Two Powerful Words

“What helps people, helps business.” —Leo Burnett

I kicked off the week with a much needed haircut. I went to see Rodger, who has been cutting my hair for 13 years. I can be pretty picky and high maintenance so frankly, I'm amazed he hasn't fired me as his customer yet! Rather, he has become a great friend and mentor. Over the time I've known him, Rodger has opened several high-end salons with his wife, Lisa—and they’ve created the kind of environment that builds loyal customers for life. The energy from his team is awesome, and I constantly reflect on what billion dollar companies could learn from this local business.

After another great experience, I pushed myself to articulate exactly why I love getting my haircut with Rodger. Furthermore, I wanted to find words to describe why his team is so unique. (I imagine I looked pretty crazy driving down the road and talking to myself in the rearview mirror.) It’s funny how experience drives emotion. Instead of using strategic words my business school professors would be proud of, I kept reflecting on basic descriptors linked to human needs. You see, the reason I love my haircuts is simply: Rodger and his team make me feel like I matter. And the reason they’re able to do this is because they treat each other the same way.

To be clear, there isn’t some fancy, disingenuous mission statement hanging on the wall that says, “We provide unparalleled guest experience!” The bottom of their receipts don’t advertise customer service surveys proclaiming, “Our customers are always right … tell us how we did.” And thankfully, there isn’t any salon standard that awkwardly forces team members to say, “Thank you,” for no apparent reason.

Instead, Rodger and his team engage in genuine human interaction with one another AND their guests, which ultimately expresses, “You matter.”

For many organizations, “You matter,” is limited to the customer. Leaders drive an expectation that customers are the center of the universe. But as I’ve written before, the best way to build customer loyalty is to have team members who love the brand first. Obviously, love doesn’t just happen. (Just ask my wife.) Rather, it’s the outcome of the simple things leaders do (or don’t do) to grow and develop their teams and reinforce how their work makes a difference.

I used to work with a guy who wasn’t my boss but was senior to me. I ran an IT organization, and he was in charge of the company's operations. Routinely, I’d find myself in his office talking about the needs of his team and how I could help. He was pretty direct about his expectations and was relentless about follow up. At the end of every conversation though, he’d politely ask, “Is there anything I can do to support you?” It always made such a huge impact on me. In the early days, I didn’t want to take him up on his request because I wasn't quite sure if he was being sincere. However, over time I looked forward to the magical question because I knew my work could benefit from his influence and thought leadership. In a simple way, he was saying, “You matter.”

I also remember working with an esteemed Board member who once said, “Everyone walks around with an imaginary sign on their forehead that says: Make Me Feel Important!” To me, that’s the essence of, “You matter.”

It isn’t team member engagement campaigns or slogans; it isn’t a town hall meeting with a lot of better-for-being-here rhetoric; and it certainly isn’t motivational posters and t-shirts.

It’s simple and genuine expressions such as, “Is there anything I can do to support you?” Or, “When you were out of the office earlier this week with the flu, I thought about you a lot … are you feeling better?”

Obviously, if you don’t feel it, don’t say it. But if that's the case—why don’t you feel it?

During my executive tenure, I made mistakes I’ll remember for a long time. As an example, there were times I was known to “look through people” when I was processing information or solving a business problem. Not exactly the kind of stuff that puts you in the leadership hall of fame. While I truly cared about my team (and still do), my actions didn’t always express it. So let me ask you, are your actions expressing you care?

My haircut isn't just a haircut. It's in an environment and culture that should be emulated everywhere in the business world. After all, when you're no longer on this planet, people aren't going to measure you by the things you did—they’re going to measure you by the quality of your relationships. I know all of this may seem squishy and soft, but it's transformative to life and business. “You matter” drives outcomes, and it may even surprise you how much exhibiting it will make you feel like … you matter, too.


Chris Laping is Co-Founder & CEO of People Before Things, LLC, a boutique consultancy that helps executive and project leaders prepare people for technology change. He has also written a bestselling book, People Before Things: Change Isn’t an End-User Problem, which explores the role leaders play to pave success in change and transformation. To join the conversation, follow @CIOChris and @pplb4things on Twitter.

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I Like to Lie a Lot

“What one does is what counts. Not what one had the intention of doing.” - Pablo Picasso

I was having one of those afternoon “summer jam” kind of days; driving down the road with the music blasting and my sunroof open. Admittedly, I wasn’t cool enough for vintage Metallica or Led Zeppelin IV. No, I was a 40+ year old man checking out Ed Sheeran’s album, X. On it, he has a song called "Don’t." I was really intrigued with the lyrics the very first time I heard it. I think we all have the propensity to enjoy a good break-up song now and then, and for me, this was one of those moments. The lyrics are pretty cutting. The chorus especially got my attention…

A few days later, my wife Kristine was in the car with me. My new favorite song came on. So, I turned it up and subjected her to a few bars of my terrible falsetto as I sang along. The chorus kicked in and I belted out, “I like to lie a lot!” She started to chuckle and asked me, "What did you just sing?" I turned down the radio and simply said the words this time. Kristine quickly corrected me and said, “I don’t think those are the lyrics. I think he’s singing...Ah...lamlahlah.” Of course, I got defensive and asked, “Why would those be the lyrics?! The whole song is about a lying woman so maybe he’s saying he likes to lie a lot because a) he’s either lying about her story or b) she likes to lie a lot and is a dirty cheat!” This debate lasted a few days. Later, we confirmed that Kristine was in fact correct.

