Monday, 10 March 2014

When Company Values don't match Employees' Values

The Corporate Mission Statement: 

Where good intentions go to Die.

Have you read your Company's mission statement? 
Can you remember it?
Can you recite it?

Toad the Wet Sprocket once said "It's hard to rely on my good intentions, when my head's full of things I can't mention."

They may have well been writing about corporate mission statements.

Far too often mission statement is simply a collection of trendy buzzwords stuffed in an over-wrought sentence and hung on the wall to die.

Your mission statement is dead if: 

  1. It is more than ten words long.
  2. The employees were not asked to participate in its development.
  3. The employees can't remember and recite it.
  4. Leadership is not using it as a regular barometer of the company's actions.
  5. It is not reviewed annually to ensure it is still applicable to the company.

A few years ago... 

I was standing in the lobby of a local steel mill. Their executive vice-president was exercising the luxury of his position by making me wait. So I waited.

Posted on the lobby wall were the corporate values and mission statement. 

I read it. Repeatedly. 

It was a lengthy document written in calligraphic font on sepia paper and framed in gold gilt. It described a company that valued 

  • integrity
  • fairness
  • respect
  • mutually beneficial relationships
  • community mindedness
  • blah blah blah....

I laughed out loud. 

I was a vendor to the mill. I had requested a meeting with the EVP to discuss his practice of arbitrarily discounting our invoices, and his habit of spreading false rumours internally about our company.

I knew the EVP's purpose was to have us break our contract so he could hire his preferred provider. I knew because he told me so.

Five minutes.... ten.... twenty ....thirty minutes past our scheduled appointment I waited. He finally opened the door and waved me in.

45 pointless minutes later... 

I offered to tear up the paperwork and release him from our long as he paid everything he owed us immediately. 

He snapped his fingers and instructed the controller to cut a cheque.

As I was leaving his office for the last time I turned back.

"Have you ever read your company's values? Because you sure don't live them out."

He laughed out loud.

I left.
We never did business again.

If your mission statement doesn't matter, don't pretend it does.

Everybody else already knows anyways.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Improve your Personal Leadership with 3 Words

If you are like me there are things about yourself that are overdue to change. Things that are holding you back in your personal leadership and growth.

And if you are anything like me, New Years resolutions....don'!

I hate New Years Resolutions.

This may be self-evident by virtue that this post appeared at the end of January instead of December. 

I hate them for all the reasons that immediately come to mind: short-lived, vague, lacking accountability.....

Yet there are things in my life that need to change.

I know I'm not alone.

I'm not the only one wanting to skip this annual ritual of resolutions. Chris Brogan, publisher of Owner Magazine, writes about his approach for the past several years:

Every year, I go through an exercise where we take three words and use them as the central focus of your goals and efforts for the year to come.

Instead of saying “I want to lose 30 pounds” and then forgetting about the goal a day later, I might have something like “green” that reminds me to eat more plant-based foods at every meal, or similar.

The idea is that the words you choose will go past being a simple goal and will become part of the way you identify yourself....
(My Three Words for 2014)

My brain lit up reading that. Self-improvement and personal leadership neatly distilled into three words that will become a cornerstone for all decisions in the next year. 

It took me two weeks. A bunch of words were discarded along the way. But here are my three words for 2014:


For the first time in two decades I enter a new year with options about how I spend my time and energy. Whatever happens this year will happen because I started it....or allowed it to start.

I am enjoying the ultimate luxury: choice.

This word reminds me to choose wisely.


Many know there was a time of intense difficulty for me last year, perpetual crises. What was surprising was how difficult it was for me to stop responding with crisis management techniques, even long after the crises had stopped.

This word reminds me there are things in my life I don't need anymore.

And I am both able - and responsible - to discard them.


As with most people, there are constants in my life. Constants I want to keep.

Constants I want to honor.

Constants that deserve my best.

  • My family
  • My community
  • My faith
  • My body

But while they have been constant for me, they have not always received my best. In fact, because I knew them to be constants they were often subjected to my very worst.

The very things that deserve my best got my worst! That needs to change.

I need to change any circumstances preventing me from giving them my best.

So far.

I have titled my 2014 journal Start.Stop.Change. Now every time I open it up to sketch out an idea or take notes, I am reminded of the three lenses through which I will view all decisions this year.

And it least so far.

I haven't made any important decisions without first seeing if they align with my words.

Your turn.

If you have given up on your resolutions already then I have to ask: does this idea resonate with you?

