October 30, 2009

golden attitude

Leaving customers - or clients - with a feeling of being well looked after.  Each of us has customers or clients no matter what line of work we are in.

I observed a young man creating a great customer experience this week in the mall food fair.  My boys and I were shopping and stopped for a snack.  My eldest son arrived at the table with his food and an exclamation about what a great salesperson the fellow at the New York Fries was.  Interested in what behaviour had created this feeling in my son, I watched him myself for a few minutes.

His style was that of a performer.  He was juggling...an entertainer as well as a cashier.  He asked each customer about how their day was going...and in fact, whether they were having a fantastic day. Planting a seed of possibility.  His enthusiasm brought up the energy of the people buying fries and left them feeling a little happier, a little more positive, a little better from the experience.  He was probably making minimum wage.  If he continues to bring that enthusiasm to his work, he is worth his weight in gold.

Attitude is everything.

October 26, 2009

thoughts about big rocks

We have a woodstove.  With the shorter days and the stormier weather we like to have fires.

One of my tasks is the chopping.  My ten year old has given me clear instructions on the necessary piece sizes.  All I need to do is produce them.  The fir in our woodpile is seasoned this year and the task is relatively easy. It's also a good reason to take a break from my work and get some exercise and fresh air.

The chopping causes me to think about time.  If the woodstove were our only source of heat, I would be chopping a lot of wood.   I think I might need an hour a day to chop enough.  How would I make space for that in my day?

Time is considered a precious resource.  We are always looking for tools that will save us time.  We never have enough time to do all that there is to do.  How did we manage when we had to chop wood every day?

What there is to do expands to fill the time, so that nothing is left.  The metaphor about putting rocks in a jar uses big rocks to represent the important things in your life, and little rocks to represent everything else.   The metaphor suggests that you place the big rocks in the jar before the little ones.  If you don't, you can't fit the big ones in, because the little rocks take up all the space.

If keeping my family warm meant chopping wood every day, it would be a big rock.  It isn't for me, as we have electric heat.   However, I realize that I don't always have the big rocks clear in my mind.  I define them every now and again, but I tend to lose sight of them as time passes.

I think I will choose to review them often - weekly, even - to ensure that I am spending my time on the things that I have said are the most important.

October 24, 2009


Becoming a consultant has changed my life in a number of different ways.  Such as my schedule.  I have the option of a lot of flexibility.

For me, there also appears to be a pervasive sense that I need to be doing something to further my consulting every moment.   I don't know if everyone in this line of work suffers from this.  I don't find it particularly helpful.  It can create an ever-present undercurrent of anxiety.

It reminds me that I used to have that feeling - the one that I 'should be' doing something else - all the time, years ago, when my boys were little.  I couldn't relax, couldn't do anything just for me without feeling a sense of guilt.  Somehow, in the flurry of university and working, and then marriage and working, and then babies and working, I had forgotten how to just be, how to relax, and even how to have fun.

I realized at some point how unhealthy this was for me.  In the midst of some other life-changing events at that time, I taught myself how to relax and be in the moment.

With my consulting practice, it appears that I must learn again.  I have noticed this about myself.  It seems that I am meant to learn the same lessons over again in a slightly different way.

A friend of mine refers to taking a break as 'pause' in his model of leadership.  Pausing is critical to health, to creativity, to renewed passion for one's work.

If you can't choose to not do something, then you can't really choose to do something.  I want to always have my work be a choice.

October 22, 2009

learning from a ship's crew

I was in downtown Vancouver recently sitting in the lounge area of the Pan Pacific.  A beautiful spot at any time and a perfect spot for reflection.

There was a cruise ship in port, and it had disembarked its passengers earlier that morning.  Some of the crew were moving about on the deck.   They were in the background for me at first.  However, what they were up to captured my attention and I watched them on and off for awhile.

They were cleaning the funnel.  Probably the more nautically-oriented of you have a more technical name for it.  The part of the ship that the smoke comes out of.

From where I was sitting, it didn't initially look like it needed cleaning.  Several stories tall, it was shining white like the rest of the ship.   Their efforts at first occurred to me like a scheduled task to be done whether it needs it or not (with the focus on 'not' in my judgement), because the schedule says it gets done on, say, Saturday.

There was a team of them working together.  They had a long handled broom, and a hose, and they had another apparatus that looked very low tech - a large, white towel stretched over what seemed to be a wooden frame.

Two of them climbed up to the top of the smoke stack.  One had the broom and a bucket, and scrubbed his way around from the top.  The other at first had a hose, and poured water down the sides.  Then he worked with the others below to raise and lower the towel apparatus with some ropes.  It wasn't until they progressed with their task and dragged the apparatus up and down a couple of times that I could see the funnel was actually quite dirty.

The task didn't take them that long really, less than 2 hours. The funnel was sparkling by the end.

I learned a few things from watching them. Such as...

  • Sometimes tasks that don't look like they need to be done, actually do.

  • Some tasks need to be scheduled to get done because if they aren't scheduled, more urgent tasks can usurp them, leaving them never completed.

  • Low cost solutions can be just as effective.  This team didn't use expensive tools but they got the job done and done well.

October 19, 2009

points of contact

Another week beginning.  I am creating the habit of planning my week on Monday mornings.  And reflecting on the week behind me.

