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The Sign Says It All

I haven’t posted in awhile, but I had to comment on this experience. Suzi and I went to the Dairy Queen near the intersection of South Street and Normal Boulevard in Lincoln, NE where we live. It’s an old school walk-up DQ but they’ve enclosed the front where you order. We like this one for several reasons. It’s close to where we live, but it also has cute swings for customers to use while enjoying their treats, and the staff always seem friendly.

On this visit, I noticed their marquis which said, “We have the best employees!” On the door as I went in another sign said, “Employee Appreciation Month.” When I walked up to the counter I said with a big smile, “I appreciate the employees here. You guys are always friendly and you have the best buster bars in town.” There were no less than six young people working inside and they were all busy but every one of them heard me and looked up to smile or laugh.

When a young lady stepped to the register to take my order, I told her what we wanted and then asked, “So, is this a great place to work?”

“Yes it is!” She instantly replied.

“What makes it such a great place to work?” I asked.

One young man who was working at a machine nearby looked up and said, “She likes working with me!” Everyone laughed. That humor and banter told me something about the work culture of that Dairy Queen.

By this time all the staff was migrating to the front of the store as if they all wanted to answer my question. Again, that told me something. Not one of them said anything about the pay or even the hours. Another young man said, “I think the management does a good job.”

“Really?!” I responded, “What do you mean when you say they do a good job?”

His answer told the story. He said, “They get to know us and they care about us. They let us know that people are more important than money.”

Do you know what I didn’t see at that Dairy Queen that night? I didn’t see anyone slacking. Everyone was working. I didn’t see any frowns. Everyone was smiling and having a good time. And, I didn’t see a sign that said “Now Hiring.” Hmm, I wonder why.

It doesn’t matter what your widget is, every business is a people business. If you take care of the people, they will take care of the business.

That DQ is always busy and it’s no wonder. Customers love a place where the people who work there love being there. That happens only when “Management is doing a good job.”

How do your employees feel about working at your place? If you’d like to learn how to create that kind of work culture (even if you don’t sell ice cream), type the word “Happy” in the comments.

Culture Vs. Climate

What comes to mind when you hear the word “Culture?” The word nerd in me wants to go directly to the dictionary to find a definition. The online dictionary that comes up when you type “culture” into the Google search bar gives these definitions: 1. the arts and other manifestations of intellectual achievement regarded collectively, 2. the customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other group, and 3. the way of life for an entire society including codes of manners, dress, language, religion, rituals, and art.

Another thing that comes to my mind when I hear the word “culture” is the times my family and I have visited other countries. When you get outside the US, you see how differently people live in other places. Language, customs, food, smells are all different. And for the people living there, they are normal. We, the visitors, are the ones who are different.

You can also experience different cultures simply by visiting different parts of this country. Speaking of country, rural areas and urban areas have different cultures, don’t they? We’ve lived in nine states, some more than once. We’ve lived in NC, MI, IN, IL, MN, NE, CO, AZ, and CA. That spans the country from Southeast to Midwest, to Southwest, to West Coast. In some parts of the country you “mash” a button. In other parts you “hit” it or “press” it. In some parts of the country, a Coke can be an orange soda (or pop), and in some parts, things that are “gross” are “ishy.” You get the idea. I’m sure you have a lot of other examples, too.

Business Culture

I have a friend who owns a consulting firm called “Cultural Finesse.” He is from the U.K. and has lived and worked in 15 or so different countries from Europe to Africa to Asia to the Middle East. Now that guy knows a thing or two about different cultures! He started his firm to help U.S. based companies better understand how to work with companies from other countries and cultures. That is still a big part of his business but he has also realized how different the culture can be from one U.S. company to another, and even from one department within a company to another. So he helps with that, too. Check out his website for more information.

If you boil it down, culture is simply “how we do things around here.” Whether it’s a country, a people group, a region, a company, a department, or even a family, that description applies. Culture provides the foundation for the atmosphere (or climate) in which people operate together. Culture is more consistent and deeply rooted. Climate, on the other hand, can change quickly. When I was growing up n Michigan they used to say, “If you don’t like the weather around here, wait 15 minutes. It will change.” Most business climates don’t change every 15 minutes but they do change more readily than cultures.

