What PKFs Can Learn from Country Music

Modern country music blends the best of traditional American values of hopes and dreams with classical rock rhythms and melodies.  It is difficult for even the most ardent anti-cowboy listener to avoid toe-tap while listening to some of the classics and modern hits alike.  Country stars crossover to rock and pop a even some country singers are involving aspects of rap (with a better vocabulary and message, of course).

Yet, even if you aren’t a fan of modern country music, there are lessons to be learned.   Studying (and implementing) their success benefits all aspects of our firms and professions.

First, the historical legends are never far from center stage.  Those trailblazers that helped established a fledgling musical style are honored and revered.  The history is rebuilt into the future.  The young stars and hopefuls know their history, know how their music was developed, and proudly expand their offerings to a new generation without abandoning what came before.  Innovation and collaboration are two hallmarks that separate country music and most professionals.

Country, more so than rock and pop,  certainly appears to collaborate frequently.  They produce duos and join forces for songs and tributes that expand their individual capacities.  I rarely witness true collaboration in CPA, Law, or other Knowledge firms.  PKF’s are fearful of collaboration believing there is no benefit and only risks of losing an edge over the (perceived) competition.  In fact, this stubbornness by leaders of these professions creates excessive waste in human capital, fixed capital, and redundancy.  What we all need to do is constuct more duos and collaborative services where we align to serve new  and mature markets, alike.

Country music stars of today coach the stars of tomorrow, as they were coached by former stars. Even though they have separate bands, labels, and musical styles, the leaders of today invest in relationships by assisting the newcomers.  And when the newbie wins a prestigious award that the stars of today were nominated for, these leaders hoot and holler, clap and cheer, and genuinely support the winner without whining about their current popularity or success.

PKFs rarely, if ever, help develop the talent of their future competition.  PKFs see the world as a zero sum game instead of one of abundance.  They don’t value sharing their love of their work and guard their ideas like they wholly own them.  PFKs struggle to even share within their organizations and frequently treat each of their own in ways akin to how a Piranha treats a fledgling fish.

Envision how PKFs could change the world by working together rather than apart?  How firms could coordinate talent across party lines to serve the public good?  How firms could end duplication and specialize where they are strong and collaborate where they are weak?  How leaders could spot the young talent and help nurture even if it is a long-term strategy?

You can’t fake true admiration and awe.  I was privileged to attend Entertainer of the Year, George Straits’ final large venue concert.  He is clearly loved and beloved by fans and fellow performers alike.  He shared his stage with nine (9) other superstars of today and yesterday.  Each of whom he had collaborated with, toured with, coached, and supported.  The tears of joy shared by, between, and among these stars was genuine and moving. Even when one of the stars slipped on a lyric, there was laughter and happiness.  The value of being a family; and not just a competitor.

Leaders of PKFs should learn from the success of country music.  Learn to share with others the love of your profession.  Find talent wherever it is and coach, teach, and admire their future growth.  Find other firms and professionals to collaborate with and share your joint talents for the benefit of all.

Silo thinking is rotgut of the professions.  It is time to expand our horizons and partner up for a stronger and more collaborative future.

Craft Beer,The Recovering Lawyer & Billable Hours

SSBCLogo1.3-268x300Very recently a recovering lawyer, Kate Henning from Smiling Samoyed Brewery, wrote to me. Kate gave me permission to repost part of her email to me:

“I have been following what you say about structure/pricing of law firms and how it is outdated. Unfortunately couldn’t get the tide to turn where I was working. It is utterly demoralising working to the billable hour. I often think when we have something go wrong at the brewery – for example a stuck mash that adds time to the brew day – that there would be absolute outrage if various batches of beer cost more than others. Sorry, something went wrong in the process so this one is going to cost more! Customers would soon turn off a brewery that did that. I don’t know why they accept it from law firms.” ( emphasis mine)

 

“It is utterly demoralising working to the billable hour”. I would love a dollar for every time I have heard- and continue to hear- a similar expression; be it from current lawyers, ex lawyers or in house lawyers.

