leadership dot #3890: garden

A colleague was dealing with some naysayers who were causing a ruckus about a policy they did not like. The question before them was whether to address the negativity or press on anyway.

We likened the situation to a garden, where those against things were like weeds. You can spend all your time pulling the weeds and focusing on that — OR — you can spend your time planting more flowers so that the beauty becomes the focus and the weeds are overlooked by most who view your garden.

Especially in this climate, there will always be people who don’t like what you are doing (see dot 3889). While it’s important to listen to credible input, at some point you need to move forward and do what you think is best for the organization even if some are against it.

You will never be rid of all the weeds, no matter how diligent you are. Even if you can’t see them, roots are forming beneath the surface ready to break through at any moment. But the same is true with seeds, with goodness that lies dormant until it blooms. Keep focusing on the hope that seeds bring and let the beauty outshine the beast.

leadership dot #3889: autonomy

In the “Ask Amy” advice column this week, a nurse noted that when the pandemic started, people who were forced to work from home complained about how difficult it was, and now that employers want staff to return to the office, those same people are complaining about going back. As a health professional who never had the choice to work remotely, she was asking for advice on how to deal with the whining.

I don’t think the complaints are about being in the building or not. People were uncomfortable with the first change in part simply because it was a change, and now they are uncomfortable with returning because it too is a change. It’s so easy to get into a routine (aka: rut) and any attempt at disruption is met with resistance.

Working from home has also provided people with a higher degree of autonomy and flexibility than they have in an office or cubicle. Autonomy — freedom to choose when you do the work — is one of the key levers of employee satisfaction, and there is admittedly more of it at home sweet home.

Another key driver of engagement is understanding why. If the work itself or the policies that surround it have a purpose and make sense, people accept them more readily and without complaint.

Everyone understood why the offices closed in 2020. If employers are receiving pushback about a return, it would help if the employer would articulate why in-office is being reinstated and what advantages they expect to realize from the shift.

Employees want meaningful work and choices in how they go about accomplishing it. Whether from home, an office building, or some combination, employers benefit when they provide both.

leadership dot #3879: fires

The fire department just purchased a new Hazmat vehicle and showed it off by allowing the public to tour the inside. While the lower portion of the truck carries materials to help mitigate hazardous spills, the main function of the unit is to serve as a mobile command center if an incident occurs. The vehicle is equipped with computer equipment, whiteboards, a conference table, and can even project to screens on the outside of the truck. It literally is a high-tech mobile office.

Having a large proportion of the vehicle dedicated to planning and coordinating is a good reminder for how to lead. Instead of jumping right in and trying to fix things, everyone might be better off if you took time to assess the situation, develop a plan, and then share it widely. Especially in a crisis situation or when the stakes are high, you may be tempted to hurry up and “do,” but thinking first can prevent even more fires.

leadership dot #3875: cater

If someone is in the food business, it may seem plausible for them to easily switch between offering their meals via a food truck or a restaurant but the logistics are quite different. The same is true for those who offer only dine-in and then decide to add delivery or restaurants claiming they can “cater.” All of those distribution methods require different staffing, equipment, and procedures to preserve quality and are not as interchangeable as you may think at first glance.

I had a bad experience trying to order from a local restaurant that was anxious to accept my catering order only to realize too late that they did not have the disposable pans, delivery staff, or even recipes to make their dishes in mass quantities. Another non-caterer who agreed to cater delivered delicious meals but no serving utensils. They had to race back to their kitchen and loan us the tools they use in their restaurant operations. It’s quite the contrast from national firms who specialize in catering — providing online ordering, signage for each dish, and everything you need to have a successful meal.

You don’t have to cater to everyone. Be a great restaurant and achieve success in your brick-and-mortar location OR become an in-demand food truck that has lines at its multiple daily stops OR dedicate a separate component of your business to truly servicing catering needs. Unless you’re truly equipped to provide a smorgasbord of services, it’s best to narrow your scope and be great at it.

leadership dot #3873: party

If you are of a certain age, you probably remember Tupperware parties — the highly successful distribution system for what has become the generic name for plastic serving containers. Until recently, Tupperware was only available via distributors who sold the products to groups gathered in homes for demonstrations of the signature sealing “burp” or via those who sold the goods at vendor fairs as a licensed representative. Tupperware parties were almost synonymous with the product.

But no more. Today, you can buy the Tupperware brand at your local Target mixed in with all the other domestic products that are distributed to the masses in the same way. Whether due to the changing (mostly female) workforce, a belief that its quality will distinguish it from lower-cost plastic containers, or the declining interest/time for home events, the company has abandoned its pioneering exclusivity.

