Are You a Helper, or a Server? An Important Question for Your Brand.

 

ChickfilA

Have you ever thought about what your company does?  I mean really does?  What is it you do? Why do you exist? What’s your purpose?  Are you a helper or a server?  Is there a difference?  Does it matter?  I’d suggest it does matter…greatly. Are you still wondering why the picture of the chicken sandwich?  Keep reading.

Pay attention the next time you’re in a buying situation.  You walk in a store, a restaurant, or car dealership, and in just about every possible example you’ll hear these four words – “can I help you?”  To help, as opposed to serving, boils down to a mindset.  We are taught as children to “help one another” in school, or to “help out” around the house.  As we get older the concept of helping others is seared into our brains as the right thing to do. Consequently in business, we bring those same thoughts with us, setting out to help someone or some business. But let me propose a different viewpoint; one that supports the benefits of serving others rather than helping.  An unexpected encounter at a quick-service restaurant brought this concept to my attention.

While on a recent road trip, my wife and I decided to stop for something quick to eat. We didn’t want to spend time in a full service restaurant.  We wanted something fast, and as close to healthy as possible given our travel schedule.  We pulled into a drive-thru and placed our order. From behind the audio box came a voice that was filled with energy (genuine) and asked, “How may I serve you today?”  What did she say? How could I be sitting in a drive-thru of a fast food restaurant and be this impressed?  This didn’t make sense.  We placed our order, pulled up to the window where we were greeted by a crisply dressed, smiling cashier who completed our transaction, and said, “thank you for your business and I look forward to serving you again.”  WOW!  That restaurant was Chick-fil-A. 

This experience got me thinking.  Who says “how may I serve you?”  Everyone says they want to help, but do they really?  “How may I help you” is regular, predictable, watered down. And how often have you heard those words knowing full well the person asking couldn’t care less about really helping you? But the question “how may I serve you?”, is a purple cow.  Something so simple, yet so remarkably different relative to today’s buying norms that you notice, and notice in a big way.

I wondered if this was a fluke or if there was something more to this one experience.  I conducted a bit of research and visited 3 other Chick-fil-As in different areas.  Shockingly, all provided the exact same experience as the first location. How can a company whose brand is represented by independent operators deliver such a consistent experience?  I just had to ask…

This remarkable service is the result of many things, but two things in particular: training and modeling.  Training content, material, philosophy, and methods are provided by corporate for consistency.  Modeling is provided by the independent operators.  The owners walk the same talk as all store employees.  One such owner that I had the privilege of meeting, walked around the store refilling customers drinks and asking if there was anything else she could do to serve the customers.  Remarkable.

When being served, you may feel special, perhaps honored.  When serving others you might feel fulfilled, satisfied, humbled.  As a result of this experience I have challenged myself and others in my network to give thought to shifting their paradigm from one of helping to one of serving.  I personally, have found this subtle shift in thinking to be empowering.  It fosters a bond between the one being served and the one doing the serving.  Try it and see what a positive change it can make to your customers’ experience.  Are you brave enough to serve or will you stay in your comfort zone and help?  You decide.

 

10 Phrases to Eliminate from Business Conversations

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As a curious, and active, participant and observer in business, I have developed a list of 10 phrases we should all strike from our business conversations. They add no value, and in many cases subtract from it.  While some of these may seem far fetched, I’d challenge you to zone into your conversations and listen for them.  They are in fact present in many business conversations each and every day.  Here they are, and what the person you’re talking to actually is hearing:

