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Building Peak-Performance Cultures #23

Building Peak-Performance Cultures #23

Dealing with Racism and Other Forms of Misunderstanding
Written by Rob Andrews and paraphrased from Arbinger Institute Research

One of my business partners recently introduced me to the Arbinger Institute, where he studied and learned about the concept of self-deception. It seems we all slip into self-deception multiple times each day, even if we have been trained not to! Self-deception causes people and organizations to get stuck, in old patterns, old behavior, old thinking, and old prejudices. To escape self-deception requires herculean effort, a new paradigm, better training and development, and better systems.

Organizations comprised of people who possess more or less the same mindset they’ve always had will continue to produce more or less the same results they’ve always produced. If they’ve struggled with the very common challenges of prejudice, low engagement, poor collaboration, and lack of innovation, these problems will continue – unless they change what’s actually causing the problems.

The cause of remaining stuck in all of these maladies is a self-focused inner mindset. Breakthrough results, including dramatic reductions in prejudice, can only take place when people shift from an inward mindset to an impact-focused outward mindset. The Arbinger Institute enables positive change through a  three-step process: mindset change, leadership development, and systems improvement. The latter two are beyond the scope of this post.

We are most definitely navigating turbulent waters, and for our racial issues, there is precedent. Repeating the precedent is unfortunate as we don’t seem to have learned much from our past experiences. Issues that have plagued us for a very long time are surfacing in a manner that is requiring all of us, as a human family, to look more carefully at ourselves, our society, our institutions, our businesses, and how we see one another.

According to this month’s (July 2020) special edition of the Arbinger Newsletter, we have forgotten we are a family. As a family, we have forgotten empathy, understanding, and listening, to allow self-deception, and the evils of racism, bigotry, and other forms of prejudice into our house. Addressing these evils requires an understanding that these are merely symptoms of a much deeper problem – that of dehumanization.

Dehumanization is a fundamental blindness to the humanity of others – to see a person’s color, religion, nationality, politics, or other distinguishing attributes, instead of seeing a person, another child of God, and a family member. It is to believe that others, who don’t look like us, think like us and/or believe like us, don’t matter like we matter, that others don’t count the way we count. It is the objectification of others and unchecked spreads like wildfire. When we see people, who are different as less than, or less worthy, we encourage the mistreatment of others even if we’re not aware of it.

As an organization, we are examining ourselves, and looking for ways we can improve. We know there are ways in which we must improve, and there are biases and blind spots we must address. The conviction to see others, to recognize our shared humanity, and to ensure equality, diversity, and inclusion is a commitment we must and will make. We are committed to this conversation, and to becoming an example for others.

With the current focus on racial unrest in the United States in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, it would be easy to see this as a uniquely American issue, or one that is temporary, one which will subside. The reality is that the underlying problem of dehumanization is neither local nor short-term. All over the world and throughout history we’ve witnessed the animosity of dehumanization and the objectification of those we deem as “other”. Arbinger asserts that identifying and rectifying racism and dehumanization of every kind is the obligation of all of us, at all times. Not only right now, but especially right now. This will be a very long conversation. As I finished reading this month’s Arbinger letter, I was struck by a short video entitled: Turn the World Outward.

It is my belief, that if every human being on the planet were to watch this video about Daryl Davis, attached to this post, the world would instantly become a better place. As an African American youth who spent his earliest years overseas, in culturally diverse communities, Daryl had no real exposure to racism until he was ten years old. Once he returned to the U.S. in 1968 and experienced racial prejudice, he couldn’t understand how people could hate him simply because of the color of his skin. For the first time in his life, Daryl’s parents sat him down and explained what racism was. His ten-year-old brain couldn’t imagine what his parents were describing. On April 4th of that year, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, and the nation erupted in violence and destruction.  Daryl still didn’t understand the basis for racism and has spent the last fifty-one years trying to understand it. Watch this ten-minute video and see for yourself what can happen once two people actually see one another as human beings, different yet belonging to the same family.

Building Peak-Performance Cultures #22 (Unified Leadership)

What we need right now is calm, steady leadership; not panic, hysteria, and rush to judgment. We need our leaders to tell us we’re going to be ok, that this too will pass, and that we can emerge from our current crises better and stronger than ever. We need leaders who let us know what they expect of us.  Nancy Koehn wrote an article in the April edition of Harvard Business Review that speaks to this issue very effectively. I’ve taken her content and added a few thoughts of my own.

We are living through a global health crisis with no modern precedent. What governments, businesses, hospitals, schools, and other organizations need right now are what the writer David Foster Wallace called “real leaders” – people who “help us overcome our own individual laziness, selfishness, and fear and get us to do better, harder things than we can get ourselves to do on our own.”

