I was asked to dust off my whistle…

I have coached football at many levels and for a long time in Manitoba. This includes bantam, junior, university, provincial teams and high school all-star games. I hung up my whistle a couple of years ago.

And then I got a call from Dennis who was the head coach for one of the teams in the Winnipeg High School Senior Bowl. The honoured coach was someone who I have known for decades (Rick has more tenure than me) and I said I would be happy to work with the young men for a few days.

The experience was mostly excellent. And this is based on the quality of the other coaches (Rick, Dennis, Dom and Kito) and the enthusiasm of most of the players. In a short period we cannot install many defensive formations. We want to establish some key rules for a basic structure and ensure the players can showcase their athleticism and football ability to perform at their best.

And the vast majority did just that.

But, there were some exceptions.

Let me point out a couple of situations that don’t leave me with much confidence that the player and person, as demonstrated in these moments, will be successful in the future. Yes, this may be harsh on my part. However, I believe that if they cannot understand some of the fundamental values of respect and resilience at this point in a game, their other actions off the field are also not the strongest indicator of future success.

  1. The night before the game each coach was given a couple of minutes to address the team. Given the circumstances of limited prep time, I asked the players how they defined success. One immediately said “it is all about the numbers”, to which I said, “how many of  you won the top-level championship last year (knowing the answer was 0)”? I asked them to focus on doing their best on every play, good or bad, and getting ready for the next play. It was no surprise to me when this same player made a major assignment mistake during the game but helped on the tackle. I corrected what he needed to do and he just said “I made the tackle.” Apparently in a team game with individual responsibilities it is better to pad your own stats. He made the same mistake on the next play and I left it alone as it was near the end of the game.
  2. A talented young defensive lineman and his buddy from another high school team decided to not listen to the defensive coordinator and they just did their own thing. Sometimes it worked, mostly it didn’t. While I am all for making a play with your ability I am not for diminishing the structure of the scheme just for your own purposes.
  3. An athletic defensive player was inserted on offense in the fourth quarter to help us with his speed. He took a late hit on a ball he dropped. The ref flagged the defensive player and this was great for us. Unfortunately our player stood up and punched the other player in the face. Nothing happens because of the facemask. Our player got ejected and we lost yardage as a result. The players noted above were all fired up when the ejected player came off the field. Sad state of affairs when we reward and support foolish and selfish play. No respect for the game.

I want to finish today’s post on a high note.

  1. A young linebacker worked hard each practice. He is not the most physically gifted but he worked hard. While he missed two tackles that would have helped us he made two great plays that did help us. He showed moire resilience and mental toughness than the other athletes mentioned above. I was proud of Riley.
  2. Eryk is a really fine linebacker and is going to a great school on scholarship. He showed leadership, hustle, and support every time he was on the field. And he never complained when he was off due to the rotation. His attitude about school in the fall will serve him well both on and off the field.
  3. Chris and Easton made plays, worked hard and had a lot of fun. Great young men that will do well in their next phase of life.
  4. Kieran’s love for life and the game showed and he led by going 100 MPH on every play. Another great young man who will use football to help pay for school and gain a valuable university education.

This four-day event was a microcosm of any organization. There were:

  • goals set by the coaching staff and game plans made.
  • training and practice plans communicated to achieve the goals.
  • corrections and encouragement.
  • highs and lows. Never get too high, and never get too low.
  • robust battles and great individual effort with the accumulation of these to make great team plays.
  • winners and winners. The score was just a score.

For some players this was their last game. And they went out with their heads held high. I was grateful to be invited to coach and honored to spend time with so many terrific young men.

I know most will be successful in their life’s work.

Thanks Rick and Dennis.

Exceeding Expectations?

This phrase has been in vogue for decades. Experts have written and debated about whether this concept is useful or if it is something that is not reasonable to achieve.

Last week we had our family together for the first time in a year. Lots of fun and, as with many great times, it seemed to pass so quickly.

As we headed to Bismarck, and as I am wont to do, I took note of all the small interactions with people in stores and restaurants, odd outdoor signs and other amusing aspects of human life.

