The Power of Gratitude

thank youOver the last few weeks, I’ve had conversations with a number of people after sharing with them how much I appreciate what they are doing. In each case, I’ve heard many people talking about how much impact the person had on them, how their behaviors and actions have changed and overall gratitude for the person. In each case, I was surprised to hear from each person that they very rarely heard the simple words “thank you”, let alone a more extensive note or verbal expression of gratitude.

A friend of mine is amazing at this – she hand writes thank you notes, constantly expresses appreciation and compliments those around her. It is always genuine, heartfelt and a perspective that shows depth of appreciation. The smile in return shows how much the recipient appreciates it. This topic is an area I’ve worked on over time, and continue to work on and look to people like her to emulate. Whether publicly or privately, I’m not sure you can ever express gratitude enough!

Losing your pants, literally. It puts a whole new perspective on risk mitigation

escalator riskThe slow steady rhythm of the escalator carried two women and one man down from the upper level. Hundreds travel the path every day without incident, but not this time. The woman’s pants were slightly long for her height. When she got to the bottom, the pant leg caught in the escalator. Just like the movies, things seemed to move in slow motion. She began tipping over and finally landed face first on the floor. The escalator pulled her pants off inch by inch as her companions tried to pull them from the grasp of churning steel. Several others sprang into action, trying to find the emergency shut off button to no avail. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, building security shut the escalator down. The woman stood up to a small crowd gasping in horror, with a bruised ego and ripped clothing, but no other apparent injuries.

I was mortified for the poor woman and think about her every time I see the escalator. She could have been seriously hurt, and was lucky she wasn’t. Watching people go up and down the escalator, most are distracted by a conversation, reading, texting or talking on a mobile device, looking for the person they are meeting, carrying large objects, etc. Anything but thinking about the risk the escalator presents. And the small sign indication caution along the bottom rail goes unnoticed by those riding up or down.

There aren’t too many vivid examples like this that highlight a very obvious risk that most people don’t even think about. But these sorts of risks are in every business and go unnoticed. The outcomes can be minor, based on luck, or severe. How are you evaluating and managing risks in your business?

Are you looking at the needles or the forest?

forestIt’s been a full week of meetings. Different purposes, different groups. But one thing emerged as a theme out of all of them. Perspective. In each of the meetings, there was a tendency to get into the weeds and not focus on the main objectives. In each meeting, someone asked a question designed at redirecting the conversation back to the appropriate level. In these cases, more strategic, longer term perspectives. The challenge for the folks conducing the meetings is that there is so much going on that they struggle with the day-to-day and getting to the right perspective. They are looking at the needles rather than the forest. How do you keep your perspective in the right place? Do you have someone to challenge you when you are looking at the needles instead of the forest?

Service that makes you say “WOW!”

wowWe all know it when we see it – that little extra something that makes us want to come back because the experience was over the top. That was dinner with a few friends at a local restaurant. We were warmly greeted at the door by name, promptly seated and the dinner began to unfold one course at a time. Each was beautifully prepared, tasted amazing and presented in a warm, hospitable manner. Somehow we always had beverages, food was spaced out in a manner that flowed and the experience was wonderful. So much so, that we didn’t even notice dessert was taking a little longer than other courses to make it our way. We were surprised when we were told there wasn’t going to a charge for a few items to make up for the “not up to standard” service. Wow – that little extra touch had us talking for weeks.

Customers have a choice where they spend their money. What experience do you want yours to have?

Why did the chicken cross the road?

crossing roadAs the saying goes, to get to the other side. She was anything but a chicken and in a wheel chair. I was in my car at the stoplight with a bird’s eye view. As she was just about to get to the other side of the street, her face turned into a frown and she started shaking her head. It was at that point that I could see the source of her dismay – no wheelchair ramp to get onto the sidewalk. This street was incredibly busy and narrow. She sped up the street trying to get to the next block before the light released a wave of cars that would quickly engulf her. Luckily she made it without incident, probably because she had a motorized wheelchair.

The city is very focused on meeting the needs of pedestrian traffic, so it was surprising that there was no ramp at this particular intersection. It got me to thinking about how well business does at understanding and meeting the needs of its customers. There were very well marked crosswalks meant to move people safely across a busy intersection, but one critical element was missing that puts a group of people in danger. While most business cases are not this extreme in terms of not meeting the needs of customers, it is a good reminder to think about how people use products and services.