Business Climate

The climate of an organization is founded on the culture but whether you have stormy weather or clear blue skies depends on the leadership. Climate can change as often as leadership changes. John Maxwell, one of my mentors, says, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” That’s partly because leaders set the climate of the team or organization.

Stormy climates are teams that lack direction, are confused, don’t get along with each other, lack motivation, and get little to nothing done. Where does that come from? The leader. S/he is most likely not communicating clearly to provide direction and parameters, not helping the team catch the vision for what they’re trying to accomplish, and not exhibiting and promoting accountability.

The leader who is doing those things creates a climate that is clear blue skies (CAVU in aviation terms, Ceiling And Visibility Unrestricted). How “clear communication” happens is a matter of culture. That it happens is a matter of climate. The same thing is true for parameters, vision, and accountability. The how is culture, the that is climate … leadership.

If you’d like to learn more about the How (culture) of different organizations, check out my friend Graeme Cooper at Cultural Finesse. If you’d like to learn how to create a clear skies climate in your team or organization, drop the word “How?” in the comments. I’ll send you a pdf called “How To Create a Clear-Skies Climate On Your Team.”

A Story of Two Journeys

Every Thursday for the last few months I’ve attended “Perk Up Thursdays.” It’s a networking group that is sponsored by the “Focus Suites,” a project of Southeast Community Colleges Entrepreneurship Center. It’s a great time and I’ve met some wonderful people. There is always a “spotlight speaker” at the event and last Thursday I got to be that person. Here’s a video of my presentation.

 

“Beware The Praying Hands”

This beautiful 16th-century pen and ink drawing of hands clasped in prayer by Albrecht Dürer is reputed to be “the most widely reproduced depiction of prayer in the Western world, found on posters, coffee mugs, mobile phones, and has been used as album artwork. Justin Bieber has a reproduction of the image tattooed on his left leg.” (Wikipedia article) I’ve seen sculptures of this image in homes as well. Several years ago, though, I heard an incredibly sad comment about this image. The person said, “Beware the praying hands.”

My wife, Suzi, and I were having dinner with friends in Minnesota. The husband was a painting contractor and while we were talking about his business, he told me that comment was widely circulated among his peers in several different construction trades. He said that “Christians,” who are most often the ones who would have this image in their homes, were the worst customers. Pause and let that sink in. It made my heart sink when I heard it. He said they were the most likely to try to get a cheaper price, most likely to complain about everything, and (get this) the most likely to stiff them on the bill. WHAT!? That was his experience and it’s sad.

Further Evidence

Lest we think his was an isolated situation, unfortunately, there is more. I have several stories similar to this one but I’ll share what I heard from my own niece and nephew who once worked as servers at a well-known restaurant. This was in another part of the country so we’re not just talking about people from Minnesota (my extended family lives in MN and there are many other wonderful people there).

My niece and nephew commented to Suzi and me that “Christians” were the worst customers (Hmm, a recurring theme). They told us that the after-church crowd on Sundays was the most disruptive, the most likely to ask for discounts, the most likely to complain, and the most likely (get ready for it) to stiff them on a tip. What in the world!? But the worst of all is the time when someone left what looked like a $20.00 bill folded on the table. When their colleague, who was not a Christian, picked up the “tip” it turned out to be a “gospel tract” inviting them to become a Christian. When you unfolded it, the words “Here’s your tip” were followed by the invitation. Really?

I’m not necessarily against leaving behind some helpful reading material. But, if you’re going to do that, then literally for God’s sake, you had better have been the best customer that server has ever had, you had better have made their day in some way through your interaction, and you had better have left a generous financial tip folded inside the reading material. There is a saying, “Empty bellies have no ears.”

Why?

Why would people who claim to be followers of Jesus behave this way? Jesus had thousands of people who followed him around to hang on his every word. They followed him around because he was generous, he healed people, he fed people, he spoke life into people, and I believe he had a winsome personality, especially with everyday folks.

