#HoustonStrong

 

Hello from Houston, Texas. To say the past 10 days have been interesting is an understatement of the highest order. The Gulf Coast from Southern Louisiana all the way to the southern Texas coast has been ravaged by Hurricane Harvey.

Seeing the level of destruction is mind boggling, from the wind, storm surge where it hit land, and from the unbelievable flooding that hit many areas, primarily the Houston area. Houston received over year’s worth of rain in four days. They said the flooding was a 500 year event, but receiving that much rain in four days is a FORTY THOUSAND year event. The only thing missing was Noah’s Ark.

The amount of suffering and damage that Harvey caused is gut wrenching. It pains us deeply to see our neighbors suffering such personal and financial losses.

Yet, through this great tragedy comes great hope. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, Police Chief Art Alvarado, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, and Governor Greg Abbot, have done an amazing job under difficult circumstances. Where we live, Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls has demonstrated amazing servant leadership, rescuing people and pets.

Harris County Meteorologist Jeff Lindner not only did a great job keeping us updated on where the flooding would happen, but because a reluctant celebrity in the process. A GoFundMe page was established to “Send Jeff on Vacation” that raised almost $20,000.00. As a county employee, Jeff couldn’t accept it, so he had it routed to charity.

Watching the coverage on local TV stations was riveting. Our favorite location station is KHOU, the local CBS affiliate. Their studios are located on Allen Parkway, just off Buffalo Bayou, the main source  of drainage into the Gulf of Mexico for much of Houston. As the rain from Harvey came in, their studio started to flood. They quickly moved upstairs to their second floor conference room to continue broadcasting. Shortly thereafter, they were given the evacuation order and they scrambled to safety. The only reporter to stay on the air was reporter Brandi Smith, who was reporting live from near the Bush Intercontinental Airport. All she knew was she was the coverage. While streaming live from an elevated roadway, her camera person saw an 18 wheeler drive into deep water and it quickly started entering the cab of the truck. Brandi ran over, yelled at the driver to stay in the cab, it was over 10 feet deep. Yet the water continued to rise and you could see books floating in the cab. Undeterred, Brandi ran out into traffic and flagged down a Harris County Sheriff’s Truck, which happened to be towing an airboat. They quickly put the boat in the water and rescued the guy, with Brandi keeping the driver posted as the boat came to rescue him. I suspect I have socks older than Brandi, yet she and her camera man saved the life of the truck driver. Without the two of them onsite, he would have likely drown. There are hundreds of stories just like these that weren’t caught on live TV, but the point is people were helping people. (You can see her running down the Sheriff’s Truck and the boat rescuing the driver in the pictures above)

We can’t talk about charity without mentioning Houston Texan JJ Watt. JJ started with a $100,000 donation in hopes of raising $200,000. As of this morning, it was $20 million dollars. He may not be from Houston, but he is as Houstonian as it gets. Seeing his leadership in helping Houston is amazing.

For every JJ Watt, there are thousands of unsung heroes  helping with the recovery. There is a large shelter at the NRG Center, a large facility used for tradeshows and the Houston Rodeo. The good people at Baker Ridley were able to turn it into a first class shelter in a matter of hours. While checking in to work a shift, there were cops at the gate near the parking lot. When they checked why I was there, I noticed “Laredo Police” on their patch. While inside, I met cops from El Paso and Lubbock, and State Troopers from Wichita Falls. On the way to NRG, I saw an 18 wheeler with “Los Angeles Fire Department” on the door. Inside the shelter, many of the cots included a fleece with the letters “FDNY” stamped on them.  The list goes on and on of how people, cities, states, organizations, and countries have chipped in to help.

But the most uplifting part of the recovery has been seeing how people have come together to help others. There are no colors, races, or religions. It’s people helping people. For all the hate that exists in our country right now, it was good to see that hate disappear for good people to help good people.

Sure, there has been controversy over whether certain places should have opened and if some areas received help before others. That’s only natural. But the overwhelming majority has been people helping people. Numerous churches, without being asked to do so, opened their doors to house, feed, and clothe people. Others, assembled crews to go out and help with cleaning out flooded homes, removing drywall, mopping, cleaning, and more importantly loving our neighbors. One church in our community is a ‘one stop shop’ for people to stay, be fed, and clothed. Another on Labor Day, assembled 15 crews of 25 people each, to go out and clean flooded homes. This particular church has a membership of approximately 1200 people, meaning 1/3 of the entire membership came out on Labor Day to help. There are 1000s of other stories just like these.

Houston has a long recovery ahead of her. Mayor Turner has said, it’s not a recovery in months, but in years. Yet, with his great optimism and love for the city, he added “Houston is open for business”.

My point is this; in the face of unspeakable disaster, God allowed people to serve people. So much good has come out of this terrible tragedy. I’m a proud native of the great state of Alabama. Yet, living in Texas for 5 1/2 years, I have become a Texan and a Houstonian. Never have I been prouder to be both.

Please continue to pray and support the recovery from Harvey and come visit Houston very soon, we’re open for business!

Bully!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Bully Pulpit: Catch ‘Em Doing Something Right!

Do Something Right

Hello! It’s been too long since the last “The Bully Pulpit”, so I’m happy to provide another edition of our blog.

