The Problem is … Care

“You give loyalty, you’ll get it back. You give love, you’ll get it back.”
–Tommy Lasorda

I was traveling out of the San Francisco airport this week and had the opportunity to experience a new American Express Centurion Lounge. As a cardholder, I’ve received lots of direct mail pieces in the last year advertising these new clubs, but hadn’t yet visited one. Since I got to the airport early and the club was near my departing gate, I thought, “Why not?” I qualified for free entry and anything had to be better than sitting in a gate designed for 50 people―even though most flights carry at least 150 passengers!

I was traveling out of the San Francisco airport this week and had the opportunity to experience a new American Express Centurion Lounge. As a cardholder, I’ve received lots of direct mail pieces in the last year advertising these new clubs, but hadn’t yet visited one. Since I got to the airport early and the club was near my departing gate, I thought, “Why not?” I qualified for free entry and anything had to be better than sitting in a gate designed for 50 people―even though most flights carry at least 150 passengers!

As I checked in to the lounge, the woman behind the counter asked me if I’d ever visited the club. Since I was a newbie, she carefully shared all the amenities I could enjoy. More on that later.

I was in absolute awe. The facility had beautifully designed aesthetics and limitless free (high quality) food and beverage selections. This felt like one of those “too good to be true” moments. Before I left, I took a survey because I purely wanted to
express, “Please don’t ever take this amenity away!”

With the visit now behind me, I immediately reflected on my last “too good to be true” moment, which happened at the Ritz Carlton in Half Moon Bay. When my wife and I checked in, we acted like giddy children because of how excited we were; the property was gorgeous! The man behind the counter welcomed us, and then surprised us with a simple and direct question: “Can I offer you a
complimentary room upgrade for your visit?” I looked at my wife and she looked back at me as if we were just asked a trick question. Simultaneously we said, “Yeeeaah, we’d love one!” He topped off the checkin process by asking, “Can I offer
the two of you a glass of wine?” Now we were really pinching ourselves.

It’s natural to read these stories and jump right to a place of thinking, “Duh! These amenities are all benefits which result from being a premium American Express customer and a guest at the Ritz Carlton.” However, I saved the punchline for you. Remember the woman behind the counter at the American Express lounge? That’s where the truly special and magical part of the experience happened.

As soon as she heard I was a first-time guest, she was beaming with pride to curate my visit. She was so kind and patiently walked me through all the options I should explore, even though she delivers that spiel hundreds of times a day. Honestly, I felt
like a guest in her home.

The same was 100% true at the Ritz. And it didn’t end with the man behind the counter. Every team member we encountered were all just as insanely nice and helpful―from the restaurant servers to the bartenders to housekeepers to
groundskeepers.

There are many ways to explain those experiences. Since I’ve been an executive in the hospitality space, I naturally walked through the options. First, it was easy to believe what I experienced was a product of brand standards and good training. After all, I’ve heard other people say, “I don’t understand why I’m getting such poor service. It’s just not that hard!” What they’re implying is that it shouldn’t be hard to have a standard for good service and for team members to know and follow those
standards.

But to me, the problem isn’t… hard.

I believe a lot of companies do have standards which address service. And I don’t believe their team members have difficulty remembering the standards or deliberately choose to ignore what’s expected of them.

I think the problem is… care. If you want customers to love your brand, it starts with your team members loving your brand.

And love is a strong word. As an example, you could give a newly married couple a contract of expectations (think standards) that outlines all the musts and mustnots of the relationship. However, if there isn’t an authentic love between the individuals, the rules will likely get broken and the relationship will be compromised.

The same is true with a company and its customers. Team members who authentically love a brand will create customers who love a brand. Team members who like a brand will only create customers who like a brand. Team members who hate a brand will certainly lose customers who grow to hate a brand.

I think the same could inherently be said about an individual’s work with internal stakeholders, too. Despite whether or not you are good at your craft, people will notice if you love, like, or hate your department or team.

It’s hard to hide a state of like or hate with solid work quality alone because stakeholders don’t just judge the things you produce ― they also judge how you treat people in the process.

So, if the problem is care, how do leaders get their team members to care?  Unfortunately, there’s no universal, Holy Grail answer to this question. If you’re a leader, I would ask: what would it take for you to love the organization you serve? Certainly, you wouldn’t expect your team members to love an organization you don’t love. If you do love where you work, is it possible for your team members to love it for the same reasons? (As an example, your pay and status isn’t something they can share in.) If so, authentically share those values. It may make a huge difference in their journey to… care.

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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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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.

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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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Touchy, Feely Trust Fall Kind of Stuff (well, not really)

“You give loyalty, you’ll get it back. You give love, you’ll get it back.” —Tommy Lasorda

We got a call from our son’s school the other day. It wasn’t because he was winning the Student of the Year award. No, it was one of those dreaded conversations where you hear that your child did something so absurdly ridiculous you go right to, “What in the world was he thinking?!?!” My son is 14 — at that age, I wasn’t exactly joining the Peace Corps or helping Ms. Guthrie get her cat out of the tree. So, I knew I should cut him some slack.

When he got home, we sat him down and calmly asked, “Will you help us understand why you thought it was a good idea to…”
His answer really took us back. I think even the most well-balanced parents trained in Love and Logic would have gone running and screaming from our house. He looked me straight in the face and said, “Because the school’s rules didn’t say I couldn’t.” Really? Why couldn’t he have applied that logic to an action like using his allowance to buy teachers appreciation gifts? I’m pretty sure school rules don’t say anything about not doing that!

This situation got me wondering: is it this line of reasoning that sometimes causes leadership to go wrong? Have you ever heard a leader justify a decision he made with the business equivalent of, “Because the rules didn’t say I couldn’t?” How did it impact the way you felt about the company you worked for? Here’s the deal: every company I’ve ever worked for or been exposed to wants their customers to love them.

And I’ve learned in my executive career that your customers will never love you if your team members don’t love you first.

Admittedly, love is a strong word. In the business world, it’s only earned by invested and involved leaders who treat their team well—especially when something big changes in the workplace. Some leaders think that’s soft and squishy. They proclaim they “don’t have time” to “bring people along” because they need to focus on the “real work.” Maybe that’s the reason Gallup reports almost 70% of the US workforce is not engaged/actively disengaged; maybe that’s the reason 70% of all change initiatives fail. To me, it sounds like soft and squishy might actually be hard and tangible.

But then again, I don’t believe change and innovation is an end-user or team member problem; it’s a leadership opportunity.

While traditional change tactics like communications and training place the burden squarely on the shoulders of the people receiving a big change, (I believe) there are conditions that leaders solely own and influence ... and determine whether success is even possible at an execution level.

Conditions like alignment, where executives are absolutely clear on WHY they are pushing a big change—and communicate that WHY every day to team members. Yes, daily! Conditions like capacity, and ensuring people have the time of day to absorb the new “Thing.” These are just a couple of the head-slapping, intuitive conditions that influence success. Seems obvious, but leaders often ignore them.

It’s been said, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder,” but in the case of leadership it absolutely does not work that way.

Team members need their leaders available and willing to provide crystal clear clarity to avoid organizational dysfunction and confusion. Speaking of clarity, seems like my son might need more of it. And one thing I need him to know: even a good excuse will never justify bad behavior. Sometimes you do things because you just know it’s right. Some call that soft and squishy. I call that hard and real.

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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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