leadership dot #3331: retromania

I spent the day thrift shopping with my 13-year-old niece and had flashbacks to my high school days. The clothing that excited her was very reminiscent of apparel that I wore in my teens while anything I picked out for her to try was deemed undesirable. I learned that skinny jeans are out and wide-leg pants are hip again. She was ecstatic over the leather jacket that was still hanging in my closet from the 1990s but had no interest in anything that looked like it was designed in this decade!

It reminded me of the concept of retromania where we fall in love with things from the past — often things that we did not like that much at the time. But now that they are old, they suddenly gain a fondness because of their age. Often, when I go to flea markets I see specific items that were once in my mother’s kitchen — things we threw away when selling the house — that now garner a premium as “vintage.”

Everything from vinyl records to bell-bottoms are popular again. That should be a clue for you to dig out relics from your archives and give them a new life in 2021. Reprint old t-shirts. Repurpose your original logo. Put your current message on a tie-dye shirt or a patch that can be sewn onto a denim jacket. The older you can make something seem, the more desirable it will become today.

leadership dot #3330: one touch

If you’re serious about wanting feedback, make it easy to give.

The Love’s Truck Stop did just that. As I was leaving the restroom there was a device with three simple buttons — the ubiquitous red, yellow, green — that asked you to rate the cleanliness of the facility. One touch was all that was required.

Think about how you ask for comments from your customers. Some services can be boiled down to a simple three-button metric — or you can at least start there. Help your clientele help you improve by making it effortless for them to do so.

leadership dot #3329: calls

I had a phone conversation with a cattle farmer who is half my age and lives 300 miles away, yet he wants to represent me in the US Senate next year. It is overwhelming to me thinking about a) the vast diversity of interests any politician is expected to address and b) the effort it takes to run for a statewide seat. The primary is nearly a year away and already he’s making calls and hosting events — and, of course, will be eating food-on-a-stick at the State Fair. All while trying to raise his cattle and keep his farm running.

I give him credit for getting my phone number and scheduling a conversation (not a cold call or robocall) to answer my questions and learn about what is important to me in this election. I think all organizations could do more in this regard. It’s so easy to get absorbed in doing the work that we forget to make time to listen to those that we are ostensibly doing the work for.

When is the last time you scheduled a call with one of your clients — not to ask for anything — but to serve as a live connection to your organization and hear what is on their mind? Even though you are not running for office your ability to win a vote of confidence from your clientele could be enhanced with a listening tour. Schedule a few calls instead of another routine meeting and see what you can learn.

leadership dot #3328: riding

While I was out shopping, a mom was pushing her cart with two children hanging on to the outside of the basket. The children decided that they would rather walk and asked permission to get off. “I’m not stopping until we get to the school supply aisle,” she said firmly. “You wanted to ride, now you have to live with your choice.”

Bravo! Her children’s future teachers and employers will thank her for teaching the lesson of consequences. Too often, people are allowed to change their decisions and behavior without rationale or regard to the implications. Stopping the cart is minor but these types of small, cumulative lessons may teach her kids to pause before committing to something if they know they are expected to actually fulfill their intentions.

Pay attention to your own behaviors and check yourself on how well you follow through on your declarations. Your word should be solid — both to others as well as to yourself.

leadership dot #3327: flavoring

The practice of self-serve fountain drinks has now expanded to encompass self-serve sno-cones. People are becoming more accustomed to having their orders customized to their exact preferences and one festival’s Sno-Cone truck made that possible. They provided you with a cup of plain shaved ice but allowed you to do the rest to turn it into a favorite summer treat.

The setup was a win-win for everyone: the truck operator could serve more people and customers were able to mix exotic combinations of flavoring to their liking. It also meant that there was ample syrup to soak through to the bottom of the cup!

When self-serve just is an excuse for customers to do the work of the retailer, there is natural resentment. But when self-serve provides a benefit to the customer as in this case, people are actually pleased to do things themselves. Ask yourself who your “self-serve” is serving: the organization or the customer. Only one causes delight.

leadership dot #3326: repurpose

A local university is partnering with the waste authority to create a new position charged with reducing waste at the area colleges. One of the key areas they are targeting is when students move out of the residence halls. Everything from furniture to food is just tossed into the Dumpster, and the hope is to coordinate a “Donate Don’t Dump” event on each of the campuses to repurpose the castaways.

I thought of this when I read about Eleanor Love who works with brides and wedding planners to share leftover reception flowers with those in hospice or the hospital. She now has a core of 200 volunteers to help deliver bouquets to patients in Virginia Commonwealth Medical Center, bringing joy and new life to blossoms that would otherwise be discarded.