I often say the benefit of some gray hair is being able to use what you have experienced and learned over time. That great philosopher and country music legend, Toby Keith, has a song that sums it up well: “I Wish I Didn’t Know Now, What I didn’t Know Then”.

TobyKeith
While that does sum it up well, it’s not how it has to be. The ability to take work and life experiences and use them in our everyday lives makes us better parents, spouses, friends, leaders, managers, and employees. Unfortunately, we often learn these lessons the hard way, through bad experiences. Trust me, I’ve had my share of them in my life as I am sure everyone reading this has too.
The key, is what we do with them. Do we let them scar and affect us negatively, or do we learn from them and let it make us better leaders? It’s a choice.
I once worked for a guy who was self-made and very successful. He also was hard core. He grew up at a time that praise was seldom given, as it was expected that a person does their best at every task and do it without hearing praise for it. There was no arguing with his experience and methodology, it was quite successful.
One day during a long conversation, I told him about catching one of our sales reps doing something right, something that would have gone unnoticed. Character, is doing the right thing when no one is looking, and in this case, my sales rep didn’t know I was looking. As I am telling the story, the gentleman gave me his history of being expected to do a great job and not be praised for it. I understand that school of thought. Let’s face it, in almost all cases, people do the right thing the vast majority of the time. Take safety for example. People do the right thing probably 99% of the time (a very general and over reaching estimate, but it’s to make a point). Yet what they hear about 99% of the time is the 1% of the time they didn’t do what was right. Please don’t mistake me, correcting unsafe behaviors is critical. But we need to flip the percentages. Most of what people hear should be catching them, and acknowledging, doing what is right.
The gentlemen listened intently, moving from contemplation to at times looking at me like I had three heads. He didn’t say much, but I knew he was processing it.
A couple of days later, early on a Friday afternoon, I noticed the support staff leaving their building and walking to their cars, and then leaving. This was curious, because they were a great group of hard working people who didn’t watch the clock and never, ever, left early. I went to the gentleman and said ‘hey what is going on, did you fire all of them?”. He said ‘no, they’ve been working hard lately and have done a great job taking care of things. So, I gave them the afternoon off, with pay.’ Then he flashed me a sly grin and left the room.
I soon burst out laughing. He got it! This group had been doing things right for a long time and other than a paycheck, benefits, and stability, had never had it mentioned to them. It was, after all, what was expected. But this change in perception became the reality for him, and while I am sure the staff was stunned beyond comprehension, they were thrilled with the change and for the acknowledgement.
Reflect and look at how you interact as a spouse, parent, child, coworker, boss, coach, employee, volunteer. If you’re spending the majority of your time focused on what has gone wrong, step back and imagine what could happen if you started catching people doing things right. When you do this, you’ll start to capture their hearts and minds, and this is when amazing things happen.
Bully!

 

The Bully Pulpit: WIIFM

WIIFM

“Branding” is a big buzzword. More and more companies are spending time on their corporate image, messaging, and reputation. When meeting with clients and prospects on ways to improve their business, the conversation often moves to their brand.
This isn’t a bad thing. Companies and organizations must present a simple and compelling image and messaging to their customers and prospects. This is all good.

Where the disconnect happens for companies and organizations of all sizes is the focus of the messaging and branding. The vast majority of companies focus their branding, image, and marketing with an internal focus. By doing this, they are missing the point.
Here’s a secret for you. Customers don’t care what companies do. They don’t care about pretty PowerPoint presentations and slick brochures. What customers care about is what companies can do for THEM. People who have been on teams with me have heard use the acronym “WIIFM” over and over. WIIFM stands for “What’s In It For Me”. Whether you’re designing websites, creating marketing materials, branding for companies, or selling, this is one thing you can do to differentiate yourself from the competition. It may seem like a subtle change, but changing your focus from internal to external is a game changer.

Let me give you an example. While in the role of senior sales leader for a global company, I led what we referred to as the ‘capture team’ when there were opportunities with some of the most strategic customers and prospects. Having been on the job for only a month or so, I participated in the first capture team meeting. The opportunity was significant, with a globally known company in the food industry.
One of the members of the capture team had the best relationship with the company, so this person put together a preliminary PowerPoint presentation, which was sent to us in advance of the first capture team meeting to plan strategy. When the PPT arrived in my Outlook email, it took quite a bit of time to down load the file. I thought this was odd.
When I opened, it I realized why. The doggone PowerPoint was 63 slides! I’ve always thought presentations like this should only have a few slides, so I always tried to keep it around 10 to 12, tops.

Reviewing the slide deck, I also noticed the first 20 slides were about our company, with virtually no information about what our prospect was trying to accomplish. The more I looked at it, the madder I got. By the time the meeting came around, I had calmed down, but I was prepared to lay it out. I told the group we were way off course here. They looked at me like I had three heads, but listened to me. By putting all this information at the front of the slide deck about our company and no mention of the prospect, it gave the message that we thought the most important thing was us, not their needs.
The light bulb went off and they asked what to do next. I told them to cut the 20 slides about us to 2 and move it to the back of the deck. Next, cut out the other 40 slides and make it a total of 10 slides, with the focus not on us, but the customer; more specifically, what the customer was trying to accomplish. In short, view it from the customer’s point of view, or What’s In It For Me? WIIFM.