It’s funny how one line in a song could change the whole meaning or intent. And for whatever reason, that's what happened to me with this song. It’s not funny, however, when the same type of thing happens in the workplace, is it?

Sometimes we are certain someone said something or had some specific intent - and it causes us to spiral for a few hours or even days.

Have you experienced something similar? Have you ever been in a meeting where you are sure your archrival took a jab after you gave a team or project update? Or what about an email from an internal stakeholder who made some comment that sounds like an attack on your follow-through skills and work quality? How about a “fly-by” critique provided by a boss as (s)he was running to another meeting? How many times have misunderstood communications disrupted your good chi?

As a human being, I've misinterpreted people's words, too...and often. As a leader, I’ve mediated such disputes. And as a consultant, I’m already coaching clients through similar situations. It’s amazing how much time and energy is wasted on common misunderstandings.

Here's the thing: measuring intent is impossible. And at the same time, when someone says something, it takes great discipline to accept it for what it is. Unfortunately, tone and word choice can cast an ugly cloud, which prevents us from seeing the full picture. Psychologists have proven that judging intentions is fruitless given the fact that most people don’t even understand their own motivations. However, there is a lot of scientific research which reminds us past behavior is the single best predictor of future behavior.

Said another way, judging actions is more effective than judging intentions.

But before you start tallying up how many times your archrival has "slashed your tires in the parking lot," let me share a powerful tip. I once had a boss who used to say,

“Objectivity is lethal.”

For me, this was such great advice. In my professional life, the more I can be objective about a situation or keep a situation focused on objective criteria, the easier it is to build trust and followership. I won’t lie - it's sometimes difficult and requires effort. I find though that by repeating that line ("objectivity is lethal") in my head when I’m starting to judge intent and tone, it helps tremendously.

Now that I’m finished with this blog, it’s time to jump back into summer jams. I still think, “I like to lie a lot,” is a better chorus. Next song to figure out: “Blinded by the Light" by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. "Wrapped up like a…” What are they saying?!?


Chris Laping is Co-Founder & CEO of People Before Things, LLC, a boutique consultancy that helps executive and project leaders prepare people for technology change. He has also written a bestselling book, People Before Things: Change Isn’t an End-User Problem, which explores the role leaders play to pave success in change and transformation. To join the conversation, follow @CIOChris and @pplb4things on Twitter.

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The Grass is Always Greener…

"Our thoughts create our realitywhere we put our focus is the direction we tend to go." —Peter McWilliams

A few years ago, I needed some good advice. At the moment, I probably didn't know it. I was getting a haircut from a close friend of mine, Rodger, who has always been an important mentor to me. Rodger has opened four very successful salons in Denver and has always focused his business on providing a high-end experience for all of his customers, who in return, are loyal fans for life. However, his business savvy isn't the only thing that impresses me about him. While he is a great leader to his team and rarely has morale issues at work, what makes Rodger so special is his balance. In addition to being a successful businessman, he's a dedicated husband and father and even though he's quite successful financially, he believes in hard labor and does many of the day-to-day tasks himself that are required to maintain and improve his home. He is also as wise as anyone I've ever met.

On this particular Saturday morning, I was sharing with Rodger that my wife and I were not content in our new home. We were frustrated. We moved for the 4th time in 5 years but were never able to find the perfect place for our family, and our new house was no exception. One house wasn't modern enough; one house wasn't convenient enough to the things we like; one house wasn't close enough to the kids' activities. Rodger quietly listened and when I was done spilling out my heart, he said,

"You know, Chris, the grass is always greener..."  He paused for a moment and then finished, "...where you water it."

I looked up in the mirror. By now, he had stopped cutting my hair, put his hand on my shoulder, and finished dispensing his advice, "Think of what you could do in your life if you applied the energy you are using to find something better on what you can control and how you can improve." This was a game changer for me personally and professionally.

How many times have you ever thought, "If I were working on that project, would I finally get noticed for my talent?" Here's another common one, "If only we had the necessary resources, we could make a huge difference in the company." Where else is the grass greener in our corporate lives? I'm sure some of us have said, "If I were the manager of this team, I would ensure that guy was being held accountable and our results would be better than they are today."

Do you notice how these statements are related to Rodger's advice? By applying your energy to conditions that are out of your control or may never happen, you expend the energy you need to dig in and focus on improvement. Most importantly, you lose the opportunity to enjoy the many assets & gifts that are right under your nose and could be leveraged to make a huge difference in other people's lives and careers.

Where will you water the grass this week? Will you work on building a relationship with a key stakeholder that hasn't been happy with your performance? Will you ask a teammate for help on an important task that you haven't been able to complete? Will you ask a teammate if (s)he needs help? Will you lead with your actions, even if your job description doesn't call for you to be a manager right now? Will you focus on things you CAN control and will that focus lead to greener pastures?

Our family has lived in our home now for our 3rd year based on Rodger's advice. It's not our dream home; we live on a semi-busy street and; some of the 80's architecture is as bad as it gets. However, we get to walk everywhere from restaurants to grocery shopping, and our kids love the familiarity of the neighborhood. Most importantly, our house is full of love and we're using the energy that we would have focused on finding something else to dig in, enjoy life and our family, and to make this home the best it can be.



Chris Laping is Co-Founder & CEO of People Before Things, LLC, a boutique consultancy that helps executive and project leaders prepare people for technology change. He has also written a bestselling book, People Before Things: Change Isn’t an End-User Problem, which explores the role leaders play to pave success in change and transformation. To join the conversation, follow @CIOChris and @pplb4things on Twitter.

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