a painful or horrific experience, especially a protracted one.
You remember the old illustration/joke. A couple is talking, and the woman says: “It’s just… there’s all this pressure. My head just won’t start hurting.” The man finally says “You do have a nail in your head.” (Watch the short video, “It’s Not About the Nail”).
Here’s the idea. People don’t like to endure an ordeal. And if they can avoid it, they will in fact try to avoid it!
Ok, maybe the word choice is a little strong — “ordeal: a painful or horrific experience.” But, if you go into work, and you do not like working with the people at work, and they do not seem to like working with you, and every interaction turns into something unpleasant, and you feel heavy in your shoulders and de-energized and de-motivated, maybe it’s time to take the nail out of your head.
In other words, people do not like working in “ordeal” conditions instead of “ideal” conditions.
Whether it is a team meeting, a larger meeting, a one-on-one interaction, people do not like enduring an ordeal. And if that is what it feels like, seems like, well…
I think one job of a leader – a leader at the top, a team leader, a supervisor; any leader — is mainly about creating and nurturing and protecting working conditions where people can work together without hating, or dreading, or enduring the experience.
Create good working conditions. Never let your work place become an ordeal to endure. If you do, you’re in real, real trouble.
Some of the owner men were kind because they hated what they had to do, and some of them were angry because they hated to be cruel, and some of them were cold because they had long ago found that one could not be an owner unless they were cold.
John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
People with a job are worried about the health of their company or organization. And even entire industries are worried about the health of their industry. (Would you like to be an airline executive at the moment? Or a coach on the Dallas Cowboys?) And when a person is worried – when a company or organization is in a fragile state, or even an entire industry – then a person knows that his or her own job is in a fragile state, and that certain self-assuredness, that confidence, that “mojo” is lessened, and threatened.
So many people are walking on egg shells.
And these egg shells represent so much. We have to please our boss, but our boss is worried about pleasing the next person up the chain. And, as one person put it, the job of every boss these days seems to be the job of getting more work out of each worker, even finding ways to get more work out of fewer workers, so that the work force can be reduced.
Such a boss seems practically impossible to please. And people don’t flourish with an “impossible to please” boss.
It is tough to feel secure in such an environment.
I don’t have any solutions. But I think this: if the people in your company are walking on egg shells all the time, they can’t do their best work.
Somebody needs to sweep up all these eggshells.
Hire Nice People – Oh, AND Teachable; Oh, AND…
I really liked the quote that I included in a recent blog post from the book Demand by Adrian Slywotzky. It is about the restaurant Pret a Manger:
“We hire happy people, and teach them to make sandwiches.”
I was telling this to a friend of mine. He is a Doctor ( a good one!) and has a very successful practice. He told me about something he did when he was just starting. He loved staying at the Four Seasons (who wouldn’t?!); was impressed with their customer service/experience. So, he went to the Four Seasons, asked to speak to the manager (who was more than willing to meet with him), and asked “What is your secret?” What training do you offer? How do you get these people to work this way?’ The manager said: “There is no secret. We hire nice people.”
That may be it. Hire nice people.
Oh, AND make sure they are Teachable. Because Nice AND Incompetent does not work. Nice + Competent works really well. And to get competent, a person has to be teachable.
Now, nice may seem important just in jobs that interact with actual customers. But, it would be a mistake to reduce it to that part of the work equation. Because nice matters in team building also. People do not like to work on projects, or teams, with people who aren’t nice. Working with not-nice people can be a real morale defeater. So, nice is definitely part of the “team player” job responsibility.
So, here is the formula: hire nice people, make sure they are teachable, thus they become ever more competent. — Oh, and make sure they are able to manage/embrace/not get freaked out over change. Oh, AND…
But, whatever else you do, start with NICE.
By the way, be nice yourself. If you have a voice in the hiring process, remember: people don’t like to work for not-nice people.
“We hire happy people and teach them to make sandwiches.”
