chart clearly shows it’s not your job to do so. Pick up the slack for other teams or people. Head down and go.
I’ve seen it. Firsthand. I’ve experienced it. Firsthand. I hear it from clients EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.
Yet, I also understand and empathize with the impulse to work non-stop to protect those you care about.
No, I’m not talking about your family. I’m talking about the customers who are now friends. Your partners who began as sponsorship deals and now text you on Thanksgiving to say they are thankful for YOU. Who show up for you when you have a family tragedy. Who are friends, not just business acquaintances.
NO WONDER you won’t let things fail for them.
And while I agree in theory on the reputation piece AND the friendship implications, something along the way gets lost. It’s the balance of success in failure. Moreover, the importance of failure to ensure burnout doesn’t happen.
2 — FAILURE
For almost 20 years, I viewed failure at face value. Something you avoid. Something that frankly makes you look weak. Additionally, failure meant my customer/partner/friend wasn’t going to get what I had promised and therefore I needed to keep my reputation intact.
Fear of failure created in me a workaholic. Every delivery to my partners became a passion on a micro level. Whether it was my job or not, I would step in and fix, push, do.
Whatever it takes.
However, failure has a huge benefit I know I, for one, overlooked. It highlights the broken arm on a larger scale.
When you finally stop putting on the Band-aid, someone other than yourself can see the staffing issue. The process issue. The “that guy over there doesn’t do jack shit yet we pay him a sizable salary” problem.
In fact, fixing the broken arm promotes retention of good employees. Solving the root of issues and creating a path for appropriate staffing and processes.
Even making the tough call on the good old boy sitting there soaking the life out of all the effective people on the team. (I’ll leave names out from my personal experiences.)
It may seem as though this issue only applies to small companies. Limited resources and wearing of a lot of hats by everyone in the organization. In my own experience and talking to individual contributors as well as leaders in companies big and small, I truly believe this is a problem across all sized organizations.
In fact, a leadership problem, not a size problem.
Why? Because when you have hardworking people as a part of your team, they are hardworking whether it’s a big or small company. It’s in their nature. They want to serve and be supportive.
When you are one of those people in an organization, failure isn’t an option. No matter the size. No matter the top line.
The issue then becomes resources. Whether consciously or not, leaders in the organization reset their expectation on what you can do. Working 40 hours a week produces X amount of output. Working 50 hours a week produces Y output. Working 60… you get the picture.
First, it begins innocently enough. Putting in a few extra hours to ensure a project is done. Your customers are happy. While this is noble, the exception slowly becomes the rule if not kept in check by both the individual AND LEADERSHIP.
The above and beyond become the expectation and before you know it, the resource issue exists.
You find yourself sitting in a deep pit of emails you can’t get to, projects piling up, and the problem compounds. Feeling like your only option is to work more. You continue to work and ensure things do not fail even though you are no longer properly resourced for the workload.
The catch 22 of this, because of the reputation you have built both internally and externally, failure is no longer an option in your mind.
Noble? Sure. Stupid? Probably.
Ouch. I just ripped off the proverbial Band-aid there didn’t I?
Unless the project fails. Unless someone other than yourself waves the white flag on the resource issue, you will continue to cycle through. Doing this all over again. Under resourced.
3 — NOISE
Recently, a client said to me, “Seriously, if I flag this resource issue am I going to sound like a whiny b****?”
While I laughed at his word choice and recommended he ONLY say it to the likes of me, his point was made. Hardworking people do not want to be perceived as the complainers. The noise.
You know the noisy type. Those who complain about having so much to do yet miraculously leave on time or early every day. Seemingly put in zero extra effort. In fact, they appear aloof about a project’s success.
They were not born of this service breed. We look at them as lazy.
“They just don’t have what it takes.”
It’s frustrating. It may or may not be true. But the perception is there.
Yet, it’s in the fear of being the noise that we hide what’s truly happening.
Thinking of this another way, we’re choosing to work ourselves to the bone to keep failure at bay in an effort to not draw attention to the root of a problem.
Band-aiding the broken arm of our organization in a noble effort to be not only a good partner, but also a good employee.
LET IT FAIL SUMMARY
If this resonated with you, now is the time to have a serious look at your resources.
Is the reputation you have built coupled with your fear of failure holding you back from really healing this broken arm once and for all?
When one stretch project turns to another, then another, and you find yourself in a rut of working constantly just to keep up, it’s time for a pause.
In fact, your own rubber band is nearing a snap.
The question is, will you let your IT fail?