Category Archives: Building Value

LEAD through Service Failures

One of my favorite things to do is watch failure happen. That doesn’t sound very leader-like, does it? I’m not saying I like to trip toddlers or give team members impossible assignments. But how we handle failure is an immediate barometer of our leadership.

Continue reading LEAD through Service Failures

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What to Do with Blogging Employees

Great! One of your employees has started a blog. Now what?

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By Cortega9 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
When I started blogging, a former employer freaked out. I would leak all of our secrets! I’d say something that reflected poorly on the company! I’d spill the beans on something highly confidential! Continue reading What to Do with Blogging Employees

Seek and Destroy

As I prepare for an opportunity this week, I came across Peter Shallard’s ebook Seek & Destroy: How to Identify Entrepreneurial Obstacles and Overcome Them. Bam! An action book for all of us crazy enough to think we can do it on our own.

Seek & Destroy, by Peter Shallard
Seek & Destroy, by Peter Shallard

Peter Shallard is a psychologist who’s passionate about helping entrepreneurs reach the next level. His tagline is great– The Shrink for EntrepreneursBut his book (and blog) is a great read for anyone who needs help pushing past a fear or perceived obstacle.

In the opening sections of his book, Shallard shares his unique path to the present. He reveals a deep desire to help entrepreneurs that endures through this free ebook and an offer for a free personal assessment. Of the ten roadblocks, at least three really spoke to me. In the book, Pete shows you how to get over:

  • Confusion
  • Stuck-ness
  • Fear of Success
  • The Plateau
  • Fear of Starting
  • The Roller Coaster
  • Burn-Out
  • Distraction/Procrastination
  • That Knot in Your Gut
  • The Blame Game

I love Pete’s writing style. I’ve paraphrased his ten roadblocks, but the book is written in plain English that’s easy to “get” on the first read and is extremely relatable. Through each section, we get the benefit of a psychologist’s experience– both with science and with clients! Bonus: Pete’s own business experience makes him uniquely qualified to speak from a place at once clinical and real-world.

Pete doesn’t pull any punches in this book; his practical advice isn’t softened up by an “it’s-not-that-bad” attitude. Once again, this book is available fo’ free. It’s a short, easy read. Curl up on your own couch and let the Shrink for Entrepreneurs help you unpack what’s got you stuck.

Get the book on Pete’s website.

You can connect with me on Twitter and Google+!

Leaders Open Doors

A radically simple leadership approach to lift people, profits, and performance. The subtitle says it all! Bill Treasurer delivers a very short, very simple treatise on leadership: Leaders Open Doors.

Leaders Open Doors

One thing I want to make perfectly clear is that I don’t get paid for anything I write here. Bill’s book impacted me in a way that I want to share with you. More than a book review, let this post serve as an impact statement.

Leaders Open Doors is 91 pages, counting the acknowledgments. It’s so short I read it in one sitting. For me, Bill breaks leadership into three duh-worthy characteristics.

Leadership is Simple

That’s a bit condescending, right? For some of us, learning about leadership is a lifelong undertaking. Some people, like Bill, have advanced degrees in the art and science of leadership! When I’m trying to be extra impressive, I cobble together big words so y’all know I’m sophisticated.

But Bill boils leadership down to its purpose: creating opportunities for others. The message is dead-simple and spelled out in big letters on the cover: Leaders Open Doors

Leadership is Inclusive

This is a characteristic that I often don’t think about. Sometimes, I’m tempted to think that we’ve moved beyond having to worry about race or gender diversity.

In Leaders Open Doors, Bill brings out some points about including “others” in your team’s leadership and making the effort to invest in these individuals. Every year, dozens of race or gender inequality stories flash across our TV screens. Bill’s treatment of “other” inclusion in our organizations is rich stuff.

Especially for a white male born and raised in the South. Inclusive open-door leadership is a challenge for me because I’m not often faced with the reality of being an “other”. Bill pointed out this area of growth opportunity for me in a way that was gentle but powerful.