Let’s begin with some of the not exceeding expectations events:

  • We ordered chicken soup from Chik-fil-A because it was cool and rainy. We went through the drive thru as we wanted to get back to the hotel. There were six staff in the kitchen doing virtually nothing. The one that was packing our bag was looking at and talking with all five of her co-workers. It was as if the customer in the car did not exist. When we got back to our room we were not exactly surprised to find forks in the bag. No spoons. How is this possible? I can only imagine some of the other mistakes this group will make. And it is too bad because the food is really good.
  • We went on the Lewis and Clark riverboat cruise on the mighty Missouri. The ship was clean. The staff was missing in action…other than the captain I didn’t see anyone on the top deck. The recording that played, intermittently, describing the adventures of those two famous explorers kept cutting out. There must have been a problem with the connection to the speakers. And I am quite certain that it didn’t just happen. And when they played some music it still cut in and out. Another easy problem to fix. Captain my captain…please get someone to check these important details.
  • After the boat cruise, which was absolutely lovely, we went to a favorite local restaurant. Our young server was polite and fairly attentive but his answer to every “thanks” from one of us was “no problem.” This is one of my biggest pet peeves anywhere. What happened to the respectful “you’re welcome” that is easy to say? It darn well better not be a problem!

And now let’s present the exceeding expectations instances:

  • We went to a new coffee shop in Fargo called Beans Coffee Bar. A local woman opened the store shortly after her father passed away as coffee was something they always did together. There is a great plaque on the wall telling the whole story. I was whining the night before as we had a late night coffee from Starbucks that I wanted a donut. I didn’t get it. Imagine my delight when I received my coffee at Beans and there was a mini donut looped on the spill stopper! It warmed up being near the lid and was two bites of deliciousness!
  • The Little Cottage Cafe is a Bismarck institution and top-rated for wonderful breakfasts. Our server was busy, polite, and responsive. She was quick but did not hurry. All with a smile. There was please and thank you. There was a memory of who had decaf and who had regular. And she was like this with every table.
  • Seeing the Oscar Meyer Wiener Mobile in the hotel parking lot. Great family pics! The license plate was “I Wish I Was.”
  • The ads on the billboards by Newman Outdoor. The one beside the highway near Jamestown reads, “What’s New, Man?” And the second is beside I 29 in Fargo that has the word Newman in the same colour pattern as Google with the caption “the fastest way to reach a mass audience” (sic).

Interesting that there are very few examples of less than or exceeding expectations. Doesn’t this just give you the courage to start to say and do things that will truly translate into something more for your customers?

The key is that you must know your customers very well before you can determine those extra elements that can exceed anyone’s expectations. Remember, it is the customer that you are focused on and sets the base level of expectation, not what you think they should have/know/be grateful for. This holds for your internal customers in other departments, too.


And I must say that spending those days together as a family exceeded my expectations. It was a fantastic weekend together. We were in the moment with each other and laughed and hugged and smiled all weekend. Thanks family!

Anti social media

The Internet provided a host of communication and research benefits for people all around the world. Companies launched with platforms that allowed you to connect with family and friends all over the globe. In short messages and with videos of the grandkids this was an amazing time to reconnect at our convenience in our hectic lives.

While I am a big supporter of freedom of thought, your thoughts should be, surprise, well thought out.  It is utterly amazing that some people post incredibly inane comments or views on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram, etc. and they are then surprised by any backlash.

Unfortunately, in the immortal words of John Wayne “you can’t fix stupid.”

I am not even referring to hate speech or the like. Let me be clear – there is no room for this anywhere.

I am talking about someone trying to make a joke, or what appears to be a joke or funny comment, and then they say something that is absolutely disrespectful and in very bad taste.

If you are not funny in person, what makes you think you can be funny in 140 characters or less?

I am also stunned, sometimes I wonder why I am surprised, at people who would rather take a partial video of an event rather than step in and help or call for help.

Social media is no longer social. We have lost our focus on what can be a very great tool and often become stupid monsters.

We have stopped caring about our communications with people. We leave vapid comments on websites about service we never had. True story!