Is it a good move that allows Tupperware to acknowledge realities and evolve with the times or is it a serious error that compromises a core element of its long-standing brand? How you reach your customers is a key element of your organizational strategy. Don’t leave the party too early.

leadership dot #3872: five stars

I went to Chipotle with a friend who has celiac disease. Once she informed the staff of this, it initiated a seamless procedure to serve her safely. They imperceptibly shared a signal with each other and everyone knew what to do: one person got out new serving utensils, another wiped down the preparation counter, someone procured a fresh bin of guacamole out of the refrigerator and everyone put on new gloves. It took an extra minute but there was no drama about it, no confusion, and it was certainly no big deal for the staff or the others behind us in line.

Think about how your organization handles requests outside the norm. Have you thought through the steps that are required to address routine variations? Do you have a process in place where the staff knows what to do with such efficiency that it doesn’t make the requestor feel uncomfortable? Have you ever considered that the ability to customize your offerings could be a lucrative niche service for you?

Allergies and dietary needs are prevalent in the restaurant business, but every industry has sub-groups of audiences that have different needs. Finding ways to cheerfully and easily accommodate them earns five stars for both your organization and those it serves.


leadership dot #3871: high or low

Hallmark has an interesting distribution strategy: they sell cards for upwards of $5 at their Gold Crown stores and they also market similar versions for 50 cents at dollar stores. You see the same dichotomy with other services: you can have a custom home or do-it-yourself renovation. You can outsource your printing and pay handsomely to have it done while you wait or you can print your copies at home.

Those who are at the high end of the spectrum or the lowest in cost seem to be thriving the most, whereas those in the middle are being overlooked. They can’t afford to provide a premium product without the accompanying high price, and they beat the bargain versions on quality so can’t match their discount.

Think about where your organization falls. In your quest to have a wide reach are you diluting your distinctiveness? Go high or go low. The only good middle is in Oreos.

leadership dot #3868: well

Yesterday I wrote about medical debt that was in collections due in part to not being able to cover the deductible (dot 3867). You may think this occurs only for a few patients, but FDIC reports that 32% of Americans would struggle to cover a $400 out-of-pocket emergency!

Based on this information, our local credit union is conducting a “Be Well” campaign, urging its customers to be financially well by setting aside funds to cover unexpected expenses. They report that 41% of its members have at least $400 in savings — better than the national average but still dismal.

What are you doing to enhance the well-being of those you serve? The credit union has taken a broad view of wellness and has appropriately focused on fiscal health. Recently, attention has been paid to employee wellness but it can go beyond those who work for you to tending to your customers or those you impact. Consider what aspect of holistic wellness aligns with your mission — spiritual soundness, mental health, physical fitness, emotional balance, social support, or cultural well-being — and prioritize attention in this area. Everyone benefits when everyone is well.

leadership dot #3864: iced

Unfortunately, our area was hit with ice as part of the recent Olive storm. Everything was coated with a thick, frozen layer, making treacherous passage for vehicles, humans, and animals.

Unlike a snowstorm, the drizzle that created the ice was almost imperceptible as it came down, different from looking out the window and seeing flakes. Yet, the final effect was more hazardous than a snowfall as the ice is more pervasive and difficult to get rid of. Snow can be shoveled but ice-coated branches and thick layers across sidewalks cause more lasting disruption.

I think toxic employees are a bit like ice — you may not even notice that they are drizzling their negativity into your environment until it has touched everything and hardened. You may feel it before you see it, but once it’s visible, the damage may already be done.

If your own observation or clues from others warn you that an organizational storm is forming, proactively take steps to prevent the ice from coating your culture. Turn up the heat by addressing the issue or employee directly. Put out warning “salt” by reinforcing positive norms to help lessen the impact. Accelerate the “melt.” by redirecting emphasis to focus on mission or values. Don’t let your best efforts be frozen in place by those who seek to ice you out of your leadership or influence.

leadership dot #3859: charging

Back in the day, phone booths in airports were at a premium. Travelers needed to utilize the pay phones when they were passing through and securing a booth in the limited time of a layover was important.

Obviously, phones have evolved and I doubt most airports have more than one pay phone, but phones are still an essential tool for travelers. Now, the premium commodity is an outlet for charging smartphones.

Maui airport has melded the past with the present by converting its pay phone booths into charging stations. The booths are plentiful and in convenient locations, making them perfect spots to provide both power and a sound-absorbing buffer to lend an element of privacy for making calls. The airport even provides chairs for weary travelers to sit on while they wait.

Many travelers may have never used the booths for their original purpose — or even know what they were for — but they can benefit from the adaptation.

Can you repurpose a space or tool in your organization that is no longer needed for its intended use? Rather than get rid of it or let it collect dust, maybe there is a way you can call it something else and meet the needs of a new generation.

Thanks, Lynn!