The Power of Appreciation

I take walks, long walks, and find them to be a good way to clear the head and get clarity on things.   Anyway, I was on a walk the other day and came to a street corner where a car approached to turn.  I looked over at the driver and motioned for them to go ahead because there was another car approaching in the opposite lane and I thought it would be kind to let them go so they didn’t have to wait.  The driver saw me and made their turn, I looked up at the driver expecting some acknowledgement, you know, a wave or something to say thanks, and she didn’t so much as make eye contact, nothing, she just sped away to her destination.  Now there are certainly bigger fish to fry in our world but it struck me how depressing it is that some simple human kindnesses just seem to have fallen away.

I know I shouldn’t be surprised in a world of increasing narcissism, impatience, and anger but I was really taken aback when my small gracious act was met with nothing.  Where has the simple act of saying thank you gone?  Have our self-imposed entitlements moved us to expect others to do for us without any show of gratitude?   I clearly saw, in my little example, what this can mean in general daily interaction but I began to think about what it means in the workplace.

Many years ago when I was managing a small team in a hotel environment, I made it a point to thank my team members at the end of a long day’s work.  I remember once, when one of my team clocked out for the day after having gone well above and beyond and stayed late to get a job done, I missed them leaving and ran down to the parking lot to do nothing more than thank them for their efforts that day.  Now this doesn’t make me a saint or anything but I always had teams around me that I, to this day, consider my band of brothers/sisters, and feel confident that any of those former team members would come to my aid if I was in serious need…and I feel that way right back to them as well. Isn’t’ this what we want in our teams at work or should it only be about getting things done and driving results?

I truly believe work should be a place people want to be, where they are trusted and appreciated. When workplaces are like this, people drive results, I’ve experienced it.  I’ve also experienced the latter where the workplace resembles some Dickensian factory where people are machines in service of the master of meeting numbers and shareholder value.  I can tell you that this type of workplace may, with a lot of difficult management, hit numbers but the soul of the place is non-existent and the employees are prisoners looking for any way to move to something else.

So, you may be thinking, are you telling me that simply thanking my employees would make me more profitable? No, I can’t guarantee that, but I can tell you it would help bring more life into your workplace, and maybe even move employees to higher and more committed performance – and all for free mind you. Of course there are still the laggards who will counter with, “why should I thank them, they get a paycheck” but I can only say that the people who work for you can make you or break you and no paycheck will make them commit like showing them how much they mean to you.

In my opening story, after getting no acknowledgement at all, I kept walking with that old saying about no good deed going unpunished running through my head.  I thought to myself, why bother being kind when people just don’t care, and then I thought again, I thought about what a crappy world it would be if no one said thank you, if no one simply showed that they valued others.  We can make a better workplace and a better world in general and I think it starts with appreciating those around us.  Start today, run to the parking lot and thank someone for just being here, it will change them and you.

 

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Connecting the Dots

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One thing I find interesting is how many people see no connection from their job to their organization’s customers.  I mean, every business is in business to help customers and it would seem to me that making sure everyone understands how they connect to the final result would be important.  But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, I mean, most companies have Customer Service Departments as if service, the primary work all companies do, is some specialty item that only a special few can perform.

A great example of this segregated thinking occurred to me one day while eating lunch at an airport.  Two men were sitting next to me having a conversation about their company and various challenges they were having.  One of the gentlemen stepped away to go to the restroom so I turned to the gentlemen now sitting alone, “I couldn’t help overhearing but I have to ask, what is it you do?”  He explained a little about his company (it actually was his company, he was CEO and founder) and he asked what I did.  I explained that I helped to improve employee and customer experiences through speaking, training, writing, etc.

Anyway, the conversation continued, and given my service focus, he began expounding on the importance of customer service and how his prospective customers often asked about his commitment to customer service.  He complained to me that his customer service department was very small and that that was sometimes viewed negatively by these prospects.  At this point I think he was hoping I would respond with some magic bullet that would help him explain to these prospective clients that they should be more concerned with the quality of his service department and not the quantity of employees in it, but that’s not what I did.  No, my actual response went nothing like that and must have been quite a shock.  Without batting an eye, I asked him why he had a customer service department at all.  Why not tell these prospective clients that everyone in the company is customer service, everyone works for the customer.  He sat back somewhat amazed, thought about it for a minute or two and then turned to me and said, “You know, that’s a good question, why do we have a Customer Service Department?  Isn’t it everyone’s job to serve customers?”  I felt a very brief electric sensation as if I had just won something.