The Value of a Sounding Board

sounding boardIt’s lonely at the top. And until you get there, you don’t really understand how true that statement is. You are responsible for the organization – its people, its products and its results. The tough decisions, the balls that need to be juggled and the lack of people in the company that you can talk to on sensitive issues and hard decisions that need to be made. It can be a heavy load.   But it can also be a lot of fun with the right perspective and outlook. That’s why it is important as a senior leader to have a sounding board.

Years ago, someone introduced me to the idea of a personal board of directors. People you go to for various areas in your life that have perspectives that challenge your own. For each person it will be different, but it helps to have people that have known you for years in some cases, and are new to you in other cases. These folks should push you to be your personal best – at work and in life. I’ve loved this concept and use it in my own life and it has made me reflect and adjust in ways that are difficult, but needed.

In addition to the personal board of directors, there may be times that more intense focus is needed to address a specific opportunity. At those times, it may be necessary to bring on someone who has been in the same shoes and made hard decisions from a leadership perspective. It’s important to be able to bounce ideas, thoughts and challenges off of someone who has been there and can help you sort through a clear path forward.

Do you have a personal board of directors or a person you can go to as a sounding board? How are you getting the advice you need to be successful?

The Emperor has no clothes

advisor businessWalking down the hall yesterday, a man was walking at some distance ahead of me. Not unusual as this particular hallway is typically pretty crowded. The unusual thing was what he was wearing – a bright white toilet seat liner that stood out against his dark blue pants. I wondered how many people had walked by him without pointing it out. So when I did, he was extremely grateful I had whispered the news to him.

It got me to thinking about how these sorts of things happen every day in business. Many of us have had those embarrassing moments and are grateful to strangers, friends or co-workers who save us from parading around all day with food in our teeth, toilet paper or seat liners hanging out from our pants or stains on our shirts. But many times people will pass by without saying a word. And when the issues become larger and more important, how many will say “there’s a problem”? Do you have people who tell you what you want to hear, or that there is actually a problem? What can you be doing to make sure those lines of communication are open and you get the news you really need to hear?

What Message Are You Sending Your People?

message sending peopleYou work hard, you do all the right things and you exceed the expectations of your boss and your customers. Praise comes rolling in. In fact, you’ve done such a great job that the promotion you were hoping for comes your way. What could be better? Well, a raise to go along with that extra work would be nice. Usually it works that way, right?

Well, not always. Nothing can be more deflating than working hard for a promotion and being told you get more work at no additional pay. That’s what happened recently to a gentleman I was speaking with. He was so excited to get the promotion after accomplishing all of the pre-requisites that had been set out by his supervisor. He had a terrific performance review to boot. His reward was a company average merit increase for the year and no promotional increase. In other words, he achieved more and did more than people with average performance and was rewarded with the same pay and more work. And when queried, his supervisor and HR pointed at the other indicating the decision was made elsewhere.

So, how is the company doing at retaining high performing people? It wasn’t surprising to hear that the company has lost most of its highest performing people in the last year and a half. People are smart – they get the message they are sent, even if the message is not intentional. So, what message are you sending your people? Is it the message that you want them to receive?

The road you know

road you knowAn acquaintance recently reached out and suggested having coffee to catch up. We live and work on opposite ends of town, so he suggested meeting in the middle at a specific Starbucks. Knowing that particular spot, which is heavy to foot traffic, but a little more difficult to reach via car, I suggested an alternate Starbucks that is right off the freeway with a parking lot. Seemed like a great alternative to me and should have been easier for him.

So, I was surprised when he said “let’s stay with the original suggestion. It’s a little tougher for parking, but closer to the freeway.”

Mapping the route in my mind from the freeway to each location, I was still confused by the comment. The alternative location I provided should have been closer to him and closer to the freeway. Then it hit me – people tend to gravitate toward the road they know. It’s easy to flip on autopilot and just go. How often do you take the road you know in business? And by doing that, what opportunities to find a better way are you passing up?

Unintended Consequences

recycled cupsIt’s the end of cold season with lots of germs flying around. To help combat the spread of disease, an airline I fly regularly decided to no longer allow flight attendants to fill up a cup that a passenger brought on board. This includes water bottles, or in my case a cup for tea. Instead, they now bring multiple cups of water that can then be poured into the container brought on board. The change makes a lot of sense from a prevention of disease perspective.

What may not have been thought through is the impact to the environment. With the number of additional cups being used throughout the course of a flight, the impact can get to be fairly significant over time. Think about that in the context of business more broadly. How many times are decisions made with good intentions, only to have an unintended negative consequence? When you make a change in your business, how do you evaluate the impact to your business? How can you make sure your decisions don’t have significant unintended consequences?