Leadership in a Handshake

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My son plays lacrosse.  In fact, he’s played since he was about five years old.  One tradition of lacrosse that runs from the five-year-olds to the highest level college and professional players is the handshake between teams after the game has ended.  No matter the winners, losers, or any animosity between teams, the two squads line up and shake hands.

This isn’t just a lacrosse thing either, ironically, in hockey, a sport where fighting is tolerated among the professionals as “part of the game” (I would disagree with this sentiment since this practice is not tolerated at any other level of the sport), the hand-shaking tradition exists at all levels from kids to pros.  And, while you may not know it, the tradition exists in baseball too, but only, as far as I know, with the kids in Little League.

Why do I bring this up?  Well, the integrity and honor in respecting your opponent after a hard fought contest is probably lesson enough and I could stop there but I believe there is another lesson here having to do with leadership and the responsibility of setting an example.

The leadership lesson has to do with the ironies in baseball and hockey.  In baseball, the opportunity to lead has been strangely abdicated.  Why don’t the professionals promote and practice this simple behavior?  This would be such an opportunity to show leadership and demonstrate the importance of civility and respect regardless of competition.  The message here seems to be that visibly and intentionally communicating honor and respect are only necessary for kids, once you’re an adult, it’s just not so important.

Similarly, hockey sends a message, but possibly one that’s much worse than the baseball message.  In hockey, at the professional level, it’s not unusual to see players fight, and although the practice has diminished, it still goes on.  In any other sport, the players would be ejected, fined, and suspended, but in hockey, it’s as if a blind eye is turned since the penalties are largely slight in comparison to other sports.  The message here seems to be, “All is fair in the heat of the battle, even violence.”  In my view this is a damaging message to kids and adults alike and an example of poor leadership.  The saving grace I guess is that they at least try to send a good message at the end of the game with a handshake, although, anything positive in the message can come across as very fake when part of the game was spent in a brawl resembling bullies on a playground.

Leadership is all about influence and whether we like it or not, we influence others by word and action whether we intend to or not.  The messages we send in our words and actions influence our kids, spouses, partners, colleagues, customers, and innocent bystanders around us.  We are all leading others whether we want to or not, and this is no more true than on playing fields and stages in front of large audiences.

Great leaders though are intentional about the messages they send and we all have the opportunity to lead others with an intentional example that demonstrates honor and respect, even in the midst of competition.  How can you be more intentional about the example you are setting?  Are you showing your kids, your spouse or partner, your colleagues and customers great leadership or are you abdicating that opportunity, or, worse yet, demonstrating a negative example?  Take a lesson from the kids in lacrosse, baseball, and hockey, shake hands, show respect…lead.



The “Why” Of a Meaningful Life

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I just read the book What Customers Crave by Nicholas Webb and the last two paragraphs were, to me, so profound that I had to share.

Every day we wake up and go to a job, and if it’s a job that has a meaningful mission, where we get to make other people happy, we are living a meaningful life.  After working with hundreds of companies over the years, I have seen beautiful people destroy their lives by working in organizations that mistreat their customers.  Customer experience is more than just treating customers well.  It’s about architecting a machine that serves others.

And isn’t that what we’re here for: to serve others, to live a life of meaning, and to make people happy?  The most successful people I’ve ever met would quickly answer that question, “Hell, YES!”

Thank you, Mr. Webb, for inspiring us all to live a life of meaning where what we do for others is at the center, a message we need to hear more and more.

Three Steps to a New Habit

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What exactly are we trying to do when we send people to training?  We are trying to create new habits, new ways of doing things that yield better results.  The problem I always hear though is that once people get back from training, it doesn’t seem to make a difference.  Buy why?  Why aren’t people excited to use their new knowledge, why isn’t it happening?  The answer is simple, our old habits are like a big comfy couch and new habits force us to get off the couch, nooooooo. So how can we create new habits for the long haul?