To make a long story short, the slide deck ended up being 12 slides. But it was 100% focused on what the customer was trying to accomplish, not how great we were. As we were leaving the meeting, one of our very respected competitors were in the lobby about to go in for their turn. I jokingly asked one of their guys how many slides in their PowerPoint. His reply “50 ish”. As we walked out the door, I told the other members of the team, “they’re dead and they don’t even know it”, because I can assure you they were focused on how great they were, not what they could do for the prospect.

There was a lot at stake with this prospect meeting, because it was a significant change to the way an organization had done things for a very long time. The good news is the presentation went extremely well and we won the business, a large six figure contract.

Toby_Me

The great philosopher and country music artist, Toby Keith, summed it up well in his popular song “I Wanna Talk About Me!”. It doesn’t matter whether it’s sales calls, branding, volunteering at church, or being a parent or spouse. We become better at it when the focus isn’t on ourselves, but on the needs of others.

That’s leadership.

Bully!

 

 

 

The Bully Pulpit: Air Cover

AirCover

One of the challenges of being part of a management team is how to communicate well, both up and down the organization. When it comes to communicating bad news, it’s not a matter of if there will be bad news or not. There will be. In my experience, the earlier you get the bad news on the table the better.

During my career I had the honor of serving on the North American Leadership Team of a global organization. It is an amazing honor and responsibility making decisions that affected our customers and employees. We were blessed to have a solid management team with people of significant talent in their field of expertise. It was a great example of how the whole was worth more than the sum of the parts. The leadership team shared a common bond and we genuinely cared for each other.

One reason this team was effective is we were honest with each other, be it good news or bad. We always knew where we stood and instead of pointing fingers, we looked for solutions.

When it came to bad news, whether inside the leadership team meetings, or simply to let my boss know, we didn’t waste time. It got to the point where I would go to my boss’s office, close the door and say “you know how I say bad news doesn’t get better with age? Well, I need some air cover.”

This was my way of telling her the news was fresh, could be potentially bad, and I needed her to be aware of it and provide me with air cover if necessary. More often than not it wasn’t terribly bad, but giving her a heads up early was key to finding a good solution and not letting there be unpleasant surprises down the road. It got to the point when I would say “hey, do you have a minute?” and then close the door, she expected to be asked for air cover.

Being a good leader means you manage this well, both up and down the organization. If my boss was going to be great about it, then I had to do the same thing for my team. Creating this type of open door culture helped us navigate through some extremely challenging times, all while bringing the team closer together.

Let me give you an example. When I transitioned into the pure leadership role from a dual leadership/direct sales role I had to replace myself. I was fortunate enough to do so with a rep who I had hired before with another company. He was experienced and would be able to hit the ground running. It was an easy and a very good decision. Sure enough, he hit the ground running and was doing well. A month or so into his tenure, he was working with a global company with Headquarters in the US, but with facilities around the world, including quite a few in Asia. He did a good job with them and was able to consolidate much of their global business to us. Dealing with multiple countries on a project such as this is challenging at best. You’re dealing with multiple countries, multiple rules, multiple currencies, and local nuances. Even for someone with years of experience within the organization, a case like this was challenging. For an experienced rep such as this one, but in a new organization, it was doubly challenging. I trusted this guy implicitly, so he took the ball and ran with it, I was extremely pleased.

It wasn’t too long when my counterpart in operations came to me with one of the contracts. It included sites in multiple countries. One immediately jumped out at me, as the pricing for one of the countries was off. I don’t mean by a few dollars. I mean by a few hundred dollars per day, and it was a lot of days. I quickly did the math in my head and it was significant, but with the other work we would be getting from them, not crushing. I gave the rep a call and he saw where he made the mistake and felt terrible about it. He then said “look, there is a lot more business at stake here, so I need you to have my back and make sure we can do this one project at this price, then we’ll get it corrected on all the other ones, and it won’t keep us from getting the balance of the work.” I told him no problem, proceed on and don’t look back, I would provide him air cover. Think of me as an US Air Force A-10 Warthog, the one ground troops love to hear lumbering in during intense ground fighting. (That’s an A-10 at the top of this blog)

I went to our controller, explained what happened, how it needed to be handled and I would be on top of it moving forward. He was fine. I then rounded the corner, knocked on my boss’s door with my standard ‘got a minute’ and then closed the door.

“Remember when I told you bad news doesn’t get better with age? Well here you go, this one hasn’t aged at all, and I need air cover.” She listened intently as I laid out the situation, what the financial impact was for us, what we were doing to handle it with the customer and the sales rep. We had a spirited debate over whether we should go on and change the contract the customer signed with the correct pricing. I stood my ground and she ultimately agreed with my decision. A month or so later when we had to explain why our average pricing for the month was lower than forecast, she looked at me and smiled as we explained it. That was all there was to it.

TR_Whining

Here’s the thing. Had I waited until that monthly report, with the average pricing on it to explain it to the management team it would have been bad. REAL BAD. By going to my boss early on, with the issue and the solution, it turned out to not be that big a deal. She was prepared to answer the question if her supervisors asked about it.

Credit her for creating the type of working relationship that allowed me the freedom to go to her occasionally with the ‘bad news doesn’t get better with age, I need air cover’ conversation. In addition, it let members of my team know I had their back too and if it got really ugly because of something like that, I would take complete responsibility for the issue.

