It’s Bigger Than You
The other day I had the opportunity to have a discussion about conflict. The conflict itself was fairly vague and hard to define but the net effect was a professional relationship was now being challenged. Like many workplace conflicts, the likely starting point was not a clearly visible event or definable issue but rather a slow drip of daily moments of significance, critical interactions, and missed or squandered opportunities. After the math reaches the critical point, the “conflict” is born, as almost a surprise.
In discussing the situation, a couple of thoughts occurred to me about the nature of these things, how they start, and how they get resolved, if ever. The first thought was that the likely beginning of the breakdown is when people lose sight of the bigger picture of which they are a part. If you are running your own business, if profit is your bottom line, and if you are a service based organization, your customers are the one item you can never take for granted.
Netflix learned the hard way not to take their customer base for granted when they considered making some fairly significant changes to their business model, and suffered at the bank for it. Of the Top 15 worst companies in the U.S for customer satisfaction, four are airlines (United, Delta, US Airways, and American). Three are social media sites (LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter). Six are utilities providers. Only one is a bank. The common denominator is that these companies essentially dominate or have little competition in their particular industry, and they provide a regular and daily individual service to millions.
Bringing this back to the foundation for this blog site, representing the government brings with it a certain set of expectations. While it is natural, and in most cases a reasonable expectation of those in government service to want the type of environment, compensation, and benefits that all workers rate highly, there is a caveat here. I have used the phrase “taking the King’s shilling” on more than one occasion in my career. My general intent when doing so is to highlight the specific nature of the work we do and for whom we do it.
The foundation of our existence is not profit, but service. Efficiency, and economy are frameworks but service is what we are about. Always and forever. Whether the service is to the public at a walk-in window, or a phone call from the desperate looking for help or just answers, or the expectation that come rain, snow or sleet, we will be providing our services to those who need them, we serve. It’s that simple.
As we look at this particularly noble and lofty view of the big thing of which we are a part, consider again the grievances, the slights, and the arguments between us that complicate the challenge of meeting these goals. In the bigger picture, how important are these grievances? Does the next person to call you deserve a lower level of service because of your co-worker conflicts? In a field mission-driven to protect the unprotected, help the helpless, and guide the misguided, can we for one single second elevate our own petty annoyances above this charge? Consider the state of your relationships within your workplace and to what degree service is affected.
Personalizing conflicts to the detriment of the mission has a long and storied past, of disaster upon disaster. Teams that work best have two specific traits – openness and supportiveness. Clearly, hidden or otherwise, teams not open with each other and unsupportive, especially due to personal conflicts, are on a road to mission failure. Put the ego on hold, figure it out, and be a part of something bigger than yourself.