Are you ready to see if three little words can affect your willingness to change?

If so, what are your words.
Let's hold each other accountable. 

I'm game if you are.

I'll Start.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

My baseball is in the creek....surrounded by leeches.

When I was 7 all the boys in the neighbourhood would come to play baseball in my yard. 
When I was 7 we didn't have the best yard for baseball. We had the tallest fences. 

When I was 7 we lived next to a creek full of leeches.


So we would play ball. 

At least once a game someone would hit a homerun...

over the fence...
...down the hillside...
...and right into the creek. 

There was only one thing to do: go get the ball.

The Leeches

Funny thing about being a kid, the leeches didn't really bother us. 25 years later I recoil at the thought of them. 

But back then picking them off was just part of life as we knew it. 

Eventually it became a game to see who could come back with the most - or biggest - suckers stuck to their legs. 

The leeches weren't important, as long as we got our ball back.

So what?

Problems come from anywhere, even success.

As kids we loved celebrating the homerun. 

And yet we all knew as soon as we crossed the plate, arms raised in triumph, it was time to go back in the creek. 

One of us would grab the salt and the pail, and we would all wade in up to our knees until we got our ball back. 

That was our cost of success.

You can't ignore your problems. 

Well, you can but....  

Nobody wanted to go back into the creek. 

But the alternate was unthinkable: the game would be over. The ball would be washed away. 

How many times in life do we want to pretend that everything is okay? And in the end we just have to forfeit the game prematurely because our ball got washed away.

Problems in the rear-view mirror are smaller than they appeared in the windshield.

Nobody really wanted leeches on their legs, but no matter how gross the leeches always came off. 

Nobody got hurt. 

We got our ball back. 

In minutes our feet were dry again. 

And the game went on.

I remember the leeches being way bigger in my mind than they were on my legs. So it is with all problems: they scale faster in our heads than they do in real life.

Don't let them grow. Just start. 

Problems build teams...if you let them

We may have been on opposite teams in the backyard, but the idea of our ball being washed away unified us. 

We strategized the best our little 7-year old minds could. 

And on those times the ball disappeared into the storm culvert under the road, we all went in together. We all came out together. 

With the ball.

What problems are looming for you?
What ball do you need to get back?

Go get it. Simple as that.

Start by starting.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

The 1 THING needed to increase Customer Engagement

Monday Night Football, 2-Dec-13.

While cheering their team to a lopsided victory over another of the league's elite teams, the fans at the Seattle Seahawks game generated 137.6 decibels of pure, unadulterated crowd noise. The stadium shook - literally shook - with noise. 

137.6 decibels. That sounds like a lot. 

  • 90dB: sustained exposure = permanent damage
  • 125dB: pain begins 
  • 140dB: short exposure = permanent damage
  • 194dB: the loudest sound possible.

137.6 is a lot. 

OK, so we can comfortably say it is scientifically loud. But how loud is it really

While cheering on their team, and simultaneously setting a Guiness World Record with their cacophony, the fans also accidentally caused an earthquake.

An earthquake. 

A seismometer at nearby University of Washington registered between 1 and 2 on the Richter scale. 

Now, if you want to be technical, the United States Geological Survey refers to readings of 2 and below as micro-earthquakes since they are not commonly felt by people. But earthquake.

So what's the point?

The point is this:
Any corporate brand can gush over the loyalty of its customers. 
Any sports team will rave about having the best fans in the world. 

But according to the Guiness Book only the Seattle Seahawks can definitively claim to have the loudest fans. Add that to the effect the extreme stadium noise has on their opponents, and Seattle can make a pretty solid argument for having "The Best" fans.

The trajectories follow parallel paths. 

Seattle's fans weren't always this vocal. 

And the Seahawks weren't always one of the league's elite teams. 

The Seahawks focused on improving their customer service by fielding an exciting and successful team. 

The fans focused on improving their brand loyalty by selling out the home games and screaming until they were hoarse. 

And as the fans got louder,

  • The Seahawks won more consistently
  • Revenues went up
  • Resources for better players went up
  • Number of wins went up
  • Seats sold went up
  • Crowd noise went up
  • Beer sales went up
  • Revenues went up. 

A virtuous success cycle.

WestJet rode that same success cycle this December with their Christmas Miracle promotion. 

In case you missed it, a Westjet Santa asked outgoing passengers in Toronto what they wanted for Christmas. By the time the travellers got to Calgary they were greeted with individually wrapped and tagged presents on the luggage carousel. 

