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Sit On The Same Side Of The Table

It’s end of year, which means trying to get my life back into focus. As an example, over this past Christmas holiday, I spent some time getting our new home in order. Interspersed with all the yuletide merriment, I decided to get medieval on all the unpacked boxes and disorganized clutter that had accumulated over the past six months.

The psychic rewards of this end of year cleaning blowout have been great…not only do I know where things are, I found a lot of items I had been searching for recently, including some past issues of my favorite magazines. Last night, with a glass of shiraz in hand and the girls in bed, I sat with the September 2006 issue of Fast Company which happens to be focused on customer service (it’s the one with Lewis Black looking like he’s in the first stages of trying to pass a kidney stone).

Inside the issue is an article on Danny Meyer, a successful New York restaurateur, who believes his winning edge comes down to hospitality. Big deal, right? We might expect a restaurant, as well as a hotel, spa, or even theme park to focus on hospitality. But, take a minute to fully consider Danny’s concept of hospitality:

Virtually nothing else is as important as how one is made to feel in any transaction. Hospitality exists when you believe the other person is on your side.

Danny encourages us to elevate the idea of a transaction beyond the usual impersonal financial payment for a product or service. All that typically gets us on the corporate side is a headache where the customer demands ever-increasing levels of service because they’ve handed over their hard-earned money. And who can blame the customer anyway? Many companies have done their very best to betray their customers’ trust by focusing only on the business’ end of that transaction (read: bottom-line profits). In the end, this narrow view of the transaction simply devolves into the all too-familiar customer/corporation antagonism.

Instead, what would happen if we think of the transaction as a binding force for a relationship? How would our business change if we acknowledged that a transaction is not only a financial exchange, but also an exchange of feelings, hopes, and dreams? What if instead of sitting across from our customers at the table, we chose to sit on the same side? A fella isn’t just buying a new silk shirt, he’s buying an image that makes him feel more attractive. A group of friends aren’t just eating dinner, they’re paying for an experience that accentuates their time together. A non-profit organization isn’t purchasing for a new piece of software, they’re buying a tool that will help them be more successful at delivering on their mission. There’s so much more to the customer’s side of the transaction, but it’s up to the business to learn what it is and make the attempt to fulfill it (fully bearing in mind that this ideal isn’t always possible).

As you begin plotting out business goals for 2007, consider the impact of sitting on the same side of the table as your customers. If you have a disgruntled customer or client, ask what it would take for them to believe that you are on their side.

What are you doing today to create an active spirit of hospitality?

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Wild World Of Sports: Don’t Pull An Erickson

If you’re a manager or other stripe of executive who happens to leave one organization for another, I implore you not to pull an “Erickson.” What’s an Erickson, you ask? It’s a decidedly anti-leader move that firmly and publicly announces how much the current company and its employees have held you back from greatness. Why is it called an Erickson? Consider this most recent scenario as reported by ESPN:

Dennis Erickson informed his players of his plans to leave Idaho at a team meeting Sunday before he boarded a private jet to Phoenix for the official announcement that he would become head coach at Arizona State, and the players’ reactions were mostly indifferent — until he left the room.

You know you have a problem when your head honcho tells his players he’s leaving and all he gets is indifference. But then, after your coach tells you that he’s off somewhere else to claim his glory…well, perhaps that might explain it. Here’s how one player recalls the meeting:

It was kind of weird with Erickson talking and telling us he thinks he can win a national championship at Arizona State. It makes us realize the doubt he had in us. I guess he has to do what he has to do. 

Most of us have left organizations for reasons connected to our own sense of purpose. We need to move on in order to fulfill our purpose. Sometimes we might just leave for reasons like the ones that Erickson offered: the current organization isn’t set up for our own success. But for Pete’s sake, don’t go and broadcast it to your staff! Here’s why…not only does it insult your past work, but it likely will follow you in the future. How are you feeling if you’re a player at Arizona State right now? How many of them are thinking, “Oh goodie, Dennis Erickson thinks he can bring a National Championship here.” Perhaps the sentiment is, “Crap, here’s yet another coach who will leave us when something better comes along. Just a month ago, his players at Idaho thought he was there to build a program.”

Again, we all leave organizations when we are ready to move on (unless we’re kicked out or laid off which is a whole other topic). The lesson that Dennis Erickson teaches us is when we do move on, do it with some grace.