A good friend owns a restaurant and told me about a family that was in one night and he personally visited with them. Nothing wrong with their meal and they appeared satisfied. Then he sees a Facebook post trashing him and his restaurant. For what purpose? Vindictive for what? He followed up and they did not provide specifics. It was as if they just wanted to be mean. And for what as a gain? Nothing…

We know how easy it is to be mean and nasty when you are not face to face. It is why people say things behind other’s backs. This is also how bullying often gets started. People that are truly gutless and have no ability to speak directly to another person in an honest conversation seek ways to be mean and try to remain in the shadows. Gutless.

Think about your workplace. Do you have problems with cliques and small groups that say things not in the best interest of the team? I bet you do and I suggest that you put some principles in place. Not from a corporate perspective. I’d suggest a bottom up approach and leadership listening and supporting. Otherwise it is an edict in a policy manual and that won’t hold water past the first week.

I was listening to Black Sabbath (Ronnie James Dio singing) and their song Heaven and Hell. The first few lines fit with my rant about how people are hiding behind social media or using it for the wrong reasons.

Sing me a song you’re a singer. Do me a wrong you’re a bringer of evil. The Devil is never a maker. The less that you give you’re a taker… It goes on and on and on, it’s Heaven and Hell.

There are countless blogs, articles and books written to help with the etiquette of emails and other communication. Why do so many insist on using these tools as megaphones of hate or stupid jokes?

Think before you press send. Use the 24 hour rule. Save it as a draft. If you come back the next day and you have to send it or post it you better be darn sure you can stand by your point with conviction.

And think about the people who may see something publicly posted. Many times those that don’t know you can take something out of context. And then the vitriol can really start to fly around.

For your own sake and with respect for others, be careful what you say in public on any social platform.

Remember what our Mothers said. “If you can’t say anything nice about someone don’t say anything at all.”


Culture Trumps/Eats/Beats Strategy? Depends…

I am not certain about this. I don’t know who said this, too many different and unverified attributions. But the author is not the point today.

Strategy has often been touted as the necessary item to shape the direction of the organization. A good strategy actually solves a problem with a coherent set of actions with the appropriate set of resources made available. A strategy is not what you want your revenue target to be next year. That is an operational objective.

Then people started to say that the culture of the organization was more important than the actual strategy. This appeared to take root when discussing organizational culture and Edgar Schein, MIT professor,  originally articulated in his 1985 book that “culture determines and limits strategy”.

That makes sense on the surface. However, I maintain that if the customer is not at the center of your strategy or your culture it doesn’t matter what you say “trumps/eats/beats” the other. You will not be successful in the long run.

You often hear that an organization is data driven. Why data? You should be customer driven! Don’t manage and support the data. Manage and support your customers and employees and the data will be positive!

Sometimes an organization is performance driven. What does this mean? If you do not have everything geared towards the customer you are internally focused and someone else will be leaner and more efficient and you will be forced to continue to cut something because you are “performance driven”.

I read an interesting piece that stated you need to cultivate a culture of success. The author stated that if employees within an organization are goal-oriented, team-focused, and driven by performance, it’s because the culture demands it. Like a garden, left untended, the weeds will take over. Thus, an organization must take care of its employees so they flourish and are not overtaken by the “weeds” you don’t want.

And I firmly believe there must be the focus of the customer at the center of whatever you are trying to accomplish. Without it you may be growing flowers in your garden that your customers do not want or need. Your employees will be so adept at working with their teammates and having fun that they forget the customer.

If every culture was so great and every strategy was the best then every company would be continually exceeding every measure of success. I do not see this in reality. Why did Sears and Target fail in Canada? They didn’t deliver what the customers wanted and their strategy and culture were wrong.

No customer no culture. No customer no need for strategy. No customer no employee.

This principle of customer focus must replace your policy manual. Build your best manual upon the principles of what your customers expect and what and how you can deliver.

And this takes a lot of hard work. And it takes a focus forever. This is not “one and done” training.

How can you accomplish this?

First, with respect to your employees. They care about themselves first before they care about you or the customer. It is human nature. It is survival. It is often driven by fear – lost customers often means fewer employees are needed.