According to some experts on habits, Charles Duhigg (author of the Power of Habit) and BJ Fogg (Stanford University Professor and Tiny Habits creator), the key to creating habits is in what I call RDR or Remind, Do, Reward.  Think about it, one of the most difficult parts of creating a habit is simply remembering to do it and then getting our brains to want to do it again and again.  I think this is true of training as well, just remembering to do the new thing you learned and doing it over and over.

If you’re nodding your head in agreement that remembering to do it is the big hurdle, I am right with you.  I have a hard time remembering yesterday, but something as simple as a post-it note with a short reminder can be just the thing. To make it most effective, put the note somewhere where you perform another habit like brushing teeth (bathroom mirror), putting milk in your coffee (fridge door), or checking email (computer screen).   This will make the reminder something you are forced to see since it is coupled to something else you do every day.

Okay, so now you’ve got a reminder and you do the new thing, how do you begin programming your brain to do it the next time? This actually involves rewarding yourself.  I know it sounds silly but a simple pat on your own back can be the spark to keep the whole thing going for the next time.  Now, I don’t mean giving yourself a trophy or anything, just a hearty “Yes!” or a “You’re awesome!” or whatever makes you feel good about yourself.  You can also do some more elaborate things like an extra scoop of ice cream after you do the new thing consistently for a week or something.  This reward system works because of a little “feel good” or pleasure chemical called dopamine. When we get a reward it stimulates the brain to give us a little shot of this neurotransmitter and makes us feel good, and when we feel good, we want to do it again.

Another question that usually comes up about habits has to do with time.  How long does it take to create a habit?  There’s a little debate about this.  You will hear 21 days a lot but I have been told that that is a myth.  According to the authors of the book, The One Thing, it takes 66 days.  I will take that since they have a bit of research behind it, although, I usually just trim it to two months.

Anyway, how can this apply to the workplace?  How can a manager use this knowledge to move their team to build new or better habits?

Let’s say you have a goal to raise your service scores by 10 points and you have established a need to make welcoming customers into your business a standard.  This act of greeting is the new habit.  How do you put RDR into action?

First, your team needs reminders strategically placed.  These reminders can be a variety of things like a huddle each morning to verbally remind the team and some posters in the office, lunch room, hallways, etc. with brief reminders to greet customers warmly when they enter the store.  Next, you will need to practice a little of what Tom Peters calls MBWA, Managing By Walking Around.  This means getting out there and doing a little observation.  When you see a team member greeting customers, give them a pat on the back and tell them they did a great job.  Instruct any other managers to do likewise.  You could even give weekly or biweekly rewards to people who you see doing this regularly.

RDR, Remind, Do, Reward, it’s a pretty easy thing that can make all the difference in helping you create good habits whether for yourself or for a team of employees.

Who Cares About Customers?

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Who cares about customers?  Many of you might find that question shocking, many of you might agree, and many might be resigned to it given the current business environment.

Are customers important?  Does it really matter if they are happy or not?  Or does it only matter that they get what they came for in the most functional, basic way possible?

It would seem that there are many businesses that believe and quite boldly send the message that they really don’t care about customers.  They see customers as a tool to get them to their objectives, namely profit and shareholder value.  This is very apparent in companies where customer service is not part of the incentive criteria of C-Suite leaders and sales people, they are sending a distinct message that customers don’t matter only profit does.

I am amazed at the shortsightedness of this thinking.  How do these folks think they make profit?  Where do they think the money comes from?  Do they believe in a money tree?

Without customers to serve, there is no business, there is no revenue, and there is no profit to be had.  And mind you, since customers are human beings, emotional creatures, it’s not just about helping them, it’s about making them happy too.

Airlines are easy targets here as most of them make it pretty clear customers don’t matter.  They cram more people into tighter and tighter seats, and throw up charge after charge for every little thing, and all in the name of safety or rising costs when the real message is clear, “Passengers can’t really do anything about our practices, we can plead safety and the need for more security, and if we can make more money and satisfy the Wall Street barons with these phony justifications, so be it, we’ll get ours and that’s all we care about.”  Hopefully, this isn’t the road more businesses are traveling down.

