The words, ‘I need to speak to the manager’, often signal a complaint is on its way. In some way a person’s expectations were not met, or harm was done. Not only do we have to deal with this as managers, we probably have also made complaints of our own based on experience with poor service. I know I have, sometimes in retail, getting my car fixed, or in health care.

So, you can imagine my apprehension on my recent experience with my daughter giving birth. She had intended a normal birth in hospital under the oversight of midwives. The course of events changed, with complications leading to the need for care transferred to an obstetrician, and ultimately a c-section. Birth is a process that swaddles a mix of joy and anxiety. As the level of concern increases you want to feel confident you are in the right place where all hands are on deck to competently deal with your particular need.

You can imagine my delight and appreciation that everything played out as it should:

  • Care was transferred from the midwives to the obstetrician in a seamless way,
  • Additional resources such as the anaesthetist and R.N. were called and accessed immediately,
  • Everyone’s bedside manner was beautifully balanced between professionalism and the personal touch; everyone introduced themselves, kept the focus on the baby and mother, and were never condescending, fully involving the mother in all decisions,
  • At the point of going to the O.R., the whole team assembled, including the midwives, and welcomed the father into the mix, and
  • The follow-up nursing care on the floor exhibited the same mix of professional and personal touch.

At no time did I feel I needed to ‘speak to the manager’: everyone knew their roles, the process for transferring care was implemented in a timely manner, and the imperative to involve the family was clear. All this was directed toward the best possible outcome. Happily, a healthy mom welcomed a healthy baby to the world.

And, you can imagine my further delight to see the manager come by on her daily rounds to introduce herself and check in on how things were going.

There are many factors that contribute to people working well, together, in an organizational setting:

  • A clear vision is communicated on how things should ideally go,
  • Processes and protocols are designed to smooth the way for staff interaction to carry out their roles,
  • Staff are hired and trained for their core competencies, including their ability to work as a team,
  • Staff have the resources they need to carry out their work at the sought out level of quality, and
  • Staff and the manager are trained to anticipate and notice glitches that may gum up the works, and take preemptive action for midway correction if necessary.

The manager contributes to positively influence all these factors, yet has limited authority in many of the decisions. The decisions about the vision and budgets are made by senior executives, and most professionals are accountable to their respective colleges as well as the organization.  Yet, it is the manager to whom I would likely speak first if something had gone wrong.

The key tips for managers are:

  • Continually increase your communicate skills to influence the decisions that affect your area: vision, protocols, and the allocation of resources – your budget. Doing so will help you align the organization’s vision with the functional area you oversee. ‘Communicating to influence’ is a core competency of the manager.
  • Hire people for their core skills and for their ability to work alongside others. I sometimes hear in manager training sessions, ‘she’s not a team player but she is a great nurse’. Wrong – being a great nurse includes teamwork as an essential skill.
  • Stay on top of how things are going. Let your staff work to their best potential and be present if they seek assistance, or you observe concerns which require your intervention.

In summary, be available if you hear, ‘I need to speak to the manager’. Handle what you can under your authority, and communicate with others about complaints to support improvements in areas that are beyond your control. Nevertheless, check in regularly with staff and clients on how things are going. It helps to see what’s coming down the road so you can help turn apprehension into appreciation.