Wednesday, May 30, 2012

What Mickey Drexler Could Have Taught General Lee

On the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg, after Confederate attacks on the two previous days had failed, General Lee ordered a strike at the center of the Union troops’ lines.  In order to make that strike, troops under the command of Major General George Pickett and two other commanders had to cross an open field at a quick walking pace for nearly one mile, all of it unprotected from enemy fire.  That march is now infamously known as “Pickett’s Charge.” The soldiers and their commanders knew from their first steps that they were likely going to their graves.

Pickett’s Charge is a good metaphor for what I recently heard from a friend about her workplace.  Her company had rushed a promising new product to market, but in the opening deliveries it became clear there were problems with the product’s performance.  The company dutifully promised to credit customers for any losses incurred, began addressing the manufacturing issues and continued to put pressure on the sales team to reach the quarterly sales objective.  The company succeeded in the first and third goals, but failed in the second.  So now they have a mess.

With thousands of defective widgets sold and delivered, the company will get to write lots and lots of credit memos, but some of the company’s managers will still collect their quarterly compensation because they made their revenue figures. 

What won’t show up on the income statement are the pieces of sales people’s back ends that have been chewed-off by unhappy customers. Or the sense of betrayal some sales reps feel, knowing none of the company’s senior managers actually visited customers during the crisis to see the situation for themselves.  Sales people will be well aware long into the future that they work for managers who will send them into certain doom when there is money to be made by their leaders.

A story like that one is completely unnecessary, because mistakes are going to be made.  Mistakes don’t have to lead to soul-killing work experiences.  They should lead to future success.

J Crew window at a store near my home.
The brand features great quality, modern versions of classic fashion in terrific colors.  

Drexler’s doing two things well: He’s willing to take a bullet himself for the bad decisions he or his company makes; and he makes mid-game corrections based on complaints he receives, turning them into success.

What’s the lesson here?  It’s okay to make mistakes, but when a big one occurs, be willing to take the heat yourself, learn on the fly and make corrections quickly.  

What's keeping you from running to the battle lines (and a potential success) right now?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Gratitude Always Looks Good On You

What did you wear to work today? A uniform? Business casual? A suit and tie? Jeans and a t-shirt? A blouse and skirt? 

Whatever you wear, wear gratitude. Gratitude always looks good on you! 

Gratefulness is one of the most subtle yet infectious-for-good attitudes we can possess. It can change our own outlook of challenges we face, giving us courage to embrace them. It can infect our co-workers as well, becoming appreciation and respect for others. Gratitude transforms our perceptions of most everything, providing peace and new ways of seeing old tired situations and problems. 

Start showing and saying "Thanks" to the people around you right now. Folks are going to find you more attractive. 

When you meet today to talk about some seemingly intractable issue today with your team, start by saying, "I'm glad I'm not alone in this. I'm glad we face it together!". You will instantly be a more effective manager. 

Wear gratitude. Gratitude always looks good on you.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Work Like Today Is The Worst Day of Your Life

If you lived along the coastline of Louisiana the day Katrina roared ashore back in August of 2005, you could easily have called it the worst day of your life. But it can also be said that the events that followed proved we are often at our best when the climate is at its worst.

Orchid Ceramics had a small facility in New Orleans when Katrina hit and all of the employees there suffered personal trauma and huge personal losses. All of them faced unimaginable emotional shock in the first days after the storm and then ongoing stress set in later as the days went by, when they realized that the landscape of their lives had been changed forever. All of them suffered loss of property and faced months of restoring, repairing or rebuilding their homes. Some had lost everything.

In the aftermath, Maurizio Francescon, the manager of the New Orleans facility, chose to do something surprising and ensouling. He chose to reopen his retail store just days after Katrina hit, even though there was no power, no air conditioning, no lights and no customers. He set a required “return to work” date that was well out in the future. But employees could also opt to return to work on an earlier date, if they chose to do so.

How many employees do you think returned to work before the mandatory “return to work” date?

All of them.

