When we interact with big, successful organizations we expect professional interactions and excellent products and services. It’s the same expectation for any large organization whether it business, educational institution, church or other not-for-profit organization.
On the other hand, when working with smaller organizations, we expect personal attention and friendliness. We may cut the organization some slack when it comes to quality products and services because we’re willing to exchange them for personal attention and friendliness.
This was the idea my good friend and SpringHill ally, Mark Beeson, was sharing with me recently.
Mark’s thesis is – if a small organization wants to exceed expectations it needs to provide excellence in its products and services while never losing that personal touch people expect. But if larger organizations like his church, Granger Community Church, or SpringHill, want to exceed expectations then they must provide, as Marked called it, unexpected goodness and kindness. In other words, treat people like a smaller organization would.
So what does unexpected goodness and kindness look like for larger organizations? It’s…
- Providing personal touch and the extra friendliness
- Creating a sense of belonging to the people being lead and served
- Making people feel like an individual and not a number or a statistic
- Simply knowing and remembering people’s names
- Taking care of an issue or request personally and promptly
- Sending hand written notes
- Returning phone calls, emails and text messages like you would your dearest friends (or your mom)
- All levels of leadership being approachable, accessible and authentic with the people they serve and lead
- Providing as much attention to individual people as to tasks, projects, programs, facilities, etc.
In other words, unexpected goodness and kindness is what small organizations find so easy and natural to do but bigger organizations find hard to achieve.
Which leads to the question Mark and I pondered – can organizations like SpringHill and Granger Community Church interact with people with goodness and kindness like smaller organizations?
Both Mark and I answered that question with a resounding yes, if we’re intentional, focused and prepared. As I thought more about this question I realized that for SpringHill this discussion isn’t just theoretical, it’s literally our integrity, of living consistently with one of our core values – to exceed expectations.
You see when we articulated this core value over 20 years ago SpringHill wasn’t nearly as big. To exceed expectations then meant to provide an outstanding experience and service. Today, people expect outstanding experiences and service from SpringHill. But if we’re to live out this value today, it most certainly means providing on a regular and intentional basis, authentic and unexpected goodness and kindness to all we serve and lead. This needs to be our goal; it has to be our focus, it needs to be our reality, if we’re to have integrity as an organization.
So I’m once again thankful for my annual walk around SpringHill with Mark Beeson, because the best way to learn a new concept is to experience it firsthand. This I did in my time with Mark, and both I and SpringHill have benefited from his authentic and unexpected goodness and kindness.
As Denise and I walked through a building on the Yard, we saw the words, “Excellence without Arrogance“, predominately displayed. As many of you know our third child, Mitch, entered the United States Naval Academy this summer as a freshman, or as they’re known as – Plebes, and where the campus is referred to as the Yard. When I read this maxim, six weeks into Mitch’s Plebe summer (basic training), I knew immediately it wasn’t just a pithy saying that someone painted on the wall but was a value that my son, as well as the other 1200 Plebes, learned during their training.
How do I know this?
First, the people affiliated with the USNA that Denise and I met, be it Naval and Marine officers, upperclassmen, facility and support staff, all demonstrated this incredible balance of excellence and humility. They were both gracious, friendly and helpful as well as they oozed with professionalism, commitment and excellence.
Secondly, when we were with Mitch that weekend, we saw change in him. He was no longer the same person we dropped off on Induction day. His sister, Christina, describe it best when she said “Mitch seems more confident and less arrogant.” An interesting play on words but an accurate description of this important Navy value, Excellence without Arrogance, becoming a reality in a future officer.
So here’s what we, as leaders, need to grapple with – a value of an organization or individual is not core just because it’s written on a wall, a card or in a website. It can only be core if it is so deeply embedded that it oozes out in such a visible and tangible way that others outside the organization can see, experience and name the value without ever reading the website.
Sometimes it’s easy to get stuck in an era, to think that what was standard “back then” must still be standard today. We think this because we believe really smart people had it all figured out back then (translation – it’s not possible someone today could actually be smarter than we were yesterday, thus it’s impossible anyone today could figure out a better or different way).
