What Are You Building?

Construction on high-rise tower

You are building something. Leaders, by their very nature, build. What are you building? An organization? Products or services? A legacy? Hope? All of those are good things for leaders to build. I argue, though, that the most effective leaders focus on building the people who run those organizations, create the products and services, carry on the legacy, and deliver on the hope. Equipped and capable people are the best path to organizational effectiveness and long-term success.

Here’s a case in point:
According to a recent article in Inc., Chick-fil-A far outpaces its competition in per store revenue and ranks 8th overall in total sales despite being open only 6 days per week and having only 1/8 as many outlets as McDonald’s.

How does Chick-fil-A do this? Is it better marketing? The cow commercials and billboards are fun, but I don’t think they account for that level of success. Is it higher quality food? I’ve eaten at all the major fast-food restaurants. I like Chick-fil-A, but can’t say it’s significantly higher quality. It must be something else.

The Inc. article says a key reason for Chick-fil-A’s success is the good manners of the employees.

Good manners? Smiling, saying “Please” and “Thank you” translates into stellar per store revenue? That’s what the analysis seems to say.

You might be saying, “Yeah. No big deal.” You already know the role of good manners and a pleasant demeanor in your workplace. It does make a difference. So the Chick-fil-A story shouldn’t be a surprise. However, there’s likely a big difference between your workplace and Chick-fil-A. From what I know about our readers at LeadStrategic.com, most of you work with highly skilled workers and professionals. Good manners and demeanor is something we take for granted. At Chick-fil-A, though, we’re talking about low or minimum-wage employees.

How do you get that crowd to be so pleasant in a fast-paced environment with customers who have high expectations for accurate and fast service. The Inc. article quotes a Business Insider article that explains Chick-fil-A’s philosophy on this:

Chick-fil-A says its service is so consistent because it invests more than other companies in training its employees and helping them advance their careers — regardless of whether those careers are in fast food.

Franchisees are encouraged to ask their new hires what their career goals are and then to try to help them achieve those goals.

Chick-fil-A builds employees. They build people.

I’m posting this article in the middle of December. This is the time of year when most leaders think ahead to strategies for having a better year next year.

Better how? Revenue? Production efficiency? Error reduction? What are the metrics your organization uses to determine whether 2017 will be a success? If your organization is like most, the metrics do not include number of employee hours in professional development seminars. The list probably does not include percentage of employee time committed to developmental job roles. And reimbursed tuition dollars isn’t likely on the list, either.

Most of us are not senior executives and we don’t have the authority to implement such programs. I will say, though, that any leader at any level can utilize two general approaches to develop people.

First, you can have conversations that start with these questions:

  • Jack, what’s something you’ve always wanted to learn how to do but never had the chance.?
  • Melissa, I’ve noticed you have an interest in ________. How can we capitalize on that?
  • Terry, I know you weren’t able to finish that degree and we don’t have a tuition reimbursement program, but would you help in finding a mentor so you can learn about ________?
  • Sandy, I’ve got a big project coming in 2017 and I could really use a partner to work with. Would you be interested in exploring that?
  • Aaron, in your previous job you had experience with ________. Can we explore how to leverage your experience with that?
  • … and so on.

Follow through on the ideas that come from these conversations is hard. You’ll be investing some extra time. Cancel or skip one meeting a week and you’ll have plenty of time for this! Also, you should not do most of the work. It’s their growth, they should invest of their time, too! The payoff down the road can be phenomenal!

Second, and this takes a lot more analysis and trust on your part, look carefully at your work. You do a lot of things that do not require “your eyes only.” Each of those things has potential for being developmental experiences for others on your team.

It will take more work initially, and it may feel like you’re training others to do your job. The truth is that you are training people to be leaders. You’ll be helping them see the work your team does as a leader. You’ll be giving them experiences that help them apply for and land that next big job. The work of the team will be stronger the more that they see what the team does through leadership eyes and with their skills and gifts.

Stop and ask yourself, “What am I really building?” Carefully assess how your time is invested. Are you building things? Or just a group of people getting the work done?

I challenge you to build something bigger. Really big!

Dr. Scott Yorkovich is a leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, small and medium organizations, and ministries. Contact him at ScottYorkovich[at]LeadStrategic.com with your questions.

Photo by 贝莉儿 NG. Photo available at Unsplash under CC0 license. Image modified for size and space.

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