Posts Tagged ‘High Impact Hospitality’

Inside Scoop – Being Wrong the Right Way

Thursday, April 12th, 2012

And now…I will shed some light on a not so little secret of organizational life. There are some over-eager beavers who deftly scramble up the political and positional ladder seemingly salivating at the prospect of power. Their mastery of corporate gamesman/woman-ship does not guarantee that they are the “sharpest knives in the drawer.” All too often, my experience has shown that if you were to strip away their job title, many lack the influence or substance for making critical decisions.

Ironically, at times it is the awkward foot-draggers who are more capable of making good decisions, but are unwilling to be pressured into making them and don’t want to be held accountable. This leads me to an important point: Lots of smart and entirely good people have discovered they don’t have what it takes to manage things or lead others.

Leadagers who possess good business judgment, a strong sense of direction, and a willingness to accept the conditions of urgency and accountability without a seedy, overcoat-flashing of their fundamental character flaws are the ideal package. Companies spend a lot of money trying to nurture or “home grow” these traits. Unfortunately, this can be an elusive combination of qualities. Conversely, a lack of motivation, butt-headedness, and proven idiocy lead to professional euthanasia every time. (Trust me on this; the latter traits are pretty darn common.)

So let’s face it. You will have to make many decisions without the experience or the information you may desperately think you need, and inevitably, you will decide incorrectly. You will be wrong, and hopefully, someone will allow you to learn from your mistakes. It might be timing, support from the powers that be, or just luck that saves your job.

Early in your career, one of the most important things to learn is how to be wrong in the right way.

Being wrong the right way looks like this:

  • You made what you thought were sound decisions, striving not to be irresponsible, ignorant, or prejudicial.
  • You can explain your thought process with respect to how you came to the decision in a logical manner.
  • Your values were aligned with the organization’s values.
  • You have shown good judgment on previous occasions.
  • You display a willingness to learn from your mistakes.

If you did all the above, you should come out okay (assuming you didn’t burn the place to the ground).

All new leadagers should be allowed some time to practice alternating the gas, clutch, and brake pedals of managementship (i.e., multitasking and managing/weighing multiple—and sometimes conflicting—priorities [chewing gum and running with scissors for all of you non-driving types]). The fact is most managers are playing the standard game of “catch up” in a starkly maniacal fashion.

I strongly urge you to grow away from being the hapless prey-of-the-day—as events pounce on you—and strive to get ahead of events by becoming a predator of pro-activity, turning activities into accomplishments and churning problems into opportunities.

 

Book Excerpt | Introduction To “High Impact Hospitality”

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

I once had a beast of a dog, a 125-pound, all-black German shepherd named Dakota. He was foreboding in the looks department, but in reality he was just a big marshmallow. Dakota would frequently do the oddest thing; whenever we were standing close together, he would lean on me. His weight was enough to shift my center of gravity and at times I would have to scramble to regain my footing.

At one of his annual veterinary check-ups, I asked the vet whether this posture was common for big dogs looking to take a load off or if this dog just liked being close to me. The vet told me that it is the nature of dogs to slide up against each other and test the weight of the newcomer. I guess my dog was on instinct autopilot, subtly trying to test the competition in case there was going to be a tussle.

I don’t know if the vet was dealing in facts but I like to use this analogy when speaking about management and leadership. There is always something sliding up next to you trying to test your mettle. You are being constantly tested and assessed by the staff, customers, budget, boss, or competition—even your peers.

This book is about giving you a healthy dose of heft. After almost thirty years in the industry I’m hoping to share the solid footing that comes from hard-won wisdom.

Over time, with hands-on experience, I have come to understand that I prefer to work with authentic, caring, trustworthy, and competent people. People who do not possess these traits generally seem to fail at a higher rate. As such, I devoted much of my career to developing myself and my managers into people who were successful (by my assessment and by those who signed our paychecks) even though most of the time, we heard different music in our heads.

I call us leadagers (pronounced as – leed/i/jers), and we are a tribe, a group united by our shared values.

Let’s be clear; not everyone who has worked for me has liked me and certainly not everything I touched turned to gold. However, from the beginning, I was driven to produce more leadagers and tribal leaders, not just more managers or hourly workers. It was somewhere at about the eleven-year mark that I began to realize I excelled in the development of leadagers.