Why is it do you think that working to the billable hour is demoralising especially for some young lawyers? Is it maybe because:

  • all young lawyers are inherently lazy and only want to work between the hours of 9-5 maybe 5 but preferably 4 days per week? ( I think not-they are professionals they will work hard if there is a valid purpose )or
  • daily billable hour targets are too unrealistic (we all know that to do 6 billable hours you need to “work” another 6 non billable hours)? or
  • given the amount of work available to reach daily billable hour targets some lawyers need to creep/cheat a little each day on their timesheet to appease the system (and who is going to know anyway)? or
  • at the end of each month some/alot of young lawyers time is written off by their supervising partner (and they are not told why)? or
  • notwithstanding what the firm may say most of the KPI’s for young lawyers are primarily, if not solely, based around how much $ they make for the firm (and as the firm bills by the hour that is directly related to how many hours he/she bills each year)? or
  • the inevitable billing dilemma a young lawyer finds himself/herself in when faced with looking at the estimate given to the client at the beginning of the matter and what is now “on the clock” (do I “bill & duck”, or write off; who do I fear most- my partner or my client?)? or
  • having to face a client who is suffering “bill shock”( perhaps because the partner is too busy/important to deal with fee complaints)? or
  • making any professional account for every 6 minutes of their day is 19th century factory floor command and control management? or
  • they, their peers and their employers know it is wrong and a sub optimal business model but the firm refuses to consider, let alone implement, any alternative?

 

I and many others have previously written about why timesheets are, amongst other demotivators, such big innovation killers, and what will happen to firms that fail to innovate. Ignorance is no longer an excuse for any professional firm-they know there are viable proven alternatives to the “we sell time ” business model yet many firms refuse to change.

Why some clients still accept time based billing is also beyond comprehension-perhaps unsophisticated clients know nothing better but sophisticated clients really have no excuse.

There are thankfully now more and more innovative firms and their clients who are reaping the mutual benefits of a non time based environment.The external disruptors and other non law firm entrants taking market share away from traditional law firms have long realised this.

In the meantime for those lawyers and clients who feel “trapped” in the billable hour system, maybe a visit to Smiling Samoyed Brewery or a taste of their craft brew at selected outlets might, temporarily at least, take your mind off your “demoralisation”?*

John-Chis

Disclaimer: The author has not (regrettably) been bribed or coerced in anyway in promoting this craft brewery or the over indulgence of any alcohol for that matter during the construction of this post.

 

How would Charles Darwin see you?

DodoIt isn’t about survival of the fittest. Darwin actually held that the most adaptable were the survivors. So, are you and your business adapting or are you heading down the path of the Dodo?

The current environment is one where there are so many changes taking place that the firm of 20 years ago will find it hard to compete. I know looking at my business and the work we do that to produce our current output, 20 years ago we would have required a heap more people and resources. Thankfully, technology has developed and enables us to create the results etc that our customers want and need.

But, there are two other components that are vital – your people and your customers. Unfortunately, a lot of firms “out there” have taken on (some very grudgingly) the technological change, but they have made few, if any steps, toward adapting their approach to their people or their customers.

Most of my thinking here comes from the “Growth Curve” approach which looks at “Three Gates” – people, process and profit. The technology has helped us deal with and adapt to the process gate, but I am seeing very little in the way of adaptation to the profit or people gates.

The profit gate needs to be adapted to by looking at the way that you engage with your customers, the service you offer them and the methods by which you price and they value what they get from you. The arcane approach that is the timesheet is becoming less and less popular (as can be evidenced by a brief review of other posts on this site) and customers are demanding more certainty, clarity and comfort that they are not signing on to an annuity stream for the advisor whereby they are being charged and billed for the advisor’s inefficiency or learning. In effect, given the timesheet places the customer and the advisor in directly opposed positions, the customer is now waking up to the fact that they want to know in advance what the price for the work will be. Those firms that do not adapt to this emerging reality will find it very difficult to retain or attract customers where other firms out there offer this as an alternative.

The people gate is the other area where firms are finding it difficult or are not wanting to adapt. The blunt object that is the timehseet that is used for performance management in many firms is rapidly becoming redundant. As an example, we recently advertised for an accountant and one of the headlines in the ad was “no timesheets”. We have had some sensational applicants for the role who are currently working in accounting firms in town where they are managed and measured by the timesheet. I don’t know about you, but if my performance is being measured in 6 minute increments, it is going to be fairly meaningless to me. I want to be judged on results and outcomes. Inputs are irrelevant. Hence – particularly with our Gen Y guys – our people want to be and remain relevant and highly valued based on what they have added to the business, not how much time they have spent doing it.

