Each year the last issue of our e-newsletter focuses on some of my lessons learned. May you find inspiration among the Top 10 things that touched me during 2011.
Dropped Call – One of my clients is a service center manager for the large wireless company that until yesterday looked like it would be combining with another industry giant. When news broke last spring of that proposed union, her team found out as people called in with questions about how it would effect their service. “We miss productivity numbers and they hold an emergency meeting,” she said. “But we have a damn merger and they don’t say a word, so we hear it from our customers watching CNBC.” That’s a big ‘oops’ leaders could have avoided by simply pausing to ask, “Who do we need to tell right away?”
‘Giddyup giddyup 409’… ‘And good old boys were drinking whiskey and rye’… ‘I remember when rock was young’… ‘We’re going racing in the streets’… ‘Baby you’re much too fast.’ These lyrics are from songs – by The Beach Boys, Don McLean, Elton John, Bruce Springsteen and Prince – that pay tribute to a manufacturing icon: Chevrolet. From the BelAir, to the Corvette, to the Camaro, Chevy exemplifies the ‘heartbeat of America’ to multiple generations of car enthusiasts.
When Dinah Shore sang, “See the U.S.A in your Chevrolet” in the 1950’s, she popularized the brand with millions watching on the emerging technology of television. Sponsorships of Bonanza and Bewitched solidified the company in the minds of parents. Then the 1963 redesign of Corvette into the Stingray and the 1967 introduction of the Camaro made Chevy the envy of teenagers and sports car lovers. Things were good for decades in Detroit. As the famous commercial noted: “Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet.”
Like all companies, Chevy has its share of legacy clunkers. In the ’60s, Ralph Nader took the company to task for the faulty rear suspension of Corvair. The Vega’s engine problems and overall poor quality in the ’70s signaled the beginning of the end of America’s reign as automobile manufacturing king. The SSR – released in 2004 – tried to capitalize on the ‘retro’ movement. Time magazine described it as a “putative performance machine, heavy, underpowered and unforgivably lazy.” Then there was that whole bailout and bankruptcy at GM three years ago. Don’t look for that episode to be featured in any Chevy historical film.
It’s been a long journey for the company French racecar driver Louis Chevrolet started a century ago today with ousted GM founder William C. Durant… and there is reason to be excited about the future. Silverado is the number two selling vehicle in the country. Equinox and Cruze rank among the top 15. The plug-in hybrid Volt, released last December at a manufacturer’s suggested price of $40,000, is the most fuel-efficient car on the road with an EPA rating of 93 mpg. Like any organization, Chevy proves innovation and stick-to-it-ness are essential for long-term success.
Happy 100th birthday, Chevrolet.
My wife’s book club skipped this month’s meeting and attended the movie version of a novel they read: “The Help.” Afterwards, they wanted to go to a restaurant, have dessert and discuss the film. Kathy checked out a couple of nearby eateries’ websites and selected one that remained open late on a Wednesday night. Arriving just ahead of her group at 9:58, she went inside and the hostess said, “I’m sorry, we close at 10.” Kathy said, “But your website says you’re open until 11.” The hostess replied: “Oh, that’s our midtown location.”
Kathy asked to speak to the manager. Although he arrived quickly, she had the website on her phone to show him. “I have seven women coming here to talk about a movie we just saw,” she said. “Your website says you close at 11. It doesn’t say that’s just your other location.” Without hesitating, he said: “Not a problem. We’ll be happy to stay open just for you.”
Of course, the easier, less expensive response – and more typical one – would have been: “Ma’am, I’m sorry for the confusion. The home office is responsible for the website, and I guess it is confusing. I’ll be sure to tell them to correct that.” Then gently escort my wife out the door to face her friends alone. Instead, this astute leader created a huge win for his company. Eight women had a happy ending to their evening, and I’m guessing told lots of people about the incredible service at this establishment.
How would your employees have handled a similar situation?
My nephew just completed the first 90 days of his new career in the high-risk insurance industry. The interesting thing is he almost didn’t have the opportunity to take on this new role after spending six years in real estate. After several interviews at various levels of the company, he met with the founder. Everything went well until he got up to leave.
That’s when the key decision-maker looked him in the eye and said: “Ryan, when I was in your position, I would finish an interview and wonder, ‘Where do I stand?’ So I want to let you know what I’m thinking. To succeed in our business, we need people who are 10s. I see you as a five. That’s not meant to hurt your feelings, just to let you know I’m not sure you’ll make it here.”
Although caught off-guard, Ryan said, “Well, I respectfully disagree and hope you’ll reconsider.” They shook hands and parted. After a few hours, Ryan had time to digest the unexpected ending, so he wrote a polite email to this gentleman outlining why he sees himself as a 10 and exactly what he would do to prove that. The next day he received an offer.
A few weeks after starting at the company, Ryan was sharing this story with a couple of veteran salesmen. They smiled and told him the founder did the same thing after their interviews. “He gave you a five?” one of them said. “All I got was a four.”
Successful salespeople have to be comfortable overcoming deflection and rejection. This veteran leader utilizes a unique interview technique to test candidates. Is there something similar your company could adopt to see who rises to the top and responds appropriately?
Over the last year I worked to develop a relationship with a large company in the transportation industry. This included starting over midway through when the person who oversees their coaching practice left the organization. Several months after that setback I had a terrific conversation with the new director. Finally, on her recommendation, I interviewed with two HR specialists to become part of their stable of coaches. I waited patiently as two weeks passed without hearing a word. Then I received an email informing me they selected someone else.
As the disappointment set in that I wouldn’t be coaching their senior leaders, I felt the dejection of rejection. It’s not a feeling I enjoy, and it’s one reason being a salesperson will never be in my career plans. I moped around for about an hour, went outside for some fresh air and about every 30 minutes until bedtime kept falling back into wondering what went wrong.
The next morning I woke up refreshed and with a new attitude. While I could have sat around feeling sorry for myself – ‘How could they not choose me?’ – that would have only wasted time. It wouldn’t have changed anything.
Then wisdom arrived: This was not about me being qualified or talented enough to coach their leaders; it was about the decision-maker selecting what is best – from her perspective – for their organization. My role in the process was to be authentic. I did my part. She did hers. This time there wasn’t alignment. Tomorrow will be another opportunity with another organization. I’m ready.