leadership dot #2571: exit process

I have experienced some really poor service lately but was pleasantly surprised as I left the United Center. There, at all the entrances, were employees holding up a “Thank you for attending” sign. It served a dual purpose: a) to offer a moment of appreciation in an industry usually devoid of it and b) to easily identify the staff members who could answer questions, provide directions, etc. It seemed to work beautifully.

Kudos to the person who thought through the fan experience and took the small step to make the exit process just that much easier.

Take a moment to see your organization’s service from the consumer perspective – start to finish – and see if you can provide a few small enhancements to the experience. Often all the attention goes to the main event, but it’s what happens on the way out that leaves a lasting impression.


leadership dot #2570: local

I recently attended an event at the United Center in Chicago and was delighted to be surrounded by all local brands. Instead of the usual generic stadium offerings, the arena prominently featured area favorites: Vienna Beef hotdogs, Giordano’s pizza, Sweet Baby Ray’s ribs, Goose Island Beer, Garrett’s popcorn, Nuts on Clark and more. I could have spent the evening eating!

The shift to local foods is an intentional one as the management seeks to banish “soulless food” and replace it with dining delights. It is an effective way to brand the arena more closely to its home city and to instill a bit more pride in the hometown fans.

Think of what you can do to tie your physical space to the culture that you are attempting to create. Is there a way to offer furniture, food or art that reflects your desired audience? Can you add touches to anchor your space to your mission instead of opting for the easy and generic fare?

Everything in your environment sends a message. Be intentional about what your surroundings are saying about you and your brand.

leadership dot #2569: inside

I can’t tell you the number of times that I have gone to the wrong car in the parking lot by mistake, thinking that it was mine when it wasn’t. I am always bemused when the car that I mistake as mine is a much less expensive model, causing me to question why I paid a premium price if it looks the same as others. But then I remember (rationalize?) that the interior, the ride and the longevity are worth it to me.

I think about this as it relates to people. Often people are judged by their outside appearance but it is really what is on the inside that creates the true value. We have no idea what is going on “under the hood” and we should refrain from making comparisons or evaluating worth based on only a fraction of the whole picture. What you see on the outside is not an indication of true value.

leadership dot #2568: fundamentals

When my 11-year old niece was visiting, one of the moments of entertainment was teaching her how to read a map. I got out the atlas in the car to show her some perspective of where the airport was vis a vis where I lived and it turned into a play-by-play accounting of the roads to take, the mileage and what town was coming next. Not being a driver, she has little need for maps or even GPS but from her novice perspective, it was quite fascinating that all the roads and cities were plotted out ahead of time.

Map reading is just one of the many foundational skills that are going by the wayside. My construction friend asked a young helper to read the tape measure and was dismayed to hear the answer as “5 and a third.” Anyone who knows about measurements knows that the marks are in quantities divisible by two – not in thirds – but apparently, ruler-reading has been dropped from the skill development repertoire.

The same is true for cursive writing, making change from the cash register when the machine fails to announce the proper amount to give, writing a check, addressing an envelope and a host of other life skills that once were commonplace.

While technology is wonderful, so is the knowledge that frees you from reliance on it. Take a moment to teach the young people with whom you interact the basics and keep the fundamentals from fading into oblivion.

at the University of Minnesota Post Office!

leadership dot #2567: venture out

I just finished reading Melinda Gates’ new book Moment of Lift and was struck by how fully she immersed herself in the work of the Gates Foundation. It would have been easy for her to stay at home in Seattle and dole out her millions from there but she made frequent trips to the poorest regions on Earth. There Melinda lived with the locals, spoke with community groups and individual women and tried to learn first-hand what the needs are and whether (or not) the Gates’ funding was making an impact.

I think about Melinda traveling to India and Africa to gain these experiences when so many of us do not venture across town to meet with marginalized members of our community. It is so easy to become insulated – to read about issues or learn about them in conferences – without ever coming face-to-face with the people who are living them. Whether it be non-attenders in a church community, struggling students on a college campus, uninsured members in the city – many of us work to meet what we think their needs are without direct input from those we are trying to serve.

When is the last time you had a first-person account from someone who is impacted by your policies or services? When have you asked someone whether your good intentions are, in fact, producing desired results? When have you left your office and ventured out to observe what it is really like in the field?

