Does Your Company Get It?

Posted On: September 22

I have just gotten off the phone with one of my favorite clients in the world, Austin Outdoor, a really cool company that delivers world-class landscaping services for top resorts, hotels, corporations and communities. I am currently helping them roll-out their new “ Customer Service Excellence ” program and it has been a joy to watch their team devour this project with enthusiasm, passion and professionalism. Why are they doing such an extraordinary job at this? I’ll tell you the secret: they “get it.” Let me explain…

I have another client, who will go unnamed, who was already in the middle of a “Culture Change Initiative” when I came on board. As part of this program, managers have been instructed that they must send five “Thank You” notes to employees every month and must also go out and visit with each of their direct reports at least once a week, basically forced MBWA (Management By Wandering Around). Here is the problem; they are trying to improve the culture of the company by mandating actions that would reflect underlying intentions. A great culture does not come from managers who send five thank you notes a month – it comes from leaders who are genuinely “thankful” for what their employees do and send a hand-written note to show it. A great culture is not about MBWA, it is about leaders who are curious and truly like spending time with their people, asking how things are going, checking in on them personally.

It was a real flash of insight a few weeks back when I suddenly realized that many of today’s leading business “programs” were actually just ways to force people to do what they should be doing… if they had the necessary passion, professionalism and discipline. The “Five Why’s of TQM” is just a process for making lazy thinkers… think more deeply. Top Grading” is simply a way to force managers to fire poor performers and blame it on the company… sorry, bottom 5% had to go!Work Out from GE, is merely a way to facilitate extremely frank and open communication between managers and subordinates. My point is, if you had people that were intellectually rigorous, intolerant of mediocrity and courageous in their communication – you would not need to implement any of these programs!

I had been planning to write this blog from some time, but this morning I was checking another blog I really enjoy reading (Conversation Agent) and ran across a fantastic story by Stephen Denny called: “The Difference Between What Hip Looks Like and What Hip Is” that really nails this topic and got me fired-up to get my thoughts down. It is a tale about Stephen and his son Nick going through airport security and dealing with the ever-so-friendly folks at TSA. It is definitely worth a read – a classic marketing message mess-up!

You see, even though Austin Outdoor has developed a robust and extremely thoughtful customer service excellence program (based on feedback from real customers – how unique!) it is not the workbooks, posters, slogans or corporate marketing that will drive amazing customer service, it is the honest passion and enthusiasm of the wonderful people at Austin Outdoor that will. You see… they get it. They understand that the only sustainable competitive advantage left to a business like theirs is creating a culture of continuous innovation focused on delivering consistently superior customer service. Lots of people can design landscapes, plant trees and mow the lawn – but very few can earn the right to create premiere properties and build lasting relationships ” as trusted partners to some of the finest resorts, hotels and communities in the Southeast U.S. and Bahamas.

You need the program. You need the posters and slogans and systems and surveys and the training… because you simply can’t deliver consistently superior customer service without a clear and specific “repeatable process.” However, all the “process” in the world can’t help you… if you don’t get it.

Hope that helps — let me know what you think — take good care, John

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  1. Sometimes all it’s needed to be top of mind is doing what you say you’d do and do that with a smile – in your demeanor as well as your face/tone. All the advertising in the world (today) is not going to cure a poor a experience – that of your customers. Which then in turn translates to that of their friends and family.

    Who sets the tone for a business to own its brand?

    I’m glad Stephen’s guest post inspired you, John. He is a true marketer in my book and a good friend.

  2. Dear John,

    It’s amazing every each posting of yours struck something in my mind about the topic related. I also recommend “Austin Outdoor” to deliver world class service just as what The Ritz Carlton Hotel Company does. One of my favourite ex-client and hotel to stay if I have an opportunity.

    A book called “The New Gold Standard” by Joseph Michelli will explained the cultural of excellence service they have been having. From the senior management till tea-lady or janitor practices service excellence. They have set a very high bar for all other hotels to emulate excellence service.