Leadership is Personal

Not only does Bill give excellent examples from his professional experience, he relates personal periods of growth and what it took to get there. In this way, he is modeling open-door leadership by opening the door to his heart.

Too often we try to compartmentalize our relationships: these are church friends, these are hunting buddies, and these are work acquaintances. How professional we are, keeping work relationships neat and tidy!

The fact is, you work with some incredible people. It’s time to get to know them and to let them get to know you. Deepening these relationships leads inevitably to much more meaningful work.

Leaders Open Doors

I’m so grateful to Bill Treasurer for writing this book. He cut straight to the heart with his personal call to simplify our understanding of leadership. I’m also grateful to Dan Rockwell (The Leadership Freak) for introducing me to Bill’s work.

Leaders Open Doors is so much more than I’ve listed here. Throughout, Bill poses questions to help you focus on how you can open doors for others wherever you are.

Something I love about Bill’s book is that it lives out his message: all of the profits from the book are donated to help open doors for children with disabilities. Additionally, Bill shares experiences and anecdotes from his professional network throughout.

That’s what most impacts me about this book; even in its writing, Bill is trying to open the door for you and me to learn and grow as leaders.

Get the book here; I don’t earn affiliate fees or anything like that. I just honestly believe it will change the way you view your call to leadership.

You can connect with me on Twitter and Google+!

5 Retail Leadership Solutions

My home state: Arkansas. It makes my heart bleed blue and white to see Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club dropping the ball so hard. If they would let me, I’d lead a workshop for any supervisors and/or managers at any Wal-Mart or Sam’s Club for free.

Continue reading 5 Retail Leadership Solutions

The Retail Leadership Vaccuum

Looks like we’re in a bumper crop of morons. It’s not a very nice thought, but it’s one that rages in my mind far too often. Especially when I’m in the middle of a store noticing a massive retail leadership failure.

Quick Read (Click to Skip the Story)

Courtesy Flickr User hobvias sudoneighm, CC
Courtesy Flickr User hobvias sudoneighm, CC

I just returned from Wal-Mart with two bottles of bleach and a box of lightbulbs. As I approached the front of the store to break my shortest-actual-shopping-trip record, my heart filled with dread. Lines and lines of piled-high baskets. Drawn like so many moths to the blue lights over three checkout stations. Continue reading The Retail Leadership Vaccuum

Don’t Imitate, Innovate

These days, it’s tempting to think that everything new has been done before. In fact, re-purposing old habits or practices or even picking up new ones at trade conferences is acceptable and encouraged. But (or so) when you’ve got a great original idea, how infuriating is it to see it ripped off?

"Made in China," Courtesy  Michael Mandiberg , CC
“Made in China,” Courtesy Michael Mandiberg , CC

Not long ago I was driving down a road near the funeral home where I work. That’s odd, I thought, I didn’t think we took out a billboard ad. But plastered up on a billboard was an ad we post each year in local publication: a lighthouse, a message about trusting professionals, and a funeral home log…

Wait a minute! “Second-Rate Funeral Home”?! (Of course, I changed the name of our competitor…to be fair.) Rather than our logo, there was a competitor’s name on our ad next to our funeral home.

Imitation and competitor rip-offs are nothing new. While it’s infuriating that our competitor is trying to tap into our brand, the ad company that created the campaign for us could really care less who buys the ads. Even in my volunteer work and writing, I sometimes see my own ideas being put to use. When these ideas are used to make progress or by a team member of mine, it’s no big deal. But when the competition starts benefiting from it…

I’ve learned to stop worrying. Not because imitation is the sincerest form of flattery (which is sometimes true) or some flowery nicety like that. Rather, because it means:

  • We’re Doing Something Right: Not only is our own strategy working, it threatens our largest competitor. While we spend virtually nothing on local advertising, our competitor has rented multiple billboards and run several ineffective mailing campaigns just to keep a marginal share of the market. The continued dominance of our business despite this gauntlet-throwing almost literally in our back yard is encouraging and affirming.
  • We Lead the Pack: Our ideas are imitated constantly. Really, it isn’t hard. Funeral Directors who did not last at our establishment attempt to replicate our practices wherever they go! The challenge comes in that unique advantage that no one can teach: each member of our team puts his or her heart into the work we are doing. When families end up at other funeral homes, they are unimpressed, going through the motions of an acceptable service experience. But just attending a service in our funeral home shows them that services– that the people here are extraordinary.
  • Our Competition is Failing to Innovate: Innovators don’t imitate. They might improve on existing practices or mold an idea to their needs, but they don’t blindly copy the industry norm– or their competitors. Businesses who fail to innovate stagnate. The most popular lie/misconception about our industry is that it’s recession-proof. The fact is that these businesses might continue to scrape out operating expenses, but their costs will rise and their prices will shrink as they grow increasingly desperate to compete.

There are some great ideas out there on leadership, service, and building value. And I’m not saying you shouldn’t incorporate those into your business, organization, or personal life. But fit those innovations or trends to the needs of your business and allow them to fuel authentic, home-grown innovation.

If you’re riding someone else’s coat-tails, you only pick up what he drops. And if she’s a work-horse like most innovators, the droppings are pretty…well, you get the picture.

 

You can connect with me on Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn!

How to Deal with the Unfamiliar

In our part of the country, “religious difference” means Baptist, Methodist, or Pentecostal. Once in a while, though, our funeral home has the privilege of serving Hindu or Buddhist families. Sometimes, this is uncomfortable for me; can you imagine how uncomfortable such an unfamiliar experience must be for these families?

Image: pashukaru76, CC
Image: pashukaru76, CC

 

I had no idea what I was doing as I sought to guide this family through planning their ceremonies. To be honest, they were unsure of what they were doing. With so much uncertainty, I was more that a little intimidated.

As I reflect on the process, I have developed a five-step process to dealing with any kind of uncertainty:

  1. Find a Point of Contact: About halfway through the service, I realized my point of contact was unfamiliar with Buddhist customs, so I sought out the Buddhist monk who would lead the ceremony. Unfortunately, he didn’t speak English. Finally, I listened for a family member who spoke English well enough to navigate complex issues and was familiar with the family needs.
  2. Understand Their Need(s): Until this point, I probably knew more about rocket science than Buddhist funeral customs. We had served a Buddhist family not long before, but everything was totally different this time. Once I had found a point of contact, I listened for every detail of the ceremony, seeking not just to know their needs but to understand the ceremony each part supported.
  3. Know Your Need(s): After I understood the family’s needs, I sat down and made a list of everything I would need: facilities, materials, props, help, time. I listed out what I didn’t know, I listed out attitudes that I needed to change to genuinely serve this family, and I listed out the details of the ceremony I needed to pay special attention to. By making lists, I was able to break a complex ceremony into small, easier-to-accomplish task groups and goals.
  4. Connect Your Resources with Their Needs: A lot of repurposing went on with our materials and props. Having identified what I needed, I put these things in place and waited to see how the family would arrange what I had set out. We dedicated a space for their use, matched tablecloths as closely as we could, and adjusted our staff and facilities to the family’s needs.
  5. Be Flexible: Toward the end of the ceremony, everything changed. Nearing wit’s end after a three-day crash course on Buddhist funeral rites, it would have been easy to lose my grip on calm! But a few minor adjustments in our plans (even at the last minute) were easy to pull off and enabled a critical process to take place right when it needed to. A cool head and quick feet are acquired traits, but essential!

I can’t tell you how many situations could fit into this progression. Whether it means overcoming language or culture barriers, moving a project into uncharted territory, or evaluating your personal leadership journey, you must be courageous and refuse to let challenges become obstacles.

