Last summer, my husband purchased a suit jacket at Nordstrom and he recently noticed that a seam was unraveling around the collar. Somehow, I managed to locate the receipt from six months ago and I headed to the store to see if they would consider altering the jacket. After I explained the issue, the Nordstrom’s representative filled out an alterations form and told me it would be ready tomorrow, without even glancing at my receipt (much to my dismay because I was very proud that I still had the receipt!). Shocked with quick turnaround, I asked what the charge would be – it was free.
From its tiny beginnings as a single partnership shoe store, Nordstrom has grown into a retail and customer service dynasty.
In Salem, Oregon, a customer called the Nordstrom store, “She has driven past the mall and had discovered when she got home that one of her hubcaps had fallen off. ‘Was there anyone in Nordstrom,’ she asked, ‘who could check the road that ran past the mall to see if my hubcap was there?’ A Nordstrom employee did just that, found the hubcap, brought it back to the store, washed it, and notified the customer, who came in to pick it up. ‘We love that story,’ said Pete Nordstrom, executive vice president of the company… ‘because it means people don’t just think of Nordstrom for buying things, they think of us as a place where they can find solutions.” [The Nordstrom Way to Customer Service Excellence, Robert Spector and Patrick McCarthy]
The employee handbook of Nordstrom is reported to be a single notecard. One side has a welcome message. The other side states, “Our only rule: Use good judgment in all situations.”
If businesses are trying to become the “Nordstrom” of their industry, it begs the questions, who/what is the “Nordstrom” of local government?
In government, we do not have sales reports, commission checks, or quarterly investment reports that yield above 2%. It is difficult to make the connection for the importance of customer service. Do residents have another choice for a company to turn on their water? No. Do builders have another avenue for receiving a building permit? No. Does the lack of competition give leaders an excuse to not focus on customer service? Perhaps.
However, local government has the ability to deeply affect our customers on a daily basis. The services that we provide are arguably the most important, basic services that a citizen receives – safety, water, sanitation, streets, codes, library, and recreation.
It is our job to offer these services in the “Nordstrom” way – use good judgment and look for solutions.
How is your organization operating in the “Nordstrom” way?
Executive Search Manager
It’s a bit of a joke around SGR, but there’s a touch of truth in it, too. The running joke is when one of us says, “How many times have I told you that ‘I am a Team Player!’” The touch of truth behind it is our theory that the more someone tells you that “I am a Team Player!” the less likely it is that they really are a team player. Team players care too much about the team to constantly be talking about themselves. The truth is that if you’re a team player, you don’t have to always go around saying it. It will show. People will know.
Along those lines, I’ve developed another theory: “The more someone tells you that they want help, the less likely it is that they will listen to the help that you offer.” I can think of several situations recently where l found myself listening to a leader pour out his complaints, punctuated by seemingly earnest pleas for help. However, it became obvious that they didn’t want, and perhaps didn’t need, any help beyond being listened to.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with needing to be heard. We all (and by all I mean ALL) need for others to listen to us. No exceptions. Therefore, one of the real gifts we can offer to people is merely the gift of listening without criticism or solutions. As a leader in your organization, you could probably make a much larger impact than you realize by listening empathetically to your team. Try it.
Related to that, it’s an indication that you need more emotional intelligence if you too quickly rush in with solutions, opinions, and suggestions when what the person really wants and needs is just for you to listen. I’ve made that mistake more times than I care to admit. People don’t usually appreciate unsolicited advice.
But what does it mean when a person repeatedly asks for help, yet objects to every solution?
It might mean that they already know what they need to do, but they just don’t want to do it. Hence the theory, “The more they ask you for help, the less likely it is that they will take your advice.” Because it’s actually not an answer they need. It’s the courage to act on the answer they already know.
So, time to look in the mirror, my friend. What’s the issue that you keep asking someone to help you with, while at the same time rejecting every solution as unacceptable? Could it be that what you need is not the answer, but rather the courage to act on the answer that you already know?
