Heart And Soul: The Culture Transformation

Posted On: 3/1/2018

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I am getting tired of the current practice of blaming employment difficulties on "millennials." Problem employees (and customers) are found in all age cohorts. So are great ones.

This week, I learned a better term from an incredible speaker from The Ritz-Carlton, a high-end hotel property management organization known for its gold standards. Its mission is providing care and comfort to its guests. Employees are its most important resource for accomplishing that mission, so they always come first.

Have you ever heard of "C.A.V.E." people? They are "Citizens Against Virtually Everything." They are never accountable for their actions; they blame everyone but themselves. They don't want to be happy, so they don't want to work with happy people. They are the rotten apples that will spoil the bunch. These "cave" people are found in all age groups, and they will never change.

When hiring, I have always looked for passion and character first and experience second. Most things can be taught; character cannot.

The Ritz-Carlton presentation was made at the fourth annual F2FEC conference in Colorado Springs. The theme this year was "Soul," and the event was once again hosted by "the Three Amigos" Rick Iceberg, C.J. Barrymores (Clinton Township, MI); Ben Jones, Live Oak Bank (Wilmington, NC); and George Smith, Family Entertainment Group (Itasca, IL).

The Amigos explained that this year's soul experience was designed to explore what defines the essence of an organization and what will impact its sustainability. I attend F2FEC every year because it gets down to the nitty gritty, beyond the stuff we've all read in textbooks. It encourages sharing information for the benefit of our industry. Throughout the conference, the Amigos always ask participants to write down their "take-aways" from the meeting. They want us to share the "nuggets" we can bring home with us to implement in our businesses and our lives. For me, my life and my business are one and the same, and I am happy with this choice. I have the pleasure of working with people whom I love and admire and I am always learning. If you have the good fortune to feel empowered by what you do, it's likely because your business (like mine) has soul.

No competitor can duplicate the soul of your company; it is unique. Soul starts with leaders, and it's infectious. We can talk about staying relevant, dealing with disrupters and blaming millennials, but we won't get very far if we don't believe in what we do and lead by example. People and connections are what will sustain our businesses, and leaders must deliver what they expect from others and provide service from the heart. This is the culture transformation that makes the difference.

I also took away a harsher lesson. It became uncomfortably clear that, throughout my 30-year career (and most of my life), I have wasted time and energy on people who will never change. I have always thought that I had the ability to change them; sometimes I even blamed myself, because I'm a fixer by nature. The reality is that to be an effective leader, we must recognize and accept that cave people are never going to be what we want them to be. We must trust our instincts and work with people who fit into our corporate culture. Ask job candidates why they want to work with your organization, and listen to the answer.

This column is called "Upfront with the Publisher" for a reason. I share candid experiences. I hope these expressions are helpful to our readers; they have been very helpful and often therapeutic to me. If one person takes away a useful insight, then I have succeeded.

I want to learn from my readers, customers and employees. Whether you're in the vending, coffee service, micromarket or away-from- home entertainment business, we are all trying to create a "home away from home" experience in every environment. We can't engage customers if we can't engage our own employees. We need to anticipate their needs and take care of one another. We must deal honestly and fairly with them, and commit to the training and development of the ones who are truly interested in learning. In the words of conference speaker Nolan Bushnell, founder of Atari and Chuck E Cheese: "When we make people happy, we win; when we don't, we lose. When we get arrogant, we get sloppy. You need to be both scared and humble." And here is a nugget from Nolan's dad: "About the time you think the sun shines out of your [posterior], all you have is an illuminated landing area."

Let's stop complaining about millennials and disruption. Business requires hard work and perseverance. There are always going to obstacles that will try to take us down. Stay alert, look to the future and lead by example, but most of all identify and embrace the heart and soul of your company. This is the stuff you can't make up, and it is the real culture transformation of the new millennium.