leadership dot #2108: earth hour

How can you be part of a global environmental movement tonight between 8:30-9:30pm? By participating in Earth Hour, a grassroots movement of the World Wildlife Foundation. Each year, one hour is chosen where it is encouraged to “go dark” to stimulate conversations and actions about long-term environmental issues. Tonight’s the night!

People in over 180 countries will participate by switching off their lights for one hour (local time). The Eiffel Tower, Empire State Building and other landmarks will be dark. Earth Hour encourages you to turn off your lights as well: dine by candlelight, go stargazing, head to bed early, or sit around the fireplace.

There is always a tension between thinking BIG about long-term goals and thinking small in order to achieve those goals. Earth Hour is an attempt to straddle that line as it encourages small grassroots steps for a short period in an effort to create short-term awareness that leads to actions far beyond the Earth Hour.

You can participate directly in this environmental movement, and you can replicate the idea for other purposes. A specific action outside the norm can go a long way toward creating awareness. Being in the dark may shed the light that is necessary for change to occur.

leadership dot #2107: power of moments

“We tend to remember the best or worst moment of an experience, as well as the last moment, and forget the rest.” This is the main premise of the book The Power of Moments by Chip Heath and Dan Heath, a fascinating account of how to intentionally orchestrate experiences to create moments that are memorable.

People have more opportunities to develop “defining moments” than they may first realize. The book cites examples of a high school that produced a “signing day” for college enrollment with all the pomp and circumstances of an athletic signing day, but for all students continuing their education. A resort created a binder of pictures showing what a child’s forgotten stuffed toy did on its “extended vacation.” A company created an intentional “First Day Experience” with messages from the chairman, a gift and group luncheon. Two high school teachers collaborated to create a mock trial in a real courtroom as a way to make an academic experience that was more memorable than prom.

It is in everyone’s best interest to create moments that matter. Not only do they provide a more satisfying experience for the customer, they distinguish the company from others that are likely providing the same service. A friend just recounted his round of college visits with his daughter and the sameness of all the presentations. What a lost opportunity to create a visit experience that was memorable, thus increasing the chances that someone will invest tens of thousands of dollars through their enrollment. McDonald’s is losing market share (in my opinion) not because of the food, but because the experience of eating there ranges between generic and poor. Their once innovative Playland has become passé and they have done little to intentionally consider the dining experience. Contrast that with an Eataly restaurant where you can watch staff making pasta by hand or even with Five Guys who provide free peanuts and display the name of the farmer who grew the potatoes used in their fries that day.

Author Cesare Pavese said: “We don’t remember days, we remember moments.” Utilize the Heath Brothers’ resource to help you unlock the power of moments through intentionality instead of leaving them to chance.

leadership dot #2106: located

Today’s dot provides an example of the flip side of the (lack of) service I wrote about yesterday. When it was apparent that no tailor was going to return my destroyed hat to normalcy, I went to Dick’s Sporting Goods to see if they still had the same item in stock.

The winter displays had been replaced with a mega-selection of baseball uniforms so I asked whether hats had been moved elsewhere or were gone. The clerk promptly radioed the “apparel manager” who returned moments later with hats from storage. They did not have the exact cap I wanted, so she brought the same style in youth sizes (in case it was not for me), and similar styles in two other brands. She even offered to price-match the more expensive one to the same price as the one I was seeking. When I hesitated, she went online and began searching there and successfully located it for me!

This staff member was a problem-solver – offering a multitude of alternatives and options in an attempt meet my needs as closely as she could. Note that she did not even have the product in stock that I wanted, but she still provided excellent service.

The experience at Dick’s was as good as the cleaners’ was bad. Remember my experiences when you train your staff. The reputation of your company resides in the front-line clerk.

leadership dot #2105: unraveled

On a whim of hopeful optimism, I took my winter coat, hat and scarf to the dry cleaners for the end-of-season cleansing. What I got back was a coat, a scarf and an unraveled pile of yarn.

The once-was-a-hat was hanging in the plastic just like the other items, with no note or acknowledgment that the item was no longer functional. When I pointed the damage out to the attendant, she offered no apology. Instead, she took it back and said that they would send it to the tailor and if it could not be fixed then I could come back in and file a claim to receive pro-rated damages.