    I remembered I had an experience where I was kinda lost my direction to attend one of my best friend wedding. The wedding was held in a banquet hall in Marriot Hotel. Apparently Marriot Hotel and Ritz Carlton are attached back-to-back in Kuala Lumpur. It turned out to be an off-shift hotel cleaner saw me and I did not realized where he came from (but I saw his tag from Ritz Carlton) brought me all the way to the right place and not anyone from or supposed to be from Marriot. (It was quite a distance walk)

    I asked that person, you don’t have too and you’re not Marriot staffs. The person simply reply with a smile, “Sir, it is my pleasure to help you, and enjoy your dinner”

    I was…truly amazed by this staff and they know what they suppose to do. They just simply get it, in my opinion.

    I hope it will help your client to see it in another picture….


  3. I was actually over at the Austin Outdoor offices yesterday – they were discussing Michelli’s book — I sent a copy to the COO — he loves it! Great input = I very much appreciate your input on my blog. Take good care Desmond!

  4. Excellent read John! Right to the point. Hope more people and companies get it. We are all going to need to be more creative in America.

  5. Great post, John,

    I couldn’t agree more that “getting it” is critical – and extremely rare!

    As a process person, this sentence stuck out to me: “However, all the “process” in the world can’t help you… if you don’t get it.”

    I’d be curious to know if you had any thoughts on processes that help people to become people who “get it.” I ask because of two thoughts I had after I read that sentence: (1) that there may be some common processes that people who “get it” have experienced in their lives – which could help explain why they do get it more often than others do and (2) that certain processes actually help certain people who don’t get it to get it more often.

    So, here is my question to you: Perhaps people who get it AND are aware of processes that helped them to get to this level of awareness would be able to identify and implement processes that spreads “getting it” to the entire team – and those that simply get it without as much process awareness would struggle identifying and implementing such a process? In other words, do you think that there may be “get it-spreading processes” that, if implemented well (by people who “get” process implementation), could increase levels of “getting it” within a team?

    Not sure if you have an opinion on that, but was interested to see if you did. Once again, great food for thought here!

  6. Bull’s eye!

    People who are truly passionate about excellence + great leadership that fosters that excellence = awesome success & a lot of fun!

    When you really have a great team of professional people who “get it” you really don’t need rules, strict management, & all of the other “management techniques” that we employ. You just need to get out of the way & let something truly awesome take place.

    Echoing Stephen Covey, what you are is far more important than what you do. Everyone knows those five thank-you notes are forced/required – that kills any sincerity that might have actually been there. Hiring people who genuinely care about others is the true litmus test as to whether leadership cares about its employees.

    John, I continually state & continually mean you are an inspiration. Please continue to provide a forum for this vein of thought. Thank you.

  7. Dear Brother John,
    Yes, you truly are a blessing to me! Thank-you for being my mentor! Looking forward to being the very best role-model/speaker/inspirational consultant, I can possibly be as a direct result of your wisdom and encouragement! Thanks a Million!

  8. Wow Brian — tough question. To my mind, the person who can help other people learn to “get it” would be the leader. Through modeling the way, inspiring, motivating and coaching — they help show other people how and why it is important to “get it” — however — I believe at some level – some people will never, ever get it. It is sort of like one of my favorite sayings in the service business: You cannot “train” people to care. Hope that helps a little — next time ask me a much easier question!

  9. Great piece on Getting It!

    In particular John raises the question of weather we all as leaders in this organization really “get it”. He talks about the ways in which top companies try to force their managers to engage their employees in a meaningful, genuinely interested way through measures like we do in our ASE and Sparkle Tours, and various checklist reviews. The point he makes is we should be doing it automatically if we are truly passionate, professional and disciplined about our work as leaders. Maybe the reason employees want to spend less time at work is not because they want to work less or that things are too challenging or they actually want to be challenged less (that would be a pretty cynical view of our entire work force – note I said entire, as I’m sure those sandbaggers are out there) but rather that we are not around enough or engaging them enough to show the genuine interest they need and crave to feel needed and wanted as part of this great organization. When was the last time you simply walked around and saw folks in their work place? Lord knows I don’t do it nearly enough! But I will work on that this year. Are we all engaged and physically with your teams (as opposed to spiritually) at key times like major special events, critical budget periods, special critical projects, year end close outs, etc.—at a minimum these are the easiest and most important times to demonstrate leadership by simply showing up—the dividends of developing a dedicated, loyal work force will surely be our payoff. But it takes a lot of discipline with our incredibly busy and stressful work schedules to break away and walk around during those “non-critical times” which really makes a difference to our work force.