Real leaders are not born; the ability to help others triumph over adversity is not written into their genetic code. They are instead, made. They are forged in crisis. Leaders become “real” when they practice a few key behaviors that gird and inspire people through difficult times. The good news is that we have models for this kind of leadership. Here’s what we can learn from how some of history’s most iconic leaders acted in the face of great uncertainty, real danger, and collective fear.

Acknowledge people’s fears, then encourage resolve. Decide to become a part of the solution and refuse to become mired in the problem. Times of uncertainty and crises require leadership that keeps people focused on moving ahead and doing what is necessary to emerge victoriously. Most of us know the famous lines of United States President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1933 inaugural address in the midst of the Great Depression: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” He followed that by pointing to the nation’s strengths in meeting the crises: “This is no unsolvable problem if we face it wisely and courageously. There are many ways in which it can be helped, but it can never be helped merely by talking about it. We must act and act quickly.”

Less than a decade later, as the United Kingdom stared down Hitler’s onslaught during the Second World War, Prime Minister Winston Churchill encouraged his people to keep the faith: “We will not fail or falter; we shall not weaken or tire. Neither the shock of battle nor the long-drawn trials of vigilance and exertion will wear us down. Give us the tools, and we will finish the job.”

Your job as a leader of your own organization is to begin with you. One of the great leaders we’ve studied for the Total Performance Leadership architecture said something to me I’ll never forget. “Anytime there is something wrong with my organization, I reflect on what’s wrong with me. Am I painting the picture well enough? Is my leadership strong and clear? Am I leading with the right example? Am I measuring the right things? Am I rewarding the right behavior and correcting the wrong behavior? I’ve always got to be the one that sets the right example. My behavior sets the tone for the rest of my 7,500 employees.”

Your job then is to provide both brutal honesty- a clear accounting of the challenges your locality, company, non-profit, or team faces – and credible hope that collectively you and your people have the resources needed to meet the threats you face each day: determination, solidarity, strength, shared purpose, humanity, kindness, and resilience. Recognize that most of your employees are anxious about their health, their finances, and, in many cases, their jobs. Explain that you understand their fears, but that you can work together to weather the storm. That this too will pass.

Give people a role and a purpose.  Real leaders charge individuals to act in service of a broader purpose. They give people jobs to do and hold them accountable. During the U.S. Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln exhorted and ordered men of Northern States to fight; as the Civil Rights movement gathered momentum in the late 1950s and 1960s, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr, asked his followers to sit in, march, and protest racial discrimination. In his first inaugural address, FDR told his countrymen to keep their money in U.S. banks to avert a banking crisis. Later, his wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, encouraged American women to work in the nation’s factories, while their fathers, brothers, husbands, and sons went to battle in the Second World War. During the days that followed 911, when much of the country was paralyzed with fear, President George W. Bush, when asked what he expected of us, told his fellow Americans to “live your lives, go out and eat, shop in our stores, see our sites, and support your fellow Americans.”

Fifteen years after 911, one in five Americans cite the country’s response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, as the time in their lives when they felt most proud of their country, this according to a Pew Research Center poll conducted in 2016. Overall, the survey found that the 911 attacks united Americans in a way few historical events have. In the aftermath of the attacks, Americans rallied around George W. Bush, evidence by his 86% approval rating shortly after the attacks, a rating only eclipsed by George H.W. Bush’s 89% approval, following the Persian Gulf war in 1991. Regardless of how we fell about the Bushes today, clearly their leadership resonated and unified a nation. We knew that we were in troubled times, but that we had a purpose and a job to do.

Social Media Is Only a Contact Sport


You finally did it! The perfect lamp that both accents the room and casts just the right amount of light rests next to the couch. The one shrouded elegantly, yet with warmth by a shade matching the accent colors of the small stitches in the sofa. This is not an inexpensive piece, it is unique and the result of countless hours of planning and talking and searching.

Yet, it sits in the corner, pale and shadowy, adding nothing to the room. Frustrated you stomp over to see why this rare find has no energy. As you trace the cord running from its base you find that somehow no one has plugged your treasure into the electrical outlet. With a simple flick of the wrist power flows and the beauty created by its Maker radiates, filling the room.

The same is true of the people who choose to follow us. Without connection, they will never become what they were intended to be.

Mark Zuckerberg, the chief architect of Facebook, is on a mission to connect the population of the world via the internet. His zeal for technology, along with the creators of LinkedIn, Instagram and other social media outlets, provide a valuable tool for us to establish and maintain contact with family, long lost friends as well as be stalked by total strangers. What is missing from their algorithms and equations is the difference between contact and connect.

Being in contact is not the same as being plugged in. At a recent conference where I was speaking, I walked up to three people playing the “how many you got” game. They were comparing the number of people each had as connections on various social media outlets. There is a growing preoccupation with faceless names and email contacts, forming sort of tribe or social village. The missing element is personal interaction.

