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Transform Internal Relationships with a Customer-First Attitude

By Tim Hartter, Project Manager, Corporate Project Services, Wenger Manufacturing, Inc.

 

We don’t have to look far to find conflict in the world today. It’s all over the news, in our communities, in politics and can often be a source of trauma in any dynamic relationship. It can exist in the workplace, too.

If you look at the root of most conflicts, there are some unmistakable common denominators: Communication, empathy, and trust are among the elements that, when absent, create friction, erode relationships and prevent progress.

At Wenger, and within Corporate Project Services, we are privileged to be part of an organization that values Integrity, Ingenuity, and Initiative as foundations to support the company’s Vision and Mission. Through the years, one of the most important lessons I’ve learned is how strong internal relationships matter to our success and satisfaction. Keeping those relationships healthy and productive takes intentional effort on communication and empathy, both of which build a foundation of trust.

This doesn’t always come naturally, as human behavior in work environments is often likely to be competitive.

One missing ingredient that can prevent work relationships from thriving is a genuine servant and service mentality. What if we looked at our colleagues as customers? What if we extended the same courtesy and attention to our co-workers that we give to clients? We all have the same goals, after all, and we need each other to reach them. We’re in this thing together.

That sounds nice, but it is easier said than done.

Most of us have internal customers we work with on a regular basis, even if that isn’t what we call them. Perhaps you work in a support function for employees, or maybe your department works with other departments on client projects. We should look at others in our company as customers, but unfortunately, there are factors that get in our way.

Therefore, it’s helpful to understand we often have different motivations for the ways we serve external vs. internal clients. There’s a human tendency for competition among coworkers that just doesn’t exist with external customers. When it’s a traditional paying customer, we’re driven by the monetary value attached to the work, so we instinctively want to provide them with the best product and services we offer, to ensure they are satisfied with the deliverables, and we want them to be successful. We put our best foot forward.

Internally, where there’s no tangible impact on the bottom line, we’re more likely to view each other as competitors. We want to be right, we want our ideas to be implemented, and we want the recognition.

When working with internal customers, we tend to be more guarded than service oriented. There can be skepticism over motives and disagreements over priorities.

Corporate Project Services works with as many internal clients as we do external. Internally, we collaborate and provide services to the Wenger management, sales & marketing, engineering, process and the service team. We are a client-facing, fee-based division of Wenger, and most clients are brought to us through the Wenger sales and process teams. Much of our work relies on collaboration among groups, mostly within the Wenger organization. Therefore, it is critical for us to maintain trusting and productive relationships with our internal partners.

Little of the value we bring to the organization is conducted independently—we need each other to navigate the complexities of our industry to arrive at the right solution.

To deliver outstanding service and solutions to clients on the outside, things must be running smoothly on the inside. When it comes down to it, the way we collaborate within CPS and Wenger has huge implications for our external clients. We rely on each other to get the job done right in a timely manner, and clients are the beneficiaries of that combined, synthesized knowledge.

It’s Not a Race

It seems everyone is trying to get to the top as quickly as possible. What takes you there are the things management is looking for. At Wenger, that’s integrity, initiative and ingenuity.

This requires having a positive attitude, maintaining self-confidence, being loyal and approaching everything with honesty and integrity. We also must emphasize the importance of building each other up—that lifting others up and making their lives better is a rewarding experience and results in good things.

Competition can be healthy, but there’s a difference between competition and rivalry. Within the same corporate structure, competition motivates departments to work harder, smarter, better. It encourages individuals to improve themselves. It leads to innovation. It sparks positive change.

Internal rivalry, on the other hand, can crush your business. There’s a high cost associated with teams that pursue their own advancement instead of what’s best for the client or the organization as a whole. If different groups are in pursuit of the same goal and approach the relationship as a contest rather than a collaboration, chances are nobody ends up winning. Culture is destroyed, the brand weakens, and clients are left bewildered because their needs sit on the back burner while their service provider is distracted with turf battles.

When coworkers rival one another internally, it’s usually the result of pride and perhaps insecurity taking over. When we are closed-minded, that’s when walls go up. Treating your colleagues as clients is a great way to keep that in balance. We must be teachable and open to learn. If we do this, then the rest takes care of itself.

Applying Client Service Principles to Internal Relationships

Conflicts arise when we only see a situation through our own lens. When we open ourselves to see what others see, that’s when we can feel empathy. Articulate your point of view as clearly as possible, then actively listen to fully understand theirs—you might be surprised at what you learn.

The sum of parts from every unique vantage point creates a solution that’s better and stronger than it could have been if determined from a singular point of view. The client gets a better design, a better process, and better overall service; and our brand will be stronger. That can only happen when we come together and let all sides weigh in.

As a service organization within Wenger, CPS tries to set an example for how NOT to become a silo. We have a beautiful opportunity to serve our internal customers, and if we do it well, then the external clients are the beneficiary of that hard work.

When we can put our own agendas and aspirations to the side and are truly open to the contributions of others, we learn, we develop better solutions together, and we are fulfilled by the collaborative result. The client is the ultimate victor, but it’s a success for us as well—because we’ll achieve better outcomes and enjoy the journey a great deal more.

Corporate Project Services, a division of Wenger Manufacturing, is a dynamic group of planning specialists backed by Wenger’s more than 80 years of process system supply to the industry. Our knowledge base and breadth of experience in extrusion processing and facilities construction is unsurpassed – and our commitment to excellence is recognized around the world. We welcome you to contact us if you have questions or would like to talk to one of our experts about your manufacturing project.