Make Managers Responsible

I have always been a big fan of giving autonomy to managers within organizations.

When managers actually are and actually feel responsible for what they’re doing, it has the effect of motivating them to do well. Giving relative autonomy to employees also makes it quite easy to reward those who succeed for great performance and help those who don’t. If you give everyone equal opportunity to succeed, some will and some won’t. Chances are, the ones that do succeed are the best ones (either by luck or by actual talent).

In customer service, there are a lot of ways to give employees and managers autonomy. The general idea is to make people responsible for their own successes and for their own failures. That perspective will hopefully lead people to success instead of in the other direction.

The successful customer service departments that I see are usually given a fair amount of autonomy. Executive leadership lets the customer service manager run the show and make most of the decisions related to customer service. They do work much closer to the frontlines (see this post) and know what it takes to be successful.

This can also be done with various customer service teams: let them innovate and make changes. A lot of times, the changes they make and the things they do are good ideas that can be used elsewhere. The autonomy gives the room and the ability to make those sort of changes that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to do.

To encourage people to do well (once you give them the space to do well), provide bonuses based on specific milestones and metrics. I’ve seen the bonuses range from fairly small to extremely large. If everyone knows what is expected of each other and what will come as a result of either good or bad performance, it makes the entire process much easier.

I’m not sure who said it, but there was a business leader that said something along the lines of “hire smart and experienced people, step back, and let them do their thing.” I generally agree with this idea and I’d like to see it happen more often in customer service.

How do you give managers and employees autonomy within your customer service department?

5 Responses to “Make Managers Responsible”

  1. Steven Di Pietro said:

    Feb 28, 08 at 1:32 am

    In my experience, you can’t always step back. You need to balance soft / hard management.

    The service provided by an airline pilot (smooth, on-time and safe) is absolutely dictated by rules.

    The person in lost baggage has to be left to their own devices to solve customer issues.

    The air steward is a cross between soft and hard.

    But here’s where I agree. The staff need to know how you will manage them, and then as a manager you need to be consistent with what you said.

  2. Todd Miller said:

    Feb 28, 08 at 10:27 am

    The bigger issue for me is, how can you effectively monitor the service being provided if you’re a small company with only 1 rep working at a time and no “general manager” or other person around all the time to observe or listen in to their conversations? Self-reporting of problems they handled will get you some of the bad, but mostly the good.

    Autonomy is great when you have a large department and multiple layers of management, but for the smaller business on a tight budget, something like this seems impossible to implement. Any suggestions?

  3. Service Untitled said:

    Feb 28, 08 at 1:43 pm


    It isn’t so much an issue of rules or soft or hard management as it is an issue of being informed about what your employees are going through. If you make polices that affect the flight attendants, you should have an understanding of what the flight attendants go through on a daily basis. Does that make sense?


    My suggestion would be to ask the customers. Send them the net promter survey that I discussed earlier this week. Find out what went wrong if anyone is not likely to refer you. That puts the management and quality control in the hands of the customers instead of the employee(s). If the employee(s) is getting a lot of high scores, it is time for a bonus. If the person is getting a low number of scores, it may be time to look at what’s happening.

    Thanks for the great comments!

  4. Glenn Ross said:

    Mar 05, 08 at 6:20 pm

    I attempt to add to the conversation here:

    I’ll be reading…


  5. Service Untitled said:

    Mar 05, 08 at 8:23 pm


    I will check it out. Thanks for adding to the conversation!