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The Good, The Bad, And The Funny of Customer Service

A lot of my new work still has a heavy customer focus to it. And fortunately, I work for a company that is trying to “get it” when it comes to cultivating relationships and delivering service. When I need to be reminded of my own beliefs in working with my customers, there are a few blogs that consistently deliver. One is the fairly new BuzzCustomer.com and it’s doing a good job keeping me focused on the value of good service practices and the consequences of treating customers like dirt. Here’s a roundup of the good, bad, and just plain funny…

First, the good. Based on these experiences, how could you not want to buy something from Canon. In both instances, Canon not only provided service, but offered its customers the kind of love you’d never expect from a large company. Want to learn how great word-of-mouth marketing works? It starts with great stories of personal experiences, because once you treat your customers like valued friends (rather than abstract notions of bottom-line corporate mission statements) your company is going to prosper. It may take some time, but it will work. Read the two experiences here and just try to deny their power. I can’t…my next digital camera will probably be a Canon now.

Now, the bad. It took this Acura car dealership nearly six minutes and three people to figure out this poor old lady had the wrong number. It’s hilarious…might I recommend that if you’re training your call staff you use this YouTube clip as a case study in what NOT to do. Remember: hearing a customer is not the same as listening and listening is not the same as understanding.

And finally, the funny. I nearly wet myself watching this video clip. Just remember…be careful who you toss a paper airplane at. It might lead to a worker’s comp issue.

Enjoy!

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Stranger In A Strange Land

I’ve been struggling with this post for the better part of the past week, so deeply enmeshed in its familiarity…it’s been difficult to detach myself from the central message. However, Curt Rosengren’s recent post on revelling in the unfamilar has nudged me over the hump, now coasting downward with momentum to write something (hopefully) comprehensible.

It all got started with something that Patti Digh wrote at the beginning of the week in her post about mud balls. Beyond the new-found curiosity she stimulated with the art of dorodango, she identified a personally well-known gremlin, one that seems to be popping out of his gremlin-hole a bit lately. This gremlin’s name is “Not-Foolish” and is a close cousin to another gremlin called “Got-It-All-Together.”

She writes:

In the classes I teach, I watch people navigate their fear of looking foolish, their desire not to admit that they don’t know, their need to be in control, to know, to have the right answer, to say what teacher wants to hear, to focus on something “out there” and not “in here,” to get the “A” or, at the very least, to leave without being changed in any significant way by their interactions with new knowledge or insight.

The connection for me has to do with my present newness within my work. I’m trying something rather risky…working for a for-profit business for the first time in my career and taking on a newly created position within that company. It’s a mix of fluctuating emotions and situations which conjures feelings of exhilaration and frustration in only ways that something new can do. And, for the most part, I love it. Yet, there are times when I will yield to Not-Foolish in a meeting in order to not feel socially uncomfortable. Hey, it’s okay…it’s a natural part of the learning process since the best learning often means stepping outside of your comfort zone.

So, I’ve walked with Patti’s quote above for a week, allowing it to filter into my conscious interactions with others at work. I’ve acknowledged Not-Foolish and accepted that my questions and comments may indeed seem foolish, but are essential if I’m going to change. Yet, I still could not put this understanding to words until the serendipitous convergence of ideas from Curt and Gretchen Rubin. Damned if working for a new company isn’t like being a traveller in a new country.

For me, the similarities are striking, from just learning how things work (such as the copier and train schedule) and where things are located (such as meeting room D and the local grocery). Then, of course, there’s the whole issue of navigating the differences in culture. With that in mind, I can fully appreciate Gretchen’s feelings when she notes:

But when I’m the tourist, I feel a childish agony of self-consciousness. Intellectually, I know that people aren’t staring in mocking disbelief, that they aren’t interested enough to feel disdainful. It’s my foolish pride, my desire to appear smooth and sophisticated and in control.

Curt adds:

I have felt that same “tourist shame” as Gretchen, and I know it makes no sense whatsoever. So whenever I feel it creeping up on me, I try to turn it on its head and revel in the fact that I’m exploring something new. I revel in the fact that I don’t know my way around, and that I have the opportunity to find my way, rather than navigating on autopilot.