My toes, in particular my left big toe, paid the price for such shoddy (and arrogant) thinking.
This is how it happened. A couple of months before our trip my son, MD, and I were reviewing our equipment list. He mentioned having found a good deal on trekking poles, implying I might want to buy some as well. I told him, with serious conviction, “I’ve never hiked with trekking poles before. I’ve always used just a simple walking stick and it has worked pretty well”.
Now honestly, I was also thinking to myself “the only people I’ve ever remember using trekking poles were old people and wimps. And since I’m not old nor a wimp I sure as heck wasn’t going to be using them.” (I was also having doubts about my son’s manhood).
I should have realized the first day I was in deep trouble when I was both one of the oldest hikers and the only one without trekking poles.
You see the developers of the AT must have liked to hike up and down mountains because we walked up and down mountains multiple times a day. We rarely walked on flat ground; it was always up or down. As a result I quickly began to experience toe jam (toe jam is where your toes are constantly being jammed into the front of your shoes when going downhill) resulting in swollen toes and later, as I experienced, losing your toe nails.
By the painful third day it finally dawned on me why everyone was using trekking poles. Trekking poles break your downward steps. They take the pressure off your feet (and knees) helping to avoid toe jam among other injuries. Suddenly I saw all these young hikers, including my son, not as wimps but as smart and pragmatic, and I, in turn, was the aching, old fool.
So what’s the AT leadership lesson in all of this? Never assume that what worked yesterday is still the best option today. Be humble enough to believe that people are as smart today (or smarter) than we were yesterday. As a result it’s highly likely that methods have improved or new technology has been developed today that solves the problems we experienced yesterday (like toe jam). If we can embrace this reality about yesterday and today, our toes will be happier, and we’ll be better leaders.
when doing a benchmarking visit of another camp I asked one of their senior people “do you ever visit other camps?” I was hoping to return the favor and offer him the opportunity to come to SpringHill so we could share with him what we’re doing. His answer was shockingly honest – “why would I want to do that?” You see this leader believed that he and his camp had already arrived. And when you’ve arrived why would you be interested in learning anything more?
In this series of posts about the seven attitudes and behaviors that can cause you to lose your job the fifth attitude “believing you’ve already arrived” can be the slowest way out. Slow because this attitude in and of itself typically isn’t enough to cause someone to lose their job especially if they are performing to expected levels.
But the problem is, over the long run, a person who believes they’ve already arrived will stop learning and growing. And learning and growing is essential because the world continues to change. As a result a person who quits learning, and loses what I call professional curiosity, will soon fall behind and will ultimately not be able to perform as expected.
The worst part of this attitude is that it can spread in an organization. And once it spreads, an organization can become complacent and be at risk of becoming irrelevant. As a matter of fact, unless this attitude changes, it’s only a matter of time before the leader and the organization finds itself in dire straits.
So, if you want to keep your job and continue to making a difference in the world, never allow yourself to believe you’ve arrived. Continue to be professionally curious, it will serve you and your team well today and into the future.43.928283-85.286682
I believe most thoughtful people, if they like their work and want to keep their job, have asked themselves this question. Of course there are the obvious answers such as stealing, not doing your job up to standards, or changes in the organization. These answers are usually written up in employee handbooks and reviewed in orientation programs.
But it’s the subtle or unspoken answers to this question, answers about attitudes, relationships, and organizational interactions that haunt conscientious people. It’s because these answers are usually what determines a person’s success in an organization.
Now to assure that SpringHill isn’t falling into this fuzzy communication trap, I’ve started to include in my portion of our new employee orientation, a section I call “the things that will cause you to lose your job at SpringHill”.
So I share with them the seven attitudes and behaviors I’ve identified over my more than 15 years at SpringHill that have caused people to fall short as SpringHill staff –
- Misuse of power and authority
- Playing politics
- Not listening to others
- Mistreating people
- Believing they’ve already arrived
- Becoming an organizational martyr
- Having their own agenda
At the core of each of these attitudes and behavior is arrogance, or the Christian version of arrogance – self-righteousness. When people are arrogant, when they’re self-righteous, it always leads to one or more of all these seven attitudes and behaviors.