You can be sure that our team knew they could come to us with any news, good or bad. Yes, there would be consequences for mistakes, but never in a brow beating way. This creates a culture of trust, which is what happens when you have the team looking out for the team. This takes time, but when it takes shape, the team is set up powerfully to do great things.

We’re all leaders, so the next time you have bad news rear its ugly head, remember it won’t get better with age. Get it on the table, have a solution, and ask for air cover. You’ll be glad you did.

Bully!

The Bully Pulpit: Two Ears, One Mouth

TwoEars

The 80/20 rule is useful in so many situations. most companies know 80% of their business comes from 20% of their customers. 80% of the volunteer work at my church is done by 20% of the people. I’ve used this a lot to discuss how good sales calls, meetings, or any other gathering of people where information needs to flow. My teams from past jobs all know I judged a good sales call by how much the prospect/customer spoke versus how much the sales rep spoke.

Don’t get me wrong, most people, especially those in sales, love to talk. We pontificate about the service or product we’re selling and will go on and on about how great our company’s offerings are and how they’ll solve the customer’s problems.
The problem with this is how do we know what the customer’s problems are if we don’t listen? Allow me to give you a couple of examples.

First, in my role leading a National Sales Team for a midsized organization, I would participate in the development of sales call planning for the largest opportunities. I’d only been on the job for a few weeks, when a good-sized opportunity presented itself to one of our most senior sales reps. We circled the ‘capture team’ and began developing our strategy to be the solution to the prospect’s needs.

This sales rep was so proud of the PowerPoint presentation he developed. It was 63 slides. That’s right, 63 slides! In addition, the first 20 or so slides were about us, not the customer. Only after we did what I called “show up and throw up” and talk about us until their eyes glazed over, would we even get to the customer’s questions and issues. I was not a happy camper. I told the capture team, ‘cut this to 10 slides and focus on what the customer’s problems, not how dad gum awesome we are. I assure you they don’t care.’ The problem here is we hadn’t listened to the customer. We were so focused on how great we were to get out of the way and make it about the customer. The PowerPoint wasn’t cut to 10 slides, it was 12. But there was only one slide about our company and it was the last slide, sending the message to the customer it wasn’t about us, but about them. That’s powerful.

Next is a case where we spoke too much and talked our way out of a sale. In a role as National Sales Manager for a biotechnology company, we would often perform sample tests, giving prospects test results that would save them days, sometimes weeks for test results so they could get their food or pharmaceutical products to market quicker. Time is money, so this was a powerful selling tool.

We had a contract generic drug manufacturer who was thrilled with what this would do for his company; it would allow him to ship products 3 to 5 days sooner, which meant getting paid 3 to 5 days sooner. In a big volume, moderate margin business, this was huge.

The test results came back positive and we let the customer know, and set up a meeting with him to close the sale. During the meeting our sales rep gave him a brief overview and he asked, “so it will do what you say it will do, in the time stated?” We answered, “yes”. His response, “okay, let’s move forward.”

With this I immediately pulled out the order form and was getting ready to show him what the purchase of two of the instruments would do for him and would I make a deal for him. As I am doing that, the sales rep, a really smart and seasoned rep with a master’s degree in Microbiology, said ‘wait, let me go over the entire report with you”.

If looks could kill, my glare would have done the rep in quickly. But the rep couldn’t stop and proceeded to review all the data with the customer, most of it irrelevant because the testing had already proven it would do what he needed it to do on the product line needed. You know where I am going with this don’t you? Well, you’re right. There ended up being a data point that concerned him to the point where he moved from cutting us a purchase order to “I need to think about this.” It was the classic move of talking one’s way out of a sale.

Once I cooled down, I used this as a teachable moment for the rep. Had we listened more than we talked, we would have walked out with a sizable sale. Instead we left empty handed. As we discussed this over dinner, you could see a lightbulb go off over the rep’s head. Sometimes the best lessons are the ones that sting.

To put a happy ending on both stories, the first one was a big success. The customer’s needs were addressed in our 12 slide PowerPoint and we had a great conversation with that customer, who ultimately awarded us a high six figure contract.

Next, on the pharma company, we were at a trade show in Las Vegas a few weeks afterwards and our customer was exhibiting. I grabbed my boss and said, “let’s take a walk.” He joined me and we found the customer, wearing a green bookkeeper’s visor, in their booth. We pulled the customer aside, reviewed for him how his issues would be solved by our technology. In addition, we were offering a tradeshow special of 25% off the second piece of equipment. He gave us a purchase order on the spot and we made sure our rep received 100% of the credit for the sale.

The Book of James, Chapter 1, Verse 19 says “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” This summarizes it well. God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason……to use them in that ratio.

The next time you are in a sales call, team meeting, or any other gathering, make it a point to listen more and speak less. The great philosopher and Yankee catcher/manager Yogi Berra put it well when he said: “You can observe a lot by watching”. I believe Yogi was on to something……..

Yogi_Observe

Bully!

 

The Bully Pulpit: All the Plants Are Going to Die!

Stripes

My friends know I’m a movie buff. I’m not into the Sci-Fi and Fantasy Movies that are the rage today. There are few things better than seeing a movie with my lovely bride. One of the best thing about movies is most great movies contain some awesome quotes.