Before you take any further action, pledge to hear directly from those on the front line about what would truly benefit them.

leadership dot #2566: osmosis

I didn’t learn my states or capitals or countries through formal education, rather I absorbed them by osmosis through play. When I was a kid, we spent hours with a wooden puzzle of the United States: each state was a different piece and printed underneath was the state capital. We learned to recite all the answers just by repeated exposure. The spare bathroom was wallpapered in National Geographic maps, providing a subliminal education as we used the facilities. It didn’t seem like learning at all, but the absorbed geography is still engrained decades later.

A similar opportunity is being realized with Legos, that now align Braille with special Lego pieces. The bumps on the plastic toys correspond to actual Braille symbols and the toys also contain the corresponding English letter. Just by playing with the bricks, children will similarly absorb the knowledge that they may not even realize they are learning.

Chemistry Crayon Labels are subtly teaching children about chemical properties by labeling crayons according to the color of the flame of that element. We learned the color of Burnt Sienna and Aquamarine through Binney and Smith’s labeling; now children can learn about Florine gas and Mercuric Iodide the same way.

There are many apps, games and toys where children learn all the nuances through repetition; why not take the same principle to teach something more useful? Guitar Hero could use the actual chords and teach children how to read or play music. Angry Birds icons could be real birds and expose players to different species. What possibilities do you see to subtly infuse learning into play?

Thanks, Tracy!

leadership dot #2565: less

When my niece was in town, we visited an organic pig farm – combining her love of (all) animals and my desire to do activities that she couldn’t do at home in the big city. We learned from the farmer that he has a sustainable and profitable operation with 100 sows – one-fourth of the number he had a few years ago.

This contraction was done on purpose as he determined that he could meet the demand of his best customers with far fewer pigs – thus reducing his expenses and greatly increasing his quality of life. As a result, he cut out direct-to-consumer sales, focused on his key clients, sold some of his land and is doing quite well with a far more manageable number of animals.

It is the natural inclination of people to “add” in the quest to achieve “more”. We reflexively make additions to our to-do list, our product offerings, our calendar and our strategic plan. But, as was confirmed on the farm, the real magic comes when we subtract the right things.

leadership dot #2564: boo-boos

How do you command a premium price for an ordinary product? One way is through packaging. The Welly Company has done just that with a new line of bandages that come in colorful containers labeled with clever names.

There is a whole series of colorful first-aid items: Bumper Stickers (for knee and elbow injuries), Blister Blasters (for fingers and toes) and Kicker Stickers (that protect from heel rubs). Creams are called Bravery Balm and Calm Balm (to relieve itching). Other supplies include Comfy Covers, Oops Equipment, a Human Repair Kit and Dressings for Distress.

The items cost about twice what the standard first aid supplies do, but it may be worth it to parents. Instead of begging a child to tend to their wound, it would be a lot more enticing for him to wear a Bravery Badge, to utilize Superhero Supplies or to select a Handie Bandie from the polka dotted box.

A rose by any other name may still be a rose, but a boo-boo salved with Bravery Balm and Hero Tape is designed to provide quicker relief than Neosporin and a bandage. How can you repackage the ordinary and make it “all better” for your organization?


leadership dot #2563: dimension

Instead of placing a typical advertisement in the home airport of its world headquarters, John Deere took a creative approach to remind passengers that they were in Deere territory. Throughout the terminal are banks of seats that are replicas of those used in Deere tractors and construction equipment, providing not only a reminder of the area’s premier business but also providing much greater comfort than the standard seats surrounding them.

It may have been impractical to put an actual tractor or bulldozer on the concourse but the seats convey the same brand identity in an instant. Is there a piece of your product or a tangible aspect of your service that could be repurposed for advertising or brand awareness? A nursery could create planters in a mall or place of worship. A potter could provide ceramic mugs for a coffee shop. A discount store could provide shopping carts to use at an outdoor festival or fair.

Signs, social media posts and other 2-D advertisements are passe. Find a way to bring some dimension into your awareness campaign.

leadership dot #2562: indigo

Blue jeans are, well, blue in my mind but I recently learned that there is a lot more color that goes into making a pair of indigo denim.

Denim is made through a diagonal weaving process that utilizes three strands of blue thread on top of one strand of white thread. This method creates a whiter underside of the material but is also responsible for the signature fading quality of denim.

And the synthetic dye that is used to transform the cotton into that indigo blue: it is bright yellow until it encounters oxygen.

So, without the yellow dye and white threads, denim wouldn’t be blue.

I think jeans can be a metaphor for the power of diversity. We sometimes only see blue but it comes from the amalgamation of two other hues. None would be in existence without the other. Take some time to look more deeply, not just at your jeans, but at your organization and community. How can you learn to appreciate the contributions that all the colors are making?