Here’s a challenge: If you want to be the kind of leader whose organization is a 16 percenter…stop asking for someone to give you an answer that you already know. Great leaders have the courage to act!
A union group is suing American Airlines, claiming supervisors are pressuring mechanics to release planes before they are safe to fly.
Local 591 of the Transport Workers Union says that union officials who raised objections were threatened with termination or even arrest.
American Airlines denies the allegations, saying that it complies with federal safety rules.
American Airlines Pressuring Mechanics on Safety by David Keonig
So, let’s think about this…
If we could rely on all companies and company owners to genuinely care for the safety and well-being of their workers, there would have never been unions. Right?
If you don’t know your history, just read the story of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire for starters. The answer to the question is no—we cannot rely on all companies and company leaders to always do the right thing. The moral, ethical, treat-your-people-well right thing.
And, if we could rely on all companies and company leaders to treat all of their employees fairly in the compensation department, then there would have been fewer unions. But, the reality is that not all companies are good about such matters. Not at all. Thus, there is a need for people to look after the safety, well-being, and fair wages of workers. Enter the unions.
Have unions ever over-reached, or misrepresented, or broken the law themselves? Yep, they have. Thus, the checks and balances, wherever we can install them, are probably needed.
So… consider this story. A few years ago, a quarterback did not like the fact that for all of his “away” games, he had to use footballs provided by the home team. They weren’t “prepared” the way that he liked the football to be prepared. So he recruited other quarterbacks, like Peyton Manning, to write letters to the league in agreement with him, saying that each visiting team should be allowed to provide their own footballs. The effort was successful, and the league changed the rules. That man was Tom Brady (read about this here). No one objects to the idea, the premise that each quarterback should be able to play with footballs prepared the way that he likes them. That’s ok—a good idea…But, what if one of those teams decides to go beyond the rules, and under-inflate the footballs. Who will check the air pressure? Should that quarterback, that team, which prepares its own footballs, always be counted on to follow the rules of the game?
(And, by the way, how does it look when the team that was apparently caught in the act was the very team, the very quarterback, that sought the rule change? Makes you wonder just why he sought the rule change after all…)
By the way, I’ve got a hunch that someone not connected to the Patriots will be checking the air pressure of the footballs used by the Patriots from now on. In fact—and this is the larger cost of people not abiding by the rules—the league will probably have to go to some extra expense to check all teams’ footballs; even the teams that would never cheat, just because of the bad actions of the one(s) that would/did cheat.
Do players, and teams, and companies, always play fair? Always do the right thing? If they did, it would be a better world. But, they don’t do they?
A while back, I heard a guest on an NPR interview show (sorry; I don’t remember the guest’s name, or the date—it was on the Diane Rehm show, I think). This person acknowledged that yes, there were probably too few regulations leading up to the 2008 crash. But he was thoroughly convinced that the move now was toward too many regulations. (I have a hunch that if we went back to before 2008, he, and/or the folks he traveled with, were saying that “we don’t need any more regulations now. You can trust us to do the right thing for the country, and the economy.” How did that turn out?).
So, I do not know if the Union’s grievance against American Airlines is legitimate or not. But I think I can say this with great certainty—there is some company, somewhere; there is some athlete, somewhere, right now—not following the rules for safety, and/or not providing fair wages to its workers, or breaking the rules for an unfair advantage.
I think I’m right about that. I wish I wasn’t, but I am, in fact, certain about that. I bet you think the same.
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis
Every organization claims high ethical aspirations. Unfortunately, the least character-driven team members often tend to be the most “ethical” because they know EXACTLY where the line is and make sure they never cross it. Meanwhile, the most character-driven members of the team get caught in “gotcha” ethics violations because they were not worrying about where the line was since they knew their motives were pure.
It is time to quit trying to be “ethical” and instead create a character-driven culture. A formal ethics policy is still necessary, but we need to transition beyond a policy as the standard to aspire to, and make it the lowest common denominator foundation, upon which is constructed a more noble cultural value system.
