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Thursday, October 01, 2009
Volume 15 | # 345
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Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties." » Erich Fromm

Trying to Control Ourselves

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal by Sue Shellenbarger shared interesting findings about job satisfaction. In one of the largest surveys ever conducted of the “happiness levels” of various occupations, the self-employed outranked other professions in a composite measure of contentment.

What I found notable about this finding was that their happiness levels had relatively little to do with how prosperous or secure their businesses were. In fact, several of the businesses highlighted in the article had fallen upon hard financial times. Many of these folks have dealt with loss of business, layoffs, and great financial stress.

But the apparent key to their higher scores in areas like emotional health, job satisfaction, and self-reports of “overall life quality” comes from the feeling of being in control of their own destinies.

Conversely, the professions ranking near the bottom of the survey were those in which folks felt like they had a lack of participation in decision-making, conflicting or unclear job expectations, and tasks with little inherent meaning. (My apologies if that list hits a little too close to home.)

Throughout the years, I’ve had numerous discussions with management teams about the importance of allowing and encouraging (even little amounts of) autonomy to branch teams. While we’re not likely to let them decide on things like their hours of operation, products offered, or pricing, there are areas in which a little autonomy can have positive impact on our teams and their business results.

I’m a longtime advocate of not only allowing but promoting our teams to conceptualize and implement at least some of their own marketing and promotional activities, materials, campaigns, etc.  And sure, it’s smart for “corporate” to give guidelines. (We want our compliance folks to have higher quality of life scores, as well.)

But it’s been my experience that teams who are more empowered and involved in the creation of their own marketing and promotions felt more “ownership” of their results. And they spend more time and energy thinking of ways that they can personally improve upon those results.

One of my running jokes to managers is that they should not try to do all of the thinking for their teams. If they do, folks will begin to oblige and stop thinking.

How will you engage your team’s creativity this week?

Appreciating Appreciation

Between speaking engagements, I had a five-hour drive through mountains last week. When I arrived at my hotel I was less than “perky.” On top of that, the hotel I was staying in was not the one that the bank had suggested. Since their suggestion and all the hotels surrounding it were booked, I was spending the night at an extended stay hotel in a business park near an airport. Oh... goodie.

This place was tucked away and surrounded by a whole bunch of nothing. Maybe it was unfair to have the low expectations that I had. It could have been driving fatigue, combined with the fact that this was my 4th choice of hotel that had me sighing and just hoping for a less-than-terrible experience.

Instead, I had one of the better hotel experiences that I’ve had in ages. And it had nothing to do with the facilities (although they were fine).

From the time I walked into the place, every employee from the desk clerk to the guy emptying the lobby garbage can smiled and gave me a personal greeting. In the minute or so I stood in the check-in line, three different employees greeted me.

The clerk was about as hospitable and chatty as any I’ve ever encountered. As I stood there, I noticed the open door to an office just past the counter and small snack area. It was the manager’s office. He was behind his desk and waved and said “Welcome” when he saw me look over. I kind of smiled and said, “Uh… hi. Thanks.”

For a moment, I thought they must have me mistaken for someone else. They couldn’t be this friendly to everyone, could they? Later, as I sat in the lobby, I saw that they indeed were.

After observing these folks for a bit, the obvious dawned on me. Every employee mimicked the behavior of their manager. That office door never closed, and he made a point to either wave hello or walk out and chat with customers often.

It may be that we see true customer appreciation so infrequently that it really stands out when we do. And while the facilities weren’t the newest or most modern, the “experience” of the hotel was impressive and memorable. I even recommended it to my host the next day.

The incident reminded me that it’s not the facilities or even location of a branch that matters most. It’s how the folks in that branch interact with customers.

What will your customer interactions look like today?

The single most important thing to remember about any enterprise is that there are no results inside its walls. The result of a business is a satisfied customer. » Peter Drucker

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in these columns are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of any affiliated entities or sponsors.
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