Many of the firms with which I speak are afraid of moving from the timehseet and adapting their business model to what the world is slowly going to demand of them. These poor bastards are going to be wondering what hit them in about 5 years’ time when it will be all to late.

They will have few staff and fewer customers but they will be able to account for every single minute of their day.

They will be preceisely irrelevant.

And a future Charles Darwin will wonder why they chose not to adapt.

The Fun Side of a Service Failure: Or – Why a Company Should Have a Contact Us Connection

Once in a great while, we each encounter service challenges. The experience simply didn’t live up to its expectations (I think that is called the Expectation Gap) and my family and I survived one this evening.

We were in Bellevue, Washington for my daughter’s cheer leading competition – and we chose to go to dinner at McCormick & Schmick’s (now part of the Landry Group of restaurants). The menu offered three types of crab and I was in the mood for some Dungeness Crab. One option was Lemon and Garlic and before ordering I asked our waiter some questions (yes it would warm) and a couple of other small items and placed my order. When the meal arrived, there were 3 large sections (call that a crab and a half) and it was in a deep bowl presented on top of some greens, mushrooms, and other vegetables (which I assume were tasty – but never tasted (see copy of message to the leadership below).

Needless to say – I held two conversations with the manager and never did they offer any form of adjustment (mistake in my humble opinion). Now the story gets better. I decide I will contact the leadership and express my suggestions and observations. I went to their website and they do not have a contact us (via the website) button or link (or if they did – it was well hidden). They did have telephone numbers to call and a mailing address to write a letter, but no electronic communication. I could email banquets and make a reservation at one of their locations, but no direct communication option. But – at the bottom of the page was a Facebook button so I clicked it and landed on their Facebook page. So, humble readers, I used their Facebook page to share my story and I have provided a copy of my text here:

Dear Leadership of McCormick & Schmick’s –

I apologize for using Facebook for this message but your website appears to exclude an “e” connection to your leadership –

Suggestion Number 1: Add that to your website so I don’t have provide public feedback – or if it is on your website – make very easy to connect (examples – look at an airline – they have a contact us by multiple ways so they don’t add to a customer’s frustration).

So – here goes –

Suggestion Number 2: Bellevue, Washington – apparently I must have been the guinea pig on a new method for garlic/lemon crab. Now – I understood it was to be “goopy” as a dish- however I never anticipated a presentation with part of the meal below the crab sections, the crab was split but not cracked, I wasn’t provided any cracking tools (until I requested them) – I wasn’t provided a plate for my shells (they ultimately filled up my bowl with the vegetables (guess what – never tasted the vegetables – since heck, they were covered with shells, and then I had to ask for a picking fork (which the restaurant didn’t really have).

Now I have picked oh, maybe 200+ Dungeness in my life – so picking was no big issue – but it would have been nice if….

Hint #2: provide a plate with some wet (with lemon) towels so my hands could at least feel a little clean – never offered or provided

Hint #3: if the guest suggests there is a presentation dilemma as to how best to devour the dish – do not have the waiter suggest that no one will really complain if you “suck” it out of the shell – that may be fine in a backyard crab feed – but heck – we were sitting in your restaurant and I didn’t feel it was appropriate.

Hint 4: When the manager stops by because the waiter (smartly) suggested it since, – the presentation was a disaster and having been told it was a “new” dish – the manager should not only bring a bigger dish for my shells (thank you) but – offer some form of a comp – I wasn’t asking – but let me suggest

Hint 5: Study Marriott (or better yet the Ritz Carlton) and learn how to deal with a customer disappointment – as the best way to earn loyalty is to fix the hiccups while they are in progress and do not have the customer beg for something (not classy – was just simply going to write the CEO a letter – the old fashioned way – but I think Facebook may be better – since now all of your fans will learn from my experience)

Hint 6: When the waiter was advised that we were already Landry card holders – he might have considered that this wasn’t our first restaurant rodeo – but never even considered that and the manager apparently didn’t either

Hint 7: Fixing challenges is easier if your team handles them at the scene – I asked the manager about the job experience of our waiter and was informed that our waiter was in his first waiting job – he was pleasant but under coached – I suggest having a better education program – that is empower them to fix it – offer a free dessert, discount the meal – something – but nope nothing other than to discuss that maybe there could be a better presentation.