As an owner/operator running a college town hot spot, I got started developing people when I was twenty-one years old. I was learning from my management mistakes before most people get a chance to make ’em. (Check out Malcom Gladwell’s book, Outliers, and look up the 10,000 hour rule-of-thumb. He basically states that ten years of practice is just about how long it takes to become really good at something.)

It’s not like I ignored any of the million little details that go into running a successful hospitality operation; you have to know the right thing to do to teach the right thing to do. It’s just that developing managers into strong leaders is what I poured my heart into.

I come forward now with this humble effort, targeting the following audiences: (1) assistant managers looking for more traction on their way up the mountain, (2) any level of manager in the service sector (general managers included) who is trying to improve their plate-spinning abilities, (3) hourly tribemates with ambition, and (4) anyone wishing for a peek into the mind of a “new-style” manager.

Let me be clear: There is no one right way to be successful in this industry or any other, for that matter. This book is an answer to many questions but it is not the answer to all problems.

With that in mind, may my mistakes help you to avoid some pitfalls, my knowledge be a force for good, and my travails tickle your fancy.

(Damn, I loved that dog!)

 

Check Yourself | The Top-5 Bad Things You Can Avoid

Thursday, March 8th, 2012

 

Check Yourself | The Top-5 Bad Things You Can Avoid

Hotel F&B November/December 2011

Chase LeBlanc “Expect the best but prepare for the worst” is a well worn but useful adage for our industry. The following are my top five bad things that can be avoided with proper preparation, priorities, and training/development.

  • Food-borne illness. A prep cook changed his baby’s diaper at home just prior to his shift. He was running late, forgot to wash his hands, and as soon as he got to work, jumped right into prepping lettuce for salads. That one unsanitary act (1) made about 20 people sick, (2) led the local TV newscast after the Super Bowl, (3) cut property sales in half by the next day, and (4) left the survival of the business touch-and-go for about 18 months. Boom, just like that! In our business, you must become a food safety fanatic.
  • Liquor license suspension or revocation. A bartender hoping to impress an attractive member of the opposite sex slides the “customer” a few drinks without checking his or her ID. Just so happens that the customer is an underage/undercover operative, and it is a sting operation. Boom, just like that! It’s a citation for the bartender with possible fines and a violation of the liquor licensing laws, unleashing a torrent of hassles. You must set a serious tone among all employees; the service of licensed beverages is a privilege and a heavy responsibility. Do not treat it lightly or allow others to do so. One misstep can put the property permanently out of the spirits business.
  • Robbery with injury. A friend of mine took a new job as a closing manager. The first week on the job, he walked out to the dimly lit parking lot after buttoning things up and was met by a man with a gun who marched him back inside. Boom, just like that! They spent many scary minutes together as my friend fumbled the safe dial before giving over the money and getting a crack on the head in return. No amount of money is worth someone getting hurt. Do all the things you can do to deter a criminal act, such as brilliant parking lot lights, strict back door entry procedures, frequent lock changes, daily bank deposits, only opening the safe when the office door is closed, secure smoke break areas (if any exist), video surveillance, and consistent diligence.
  • Accidents. An elderly guest slipped, fell, and broke her hip on a wet bathroom floor. A cook slices off a fingertip on an unguarded kitchen fan. Boom, just like that! If a guest or team member is ever at risk of injury, you must fix or repair the problem immediately. A negligence lawsuit (translation: your group can lose big money) originates from a problem that you knew about, or even should have known about but chose to ignore or deny. Push for nonslip footwear, heavy-lifting back supports, etc. From a business culture perspective, constantly build, reinforce, and reward a safe, accident-free mindset.
  • Harassment. I have had friends who were too old, new, wide, light, dark, etc.—and have suffered through the impossible difficulties of workplace harassment. The ideal workplace culture should be all for one and one for all with diversity viewed as an immense plus and an opportunity for new knowledge, rather than a wall between “us” and “them.” Your team or tribe cannot tolerate anyone being harassed because of his or her gender, sexual orientation, religion, mental/physical challenges, age, and so forth. If you ever find yourself challenged by doing the right things when it comes to others at work, you could start by changing your point of view. View all people by our sameness from the inside out, not the apparent differences from the outside in. We all bleed red; we all breathe the same air; we all roll on the same earth. Or, you could just pause for a moment and reflect on this: Would I want my girlfriend, wife, mother, daughter, son, brother, father, or boyfriend to have to take this smack I’m dishing out?