I am sure that this is not the first article to be damaged, making me wonder why there is not a process in place to address it in a way that preserves the customer relationship. It’s bad enough to ruin an item, but why make the client come back at least once, and only offer a partial settlement instead of replacing it? I wonder if I am going to get a refund on the dry cleaning cost!

Mistakes do happen, but I would have felt much better if they had said: “We want to let you know that the machine damaged your hat. We are so sorry! We sent it to the tailor who could not repair it, so here is a refund as well as no charge on your order.”

Every organization has processes that go wrong but don’t let your reputation unravel because of them. Customer service ratings are highest for organizations that effectively respond to service failures. You’d be wise to proactively prepare for missteps so you can wow your customers instead of losing them.

leadership dot #2104: realism

Almost immediately after the tragic bridge collapse in Florida, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) sent staff to the site to conduct an investigation. I admire these problem solvers whenever I hear about their work on the bridge, watch Sully or learn that they are en route to investigate a recent train or plane crash. They are wading into an area where emotions are high, the evidence is damaged or missing and the consequences of their work are great.

I often wonder what it takes to be an NTSB investigator, but I think there are parallels between the role and that of a coach. Both positions must have subject-matter expertise, along with the ability to assess a situation and draw conclusions based on observations of what is seen – or not seen. Both positions must be masterful at noting the details and minor variances from the norm. Both need to be able to make recommendations that improve future performance, even if it is unpopular to say them.

In the TED Talk by Atul Gawande (see dot #2013), he describes how he learned from the coach who observed his surgery – but the coach had to know the field intimately in order to give the recommendations for Gawande to hold his elbow differently or know how to reposition the light. Not just any outside observer can be helpful.

Coaches and the NTSB are knowledgeable eyes and ears with the sole purpose of seeing the situation for how it actually is – not how it was supposed to be, or how we think it was or even how we want it to be. They become highly focused on reality, providing a mirror back to the affected parties to describe the current situation with raw realism.

I hope you are never in a situation where the NTSB is actually needed rather I wish that you find yourself often with the gift of a coach who can bring an outside perspective to your work.

leadership dot #2103: coaching

If I say: “coaching,” what is likely to come to mind is either an athletic coach or coaching for an executive leader. Many people have a narrow definition of what coaching is and the benefit that it offers.

I recently watched a TED Talk by Atul Gawande who advocated for a broader view of the practice. “Coaching is how people get better at what they do,” he said. “If professionals don’t realize there are problems, then they stop making improvements.”

Gawande, a surgeon and social entrepreneur, has used coaching to improve himself in the operating room and to decrease infant mortality in Indian hospitals. He was reluctant to allow an outside observer in his operating room but did so when evidence convinced him of the value of coaching. Gawande thought he conducted a flawless surgery, but the coach provided him with a page of observations that Gawande did not recognize were happening, and recommended changes that have made a marked difference in his practice.

The TED Talk provides examples of how Itzhak Perlman’s wife used to coach the great violinist from the audience and how most people could benefit from the perspective another person provides. I know from firsthand experience that a coach can see things that elude you or become so much a part of your routine that you no longer question them (even though you should!).

“Coaches are external eyes and ears, providing a more accurate picture of your reality,” Gawande says. “They recognize the fundamentals, break your actions down and help you build them back up again.” 

No matter what your line of work, if you are serious about improvement, don’t rely on just yourself to get you there.

Watch Gawande’s TED Talk: Want to get great at something? Get a coach.

leadership dot #2102: assurance

With the number of recent trades and team-swapping in the NBA, some fans are understandably nervous about investing in a jersey of their favorite player for fear that it may be obsolete in the short term.

The NBA Store and American Express have teamed up to offer a “Jersey Assurance” program that allows fans to switch jerseys if the player switches teams. With the number of restrictions on the program, it is unlikely that there will be a huge financial loss, but there could be a substantial gain.

The Jersey Assurance program is a way to encourage purchases but makes everyone feel better if a trade happens.

Think of how you can adopt a component of this program and do something to mitigate perceived risk. Maybe your providers aren’t traded, but providing some assurance to your customers is a slam dunk.