When it comes to behavioral standards, there are four progressive levels. Organizations who create cultures of sustained excellence tend to operate at the fourth level.
The first level is simply compliance with the law.
Most teams do a pretty good job of complying with legal standards, but team members unduly focused on the legal standard are often searching for loopholes and opportunities to work in the dark. The legal benchmark is avoiding criminal prosecution.
The second level is compliance with ethical standards.
Ethics can generally be described as a formally adopted set of behavioral standards. While an ethics policy sets a higher standard than mere legal compliance, it still creates a “compliance-based value system” instead of a “character-driven value system”. The ethics benchmark is avoiding the embarrassment and humiliation of violating the ethics policy.
The third level is integrity-driven.
While ethics tend to focus on public compliance with formal behavioral standards, integrity has been described as what you do when no one is watching. Integrity comes from deep within. It is who you are more than what you do. To be integrity-driven is a far higher standard than mere compliance with a formal ethics policy. The benchmark here is not what is allowable, but what is RIGHT.
But being character-driven (the fourth level) is the test of real leadership.
While integrity suggests doing the right thing when no one is watching, character-driven decision making is doing the right thing when you are under immense pressure to do the wrong thing. It is infinitely easier to be integrity-driven than character-driven. The benchmark here is whether you have the courage to pay the price to do what is right in spite of the pressures.
In today’s brutal political environment, where it is popular to demonize those with whom we disagree, character-driven decision making is more important than ever. Unfortunately, the short supply of character-driven leaders is enabling and empowering the cavemen and the articulate incompetents in too many of our communities.
John Rockefeller said, “Live your life in a way that you can look any man in the eye and tell him to go to hell.” There is no more desperately needed advice for today’s leaders.
Go for it. Be willing to do what is right regardless of the pressure, the name calling, the threats. Be willing to lose your job over it. Your legacy will be a better community as a result of your sacrifice, and you will look back and know it was your greatest moment.
This past Monday, our country celebrated a national holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday and his work on the advancement of civil rights based on nonviolent civil disobedience. This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery marches, which was a series of protests in Alabama to demonstrate the desire of African-Americans to exercise their constitutional right to vote. These marches helped lead to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965—also celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
In one of the most famous speeches in American history, Dr. King said, “I still have a dream, a dream deeply rooted in the American dream—0ne day this nation will rise up and live up to its creed. We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”
Fifty years later, our country is vastly different and more progressive than it was during the civil rights movement. However, our country is still plagued with racism, sexism, and classism.
This week, I was able to attend SGR’s Creating a Learning Organization Conference on Trust-Building Strategies to Inspire Committed Teams. During the introduction for the conference, Ron Holifield, CEO for SGR, said, “It is difficult to build trust if you don’t understand the other person. People have a different frame of reference and different life experiences than I do…but, you cannot build trust without a basic understanding.”
Our organizations and our communities are comprised of people from all different “walks of life.” From different races, different socio-economic backgrounds, different religions, our backgrounds are all unique. Not everyone had happy and healthy childhoods. Not everyone has plenty of food and clothes. Not everyone knows when the next paycheck is coming. So, what may be normal for someone is completely abnormal for someone else. Yet, these differences comprise our organizations, our communities, and our country. We need to embrace these differences and build trust around them.
At the conference, Jennifer Fadden, city manager for the City of Colleyville, said, “People support what they help create.” As local government leaders, it is our responsibility to remember that our government was created by the people and for the people. All of the people.
To do so, ask yourself, do the policy makers in your community represent the statistics in your community? While this may be an election issue, you can review the application process for appointed positions to see if you can reach other socioeconomic groups. Additionally, are you asking your community for assistance in making local government decisions? It can be as simple as focus groups with children and parents for the re-design of playground equipment or as complex as a community-wide, multifaceted process for updating the community’s master plan.
