Thank goodness life isn’t a chilled sandwich!

When you buy a pre-prepared sandwich that has been packed in a plastic carton and displayed in a chilled cabinet, you know that, however long the list of ingredients on the label, it will be soggy, tasteless and expensive.

All the requisite ingredients are present: two slices of bread, the filling and some form of ‘spread’ to lubricate the bread. There will even be some extras, such as the inevitable nut content and preservatives to retain some element of freshness and taste.

Yet even though all these ingredients have been brought together in an effort to create a sandwich, the end result is not a sandwich: it is the result of a process.

What has this got to do with courtesy?

The point is that all the physical ingredients of the sandwich are present, but that no care has been given to putting them together in a way that creates a fresh, tasty snack. Even storing it in a glorified fridge eliminates any element of taste and transforms the bread into the likeness of cold, wet cardboard.

It is the lack of care that is discourteous to the customer, in the same way that a waiter or waitress could serve a customer correctly, but ruin the experience of dining by not acting in a courteous manner. When we go to a restaurant, we want to enjoy ourselves, we don’t want to be processed mechanically. We don’t go to a restaurant to experience supply chain efficiency, we want a delicious meal in good company.

This is the point of courtesy: it is an invaluable, yet intangible ingredient in life. It costs nothing, but adds immeasurable value.

This should be crucial in a service economy where experience counts for so much, yet surprisingly courtesy appears to have little value. Is this the cause of so many of our business and workplace problems?

The modern workplace should be a better environment than ever before: we have so many regulations to protect workers and ensure conditions meet accepted standards; we use more equipment than ever before so that few processes require manual labour. Employees should be the happiest they have ever been, but all the evidence points to immense problems in the workplace.

Workplace bullying, unmanageable stress, soaring absenteeism, low motivation, high levels of staff turnover: all point to the failure of process-based approaches which ignore how people feel.

The most luxurious offices and the highest wages count for nothing if employees feel under-valued, neglected or abused. In direct contrast, motivated employees with a high level of self-esteem can achieve wonders in a sub-standard physical working environment.

What is the remedy?

To balance robust, effective processes with a mature and caring management style so that everyone – employees, managers, customers and shareholders – gets the best out of a company.

Treat others as you want to be treated yourself, whether you are a business owner managing staff, a manager leading a team of employees, or an employee dealing with customers.

You never know, as well as improving business, it might even make you feel better – and take your mind off soggy sandwiches.

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