Glenna Salsberry, CPS, CPAE, a keynote speaker at a National Speakers Association annual conference reported on a survey showing the top traits that caused people to feel connected to a great company. In order of importance were:


Know me by name

Recognize my value

Are you taking consistent steps to show those who choose to follow you that their role is of value, they understand the significance of their responsibilities and that you recognize their efforts and results? How transparent are you with information on the issues your department or the company in general is facing?

Today more than ever successful leaders must master the art of helping their team feel plugged in or connected. It doesn’t take grand, bold gestures.

Hiring the Right People

The Total Performance Leadership (TPL) study and dialogue continues. TPL leaders are consistently outperforming the competition by harnessing the power of purpose, clarity, hiring, and measurement systems, in the relentless pursuit of customer delight, cost leadership, continuous improvement, and employee engagement.

Discipline #3 requires, among other things, having a full talent pipeline. No pipeline, no choices. No choices, no quality. TPL organizations have learned how to keep the pipeline full. Here are a few examples of innovative thinking for you to ponder:

A QSR (Quick Service Restaurant) operator who has trained their field managers, store managers and assistants to look for great talent everywhere they go. When any member of the store management team meets a conscientious, hardworking, friendly employee, in another restaurant, a department store, a rental car agency or a snow cone stand, they give the prospect a business card, and if possible, get their name and number. All the names and contact information are entered in to a database and receive regular communications from members of division staff. Since this practice has been in place, the operator’s staffing has gone from an average of 94% to 100%, and there is a consistent backlog of applicants.

A professional services firm who first moved the recruiting function from human resources, to the marketing and business development department. Next they identified substantially all of the licensed professionals in the markets in which they operate, and entered their contact information in to a customer relationship management system. The firm then embarked on a disciplined campaign to develop relationships with the professionals on whom they ultimately depend for profitable growth. The firm sends thought leadership pieces on current trends, ideas for personal and professional growth, and other items of interest to licensed professionals in their space. The CEO also sends handwritten notes to top professionals who have been targeted for recruitment.

A convenience store operator operating in eleven major markets has developed an employment brand so strong, they have approximately 100 people apply for every one person they hire. They’ve employed both of the methods above and much more. Over many decades, they have developed a reputation for being winners, the best of the best. Thousands of proud associates employed by this operator know that their per-store profits are double their next closest competitor, and that they are the pride of their industry. Thousands of associates have become walking, talking ambassadors for their organization. Everyone in the company knows the CEO and his team, fully understands and believes in their strategy, knows how he or she fits in, and works very hard every day to delight customers, minimize costs and reinforce the company’s purpose, which, interestingly enough, is to provide opportunities for employees to grow and succeed.

Leading with Purpose – How Nordstrom Won My Business and Kept It

Purpose Makes a Difference

Several years ago, I developed a keen interest in learning more about the “secret sauce” of high performing companies that are driven by purpose. Since then, my partner Rob Andrews and I have built a successful consulting practice on a model we developed called Total Performance Leadership™ (TPL), which defines nine disciplines that are consistently present in companies with high-performing cultures. The body of evidence confirming the power of purpose in business continues to grow every day.

Here’s an interesting fact –The most profitable companies are often not the most profit-focused. This supports the findings in Jim Collins’ and Jerry Porras’ book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Legendary Companies, which showed that between 1926 and 1990 a group of eighteen “visionary” companies — those guided by a purpose beyond making money — returned six times more to shareholders than explicitly profit-driven rivals.

Here’s another fact – A 2016 EY Beacon Institute and Harvard Business Review Analytics Survey found that “almost 90% of executives surveyed said their companies understood the importance of purpose, but only 46 percent said it informs their strategic and operational decision-making.” In our research for TPL, we learned that there’s a good reason why most companies don’t do this – because it ain’t easy.

The Secret Sauce – Great Leadership

Building a high-performing, purpose driven company requires an extraordinary leader. They must be smart, resourceful and focused, while simultaneously dealing with the pressures of short termism, and myriad other challenging distractions. Professor Michael Beer of the Harvard Business School says “You can’t just adopt it … It must be driven….by the CEO and the top leadership team. It is essential that companies develop leaders that can communicate and align the whole organization around purpose. It’s easy to state a purpose and state a set of values. It’s much harder to enact them in the organization because it requires you to continually search for consistency across many disciplines and many activities.”

Clearly, I’m a true believer. However, nothing crystalizes impact of the power of purpose first-hand, as being the customer of one of these great companies. To this point, I’d like to share with you a quick story about my experience as a customer of Nordstrom. But first, let me set some context.