Now, this concept of everyone in an organization serving customers is tough for some people as they feel very distant from customers.  But it’s not that difficult if you just connect the dots.  Imagine you are driving down a road with freshly filled potholes and new lines painted.  You may never see the team that did the work but their work impacts you, it makes your journey better.  And that’s not all, there’s an army of other people in this chain.  There’s the person who purchased the paint and the asphalt, there’s the person who performs maintenance on the machines required and there’s the person who plans it all and makes sure the repair teams are where they need to be.  You, as driver (customer), see none of them but their work directly impacts your success.  This exact thing exists in every company, a chain of people who must do what they do in order for customers to be successful which means everyone serves, not just some department.

So, if everyone serves, wouldn’t it make sense if they understood how?  Wouldn’t it make sense to define for people how what they do matters to the success of the people who pay their paycheck, the customers?  How would this change how everyone works?  Might they try to be more responsive and more service focused not only with customers but with each other?  When the entire organization is focused on how they help customers (service- focus) rather than how they need to get tasks accomplished to fulfill company goals (self-focus), the whole workplace dynamic changes to one where everyone is helping each other to better help customers.

If this interests you, begin by looking at your job, how does it connect to your customers?  How do you impact them and their success?  Are you focused on their success or yours?  If you change your focus to their success, you will find your success will follow by default.

Book Review: Kaleidoscope

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Chip R. Bell, renowned service guru, keynote speaker, and the author of several best-selling books, has released a new book called Kaleidoscope.  I was sent a preview copy and here is my review.

In this book, Bell focuses on nine key traits or values that drive innovative service: Enchantment, Grace, Trust, Generosity, Truth, Mercy, Alliance, Ease, and Passion. The book  emphasizes the importance of delivering a unique experience, not just a good or satisfactory experience.  Over and over he points to being genuine yet innovative by finding new ways to delight and ‘wow’ customers.  In his own words, “Graceful service takes more than routine effort…it is contribution beyond what is reasonable.”

While at times a bit overly sentimental and sweet for my taste, this book, nevertheless, gives not only practical advice but profound thinking that has the potential to inspire and provoke discussion.  Given the short, focused chapters, I can see this book as a perfect vehicle for managers in weekly team discussions.  Almost suggesting this activity, Bell gives us what he calls “Animators” at the end of each chapter that summarize key points.  I think these summaries would be perfect launch pads for substantive and culture-changing dialog.

Overall, Bell has contributed a short read that will make you want to go out and serve in unique and surprising ways, at work, at home, and in life.

Some favorite quotes from Kaleidoscope…

“Examine your customers’ experiences as if you were an “experience auditor”…

“Graceful service takes more than routine effort or everyday contribution: it is an abundance of spirit; it is contribution beyond what is reasonable; it is altruistic.”

“You can start igniting grace with a simple, ‘I am here to serve and daringly make a difference in your life.'”

“To serve well is to enter into a covenant with a customer that guarantees worth will be exchanged for worth and in a way that keeps central the customers’ best interests.”

“…if we employ a giver mentality, the customer will take care of the bottom line.”

“White lies are unadulterated deception, regardless of their benevolent intent. They help us save face but do little to promote a solid relationship.”

“Great service recovery lets a disappointed or angry customer know you are there to fix, not to fight.”

 

You Can Lead

 

A recent conversation with a friend…

FRIEND: I hate my job.  My boss is a terrible person.  He never helps anyone, barks orders, won’t let you do your job, no support, ugh. How can I make him see his methods are wrong?

ME: Well, you can’t change your boss.  The only person you can change is you.

FRIEND: What do I need to change?  He’s the one who is creating the awful workplace.

ME: What your office needs is leadership and you can lead.

FRIEND: I can’t lead, I’m not the boss.

ME: Leadership has nothing to do with being the boss.  You don’t need a title to lead.  You simply have to go first in showing others in your office a different way, a better, more positive way.  Leaders go first, they show the way.

FRIEND: Okay, what do I do?

ME: Find every way you can to help the person to the left of you and to the right of you.  You must go to work every day with the thought, “how can I be more helpful?”  How can you listen more, be more responsive, take more ownership of problems and find solutions for the others in your office.  The culture shift begins with you.  If you quit and go somewhere else, there’s a pretty good chance you will end up in a similar situation.  Great workplace cultures are far and few these days.  Start now and make some change in your office, not for you, but for everyone else.  You will unfortunately have to live with your boss, but you can help make the best, the absolute best, out of the bad situation.

What can you do to lead a transformation in your workplace?  What can you do to change the dynamic?  How can you show leadership?