In a very general way, I see two extremes in business today with companies falling all along the line.  On one end, companies serve customers well and treat them fairly and with integrity.  These companies have great workplace cultures where employees are treated well and rewarded for a job well done.  The profits of these organizations are generated by delivering a great product with excellent service.  Their healthy bottom line is viewed as a winning scorecard for doing business right.  On the other end, revenue and profit are the goal and customers are seen only as pawns in getting financial results. The workplace cultures are manipulative with employees seen, much like customers, as minions who do the dirty work.  The profits of these organizations are generated in any way possible using policies, laws, nickle and dime charges, and anything else that can be devised to make a buck with, when necessary, lip service being paid to concern for customers and a quality product.

My hope is that business done toward the integrity end wins this battle or we are all doomed to terrible experiences where we must shop, travel, dine, and even work in desperation.  If that’s your hope too, work to influence a move away from the short-term, bottom-line-only end of the spectrum.  Do what you can to ensure the human-to-human element isn’t blurred into distant memory.  Make sure your business does care about customers…and employees too.

Business Needs To Get Well

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“Your service sucks!”  I heard this the other day when a disgruntled customer got angry in a nearby store.  How many times in the last few months, weeks, or even days have you wanted to scream that?  I don’t think it is at all unusual.  The push for bottom-line results and shareholder value has put customers, not to mention employees, at the bottom of the priority list.

Many companies try to fix this problem by instituting customer service departments or customer service initiatives but these are largely Band-Aids on a much larger problem.

You see, I believe there is one key thing contributing to poor customer and employee experiences, misplaced focus on profit instead of people.  The race to the bottom line removes people from the equation, both customers and employees.  With more work expected from smaller workforces, no talk of customers in business meetings, policies that are more for the business than the customer, and experience design as an afterthought, we have the elements of a perfect storm where employees are unhappy and customers get the brunt of that.

The fix is, I believe, in businesses that create wellness, both emotional wellness and financial wellness that begins with people.  When the C-suite takes care of managers and managers take care of employees, employees take care of customers, who, in turn, take care of the business financially.

This means creating employee and customer experiences where people are committed to helping each other, to serving and making each other successful.

Companies that want to produce these high-quality employee and customer experiences need to routinely perform a set of four practices.


Great experiences inside and outside of your enterprise don’t happen by accident. They’re the result of myriad decisions made by every single person in the organization on a daily basis. These decisions affect every employee and every customer, and, eventually, the overall health of the business.  To align those decisions and keep your business well, employees need a shared vision; a strategy that is consistent with the rest of the corporate strategy and brand yet with service at its center, and this means service to both customers and employees. Without this beacon, employees will set out on a random journey, and their decisions and actions will be inconsistent and often lead to siloed self-focus, despite all the best intentions.  When siloes and self-focus begin infecting your organization, the customer begins being left out and the health of your business suffers.  Wellness begins with alignment from the inside to the outside.


Employees must know the expectations of their roles and how they impact customers’ experience and success as well as their fellow employees’ experience and success.  You need to create a system of shared values and behaviors that focus employees on serving each other and delivering a great customer experience. To continuously evolve these behaviors, employee and customer insights should be used as part of a routine design process that includes employees at all levels in ideation and testing.


You need to quantify employee and customer experience quality in a consistent manner across the organization, and then use that data to celebrate successes and deliver actionable insights for improvement.  Effective measurement programs provide an understanding of the relationship between employee and customer experience quality, the attributes that drive each, and the impact on business results.

Building blocks and key areas to measure in each experience include… Success, it is the foundation of any experience… Ease, this is critical because employees and customers both need efficiency and as few complications as possible…. Enjoyment, because no one wants an experience that creates negative emotions.


Tie it all together with a steady cadence of communication that never lets employees forget about why they’re doing all of this.  The vision, strategy, and expectations need to be regular messages.  Successes need to be celebrated to drive repeat performance.  And when decisions need to be made, you need to be regularly asking two questions: Would making this change diverge from our overall customer and/or employee experience strategy, and if so, what kind of impact will this have on the experience? Reviewing the alignment to your strategy and vision should enable you to easily make decisions that don’t require a lot of debate.

So… what will you do to influence your business to get well?