So I’ve told new staff that any of these behaviors and attitudes can lead to them losing their job at SpringHill. But the warning isn’t really about being self –righteous, instead it’s about bringing an appropriate humility to their work so that these seven behaviors and attitudes never take hold in their lives and in their work.
Over the next several posts I’ll dive deeper into arrogance and self-righteousness as well as each of these seven behaviors because I believe they’re relevant not just for people who work for SpringHill but for anyone who wants to be successful wherever they work.43.928283-85.286682
“What gets measures is what gets done” is a powerful but also incomplete leadership maxims. It was first stated by Michael LeBouef, an author of a number of business and management books. It’s powerful because it turns out to be true. When you measure something on a consistent and timely basis the attention and feedback created by measuring it almost guarantees it improves.
So if you want to achieve a goal, make it measurable and then actually measure it regularly, making it visible to the whole team, then the odds the goal’s achieved goes up significantly. As a result we measure the most important things at SpringHill, such things as the spiritual impact of our programs, number of people participating in our experiences, financial numbers, and quality of the experiences we create.
A good, yet simple SpringHill example is how our staff at our Indiana overnight camp set a goal for the number of campers they’d serve in our summer camp program this past year. Once the goal’s set they created a way to daily track (and sometimes more than daily) the progress towards the goal by using a simple white board in the middle of their office. The result of doing this was everyone knew everyday exactly where they stood in relationship to their goal, then they could, if necessary, make course corrections, and when they beat their goal (which they did) they all knew it and could celebrate the accomplishment together.
The key is to pick the right few things to measure, and then measure them in a timely and highly visible way. When you do this then “what gets measured almost always gets done.”
In my next post we’ll look at the paradox that this maxim doesn’t address – what to do with those most important things in life that aren’t measurable?
Summer camp literally starts in a matter of days. We’ve known for years there’d be summer camp in 2013. We also know we’re going to have summer camp in 2014, 2015 and for as many summers as we can see into the future.
In other words, it’s no surprise that summer camp is upon us. Of course this means there’s no excuse for not being prepared, planned out and ready for staff training and summer campers. Yet it wasn’t that long ago when, if you had visited SpringHill in May, you would have interrupted our frenzied work as being surprised by finding out at the last-minute that summer camp began in June.
This mad scramble had its allies within our team. Many folks, if they were honest, love the adrenaline rush of doing vast amounts of very important work in a very short period of time. As an organization we even unconsciously honored these folks for their great sacrifice for the cause. Unfortunately this only reinforced our organizational addiction to adrenaline and ultimately led to our team entering summer stressed, exhausted and drained.
So a number of years ago we all agreed that summer camp is never a surprise so there’s no good reason to save our all preparation for the month of May. We agreed that we would begin working on next summer during this summer, including pre-registering campers, finalizing host churches for our Day Camps, and signing up returning summer staff.
We also agreed that all the other important work for the next summer such as property and facilities improvements, summer staff recruitment, and curriculum and program development would begin immediately after camp ended, having specific plans with key milestone dates to keep us on track.
And, maybe most importantly, we also agreed to celebrate good, thoughtful and intentional planning and work instead of honoring adrenaline fueled activity.
So take this post as one small piece of our celebration for the good planning and work our team’s done to be ready for the summer of 2013 (and, for that matter, 2014). Though we’d all admit we’re not yet where we want to be, I’m confident in saying we’re in the best position I’ve ever seen us in going into the summer. And for this I tip my hat to our team for a job well done.43.928283-85.286682
“Defense wins championships” is the often quoted sports proverb about what it takes to win it all. It’s this proverb and its application to my career that motivated me to read Why Smart Executives Fail: And What You Can Learn from Their Mistakesby Sydney Finkelstein. Like Jim Collin’s little book How The Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In, it tells the stories behind the collapse of great companies run by really smart and talented people who, it turns out, focused too much on both personal and organizational offense at the expense of having a championship defense.