In the days after Katrina, the team members found work ensouling. Work was a place to go and engage head and heart, a place to forget some of their personal drama, a place to draw support from others who were facing common challenges, and a place to rebuild a business together.

Manager of New Orleans, Maurizio Francescon (L) rebuilds a business and the lives of his employees.
Other employees around the globe immediately joined in with offers to help in any way possible. In the end, it was decided the best thing they could do was to pass the hat and offer to cover the property losses of their fellow employees. And they did just that. Their fellow employees raised enough money to “make whole” all of the property losses of the individuals in New Orleans, some of whom had lost literally everything.

The worst day in the lives of the team in New Orleans brought out the very best of each person in that company: both in those that were directly impacted by the storm and those that had the opportunity to come alongside to help.

Work can bring out so many good things in us. Don’t wait until a Katrina-size storm hits your business to learn that lesson. Use the challenges you face today to unite your employees and ensoul your workplace!

Work like today is the worst day of your life and you will be ensouled.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A Singular, Yet Personal View of Reality

"Come together, right now!" - John Lennon

Alignment is more than just corporate speak. It is at the core of credibility and, therefore, a big part of workplace ensoulment.

Some years ago, the company I worked for at that time took our key customers to visit our manufacturing and logistics facilities in South America. During the visit our customers got the opportunity to do more than hear “dog-and-pony scripted presentations.” They got to meet people in our organization at all levels of the company and shoot from the hip in real conversations: equipment operators, customer service staff, logistics managers, our CEO, members of our Board of Directors and some of our key shareholders. We didn’t script any of the meetings, we simply told our employees to use the opportunity with customers to learn something for themselves and to candidly answer whatever questions our customers might have.

Cartegena de Indias, Colombia

On the last night of the trip during an informal gathering, our customers surrounded one of our board members and peppered him with questions. Anything went and the questions were direct and often tough; the kind that are meant to show cracks and rattle the best salespeople. He handled it with great aplomb.  And then when he had finished listening carefully to their questions and answering them in as much detail as they needed, he began to ask his own of questions; all of them incisive and all of them strangely similar to what they had heard from other team members that week.

At the end of the give and take one of our customers remarked to our director, “Wow, here’s the thing: YOU are saying exactly what our sales manager from your company tells us, which is the same thing we heard in your factory, which is the same thing we hear from the logistics and customer service teams, which is the same thing we heard from your CEO. You are ALL sending the same message.” All the other customers standing with him nodded in satisfied agreement.

When everyone in your organization shares just one view of reality, it does two wonderful things:  
· It creates astounding credibility with your customers. Customers can smell a “pat answer” or “corporate speak” from a mile away. They regard true alignment as credibility because it is authentic, personal (every person can tell it as part of their own story), and it’s not orchestrated. Something like this can’t be purchased for any amount of money. 
·  It builds confidence within your team. I watched another group of people that night as the final conversation went down.  I watched my sales and service managers stand a little taller and saw smiles break out across their faces as our board member engaged their customers.  These are the folks that are at the front of the battle lines every day and they take the biggest bruising in the execution of strategy. When they realize the alignment of the forces behind them, they’ll tackle their jobs with renewed vigor!

Do you want to start working to create a singular, personal reality in your organization? Try some small things first. Pay close attention to what is being said about your business in every single conversation. Be ready to ask penetrating questions and challenge inaccuracies. Quiz your top management every time you get the chance, to tell you in their own words what is going well and what needs repair. Embed some part of the company's goals into every individual's development plan. Be ruthlessly honest yourself about your organization's challenges.

Before long, everyone will possess a singular, but personal, view of reality.  Now THAT’s ensouling!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Mistaking Busy-ness For Purpose

I remarked recently to my friend Tom Lane about how many of my newly retired friends struggle to find direction in their lives. Tom is a guy that is something of an expert in helping people find direction, he is a partner and is one of the primary consultants at The Center For Intentional Leadership.  I told Tom my observation; how for 30 or 40 years people run the “hamster wheel” in the workplace or at home; making decisions, porting kids from one activity to another, rushing from meeting to meeting, fielding complaints from customers, making sure that orders got out the door on time; and then suddenly, it was over. One day they pass magically into the ranks of the “retired” and emails stop arriving, the phone stops ringing, kids leave the nest and now nobody looks to them for any decisions, big or small.

