Thursday, January 26, 2012

30 Almonds

Explora Hotel Salto Chico in Patagonia

When I first arrived at the lodge, “Rosario” reviewed some of my dietary preferences, to ensure my meals would be to my liking during my stay.  “Impressive attention to customer needs,” I thought as she asked me questions and I gave her specific requests for my lunches. 

When I returned on the first day from an all-day hike, Rosario met me at the door and asked me how my lunch was.  I told her it was perfect in every way, but I joked that I did not need so many almonds as I had been given. “How much is the right amount?” she asked. “30 almonds is perfect,” I answered. 

When I sat down the next day to eat my lunch out on the trail, I thought, “I wonder how many almonds will be this bag?” I counted them.  …27…28…29…30. 

30 almonds. 

When I returned on the second day to the lodge, Rosario again asked me about my lunch. “Was it to your liking?” She smiled knowingly when I told her I was astounded that there were 30 almonds in my lunch.  Not 29, not 31, but 30.  She smiled. “It was nothing.”

It is easy to sing the praises of Rosario (and I have already done that).  In reality though, she is part of a team.  Her part is important, but it is not the most important part.  She is the “face” of a team of people who truly understand that there is more to lunch preparation than counting almonds.   Lunch preparation and counting almonds is about delighting customers.

On every team, it is the people in the background that carry the heavy water when it comes to delighting customers.   If people are valued as “just cooks” or “only clerks” or “order pullers,” your team is doomed to mediocre service to customers.  But when these “background people” are valued as the “Chief Officers for Delighting Customers,” they will take on the mission with a passion and their work will be meaningful as well.

Don’t let the cooks, the clerks, or the folks in the warehouse think their work is not properly valued, because in reality, they are not counting almonds. They are fulfilling the lifelong dreams of clients.

Above is video of the view from the top of the French Valley in Parque Nacional Torres del Paine.

If you want to learn more about Explora Hotels, go here...

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

"The 'Proud' are out..."

The Gospel is not that the “Good are in and the Bad are out.”  The Gospel is that the “Humble are in and the Proud are out.”  - Tim Keller

Until we are ready to admit that “High-Performing-Egomaniacs” are a serious threat to a company’s culture and results, there is no hope of creating a redemptive workplace. 

Why is an employee with an overblown ego so destructive to the company culture?  Because although they may make their own wallets bigger; they create misery for everyone else along the way, they demotivate and lower the results of all those that must interact with them and they undermine your leadership credibility. When as a manager you fail to address an overblown ego, people know that you value the results of the bully more than you value the souls and the results of everyone else.

Results matter. Values matter too.  Don’t fall into the false dichotomy of thinking you must choose one above the other.  Choose both for yourself and expect others to follow you.

What to do with the “High-Performing Egomaniac?” Have one or two serious performance reviews with the individual.  Give them the coaching they need.  Let them know you value them as a person first and that you appreciate their results as well.  But you need to draw a hard line.  You will not let their results blind you to the souls they are killing every day in the organization.  Describe in stark, specific terms, the devastation their behavior creates.  Make sure they know you are serious, “that the Proud are out.” 

If after a few months the behavior persists, terminate the Proud.  The Humble will thank you.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Put the squeeze on constraints

Innovation happens when there are constraints.  When time, money or options run out people get creative. And the payoffs can be big.

Simplicity Sofas come with a money back guarantee, promising their line of “F.I.T.S” (Furniture In Tight Spaces) will work in any small space.  And for 4 years, they never paid a claim because they met the challenge of putting furniture through dauntingly tight spaces without a hitch.  But last year, they met their match when one of their specialized sofas would not fit down a tight basement stairwell.  So, true to their word, they refunded the purchase.

And then they went to work.  They produced a new sectional that today accounts for 25% of their business.  And the customer with the tight staircase who created the original “problem” got the new design, free of charge!

What constraints do you face in making your workplace a place of ensoulment?  No budget?  A manager that doesn’t give a flip about people?  A multi-year track record of pitiful morale? A hostile co-worker? The tighter the constraint, the more opportunity there is for innovation.  And, in turn, the greater the possibility for a really big payoff. 

One group of people I know had no budget for continuing education for years.  In response to that constraint they started a “lunch learning” program where they used various blog posts from provocative thinkers like Seth Godin and TED Talks to address the issues in their own business.  It was crazy effective and completely free. 

What is stopping you?  Embrace your constraints.  Ensoul your workplace.

Here is a photo of the challenging stairs the Simplicity Sofas folks faced.  You can find the story of the “narrow stair innovation” here….

Monday, January 16, 2012

People have the power!

I was dreaming in my dreaming 
of an aspect bright and fair 
and my sleeping it was broken 
but my dream it lingered near 
in the form of shining valleys 
where the pure air recognized 
and my senses newly opened 
I awakened to the cry 
that the people / have the power 
to redeem / the work of fools 
upon the meek / the graces shower 
it's decreed / the people rule
-           - Patti Smith and Fred Smith, “People Have The Power”

A very frustrated group of managers was reviewing the annual employee survey on the company’s organizational climate. The message was clear; this was not one of the best places to work. The numbers were so bad, indicating that a soul-killing or two might even have occurred.