Pret a Manger summarizes its personnel policies (from Demand, Adrian Slywotzky)
So American Airlines has filed for bankruptcy (Chapter 11 – the kind that lets them keep flying). Is anyone surprised? The clues were always staring us in the face – at least, in my experience. The main clue? When I flew American, the employees for American Airlines practically never looked happy. Not the ticket agents. Not the flight attendants. It’s not that they were rude, or unpleasant. They just looked…unhappy. And when work is an unhappy place, not a fun place, then you’ve got a morale problem. And when morale is bad, things begin slipping badly.
Now, I’m not an expert on American Airlines, and I am sure there are big, economic problems that brought them to this step. And maybe you’ve not sensed the “unhappiness” that I always seemed to sense on an American Airlines flight. But I think their morale has been low for quite a while. (I really hope they bounce back – for their employees, and for our flight schedules out of DFW).
But I am becoming somewhat obsessed with this morale idea. I think we’ve got a lot of places that are not much “fun” to work at these days. And I think an unhappy place is a place that will slip badly in the customer service arena. And once customer service slips… well, you know the problems…
In the book Demand: Creating What People Love Before They Know They Want It by Adrian J. Slywotzky, we learn about the restaurant Pret a Manger (Pret a Manger, from the French, “ready to eat”). One particular location had been slipping. There had been noticeable slippage in the delivery on the restaurant’s promises – it wasn’t as clean, the food wasn’t quite up to par, and customer service slipped. And, the location was not making money. The manager of that location noticed dust on a chandelier – this was his signal to get to work. And he went to work on morale issues.
Employee morale suffered, and the perpetually cheery service for which Pret stores are famous became inconsistent. Sales declined further. Downward spirals start small, but they tend to keep going. After a while, they are very hard to reverse.
…entropy—the gradual dissipation of energy and loss of order that is the natural tendency of any system that is not constantly reinvigorated from outside.
He did turn it around. With a lot of hard work, and some latitude from headquarters (along with a little money), the restaurant looked better, the food looked better, the people got better, and then the location started making money – pretty soon, lots of money.
And here’s the hiring philosophy of Pret a Manger in a sentence: “We hire happy people and teach them to make sandwiches.”
Start with happy people; teach them the skill set needed for this particular job; keep them happy. And then the customers will come.
I don’t know how to turn around the morale for a company like American Airlines. I suspect they are in for some tough days. But I certainly hope they can turn it around.
And, take a look at your place, your company, your folks. Are they happy, glad to be at work? If not, you’ve got some morale work to do.
#1 – Demand is a really good book. I am presenting it Friday at the First Friday Book Synopsis. It is worth a careful read. (Bob Morris told me it was good. He was right!)
#2 – The Pret a Manger story reminded me of my friend Cecil Eager. He owns the Gruene Mansion Inn Bed & Breakfast in New Braunfels, TX, and he put it simply (and this is brilliant): “You can teach someone how to check someone in; you can teach someone how to make a reservation – but you can’t teach friendly.”
Robert Wilsonsky of the Dallas Observer was taking a walk through yesteryear, and found an old, wrinkled memo to employees at Parkland Hospital in the aftermath of the JFK tragedy. (read his article here). Parkland is having tough times today, but they certainly had to face a tougher time that one weekend.
In the memo is a snapshot of the challenge facing companies and their employees in difficult times. Which, I think, applies to this era pretty much across the board. The praise given to Parkland employees does a terrific job at setting the agenda in any difficult time.
Here’s the key except from the memo:
What is it that enables an institution to take in stride such a series of history jolting events. Spirit? Dedication? Preparedness? Certainly, all of these are important, but the underlying factor is people. People whose education and training is sound. People whose judgment is calm and perceptive. People whose actions are deliberate and definitive. Our pride is not that we were swept up by the whirlwind of tragic history, but that when we were, we were not found wanting.
These certainly seem like difficult days, and a whole lot of companies, and their employees, are in a pretty deep morale slump. I suggest that we all focus on this – when times are tough, this is precisely the time to rise to the occasion and all do our very best work. For the sake of our own company. For the sake of our own sanity and mental health. And for the future health of our entire nation.
Thanks for sharing this, Mr. Wilonsky. (Here’s the full memo):