Hint 8: Pay attention to customers that care enough to write more than a simple message – plus I lead global seminars on Total Quality Service – and great real life experience stories are the best ones – you might want to follow up with me. Now – on that website version – you would have captured all of my contact information – now you’ll have to find me the old fashioned way – I hope you do I would like to learn how this experience isn’t repeated.

Hint 9: My wife reminded me that white wine should be served in chilled/cold glass and not in one recently warm from dishwasher – as warm glasses ruin cold wine.

Otherwise – nice location – food tasted well, service was genuine (if simply inexperienced – which I can live with as we all start out somewhere – if you want learn how to coach servers – visit Berns Steakhouse in Tampa – there a waiter will have been an assistant waiter for a year – before being allowed to serve alone and they rarely have service problems) but food quality is only 1/3rd of the challenge any restaurant faces – presentation/ease of eating the meal is another 1/3rd and this was, unfortunately, a failure. I hope you are able to remedy this.

BTW – your website would have also requested, the date of my meal (tonight), the location (Bellevue), the time of reservation (8:15), etc. – to make it easier for you to reach out and connect with me.

I hope you do.

Now – I didn’t sign it since they have my Facebook name from the posting – we’ll see if they reach out. I will let you know if they do. Service failures occur frequently. It is how a business fixes the problem that separates success from failure. McCormick & Schmick’s was a Portland restaurant group (my home town) and they went bankrupt a few years ago and were acquired. Maybe I understand now why they did. Maybe they simply didn’t understand TQS – and all service businesses must master total quality service before they can ever achieve pricing power and above average profits. Failures in service lead to business failures and that is a cost a business can not afford to take.

On My Tour of Zappos

Last Thursday, I had the privilege to tour the headquarters of Zappos in Henderson, NV just outside of Las Vegas with my friend and Sage partner Judy Thornell of Baytek. (Thanks, Judy for arranging the tour!) Without question Zappos is an amazing organization. If you ever have the chance to go on the tour, I highly recommend it to a friend/colleague. (A little NPS humor there.)

imageAs soon as you walk in you notice, the place is loud. The lobby/reception area is like no other in that it bustles like a Las Vegas Strip street corner with friends (more later) walking through, talking and high-fiving. What is more this is clearly not an accident, the location was chosen precisely because it is busy. The Zappos culture is on display. It was further demonstrated by this pillow made from a tee-shirt that was on the couch in the reception area.

IMG_0506Jerry (in the red shirt at left) was the ringmaster. He greeted everyone warmly (and loudly) and peppered us with a series of one-liners throughout our wait. At one point, one of the tourists asked about where the men’s room was. Jerry replied without hesitation, “We just use the bushes out front.”

Our tour guide was the effervescent Rocco (on the megaphone above – I told you it was loud) whose title on his card is, I kid you not, Culture Magician. Throughout the tour he referred to his co-workers as “friends in department name” or “my fellow Zapponians.” The use of friends was genuine and did not sound odd, except the first time he said it.

The first and largest department we visited was the CLT – Customer Loyalty Team. This 24-hour a day team is talking on the phones, replying to email and conversing via chat. Chat is the newest part of the team which has increased from 11 people to 55 in the last year. Their mantra which they shouted to us as we walked by is, “Once you go chat, you’ll never go back.” Too funny!

IMG_0507

Every new hire regardless of their position with the company does four weeks of CLT training (that is what they called it). This serves two purposes: 1) it instills the Zappos values and 2) it serves as a backup for their busy Christmas season. Since everyone has done time at CLT they can all pitch in rather than hire temporary workers who do not understand the culture. Brilliant idea!

If the new hire is on the CLT, they then serve an additional three weeks of what is called “incubation: before they are fully on the team.

