Tom Peters, one of the best known thinkers on leadership and management, wrote a book a few years ago entitled The Little Big Things. It’s about all the small, daily things that we can do that make a big difference to our customers and to our employees.
One theme repeats itself throughout the book: appreciation. It costs nothing and it means a great deal. The simple words “Thank you” or “I appreciate what you did” can really change someone’s day…maybe even their life.
Who did you show appreciation to this week?
Who will you show appreciation to next week?
So, what will 2012 hold for you?
In one sense, continuing change and uncertainty are to be expected. But that doesn’t mean that you need to be controlled by these things—or any other external factor.
What do you want to accomplish next year? I don’t mean resolutions per se. I mean, what do you really want?
In terms of your family life, your health and fitness, your spiritual growth?
In terms of business achievement?
In terms of fun?
People who set unrealistic or too many resolutions fail. People who don’t have any goals or aspirations also fail.
Figure out what really matters and start pursuing. It’s a journey not a program.
I don’t think I know anyone who doesn’t thoroughly enjoy this time of year. Maybe I do but, other than Ebenezer Scrooge, their names aren’t coming to mind right now.
For me it’s a time of family—kids, grandkids (mine are the cutest in the world and also the smartest). Love, laughter, pranks, and gifts of love. Not to mention Cindy’s incredible meals and treats!
It’s a time of giving. To charity as well as to friends and family. I am particularly blessed in that I do my shopping on Main Street USA and not the mall. It’s quaint, personal and actually relaxing.
It’s a time of faith and personal renewal. Things just kind of get put into priority and perspective when you step away and realize there’s a lot more to life than just working or buying stuff or paying bills.
It’s also a time of reflection. I enjoy looking back over the past year—from a personal and professional angle. Did I accomplish what I wanted to in business? With my family? With my wife? What have I learned? What could I have done better? What should I stop doing? What should I do more of?
And finally, it’s a time of planning. I don’t mean deep strategic planning but a chance to set some priorities and goals for the next year. I’ve been doing this for nearly the last 20 years and it’s always been a healthy and fun thing to do. How can I do more of the things I really care about and believe in during 2012?
So, as we enter the season, let me wish all of you a Merry Christmas and the Happiest of Holidays. And let me ask you to say a special prayer of thanks for those men and women in our armed forces who will miss all the things we’ll enjoy as they protect us and our freedoms.
This afternoon I was flying out of Asheville (@flyavlnow) to Oklahoma City. Our outbound flight was delayed due to mechanical trouble; if you fly enough it happens.
I was disturbed, though, when the gate agent, who was in her own awkward way diligently making sure folks were backed up on connections, began barking out our last names. Kind of like your Marine Drill Instructor meets your dental hygenist: BAER! SMITH!
As is my custom I tweeted about it. Well to my astonishment I receive an almost immediate Direct Message from the Asheville airport team. They wanted to know who this agent was so they could address it. Then another DM: can you meet us so we can thank you and give you a gift? I don’t particularly need a gift (although I will wear my AVL airport tshirt with pride) but I went to meet them. Amy from the marketing team was there and thanked me for the feedback and told me how much they are committed to making customer service at the airport the best there is. Now keep in mind that the gate agent doesn’t report to the airport but to the airline. Nevertheless they intend to
“encourage” more professional service.
I’ve been thinking about this the entire flight. Fast, attentive, creative, and strategic use of social media. It wasn’t advertising. It was taking real time data and actually doing something about it. A sort of customer service flash mob. There are a ton of applications to our own businesses don’t you think?
So I had a contract with ATT for our business landline. It auto-renewed about a year ago (without my knowing it). They claim I was notified via my bill but since I get it electronically through my bank I didn’t see it. So, when I cancel my landline in favor of wireless and VOIP I get hit with a $380 cancellation fee.
I contested the bill with their "customer care" department (got more feeling from a garbage collector!) and was told that there was a legally binding contract in place and that since THEY had lived up to their end of the bargain I should too. I will by the way, since I lost the argument.
What I tried to explain was the difference between a legal decision (i.e. the contract says I have to pay) and a business decision (are they willing to forgo the possibility of every having me return to ATT as a customer over $380). Apparently, ATT is so big and so powerful and so determined that they don’t care. OK. You’re huge and even if I did come back and spend a lot of money it wouldn’t really matter. You’d rather be legally correct and lost a customer for life (along with as many as I can take with me).
But here’s the valuable lesson. As a small business owner and operator, I can’t afford to be legally correct and business wrong. I can’t afford, nor do I want, to lose customers over a few hundred dollars. My decision would have been the opposite. In the spirit of service, I would have gambled on losing me for a while but keeping me happy and open to returning.
What would you do?
Like many people I talk with Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. There are lots of reasons. It’s simple (except for my wife who spends days preparing for the mad consumption moment). There are no presents. Just family, friends, and food. How could you not love that?
One thing I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is the whole matter of gratitude and giving thanks. It dawned on me the other day that I’ve never seen a thankful, unhappy person. I’ve never seen a grateful downer. There is something very powerful about giving thanks and expressing gratitude to God, to family, to co-workers, to friends, and sometimes to complete strangers. I am convinced that I just don’t say “Thank you” enough.
