There was bad weather in Chicago yesterday, so my husband, a professor, got stuck at the conference he was at and couldn’t fly home on Sunday, as planned. The airline told him they wouldn’t be able to get him home until Wednesday! However, there were flights available today, Monday, on other airlines from the same airport. When I asked the customer service rep I was speaking with (yes, I was helping my husband by calling customer service while he waited in line for two hours at the airport) why they couldn’t send him on another airline, he said “We can do that for mechanical problems on our end…but not for weather issues. Weather’s not our problem.” Since the airline wouldn’t do anything to help, in the end, I simply booked my husband a ticket on a different airline and he’ll arrive home later today. That way his students in his Wednesday class don’t have to miss the classes they are waiting for him to teach. To me, this whole experience is a failure of a couple of things you might not think of. First, a failure of creativity. Since customers need to travel, the only question airlines should be asking themselves is: “How can we safely get everyone to where they need to be as close to the time we said we’d get them there.” All airlines could band together to help people during times like this. Even if at that moment, the person is “not their customer”. And, the second is, the failure to understand the basic purpose all organizations (service and manufacturing) exist for: to serve customers. And service means putting the needs of others first. In this case it means creating ways to send people home regardless of internal difficulty (including financial) caused for the airline! So, if you’re in business – any business – please remember, you are there to serve your customer and help them succeed. As I always say, “Ask not what your customers can do for you…but what YOU can do for your customers.” Please also remember, that people are NEVER, EVER $$ signs…and that people are ALWAYS more important than money.
The branch manager at one of the first jobs I ever had used to quote the John Maxwell saying “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” all the time. Seems simple. For me, though, the question is how do people ‘know you care’? If you’re a leader, is just saying “I care about you” really enough for people to know – and believe – that you care? I don’t think so. For people to really ‘know that you care’, you have to ‘show’ them. And, the best way that I know to ‘show’ someone that you care is to spend time with them. Focused time. Time listening to what they have to say (without constantly looking down to check your phone or watch)…time watching how they do the work they are doing and seeing where the work is difficult for them (without constantly pointing out what they are doing wrong or how you would do it instead)…time with them in their space, and not just in your office. Often, in business, we think that monetary rewards or other material incentives ‘show’ people that we care, and overlook the simple, powerful and human message of caring we share when we spend time truly focused on others. In my experience, if we want the people who work for us to truly care about our customers, and our organization, the only way to get them to care, is to spend our time with them to SHOW that we truly care about them. What do you think? How do you ‘show’ people you care?
The other day I was chatting with my friend and client Petrina McGrath, from Saskatchewan Health Authority, about the importance of reflection in connecting purpose and actions – both organizationally and personally. Petrina told me that she was thinking of asking each of the people on her team, and the people she is coaching, to create – and then ask themselves – one question at the end of each day, that would help them reflect on whether their actions that day had helped them achieve their purpose. I love this idea, and, in fact, it’s something I do already! At KRC, my mission is to “Help People Improve the World.” That means, each and every day, I need to actively be looking for people to help…and then actually helping them! To make sure I maintain focus on my purpose, the question I ask myself, at the end of each day, is simple: “How many people did I help today?” It’s easy to get sidetracked with all the things there are to do each day. This one question (and knowing I’m going to ask it to myself at the end of each day) helps me remember why I started KRC – and why I do what I do in the way that I do it each day. So, now you know what my “one question” is….what is yours?
How often do you say, “I’ll try to find the time to do that…” (That being whatever it is you don’t seem to be able to find the time to do.) When you hear yourself – or others – say this, I’d like you to substitute, “Let me create the time to do that”. Why? Because although it sometimes doesn’t feel that way, time isn’t in charge of us…we’re in charge of time! Saying “Let me create the time”, reminds us that we CAN – and must – make intentional and deliberate choices about how we spend our precious time. Because, in the end, time is all we have. Figure out what’s really important for your customers, your organization and you. Then deliberately create time for it.
Quick question for you this morning: What words do you use to refer to the people who work in your organization, who serve and care for your customers? Do you use ‘human’ words? Or do you refer to them in non-human ways? Do you give them an ‘employee number’ or think about them – and call them – resources’? If you do, I’d like you to stop. That’s because people aren’t ever numbers – ‘things’ or ‘costs’ to be counted – or accounted – for. And unlike the ‘resources’ we use in our business (paper, ink, gas and electricity, to name a few), which will all eventually be depleted, people, given care, respect and nurturing, will grow and appreciate, over time. Words matter. Please choose yours wisely and refer to the fabulous human beings who work for – and with you – in human ways.
It’s 2019! As we start the New Year, I have a few questions for you:
- What will YOU create?
- Who will YOU help?
- How will YOU make the world better?
Why am I asking? Because 2019 is the year to turn YOUR ideas into reality. To speak in YOUR voice. To share YOUR ideas with the world. Why? Because YOU, your ideas, your experiences, your skills and your point of view are unique. Often, we get so caught up in taking in what others put out into the world, that we forget that we are just as creative.
So, this year, I’m challenging you to CREATE.
- CREATE a balance of reading what others write and post with sharing your ideas, experience and insights on social media, podcasts, books and
- CREATE a balance between taking courses and certificates and ‘learning-by-doing’ to create solutions that haven’t been thought of yet
- CREATE time to spend on the things that YOU are passionate about. Whether that’s knitting hats for cancer patients, playing piano for your local children’s choir, or creating Kindness Kards with children at your local elementary school.