Every six months the CLT undergoes what is called a “shift bid.” This is where the teams reshuffle and through a bidding process people move from shift to shift or from subteams (like email) to subteam (like chat) in the CLT.

We then met the gal who holds the record for the longest call – 8 hours and 25 minutes. Someone on the tour asked if she took a bathroom break. “One,” she replied. They are currently producing a video about it, but in the meantime you can view this one about the previous record holder, Jennifer S. Her call was a mere four hours!

One of the coolest employee program that Rocco mentioned was the  concierge service for all employees. They can drop off their dry cleaning, get their cars detailed, or even, have a gift purchased for a loved one. Now this is not a free service, the employee pays a fee, plus the price of the purchase, but again, it is a stellar idea.

Next up where the friend on the legal team. For privacy purposes they are the only team that has offices and even they are decorated with big red awnings that are too big for the narrow hallway. CEO Tony Hsieh has a cubical on what is called Monkey Row because it is decorated like a jungle. “Don’t worry, the fire department has approved,” we were told by Rocco.

On the subject of the CEO, we introduced next to the FACE team (they have lots of acronyms, but they are very self effacing about them). FACE stands for Folks that answer CEO email!

Near the end of the tour we were given the opportunity to set in their Royalty Chair. This area is a restaging of a room we saw on the tour previously where friends go to work through and personal goals with a coach. When they achieve their goals they get to sit in the chair. Below is my picture in the chair which they posted on Twitter.

After the tour Judy and I stayed for a brief round of Q&A with Rocco and Renea another tour guide. Perhaps the best answer was in response to a question on following process. “You don’t have to follow our procedures just get the job done,” Rocco responded.

PS – I learned about the Zappos app on iPhone during the tour. Mind you, it is unlikely that I personally will buy anything on it. This is not a reflection of the app, but the fact that my wife Christine is in charge of any and all wardrobe purchases. What is significant is that I showed it to my sister-in-law who initially poo-pooed it saying, “I like to go into shoe stores so I can see and touch and smell the leather.” Well, after five minutes of playing with the app, she said, “I am smelling the leather!”

Customer Service Transparency

MAS 90 Guru, Wayne Schulz, told me about a cool customer service feedback mechanism that 37signals uses. 37signals are the creators of Basecamp, Highrise, Backpack, and Campfire, all web-based collaboration software solutions.

imageWhat they do is post, for all the world to see, the rating of there most recent 100 interactions with customers on a simple three point scale: great, just OK, and not so good. They tally the ratings and post them on a real time basis.

This is brilliant. It is simple, easy to understand, and I would think relatively easy to do.

How about doing them one better and posting it on your home page?

Tax Season Complaining Mantra: Idiots, Fools, and Loons

It never fails. Beginning in January, the professional trade press followed soon thereafter by the associations, then by firm leaders, and finally team members, the complaining about tax (or busy if you prefer) season begins. Then for about 10 weeks, emails, Twitter posts, Facebook status updates, water cooler conversations, to frequently center on the (perceived) misery of the day. I don’t get it. Is our (and My) profession just a bunch of wining wimps and complainers? I mean, get a life people.

Lets look at this issue. One – you (assuming at least this applies to you) are a Professional that freely chose the CPA related Profession. And like a mall-based retailer, this is our Christmas Season. It happens every year and if it didn’t you probably wouldn’t have a job, or a house, or a car. You might be simply another beggar along the exit ramp with a sign – of will work for food. Tax season is our harvest. It is our opportunity to meet with and perform wonderful services for a vast percentage of our citizens and communities.

Yes you may work more then during other months. Yes, you may have more people clamoring for attention then you like.

So What!

Get over it. Grow up and stop complaining about the most profitable and positive cash flow 10 weeks of your year. Yes, Congress adds to compression issues. That is why we have outsourcing. That is why we hire additional team members. That is why we have the opportunity to assist those around us. But complaining harms this entire process.

First – it signals that you are too busy to help your best customers. I have listened to too many CPAs tell their best customers that they are unable to assist until after Tax Day that I want to upchuck when I hear that. Listen to the message: “I am too busy for you”. If you are – fire some customers but never never never ignore, delay, shun, or avoid a good customer when they reach out to you.

