Whenever I reference athletes or sports in general, I feel obliged to give my old disclaimer: No, I do not believe that sports are analogous to all of life and business. But that being said, there arise examples that I believe are worth considering.
One such example came to be in the past couple of weeks. James Harrison of the Pittsburgh Steelers was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year. What made the story especially compelling to me is that Harrison is the first non-drafted player ever to win this award. Non-NFL fans can be excused for thinking, “Okay, so what?”
But here’s why I think this is especially inspiring. You would be hard-pressed to find an industry that is as serious about- or spends as much time and money on- “new hires” than the NFL. Potential “employees” are reviewed (scouted) as young as junior high school. Hours and hours of film from past performances are analyzed. Potential hires attend “combines” in which they are submitted to intense physical and mental testing. These teams have reams of data to compare each new crop of “applicants” with. It’s about as scientific a process as they can make it. So when NFL teams tell you, “No thanks,” you’ve been told you don’t quite cut it by folks who know of what they speak. But some folks choose not to listen.
James Harrison came out of the not-quite-football-power house Kent State. He was thought to be too short and too slow to play linebacker at an NFL level. Still, he fought to get try-outs and off and on positions on practice squads. He was actually cut four times before even making an NFL roster.
It took several years, but he eventually got his chance to prove himself after an injury sidelined a starting linebacker. It was then that a work ethic that has become legendary in the Steelers’ locker room finally got the opportunity to pay off. And after a couple of years of “stardom,” it’s a good bet that Harrison is the only MVP you’ll still find enthusiastically throwing himself around on the less “prestigious” special teams units as well.
Throughout our lives and careers, there will always be ample “experts” who are eager to establish for us the limits of who we are, what we are, and what we are capable of achieving. Whether or not you choose to accept the limits that others attach to you is another issue altogether.
A friend of mine who runs a large in-store program shared a great story with me today. In the course of our conversation, he told me that he can tell which store managers are secure in their jobs by how easy they are to work with.
He shared, “The guys who are in over-their-heads tend to make our lives miserable. They restrict everything we try to do– no PA’s, no fliers, and no displays outside of our lease-line.” But he then told me about how the actions of one bank employee changed that at one of his branches.
One of the stores his bank operates in was managed by a guy who made assuring that the bank didn’t break any of his rules a priority in his day. The branch’s morale and production suffered as a result. Then unbeknownst to anyone at that store, the retailer decided to change managers. But before that information became public, the new manager made an unannounced, incognito visit to her new store on a Saturday to evaluate things.
As she walked the store, she made a point to be seen by store employees. She even went so far as to feign confusion and give the appearance of a puzzled customer. No store employee acknowledged her. Then finally, one young lady walked up and asked her if she needed help. To her surprise, the young lady wasn’t an employee of the retailer. She was a banker.
And what impressed her more was that she didn’t try to sell her anything right then. She just wanted to help. A few days later, that new store manager came over to the branch to introduce herself. It was only then that the bank employees learned of her experience. She told them that it showed to her that the bank truly understood customer service better than many of the folks now reporting to her.
She also told them that she was going to do everything in her power to allow them to conduct the kind of marketing they required to be successful in her store. And she has been true to her word.
That story reinforced to me that we can never know just how much impact even one simple gesture can make. It’s likely that young lady’s action did more to improve her bank’s retailer relationship than weeks of “negotiations” could have. And the same is true with customers. Showing that you are sincere and helpful people with your actions speaks far louder than any marketing campaign ever could.