Week 4: Managing People and the Power of Wow!

Peters references a book by Rosenbluth and Peters called “The Customer Comes Second” (1992) which points out that for customers to come first, employees must come “more first”. It is important that employees feel valued, are treated with respect, and are given the room to develop and thrive. In the knowledge economy, the mantra “Our people are our greatest assets” has to be more than lip service. If employees leave an organization or become disengaged, the loss to profitability is both real and tangible.

Peters suggests a number of ways to build in breaks, both daily and occasional, to refresh employees. One of my favorites are a milk and cookie or coffee break in the afternoons, so everyone gets up from their desks, stops what they were doing, and talks to each other. Other good suggestions include holding meetings outside, taking an afternoon off for a team activity, talent shows, spring cleaning day, and spontaneous bagel or pizza parties. All of these activities get people out of their spaces and routines to have fun and recharge.

Another important aspect of developing a team atmosphere is the size of the group. When the unit is several thousand people large, people will splinter down to smaller groups automatically. By organizing smaller units with distinct missions, people can really bond as teams and feel like they are a part of something that is larger than themselves. The size question also relates to the amount of bureaucracy in the organization. Peters encourages leaders to carefully consider how much administration is really needed to accomplish its goals and consider pushing more of the decision making down to the front line managers.

The “Three Rs for the ’90s” still hold true in 2016:

  • Reputation. You are as good as those who publicly attest to the quality of your work.
  • Resume. You must know and communicate your skills and measurable accomplishments.
  • Rolodex. Professional relationships are more important than ever. Who can you call on when you need something or have a question?

Interviewing is one of the most important skills you will develop as a leader. Peters suggests several lessons from his experience:

  • Spread them out and give yourself enough time to really tune into the person you are interviewing.
  • Find a comfy setting and avoid interviewing people from behind your desk.
  • Small talk helps some people loosen up and connect. If you are good at it, it can be a useful approach.
  • Prepare! Have more questions that you need/want to ask. This makes you feel confident and gives the impression that you are prepared to your interviewee.
  • Expect those you are interviewed to give specific examples. Don’t let them get away with talking in generalities.
  • Take notes immediately after your interviews so you remember your impressions and the details vividly.
  • Practice interviewing with other great interviewers at your company to understand their style and adapt what works for you.

People (individually) matter more today than they ever have in organizations. Creating a culture that reinforces people’s sense of value and contribution to the mission of the organization sets the company up for success. Choosing the right people that fit with the company culture and have the skills and knowledge that you need is one of the most important roles that you have as a leader. Adding the wrong person to your team can have lasting consequences, so choose wisely, train them well, and treat them like the assets they are.

 

Rosenbluth, H. & Peters, D.M. (1992). The customer comes second: And other secrets of exceptional customer service. New York: Morrow, 1992.

Week 3: Power and The Pursuit of Wow!

Tom Peters starts the chapter “Getting Things Done” by exploring the concept of power. I share his understanding that power is a “normal part of everyday life” that is essential to accomplishing goals and achieving success. True, power can have a dirty connotation and often people are uncomfortable leveraging it, but it also has potential to drive serious progress and do a whole lot of good. Peters presents a number of practical (and not at all dirty) ways that we can strategically build power (and a lot of these you’re probably doing already). Below are a few of my favorites:

