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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Brilliant Jerks

“We don’t devote enough scientific research to finding a cure for jerks.” —Bill Waterson

I came across a meme this week that really got my attention. Admittedly, I usually ignore stuff like this, but I opened up LinkedIn and there it was—staring me in the face and practically begging me to read it. Perhaps you’ve seen it, too. It’s a photo of Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, with the quote, “Do not tolerate brilliant jerks. The cost is too high.” Before I go much further, I don’t personally know Reed nor have I ever worked at Netflix. (You see, this is the reason I don’t usually care about memes—it’s hard to confirm they’re true.) As I researched the quote on Google, I realized there was quite a negative stir in the marketplace regarding Reed’s term. The truth is, I don’t care. And I don’t care if I’m late to the party on this conversation. I love the phrase, and I think it’s 100% true.

It was 2006, and I was new to consulting. The company I worked for attracted a high-tech startup as a client. My role as a Principal was to manage delivery, keep our customer happy, and provide leadership to the project team. The client’s chief executive, TJ, was my point-of-contact, and I was to collaborate with him on an important initiative. Talk about a brilliant jerk!

From the day we walked into his office, he treated us like trash. He never once made eye contact. Frequently, when any of us asked him a question, he would flip his hand in the air while saying, “I don’t see why that’s important. This is what I think is important …” To make matters worse, he made a clicking noise between sentences that was meant to be audible punctuation. As it related to the clicking, he once told me, “People can’t keep up with me so I help them understand when I am shifting to another idea.” Apparently we were all dipsticks and lucky to have someone as sensitive as him worrying about whether we were keeping up!

TJ was really innovative. He and his company had an interesting product which could disrupt the entire payments industry. His team of engineers were some of the smartest people I’ve ever met. There were many times I had to pinch myself because I wasn’t sure how I could add any value to what they were working on. But TJ was a brilliant jerk, and no surprise, his company never experienced a breakthrough moment.

As Kristine and I have been launching our new company, we’ve been focused on growing something that’s built on values. Very early in the process, we decided on a “No Assholes” rule that would be applied to our clients and anyone we hire. I know that may seem crass, but imagine how it feels to be demoralized by people who believe they are intellectually or financially entitled to treat others poorly.

Another reason we’re focused on this value is I know I haven’t always done well on this front. I have to admit I had a blind spot for this from time to time and was routinely lured by intelligence or creative talent. As a leader I ended up learning tough lessons about jerks. Sadly, they hurt everyone around them.

Patrick Lencioni, one of the most important thought leaders in organizational health, warns all leaders, “Keeping a relatively strong performer who is not a cultural fit sends a loud and clear message to employees that the organization isn’t all that serious about what it says and believes.” I wish I read that quote back in the early days of my leadership roles.

Have you ever worked with or been impacted by a jerk? Is there a slight chance your own actions and behaviors might be similar to that of TJ’s? You probably don’t need me to tell you that tactic doesn’t work. Tolerating jerk-dom is like a speeding ticket waiting to happen. Brilliance and creativity can be a speeding car that appears to get you from point A to point B really quickly. However, when you get a ticket, go to court, pay a fine, and attend traffic school, it turns out you didn’t save any time at all.

I hope you make it a great week. Avoid the jerks. You don’t deserve to be treated poorly regardless of someone else’s intelligence. More importantly, don’t be one—it’ll get you nowhere and really fast!

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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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