The classics, according to me, such as Stripes, Caddyshack, Blues Brothers, Oh Brother Where Art Thou, Smokey and the Bandit, To Kill a Mockingbird, Shawshank Redemption, Hunt for Red October, and Forrest Gump are just a few examples of movies that have some outstanding and timely quotes.

Play a round of golf with your buddies and you’ll likely hear quite a few Caddyshack quotes such as “He got all of that one” and “It’s in the hole!”. Hang out at a country music juke joint and you’ll hear “We got both kinds of music, Country and Western!” from Blues Brothers. The list goes on and on.

How can this help us as leaders? Many times an analogy or movie quote allows you to make a point, without it coming across as preaching. If you have a solid repertories of movie quotes or other examples, it can help you break the ice or make a point.
One of my favorite bosses is a great leader and really funny guy, Dave Kirkpatrick. I only worked for Dave for a couple of years, but he was fantastic. I will never forget my very first meeting with Dave. It was a meeting with probably 10 to 12 people in the meeting. At one point Dave blurts out “but all the plants are going to die!” from the cinematic masterpiece, Stripes. It was a great line from Bill Murray as his girlfriend was leaving him at the end of a really bad day. I laughed out loud and was the only person in the room to do so. This meant that only Dave and I knew the line was from Stripes. We later shared a laugh about it and it got us off to a good start, as we shared the love of that movie, as well as the knowledge the others in the room didn’t share our taste in the classics. To this day, Dave and I can both recite that entire movie.

It also helps make points in meetings, whether it be one on ones or in a group. It’s not limited to movie quotes either. Having quotes from leaders can also be effective. Not too long ago, my team had a sales meeting in what is now referred to as “Swamp Fest” because of the venue at a conference center north of Houston. It’s a beautiful site, with lots of lakes, ponds, and cabins.  However, it had been raining for several days, so the lakes and dirt roads between the conference center and our cabins turned to mush.

This was a very important meeting. We had recently undergone a significant reorganization and team members who had worked in their own silos for years, were put in teams of people from other specializations to tear down the silos and create more teamwork and collaboration. It was critically important during these three soggy days in January to create an aligned and committed team. So, the opening session was crucial to set the stage for the meeting,  but also for the organization.

When everyone arrived, and took their seats, I welcomed them to the meeting and laid out the agenda and expectations. After that, I read to them a quote from Teddy Roosevelt, from his Man in the Arena Speech given at the Sorbonne in Paris in 1910. Here’s the quote:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

When I finished, I let it sink in for a few minutes. Next, I told them “all of you are the ones in the arena. You’re the ones whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood. You’re the ones who will never be one of the cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. Not only is this team depending on each one of you, but the entire organization is counting on you to bring in the revenue needed to make this organization thrive. It’s an honor to be in the arena with you.”

Looking around after that I could tell we had their buy in, their commitment. It set the stage for the entire meeting. Had I simply stood up and said “here’s the agenda, let’s go!” the meeting would not have gone nearly as well as it did by acknowledging this team was in the arena.

There are a lot of other examples of quotes from books, movies, and leaders that are extremely effective in making your point as a leader. Use ones that work for you and it will make you a better leader.

Bully!

 

The Bully Pulpit: Don’t Judge a Book By Its Cover

BookCover
The recent demise of formerly great and iconic retail chains such as Sears, JC Penny, and others is a sign of the times. Companies such as Amazon have taken over the market for these types of stores where you could purchase anything from washers and dryers, to clothing, to hardware, are quickly leaving the landscape. The original Sears catalog was the internet of the day, scroll through, pick what you wanted, and it’d arrive in a few days.

My affinity for Sears is based on the four years I worked for them while in school at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Because it was in a college town, it was staffed with a lot of college aged kids and it was a fun atmosphere to work, at least most of the time. (I’m looking at you Black Friday).

It was at Sears where I learned an extremely valuable lesson. After spending a year or so in hardware and sporting goods, I moved to a commission sales position in furniture and carpet. I jumped in headfirst and made a pretty good living working 28 or so hours a week and then 40 hours any week I was not in school. I learned a lot of lessons on how to interact with people, how to listen, how to close, and how to quickly calculate how much I needed to sell during a 12-9PM shift on Saturday to have enough to pay my rent the following week.

One thing I really enjoyed was the comradery I shared with the other commission sales people, the vast majority of whom were career Sears employees. Furniture and Carpet was just across the aisle from appliances and TVs, which in the early 80s was the ultimate place to be; Sears/Kenmore appliances were the best of the best and those ladies and gentlemen made a lot of money selling Sears appliances.

I will never forget one Saturday afternoon when I noticed a gentleman in overalls wandering around the appliance department. He walked around and looked, but was ignored by the sales people, thinking he was a guy who wasn’t capable of purchasing appliances.

It wasn’t long before he walked over to furniture and started looking around. I went over, introduced myself to him and began to talk to him. I soon found out he lived about an hour and a half north of Tuscaloosa, near an area where my Grandmother lived. We had a good conversation and he finally said, ‘young man, I need to buy some furniture, can you help me?’. I told him I’d be glad to help him.