Nordstrom isone of the “visionary” companies featured in the book Built to Last. For almost a century, the company has remained steadfastly true to these four founding principles:

Service to the customer above all else
Hard work and productivity
Continuous improvement, never being satisfied,
Excellence in reputation, being part of something special.

These principles help the company keep things simple and focused. For example, Nordstrom’s employee handbook consists of a single five-by-eight-inch card, and reads, in its entirety:


We’re glad to have you with our Company.

Our number one goal is to provide outstanding customer service.

Set both your personal and professional goals high.

We have great confidence in your ability to achieve them.

Nordstrom Rules:

Rule #1: Use your good judgement in all situations. There will be no additional rules.

Please feel free to ask your department manager, store manager or division general manager any question at any time.

The Nordstrom Experience

I have been a loyal Nordstrom customer for years. Living in Houston, Texas where the most popular retail and tourist destination is the Houston Galleria, there are many large retailers to choose from, including Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom and Macys. So why Nordstrom? They all offer many of the same brands, at similar prices. But that’s where the similarities stop.

When I shop at Nordstrom, I feel special. Several years ago, while shopping for a suit, a fellow named Dave in the men’s clothing department spent about 90 minutes helping me make my selection, and another 45 minutes ensuring the alterations were correct. I was a happy camper. Over the years, I purchased a lot of clothing from Dave and he ALWAYS paid special attention to me. He understood my taste in clothing, got to know me personally and became the closest thing to a personal shopper that I have ever had. And unlike the other big retailers, Nordstrom never charged me for alterations. Dave even altered a few things for me that I had purchased elsewhere – at no charge! Now that’s service.

Three years ago, Dave was retiring from Nordstrom, and asked me to stop by the store, so he could introduce me to a young man he thought would be a good fit to replace him as my haberdasher. Even though he was leaving, Dave cared enough to help ensure I would remain a satisfied Nordstrom customer after he was gone. Talk about above and beyond the call of duty!! But then Dave was a part of the Nordstrom culture.

Fast forward to January 2017. Donald Trump had just been elected President, winning a surprise upset victory over Hillary Clinton. The electorate were shell shocked, and amidst all the post-election hubbub, I began hearing rumors that certain large retailers, including Nordstrom, announced that they were discontinuing Ivanka Trump’s fashion line, ostensibly to protest the election results. For some reason, this really bothered me. I was surprised and disappointed that Nordstrom would reduce themselves to comingling politics with commerce. It seemed to contradict everything the company stood for. Alas, Nordstrom had lost some of its luster. So, on February 6, 2017, I sent an email to Blake Nordstrom to let him know how disappointed I was, and that I would no longer be shopping in his stores. Candidly, I didn’t expect a reply – I should have known better. Here is the verbatim string of emails that transpired between Blake and me during the first few weeks of February 2017.

Game on, Mr. Nordstrom


From: Tom Fritsch

To: Blake Nordstrom

Subject: Discontinuing Ivanka Trump Clothing Line

Good Evening Mr. Nordstrom,

My wife and I have been loyal customers of Nordstrom’s for years. In my experience, the company has consistently fulfilled John Nordstrom’s core commitment that “Nordstrom works relentlessly to give customers the most compelling shopping experience possible.” It’s been refreshing to experience an organization that is true to its core purpose, and in doing so Nordstrom’s had earned my absolute loyalty. Shopping for my Canali clothing at your store in the Houston Galleria has always been a pleasure. I was therefore very disappointed to learn of your decision to discontinue carrying Ivanka Trump’s clothing line for obviously political reasons. Accordingly, I have decided to discontinue my loyalty to your brand. I will no longer shop at Nordstrom’s and shall lobby my friends and colleagues to boycott your stores as well.

Best Regards,

Tom Fritsch




From: Blake Nordstrom

To: Tom Fritsch

Subject: Discontinuing Ivanka Trump Clothing Line

Dear Mr. Fritsch,

Thank you for taking the time to write and allow me to personally address this. I want to apologize that you believe we’ve mishandled this situation. We agree, politics should not be involved. We’ve said along we support our buyers to purchase merchandise they see fit and the broad and diverse set of customers we serve. Our buyers passed on next season’s line of goods because the performance has fallen precipitously, so much we can no longer sustain these results.


Blake Nordstrom




From: Tom Fritsch

To: Blake Nordstrom

Subject: Discontinuing Ivanka Trump Clothing Line

Dear Blake,

Thank you for taking the time to respond to me. I appreciate it. If you say your decision to discontinue the Trump line of clothing & merchandise is not politically motivated, then I believe you. I would suggest that you personally & publicly declare your position in a very deliberate way, because claiming that Nordstrom’s decision is politically motivated fits the dishonest narrative being advanced by the far left and mainstream media. Many of my colleagues, both liberal and conservative have been angered by this.