Internally, are you asking for assistance in developing employee benefits? Do you know what problems your employees encounter using your health insurance? Are you using teams to make decisions? Cross-functional teams can be an intentional means of raising the bar on strategy. If you are addressing a customer service problem or creating a capital plan process, team members from different departments, at different levels in the organization can build a plan in which the organization supports—because they helped to build it.
You have an opportunity to build trust—in your organization and in your community. Racism, sexism, and classism will not disappear overnight, but use your leadership every day to continue the progress of ensuring our government is for the people.
“If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. IF you can’t walk, then crawl. But whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” —Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Executive Search Manager
Is it possible that you are sabotaging your own effectiveness as a leader without even knowing it? At SGR we teach that there are Four Dimensions to being a great leader, and they build on each other. You can see from the diagram that all leadership starts at the Relational level. Here, people follow you because of how you treat them, and this applies to both externally AND internally.
The second level is called Operational Leadership. This is where people follow you because you know more about how things work than they do. Supervisors and Managers have to be Operational Leaders. However, many cities and organizations are institutionalizing mediocrity because they have supervisors who are technically competent, but relationally incompetent. Sometimes when I am teaching a class, I’ll make the observation that every organization has some managers who just “suck the life out of the room, and they are completely oblivious to it.” Almost every time I say that, a lot of people laugh, but some people cry.
The third level is what we call Systems Leadership. Here people follow you because they trust you to put systems in place that work—even though you, personally, don’t have direct control over the system. It’s all about trust.
The last level is Strategic Leadership, which is focused on not just what the organization is, but also on what it needs to become. But let’s go back to the Systems Level for just a moment. That’s where I observe a lot of accidental sabotage takes place. Here’s what I mean.
John Maxwell has made popular the statement that “Leadership is influence.” As a leader moves up in the organization, he/she may reach a ceiling in terms of formal leadership. The Public Works Department Head maintains the same title, even if he/she has been there for many years. Formal leadership doesn’t change, but informal leadership can continue to grow and grow and grow. That means that his or her influence grows and grows, too. However, it doesn’t always happen. Just because you are in a position for a long time doesn’t mean your influence continues to grow. Sometimes it doesn’t grow because you sabotage yourself.
One of my mentors told me many years ago, “Your organization will not judge you by the way you treat the beautiful people. They will judge you based on the way you treat the weakest person in the community.” In many ways, he was right. However, I’ve developed a slight variation to his observation. I would say it this way: “The community at large will judge you based on the way you treat the weakest person, but your closest allies will judge you based on the way you treat them.”
Of course, I am not suggesting that you shouldn’t treat the weakest person with empathy, respect, kindness, and dignity. Certainly you should. However, if you treat that person properly, but behind closed doors, you treat your closest associates poorly—they will perceive your actions toward the needy as to be nothing more than self-serving, political grandstanding.
And that’s how leaders sabotage themselves. Because there comes a time when, in order for your influence (informal authority) to keep expanding, you need for those around you to naturally be saying about you to others, “You can trust him/her.” But if they don’t experience it personally, you can’t pay them enough money to say it convincingly. So, instead of your informal influence growing and growing, it stops. It stagnates. It declines. Who caused that? Maybe you did.
SGR’s CEO, Ron Holifield, often says, “Always protect the relationship.” That’s sound advice. Don’t just do it for the ones “out there” when you’re in the political spotlight. Treat people the right way even when no one’s looking. Do it long enough and consistently enough and even if your title doesn’t change and your formal leadership doesn’t change, your informal influence will keep expanding, and that’s what really makes a leader because, as Maxwell says, “Leadership is influence.”
I went on a middle-of-the-night reading binge last night (couldn’t sleep). So, three thoughts, all from my reading…
Thought #1 – we’ve got to make our teams smarter.
This comes from Why Some Teams Are Smarter Than Others by Olimpia Zagnoli. She writes well about time wasted and effort wasted by teams done badly. And she proposes three ways to make teams smarter (all research-based…). Here are the three findings/suggestions:
Instead, the smartest teams were distinguished by three characteristics.
First, their members contributed more equally to the team’s discussions, rather than letting one or two people dominate the group.