I was on the ferries this past weekend, as a foot passenger.  I was waiting in the lounge area to head back to the island.  It was the 3 pm sailing, which is when the shift change occurs for BC Ferries staff.  There was a security officer standing at the gates.  He arrived just after me, and although I am sure he had a number of responsibilities, he made one task apparent.  He was there to ensure a clear path from the foot passenger ramp through the waiting area to the stairs that head down to the car deck.  Although he didn't explicitly state his purpose, I later learned it was to maintain a clear path for the departing Ferries staff.

I was standing off to the side, marginally in his 'clear path' zone but he chose to let me stay where I was.  I was there about 20 minutes before boarding.  I watched him over and over again in those 20 minutes direct people out of his declared clear zone.  He repeated variations of the same phrase at least 30 or 40 times.

He said the words and those of us around him heard the words over and over again.  But he never lost sight of the fact that the information was new to the people just arriving.  He was clear and direct and polite and patient each time.

He demonstrated a key aspect of good customer service.  He wasn't in a role that we might typically think of as customer service, and he wasn't technically a Ferries employee, yet he was the face of BC Ferries for those 20 minutes.

Every point of contact matters.  He was the point of contact for that lounge-full of foot passengers.  Although I could see things he could do to create a more positive impact - smiling, for example - he did not diminish BC Ferries in the eyes of its customers.

It is critically important for any business to be thinking about its points of contact, and what each one of its customers is experiencing.

October 16, 2009


I was thinking about the power of inspiration last night.  When I am inspired by something, I feel unstoppable.  And I know I appear different to the people around me.  More powerful and effective.

I recently had the opportunity to spend some time with someone I didn't know well.  What I knew of him, impressions put together without much first hand experience, included that he didn't like his job much and tended to be negative.  My experience in the couple of hours we spent together was completely different.   He was positive, excited and talkative.  Inspiring.  What was the difference?

He was talking about something that he loves.

I couldn't help but think about the contrast.  And the opportunities any one of us could be missing.  What would be possible for businesses, government, beyond.  What if each of us was able to connect to something we are passionate about in our work?

Yesterday I changed the quote on my website to one by Gandhi.  "The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world's problems."  I believe an access to this is in noticing whether you are inspired by your work, or not?

This kind of reflection might lead to choosing to change jobs, careers, direction.  I think creating inspiration for your work is also possible without this.  It can be as simple as a changed point of view.  Reflecting on what matters to you.  What is it that you do, and why do you do it?  What drew you to this job in the first place?  For example, are you making a difference in someone else's life?  Are you a part of building something important or interesting?

October 14, 2009

attitude of gratitude

Thanksgiving is an opportunity to think about what I am grateful for.   I like the reminder to pause and reflect.  I sometimes focus on the parts of my life that aren't working rather than the parts that are.

I read an article on the weekend about coaching kids to help them learn to experience gratitude.  The process suggested in the article - such as thinking about the situation where someone helped, what the benefit was, the intentions of the person to help - is valuable for anyone.  It makes it specific too.  It is relatively easy to say 'I am grateful for having helpful work colleagues'.  It requires something more to say 'I am grateful for Rick tracking down that letter that I needed and sending it to me, even though he had a deadline this morning'.  I find the latter creates a profound connection to the feeling of gratitude.

The personal impact of feeling grateful is compelling.  I know I would like for everyone of us to be 'more satisfied with our lives and more optimistic...less depressed and happier.'   The impact is highlighted in the chapter on the fourth element of 12: The Elements of Great Managing.  The authors explain the impact of expressing gratitude - through recognition and praise - in the workplace.  The reasons for ensuring your business has this culture of recognition are compelling - such as a 10-20 percent increase in productivity and revenue, as well as increased customer loyalty.  The authors also note the same beneficial impact on the individual of expressing gratitude to someone else.  Positive benefits that can last for a month, such as in the example given of writing a letter of gratitude to someone.  The person expressing the gratitude benefits, the person receiving it benefits, and the business benefits.

Feeling gratitude, and feeling gratitude and expressing it.  What would our world be like if we took that on?

October 9, 2009

Newsletters rock

I started a newsletter in June.  I was inspired to do so by two things:  a workshop I attended (with Alan Weiss, author of Getting Started in Consulting ), and a book about the value of networks that a friend loaned me.

I am blessed to have a lot of very wonderful people in my life.  I am sure most have no idea how wonderful I think they are.  I know I do not do a good job of staying in touch with most of them.  A newsletter seemed a possible solution.  Sent out once a month and kept simple...a paragraph or two about what I have been up to, an article with some thoughts to ponder, and sometimes a link to a video, a picture, or a book.

I just sent out my fifth newsletter.  And I have discovered I love newsletters.  I love the days that follow newsletter day.  I am sending it now to 80 of my special people, and I add a few more people each month.  It has become this wonderful stream of connection...generating a flurry of thoughts and perspectives back.

I feel connected.  There's a reciprocal flow of energy.  I know how things are going for people. Sometimes they share what my article contributed to their day.  Sometimes they share a related story or quote that is a contribution to me.

Everyone should have a newsletter.  Newsletters rock.  I am blessed.