The unexpected can happen anywhere, at any time. Proper preparation, priorities and training won’t stop all the bad things from happening, but proactive actions almost always lead to better results than reactive actions do.

Chase LeBlanc is the founder and CEO of Leadagers, LLC, and is a hospitality management performance coach. He is also the author of High Impact Hospitality: Upgrade Your Purpose, Performance and Profits!

Hotel F&B Magazine December 2011 | Review of “High-Impact Hospitality”

Thursday, March 8th, 2012

Book Review: “High-Impact Hospitality” by Chase LeBlanc

Recommended for anyone making a career in hospitality or wishing to take their employees to a higher level.
Hotel F&B professionals who want to increase both their compensation and career satisfaction should read High Impact Hospitality by Chase LeBlanc, HOTEL F&B’s “Staffing Doctor.” This is a marvelous read: funny yet wise, inspiring but practical, combining LeBlanc’s considerable hands-on hotel experience with sound gut instincts.

He begins by defining the two key roles every F&B pro should strive to fill, those of manager and leader, explaining how they are different and complementary. He calls people who have achieved this dual competence “Leadagers.” These professionals are adept at both “hard” management tasks such as cost control and scheduling and also excel at “soft,” almost artful, ways of thinking and acting for the good of themselves and their “tribe” (as he refers to the entire staff).

So how does one become a Leadager? LeBlanc weaves these hard and soft objectives together throughout the book. In “Make More Dough,” he lists several creative ways to increase your value, such as being a sunshine-maker, a business mechanic, a shepherd, a trustee, etc. In “Duality Maze,” he talks of organizational realities and pitfalls, how to avoid working for buffoons, and dealing with management’s often relentless push for performance and profitability.

Throughout the book, LeBlanc establishes his credentials through experiences, beginning as a 16-year old dishwasher, becoming a bar owner at age 21, then proceeding through the managerial ranks at various hotel chains and as a multi-unit operator for a national restaurant chain. He is now CEO of Leadagers LLC, a hospitality consulting business providing professional development tailored for hotels and restaurants. He can be contacted at 303-997-9328, www.leadagers.com. —ADS

Check Yourself | Compound Experience

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

http://www.hotelfandb.com/biol/jan-feb2012-staffing-doctor-dream-job.asp

Chase LeBlanc KEITH ASKS…
I have been working in restaurants, bars, and hotels for 13 years. I am also completing my MBA in general management. I know the best way to upper management is through time and experience, however, with my degree, how can I leverage my experience and schooling in the business of F&B?

THE STAFFING DOCTOR ANSWERS…
Education, experience, and desire are not enough to achieve “upper management.” You have to leverage all of your experiences into a solid, results-filled record over a period of years. Also, any international experience is becoming a trump card for promotions.

First, develop a clear picture of your dream job and track backwards. Talk to anyone, anywhere in that job and get their download. Ask them questions about what it takes to get there, who might help you on your quest, and whether they’ll make an introduction. Find any association or group of like-minded people and join the conversation. Study the specifics, master the skills, and move in the circles of who you wish to be. You will always have a better shot at any job if you have previously established relationships, with or without the appropriate experience, education, or desire.

Second, get your values in order. We all know life is a series of tradeoffs. When facing an important decision, many advice-dispensers suggest taking a sheet of paper, drawing a line down the middle, and writing at the top of each side pros and cons. Do not use this approach without assigning weighted values to the details. What’s most important to you?

For each individual, all the ingredients that go into the process of decision-making do not carry the same cost or weight. Values lead the leader; spend some time ruminating on your values before you step into the big leagues of management where choices and decisions affect more than yourself.