I respect chief executives who are true to their word and therefore will share your response with my friends and colleagues and encourage them to give you the benefit of the doubt as well.

Thanks again for your reply.

All the best,

Tom Fritsch




From: Blake Nordstrom

To: Tom Fritsch

Subject: Discontinuing Ivanka Trump Clothing Line

Dear Tom,

Some customers have been taken aback because it has been reported that we announced this decision. We have never announced a business decision of this type and didn’t in this case either. We did, though, respond to questions from customers who noticed a decrease in the merchandise offering online and called in inquire. Our responses were then reported by the media as a statement and in turn interpreted as being politically-influenced.

We agree that politics has no place in retail and are heartsick that longtime customers are left questioning their goodwill and patronage. We’re most appreciative of customers like yourself who are giving us a chance to explain.




From: Tom Fritsch

To: Blake Nordstrom

Subject: Discontinuing Ivanka Trump Clothing Line

Thank you, Blake. Nordstrom’s is such a strong brand, with a well-deserved reputation for exceptional customer service, that I’m sure the company will be just fine. BTW, I prefer shopping at your store more than I do at the new Canali store that was opened last year.

Your merchandise is great, but your customer service is what puts Nordstrom’s in a class by itself. I’m pleased that we sorted this out because I really do love your stores and your people.

I wish you all the best, Blake.




From: Blake Nordstrom

To: Tom Fritsch

Subject: Discontinuing Ivanka Trump Clothing Line

Thank you, Tom. I appreciate your kind words and look forward to having you back into our stores soon!



The Punchline

It impressed me that Blake Nordstrom took time out of his busy schedule to read my message and respond so quickly. Seriously, how many other senior executives would do this?

Blake and his brothers Pete and Erik, are fourth generation co-presidents of Nordstrom, a global retail powerhouse with annual sales more than $15 billion and over 70,000 employees. Iam sure he gets many emails every day from customers like me. Despite his many responsibilities, Blake obviously felt that it was important to respond to me. That is special, and more importantly, there is no question in my mind that excellent customer service is a top priority for everyone at Nordstrom.

I think Blake Nordstrom epitomizes purpose driven leadership, and that Nordstrom is the gold standard for high-performing, purpose driven companies. It is therefore no surprise that Nordstrom is ranked by Forbes as one of the Best Employers for Diversity, one of the Top Regarded Companies, one of the World’s Best Employers, one of America’s Best Employers, and one of America’s Top Public Companies.

Thank you, Blake!

Optimistic, Pessimistic, Opportunistic, or Realistic?

We all have expectations when it comes to our lives, our businesses, and our overall success. We have a vision of how things should go for ourselves, and what we want our future to look like. Sometimes, how you view things will have a huge impact on the actual results that you get. Let’s look at a few ways that you might look at your personal and professional life, and what difference each viewpoint can truly make with regards to how you see and experience the world.

The Optimistic View – When you look at your business and your life optimistically, it doesn’t mean that everything will go exactly as you plan. However, it means that you absolutely believe that in the end, everything will work out in your favor. If your expectations and attitude are positive, everything changes. Regardless of how long it takes and what the outcomes might be, being an optimistic thinker provides the energy, motivation, and excitement to push you forward every day. So, even if you feel that there needs to be improvement in your relationships, your wealth, or just your future in general, be confident in knowing that with the right approach, commitment, and outlook, everything is going to be ok.

The Pessimistic View – Because things don’t go our way at times, we tend to think negatively, and assume that the future will just be a repeat of the past; we expect the same results and end up feeling rejected and helpless. Sometimes, we even stop trying and end up saying, “What’s the use?” This gloomy and negative view becomes a vicious cycle, and is an absolute dream killer, inspiration killer, and action killer. Don’t be a part of it. I know that it’s not always easy to be cheerful and positive when things don’t go your way, but we have to believe that in these cases, the past does not equal the future. Remember, we have the ability to do something different or make things happen at any time that can completely and positively change the direction of our lives and our future success.

The Opportunistic View – Another beneficial approach to your business and life occurs when you look for any and all options that will lead you to ultimate happiness and success. There is always more than one way to get the results that you seek, so if one doesn’t work, be creative and find another. Don’t throw a pity party; chalk up your failures to experience, and get excited about new possibilities and better outcomes that will result. Those who are successful and happy have gotten really good at looking at alternative solutions to every day issues. Don’t be afraid to be one of these people, and pursue every new opportunity that can bring you everything that you need and want now, and in the future.

The Realistic View – You’ve heard of the saying, “It is what it is”. Sometimes we just have to accept what life throws at us. We cannot control everything. However, what ultimately matters the most is not what happens to us, but how we respond to what happens to us. So, when things don’t go your way, don’t fret; there will always be another chance for you around the corner. Every day is a new day; miracles happen all the time, and another door will open soon. The key to resiliency, and getting back on your feet, often lies in your acknowledgement of the situation. You are human. Take things as they come and don’t beat yourself up too much if you don’t get the results you want 100% of the time. With acceptance comes growth, knowledge, and maturity.