Second, their members scored higher on a test called Reading the Mind in the Eyes, which measures how well people can read complex emotional states from images of faces with only the eyes visible.
Finally, teams with more women outperformed teams with more men. Indeed, it appeared that it was not “diversity” (having equal numbers of men and women) that mattered for a team’s intelligence, but simply having more women. This last effect, however, was partly explained by the fact that women, on average, were better at “mindreading” than men.
Thought #2 – we’ve got to be smarter using our technology.
This one is not yet available to watch. But, in an upcoming debate at the great site IntelligenceSquaredUS.org, they’ve got quite an upcoming debate (May 13) on SMART TECHNOLOGY IS MAKING US DUMB. Here’s the descriptive paragraph:
Smart technology grants us unprecedented, immediate access to knowledge and to each other—a ubiquitous and seamless presence in everyday life. But is there a downside to all of this connectivity? It’s been said that smart technology creates dependency on devices, narrows our world to echo chambers, and impairs cognitive skills through shortcuts and distraction. Are smart tech devices guiding so much of our decision making that we are losing autonomy without even realizing it? Or are these concerns an overstatement of the negative effects of high-tech consumption?
I look forward to this debate. Just click over to take a look at the speakers debating the issue. (Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows, is one of the voices arguing for the motion).
Thought #3 – We need smarter people; you need to be a smarter you.
This was the read for the weekend/month…maybe year. It is a very thoughtful, provocative essay: Among the Disrupted by Leon Wieseltier. Here’s the opening of the essay:
Amid the bacchanal of disruption, let us pause to honor the disrupted. The streets of American cities are haunted by the ghosts of bookstores and record stores, which have been destroyed by the greatest thugs in the history of the culture industry.
And a few more excerpts:
And even as technologism, which is not the same as technology, asserts itself over more and more precincts of human life, so too does scientism, which is not the same as science.
Aside from issues of life and death, there is no more urgent task for American intellectuals and writers than to think critically about the salience, even the tyranny, of technology in individual and collective life.
There is nothing soft about the quest for a significant life.
This essay reminded me of the warnings and insights of the still more than relevant Neil Postman in Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology. Mr. Postman wrote this in the early 1990s, just before Netscape opened up the masses to the internet and the World Wide Web. After I finished reading this essay, I pulled my copy of Technopoly off my shelf, and re-read the opening pages. The essay, and Postman, made me think…
Anyway, let me say in the strongest possible terms, READ THIS ESSAY! It will help you think about being a smarter you in the midst of the current technology-rich cultural rumblings.
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis
Do you have 12 minutes? No, scratch that. MAKE 12 minutes this week to watch my favorite TED Talk, The Happy Secret To Better Work. It’s not just my favorite, it’s one of the 20 most popular TED Talks, in fact. Shawn Achor, a Waco, Texas native, Harvard graduate, and happiness fanatic, will entertain you and educate you on why happiness is the key to your success. I’ve watched the Talk about 37 times this past year, and it made me hungry to know more!
I picked up a copy of Achor’s The Happiness Advantage; in it he explains the fallacy of the age old idea that if we are more successful, if we accomplish that goal, if we get the new job, THEN we’ll be happy. In the relatively new field of positive psychology, research shows that this is backward. You don’t become more happy once you achieve your goals, as you may have believed you would be. Happiness fuels success.
It’s really not backward when you think about it. Choosing a positive attitude allows you to see things in a better light, and it opens your mind to greater opportunities. It also makes you more attractive – now just go with me on this. If you are negative, pessimistic, grumpy even, do people want to be around you? If you are cheerful, you smile, and you say kind things, you’re someone I’d want to be around. Now, I prefer authenticity, which means it’s not all hearts and rainbows all the time! But largely, being positive draws people and opportunities to you. Hiring managers, think about it this way: Would you hire someone who frowned or was stoic during most of the interview or complained about his or her past workplace? Or would you give preference to the candidate who comfortably smiled and spoke of the hope for future employment with you, while answering your tough interview questions? Supervisors, do you find yourself spending more time speaking to those who drag you down with their lamentations? And who do you prefer to delegate those important projects to? The grumbling negative Nelly? Or the Susie Q who says, “Thank you for the opportunity to grow!” Logic follows that having a happy disposition gets you hired and accelerates growth and development opportunities, which can result in promotions and higher salaries. And there’s science to back that up.