So, this year…thank you all for being part of a great company and for all the countless things you have done (large and small) to make life a little better for someone around you and to make our company a little stronger. It all adds up! And it really does matter!
Have a safe and loving holiday!
Every Veterans Day I think of my Dad, now nearly 91.
When the Germans invaded Poland in 1939 my Dad was 19. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor he was 21. He enlisted a few months later and was trained as a fighter pilot in the Army Air Corps. He learned to fly P-47 Thunderbolts, Spitfires, and the magnificent P-51D Mustang. His missions included bomber escort during the dangerous daylight raids of Germany, close air support during D-Day, and he even flew Dwight Eisenhower on reconnaissance. My Dad is one of my heroes.
Like Dad, countless millions of men and women have donned the uniform of the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard to serve and defend America since our founding. I cannot even fathom what life would be like today if they had not done so. This is a day to salute them all—regardless of your politics. They are all American Heroes the likes of which the world is unworthy.
But they aren’t the only ones. Let’s not forget the wives and husbands, children, mothers and fathers who prayerfully supported these warriors from home. Their hope was not only victory but that, God willing, their loved one would come home alive and whole. Their service is worthy of our respect as well.
So, today and this weekend as we remember our veterans let’s do just that. Remember and thank them. We owe them our lives.
Life is complicated enough and business has enough twists and turns without us making it worse. Fortunately, most businesses can be reduced to just a few things, or even one thing, that is the key to making it all work.
There is a great scene in the movie City Slickers in which Curly reduces life to “one thing.” However, he won’t tell what it is. He says you have to discover it for yourself.
What is that one thing or those few things in your business that truly make the difference? Those are your top priorities and everything else is clutter, junk and distraction in comparison.
Dare to reduce your business to what really matters. Make sure your team knows exactly what that is. Align your activities so that you are concentrated on moving the dial. And leave the rest for someone else.
In our country, and indeed all over the globe, we are facing so many crises that we hardly know which one to address first.
But one issue that is rarely identified as a real crisis, which I believe is at the root of so many of these other problems, is a crisis in integrity. So many problems would be greatly diminished or perhaps even disappear if people had acted with integrity and honor.
Pluck a few current events out of the headlines: the housing crisis precipitated by bad loans based on false information . . . the rogue UBS trader who lost $2 billion of his company’s money by making unauthorized trades . . . the high-ranking government officials or elected representatives who never get around to paying their taxes until they get caught . . . identity thieves who destroy innocent people’s credit by "borrowing" their financial and personal information . . . the movie star who gets drunk or high and goes on a rampage of rants and abuse . . . and I could go on and on.
How do we combat this? You’d think in the loudmouth, instant video world of the Internet, it would be difficult to hide. Instead, our culture seems to accept that some people will just behave badly and we should put up with it.
No, we shouldn’t.
We need to draw the line somewhere. We should be able to expect people to live up to reasonable standards. We have an epidemic of blaming others for mistakes, or worse, attempting a cover-up, rather than taking responsibility and swallowing a few bitter pills. We need to teach kids that their actions have consequences, and then apply those consequences. And we need to be prepared to forgive those who are truly sorry for their behavior, and not just because they got caught.
Does that sound terribly old-fashioned? I think it should never go out of fashion.
As I have said so many times before: If you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters.
Assuming the leadership of an organization understands the importance of integrity, the next important decision involves the quality of the people who are hired to work for it.
Many years ago, when I was first hiring employees for my fledgling envelope company, I would check references and ask around for information that would influence my decisions. As tempting as that sounds, in this environment, it is foolhardy. Responsible companies need to perform background checks to expose any red flags that aren’t clearly evident.
I have recently begun working with Merchants Information Solutions, which helps companies with background screening and identity theft solutions. The Merchants’ Integrity Test is designed to help companies avoid high-risk hires by highlighting potential problem areas, like criminal behavior, lying, hostility and substance abuse. Tests like these are not expensive ($10 to $20 each). Considering the damage a bad hire can do to your company and your customers, it’s a bargain. Consider this scenario: An employee who has access to corporate or client credit information, and chooses to steal that information, could cost the company much more than the actual money stolen.
Recovering from an ethical breach sucks the energy out of the most successful operations. Overcoming mistrust and rebuilding relationships is a costly, time-consuming process. Often, the road to restoring confidence is marked with detours, and occasionally, a dead end.
I am encouraged by the buzz I’m hearing from my colleagues who are returning the topic of integrity to the forefront of their business conversations.
I recently introduced my friend, sports and business icon Jerry Colangelo, who hosted Integrity Summit 2011 in Phoenix, put on by the Integrity Business Institute, which Jerry cofounded. This event was organized to educate executives, managers and decision-makers on the importance of making integrity the number one organizational value. Doing the right thing is essential to success, and it avoids destructive and costly issues.
At the summit, we heard from nine other speakers whose occupations ranged from the corporate counsel for the Go Daddy Group and computer parts giant Avnet to a jeweler, an FBI agent, real estate developer and the general counsel for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona. Their backgrounds and experiences spanned the spectrum of business enterprises. Yet every speaker echoed the same message: integrity is an essential component of a successful company.
And, I would add, a successful individual.
Mackay’s Moral: Doing the right thing is never the wrong thing to do.