How you choose to view your business and your life will go a very long way in determining your overall stress and happiness level. You have choices to make in every aspect of your life, so my question to you is, “Why not choose to see things positively, optimistically, and opportunistically”? Believe in yourself, what you can accomplish, and that the best is still waiting for you. Believe that things will work out for you the way they should and that you will be better off because of it. The world is yours, so go out there and conquer it. Although you need to put in the work and time to get the results you desire, it happens a lot more easily when you have unlimited confidence, an unwavering faith in yourself, and a positive mindset and attitude that is dedicated to long-lasting growth and success.

The Power of the Pen, The Clock and The Spoken Word

Every now and then, someone comes along as an example of authentic leadership, whose keen insight into the hearts of others compels people to stretch the horizons of their possibilities. Every so often, someone shares a profound message that on the surface has value in business but if you allow, it can strengthen your foundation at home.

I was surprised when that introspective, tender-hearted, spirit filled “Yoda” turned out to be linebacker…

Okay, used to be a linebacker. He was also one of the most outstanding coaches in the NFL, Mike Singletary. Mike was one of the most dominant defensive forces in the 80’s, causing ball carriers to fear running into the zone covered by one of the finest linebackers to play in the NFL. His intensity and leadership shown on and off the field were a major factor in the Chicago Bears winning the 1986 Super Bowl. I heard him speak in Houston at the Greater Houston Partnership Leadership meeting to a packed audience of business people representing a true cross-section of our city.

This is not a book report on Mike’s presentation. The comments are in reference to the points that especially stood out to me personally. There is a major difference between having a vision and having a dream. Dreams are possibilities we think about, roll around in our heads, play within our minds, and offer fuel to make our current situation tolerable as we believe in, hopefully, a better tomorrow. Dreams, however, create no action or direction if we do not turn them into a vision. Vision generates power from three components: it is written down, there is a timeline or timeframe to make it a reality and it is shared with someone else for a sense of accountability. This is how you create forward motion and move out of perpetual dreamland.

There is a major difference between having a vision and having a dream. Dreams are possibilities we think about, roll around in our heads, play within our minds, and offer fuel to make our current situation tolerable as we believe in, hopefully, a better tomorrow. Dreams, however, create no action or direction if we do not turn them into a vision. Vision generates power from three components: it is written down, there is a timeline or timeframe to make it a reality and it is shared with someone else for a sense of accountability. This is how you create forward motion and move out of perpetual dreamland.

I stood in the line to shake hands, smirking at the girl who brought a camera to have a picture taken with him. I also wondered if it was proper protocol to ask a complete stranger if they would use their camera to take my picture as we shook hands and send a copy to me by email. Either common sense or fear prevailed.

When I finally reached the front of the line, I saw firsthand from close range the tremendous intensity in Mike’s eyes, a blessing you might miss from the back row of tables where I sat. I had heard his words and experienced the visual picture of a man comfortable in who he was, who believed without a doubt the credibility and importance of his message. Yet when I met him personally, even after an hour-long presentation, his eyes remained locked on mine causing me to feel that my meager attempt of an introduction was as important to him as his moving delivery was to me.

I asked Mike if I could comment on his presentation in my blog, telling him I would have it finished by the end of the week. Once completed and posted I would email him a link to it. Immediately on returning to my office, I jotted it on my action plan and told two people on our leadership team that I would have a blog finished by morning. This was not the first time someone suggested to me the importance of writing down what you want to accomplish or setting deadlines to make things happen or making verbal commitments. This straight forward, very specific message screamed loudly to me that there is power in the pen, there is power in timelines, and there is power in seeking accountability by speaking intentions to others.

I now have a vision, no longer a dream, of writing another blog, trying to find inspiration from interviews I conduct with CEOs of major corporations. Tonight, I am writing…go figure…

Which Retailers and Food Service Operators Will Win In 2018 And Beyond?

The customer of today scarcely resembles the customer of 1998, and yet many retailers are still operating as if we are still in 20th century. Customers today have more choices than ever, have changing tastes, and demand a total value proposition that is much different than it was just a few years ago. Organizations competing for the food and retail dollar will have to be better, smarter, faster, and more creative than ever before. Operators we’ve studied that significantly outperform their peers, without exception, exhibit strong leadership in these nine disciplines.

