Hope, and Change

“I hope you had a great meal.”

Was he serious?

We had just finished paying over $400 for dinner for eight at a once great Charleston restaurant and not once had the manager stopped by our table. He never engaged us in conversation, he didn’t offer any wine recommendations, and there was no explanation of the evening’s specials other than a point to the chalk board on the wall.  He didn’t enlighten us as to why their menu hadn’t changed in twenty years. He never explained the odd salad of California greens, sunflower seeds and dried cranberries when we were in the middle of Charleston’s growing season. He offered no defense of the gummy Key Lime Pie or the frozen lima beans that were offered up as the local vegetable of the evening.

He did walk through his half empty (on a Saturday night, no less) dining room numerous times and he did smile at us, yet he never engaged us.

Until we had paid the check and were scooting back in our chairs.

“I hope you had a great meal.”

Seriously?

Beach

When was the last time you took a Friday afternoon detour to your supervisor’s office and asked, “I hope I did a great job this week”?

I would hope never.

Many years ago I learned never to ask a diner at the end of a meal if they enjoyed themselves. Because what if they said a sincere “No, I really didn’t.” They’re finished dining, they’ve paid the bill and only then you find out they’re unhappy. What can you do? Not much. The appropriate thing to say at the end of a meal is “Thank you for coming in.”

A polished server or manager can sense when a group is enjoying themselves and doesn’t have to pander, search for validity or a compliment.  And if someone isn’t enjoying themselves or is puzzled by a certain dish or disappointed by a slice of pie, that disappointment is most likely written all over their body language. At that point it’s time to ask a direct question; “Is your steak cooked the way you prefer? How are those lima beans? Are you enjoying that slice of Key Lime Pie?”

The same goes for anyone working in a team environment; you should know you’ve gotten the job done without having to resort to broad, tactless questions. When the time comes for a review or counseling session, you better know the outcome before you sit down with your team leader.  So take the guess work out of your performance by paying attention and getting the dang job done in a timely and professional manner.

Let’s leave the hope out of it.

Now about that pie.

Faster, Harder, Farther

I’m a fairly emotional guy. I don’t mean that I cry often, rather I tend to linger over fond memories. Perhaps too much. Maybe that’s why I enjoy looking through old photographs. Recently my wife asked me to help her find a photo of us from Mardi Gras. We broke out stacks of real photos and spent a few hours reminiscing. The memories flooded past in glossy, colorful, slightly faded pieces of our lives. Four by six, five by seven, and a few wallets; California, Romania, Louisiana, New York, London, and South Carolina. And I found myself wanting to make memories worthy of a photograph.

Taking a photo used to be a big deal. You had to carry a camera, film, and perhaps an additional lens. Then the film had to be developed, photos were printed and paid for. So one only carried a camera if you were going to do something worthy of the trouble and expense. Today it’s so easy, it’s not uncommon to share a photo of a peanut butter and jelly in the process of being made. And where’s the adventure in that?

I want to take more photos like this one, and less of my sandwiches.

Looking Glass

A poorly-timed photograph taken on the top of Looking Glass Mountain, late fall of 1998. That’s my faithful Jack Russell Terrier, Bonnie and my wife Amy holding her leash. As usual, Bonnie is waiting for me.

 

If you’re familiar with dogs, Jacks are notoriously high-strung. They’re smart, energetic, and relentless. Once they decide to do something, there’s no stopping them. And Bonnie was no different. If we went for a hike, a swim in the ocean, a long walk, or a car ride, it was never enough just to go. She had to go faster, harder, farther. Case in point, in this photo she is as usual, waiting on me.

In our relationships, both personal, and business, we should all have a Bonnie. A faithful companion that extols us to success. Someone that we love and respect, someone that we’ll go that last mile for.

In one of my endeavors, I have an entire team of Bonnies. In July, I’ll ride across the state to raise money for the SC Alzheimer’s Association and I’ve got some teammates to encourage and push me to success. Yet I still feel like I’m missing something. I need someone to encourage and push me in my business relationships, and it feels like that’s missing from my life. A friendly competitor, someone to race me to the top of the mountain then pat me on the back when I’ve come in second, or third. We all measure success differently and I don’t use money as a yardstick. Are my kids becoming responsible? Am I protecting my family? Are my clients happy and are they getting their money’s worth? Because life isn’t about the destination, it’s really about the journey and our journey begins anew every morning. And today I’m going to try and pray harder, run quicker, pedal faster, and make my clients happier. And I’d like to do this while I work towards taking more photos of real adventures, and less photos of peanut butter & jelly sandwiches.

Do you have a Bonnie in your life? Someone, or some dog, that is constantly pushing you to success? I think I do, I just need to remind them.

128 Miles

Have you ever seen that motivational poster that says, “Shoot for the Moon, even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”

The Moon

I hate that poster.  For a lot of reasons.

The moon is roughly 240,000 miles away from Earth.  The nearest star, about 4.5 Light Years.  If you don’t remember how far that is, it’s the distance a beam of light could travel in a year’s time.  And remember that light travels at 186,000 miles per second.