Third, have you ever heard of compound interest? I suggest that there exists such a thing as compound work experience. Compound work experience provides that as you learn, you automatically increase your chances for advancement. Compound work experience is acquired by (1) working for the best organizations, (2) working for a successful leader-mentor, (3) working where the opportunities for advancement are plentiful, and (4) working where the varieties of experience are bountiful. This is a workplace where you are allowed to challenge yourself and to grow, a place where accepting more responsibility will eventually translate into more money for you, a place that acknowledges/ nurtures your involvement/participation and consistently shows appreciation for your contributions, a place that holds you accountable when you don’t sufficiently contribute, and ultimately, a place that provides a wealth of value to you through means that are not purely financial.

In order to find an opportunity that allows for compound work experience, you must search, assess, and evaluate the trade-offs. This, by the way, is vastly different than conveniently going to the nearest F&B factory and applying for any ol’ job. Take a shot at the job that gets you in the door of the right place with the right people. Look for those savvy business carnivores who crave to maximize your potential.

Chase LeBlanc is the founder and CEO of Leadagers, LLC, and is a hospitality management performance coach with more than 25 years of experience. He is also the author of High Impact Hospitality: Upgrade Your Purpose, Performance and Profits!

Check Yourself | The Top 5 Bad Things You Can Avoid by Chase LeBlanc

Friday, January 6th, 2012
November/December 2011

 
Chase LeBlanc “Expect the best but prepare for the worst” is a well worn but useful adage for our industry. The following are my top five bad things that can be avoided with proper preparation, priorities, and training/development.

  • Food-borne illness. A prep cook changed his baby’s diaper at home just prior to his shift. He was running late, forgot to wash his hands, and as soon as he got to work, jumped right into prepping lettuce for salads. That one unsanitary act (1) made about 20 people sick, (2) led the local TV newscast after the Super Bowl, (3) cut property sales in half by the next day, and (4) left the survival of the business touch-and-go for about 18 months. Boom, just like that! In our business, you must become a food safety fanatic.
  • Liquor license suspension or revocation. A bartender hoping to impress an attractive member of the opposite sex slides the “customer” a few drinks without checking his or her ID. Just so happens that the customer is an underage/undercover operative, and it is a sting operation. Boom, just like that! It’s a citation for the bartender with possible fines and a violation of the liquor licensing laws, unleashing a torrent of hassles. You must set a serious tone among all employees; the service of licensed beverages is a privilege and a heavy responsibility. Do not treat it lightly or allow others to do so. One misstep can put the property permanently out of the spirits business.
  • Robbery with injury. A friend of mine took a new job as a closing manager. The first week on the job, he walked out to the dimly lit parking lot after buttoning things up and was met by a man with a gun who marched him back inside. Boom, just like that! They spent many scary minutes together as my friend fumbled the safe dial before giving over the money and getting a crack on the head in return. No amount of money is worth someone getting hurt. Do all the things you can do to deter a criminal act, such as brilliant parking lot lights, strict back door entry procedures, frequent lock changes, daily bank deposits, only opening the safe when the office door is closed, secure smoke break areas (if any exist), video surveillance, and consistent diligence.
  • Accidents. An elderly guest slipped, fell, and broke her hip on a wet bathroom floor. A cook slices off a fingertip on an unguarded kitchen fan. Boom, just like that! If a guest or team member is ever at risk of injury, you must fix or repair the problem immediately. A negligence lawsuit (translation: your group can lose big money) originates from a problem that you knew about, or even should have known about but chose to ignore or deny. Push for nonslip footwear, heavy-lifting back supports, etc. From a business culture perspective, constantly build, reinforce, and reward a safe, accident-free mindset.
  • Harassment. I have had friends who were too old, new, wide, light, dark, etc.—and have suffered through the impossible difficulties of workplace harassment. The ideal workplace culture should be all for one and one for all with diversity viewed as an immense plus and an opportunity for new knowledge, rather than a wall between “us” and “them.” Your team or tribe cannot tolerate anyone being harassed because of his or her gender, sexual orientation, religion, mental/physical challenges, age, and so forth. If you ever find yourself challenged by doing the right things when it comes to others at work, you could start by changing your point of view. View all people by our sameness from the inside out, not the apparent differences from the outside in. We all bleed red; we all breathe the same air; we all roll on the same earth. Or, you could just pause for a moment and reflect on this: Would I want my girlfriend, wife, mother, daughter, son, brother, father, or boyfriend to have to take this smack I’m dishing out?

