Don’t Just Empower Front Line Employees

A new research report in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, The Destructive Nature of Power Without Status, examines an interesting phenomena. The research shows that people who have a combination of high power and low status are more likely to mistreat people for whom they have power over. Here’s an excerpt from the research:

… individuals in high-power/low-status roles chose more demeaning activities for their partners (e.g., bark like a dog, say “I am filthy”) than did those in any other combination of power and status roles.

My take: If you apply the research findings to customer experience, it suggests that front-line employees that are empowered with a range of activities may be more likely to act negatively towards customers if they feel that their role at the company is relatively low in status. Here’s an example of what that looks like (in the comically absurd extreme):

To alleviate this situation, companies need to elevate the perceived status of front-line employees. This research provides even more motivation for executives to publicly discuss the importance of front-line employees and to regularly recognize the value of their efforts. Make sure that front-line employees feel that they are an important part of the organization.

The bottom line: Empowerment works best with high self-esteem

Written by 

I'm an experience (XM) management catalyst; helping organizations improve results by engaging the hearts and minds of their employees, customers, and partners. I enjoy researching and speaking about leading-edge XM topics. I lead the Qualtrics XM Institute, which is the world's best job. We're igniting a global community of XM Professionals who are inspired and empowered to radically improve the human experience. To achieve this goal, my team focuses on thought leadership, training, and community building. My work is driven by a set of fundamental beliefs: 1) Everything starts and ends with human beings, so you need to understand how people think, feel, and behave; 2) XM is a discipline that needs to be woven throughout an organization's entire operating fabric; and 3) Building the XM discipline requires a combination of culture, competency, and technology.

4 thoughts on “Don’t Just Empower Front Line Employees”

  1. I have to say, big props for putting Jay and Silent Bob in a business blog.

    I’m reminded of the Ritz-Carlton line, “ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.” I was at the Montage this week for a Consortium for Service Innovation meeting, and all the staff greeted and spoke with each other just as they did with us. By delivering four-star service to each other, they got to experience how good it felt.

    Anyhow, it’s great to see the research that supports our intuition in this area.

  2. Thanks David. It felt good including Jay and Silent Bob; they just aren’t included enough in today’s management literature 🙂

    For those of you who aren’t familiar with Jay and Silent Bob, they are the two guys who just hang out in front of the store.

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