  1. Trust me – If I have to say these words, apparently I haven’t earned it.
  2. Believe me – Whatever I’ve told you must seem a bit far fetched so I’m left with this long shot request.
  3. To be honest – Up to this point I’ve been lying. But this next statement…is the complete and utter truth.
  4. I’ll tell you what – I’m annoyed with you.  You’re not trusting or believing me, so now I’ve just got to tell you how it is.
  5. Look – The ultimate smack-down.  Let me help translate this so a 5 year old can understand.
  6. It is what it is – I can’t tell if you believe me, or anything I’ve said.  I’m close to surrendering.
  7. Dude – I’m failing fast and scrambling to connect any way I can.  By the way, this is only used between guys…at least in my experience.
  8. I can’t say – Why not?  Well, this information is on a need to know basis and you don’t need to know…so I can’t say.
  9. We’ll figure it out – I’m not exactly sure what your concern is and why you’re worried about it.  I’m not about to try to understand it right now but “trust me” we’ll figure it out later.
  10. There’s no way – This one I find intellectually thought provoking as I have heard this used so many times in business. To be so “negatively definitive” about anything I find quite interesting. Imagine if any of the following people heard “there’s no way”…in fact you already know how they’d respond: Steve Jobs, Michael Jordan, Walt Disney, Jack Welch, John Chambers, Marc Benioff, Ronald Reagan, John Adams, George Washington,  JP Morgan, Thomas Edison…shall I keep going?  There’s always a way.  The question is NOT if there is a way, but instead, am I willing to do what’s necessary to find a way?

What are your favorites?  And what phrases get under your skin that I didn’t capture?  Looking forward to hearing!

Becoming a Brand Master: Lessons Learned From Taylor Swift & Jony Ive

Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift gets branding. In fact, I’d put her up against most of today’s “branding experts” as being a true master brand manager.  Swift is an artist but also a great businesswoman.  She has a clear vision of what the Taylor Swift brand delivers.

Jonathan (Jony) Ive, the world renowned industrial designer at Apple who is largely credited with the iPod’s sleek design and UI is also a master brander.  He has a deep understanding of what buyers need, and want, and focuses his efforts, and those of his team, to deliver products that meet those needs.

JonyIve

While Swift and Ive may have taken different paths to be becoming brand experts, both share some common characteristics that all marketers can learn from if they desire to become master branders.

  1.  Establish clear goals for your brand.  Is your goal to appeal to the mass market or to a niche? No brand can be everything to every one.  Taylor Swift may be a great musician and artist but there’s still those who prefer heavy metal to her country-pop. Ive’s iPhone may have an awesome design but there are millions of buyers who prefer the Android operating system over iOS. Pick your lane and nail it.
  2. Focused intensity.  Once you’ve identified your goals and they are in clear sight, go after them with focused intensity.  Having focus is wonderful, but having intensity with focus will drive you to reach your goal quicker.
  3. Always be kind, even when acting otherwise would be completely acceptable.  Every brand is susceptible to negative comments.  Can anyone say Kanye? Buyers are always watching your behavior. Be honest, be transparent, and take the high road. It doesn’t mean rolling over or not defending untruths, but do it with a smile.
  4. Be a perfectionist.  Branding is an art, and we all know art is not perfect, otherwise it wouldn’t be art. But being a perfectionist relative to executing your branding strategy is something that sets brand masters apart from those that tinker in branding.
  5. Stay above the fray, operate with a touch of paranoia.  Looking over your shoulder isn’t always a bad thing.  Two things I learned growing up that that help with this concept are; nothing good happens after dark, and what would your grandparents think?  Your brand is your own and you can do with it as you please.  Just make sure you’ve thought through the implications of acting or speaking a certain way and then accept the outcomes. If someone in your company does something that has a negative impact on the brand it’s up to you, the brand master, to take action and deliver consequences.

These may appear to be small things.  Maybe even trivial things.  And while much of what we experience in life would suggest we NOT sweat the small stuff, when it comes to our brand, nothing is too small an item to not sweat.

 

Stop Managing Change, Start Inspiring It

Leadership

Today’s leaders believe they must be skilled at driving change, leading change, and managing change.  It’s their job.  It’s what they are supposed to do.  But is it?

Many leaders wear their “change” credentials like a badge of honor.  They know how to drive change. What they might be saying is that they know how to force change.  Driving, or forcing change may in fact work initially, but if your “followers” aren’t aligned, in sync, or haven’t embraced the change because they can’t quite see or understand it, the change itself won’t last.  When you hear leaders describe their company as “always changing”, beware.  If something has to constantly change it may just mean that it hasn’t yet found its calling – it’s grasping at straws.