The unexpected can happen anywhere, at any time. Proper preparation, priorities and training won’t stop all the bad things from happening, but proactive actions almost always lead to better results than reactive actions do.

Code of the West

Monday, November 14th, 2011

I have lived up, down, in the middle and on both sides of the USA, but I was raised in the West. I’m not a farmer or rancher, but as I was growing up I had a chance to spend some time “learning the ropes” from my relatives who were both. You had to be hardy, smart and tough to make it in either place. Savvy skill-craft was prized, and so was an even disposition. You had to hold up your end of the bargain or you were sent packin’.

There was also a code, an unwritten agreement that bracketed your conduct. Lying, cheating or stealing were absolute no-fly zones, and you had to offer the other guy a “fair chance” in just about everything you did. I know some people will pass off my code recollections as myth, but I was not hanging out in Hollywood with A. Ladd, G. Cooper or J. Wayne – just with real people living real lives. In fact, responsible conduct was a major contributing factor to their sense of community and stewardship of the land. And, there was a word woven into their daily lives that is so old fashioned — I feel compelled to dust it off just to use it in this sentence — RECIPROCITY — the “soul-coal” that stoked many barn raisings, harvests and roundups.

In light of the recent news of a MAJOR FAILURE of institutional leadership @ Football U (or u name it) that dominated last week’s headlines and Sunday’s news programs, I thought it might be timely to share a few relevant “rules of the trail” that I know have been valuable to myself and others who aspire to become respectable, responsible citizens and leaders in their own right.

Be kind to kids and your horse

Don’t take any wooden nickels

Own a sharp knife and a sharper set of eyes

If you have some… share some with them that ain’t got none

If your best dog bites you more’n once… he ain’t your best dog

Doing the right thing ain’t courage… it’s just doing the right thing

Don’t make friends with rattlers… them that ain’t got feet…or them that do

A “howdy” and a smile cost you nuthin’… don’t make nobody pay to git one

If you Rodeo… 8 seconds can change your life and if you don’t… they still can

An honest day’s work for an honest day’s dollar means a lot, but your honest word means more

Off And Away – Dealing with Staff Time Off

Monday, July 25th, 2011
From Hotel F&B Magazine – Staffing Doctor Column – July/August 2011
By Chase LeBlanc

R.L. IN MONTANA ASKS …
My least favorite management duty is dealing with time-off requests and making sure the posts of those off are covered. I have some employees who are workaholics, some who take time off appropriately, and some who call in with suspicious sick days for which I have to take their word. Appropriate time off is great for morale and avoiding burnout, but do you have any advice for juggling it all, especially when a sick employee’s absence throws a monkey wrench into my flow?

THE STAFFING DOCTOR ANSWERS …
Justified versus unjustified time off is a sandin- the-gears conflict causing strife within many companies. Regulations exist at both the federal and state levels to govern time-off standards, but they do not cover all situations, because the truth of that lies in the perspective of the beholder. On top of that for some operators is the newly daunting task of providing employees with paid sick days.

Attendance used to be mandatory. Remember the days when you had tickets to a once-in-a-lifetime concert, and your supervisor at work uttered those famous words, “A time off request is just that—a request, not an automatic fulfillment program?” You would sulk off trying to find someone to cover your shift—or sell the tickets.

Those days are gone. If you tell someone they “might” not get a day off that they requested, they might quit on the spot. You used to cajole people to come into work on their day off to help cover a “broken shift,” and now you practically beg some of your best and brightest to stay home if there is even a slight chance they are awaiting proof of an airborne contagion. Employees are now arriving with a lack of communal work ethic, language barriers, cultural hurdles, and with a noticeably absent knowledge of shared values.

When viewed as originally intended, time off is part of the employee benefits package: a perq. But when is time off too much? The easy answer is when it has a negative effect on the employee’s performance or is dragging the business down. If someone is taking their accrued time, vacation, flex, charity, or bonus time, you can’t really argue, can you?

It seems to be a pretty universal experience that time off is all well and good if we’re talking about your days off, not so much if you’re covering for someone who has gone off to Bora Bora. The understanding and agreement lie in your perspective and alignment with policies and norms. You might never be able to get buyin from someone who does not have children to understand how being a parent seriously requires previously untapped scheduling flexibility. A person who has never faced death or serious illness in their family may not relate to the accompanying demands and blue notes.

