A closer look at responsiveness and its impact on reputation

Karen Natzel, BridgeTower Media Newswires

I see so many professionals battling their ever-growing to-do list under the weight of increased expectations for productivity. One exasperated client asked, “How can I create more time?!” If you’re seeking to get more done, you might consider the degree to which you are responsive, and how well it’s serving you and your organization.

The concept of being responsive suggests reacting quickly and positively. It can also mean “responding readily and with interest or enthusiasm” (according to dictionary.com). And while reactive, it’s still intentional and conveys a level of commitment to the situation at hand. It is an accountable, solution- and action-oriented approach to issues. It means not being a bottleneck by delaying or avoiding decisions. Instead, you actively contribute to moving something forward.

While I’ve seen many companies define themselves as responsive on their websites, in their core values, and in their proposals, rarely do I hear discussions as to how to cultivate a culture that embodies the attribute.
There’s a tendency to think of being responsive as it relates to our external customers. They are after all the people who pay the bills. Yet, what if we extended that same level of courtesy and professionalism to all of our colleagues?

There are significant benefits to integrating responsiveness into your culture’s DNA. First, it promotes alignment with the company’s purpose, priorities and values. It fosters a mindset to do what it takes to get the right things done. When internalized, it can create better cross-departmental collaboration, care and respect. I find it immensely satisfying when I’m working on a team and our contributions to each other and the shared goal brings synergistic progress. Ultimately, your ability to be responsive builds an internal and external reputation of reliability. The more authentic and congruent your brand, the more you build trust.

Companies with low levels of internal responsiveness tend to be less efficient. Their launched initiatives lose momentum. People slip into why things can’t be done instead of healthy and creative problem solving. They may have unclear roles and responsibilities and appear disorganized. Their people feel disrespected and build isolating silos that evolve into “us vs. them” mentalities. Their cultures lack empowerment and their leaders lack credibility.


Our character is defined by habitual core values

A client’s Customer Service Taskforce developed a compelling “Top 12 Tenets of Great Customer Service” for their technicians who regularly worked side by side with their customers. They developed protocols to promote clearer communications and build stronger rapport. Meanwhile, their internal relationships were suffering with miscommunications and diminished respect. As we reviewed the tenets as a group, I asked, “Couldn’t these tenets also be applied to each other; your internal customers?” I explained their technicians would be more successful in delivering excellent customer service if they personified the tenets holistically, rather than flipping the “on” switch when working with a customer who walks through the doorway.


Is there such a thing as too much of a good thing?

As you define what responsiveness means to you, be aware that there is such a thing as being irresponsibly responsive. When done incorrectly, responsiveness resembles more firefighting than troubleshooting. It’s chaotically reactionary and can be exhausting to everyone affected. People who tend to be overly responsive usually have good intent and don’t want to see things fall through the cracks. They want to serve their team and the client. However, after the overcommitting, people-pleasing moment, they often find themselves stressed out and breaking their agreements. This negatively impacts one’s credibility.

I’ve witnessed many people, in the spirit of good external customer care, be so responsive that they end up working out of scope, giving their time and profit away. Engaging in over-responsiveness can be a sign of unclear roles and responsibilities. Absent anyone being clearly responsible, no one is, and then the firefighting and finger-pointing commence. Bypassing established processes and protocols sends mixed messages about what is expected for how people deliver. Hyper-responsiveness can be a Band Aid covering up operational dysfunctionalities, including coddling people by doing their work and a lack of protocols, clarity of priorities, and accountability to work plans.


Take the K Challenge:

Do you embody responsiveness as part of your professional brand? How would your customers – internally and externally – rate your responsiveness? If you find yourself being unresponsive, or slipping into an unhealthy kind of responsiveness, there are ways to tackle issues in a more productive and sustainable way.

Define what responsiveness means to you, why it matters, and what it impacts. (Return emails and phone calls within 24 hours? Get meeting notes and action items distributed in 48 hours?). Engage your employees in a conversation about what “responsiveness” means for your organization.

Role model it. Regardless of your title and the situation, choose to be responsive. Reply in a timely manner, get answers to people’s questions so they can move forward. Don’t be a bottleneck. Make decisions – and inform others – so you are driving results. Make it your modus operandi.

Know the scope and your role. If you tend to be overzealously responsive, be careful what you say yes to. Don’t overstep your role by doing someone else’s job. Delegate the task to someone who can learn and grow with the responsibility. Ask questions that can raise awareness and remove barriers to empower others.

Acknowledge when others are responsive, especially as it relates to your organization’s goals and priorities. Did an employee jump on a task that moved an initiative forward? Did a team member follow through on meeting’s action item? Connect your specific feedback to responsiveness so they understand what you value and appreciate.

Examine current process/protocols and roles/responsibilities. Notice where the over-responsiveness tends to occur. Firefighting can be replaced with more predictability when there is clarity and adherence to established processes and accountabilities.


Karen Natzel is a business therapist who helps leaders create healthy, vibrant and high-performing organizations. Contact her at 503-806-4361 or karen@natzel.net.