The video documenting it received 13,000,000 views in the first seven days online! 

Westjet's fans cheered until they were hoarse.

Be excellent. That's it.

It's not complicated: be excellent at what you do. 

Give your fans a reason to cheer. 

Let your fans push you to greater heights. 

You won't have to listen hard to hear them roar. 

And when they roar, here is the phone number for the nice people at the Guiness World Record Book:  +44 (0)20 7891 4567

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

The 1 THING You Need to Start

I can't join that gym, it's full of athletes.

He was in his sixties, a bit over five feet tall, and almost the same around.

He had a big voice, a huge personality, and an monstrous belly.

He lived large and had the profile to prove it.

He was my friend.

He bellowed at me from across the office: "I can't join your gym. It's full of jocks! I'm just going to join at the hotel across the street so I can have a steam and a glass of wine." 

Then he laughed.

Just start.

I was at the gym again this week.

The weight room was full of hockey players and yoga instructors. Young, lean, strong, fit.

Powerful kids doing complicated exercises with grace and ease.  

There was a older man working out with a trainer. 

He was 70? Maybe more?

He was 100 pounds overweight. Easy.

He was sitting on an exercise ball doing exercises under a trainer's watchful eye.

And he was sweating. Hard.

I could tell by the trainer's instructions this man was new to working out, possibly the first time he ever set foot in a gym. 

His movements were stilted and jerky. His breath was labored.

But here's the key: 

  • He made up his mind. 
  • He ignored the hockey players. 
  • He asked for help.

And he started!

I don't know how to start!

I often advise people to just Start by Starting.

Somebody told me recently they don't know 
...or how...
......or where... 
they are supposed to start.

I paused. 
And smiled. 
And this is the story I told her: 

Just start.

Many years ago our family construction company won a contract to build a courthouse. It was by far the biggest project our company had undertaken at that time. 

And we were nervous.

The project was just starting, and our foreman was staring at the mountain of drawings. He later told me he was paralyzed at the sight.

In that moment he heard a concrete truck, backup signal beeping. He poked his head out of the office window and yelled: "what are we pouring?"

"South stairs", the answer echoed back.

He opened the drawings and saw a plug in those stairs. 

He collected his materials.
He calmly walked across the site.
He installed one box for one plug.

With that simple action the project was started. 

You can't climb a mountain in one step.

As he retold the story years later our foreman described how he tried to build the whole building in his head, tried to eat the whole elephant in one bite. 

And it caused him to choke. 

But that first step... 
to install that first box...
broke his paralysis...
propelled him into action...
and put him on the path to climb the mountain. 

Start by starting. 

Now you.

What have you have been putting off? 

What is haunting you or daunting you? 
What is your first step to start?

  • Dial their number.
  • Draw the first sketch. 
  • Type an opening paragraph.
  • Approach that person.
  • Send out your resume.

The first step is always the worst step. 
But no one ever won a race they didn't enter. 

I may start in the wrong place!

It sounds crazy but it doesn't matter where you start! 

It only matters that you start. 

It's possible - even likely - you will start off in the wrong direction. But the sooner you start the more time you will have to adjust your sails. 

And the sooner you will be celebrating at the finish line.


I'm going to the gym. 
Maybe that old guy will be there.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Nothing is a Substitute for Hard Work. Nothing.

"I will never work as hard as you do."

That was me 25 years ago.
Talking to my father. 
My successful father.
He shook his head and sighed knowingly.

Amazing how time provides perspective.

It's not about Working Harder....

There is a lot written these days about how we don't need to work harder. Instead we need to...... smarter faster independently collaboratively more 
...listen more
...walk more
...dream more
...nap more
...cultivate our social media channels
...ignore the social media time-sucks....

But whatever the opinion of the moment, the general consensus is that working harder is not the solution.

It is TOTALLY about Working Harder!

You want the truth?

They are right when they say working harder is not the solution. What they should be saying is working harder is the gatekeeper to the solution. 

Put another way, if all the current opinions on how to work smarter are accelerators in the race to success, then hard work is the registrar to the race. 

And nobody gets to run if they don't sign up.

A Story

Years ago my wife and I bought the family business. It was a good business in a market with slim margins and tough competition. We made money by being honest, tough, fair and shrewd. 

And by working hard.