My Mom used to tell us that “someone’s trash is someone else’s treasure.” How true it is. Whether for environmental or humanitarian reasons, consider whether there is a new life you can give to that which you would otherwise toss. Or better yet, see if you can’t be like the Sustainable College Coalition or Dr. Love and create a system that repurposes things on an ongoing basis. Others beyond Mother Nature will be delighted with your donations.

leadership dot #3325: closeness

If you’re from Chicagoland, you likely know Portillo’s — the home of famous Chicago Dogs and roast beef. Portillo’s is always busy, with multiple drive-through lanes, advance order-takers to expedite the process, crowded restaurants, and lines. The hectic nature of the restaurant is part of the experience and subliminally reinforces the popularity of the brand.

I recently ate at a franchised Portillo’s location in another city and while the food was spot-on, something seemed off about my visit. Then it hit me: the restaurant was too big. This location was designed to accommodate 315 people — and only a fraction of that number were dining that day. There was no hustle, no lines, no scramble for a table. While the food was excellent, the restaurant experience was ordinary.

I think cozy conditions are desirable in many situations. Having people stand as part of an overflow crowd at an event adds more caché. Office desks that are in close proximity have been shown to enhance the culture and create a greater sense of camaraderie. Stores that are bustling generate more energy among shoppers than when they are alone in the aisles.

When allocating space, it is counterintuitive but more beneficial to think small. Closeness is not just a physical attribute but an emotional one as well.

leadership dot #3324: renovation

A friend just moved into a new house and gave me a tour. There were both cosmetic and substantive changes that he is planning to make in every room, and several of the renovations were already in progress. The result was that the whole place is torn up and none of the rooms are functional. He can’t be unpacked anywhere while he simultaneously works on flooring, painting, wall removal, and electrical re-wiring.

It reminded me of starting a new job where you come in and see a host of problems and immediately create a wish list of projects and changes that you want to make. It is tempting to jump right in and (metaphorically)tear the place up, but just as in my friend’s house, trying to tackle too many enhancements simultaneously only results in chaos.

Whether you are reimagining a house or an organization’s culture, tackling too much too soon never works out well. In my experience, it is best to pick an aspect or two to gain a quick win and then repeat the process as often as necessary until you achieve your desired results. With any kind of renovation, you’ll never be done, but it helps to finish something rather than starting on everything.

leadership dot #3323: enforce

I just returned home from a trip to Chicago and my travels reminded me — once again — about the importance of setting clear expectations with consequences.

When I was in the city or any of the interstates around the airport, the posted speed limit was just a suggestion. People routinely drove 15 miles per hour above it, with a few outliers racing past even faster. Even though the limit was 70 mph, it did not deter people from ignoring the signs.

Later on my journey, I drove through a tiny town that is known for its notorious speed trap, and sure enough, everyone screeched to the requisite 25 mph and crawled through their city limits. The expectations were shared in the same way, but through consistent enforcement, people have come to know that this city means what the sign says.

Think about how your organization enforces its rules. Do you post the equivalent of highway speed limit signs, knowing that people will use them as suggestions rather than taking them literally, or do you administer consequences like in the small town where your people know that you mean what you say? It’s not what you say that matters, rather what you do after saying it that counts.

leadership dot #3322: layers

A local church is fortunate enough to have the fifth largest collection of Tiffany glass in the world. The church displays 108 Tiffany windows — and inexplicably, one that isn’t by the master.

The windows are stunning and provide a level of detail that is so unusual in glass: reflections in water, shadows, multiple dimensions, folds in garments, and waves in water. It only requires looking at a Tiffany and the non-Tiffany side-by-side to instantly appreciate the difference.

One of the keys to Tiffany’s success was his layering of the glass. You can see sections with up to seven panes that were fused together to create the desired effect, while others attempted to create their look using only single pieces. Layering requires significant extra work, but it is impossible to create texture and depth without it.

I think everyone’s projects could benefit from layering. If you just use the equivalent of one panel of glass it can be good, but adding in multiple dimensions will only enhance the final project. For example, writing a plain report may suffice, but adding in design, graphics, and hyperlinks may make the report more persuasive. Teaching a class by reading PowerPoint is equivalent to one layer while adding interactive activities, visuals, and materials can layer in learning.

Think about layering on your next project that matters. Distinctiveness can come in stages rather than all at once.

Note the difference in dimension and detail with Tiffany’s window (L)