Some companies who provide working remotely as an option have simply “punted” on attempting to manage employee time off. These companies allow that anything goes, as long as you get your work done.

The best approach to meet the rising demands from employees whose time-off needs have skyrocketed over the years is not to grab it by the neck and throttle down the incoming request pipeline or solely attempt to cover everything by adding new policies, but to build more flexibility into your system.

Work the part of this challenge that you actually have some control over. The help you can give yourself is cross-training. There has been a lot of belt-tightening over recent years, and maybe your training budgets took a hit, so do yourself a favor: cross-train, station to station, front to back, and back to front. Time-off arm-wrestling will never improve your guest satisfaction scores. The more jobs your employees know how to perform, well, the less time-off stress you will have—when it’s your time off.

Chase LeBlanc is the founder and CEO of Leadagers, LLC, and is a hospitality management performance coach. He is also the author of High Impact Hospitality: Upgrade Your Purpose, Performance and Profits!

On The Fast Track – Practical Professional Development for Hospitality Managers

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011

Over the years, I have been hounded by tribemates looking for a raise in pay (not unwarranted, but alas, still pervasive). If you want a pay increase to materialize at a faster pace, you must do some homework in addition to your work duties. What follows is the hospitality- manager response I have given to those on the money hunt: Whenever you are being evaluated for hiring, a promotion, or a raise, start with the most significant accomplishments you can cite from your recent professional history. It is both the wide and the narrow definitions of success that will define your evaluation.

What was your specific involvement in achieving strong results, forwarding programs, changing the business climate, and so forth? What were the scope and the scale of your responsibilities? What was your total staff size, including direct reports? Did you have P&L responsibility? What was the size of your budget? Be prepared to quickly and crisply articulate your business results, not just your activities.

Itemizing a track record of your successes is the easiest way for the powers that be to evaluate and elevate you to greater responsibility, and hello, “mad stacks, jack!” Regardless of how well you have performed, seeking more money in the same role might provide incremental increases, but eventually you will slam into a hard salary ceiling. Most organizations usually calculate compensation packages based on titles or responsibility levels and pay grades. Rarely can you break beyond the pre-set ranges.

You must work, plan, dream, and scheme your way to bigger jobs (of course, only through honest and ethical schemes). This is the most direct route to pay raises significant enough to really upgrade your lifestyle. The simple fact is that all persons of the same “leadager” level or title are in a competition for the next opportunity, whether they buy into it, act above it, care about it or not. (Everybody sing: “It’s a dog-eat-dog world…”)

Assuming your performance earns you the right to get your hat thrown into the ring for a promotion, the next assessment hurdles you face are those of pace and progression. Never underestimate the positive effect on your wallet the aggressive pursuit of advancement brings. The death-knell for anyone seeking advancement is having the same level of experience without a promotion for five-plus years. You will then be deemed as not promotable, a poor career manager, and/or lacking drive or talent. Hiring/promoting managers will be wary of you. (“If you can’t do it for yourself, how will you do it for us?”)

If you were to ask a group of assistant managers to cite the major hurdles standing between them and more money, you would quite likely hear the following typical excuses (always someone else’s fault):

  • “The company says there aren’t any opportunities right now.”
  • “They say I don’t have the enough experience.”
  • “My supervisor hassles me all the time.”
  • “I’ve got a bad team; they’re holding me back.”
  • “I didn’t go far enough in skool.”
  • They like Joe/Jill better than me

If you were to ask a collection of team leaders what major issues they consistently assess when deciding to promote someone, you might hear the following:

  • Poor transition from an hourly to salary mentality
  • Questionable integrity
  • Inconsistent follow-up/follow-through on projects
  • Denial of accountability
  • Lacking initiative
  • Poor judgment
  • Weak interpersonal skills
  • Poor financial acumen/performance.

Ah, here’s a light-bulb moment for you: All of it is deemed to be within your control.

The perspective gap between these two groups is real, and it exists in some form or another in every workplace. The common complaint of my peers who provide the advancement opportunity is not, “Why is this C player acting like a C player?” but rather, “Why is this potential A player content to settle for B or C level performance? What is wrong with him/her?”