When an uncertain or uncomfortable beginning evolves into a rewarding experience, you’ve done more than provide great service– you’ve captured the heart of a new friend.

You can connect with me on Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn!

Culture and the Process of Elimination

There always seems to be a bad apple in your company. And you know what they say about one bad apple.

Image Credit: vauvau, CC
Image Credit: vauvau, CC

But once you track down and toss out that one bad apple, another one sours to take his place. Whether it happens quickly or more gradually, the cycle is inevitable…right?

I often hear managers and business owners lament this “law of nature”. According to them, there will always be at least one bad apple. Weeding them out builds a stronger team and a better corporate culture. They’re building culture by the Process of Elimination.

While it’s true that businesses must separate from some employees, I postulate that the majority of these “bad apples” are victims of a bad culture. There are a lot of terrible cultures out there:

  • The Micro-Management Culture, the devolved form of a culture that demands excellence.
  • The Individualist Culture, the devolved form of a culture that demands competence.
  • The Under-Utilizing Culture, the devolved form of a culture that demands teamwork.

See! Bad cultures start out as good cultures, and then coast through “systems” designed to “maintain” the culture or way of doing things.

Unless you’re building a culture of empowerment, inclusion, and ownership, you’re probably finding that every bad apple is replaced as quickly as you nix or fix the problem. The fact is, you might be growing bad apples.

That’s all for today, and here’s why: I need your help finishing this post! Tell me: How do you prevent trying do build your culture by the Process of Elimination? How do you maintain a healthy team?

Build Value, Even With “No”

My parents-in-law are quite popular with my kids. It’s a pretty universal experience– kids love grandparents! When you never have to say “No,” you don’t have much conflict.

Photo courtesy Flickr user sboneham, Creative Commons
Photo courtesy Flickr user sboneham, Creative Commons

Recently I approached an Office Depot about donating copy services to a great cause with which I volunteer. I prepared a 60-second elevator pitch of our project and our needs, articulating the value we bring to kids and the community as well as our gift-in-kind copy needs. My calculation of the gift-in-kind donation: about $80.

When I walked in, the employee at the copy desk was very kind and paged the manager. Although she was wearing an earpiece attached to her walkie-talkie, I could hear the manager’s aggravation. I knew it was a “No” right away, but I stuck around just in case.

“Hi, I’m Justin Buck,” I greeted him with a smile and outstretched hand. But he met me with a blank stare, circling the counter and ignoring my weathervane-ing arm. After probably ten seconds of talking, he interrupted me.

“Look, I get like fifteen of you a day. If you want to bring in a letter asking for whatever it is you want, you can. You might get a discount or something.” After an uncomfortable silence, I smiled and thanked him for his time.

Here’s what he missed:

Everyone is a customer! I’m not just begging for money or favors, here. Our family business uses Office Depot for almost all of our supplies, even though we could probably get a better deal at Sam’s Club (where we already have a membership). I’ll start the cost analysis tomorrow and pitch the switch to my wife, who makes our financial decisions.

Every interaction should build value! Imagine if the manager had told me that his store donated $XXXX in copy services each year and was simply overbudget. Imagine if he had said he would advocate for discounted printing to his management team. All of a sudden, he’s built loyalty in me by spinning a “no” into a value statement.

His team was watching! I purposely selected a time in the day when I knew the store wouldn’t be busy. The manager’s team (the kind copy-desk girl, a cashier, and a trainee) had nothing to do but watch him totally fail at interacting with a customer. Because we replicate what our leaders do, I cannot envision a bright future for customer relations at this manager’s store.

At the Funeral Home, we often have to turn down opportunities to donate to worthy causes. If a great cause crops up and fits our mission, we can usually find the funds to support it; even when we can’t, I often find myself writing a personal check to affirm the organization’s efforts.

This experience, though, reminds me to treat every interaction with the dignity and attention that builds value. Even if the answer is “No”.

In the comments: How do you say “No” without damaging relationships?