I try to do something similar when I’m stepping into something new on the career front. It’s inevitably bumpy at the beginning, but rather than anguish over the bumps, I try to say, “How cool to be on this new and unfamiliar adventure! I bet something interesting will come out of it.”

These kindred souls have offered an emotional map for navigating the new experience, regardless for where it may be. Trying out a new club? Starting a new school program? Being new is being new and requires patience with ourselves and others. The good news is that sense of newness is transitory as we acclimate to the culture. Of course, our challenge is to constantly seek out those opportunities to be new at something, to grow further outside the safe comfy zone of the familiar.

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Coming Back To Life

Yep, I’m returning from a long, but much needed hiatus and feeling all the better for it. It’s amazing what a little change in scenery can do. In our case, we exchanged the go-go-go hyperdrive environment of Washington DC for the (relatively) laidback pace of Austin TX. Sometimes our body, soul, and mind just needs a fresh start.

So, here I am…new work, new home, new commitment to living completely. All that includes a renewed sense of purpose for Bailey WorkPlay and The Alchemy of Soulful Work starting with a site redesign. If you’re reading from Bloglines or another rss reader, come and take a look (c’mon, click here…I didn’t do all that work for nothing). In addition to what’s already there, I’ll be adding in some cool functionality that should add to the reading experience.

Friends and readers, sorry I’ve been gone for so long…it’s good to be back. Again, we all take this journey together. Let’s be the heroes and heroines of our adventures.

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Take A Break Or Break Down

I’m feeling kinda rowdy today.

Arnie Herz at Legal Sanity has a great post with a slew of links on the subject of balancing one’s work and life. At issue is the fact that most American corporations, consulting and law firms, and even non-profit organizations practice a modern type of indentured servitude. And most of us American employees just settle for it thinking this is the only way to make a better living. Okay, maybe that’s stretching Arnie’s post and point a bit, but let’s consider a few things.

Are you taking a vacation this summer or at another point this year? If you’re roughly one out of three American employees, you’re making a decision to forfeit your vacation time. That’s according to a survey conducted by Expedia.com. I used to work with a woman who was allowed to rack up 225 hours of vacation time (for those of you scoring at home, that’s nearly a month). When she transferred into the department I managed, I was strongly encouraged by my own director to get her to take leave. Thinking it would be easy to get her to take two or three weeks in the slow summer months, it was more like pulling teeth. She was a support specialist and felt she was needed too much to be away even for a couple of days. She was concerned that something would fall apart and she wouldn’t be there to handle it. She felt responsible for the working group. Sound familiar? She was also so burnt out of her job that she was constantly on edge, always a whisker away from a good cry.

What she failed to realize is that her “dedication” was slowly killing her or at least robbing her of joy in life. And you could also make some arguments that there was more going on here than just wanting to be a great support staff. Make no mistake…workaholism is just as addictive, damaging, and soul-consuming as some of the other “-olisms” like alcoholism.

Here’s a challenge to you if you’re a manager or an exec…tell your people to get lost at some point this summer. If the summer is a particularly busy time of year for your organization, then make it known that each person is going to need to take some time off when it slows down. If they don’t know how to take a vacation, confiscate the Blackberry and block their access to email and voicemail. Call it “tough love” because it’s an act of love to help another person reconnect with their full life.

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How Is Your Elevator Pitch Going Down?

It’s such a good idea it makes me wish that I thought of it first. We all know how important that 30 minute second elevator speech is when it comes to introducing our work or our company to a potentially interested person. We know how it has to grab that other person by the shirt collar and shake into them a clear recognition that you are just the individual to solve their problems. But how do you know whether your pitch is any good or not? You could always try it out on a friend or a family member and get feedback. Or you could try it out on a potential client and see how it lands.

Or you could submit it to Your Elevator Pitch, a website that allows you to post your pitch and receive ratings and feedback from others. In some ways, its kind of a self-help group for microentrepreneurs. One upside of the site is that it gives you access to others who are fine-tuning their pitch and you can gather ideas.

Right now, the site seems a bit new. For that reason, there are a few downsides. Your Elevator Pitch makes it easier to give quick, knee jerk ratings than actual comments to help you improve your message. I tried to add a message to one of the pitches and I’m not sure it actually posted. And there’s not a very good way to search all pitches which will be problem if the site scales too far beyond the 78 pitches there today.