And every once in a while it’s good for me to have a little defensive perspective, to be reminded of the attitudes I, as a leader, can have and the actions I can take that could lead SpringHill to “lose the game”. One of the best chapters in the book’s called “Seven Habits of Spectacularly Unsuccessful People”.
Finkelstein describes these seven habits in this way (as you read each one do as I did and ask yourself “am I displaying any of these habits or tendencies in my leadership?”):
- They see themselves and their companies as dominating their environments, not simply responding to developments in those environments.
- They identify so completely with the company that there is no clear boundary between their personal interests and corporate interests.
- They seem to have all the answers, often dazzling people with the speed and decisiveness with which they can deal with challenging issues.
- They make sure that everyone is 100 percent behind them, ruthlessly eliminating anyone who might undermine their efforts.
- They are consummate company spokespersons, often devoting the largest portion of their efforts to managing and developing the company image.
- They treat intimidatingly difficult obstacles as temporary impediments to be removed or overcome.
- They never hesitate to return to strategies and tactics that made them and their companies successful in the first place.
- They see themselves and their companies as dominating their environments, not simply responding to developments in those environments.
How do you climb a mountain? As my wife Denise and I experienced on a recent climb up a southern California mountain, you do it one step at a time.
This is true of any big goal or vision we have as individuals or as organizations. Our best chance at success is by breaking big goals down into smaller, more manageable steps, and regularly measuring ourselves against those steps.
But too often we set these “Big Hairy Audacious Goals – BHAG’s” but don’t make the effort to break them down into the steps necessary to take every year, quarter, month, week, and day to accomplish those BHAG’s. Which, if you think about it, is a bit like my wife and I sitting at the bottom of the mountain, looking up at it and envisioning being at the top, but not mapping out the trail or knowing the elevation change or the miles we’ll need to walk or the time and effort required to reach the summit.
But it’s this kind of planning that’s required to break down a BHAG into manageable steps. And it’s by these manageable steps that we’re able to measure our progress. And by measuring our daily progress we’re able to keep focused on the work before us and not become overwhelmed by the large amount of work we have to do before getting to the top of the mountain.
At SpringHill our Big Hairy Audacious Goal is to serve 260,000 campers a year by 2025 (for context, we’ll serve about 55,000 in 2013). It’s an exciting goal, but to increase the likelihood of it becoming a reality we had to break our BHAG down into year by year goals, including our 2013 goal. Then we broke down our 2013 goal by season (we have three seasons a year versus four quarters), followed by monthly goals, and finally weekly goals, or steps, we call a split.
Then every week, as a team, we review these steps or splits. If we’re on track each week, then we know, ultimately, we’re on track this week to reach our mountain top of 260,000 campers by 2025.43.928283-85.286682
Last week three SpringHill staff and I taught seminars at the Christian Camping and Conference Association’s (3CA) Great Lake’s Regional Conference. It was a chance for us to share with other Christian camping professionals some of what we’ve learned over the years. Teaching in this context clearly aligns with our vision of being an “influential ally” of other like-minded and kindred spirited organizations.
But the truth is teaching is also one of the best ways to learn and so, to be honest, it’s also another reason we were willing to invest the time of four people to teach at this conference. You see when you teach (and do a good job teaching) it requires a number of things from you that benefits you as a learner.
First, it requires you to know your subject well enough to confidently stand before people to present and to handle any questions and disagreements that arise.
Secondly, teaching forces you to be able to communicate what you know in a clear and compelling manner. And the more clearly you can communicate something the more clearly you actually understand it.
Finally, teaching requires further learning because you always discover the gaps in your knowledge and understanding which leads to the need to fill those gaps before standing in front of a crowd.
So I’m a big believer in teaching as one of the best ways to learn and take every opportunity I have to teach. And every time I do I always walk away better for the experience.
So will you consider teaching at a conference, class or other venue if offered an opportunity? You’ll be glad you did, and so will the people who’ll benefit from all that you’ve learned.43.928283-85.286682