Why, then, would those who follow him be “the worst customers?” I could be off base but here are two possible explanations:

  1. A misunderstanding of stewardship – Christians believe in being good stewards of one’s resources. The purpose of good stewardship, among other things, is to be sure you have plenty to share with others who may need their bellies filled. Some misinterpret stewardship as being cheap, or at least it comes across that way. I sometimes wonder if they serve “El Cheapo – the god of not nearly enough.” (that’s a play on one of the compound names of God in the Bible if you’re not familiar). Stewardship is a real thing but we don’t want to project a God that is cheap. Because He’s not!
  2. A misunderstanding of Grace – for a Christian, Grace is the undeserved favor of God first experienced in forgiveness. For some, though, Grace is treated like a license to be a jerk. After all, they may think, “Christians aren’t perfect, Just forgiven” (as one bumper sticker says). Grace, though, is also the energy God provides to live a Christlike life, that winsome, generous, life-giving kind of life. We don’t want to project a God who is a jerk, because He’s not!

A Counter-Example

Suzi and I were having dinner with a good size group of people at a burger and shake restaurant quite a few years ago (when $100 was a lot more money than it is today). Everyone in the group was a Christian. Our server came to take our order and it had some complications to it. We were ordering and having fun with her so, realizing we may have made it hard for her to get everything down correctly, we said, “If you get this order right, we’ll give you a $100 tip.” Once we said that, we knew we were going to give her the tip no matter what. But, guess what, she nailed it! We all but cheered for her and gave her high 5s.

When we left the restaurant, we stopped to watch through the front window. She went over to the table to see if we had kept our word. Some of her co-workers even went to the table with her. When she saw the $100 laying on the table, she grabbed it up and looked to see if any of us were still around. She saw us watching through the window and holding up the money mouthed, “Thank you!” We all smiled and gave her thumbs up.

We don’t always get it right, but that one was fun!

Live On Purpose

If you’re a follower of Jesus, live like you’re on stage all the time. I don’t mean act or be fake, I mean our lives are always on display. People watch and take note of how we behave. Be winsome, be generous (with resources and words), give, forgive, and speak life. There is enough around us that is negative. Let’s not feed that.

If you’re a business owner with a fish or a cross or praying hands in your logo or ad, make sure you’re striving to be the best in the business in all you do, with your employees, with your customers, and with your vendors. Don’t let people say of you, “beware the praying hands.” Jesus deserves the best representation we can give him. Make someone’s day!

Remembering Reagan

I was at the thrift store with Suzi the other day and I picked up a little hardback book that I just finished reading this morning. It was called The Deepest and Noblest Aspirations, The Wisdom of Ronald Reagan. I was partly nostalgic in picking it up because 1980, when he was first elected, was the first Presidential election when I was able to vote. Whether you agreed with him or not, it’s hard to argue his significance, especially when he won 49 states in the next election!

Also, here’s a quote from Barak Obama:

“Pride in our country, respect for our armed services, a healthy appreciation for the dangers beyond our borders, an insistence that there was no easy equivalence between East and West–in all this I had no quarrel with Reagan. And when the Berlin Wall came tumbling down, I had to give the old man his due, even if I never gave him my vote.”

The book is full of quotes under chapter titles like “On Sports, On Freedom, On Communism (the first three).” There is also one “On Leadership,” and, of course, one “On Humor.” Three specific quotes stood out to me in light of our times. Here they are:

On August 23, 1984, at the Republican National Convention, Reagan said,

“Of the four wars in my lifetime, none came about because the U.S. was too strong.”

On January 16, 1984, during an address to the Nation from the White House, Reagan said,

“History teaches us that wars begin when governments believe the price of aggression is cheap.”

During his announcement of candidacy for U.S. President on November 13, 1979, Reagan said,

“A troubled and afflicted mankind looks to us, pleading for us to keep our rendezvous with destiny; that we will uphold the principles of self-reliance, self-discipline, morality, and above all, responsible liberty for every individual that we will become that shining city on a hill. They tell us we must learn to live with less, and teach our children that their lives will be less full and prosperous than ours have been; that the America of the coming years will be a place where–because of our past excesses–it will be impossible to dream and make those dreams come true. I don’t believe that. And, I don’t believe you do, either. That is why I’m seeking the presidency. I cannot and will not stand by and see this great country destroy itself. Our leaders attempt to blame their failures on circumstances beyond their control, on false estimates by unknown, unidentifiable, experts who re-write modern history in an attempt to convince us our high standard of living–the result of thrift and hard work–is somehow selfish extravagance which we must renounce as we join in sharing scarcity. I don’t agree that our nation must resign itself to inevitable decline, yielding it’s proud position to other hands. I am totally unwilling to see this country fail in its obligation to itself and to the other free peoples of the world.”