With that said, the site has a lot of potential and here’s hoping that it can be a successful way for those of us working on selling our work or companies to craft a dynamic message. Give it a shot and let me know what happens. You’ll probably find my pitch there in a few weeks.

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Our Now Is All We Have

When God wants you to follow a particular path, God will clear all obstacles from your way.

This belief has occupied my mind these past few weeks. In this short span of time, we managed to get our current house under contract and have an offer accepted on our top home in Austin, TX. So, as of August 1, we will be official Texans and Austinites.

Yet, even though most of these things easily fell into place, we did (and still do) experience some nail-biting and gut-wrenching episodes surrounding financing and repairs on our present home. I must admit that there have been more than a few times when my wife and I looked back on our decision to move and asked whether it was the right decision. Was our determination to move to another state 1500 miles away justified? Or was it a semi-delusional dream for new adventure and a better way of life? Of course, these are the questions we ask in our darker hours…but, when we reenter the light we know that this is the right path and that Austin has always been preparing to accept us. In the end, we recognize that these past few months have been an exercise in faith.

Still, it’s almost impossible to not obsess over all the details and the potential areas where things could go wrong. Fortunately, I received a trackback from Halina Goldstein who writes a blog called The Inner Travel Journal. Wandering through her blog, I discovered a post called Obsessions that really spoke to me. She writes of how we neglect the present by overfocusing on the past and the future:

Each moment is potentially exploding with energy, creativity and significance. Exactly how this I cannot say, but I know that it’s true. And the more I’m willing to let go of empty thoughts about something in the future that may or may not come true (and they will never come true exactly as I’ve imagined them anyhow), the more I’m willing to simply RESPECT THIS VERY MOMENT, NOW, the more I will enjoy my journey.

It’s a beautifully stated reminder for us to slow down, breathe, and get present. After all, that’s all we really have that’s real.

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Take The Mea Culpa Bus

My wife brought me a lesson yesterday evening that really hit home. She was chatting with a friend from a past job who had some interesting news about a former co-worker. Turns out he got fired for both not adhering to clearly communicated working policies and thinking he was above those rules as an assistant manager.

Well, that’s really not why he got fired…that’s merely why he landed himself in some pretty hot water. What got him booted from his job was being defensive and indignant and rather unapologetic about his actions.

As an assistant manager or senior director or any position of organizational authority, we are all leaders. And as leaders with power, we have a greater set of expectations and must model a higher set of values for those around us. As Uncle Ben famously tells Peter Parker, “With great power comes great responsibility.” That’s responsibility that cannot be abused.

However, we all stumble from time to time…it’s human nature. How we react after those stumblings reflects on our own sense of leadership character. What should we do when we fall?

Take full responsibility. Not a little, not three-quarters, but full responsibility. Leaders don’t shirk their own accountability. If you crossed a line or broke a rule, come clean about it. And even if you feel partly justified in your action, ask whether that justification comes from your own pride and ego.

Ask for forgiveness. As hard as it is to say “I’m sorry,” there are few words in the language that have as much power. Make it honest and sincere, make it from the heart.

Seek to understand how to earn trust and respect back. This is usually the part that gets missed and yet can be the most valuable.

Act. Now, show your contrition by making the most of the moment. Your character is on the line. How will you respond?

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Finding Purpose Is The Journey

Ever have the thought that the sooner you find your purpose in life, the happier you’ll feel? It’s kind of like our unique sense of purpose is the final piece to the puzzle of life and once it locks into place…well then we can check that one off the list and then really start living.

I admit this trap is hard not to fall into at times. And when you do, it’s always nice to have someone help you climb out. For instance, I like what Patricia Soldati writes in her article, Finding Purpose: Don’t Let It Get You Down:

Purpose is not a thing, or a goal to be achieved. Maybe it’s your workor maybe not. It lives on no one’s timetable and defies any systemic approach that says, “At the end of this lesson, you will be able to”

In fact, the more you hard-core it — set your mind to finding it — the more elusive it becomes. You end up chasing away that which you most want to embrace in your life.

She then lists four ways to reconsider the journey of finding purpose. My big takeaway? Number 2: Find it outside of your own needs. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in my own sense of self-exploration, I forget that the answers to the really big questions just might exist outside of myself.

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