Second – it leads people to mope, cry, complain, bitch, articulate, and think about how miserable they are when in fact they should be exhilarated about the prospect of success. Now some CPAs I know – actually love this time of year, kind of like playoff Hockey – the best rise to the top and the mediocre fail to advance.

Third – it limits our future pool of talent in as much as the depression associated with the mantra of no-life for 10 weeks has the effect of driving talent to other opportunities.

Fourth – it is plain tiring

Fifth – it is another demonstration of the lack of leadership in our Profession.

i believe it is possible to work a busy season without working Sundays and most if not all Saturdays. People can ski and vacation during busy season and not feel guilty about it. Children’s events don’t have to missed either. These are simply choices on how you do what you do. Ways to improve busy season include (but not limited to):

– Firing your volume of low profit time wasting customers – scary concept that generates ever expanding profits.

– Project management skills – coordinate in advance what you will do, how you will do it and leave capacity in your day/week for unexpected opportunities that drive future growth of the firm

– Lead and don’t just supervise – communicate regularly with and assist your team. Be a leader.

– Drop your time sheets – they are useless in this environment and waste at least an hour a day and lead to ATMD (accelerated team member depression) because a 12 hour day leads too many professionals trying to figure out what they really did and where to put their time as the fantasy of actively tracking it in real time is just that…..fantasy

– Educate and school your customers about timing and quality of their participation

– Learn to love the Extension –

– Allow your team members the opportunity to decide how/when/where they want to work to complete their tasks.

– Don’t punish the organized because the disorganized fail to keep up. (I once overheard a female construction project manager respond to her boss about her not working Saturday’s was looking bad since all the men were working Saturdays with the following “If I were as disorganized as they are, I too would be working Saturdays.” – what a response.) Pay for performance and not efforts. Working long is not the leading metric, working smart is.

– Don’t add fuel to the fire. Stop your own complaining.

– Take time to be with family and friends. And don’t forget about yourself. Get a massage. Go to Hawaii. Take in a ballgame. You deserve it. Death will come soon enough – so why rush it by adding stress and avoiding the pleasures.

If our Profession wants to be taken seriously – we have to be Professional. We start that by leading by example and engage these opportunities to shine.

Now – take a break, enjoy a cookie, call up your spouse, partner, or friend, and go on a date.

Is Partnering the New Slang for Shafting?

Charles, a long-time and solid business-class customer of my firm, and I were engaged in one of those excellent conversations between advisor/friend and customer/friend that genuinely are enjoyable. Charles has received a sizable contract and with continued good fortune, business through 2016 is already solid. And of course, if business is good for Charles, it will be good for me and my firm. Isn’t business wonderful? But that isn’t the reason for this posting.

During our conversation Charles was describing how this very involved contract came into being. It is quite a story. The most important part is that an upstream contractor wanted to Charles to be part of the overall success and said “we want to partner with you for this contract”. And then Charles looked at me and said “you know Dan, that is usually a lie. They don’t want to partner with you – many times that is code for – I want a lower price today with a promise of more work in the future so help us help you.”

And Charles is correct. I have seen that time and time again. The implied promises of future good things is used to squeeze vendors to the brink of bankruptcy and sellers swallow the lies. I almost view the concept of “partnering for our future” as one of the top 3 business lies (just after the check is in the mail and your my most trusted advisor). The sad thing is that I believe that the majority of business professionals actually desire to develop deep relationships (hence partnering) with the overall supply chain but operate under a misguided notion that short-term results drive long-term success.

Frequently – there is really no opportunity for true partnering between vendor and supplier – the decision makers are too far removed, the paranoia associated with a fear of cozy relationships between buyers and sellers forces larger enterprises to minimize true relationships. And without a relationship – one predicated on openness, trust, loyalty, and ultimate a deep concern (similar to but not equal to love) relationships and partnering aren’t really possible.

When a prospect starts out with suggestions of partnering with me and/or my firm, my radar becomes more focused as I adjust those words to really mean, this prospects want something (referrals, money, sales, introductions, etc.) from me and he is loose with his language as there is no foundation (yet) for true partnering. Partnering evolves over time and like any true relationship cannot be rushed.