He then unzipped the pocket on the front of his bib overalls and pulled out a wad of money that would choke a horse. Smiling, he said ‘well, they found coal on my land and I guess I had to let ‘em dig it up. Mama and I have all we need, but I’m building houses for my two daughters and their families and I need to fill it up with furniture and appliances.”

We went around the showroom and set him up with a lot of furniture and bedding for both houses. He peeled off hundred dollar bills to pay for it and then said ‘now, I want you to help me with the appliances, since no one over there was willing to help me.’ Considering how much furniture and bedding he’d just bought from me, I knew it’d be a big order, but I didn’t work in appliances and I figured I’d set him up with someone who would help him. Luckily, my manager, a lovely lady named Alice Thrasher, heard him talk about this. She said “Mr. Chaudron will be happy to help you with anything in the store, you just tell him what you need and he’ll take care of you.” She then winked at me. This told me she had my back and she’d make sure I didn’t have any interference from the commission sales reps across the aisle.

I walked him through the store and helped him purchase appliances, TVs, lawn mowers, you name it. When it was said and done, he purchased enough furniture, bedding, appliances, and hardware for the commission to pay my rent for several months. When we were done, he shook my hand and told me he appreciated all I had done for him. He came back quite a few times over the next couple of years and I think he enjoyed having me walk him through the entire store and helping him out. I’m sure that kind gentleman from West Central Alabama is no longer with us, but I think of him fondly when I hear ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’.

Looking back, this was an extremely valuable lesson for me, both personally and professionally. Treat everyone well and don’t judge a book by its cover immediately come to mind. The well-seasoned guys across the aisle probably had been burned before by spending time on customers who couldn’t afford the high-end Kenmore appliances. I was too inexperienced to have been jaded by that type of experience and having recently married with a wife in grad school, it was important to be successful.

From a leadership perspective, it helped me understand we should treat everyone the same. It doesn’t matter if it’s a CEO in dark paneled offices or the coal baron in bib overalls. We’re all the same. A couple of years ago, an NFL team was considering selecting a certain player with their first draft pick. This team sent a scout to shadow this prospect on his way to and from the NFL combine. They wanted to see how he treated flight attendants, baggage handlers, airport security, bus drivers, etc. Their thought was if they are going to invest this type of money in a draft pick, they want him to be of high character. I don’t know the outcome, but if this young man had experienced the guy in bib overalls, the team wouldn’t have to worry about how he’d treat people.

Another example is from a lady I worked with at Eastman Chemical Company. She was a very senior person in Human Resources and interviewed a lot of people. When candidates were coming in, this lady would often tell the candidate, ‘when you arrive, I’ll probably send my assistant down to bring you up to my office’. Then she would go down and get the candidate, not introducing herself, just that ‘you’re here to see ……’. She told me it was amazing to see how candidates treated the receptionist and others they perceived to be at a lower level.  When I interviewed candidates, I would usually make them wait in the lobby for a few minutes, then ask the receptionist how the candidate treated them. It was amazing to hear the stories.

So, the next time you’re in a meeting, in line at Whataburger, or boarding a flight, be nice to everyone. We’re all God’s people.

Bully!

The Bully Pulpit: The Customer Isn’t Always Right

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Many of my readers know my affection for Southwest Airlines*. They are a great example of a company that found its niche in the market, and destroyed the competition with great service at great prices. Their founder and retired CEO Herb Kelleher, is one of my all-time favorite executives. Herb puffed on cigarettes and kept a bottle of Wild Turkey bourbon in his office. Authors Kevin and Jackie Freiberg’s book “Nuts” is one of the premier business books in publication today, if you haven’t read it, do yourself a favor and read it. It is full of great stories and examples of how creating a positive culture for your employees can lead to amazing success, because when you treat your people well, they will treat their customers well. One of my favorite stories in the book is Herb talking about starting Southwest Airlines. Herb said they were not competing with Delta and American, they were competing with Ford and Toyota. It was their goal to make it so inexpensive and easy to fly their first routes (Dallas to Houston to Austin to San Antonio) that customers would avoid driving and fly.

The best chapter in the book is called “Customers Come Second (and still get great service)”. Southwest is known for a fun atmosphere and customer experience. I ran into Herb in Houston Hobby Airport one Halloween and he was dressed as Elvis. Later when I got on my flight and when another passenger opened an overhead bin, a petite flight attendant dressed as Elvira popped out and said “Boo”. It’s hard to not have a good day when flying Southwest.

Not everyone enjoys the Southwest experience. In an excerpt from “Nuts”,** two examples of how Southwest deals with challenging customers and has the back of their employees.