Next time, we’ll delve more into Shawn Achor’s research on how happiness can bring you success. #choosehappiness
Recently a friend introduced me to Texas Health Resources’ “Five Elements of Well Being” as a method of forming New Year’s resolutions. Texas Health Resources consists of over twenty hospitals in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and they have launched a large campaign to keep their customers healthier, based on science. The five areas that have been proven to advance your overall well-being are:
- Sense of Purpose
- Social Connection
- Financial Security
- Physical Health
Under community, the top question is “Do you feel safe and secure in your community?” Primary safety concerns are foremost like the quality of water that you drink and the air that you breathe, but then the questions turn to whether you feel safe and secure in your neighborhood. This section caught me off guard—how does safety impact your well-being?
Upon reviewing public safety services, local government administrators are often trying to decipher what makes a community safe. Usual measures for public safety include: response time, officers or firefighters per 1000 residents, and percentage of firefighters who are also EMTs.
Today, in communities, does an upward or downward movement in traditional measures make an individual feel more or less safe? If response time goes up this year, are the residents automatically unhappier?
It seems simple—to provide safety—local governments do this (and do it well) each and every minute of every day. But how do we know if our residents feel safe and secure in their neighborhood?
As a local government leader, you have an opportunity to have a direct and profound impact on the well-being of your residents. Measure a feeling. Measure the feeling of safety in their neighborhood.
Then, ask. Ask why they feel safe and why they do not. It may be as easy as installing extra street lights in the parks, assisting homeowner associations, or creating more of a volunteers in patrol presence.
Whatever the answer is, you can make a difference in the well-being of your residents.
To find out more about Texas Health Resources “Five Elements of Well Being,” consider taking their survey at YourWellBeingScore.com.
Executive Search Manager
It’s probably one of those things that falls into the “Important but not Urgent” quadrant, and that’s why so few leaders really get serious about addressing it until it’s in the “Important and Urgent” quadrant. By then, it’s almost too late. I’m talking about the issue of establishing a formal mentoring program. Formally. I’m talking about a bona fide initiative that involves the highest level of leaders in the organization. I’m talking about one where there’s critical thinking (not just criticism) and buy-in that translates into commitment and effort—not just cheer-leading and “check the box” assent.
At SGR we often say that a strategic leader has two responsibilities in addition to the other responsibilities that all other leaders have. The first is to instill the culture he/she wants into the rest of the organization. Ron Holifield, our CEO, says, “You build leaders from the ground up, but you instill culture from the top down.” The second responsibility of a strategic leader is to cast the vision for the future of the organization. Strategic leaders do not just focus on the task at hand, they keep the organization focused on the horizon and moving toward its destiny. Strategic Leadership is about the future.
Interestingly, mentoring has to do with both culture and future. Developing a mentoring culture, which is not nearly as likely without a formal mentoring program, directly impacts the future. Frankly, it’s hard for me to see how a strategic leader could be satisfied NOT to have a formal mentoring program in the organization because to neglect it is to ignore the inevitable retirements of key and influential leaders.
What could implementing and sustaining a first-rate mentoring program mean for your city or your organization? You could probably add to this list, but consider these benefits. A mentoring program helps with:
- Succession Planning
- Recruiting and Retention
- Social Equity and Diversity
- Bridging Technology Gaps
- Understanding Trends and Customers of all generations by all generations
It isn’t the only responsibility you have as a key leader, but there’s no doubt that it’s an important responsibility, so if it wasn’t already, let it be one of the things you determine to get done this year—before this year gets away from you, just like the last one did!