I heard a story years ago about a recent retiree that began micro-managing his wife’s every decision, treating her as he had treated his direct reports in the workplace. After about a month of this behavior, it became insufferable for her and as he was giving her a tip on how to do some job she had done daily for their entire marriage she broke and exclaimed, “You know we did just fine without you here for 40 years! Don’t you have something better to do?”

Recently I became aware of the fact that many retirees unwittingly fall into alcohol addiction. A 2004 article in the New York Times quoted one recent retiree as saying, “There was nothing to do except read and drink and gradually the drinking took precedence over the reading. I got completely out of control.”

I was relating all of this to Tom and told him I thought this pointed-up how important it was to live with purpose in life. “All these people had purpose when they were working, but when they left the workplace or when the kids left the home, they lost their purpose.”

With insight, Tom corrected me. Wagging an index finger in a knowing and friendly way he said, “Nah, they never had purpose. They were just busy. They were just busy from the time they were in their 20’s and 30’s and they mistook busy-ness for purpose.”

When someone makes a stunning observation like Tom did, there is only one rational thing you can do: let it sink deeply into the cracks of your own life by asking a few tough questions of yourself.  Here are a few you can ask, but also take time to think of your own:
  • Am I masking a lack of purpose in my life with busy-ness?
  • Why am I busy? Does it provide a false sense of security? Does it make me feel important?
  • What lessons am I teaching my children by scheduling every minute of their young lives and then serving as a frantic porter who moves them from activity to activity?
  •  If I removed 60% of the activities in my life, would I experience a sense of loss or confusion? With what would I most likely anesthetize that sense of loss or confusion? 
  • What will I leave and who will truly be grieved when I am gone? How much of my time is given to that legacy and to those people in my calendar this week?
Lose some busy-ness and find some purpose in your life!

“Being successful and fulfilling your life’s purpose are not necessarily the same thing. You can reach all your personal goals, become a raving success by the world’s standard and still miss your purpose in this life.” – Rick Warren

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Broken Robin's Egg

Life is at the same moment both beautiful and tragic.  A broken robin’s egg that I spotted during my run today reminded me of that truth.

I spent a portion of my professional life with a great team of people who courageously joined together to launch a new company, then nurtured and grew it spectacularly, then struggled to keep it going during cataclysmic market changes and then ultimately shuttered it.   And while there might be tendency to see any shuttered company as a failed experience, the truth is that it was 8+ years of both beauty and tragedy. It was an experience that those of us who shared it together would not trade for anything, because it was incredibly meaningful.  Together, we built an ensouled workplace.

Meaning is found when we bring together the beauty and tragedy of life, refusing to artificially bifurcate the two and instead view them together in oneness.  Because beauty and tragedy reside together in our work experience, work can be incredibly meaningful.

What does the robin feel when she returns to the nest to find her eggs gone?

When you announce the shuttering of a company, people experience tremendous anguish.  Of course tears are shed, some people nearly hyperventilate and others almost stop breathing and confusion reigns in every head in those first few moments after the bomb is dropped.  And if you have created an ensouled company as we did, the tragedy will seem even greater because what is lost is not merely a paycheck, but also lost are friendships, common vision and you fear, “I will never be lucky enough to work for a company like this again.”

Next year, the robin will carefully build yet another nest.  She will lay her eggs and defend her young from her enemies.  And what encourages me most is to know that she will not have lost her song.  As she stands guard over the new nest, she will sing full-throated above her new joy.

One of my ex-workmates, a senior manager, posted on our Facebook alumni site recently, “I hope I can infuse all the great qualities of our old workplace into my new company.”  Like the robin, the song of ensoulment continues to be sung in new places as our employees build new nests in new workplaces.  Once heard, the song of ensoulment cannot be forgotten.  It continues to be sung full-throated by those who have learned it and they will teach it to others.