“The probability that we may fail in the struggle ought not to deter us from the support of a cause we believe to be just.”
– Abraham Lincoln
I realize that we are all working hard to drive the business and I wanted to add some perspective around my thoughts on leadership. We have some big rocks to move and I need everyone to be focused and determined about doing what is best for the business. The leadership and organizational system that we are implementing is built on the foundation of beliefs that are essential guiding principles for how we should approach the business. While some of this letter may seem like it’s addressed to executives or managers, however all of us are leaders. We lead our clients and one another through change.
I believe that:
- Authority is earned not granted
- Real leadership is not about ruling people but about serving them
- Our job as leaders is to do for people only what they can’t do for themselves
- We get the behavior that we model, not what we expect
- We need to actively create teachable moments so we can instill a common set of values and strategies across the business
- If the leadership of a team can’t come together to identify problems and resolve them, there is virtually no chance that our teams will be able to do that for customers
With that as a backdrop, these are the ideas and stories behind the management system I want to build. The first rule above all others is that each member of the team acts in the interest of others above themself. You will be successful because you help other people become great. Zig Ziglar the famous sales trainer said you get what you want by helping other people get what they want.
When I worked at Nordstrom, if you saw a messy table as you were walking by you just jumped in and cleaned it up, it didn’t matter if it was your department or your job. We all pitched in because serving customers was our priority and a messy store was a poor reflection on all of us. What is remarkable to me was the sense of pride we had. I would like each of you to start acting in a manner that instills a sense of pride in our company around how well we care for our clients. Model making our customers experience your priority.
I remember being 15 years old at the Men’s sportswear gift wrapping station a week or so before Christmas, I had a huge line, customers we’re getting grumpy and I was overwhelmed and stressed. I didn’t have the experience at that time to know what I should do or even ask for help. I was suffering in silence, so were our customers (Something I see at Tahzoo all too often).
The next thing I know, two people started helping me and we spent the next few hours wrapping Christmas presents. I actually started to have fun, the customers were happy and the Christmas spirit began to take hold. The two people that helped me were Jamie Baugh president of Nordstrom and John Nordstrom, I really had no idea who they were or how important they were, I just needed help. They walked by saw a huge line, rolled up their sleeves, and started working.
There was no recrimination, no lengthy discussions we were busy, which was a good thing. There were customers and employees who needed to be taken care Jamie and Mr. John introduced themselves and I was amazed that they jumped in. Do you think I ever forgot that taking care of customers or employees was my top priority? Later in my career, when Mr. John would visit my department, I took so much pride in making sure we were delivering customer service consistent with the standard he set.
How many of our teammates are suffering and need someone to jump in and help them. See in my mind we aren’t here to manage the experience we deliver to our customers but to model it for our teams, to teach them how to be great by doing the work with them so that they can be stewards of our clients, our brand and our company.
I had a peer 360 review a number of years ago and I was subject to significant criticism for my lack of communication skills. I found this hard to believe because as a salesperson communication is my primary tool for persuasion and I am an excellent salesman. What I came to understand is that the deficit in my communications came not from a lack of clarity in word choices but the style that I used to convey my expectations. See I believe it’s my job to point out what needs to be accomplished, not to tell people how to do it. Then to challenge the plan that has been created to achieve the goal when I say challenge I mean to ask a lot of question to ensure that you have thought through all the details that you have taken the time to apply critical thinking to not only how to achieve the goal but if the goal is even the right goal in the first place.
You may have noticed that I keep an hourglass on my desk, have you ever wondered why? Time is our most precious resource and it’s there to remind me of that every day. Every assignment or objective that is given should be done with a specific tempo in mind. If for some reason the timing hasn’t been conveyed or you don’t know what it is, you should ask.
In my mind, if you tell someone how to do something then you’ve stripped them of their genius, their creativity, and their power. This feels like a moral failure for me. This is not to say that you should easily be dissuaded from an idea or an opinion… quite the contrary, it means that you should challenge your team to own their point of view so that you might be persuaded and or inspired by their brilliance. It is not that you should worry about being right, it’s that you need to be sure that we’re executing on the right plan. This is why the sequence around the quality of your planning, having a chance to debate it, and understanding when you’ll be done is so important.
So while I agree we need an org chart and we need to continue to add structure and processes to the company, it needs to be in service to our employees and customers. Not as a tool to resolve conflicts and create tiebreakers within the team. The only thing that matters is how well you are doing taking care of your peers, employees, and customers. You don’t need an org chart to do that. You can help every day in many different ways.
You can’t really tell how strong a person or a team is until they endure hardship. As a buyer at Nordstrom, you had to place orders for merchandise 6 to 9 months in advance. Generally, inventories were set as a fixed ratio to sales. So when business was good, better than plan, you’d run out of merchandise and when it was slow, inventory would start to back up. Being under bought and overbought we’re both sins but not equally measured. I saw many buyers get fired for being overbought, very few if any for being under bought. Essentially, every order that was placed was a gamble on the business, I became very comfortable living in a world where I had to make bets every day.
However, I wasn’t comfortable because all my bets were good or that my prediction for sales was accurate quite the opposite. By nature, I am an optimistic person and usually, I see nothing but opportunity, unfortunately, life doesn’t always work that way. I was successful because I followed the trending and I became comfortable in my ability to react to market conditions. I’d get out and personally sell the bad merchandise or to negotiate reduced orders from my supplier ahead of the downturn or when business was booming cut deals to deliver merchandise earlier than scheduled essentially I always found a way to right-size and grow the business. There is always a way I believe that in my heart.
I don’t expect you to be comfortable making bets, but I expect you to make them. To make decisions for the business in advance of the need and to stand behind those decisions. To be willing to stand for what you believe in, be humble, and learn when your bet doesn’t work. Pushing yourself to see down the road will make you a good leader. How can anyone follow you if you don’t have a vision and a long term plan? What needs to happen for Tahzoo to become a great Customer Experience Management agency? What isn’t figured out? Where do you need to invest time and intellectual capital?
When you place your teammates, employees, and customers above yourself it makes prioritization easier. Its counter-intuitive I’m sure, you feel like you were hired to accomplish a mission, to get something done for the company. Your right and you were/are, the questions are what is the method for achieving that goal? Its teamwork you need to be trusted to be a member of a team. Rightly or wrongly when some believe you’re just out for yourself or you don’t care about them personally, they won’t trust you.
I remember my Merchandise Manager pulling me aside one day after I had been on the job for a few months to have the big talk with me. He began to tell me a story about how great generals lead their armies into battle, they don’t sit in some comfortable tower and tell people to go to war. They are the first to charge into battle, not the last. He was telling me that I needed to lead by example, demonstrating the values of the company. He was a good man who was trying to get my attention like I am trying to get yours.
That is where you have to care about your employees and customers to have a company worth caring about comes from. We are in the people business, we all freely give our time and intellectual capital to help achieve a common goal. No one does it just for the money we all want a leader, to teach us and make us great. There is a quote on my desk from Ralph Waldo Emmerson that says our chief want in life is somebody who will make us do what we can. Let’s be that for one another.
We have ambitious goals and big challenges. We need everyone working together to be successful. Not only do we need to organize a fast-growing company, but we also need to invent methodologies and solve problems that are fundamental to customer experience management.
I want to be part of a great company. One that enables change so that our clients can change the way they interact with their customers. I want to be inspired by you it’s what I dream for when I am having a tough day. The act of trade and commerce is a powerful and uniquely human experience, every day we make choices with our time and money based on relationships and expectations. Personalizing that experience is a good start towards our longer-term vision. Let’s help our clients Wow their customers.
Let’s go be great!