And I hate those sort of cheesy, fuzzy platitudes.  And besides, that’s hardly a goal, right?  But 3,000 miles on a bike, in a year, now that’s a goal.

The end of 2014 will mark my second year in business.  And it’s been a very good year.  I diversified my services, found a niche and have exploited that niche.  Along the way I’ve learned some tough lessons on salesmanship and trust.  One particularly glaring mistake was trusting a PR gal out of New York.  The company she represented sold high-end grills and I was a natural for their product.  A guy that can write, manage social media, and has a food background would be the natural fit for a grill company, correct?  Well turns out she was only interested in my ideas.  Three days after discussing my proposal and ideas, I knew I had been “had.”  Ah well, live and learn.

This year I also got back in cycling in a big way.

RTR 4

Halfway through day three of the 2014 Ride to Remember.

I have a cycling team dedicated to one event, the Ride to Remember.  It’s the largest fundraiser for the South Carolina Alzheimer’s Association and it happens to be a 252 mile, three day bicycle ride across the state.  All of us on Team Coast Busters have a personal connection to #ALZ and that’s what brought us together.  And in  the process of preparing for this ride, I reconnected with road cycling.  Heaven help me, I do so love it.  About two months ago, I realized that I have a very good shot of putting in 3,000 miles for the year.  Three thousand!  I certainly didn’t start out with that goal.  I just wanted to complete the #RTR with my team and along the way raise a nice chunk of money.  Which I did.  And now here it is early December and I’m only 128 miles away from three thousand.  December…with its endless invitations, cold weather, minimal sunlight and endless temptations.  You would think I would totally devote myself to putting in those final 128 miles, but I’m not.  I’ve already reached my cycling goals for the year, but haven’t reached my business goals and honestly, those are a bit  more important.  If I end the year with only two thousand, nine hundred and forty miles then that’s that.  Not bad for a guy that spent the first half of 2013 on crutches, right?  I’ll delight in the fact that this year I’ve made a lot of new friends, seen some incredibly beautiful sights, lost twenty four pounds, and increased my company’s reputation in Greenville’s business world.

GSC at night

Greenville, SC and the Reedy River at night

The lesson?  Set lofty goals but make sure they’re concrete, something you can track and manage.  But make sure they’re big.  And if you don’t make them, then you’ve still gotten close.  But along the way to achieving those goals, enjoy the view and the fringe benefits.

“Is This Your Car?”

 

We’ve known for months that a new contractor was about to build in our neighborhood.  We were excited as well as a bit nervous.  New home construction comes with all sorts of variables and challenges for the existing neighbors.  There’s the headache of construction debris, the constant traffic, the noise, and the influx of the labor force. Yet we’re looking forward to a new set of neighbors.  Our quiet, unassuming neighborhood was about to go through a 180 degree about-face.  But we needed it.  We needed someone to come in and turn our neighborhood around, fix our pool, finish the clubhouse, and maintain the amenities.  So although the transition could be challenging, the end result would be worth it.  Or so we hope, because the jury’s still out.

The builder would also come into this relationship with challenges.  And as the tenant of the home across the street from their new model home, one would assume that the builder would want to start off on the right foot with the new neighbors.

So imagine my disappointment when the first words out of the mouth of the initial point person in this new relationship were: “Is this your car?”  Not good morning, not my name is…, not hello.

“Is this your car?”

“Yes.”

“Well we’re about to start building here, you need to move it.”

“And good morning to you, too.”

Sheesh!

Here’s the deal folks.  You only get one shot at a first impression.  One.  Who’s going to make that impression?  Not your CEO.  Not your CFO.  Not your Director of Human Resources.

I don’t care if you’re selling dreams, a new lifestyle, horsepower, bicycles, or an opportunity to retire in luxury.  You best make the right first impression or all of that goes right down the drain.

Now imagine if that first encounter with this builder came with a greeting:  “Good morning, I’m Robert Jones.  I’m head of construction for West Field Construction and tomorrow morning we’re going to start building across the street.  This is Julio, he’s our Construction Supervisor and here’s our contact information should you ever have any concerns.  And your name is?”

Your social media should be in sync with your company’s.  If you’re going to be on social media, no matter what you’re selling, make sure that your people are portraying the same image as their employer.  If you own a strip club, no one will be surprised to see photographs of pole dancers showing off their legacy.    For the rest of us, your people better have it buttoned up.   If you want to go out on the town with your co-workers on Friday night, go right ahead.

But DO NOT post anything on your social media about how you “Love hangin’ with the Wild Bunch at Company  XYZ!”

sams_hofbrau_girls_facebook_thumb_560x384

Gettin’ hammered before the slammer with our awesome HR Director!

 

Remember, your social media may be someone else’s first impression of your company.  And when a prospect interacts with your social media,  what will their first impression be?  Make sure it counts.  And if your team isn’t accurately representing their employer, perhaps it’s time for some counseling.

As for my builder,  there’s always the next project and another shot at making a better first impression.