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

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I am a customer experience transformist, helping large organizations improve business results by changing how they deal with customers. As part of this focus, I examine strategy, culture, interaction design, customer service, branding and leadership practices. I am also a fanatical student of business, so this blog provides an outlet for sharing insights from my ongoing educational journey. Simply put, I am passionate about spotting emerging best practices and helping companies master them. And, as many people know, I love to speak about these topics in almost any forum. My “title” is Managing Partner of the Temkin Group, a customer experience research and consulting firm that helps organizations become more customer-centric. Our goal is simple: accelerate the path to delighting customers. I am also the co-founder and Emeritus Chair of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (, a non-profit organization dedicated to the success of CX professionals.

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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