Also think about what image “driving” evokes. If you’re driving something that means you’re behind it.  You’re in the back pushing. How can you lead from behind?  Leaders should always be in front. Being in front may be symbolic, it may be ceremonial, but no matter it’s leadership.

If I force a change to take place, it’s likely that I’ll have to force another change shortly.  However, if I inspire change, if I rally those around me, if I can paint a clear picture on what that change will produce or deliver, then I have a much better chance of getting folks to rally not just around me, or the change, but around both.

If you’re a leader in any size organization consider this…

People don’t want to be led. Human beings simply don’t like being told what to do.  No.  Going back to the beginning of time our ancestors learned the importance of working together toward a common goal.  Whether that goal was to produce fire, transportation, or medicine, people need to understand the goal first, and believe that if they achieve that goal they will benefit and prosper.  Imagine if fire produced no heat, and no light.  What would the benefit have been to “invent” fire making?  There has to be a clear goal with benefits, to serve as the first ingredient to an effective change recipe.

It’s your job as the leader to provide this vision.  If you can inspire those around you to see the value in the change you’re suggesting you’re well on your way to building an effective, sustainable, and adaptable workplace.  Your team will trust you when they know why you’re asking them to do certain things and to make certain changes.  This does not mean you need everyone to vote in your favor.  No.  This is not about singing Kumbaya and holding hands.  Inspiring change is about leadership.  It’s about having the courage and conviction in the value of the change you’re asking to be made and those you’re asking to make it with you.

 

 

Caution! Employee Morale Not As Good As You Think.

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Employee morale seems to be quite high.  Management teams everywhere breath a sigh of relief after seeing their satisfaction surveys results.  They’ve got it under control.  People are happy and satisfied.  Executives look at this data and believe all’s well.  But it’s not.  Not really.

Many employee satisfaction surveys test for how happy, or satisfied, the employee is with the work they do each day.  But this measure can be misleading.  While I may love building spreadsheets, I might not like the environment in which I have to perform this work.  I may really enjoy creative writing, but don’t like the team I’m on, or the boss I work for.  Measuring how happy an employee is with the work they do, just might provide a false positive reading on satisfaction.

In a recent SHRM study, they surveyed 600 employees on 43 different criteria related to job satisfaction.  The overall employee satisfaction score came in at 86%.  However, in diving deeper into the analysis there is cause for concern.

The survey found the most important criteria to employees is being treated with respect.  Across all 43 criteria, 74% of employees rated this category as #1 in determining their satisfaction.  However, only 33% of employees gave this criteria a satisfactory rating.  The second most important category at 64% was trust between employees and management. Yet again there was another major disconnect with only 24% of employees scoring this criteria as satisfactory.

The lesson here is simple.  Reading the cumulative satisfaction score is comparable to evaluating someone’s health based entirely upon their ability to read an eye chart.  What about blood pressure?  Or cholesterol levels?  Or their weight?  I could have 20/20 vision, but be 100 pounds overweight with high cholesterol…am I really healthy.  There is so much involved in truly understanding employee morale and obtaining a true measure of their satisfaction.

In 20 years of building teams, managing teams, and leading them, I have found the only true measure of employee satisfaction is by having a genuine connection to your team.  Sending out a survey to trumpet a score, or a title on the greatest places to work list, can be quite dangerous if you place 100% confidence on just the score.  Dig deeper. Ask the tough questions. Be courageous. Be brave.  And most of all be willing to recognize that no company is perfect.  Think about that for a minute.  If there was a perfect company that would mean they have perfect employees.  If they had perfect employees that would mean you’d have no need for a performance review system as all of your employees would be exceeding (perfect) your expectations.  No.  Companies can only be as perfect as the people whom they employ.  So be ready to confront reality.  Be ready to take action to address all employment related criteria and not just those that are convenient.

Leadership Is About Acting Now

  

Don’t put off until tomorrow what you could do today.  In Seth Godin’s book Linchpin, he says, “late is the first step to not finishing.” Many suffer from analysis paralysis.  Trying hard to solve for perfection.  Trying hard to not make a mistake.  Leaders however think about decision making differently.  They have the  courage to act and the confidence to own their decision no matter the outcome.