And then came 2007

We were invited to bid on a large contract outside of our niche. It came at a time when we needed work. But it came with some....wrinkles

Although riskier than we liked, the opportunity lined up with our long-term strategy. 

We went through our decision-making process with more rigor than usual. And when I was satisfied we had assessed all the risks I signed off on it.

My kingdom for a do-over. 

The project went straight into the tank. I had made one wrong decision and almost bankrupted the company in the process.

The next twelve months were spent working day and night trying to keep the ship afloat. 

Overhead was slashed.

I paid myself a fraction of what my employees took home. Every spare dollar went back into the business. 

Sometimes there is no Substitute

The year was a blur.

Many nights I slept in the boardroom on a row of chairs. I sacrificed everything: family, friends, sleep, health....

It was the only way to survive. But we did....just barely.

Hard Work is Inevitable

On the path to success hard work is inevitable. 

Hard work is necessary. 

Hard work is good. 

Hard work is what makes success taste so sweet. 

Let's face it: for every Tim Ferris working a 4-hour week, there are millions of people grinding their asses off to fight their way to success. Your chances of succeeding without working hard are smaller than winning the lottery.

"I will never work as hard as you do."

I recently reminded my dad about what I had said 25 years ago. He looked at me and laughed. Then he said this:

"How'd that work for you? You ended up working a lot harder than I ever did." 

And he gave me a hug. 

Luck favors the prepared, darling.

Sign up for the race.
With a bit of strategy, and a little luck, you will find your finish line.

But you gotta sign up.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

The way to a Customer's through a Customer's Heart

The Airport is Emotional

The airport creates emotions. Doesn't it seem like everyone at the airport is in some heightened emotional state?

It's inevitable really:

  • Parents dropping kids off for college...
  • Wife picking up her husband from a sales trip...
  • Kids heading out to backpack across Europe...
  • Families relocating for a new job...

If you have travelled then you know the emotions evoked by these situations. 

The airport is emotional.

I was the airport today.

I was watching a traveller.
She was by herself.
Well dressed, composed, hesitant, middle aged.
Two large suitcases.
She was in a heightened emotional state.

As she approached the check-in line a WestJet attendant asked her if she would like to try the self-serve kiosk. 

She hesitated. 
"I would like to try. But only if somebody could help."
Her voice was just above a whisper. 

The airport was noisy. 

The young attendant leaned in to listen. He smiled warmly, his face softened. He touched her elbow and gently guided her to a kiosk.

My boy grabbed my elbow, "Daddy, I have to PEE!!"
Identifying urgent over interesting I walked away with my boy.

Minor Action, Major Impact

By the time I got back the traveller was checked in to her flight, her bags tagged, her face relaxed, her body language at ease.

I'm sure for the WestJet employees this was a minor interaction, just one of a hundred they would have today. For the traveller this was a big deal.

Experiences are emotional. 

Airports are emotional. 
That makes airports fertile ground for experiences.
Experiences are emotional. 

Think of any recent experience: the deeper the emotions it evoked in you, the more you experienced it. Either positively or negatively, the more you felt it the more you experienced it. 

Unemotional impassive events don't register with us; they blend together into a dull tableau and eventually fade into the background of our lives. 

But experiences - real experiences - leave us with a taste, a feeling, an indelible imprint on our very beings. They become a part of us.

The Way to a Customer's Heart

Now what does this have to do with a WestJet attendant assisting a solo traveller? 

When they first engaged she was in a heightened emotional state: nervous, tentative, unsettled. 

When they parted she was happy and relaxed. 

The attendant offered a mechanical solution to a mechanical problem, but in the process he also gave her resolution to her emotional uncertainty.

Honor the Emotional Crossroads

This traveller was at an emotional crossroad. 

But with a few authentically caring actions, an employee charted her emotional experience of the airport for that day. 

And likely ensured her next flight would also be on WestJet.

You can't fake that stuff.

The way to a customer's heart....

is through a customer's heart. 

Thursday, 13 June 2013

A Line in the Sand or A Line on the Scorecard

I love golfing with my father. Well, more accurately, he golfs while I spend my time trying to find my ball and scanning the horizon for the beer cart.
But for me those hours together have traditionally been a time for me of learning, listening, sharing and laughing. And it is in those moments of unhurried relationship where he has honored me with some of my most cherished life lessons.