Because, when you practice your creativity, you find out that you can be more than you ever thought you could be and do more than you ever thought you could do. At home, at work, in your community, your country and the world. There are seven billion people in this world, a host of problems, and we – and our creativity – are the only ones here to solve them.
So…I’m going to ask you again…
- What will YOU create?
- Who will YOU help?
- How will YOU make the world better?
I can’t wait to read your posts and books, see your drawings and hear about the creative solutions you come up with! Happy New Year…and keep me posted!
Here’s my reflection for the week: ‘Working on it’ is different than ‘trying’. ‘Working on it’ means you know what the target is. ‘Working on it’ means you’ve broken down what needs to be done into smaller pieces and planned when to do them! ‘Working on it’ means deliberately doing a bit to get closer to the target each day! ‘Working on it’ means being conscious that even if something doesn’t turn out as expected, it’s okay, because we can learn from that too. We can accomplish anything (yes, anything) by ‘working on it’. Think back to your week this week. How many times did you say, “I’m trying”? What would have been different if you said, instead, “I’m working on it”?
In The Toyota Way to Service Excellence, we talk a lot about creating a ‘deliberate culture’. ‘Deliberate’ meaning the specific choices that get you closer to your purpose: organizational structure, hiring process, office layout, how you treat your customers. ‘Culture’ meaning “the way we do things around here’. Not what we SAY we’re going to do…but what we actually DO. Lately I’ve been thinking that creating a “deliberate culture” doesn’t just apply to organizations. It’s something that’s personal as well. In order to fulfill our purpose, to reach our goals, to do the things we want to do – in the way we want to do them – we need to be conscious of creating a “deliberate culture” for ourselves, as people. Because every choice we make (or don’t), every decision we make (or don’t), every action we take (or don’t) has an effect on what we – and our world – becomes. We’re not just passive recipients of the world as it is. We’re active creators. So, as we start a new week, I’m going to challenge you to really be ‘deliberate’ in what you’re creating. Not just at work…but at home, with your family, and in your community too. As my friend Sylvia Witter-Vliege says, “Sometimes the biggest enemy to being yourself is yourself”. This week, don’t let it be. Who you are, and what you have to contribute to making a better world is too important. Your ‘personal culture’ counts. Be deliberate in creating it!
Last week I had a wonderful opportunity to be a keynote speaker at the 18th Lean Management Conference in Wroclaw, Poland. Not only was it a fabulous conference, with many great Lean thinkers and speakers, it was also a great opportunity to continue my ‘back to basics’ thinking. So, today, here’s my reflection on another of the most basic Lean principles and practices: Striving for perfection.
I often hear Lean described as ‘continuous improvement’ and that organizations who adopt Lean are working to ‘continuously improve’ the way they already do things. However, when we think back to the origins of Lean, to Sakichi Toyoda, the King of Inventors in Japan, the Toyota Production System and the Toyota Way, inherent in the drive to create better, more effective and efficient ways to work is the goal of continuously ‘striving for perfection’.
The way I see it, striving for perfection is quite different than simply continuously improving. ‘Striving for perfection’ is active and forward-looking. ‘Striving for perfection’ provides a goal that is always just outside of our reach, stretching our thinking and creativity to both improve the way we work now and create new ways. ‘Striving for perfection’ acknowledges that although perfection may not ever be attainable, there is a huge positive potential in the act of challenging people to do more than they ever thought they could do and be more than they ever thought they could be.
Sometimes I visit organizations who balk at the idea of ‘striving for perfection’. Because they know that perfection is not possible, they believe striving for it would be demoralizing for their employees. I believe that the opposite is true. Knowing that the people you work for trust that you will be able to learn and grow and figure out how to do things you can’t do right now is affirming. Striving to perfect the products and services your organization makes to serve your customers is exciting and engaging for us as workers and human beings.
So, if you or your organizations practices Lean, please don’t limit your thinking – and yourself – to ‘continuous improvement’. You can do much more than that! Be much more than that! Challenge yourself and your team, instead, to ‘strive for perfection’!
How many of you who read the title of this post immediately thought of yourself? Thought that the question applied to your leadership ability? If we’re really truthful with ourselves, probably most of us did. That’s because, as human beings, it’s simply second nature to put ourselves first. To think about ourselves and how everything applies to us.
Great thing is, if you’re a leader, the one thing I can guarantee you is that you are gifted. Because all leaders, no matter who they are, or at what level they are leading, are gifted: gifted with employees! Gifted with the wonderful joy and corresponding responsibility of caring for and nurturing the fabulous human beings who give the gift of their precious time to their company and their customers each and every day.
If you haven’t thought of it this way, I’m not surprised. But think about it. Each day, your employees come to work, eager and ready to give of their time and talent. Of course, people expect compensation for their efforts, but most people aren’t just working for a paycheck. They’re working because they care about their customers and about helping their team, department, company – and YOU, their leader – be successful. And that’s an unbelievably special gift.
So, if you’re a leader, and aren’t thinking of the people who work for you as a gift, it’s time to start! And you can start simply: by saying thank you! By treating people kindly! And by spending your time, not behind your computer reading reports, but with your team members, finding ways to help them develop their creativity and problem-solving skills! By removing obstacles and improving the system so that they can do their work effectively and serve your customers efficiently. And, most importantly, by thinking of them, not yourself, first.
Leaders, your employees are the biggest – and best – gift you’ll ever receive! Please make sure you’re treating – and thinking of them – this way!