Permanent Footprints in the Sand

My mother used to cite an old saying, “you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” We entrepreneurs should heed Mom’s advice. One of the most challenging aspects of building a business is interacting with our team members. There are people who are extremely committed and dedicated. Others are sleepwalking through the day for the sole purpose of collecting a paycheck. And there are many more who are somewhere in between.

As frustrating as it may be at times, I’ve come to realize that the “honey” approach is definitely the most productive. Helping build people up is much more gratifying and yields far better results, than tearing them down. Let’s focus for just a moment on the notion of “tearing them down.” It’s obvious that a boss who yells, screams and belittles his employees is “tearing them down.” But there are also other behaviors that fall into this category even though they are less apparent. For example, triangulating about another person can be just as destructive as making derogatory remarks to their face. Triangulation in this context, means talking with someone in a negative manner about another person. This does nothing to advance the cause and can likely get back to the person who is the subject of the conversation. Another example is actually an act of omission. This is where we know someone could perform better if we offered our assistance, but we decline to do so. Finally, the entrepreneur who is constantly critical about everything someone does is certainly not building them up.

The central premise for how we go about building others up is really quite simple. We think about how we would want to be treated and then do so for the other person. As long as we keep this foundational element front and center, we will be well on our way to being a positive force in the development of our team. Often this will require keeping our emotions in check. When things go off the rails do we automatically look for someone to blame? Or do we take a deep breath and look for the opportunity to coach? An added benefit is something else I’ve discovered. When members of the team don’t have to live in fear of making a mistake, they are much more likely to own it when they make one and much more inclined to share bad news in a timely and truthful manner.

Somewhere I read that we should offer five compliments for every one criticism. I’m not sure of the scientific basis for this ratio, but the intent makes sense. People always value feedback – especially when it’s positive. My middle school grandson is a case in point. All children at this stage of life tend to be insecure. I spend a great deal of time praising him for his accomplishments and encouraging him when he fails. Rather than be critical of his shortcomings I ask him how he might do something differently the next time. I make sure he knows that I believe in him and know that he can accomplish whatever he sets out to do. I’ve watched as he’s become more and more confident as he gets older.

The concept is no different with our adult team members. The more of a positive approach we take, the more likely we are to realize the right kind of results. This is particularly true with Millennial team members. We’ve found that Millennials place a high value on coaching and mentoring. This is a clear signal that the command and control managerial style of the past does not work for them. They are looking for a collaborative relationship with their teammates as well as their managers. And what a terrific opportunity this is for us to learn how to work on our “build them up” skills.

“Building them up,” means asking permission to offer constructive suggestions. It means making recommendations rather than issuing orders. It means explaining the bigger picture when assigning a project and it means making certain that the team member understands what value his or her participation brings to the overall effort. Accusations are out. Clear and direct communications are in. Brutal honesty is out and warm candor is in. Celebrating success and constantly expressing gratitude are definitely in.

When we look for ways to build others up our lives are enriched and our enterprises will thrive. This is perhaps the greatest gift we can give to others and will leave permanent footprints in the sand that represent the time we spend walking this planet.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 118 – Celebrate Good Times.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The Royal Treatment

I’ll bet there are a million books that have been written about customer service. I even wrote one that was published in 1991 called The Customer Is King! How has customer service been for you lately? Have all of the books that have been written over the last 20-some odd years done any good? Is customer service any better today than in the past?

There is a way to ensure that we receive top-quality service with each and every encounter (well almost). It’s been working for me flawlessly for many years and I can assure you that it will work for you as well. Yes, we’re the customer and we should be treated like royalty – right? Well, what if we treat the service provider like royalty too? I have made true friends with many individuals who provide service to me. And the word “friends” is important here. I treat them like I would treat a friend.

I always try and know the name of the person serving me. That’s the best way to start a friendship. And I use their name throughout the service experience – not in a patronizing or schmaltzy way, but in a natural conversational manner. I look them in the eye and smile. At some point in the encounter I may ask them something about themselves. Why? Because I really want to know more about them. I’ll joke and tease with them because that’s my personality. If someone provides excellent service, I make sure and tell him or her what a terrific job he/she did. And I also make sure and tell the manager the same thing. I may also shake hands with the service provider, especially if he’s a man. If the circumstances are appropriate I make certain that I tip generously, rounding up to the nearest dollar. At Christmas, I give $100 in cash to a couple of servers who regularly serve me at my favorite restaurants. In one case I know that my gift made a significant difference in what he was able to do for his family during the holidays.

We eat regularly at a local restaurant and have often been served by a 50-something woman. She wasn’t easy to warm-up, but when she did crack a smile it was radiant. At one point I told her how beautiful her smile was and I thought she was going to cry. I talked to her about her daughter and her mother and learned more about her life experiences. Today she is extraordinarily warm and outgoing with us. She goes to great lengths to make sure our service is outstanding. The effort I expend is nominal and I’m completely genuine about my interest in those providing service to me.

If something about the product or service isn’t quite right I don’t hesitate to talk to the service provider or the manager about it. I always do so in a friendly and respectful way. Throwing a tantrum and acting like a jerk doesn’t do anything to build friendships or treat everyone like royalty. More often than not the situation is corrected and though I never expect or request it, my bill is reduced or I receive a gift coupon.

Treating service providers like royalty is rare these days. Usually they simply blend into the background. When I interview someone for a job, I like to do so over a meal so I can see how well the person treats the wait staff. If her or she is gracious and acknowledges the server there’s a reasonable chance that the interviewee has a good customer service perspective. Numerous prospective team members have not been hired because they didn’t even show common courtesy to the server.

We have every right to expect excellent customer service. And we’ll receive it if we treat our service provider like a king or queen. It’s human nature to return kindness with kindness.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.