If  you can help people bring their best (Coach Wooden’s definition of success) so they can serve the customer you are now creating the type of culture that can last because the whole group understands their purpose and importance to acquire and keep a customer. If you help them be the best they can be for themselves, then (and only then) can you teach them the “best responses” for each situation they’re likely to experience. These can then be your corporate principles with meaning instead of the current policy manual. No fluff.

And this goes for internal customers. Just because it is easy for a department to think of what they need to get done doesn’t mean it best serves other departments as they are trying to deliver something for a customer. Step back and take a look at the whole customer process. Be prepared to make some changes.

Second, and to be very clear, I am NOT advocating that you listen to all customer comments and try to respond to everything that is said. There is a structured approach that begins with, and this is the simple view:

  • Start with developing a deep understanding of what job a customer needs to get done from the functional, emotional and social perspective.
  • Next, insert your product or service as a possible solution to see if that fits the need.
  • Where are the gaps?
  • Can you actually meet those needs?
  • Can you do this efficiently, effectively and profitably?
  • If not, this is where you need to craft a strategy (as defined above) to guide your organization forward.

There is a tremendous level of detail in this analysis.

In the end knowing the needs of the customer must trump/eat/beat everything and become the central focus for your culture and your strategy.

Talk about that at your next employee meeting and really listen to what your folks have to say about their customer insights and experiences.

I bet you will be surprised. And if you and the leadership are truly listening to your internal customers then there is a very high likelihood that you will need to make some changes to be more holistically customer-centric.

I believe only with this level of customer focus can you achieve the right culture and strategy.

The customer isn’t always right, BUT, they are always the customer and they are the ones that keep your doors open.

This I know for certain.

Why did you open my front door?

While we were having a late dinner the other night the door bell rang about 7 PM. Trappar was busy gnawing on his nightly chew and leapt up and ran down the hall barking with his big dog voice.

As I sauntered towards the front door I noticed the outside door was open. I could not see anybody through the window on top. At first I thought it was my brother or neighbour playing a joke. Wrong on both counts.

It was a young man holding the door open with a sheaf of papers in his hand.

“Hi, I am “Zach” from Student blah blah”

“Why did you open my front door?” This was in my deep “angry dad” voice.

“Sorry”, and then a couple of mumbles.

He immediately launched into what he does. Interior painting. Exterior painting. Maybe even window cleaning.

“No thanks, we’re good”, and he politely walked away with his tail between his legs.

I felt sorry for him because he had a chance for a big win.

Had he immediately apologized for opening my front door, asked for a redo and walked towards the edge of the house I would have given him a second chance. He could have then launched into some great questions about how I am spending my free time to learn if I may need painting but don’t have the time.

Needs based questions. From the customer’s perspective. Offering a tidbit of useful information about how long an average 2,000 square foot home may take to paint. “Do you have the time for that, sir?” And then he can search for more commitments to get me moving towards buying from him instead of him selling to me.

In retrospect I am more concerned with the company and how they are training these young folks. Why wouldn’t you want to set them up for success? If their close rate was higher they wouldn’t have to knock on so many doors. The company could hire more students and sell more painting projects. And wouldn’t they be creating a great customer experience that people want to share?

I was mentioning this to my friend Jon from the Winnipeg Chamber and we both believed that there were many opportunities to save the sale and calm the angry dad. But there was no recovery for poor “Zach”. He was not prepared for what happened at my front door. Shame on his company.

And be prepared for a variety of situations. You need to practice your opening. Go to the library and take out any number of great sales books (Gitomer, Iannarino, Sandler, etc.) and practice something that you can use in any situation. Be natural and be prepared.

Done right I am always willing to invest time with someone who appears prepared. Sometimes I can learn something new.

I am not being mean and I certainly wasn’t being a bully. I was concerned for the safety of my family with the way the door was opened without asking first.

We have learned the adage about knocking on the door in search of opportunity. I believe you have to be prepared for what might be on the other side. Do you open someone’s door at work without first asking permission? That is just taking the open door policy way too far. And it can be very disrespectful of another person’s time and responsibility.

I don’t want you to open my door without my permission. And how you gain that permission will be the difference between making a sale and having the door to opportunity slammed in your face.