1.Unified Leadership: Every high performing retailer we’ve studied has a cohesive, unified leadership team, in which each member understands they own the challenges of the entire organization, and not just their own departmental challenges. A high-performing team is one in which trust, healthy debate, shared vision, accountability, and results orientation exists. Most leadership teams are not teams at all, rather a collection of individuals who often compete for position, airtime, and resources. Transforming a group of talented individuals into a unified team takes work process, patience, and commitment. The results are well worth the effort. Retail and food service organizations in which the marketers, accountants and operators have competing priorities are missing huge opportunities to get everyone on the boat rowing in the same direction.

2. Purpose: Harnessing the power of purpose, inspiring stakeholders & delivering exceptional returns. Less than 5% of organizations overall operate with a clear sense of purpose. TPL companies like QuikTrip, Panera Bread, Arby’s, Wegman’s, and Nordstrom engage their workforces, especially millennials, with a purpose greater than just making money. The workforce of today is not driven by the same things that drove baby boomers. Today’s up and coming leaders want to work for companies that are committed to a clear purpose that somehow makes the world a better place. Purpose driven organizations outperform their peers. The data is irrefutable.

3. Hiring: Using disciplined hiring practices to assess cultural fit and the ability and drive to deliver exceptional results. Hiring practices worldwide at every level are broken. Following proven, time and battle-tested hiring processes at every level ensure screening out B and C players in favor of A players, which aligns the right candidates around cultural fit, personal and professional attributes, and performance expectations. QuikTrip, the world’s best run C-Store operator, built an employment brand that compels 100 people to apply for everyone they hire. They then screen for employees who want to work hard, win, and assimilate in to the QT culture.

4. Stakeholder Engagement: Fulfilled, collaborative employees, providers, and shareholders who are committed to the company’s objectives. According to Gallup, the American and Global, workforces are 70% and 90% disengaged, respectively. Providers are viewed as necessary evils and shareholders are only interested in short-term returns. The best performing organizations in the world have a vast majority of all their employees working hard toward the organization’s objectives. The right values, vision, mission, strategy, and big, hairy audacious goals are necessary for workforce engagement. The best also treat their shareholders, suppliers, and providers as partners.

5. Clarity: Stakeholders understand the company’s strategy, know where the organization is going, how it will get there, and their role in making it happen. Clarity is necessary to perform at optimal levels. In organizations with great clarity, communications are delivered so that constituents believe that their leaders know where they are going, believe what they are saying and are connecting effectively with their needs and desires. Exceptional CEOs like Blake Nordstrom, Chet Cadieux, Paul Brown and Colleen Wegman are communicators extraordinaire. Spending as much as 40% of their time in stores and corporate departments, they deliver clarity that adds a sense of calm and direction to an otherwise frenetic workplace. The emphasis on hiring must be cultural alignment and specific performance expectations.

6. Customer Focus: Relentless customer commitment, anticipating their needs and creating raving fans. Optimal performance requires an unyielding focus on customers. It’s not necessarily just about what you sell, but what you stand for. Strategies that don’t begin with the customer in mind tend to underperform. Those that lose sight of the customer will likely cease to exist. Gap Inc. is dramatically expanding its Old Navy format while trimming back its fleet of Gap and Banana Republic stores, in response to customer demand and/or lack thereof. Beyond store format, selection and so forth, is the seemingly lost art of great customer service. Only a few get this right. Ask a few customers why they shop with you. Better yet, ask a few of your competitor’s customers why they don’t.

7. Measurement:Financial performance, leadership effectiveness, employee engagement and customer delight. Maximizing profitability requires more than reading financial statements, which are largely backward looking. Measuring what matters requires measuring all the critical elements of TPL organizations. The quantitative bias promoted by modern day business methods and schools often misses the most important metrics. Food industry, retail, and foodservice operators who only measure what they teach you in business school are missing the gold. To have a meaningful dashboard from which to run your business, you must measure culture, including the disciplines listed in this piece.

8. Cost: Remove it where the customer can’t feel it. TPL organizations remove as much cost as possible, being very careful not to affect the customer experience. Southwest Airlines, H-E-B, QuickTrip and Koch Industries do it extremely well, by removing costs from supply chain, building costs, and employee turnover. Top performing companies do not take cost out of the business by removing service and benefits from customers and stakeholders. H-E-B has probably done more to remove unnecessary costs from its supply chain than any other of its competitors, which is why they own most of their markets. It’s also why they can come very close to Walmart pricing and still provide a stellar customer experience.

9. Awareness: Healthy Paranoia, never take success for granted, always push for improvement. 88% of the Fortune 500 companies in 1955 are extinct. Arrogance, inaction, and unawareness are three of the biggest killers of modern day businesses. Once an organization’s leaders think they’ve arrived, they’ve begun their decline. Iconic brands such as Sears, Kmart, Dominic’s, Randall’s, Marsh Supermarkets, Stop-n-Go, and Bennigan’s are either gone or nearly gone. Global business is moving and changing at a dizzying rate and all who don’t pay close attention run the risk of extinction.