Southwest Director of Customer Relations, Jim Ruppel and Sherry Phelps, Director of Corporate Employment, tell the story of a woman who frequently flew on Southwest, but was disappointed with every aspect of the company’s operation. In fact, she became known as the ‘Pen Pal’ because after every flight she wrote in with a complaint. She didn’t like that company didn’t assign seats; she didn’t like the absence of a first-class section; she didn’t like not having a meal in flight, she didn’t like Southwest’s boarding procedure; she didn’t like the color of the planes; she didn’t like the flight attendants’ sport uniforms and the casual atmosphere. And she hated peanuts! Her last letter, reciting a litany of complaints, momentarily stumped Southwest’s customer relations people. Phelps explains ‘Southwest prides itself on answering every letter that comets to the company and several employees tried to respond to this customer, patiently explaining why we do things the way we do them. It was quickly becoming a volume until they bumped it up to Herb’s desk, with a note. ‘This one’s yours.’ In sixty seconds, Kelleher wrote back and said ‘Dear Mrs. Crabapple, We will miss you. Love, Herb’” 

“Kelleher received another letter of complaint, this time from a San Diegan who threatened to never fly Southwest again because the on-board lav had the toilet paper roll installed upside down with the loose end coming over the top! He complained, “If Southwest is so careless about with the installation of its toilet paper, how can I possibly trust its maintenance?” Kelleher wrote back, “What the hell were you doing upside down in our lavatory?” The response was a big hit with the customer, who was less surprised by the response than the fact that Kelleher himself had read his letter and responded.” 

I had a similar even happen a few years ago. One of my team members, an inside sales representative, came to my office, quite upset. She had just attempted to help a customer who was upset about a myriad of items, most of them legitimate. However, the customer had been extremely unprofessional to my team member, in fact, people sitting near her desk could hear the customer yelling at my team member. After gathering the facts, I asked for the customer’s telephone number, closed my door, and called the customer. I was professional, but clear and to the point. No matter the issue, we would not allow our employees to be treated in such a manner. I told the customer we would be happy to resolve the issue, but only if it would be done in a professional manner and we would not tolerate unprofessional behavior towards our team members. He seemed taken aback and apologized to me. I told him I wasn’t the one he needed to apologize to, it was the team member. He called her back and apologized.

The point is this, we as leaders need to be committed to great customer service, but more importantly, great servant leadership to our team. There always will be customers that no matter what you do, you will never make them happy. For customers to receive world class service, it must come from employees who are engaged, care about their customers, and work at an organization who supports them. Southwest does this with their employees and the vast majority of their customers are absolutely delighted with their service and experience of flying Southwest. Taking great care of your employees leads to exemplary customer service, because employees feel valued, appreciated, and supported. When you provide that type of culture, you also create a world class experience for customers.

Bully!

*The author of this blog is a Southwest Airlines shareholder and this post should not be considered investment advice or a recommendation to purchase Southwest Airlines stock.

** “Nuts!: Southwest Airlines’ Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success”              Copyright  1996, 1997 Broadway Books, Kevin Freiberg/Jackie Freiburg

https://www.amazon.com/Nuts-Southwest-Airlines-Business-Personal/dp/0767901843/ref=pd_cp_14_1?_encoding=UTF8&pd_rd_i=0767901843&pd_rd_r=DXXC5P0XD5H93P460653&pd_rd_w=A5fYP&pd_rd_wg=AsBT8&psc=1&refRID=DXXC5P0XD5H93P460653

 

 

The Bully Pulpit: Say I’m Sorry

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One of the jobs in my career was National Sales Manager for a biotechnology division of a major chemical company. Due to several mergers and startups, I was hired to create an integrated sales organization of the sales reps from the different areas. Two weeks into the job, I learned the parent company’s Board of Directors decided to sell all their emerging businesses, so we would be out of a job as soon as the company was sold. It was like driving a car towards a cliff, but you couldn’t tell how far it was to the cliff. You just knew it was coming soon.

I inherited five sales representatives, all extremely skilled in the microbiology market. These were people who had master’s degrees in microbiology, so they knew their stuff. What was new for me was all five were women. It has been my experience that I didn’t care if people I worked with were men or women, nor their race and background. I was interested in attitude, skills, and a can-do spirit. These women all had those characteristics.

Shortly after we began to bring the group together, we had a very important tradeshow in New Orleans. (Side note, we were the first group to stay in the new Marriott near the Convention Center in New Orleans, one that would be destroyed during the tragic events of Hurricane Katrina). One of the great things about this company was it was extremely professional and organized. The TradeShow management was extraordinary. It was our job to show up to the booth in the daily booth apparel, be in the booth the hours you were on the schedule and walk the floor and attend sessions when you were not scheduled. Easy breezy, right? Wrong…..

I told the team to meet in in the booth 30 minutes before the exhibit opened the first morning, to create alignment, review the schedule and expectations. When I showed up in the booth, I experienced something I had never experienced as a manager before. All five were extremely upset. Apparently, there was quite an argument over the tradeshow attire. Two thought the polo shirts should have been tucked in to their khakis, two thought they should be untucked. One didn’t care and was annoyed at the other four. All five were waiting on me, their new boss, to show up and ‘fix it’.

This was uncharted territory for me. First, I have a Y chromosome. Tell me what color shirt to wear each day and it’ll be pressed and ready to go. This company used top end attire, so in my mind it was a chance to get three nice golf shirts.

What I didn’t understand was that I had ordered the same type of shirts for these five ladies. This was extremely insensitive of me, because I had not considered what type of apparel they would prefer to wear, I just ordered yellow for the first day, green the second, and tan the third day.

So, what did I do? I called the group together and took full responsibility for it. It was insensitive of me to not engage them on the trade show attire that would be comfortable for them, and still met corporate guidelines. I told them to where them as they felt most comfortable wearing them, and for our next show in Baltimore, not only would I engage them in the attire planning, I would put one of them in charge of it. This seemed to diffuse the issue and we ended up having a really good show.