He has a peculiar habit, my father, when he is playing poorly. If he happens to string together several holes of less-than-ideal golf, he will announce "it's time to put a line on the scorecard". And immediately upon recording his score for that hole he will draw a heavy pencil line on the card for all to see. The first time I saw him do this my curiosity got the better of me and I asked the reason. "This marks the hole where I bear down, concentrate more, and play better." And it's the craziest thing: more often than not his score starts improving hole over hole.

I have tried it more than once, putting a line on the scorecard, but it seldom seems to work for me. Probably because I am truly an awful golfer and the mechanical action of drawing of line doesn't make me hit the ball any straighter. As with all other golf appliances, maybe I need an expensive new pencil?

Despite the fact this little habit doesn't work for me at golf, I believe there are fundamental life lessons to be found in this:
  1. Honesty: Keeping score in golf is very democratic. Everyone announces their own score and the scorekeeper records them. Consequently, golf is rife with cheaters. A five conveniently becomes a four. (Or in my case a nine would become an eight.) In all my years golfing with him though, I have never known Dad to cheat. And as a result his scorecard sometimes ends up with a string of sixes.
  2. Clarity: As a result of his honesty, Dad is able to take an instant and accurate accounting of his game. If he scattered dishonest fives in a row of sixes the self-deceit would undermine the necessity to draw a line. Without honesty, there can be no clarity.
  3. Intensity: Dad means it when he says it is time to bear down. The stare gets a little more focused, the concentration before his swing becomes more purified. It doesn't subtract one whit from the joy and fun we have together; it just means in the moments before his turn to hit, the rest of his world fades to black.
  4. Accountability: Dad always announces when it is time to draw the line. Everyone in his group is aware when he decides to refocus on his game. Regardless whether his game improves that day, he creates a circle of accountability. 
  5. Integrity: Sometimes in golf it just isn't your day. At the end of the game, whether his score improves or not, Dad is the same man. In this he has taught me that golf is a mirror of life: successes and failures should not define who we are, wins and losses should not affect our character.  
People commonly talk about drawing a line in the sand. The problem with drawing in the sand is how quickly the line can be blurred or disappear under the external forces of wind, water, and footprints (sometimes our own). Dad's line on the scorecard is a permanent record for all to see. I remember having lunch with him after a particular round, and laughing because his scorecard that day had TWO lines. And his score that day was as lousy on the last hole as it was on the first. 

Honesty bred clarity. Clarity allowed him to choose his intensity. The permanance of his lines created accountability. And at the end of an unusually awful round his character was intact. Integrity.

Golf is a game of dedication, concentration, execution, and repetition. Guess what: so is life.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Rest: the real Killer App

I just took my first week off in two years, and the first vacation with my wife and children in three years. Guess what: it was glorious. I purposefully dedicated a mere 20 minutes a day to email, and locked my cell phone in the room safe. We played and rested and laughed and ate and drank. And shared the whole experience with the joy of a family who loves being together.

And through the whole week one question floated through my mind like the lazy Caribbean clouds overhead: "Why didn't I do this sooner?"

For the last few years, and particularly the last six months, I have been pushed harder and stretched farther than any other time in my professional life. And my response, predictably, was to strap myself in and push back even harder. I saw the red flags. I heard the warnings of others. I felt the wear-and-tear physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. But predictably I believed I was immune to the effects of pressure and stress. Or at least that I would withstand them without any slippage in my performance. 

What a donkey I am.

Theory is a wonderful thing. It costs us nothing to claim to believe in a theory.....right up until we disprove our own claims by disregarding the very theories we espouse.
I believe - or at least claim to - in the theory of Activity and Rest being the two interdependent sides of a coin called Productive Living. No one can live on the side of Activity to the exclusion of Rest for very long without experiencing fatigue, slippage, and ultimately failure. And I preached this to the people around me, insisting they take time to rest and recharge at various points of the journey. After all, I claimed, how can you climb the upcoming hill if your legs are spent? Don't worry, I insisted, I will carry your load for a while so you can recharge.

Physician, heal thyself.

What is it about leadership that we inherently believe we are immune to the same effects of those we lead? Are we so arrogant we believe we can disregard the amplification of these self-same effects on leaders as we shoulder the responsibility of leadership? I can feel now how I have robbed myself, and those who depend on me, by refusing to rest along the way. I am not yet fully recovered from the effects of the last several months; the shaking has not yet fully stopped. And right now my wife is inside putting the final touches on another vacation for later this summer. 

I may be a slow learner. But my wife will make sure I learn this lesson well.

Don't cheat yourself and those who depend on you.

For leaders rest really is a killer app.