Don’t Dwell On What You’ve Done; Focus On What You Haven’t

Isn’t it funny how so many of us can do 99 things well out of 100 and yet only focus on the one thing that we didn’t do well? That one unsuccessful task or result seems to haunt our thoughts relentlessly, as if being 99% efficient was a bad thing. Maybe it’s just human nature; or maybe we just need to learn how to let go more often, and get excited about what lies ahead.

You can always look back at your business and your life and see that some goals were met and some weren’t. Some breaks went your way, some didn’t. You were lucky in some cases, and not so in others. The point here is that you are human – you are not perfect and never will be. Therefore, when you look at your track record, be proud of what you’ve accomplished, but be persistent in areas where you haven’t. The things that didn’t go your way must be chalked up to learning experiences, and therefore, must not be looked at as failures. Instead, let them motivate you to find alternative solutions that can still bring out the results that you desire.

I have always found what I don’t know, or what I still haven’t tried, to be exciting. Why? Because learning something new, creating something new, or implementing something new can bring me the results sooner and in a better or more efficient way. How will I know if I haven’t tried it, or if I never knew it existed? It is my responsibility to find out what those things are, whether I research it and do it on my own, or find other experts who can teach me and assist me in making it happen. Remember, this is your life – there is no time to waste when it comes to doing everything that you can to achieve true greatness and fulfill your absolute potential.

Life is not about living in the past; it is about learning from it, taking action and having fun in the present, and building and anticipating a better future. The only way that your future can be brighter is if you are making the most out of every moment in the here-and-now. Don’t settle for just being good; make it your mission to be the best. Find out whatever that means for you, and make it happen. You will learn a lot about business and life that way, and even more about yourself. Success is not always based on what you do; it is often based on whom you become on your journey to get there.

Take the time to jot down what you still want to accomplish in your business and life, and identify the steps and strategies that you have already used. Reinforce the positive approaches from the past and use the negative experiences as learning opportunities. Put more of your focus on new ideas that will spearhead growth, knowledge, and development. Don’t let fear slow you down. Welcome the unknown and get excited about what lies ahead for you. There is still a lot more that can be done to make you an even bigger star; it’s not what you don’t know that will prevent it, it’s the limits that you place on yourself to get there that will.

Does Past History Help to Predict Future Performance?

The recruiting process is supposedly designed to ferret out talent a potential employee possesses, to provide insight in selecting the right person to join our team. So why do people appear to succeed in previous roles, then fall short of expectations when we hire them? Development of recruiting approaches in recent years has honed the process of behavioral style interview techniques to minimize this experience. Simply put, interview questions should prod respondents to explain where in their employment history they have exhibited similar skills and capabilities to your needs. If they successfully accomplished it for someone else, wouldn’t it make sense they would be successful with you?

Jamey Rootes, President of the Houston Texans of the National Football League, and I discussed interview questions that provided insight into successful hiring. I was anxious to visit with Jamey, given his success with IBM, Proctor and Gamble, developing a professional soccer team in Ohio and then leading the front office for the Texans. He joined when the franchise license was first purchased for $700 million (only the right to develop a team, not purchasing an existing team!) and in less than fifteen years amassed a leadership team that built the Texans into an organization recognized globally as one of the most valued franchises in professional sports.

The Texans are building a world-class organization, comprised of exceptional athletes and a support staff who understand the importance of creating special moments for their fans. Their focus is on selecting people for their organization who believe in working as a team, off the field as well as on, and identifying talent where customer service is a part of the person, not just something someone could do.

When asked about favorite interview questions, Jamey explained: “you hire attitude over skill and you make sure that what you are looking for is a part of their character”. On the surface, it seemed like he was looking for previous experiences or as I phrased it “behavioral style interviews”. He corrected me by pointing out that we ask the question of where they may have dealt with a customer service situation, what was the environment, what was the result, what were the parameters of their role in the process. His focus was on how they handled the situation, not just looking for a particular skill. The key for him, however, was the follow-up question. “Give me another example”. After they completed their response, he followed again with “Give me one more”. His view was that successful hires center around confirming that the criteria we were seeking had to be a part of a person’s character, of their natural tendency and not simply an experience they had.

How many times do we breathe a sigh of relief, checking off a box that someone appears to have the difficult skill or knowledge we are seeking? Successful interview questions unveil repeatable, sustained experiences that begin to show how a person thinks, approaches circumstances and reveals attitude. Because someone appears to possess talent in an area does not indicate how effectively or how consistently they will use it, especially under deadlines or pressure.

“Give me another” should be a standard part of our interview process (unless you are hiring a bartender), to help us determine how much impact the past will truly have on the future.