    We have a great PRIDE program and it has all the great and necessary “repeatable processes” as John calls them—posters, slogans, surveys, training, etc—but it doesn’t really mean anything if we don’t all, as leaders, really get it. Pride starts with us and our staff takes its cues from our commitment to the organization and its work force.

    Alright, enough preaching —time to go clean the pool…

  10. Sometimes, these “programs” are the means whereby you get people to “get it”, or to execute better even if they “kinda get it”. The post above smacks of a bit of an idealistic approach to running a business; not everyone in your business is “intellectually rigorous, intolerant of mediocrity and courageous in their communication”, and a million other traits and attributes, to the perfect degree.

    PS: On Top Grading, I hope your comment is sarcastic, because it totally misses the point of Top Grading as a framework for finding/evaluating top talent in your business.

  11. Paul — thank you for the frank comments. Actually the entire post is a bit sarcastic — but not idealistic. I know that it is simply impossible to build a team of people that do not need any process or systems — even the best need structure. What I am saying is that I think that many of the “programs” we all use today — top grading, work out, TQM and others — are often used in place of good management, good hiring and good people. Instead of dealing with the real problem… we have mediocre people on our team and we are afraid to fire them… or even coach and mentor them effectively… (a problem I see all too often in my work) — that organizations will sometimes adopt a system like top grading to hide behind an use as an excuse to get rid of dead wood. Instead of creating a culture of thankfulness, honesty, genuine praise and appreciation — they will institute a “program” of thank you notes, forced MBWA, foolish celebrations, meaningless “employee of the month” awards — without any of the honest feelings and emotions behind them. Thinking that a new management system will fix the problem — rather than having the courage to deal with the real issues. Hope that clears up my thinking a bit for you — I truly appreciate your input Paul. Thanks – John

  12. John:

    My previous post may have come off as snarky. I do agree with you that, oftentimes, these “programs” are abused by management as a band-aid over deeper problems.

    As an aside, where I work, we instituted one of those thank you card programs. We suggested people try to send five cards a month. It wasn’t a quota per se, but since it came top down, it may as well have been. 🙂

    First, people resented it. Then, when we started getting the first surprised-and-appreciative responses to our thank you’s, and our client/vendors started responding to our subsequent conversations with more alertness and speed, the program wasn’t a “program” anymore. People just “did it” and then they “got it”.

    What I am trying to say is that, whereas sometimes people use programs without looking deeper, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Sometimes you have to go ahead with a program even if people don’t immediately “get it”.

    This was the second post from you I have read. Look forward to more.


  13. Paul and John,

    I have followed your great conversation and was moved to post something related to it. I think that part of “getting it” is a leadership team that really “gets” process. So many people in my experience think that they get process, but do not seem to know much about it in reality. Paul’s example is a great example of a process that was implemented that was able to eventually move from a “top-down,” forced process to one that seemed to truly touch people enough that they “got it” – which changed it to a bottom-up process, perhaps (one that everyone truly wanted to enact regularly).

    I think that leaders who understand process at a deep level (i.e., really “get it” in relation to this critical aspect of leadership) are those that implement processes that are likely to enhance bottom-up, intrinsic motivation. There is some absolutely outstanding research by Deci and Ryan on how to move people from no motivation to external motivation to internal motivation. Perhaps this process is part of what John means by “getting it.”

    Nice conversation here, guys – critical stuff, I think!

  14. Founded Friends — am absolutely NOT a computer/blog expert — however when I want a link to someone’s site from this blog I simply paste the address of the page I want people to go to and put it in a story. For example the address on this specific story is:

    In some blogging programs it will automatically be picked up as a link — in other blog programs you have to hotlink it/connect it using the linking tool. But really, if you just paste in the address people should be able figured out.

    Please feel free to link to any of the information on my blog — or simply copy it and paste it in your blog, all I ask is that you give attribution so people can find the site if they want to read more. Hope that helped — take good care — John

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