There are a couple of slides that I use in presentations that seem to be getting more head nods than usual these days. My suspicion is that the increased internal and external stress that branch teams are feeling makes these particular subjects hit home.
The first slide is of a couple of sprocket gears coming together with a quote from Peter Drucker that reads, "Manners are the lubricating oil of organizations." I point out to managers that there are some things in the workplace that we can insist upon and some that we cannot. One thing we really cannot insist upon is that all members of our teams "like" each other.
Sure, it sounds nice. But it's unreasonable to expect that folks who frequently have different backgrounds, come from different generations, have different interests, have different long-term aspirations and so on are always going to "like" each other. Plus, the increasing demands placed on our ever-shrinking teams contribute to the friction that can occur between folks working shoulder to shoulder all day long.
That being said, it is possible and appropriate for a manager to speak openly about and to enforce "manners" in his branch. Showing manners, in this sense, means keeping a level of awareness of how our actions affect others. It also means showing a level of respect for the way we speak with and interact with fellow members of our teams.
One of the funnier and often cringe-inducing questions I like to ask branch groups is, "What are examples of bad manners between coworkers in a branch?" Depending on how many nerves that question strikes, the answers fly fast and furious.
I've heard things like being disrespectful in tone, being consistently late, leaving clutter and messes behind, talking incessantly about non-work and personal matters, "digging" into other people's business, being distracting when another employee is speaking with a customer, incessantly complaining about any number of things … and the list goes on.
When I then ask groups, "But you guys have never done any of that stuff, right?" the chuckles are pretty telling. The thing is, most — I said most, not all — folks aren't fully aware of how those kinds of behaviors affect their team.
I then point out to bankers that the effects of bad manners do not end with team members. Customers are the very next in line to feel the impact. There is almost always a direct correlation between how employees feel about their work environment and the way customers are treated.
The upside is that extensive "manners training" isn't necessarily called for. A manager regularly referencing common courtesies he expects between team members, along with periodic, personal interventions can usually do the trick.
The other slide that always elicits smiles has a picture of the comedy and tragedy masks with the caption, "Attention managers: Never underestimate the importance of thespian skills."
I then explain that my definition of thespian skills is "the ability to act in a manner that may not be directly correlated to the way you feel at the present moment." As many folks chuckle at that thought, I suggest that there are few times in which a manager has earned his paycheck more than when he is having a bad day (for professional or personal reasons) and his team doesn't know it.
Sparing the discussion of the open-loop nature of the brain's limbic system, suffice it to say that moods spread. And the moods of people perceived to be in leadership positions spread even more quickly and more thoroughly than those of peers.
In short order, the observable mood and demeanor of a manager or leader is typically adopted by his team. For bank branches, the critical importance of this lies in the fact that, again, the next group to be influenced by that mood is customers. A manager's mood becomes his staff's, which then directly affects their customers.
But I like to suggest to managers that the good news is that even if they are in a terrible mood, they can almost always "act" their way into a better one. If they can conspicuously pretend as if today is a great day, even for a brief amount of time, the members of their teams will almost always adopt that demeanor as well.
The funny thing is that the staff is genuinely in a good mood because they think that their manager is (even though he's only acting). And within a short amount of time, interacting with several genuinely upbeat people tends to lift your spirits as well. As the old saying goes, "You are more likely to act your way into feeling than feel your way into acting."
I'm not suggesting we dump our sales and service training for charm school and acting classes. But in increasingly stressful business environments, we should remind our managers that their teams' outlooks and work environments and, therefore, the environments their customers experience, are largely of their own making.