In short, if you would like to go fast and far, start off by packing the right bags with the right stuff!

TWO PAIR and CUSTOMER SERVICE ZEN

Monday, February 7th, 2011

Recently, I observed my five year old during his various machinations to prepare for a morning trip to the store. There’s a lot for him to do. Change out of PJ’s, find shoes and socks that match (or not), grab rhino and silver (not red) water bottle. Stuff crayons, string, and bendy wire into pockets (just in case), then check for battery life in action toy or video game. Hat, wrong coat, one glove, and game on!

I was chuckling to myself as I watched my giant, self-invented armadillo waddle to the car literally trying to hold his act together. As he was clambering inside the vehicle I spied something unusual. Peeking out of the back of his pants was not the customary one tag confirming inside-out underwear, but the heretofore unseen two tags, representing the unique choice of wearing two pair of underwear at the same time.

CUSTOMER SERVICE

I just caught the WSJ story about how Delta Airlines, after getting crushed in customer service ratings is sending all of its agents to charm school. It seems that Delta had a problem – an awful big problem– showing customers that it cared about them.

Personally I’ve had a brutal past couple of weeks at the hands of “customer service” providers. From this week’s hit-parade, I’m choosing to share the interaction between myself and the apron-wearing-neo-troglodyte who was working as a cashier at a big box retailer and never stopped inhaling his super-sized soda as I set my items down and stepped up to pay. I waited until he had his fill (which would be me in a display of extreme patience) and then as the paying customer inside of me said “Wow, you just got dunked on by a full-blown uncaring attitude,” I slightly nicked him back with an upbeat, “That’s not much of a greeting” …to which he responded, “You’re lucky I didn’t spit it in your face.” Later, you can ask me how everything “after” unfolded, but for now I think most everyone is on the same page; there is an increase in super-sized sodas and a decrease in super-good service.

ZENNERS

All of the above brings me to Zen. Much of my formative years were spent in Boulder CO, home of the University of Colorado, Naropa Institute and Jim Collins . For those of you who do not happen to be regular users of the word “Namaste,” Boulder is also the home to many climbers and runners in pursuit of Zen, whom some unenlightened locals have been known to call “Zenners.”

I left Boulder awash in “-isms.” If you have any contact with the Left Coast’s farthest outpost, it is likely that you will saddle up next to Ram Dass’s book and famous quote, “Be here now!” (I have always taken that to be both an instruction and admonishment). By living in the present moment, you offer yourself the best chance to make the most of that moment and subsequently the most of your life.  The powerful and distracting habit of thinking about “what’s coming” or “what happened“ only undermines your best present efforts.

CHECK YOUR UNDERWEAR AND NEW ZEN CUSTOMER SERVICE

It pains me to say this, but my kid’s brain starts doing doughnuts in the parking lot just hearing the words, “Let’s get ready to go.” All his efforts are just a smash and grab at the goal of “being ready” to the best of his 5-year-old-ability. We are working on getting him to slow down through the understanding that he is not going to be left out/behind by the rest of us. Now with less distraction he can fully devote himself to each task (underwear: check, double-check), get it right, and move on to the next step.

It may seem a bit “out there” to the folks responsible for the hiring, training, and developing of customer service employees to take a step back and begin by first teaching the concept of “full presence in the present moment” as a base line for success, but I’m going to do it anyway. Like many problems, “better customer service” might be best tackled by breaking it down into the lowest common denominator.

There is also a way to say this that might speak more directly to those holding more of a “Western mindfulness,” as handed down by parents, coaches, teachers, and parole officers everywhere, PAY ATTENTION!  Focus your intake receptors, stop cramming your craniums with up-to-the-millisecond minutia, maybe unplug an orifice or two, and you will have a better chance to make a little magic with what is before you – NOW!

This Zen approach could be considered a new customer service win–win because it offers both sides the best chance for our best possible future — me as a happy customer and “all y’all” as enlightened customer service leaders.

If you need some help with leadership training for your managers, corporate storytelling for your culture, or would like to learn how lessons from the hospitality industry apply to your customer relationships, give me a call — it’s what I do.