  1. Write thank you notes. Peters believes this is so important that if you can take writing thank you notes to heart, you can (almost) throw the rest of the book away. This simple expression of genuine gratitude impacts people so positively that you won’t believe the kind of support and loyalty it can encourage.
  2. Recognize people. When someone does a great job, celebrate it. Everyone loves to be recognized.
  3. Gently remind people of your contributions. Peters tells a great story here about a manufacturer who had a long history of on time deliveries. To promote this, they added a performance score to their invoices to (gently) remind customers that they were exceeding expectations by putting the requested delivery date, the actual date, and subtracting them to show how far ahead of schedule the delivery was sent. The results were HUGE.
  4. Give credit to everyone. It costs you nothing and doesn’t diminish your successes in any way to acknowledge when someone else helped you get there.
  5. Show up. Sometimes, being in the right places makes all the difference. If you don’t show up, those opportunities will never happen. In the age of email, people notice when you schedule a meeting in person.
  6. Leaders back their people up. In stressful times, showing up with a pizza or rolling up your sleeves to do some of the grunt work will gain huge loyalty from your team.
  7. People notice the little things. If you go out of your way to address an issue that inconveniences someone, they will never forget it. Removing small hurdles often pays big dividends.
  8. Networking is power. Having and maintaining connections that you can call upon (and they you) when needed will infinitely increase your value to your organization.
  9. Solve problems quickly. Letting a problem remain unaddressed usually makes it worse. Even if it isn’t fun to do, eliminating small problems early means they won’t grow to be big problems later.
  10. Be nice. Don’t underestimate the power associated with being the kind of person that others want to be around.

A lot of this is practical advice, but I think many people don’t make the connections to the accumulation of power. As you become a trusted adviser that people at all levels of your organization recognize and support, it makes good sense that power will follow. This is the kind of power I want, because it is gained doing things that I’m proud to do anyway. In doing so, it can help me achieve organizational goals (and by extension my own).

Week 2: The Pursuit of Wow!

For the next several weeks I will be blogging on The Pursuit of Wow by Tom Peters. Although this book was published over 20 years ago, I find the book to be just as relevant and insightful for today’s entrepreneurial leader. The book is a compilation of more than 200 observations by Tom Peters, a management guru, on how to achieve WOW. It is written in a way that is extremely accessible, as his style leans toward informal conversation rather than formal academic language. In short, I know from the first two chapters that this will be a very fun read.

The root idea of this book is that individuals at every level of a firm or business should be looking for opportunities to stand out from the crowd. One that really stood out for me in chapter 1 was focused on attentiveness. A research study on why customers left 14 major manufacturing and service companies showed that only 15 percent of the customers were lost because of quality and 15 percent for price. The remaining 70 percent was related to the human side of doing business like lack of attention from the company or contact was not good quality. This was a great reminder of how important paying attention to your customer is.

Another great observation is a quote by Albert Einstein answering a question about how he works. His response: “I grope.” I love this! It reinforces that even a genius like Einstein recognizes that his progress is iterative and imperfect. To get to a place of discovery, it will not necessarily be pretty.

Pay-What-You-Can

The idea of starting a “pay-what-you-can” food truck came to me after a visit to the F.A.R.M. Cafe in Boone, North Carolina. A group of citizens concerned with the unmet hunger in their community partnered with a local church to open F.A.R.M. Cafe in downtown Boone where everyone would eat regardless of their means. It is staffed largely by volunteers and serves as much local food as possible. The food is good, so lots of paying customers frequent the business beyond those seeking the free meal and others donate to support the mission to end hunger.

After more research, I discovered that there is a growing network of pay-what-you-can eateries across the United States. One World Everybody Eats is a foundation that offers support to individuals seeking to apply this business model to address hunger in their communities. They offer a manual sharing the lessons learned and best practices for those starting a new cafe. In the last ten years, more than 50 pay-what-you-can cafes have opened and 20 more are in the development stages.

The more I learn, the more I am convinced that this model can work in Charlotte, North Carolina. The citizens are very generous financially and with volunteer time. There is also a growing appreciation for locally sourced food and an expanding food truck scene. Unfortunately, the need in Charlotte is great. The local nonprofit infrastructure is not able to fully meet the needs of the hungry, so there is capacity for another service that addresses this need in a new way and a food truck would provide a flexible service that could partner with existing organizations that address hunger to fill in gaps.

In the weeks to come, I look forward to sharing what I learn about the hospitality industry, the food truck business, social entrepreneurship, and running a nonprofit organization. I plan to interview current food truck owners that have offered to share their expertise and experiences with me as I embark on this journey. I appreciate your interest!