Passing The Buck or Bucking The Trend - Leader's Choice

“I can get you those numbers.”


“I’m sure I could get that information.”

These are both examples of the most harmful phrases to be uttered by any leader.

I often talk to senior leaders who are concerned with the performance of their sales, marketing, or customer care departments. And I always ask a few simple questions to get things started, and about 1/3 of the time, I hear some variant of this:

"I don't know that off-hand, but I’m pretty sure we track that in our system. I can get those numbers."

Now, I'm not asking complicated questions here, and I’m clear that I don't need exact figures… but about 1/3 of the time, the leaders I'm talking to can't answer basic questions about sales closing rates, customer complaint rates, general business activity, or their competition in the marketplace.  

They feel comfortable because they can "get" these numbers as if it's the numbers themselves that are valuable (and not the actual management being done.)

When I hear that, it sometimes tells me immediately that the leader I'm talking to doesn't see any value in the area we're discussing – if they did, they'd have an answer ready.

That might sound harsh, but we’ve seen far too many examples recently where an abdication of responsibility has lead people to turn a blind eye, pay no attention, or allow company-wide problems to grow to epic, uncontrollable levels. 

An abdication of responsibility is the practice of relinquishing responsibility to someone else in the company, usually someone below them, in the hopes that some magic bullet exists, somewhere. 

Let someone else deal with it.

Now here’s the secret about abdicating responsibility. Sometimes those leaders do care, and they legitimately don’t know! In that case, it’s my job as an expert to help you figure out where you need a better finger on the pulse. A good advisor will help you do that.

But let’s dig a little deeper on the topic.

Let’s think about this concept as it relates to dealing with customer complaints, criticisms and feedback. After all. at some point, nearly every company has to deal with unhappy customers.

With customer service challenges, as a leader, you basically have two options. 

The first is to ensure that your customer-facing people (sales reps, retail associates, customer service, customer success teams, etc.) know the best and most appropriate ways to deal with these situations. You trust your people (you VPs, Executives, Managers, etc.) here to make sure that's true.

The second is to make sure you recognize anything that might suggest there’s a more significant, institutional-level or company-wide situation that needs addressing.

As a leader, if you only do part one of two, you’re abdicating responsibility.

A simple way is to look for patterns. Are all your service-related issues relatively the same? Are their trouble spots you can shine a light on? 

Look, I’m all for giving employees the Ritz-Carlton/Zappos/Nordstrom level of autonomy to fix a client problem given the situation warrants a fast solution. Let's give them the freedom to spend the $50 to solve a small client complaint, send a customer a pizza, or flowers, or bend a refund-policy if the situation warrants it.

But treating these issues as isolated customer service challenges to be solved with additional training, without seeking to understand if you’re dealing a more significant, systemic, cultural problem–could be a huge mistake.

Your Challenge For This Week. Consider the following question: 

In which areas might you or your top people be abdicating responsibility?

Here are a few examples of the types of questions I was referring to at the start of this Tuesday Tidbit™.

  • Do you know the last time each of your top clients was spoken to?
  • How often are your people in touch with your most valuable customers?
  • How many outstanding quotes do you currently have right now?
  • How much foot traffic did you have last month vs. how many bought?
  • What's the average time it takes to respond to customer requests?
  • How many customer complaints did you have last month or last quarter?
  • What’s the baseline level of activity you expect from your sales team?

You get the idea…