So, if you are a buyer or seller – seek relationships and allow partnering to evolve. If you hear those words too early – run, don’t walk, to protect your wallet, reputation, etc.

Oh, after Charles and I shared our cynical view of partnering, he leaned forward and said, “you know, these guys actually meant it. They assisted with financing, introductions, coordination, and overall commitment. This company really understands that working together is our bright future and they are in fact, partners.” That is simply great news for Charles and for all of us to remember that there are people who actually mean what they say and their words are supported by their deeds.

Partnering when possible is the best way for continued long-term business success. Like all ventures and relationships, choose wisely.

Applebees Understands the Neighbor in Neighborhood

While rain started to fall from the mist in the air, 30ish adults (parents, grandparents, teachers – volunteers all) arrived a the Happy Valley, Oregon Applebees restaurant just below our home. Applebees promotes itself as a neighborhood family restaurant and this is one restaurant chain that actually understands and lives by their slogan. In the sense of Simon Sinek, author of Start with Why, Applebees lives their Why! – They are neighbors.

The aforementioned 30ish volunteers gathered at 7:30 this morning to prepare for a PTA sponsored pancake breakfast fundraiser for my daughter’s elementary school. Note, Applebees is not a breakfast establishment – all this is extra work for them. The volunteers arrived on-time and ready to work. Omar, the restaurant manager gave us the kitchen tour and explained that our jobs were to greet, seat, clean, bus, and stage the meal items. Jobs were assigned, and all of us went to work. Thirty minutes later, the patrons started to arrive – there was no chaos. Customers queued, volunteers worked. By the time my 2 hour shift was over, more than 200 people had been served, the entire restaurant was filled with smiling happy people, young and old alike.

Business is frequently criticized for its failings and ignored for their blessings. Applebees opens their restaurant to schools and other civic organizations so they may raise needed funds by providing the community with tangible value. Applebees provides all of the materials – we provide the labor (they are the chefs -and kitchen processes – they maintain standards in the kitchen at all times). Applebees allows the group to charge $7 and earns $2 per meal to cover their direct costs. This is by far more than fair for the organization.

Why do they do it? They (Applebees) does it because it is their Why! – They are in the neighborhood and they support the community – not with 10% of sales but for an entire Saturday morning with nearly 70% of the proceeds (plus tips). The PTA will use the proceeds to support teachers, students, and the school community. Applebees is investing in their future by demonstrating excellent corporate citizenship – someone in the Applebees leadership got it right. And I want to say thank you form the top and bottom of my heart and my mind.

And clearly the next time my family looks for a place for a family meal out – we’ll go back to Applebees and reward them for helping us.

Funny isn’t it. Their act of kindness, doing the right thing for the right reason will return long-term benefits that advertising will never achieve – they are part of my community and if you have one in yours – please support them because clearly they support you.

Thank You American Airlines!

Thank You American Airlines:

Air travel is hectic on a good day. Air travel during peak holiday seasons starts at chaotic and far too frequently moves to frustration, panic, and anger. Today could have been one of those days. It wasn’t.

It wasn’t; because the team at American Airlines at DFW were committed to preventing a difficult travel day from turning into one of those urban legends of uncaring bureaucrats, greedy management, and slothly moving union workers that focus more on their needs then on their customer’s needs.

And I want to shout to the world of naysayers, those hold over nattering nabobs of negativism about the state of affairs at American businesses. I want to shout out that My Airline rocks. That My Airline helped me, my family, and 10 others today and I want to say thanks from the top and the bottom of my heart and my mind. Today’s actions is why I fly American Airlines first and all others second.

My VeraSage Colleagues enjoy the debates of whose airline is superior. Ron Baker, Michelle Golden, and others feel that their United and its Star Alliance is the best solution. Our Australian members frequent Quantas (a One World Member). Our Canadian members support Air Canada, and the list grows. I support American Airlines. Loyalty has its rewards and as Baker likes to point out, frequent flyer programs have proved to be extremely profitable mechanisms for airlines (along with hotels, car rental companies, steak houses, and many other service businesses).

