Leaders serve employeesAfter listening to an angry customer vent his dissatisfaction with the organization’s service, a supervisor replied, “If it’s any consolation to you, we treat our employees worse than we treat our customers.”

You’ve heard it said that no one can serve two masters. In too many organizations with their traditional top down hierarchy, that means front-line teams are too often focused on serving the boss as their master. High performing service/quality organizations turn their organization chart upside down to keep everyone focused on the only master who counts — the customer who’s paying the bills. As the CEO of one outstanding company put it, “The energy in this business comes from the bottom up. Not the top down. They (employees) run us (management), not we them.”

Imbedded in this upside down view of the organization is a deep understanding that service/quality is produced by the organization and delivered by the front line. Everyone beneath the front line servers needs to understand and, even more importantly, act to serve and support those further up the line. Top organizations recognize that the entire purpose of the organization — if not its only purpose — is to support the efforts of the front-line people to do their service jobs.

Until front line individual contributors and their teams feel served and supported, they can’t serve customers consistently well. A front-line server at a retailer with decades of top ratings for service quality commented that her boss was “a little weird” because “three or four times a day, he asks if there is anything he can do to help me. He acts like he works for me.” Exactly.

Tomorrow’s issue of The Leader Letter publishes my September blogs. Our lead article is serving the servers to delight customers. Part of this comes from leadership and culture development built around feedback. Building on strengths and avoiding nine habits that lead to terrible decisions also develop more effective cultures serving the servers so they can delight customers.

Who’s serving whom in your organization? If you’re leading a team or organization with a level of service/quality that you’re not happy with it’s time to look in the leadership mirror.