Guest Column | August 27, 2018

Does Your Company Suffer From "HQ Syndrome?"

By Irene Lefton, customer success evangelist

HQ Syndome

There is an old saying about “those who are well served — serve well.” Applying this motto might just be the antidote to what I call “HQ Syndrome.”  HQ Syndrome is what happens when staff at a company’s headquarters loses touch with the company’s field employees. This often results in poor employee engagement. Whereas strong employee engagement correlates with good customer experience and improved profitability and business results; companies suffering from HQ Syndrome often have poor employee and customer engagement which results in high turnover and low customer ratings. Companies need to more carefully consider how closely related these two concepts are. 

What causes HQ Syndrome? It happens when managers and leaders get caught up in day to day activities and fire drills and forget to pay attention to employee engagement, especially with field employees. It also happens when decisions are made in a vacuum without considering the implications or involving the people who may be impacted in the decision-making process. HQ Syndrome is often characterized by a lack of communication and transparency and it impacts the people who are closest to the customer, sometimes creating a negative outlook of the company and its strategy. This impacts customers and overall business success.

How can you avoid HQ Syndrome? Things change in business, goals are adjusted, and assumptions are made about new activities and methods. This is all normal. What is important is to communicate and, when possible, to include employees in the decision-making process.  This is especially important for staff that will be impacted by the decision. By taking this simple step, though it can be time consuming, you can positively impact employee engagement, especially with your field staff. If you avoid doing this, you might just experience the unintended consequences of HQ Syndrome, including a lack of field employee engagement and costly turnover. 

How do you create an environment where your staff feels “well served?” While speed is often important in making business decisions, take a minute and pause to get input from the field. Understand potential negative impacts of decisions and take action to avoid them. Make sure communication includes context and is clear. After all, your field staff is closer to your customers than anyone at HQ and they are in the best position to understand how decisions will impact them. They are often the vehicle used to communicate changes to your customers, and that needs to happen in a positive way. When you take a longer-term view, you will find that the added time it takes to involve field staff in decision making is worth it. It is significantly less than the time lost from the impact of turnover and the negative business results that come from a lack of employee engagement that is unintentionally shared with customers. 

Fixing HQ Syndrome is actually easy. Allow yourself the time to communicate and involve field staff at the appropriate times in the decision-making process. Recognize that customer experience and employee experience are intertwined. When you can, focus on making it easy for field staff to engage with HQ. Provide proper tools and tactics like messaging platforms, employee engagement platforms, and regular training to better engage field staff and ensure that they have all the information they need to be successful. Keep the lines of communication open and get your field staff involved in decision making. Listen as much as you talk.

Those who are well served — serve well. Keep this in mind and take a look at your decision-making process and communication. If you have a case of HQ Syndrome, take action and fix it.