I really have no idea (but we I think we’ll start a clicker of airline miles flown and earned amongst our fellows) but I suspect that VeraSage team members probably fly nearly a million miles or more annually. I have over 2.5 million miles on American since 1991 along with hundreds of flights on Southwest, Alaska, and a couple of other puddle jumpers (even 50,000 or so on United including 1,500 just last week {thanks Baker for having my bag fees waived, much appreciated}). I know that Ron has almost as many air miles as I do, if not more, and just thinking about Ed, Tim, Michelle, Peter, John, the two Pauls, and the other fellows, we know a thing or two about airlines, airplanes, routing, and service successes (and their failures).

Today was a success. Along with my family, I was awaiting to board a 757 flight from Miami to Dallas in order to return home from a birthday celebration and weeklong cruise in the Eastern Caribbean. The inbound flight from Caracas arrived about the time we should have been boarding.

Delays in Miami, like any hub, are inevitable, and this being the American Thanksgiving weekend (I was asked on Thursday by a nice British Lady to explain our Thanksgiving and its importance – always proud to help the decedents of our former tormentors about our history on this side of the pond), delays can wreck havoc with connections and the like. In our case, we had about 90 minutes cushion on the Dallas side, so I wasn’t too worried.

As life unfolds during these types of travels, once we boarded (about 50 minutes late) (now down to 40 minutes of cushion) there was a mechanical issue of some form. Tick tock, tick tock. As my cushion dipped below 30 minutes I called the Executive Platinum desk and expressed my concern that we could miss our connection and I wanted to provide them a “heads up” and see what provisions could be made while we still had time.

I was assured capacity on the later flight (4 hours later) that would have landed at 11:15 PM (or 2:15 AM Miami time). This would be better than a night at the DFW Hyatt – so I already felt better. Status with airlines helps; ask any frequent flyer.

As my cushion was approaching zero, I called again to advise the desk of our timing. At this point the Captain explained he was going to “hustle” to DFW but our estimated landing time was now 4:40 and when you add the 10 minutes to the gate, that was to leave us about 10 minutes to transit from Terminal A to Terminal D – so I was anticipating the change to the late departure.

Upon landing, I again called and checked the status of our departure (which was to be in 9 minutes from the time we connected with the gate) and I expressed that in my best (pre-Nicole Brown era) O.J. Simpson impression, it just wasn’t going to be enough time (forget about the bags btw).

And then, as I was in the process of securing four seats on the later flight, over the PA it was announced that Portland passengers were to see the Green Vest wearing agent at the jet bridge for a bus ride to our gate. Rock on. Systems can work. Judgments trump measurements. AA was making the decisions that matter and that mattered to me, my family, and my now 10 new Portland based fellow travelers.

Walking off the plane, we were escorted to an awaiting bus where we were given the (so far at least) once in a lifetime roadside view of DFW as we were driven to our gate. Off the bus and up the elevator and down the jet bridge and boarding our plane. Total time from gate connect to boarding was less then 12 minutes. Better then O.J. by about 10 minutes.

And. . . . not only did all 14 of us make it, our bags made it too. Think about that. AA could have dealt with the anger and frustration (note I wouldn’t be overly impacted by a 4 hour delay, but I deal with these matters differently then others) but AA didn’t take the easy option. They opted to rise to the challenge and they handled it well.

Why did they? I suspect because 14 was enough to hold a plane 15 minutes and deal with the “late departure” report. Was I the only Exec. Plat on this flight? I have no idea. Did this happen because starting in Miami I was alerting them to the challenge? Was it merely that 14 was enough? I guess I really don’t care. I care AA stepped to the plate and hit a home run.

And, it cost AA to do this. They held a plane so they will now suffer a lower on-time score. They dedicated team members to drive the bus, escort us, custom deliver our bags, tail to tail as they say, 100+ other flyers were slightly inconvenienced awaiting our arrival, and all of this just happened. Well not really, it happened because someone, somewhere, at DFW operations for AA – recognized a problem, delivered a superior solution, and turned what could have been lemons to lemonade.

I hope that your airline treats you with kindness like mine does. If not, send me a note, and I will have my airline happily contact you and help you realize that business cares, airlines care, and ultimately people care.

Thanks AA. You Rock!

P.S. – Upon arrival, ours were the 1st bags on the belt too.