Guidelines and Guardrails — the better way to lead

In the intense, interrupt-driven world of customer-facing operations, very few organizations can consistently deliver outstanding customer experiences and provide a truly fulfilling work environment. Those that do have one thing in common — teams that know how to approach unexpected problems even during inevitable moments of chaos.

How do we get more people to be like the few that know what to do? As leaders we end up on one end of the spectrum — creating nice-sounding but vague statements like ‘whatever it takes’ (yes, I was guilty of this) to the other — creating soul-crushing rigid rules that inevitably don’t cover all situations.  To address the many gaps in between, we either send people to training (50 – 80% of which is forgotten within 24 hours) or parachute senior people in to avert disaster (the hero complex).

A good guide

What people really need is a guide — someone who has been there before them. Someone who knows how it feels like to try and keep your footing as you inch your way forward in total darkness along a narrow mountain path, buffeted by unpredictable wind gusts.

Before giving you advice, she would know what you are capable of (are you a Sherpa who lives in the Himalayas or a city slicker with no experience). She would know what you were trying to accomplish in the short term (stay alive) as well as the long term (get to base camp or continue the trek to the peak of the mountain). She would synthesize all of this context and give you specific, actionable things to do in that situation.

A great guide

Would go even further. She would build up your confidence in three important ways.

First, she would show you how she approached solving different problems if she were in your shoes, all in ways that you were capable of successfully doing. After all, what a city slicker is capable of doing is very different than someone who has grown up in the Himalayas at altitudes exceeding 14,000 feet.

Second, rather than just help you during moments of crisis, she would have shown you the map and the weather forecast so you know what to expect. This allows you and your teams to set yourself up for success from the start, and adjust appropriately for each type of terrain and likely weather conditions.

Finally, she would show you the ‘guidelines’ within which you were welcome to improvise so that you could do what is right for the customer, your colleagues and the company. She would also show you the ‘guardrails’ to make sure you don’t fall off a cliff or do something that may make sense now but will be harmful in the future.

We call this powerful technique ‘guidelines and guardrails’, and we have encapsulated the collective wisdom of all our guides into our flagship software, Klever Insight. The really cool part is that the software is built so it learns from every use, making the experience and outcomes easier and better for the next person that follows.


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