I might, turns into I can.  Leaders say I will, instead of I could.  I may, becomes I must.  I should, changes to I am.  Leaders think in the here and now.  They understand the importance of being decisive and accountable.  They look to the future with a clear understanding of their current circumstances.  Leaders are well-rounded.  They are continuous learners, who through learning, are constantly challenging their own perspectives, ideas and opinions.  Leaders are not afraid to change tact given new information.  They are more concerned about getting it right than being right.

In his book Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance, Lou Gerstner conveys a philosophy of “sooner is better than perfect.”  Doing things sooner often times requires getting comfortable with uncertainty.  The point being, once you have taken action you can always do a course correction.  Leaders are constantly acting.  They are in perpetual motion.  They’re never sedentary or static.  They’re fluid, dynamic, evolving.  

Leaders know that every journey begins with the first step.  Sometimes the step is in the wrong direction.  That’s okay.  They’re comfortable with change.  They’re confident in the midst of ambiguity.  They thrive on the thrill of what they can learn.  They’re curious.  They’re bold.

Be curious.  If being curious is too bold of a starting point then be cautiously curious.  Strive to become comfortable with being uncomfortable.  But act.  Taking action provides  the leader with learnings.  Those learnings add to the leaders inventory of skills, experience and perspectives.  With those ingredients the leader is able to garner the followers they need to successfully execute on their vision.

Keep moving.  Keep making things happen.

Forget Company Culture and Focus on Chemistry

chemistry

In a recent blog post titled Can You Tell if Your Culture Is Broken?, I shared some insights on how someone inside a company could recognize a breakdown in their company’s culture. That disconnect between what you say you are, versus what you really are; the old, perception-versus-reality dilemma.  And yet for all the hype given to the importance of “culture” why is it there are so many mismatches between employees and employers?  The reason is due to the lack of chemistry, not culture.

You work with people not an organism.

We’re all different. We have different backgrounds, different experiences, likes, dislikes, and preferences.  Each of us have our own unique personalities.  What excites and interests me, may be totally boring to you.  Things that scare me might energize or thrill you. That’s what makes the world go around.

Yet it’s so commonplace to find signs on company walls, or pages on company websites dedicated to touting its culture.  Or better yet, how many of you have seen the big screen TVs in lobby areas that state the mission, vision and value statements of the company?  Some companies go to extreme lengths to tell the world how wonderful they are. But saying so doesn’t make it so.  People make up a culture.  A culture is a living breathing thing, made up of individual personalities. It’s not static.  It’s not permanent.  It evolves. It’s people.

In Doris Kearns book Team of Rivals, she talks about how Abraham Lincoln surrounded himself with a variety of individuals.  Many, if not most, were opposed to Lincoln’s thinking on slavery, the war, and exactly how much power he had as President over the states.  While I’m not a betting man, if I were to be, I would have bet against Lincoln’s experiment working.  Then again, I would have completely underestimated his leadership abilities to bring people together and accomplish great things.  The challenge of course was one of chemistry.  How do you put together so many different personalities and get them to jell…to be effective working together?  The answer is leadership.

Whether you’re assessing the chemistry between you and your boss, your peers, or the team that supports you, pay close attention to your intuition.  How do you feel when you’re connecting or interacting with them?  Does it feel natural?  Forced?  Valuable?  Do you feel like you can accomplish anything working with them, or do you feel as if nothing will work, nothing will be good enough?  Is that little voice saying “you’re so lucky to be here”, or “keep a keen eye open”?

No matter what the sign says in the lobby, or how many values your company posts on its website, it all comes down to chemistry.  Can you jell?  Chances are you won’t struggle to get along with Integrity, Innovation, and Accountability.  Instead your challenge will be with Jack, Jill, and Jane Doe. Take the time to acknowledge your intuition.  We were all given the hairs on the back of our necks for a reason.  It’s not about optimism or pessimism.  It’s about being pragmatic.  Recognizing your reality and taking the appropriate action.

Keep your focus on people.  Forget about the sign on the wall.