It was not for lack of concern. These managers genuinely care about people and the climate of their company. They cared deeply, and that is precisely why these numbers cut to the quick. One year before, they sat in the same room and looked at a better set of numbers on the same survey, swearing then that they’d make improvements.  So now, after making their best efforts for a year, they were at wit’s end.

That is when they admitted they had failed and gave the job of rat killing to others.  They gave people the power.

They formed a team and got out of the way.  Not the kind of team you use so that you can check off the ‘we did something’ box and then ignore the problem forever after. It was the type of team that can really make a difference; full of motivated people representing the various groups of employees quite well. They could choose their own methodology, had authority to make changes, the resources to do the work and the support of the company’s President to back them up if there was resistance.

A year later, all the employees celebrated when the same survey showed they were the best business unit in the corporation.

Why did giving up and giving another group of people responsibility for killing rats work?  Because tending the culture of a company is not the job of the managers only, it is the responsibility of everyone who receives a paycheck from the organization.

“People have the power to redeem the work of fools.”

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Death to the rats!

This story appeared in the August 22, 1951 edition of the Spokane Spokesman-Review:

“The body of one of the guests of last night’s city council meeting was on the table in front of the councilmen.  He was a large sewer rat brought to the council chambers by Charles Vogelsong, in whose toilet bowl he was found and killed. Placing the dead rat on the table, Vogelsong stated, ‘This is the fourth to be found in my building.  After we saw him, we tried lye, and that killed him.  I think something should be done about the situation, and done now.’  It was estimated that it would take only $100 to rid the sewer lines of rats.  That is a small figure.”

Organizations are full of significant problems that can be easily eradicated.  All you have to do is empower your employees to sling the dead rats onto your desk publicly.  After you thank people for their straightforwardness in addressing a problem, give them the resources to kill the remaining rats and dispose of the carcasses quickly.

Don’t ignore the dead rats in your organization. Everyone knows they are there; the customer that pays their bill late every month, the person that brings results but mistreats everyone along the way, policies that are followed blindly so as to CYA but that add costs, the team member that is habitually late, etc. 

Spend zero time blaming people for the dead rats that are floating around.  More importantly, put your time and energy into publicly and blamelessly eradicating them.  Do that and you’ll see people get excited about their workplace.  Everyone likes to eradicate rats, after all.

Monday, January 9, 2012

First impression, lasting distrust

Imagine this situation:  In her first meeting with a new boss, a talented manager reviews her open projects, key deadlines, budgets and staff performances.  During the discussion on key deadlines, the manager points out to her new boss that she has scheduled  two consecutive weeks of regular vacation in the next quarter.   The trip is an annual family visit that the manager has made every year since entering the work force.  The new boss, when hearing about the vacation, at first says nothing. After a pause and while jotting something in her notebook, she says, “How do you get two weeks off in a row?”

Is the new boss:
  1. New here and genuinely wants to be shown where the “Paid Time Off Requests” are on the HR site so she will know how to apply for her own two weeks off in a row?
  2. Building a base of trust and rapport with her new direct report using non-verbal cues?
  3. Thinking silently about the deadlines and a possible conflict with the upcoming vacation?
  4. Hedging a bit now so that later she can deny the vacation?
  5. Trying to get the upper hand in the new relationship?
Trust in a relationship gains its trajectory in the opening moments of a relationship. If you want people to trust you, you need to show right away that you value the things that are important to them.  Threatening those things or just being silent about them will definitely make for a very low relationship trajectory.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Do you feel the weight of how much I value you?

“They might pay me what I am worth.” – Mark Heard

For years I worked in a job I loved leading a dedicated group of people that, for the most part, felt they were doing worthwhile work. They enjoyed vital relationships with each other and they felt personally valued.

While arriving at a definition of “valued” might be an elusive goal, describing the feelings associated with being undervalued is something we might all find easier to agree upon.  Many employees experience these feelings because they believe they are paid unfairly or pitifully. Others feel continually overlooked when possible promotions come around. Some wonder if anyone would miss them if they left the company tomorrow. Many feel that the work they do makes very little difference in a company that itself makes very little difference.  Undervaluing people is part of what can make work soul-killing.

Most ideas in the workplace that pertain to improving employees’ sense of value fail because they address the matter primarily as an economic one.  Designing the perfect compensation plan is not enough.  People sense their value from more things than just their compensation packages.

What is the value of a person?  THAT is the question we have to answer first. Because a mutually agreed upon set of answers to that question by any work group will go far beyond designing “Employee Value Proposals for Better Alignment to Corporate Strategy.” If they have the discipline to order their own relationships within the work group consistent to how they answer that question, they will actually begin to see work mend the souls of people. At the same time they will unleash tremendous energy and commitment to their economic agenda. However if they start with the economics they will likely get economic gain, but a work experience that is soul-killing.  By starting with the human issue, they will end with both ensoulment and economic gain.

My own value system tells me that there is nothing more valuable in the world than the people in my life.  The question I have to ask myself at work is simply, “Do the people I work with feel and benefit from the weight my belief?”