More importantly, it was a fantastic lesson in leadership. I had failed miserably as their leader in planning for this show. It was a Coach Bryant used to say, ‘make your mistakes at full speed’. In other words, if you are going to mess up, do it with the best of intentions, which I can assure it was.

But this event brought this team closer by all of us realizing we had to appreciate the team. The team itself was better than the sum of the parts. They were gracious and forgiving of me not demonstrating a concern for what was important to them, and they realized maybe they didn’t handle it in an ideal manner. But once we got through this issue, it created a more aligned team. It was one of the toughest lessons I ever learned as a manager, but also one of the best ones.

What this taught me was it is okay to be genuine and admit you made a mistake to members of your team. There are schools of thought who disagree with this, but I think it is powerful. It shows you are human and able to admit when you’ve made a mistake, and ask what you can do to make it right. This shows the team that it’s okay and they shouldn’t fear making them. It is a powerful thing when a team realizes this; it’s when great things start to happen.

A side note to this, even under the adverse circumstances of the impending sale of our division, this team had an all-time record year in sales; in fact, the 4th quarter was more than the first two quarters combined. The company was sold in the following February and we all lost our jobs. I look back at this short tenure with great fondness. This was a special group and I believe we started the path to being a high performing team at the tradeshow booth in New Orleans.

Bully!

 

 

The Bully Pulpit: Prior Preparation

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Legendary College Football Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant provided the world with great quotes. The advice given with his gravely southern drawl was often homespun and extremely relevant beyond football. I believe many of his quotes are useful to us today as leaders.

One of my favorite Coach Bryant quotes is “Prior preparation prevents poor performance”. There was often another word beginning with a ‘p’ before the word poor, but we’ll leave that one out.

This quote recalls one of my all-time favorite sales stories. I was working as Director of Sales for a large certification body. One of our clients was a Fortune 500 company who was growing rapidly, primarily through non-organic growth. This company purchased over 60 companies in a few years and each time they would purchase a company, they would inherit the purchased company’s management system and the certification body. It wasn’t long before this company had over 20 certification bodies, and if you’re a Global Director of Quality, this is a nightmare.

This company did some vetting and narrowed it down to approximately 5 certification bodies, with the intent of selecting two. Of the five. we were the smallest one. Our chances of being one of the two was slim at best. But we didn’t let that stop us. My good friend Chris Lupo and I spent a lot of time preparing for the meeting, including developing what I believe to be the best Miller Heiman “Greensheet” ever produced. For those of you who don’t know what a Greensheet is, it is a sales prep document that lays out a plan with questions tied to what the customer’s needs are; lists the red flags and green flags, and is a general outline of how to make the call about the customer’s needs.

Chris, one of our sales reps, and I spend hours researching this company to the point we knew them inside and out. We studied their 10Ks, their annual reports, as well as their acquisitions, matching their sites to our expertise. Clearly, we were feeling better about our chances due to great preparation.

We showed up at the appointed time to meet with two very senior people, the VP of Procurement and the Global Director of Quality, one of whom had just returned from a two-week trip around the world visiting their sites. In his hand was a legal pad folder over flowing with mail. We got started and after introductions, the Quality Director asked us for our Pow presentation, or as like to call it, “Death by PowerPoint”. We did have a 10-slide presentation on a flash drive, but we didn’t use it. We told them ‘we have a presentation, but what we’d like to do is have a conversation with you about what you need and if we can help you do that.”

They loved this so I opened my folder and had the Greensheet in front of me. They most likely didn’t realize I was referring to it, as the conversation flowed well and they spent most the time telling us what they needed. We listened intently, not interrupting them except to ask clarifying questions. Once they finished, we laid out how our solution was different and met their needs. There was no talk of competition, we simply addressed their needs and showed how we would manage this global project.

After a few questions, they awarded us a significant contract on the spot, the largest sale I’d ever made (at the time).

As we were escorted to the door by these two gentlemen, the Quality Director said “that was the best sales meeting I have ever been a part of and I need to make a confession to you. When we were going to turn the lights down to see what we figured was a 50 slide PowerPoint about how great you were, I was going to sit in the corner and go through my mail that piled up for two weeks. Thank you for not allowing to do that by having a conversation with us about what we need, not about how great you are. It was a really good conversation that flowed so well. Thank you.”

I grinned at Chris and he said, “show him”. I opened my folder and showed him our Greensheet. He was amazed and said, “it shows how well you guys were prepared”. That meeting led to this company becoming one of our largest customers.

As we were leaving, we noticed three well-dressed people waiting to see the two gentlemen we just met. Chris and I later laughed that it was one of our competitors and they were dead and didn’t even know it. It’s a fair bet the Quality Manager was able to read his stack of mail during their meeting.

I tell this story often to sales reps. The lessons are numerous, but the main one is the Coach Bryant adage, “Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance”. We were better prepared than any of our competitors and more importantly, we were only focused on what was important to them, not how self-important we were.

This not just a sales lesson, but also a great leadership learning. When we’re in leadership roles it is more important to listen than speak. Therefore, when we do speak, it’s from a position of understanding the issues at hand. Remember this, be prepared and listen. It’s two of the greatest leadership traits we can exhibit.

Bully!