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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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?!?

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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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All By Myself

"Kudos become ladder rungs, and we begin to elevate ourselves. We shed our smallness, discard the Clark Kent glasses, and don a Superman swagger. We forget. We forget who brought us here." —Max Lucado

Let me begin this blog by sharing a quick excerpt from a book I'm enjoying by Max Lucado called, Outlive Your Life.

"When my nephew Lawson was three years old, he asked me to play some basketball. A towheaded spark plug of a boy, he delights in anything round and bouncy. When he spotted the basketball and goal in my driveway, he couldn't resist.

The ball, however, was as big as his midsection. The basket was three times his height. His best heaves fell way short. So I set out to help him. I lowered the goal from ten feet to eight feet. I led him closer to the target. I showed him how to "granny toss" the ball. Nothing helped. The ball never threatened the net. So I gave him a lift. With one hand on his back and my other beneath his little bottom, I lifted him higher and higher until he was eye level with the rim.

"Make a basket, Lawson!" I urged. And he did. He rolled the ball over the iron hoop, and down it dropped. Swoosh! And how did little Lawson respond? Still cradled in my hands, he punched both fists into the air and declared, "All by myself! All by myself!"

When I read those few paragraphs, I literally chuckled out loud. Anyone who has ever been a parent, mentor, proud Aunt/Uncle, or babysitter has experienced such a moment. And the truth is, anyone who has ever stepped foot in a professional setting has, too!

Maybe you've said the same thing to yourself. Maybe you've heard someone at work say it. Worse yet, maybe you've even heard your boss declare such a thought in a meeting, even if (s)he used slightly different words. The main difference in a work setting (beside the fact that adults are saying it) is it can be accompanied with resentment, self-pity, or arrogance. Here's the punch line though, and you know exactly what I'm going to saymost of the time, it isn't true! Let me say it againmost of the time, it isn't true!

Here's the truthwe need each other, and we're better for being here with each other in life and work. Can you imagine how comforting it would be if we all believed our teammates and leaders actually had our backs more than we think? I believe in most cases, if we did some serious investigative reporting, we would be utterly surprised by the truththey do!

Our accomplishments mostly come with the support and efforts of others, but we don't always notice it.

That's simply because we’re humanunfinished and imperfect, and we are capable of architecting a drama which makes us the underdog ... or we imagine a burning building, where we are the hero who saves the day. The fact is, we aren't alone, and we certainly aren't always required to be a hero.

For all of us, this simple truth can set us free. There is nothing more powerful than not having to prove yourself. If it applies to you, stop believing your success is something you did, "All by myself!" In fact, I challenge you today to thank someone at work for having your back. And by the way, because they’re such a great teammate, they’ll probably return the credit you were looking to give.

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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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