What Are You Selling… Really?

“We’d like to buy you all dessert,” the waitress chirped.

We were entertaining two other couples at a lovely restaurant called Barcelona.  The dinner had been flawless: wonderful wines, great food, superb service.

I cocked my head and squinted. “Why?”

“Well, my manager said you were in here 6 months ago and had a bad experience. We want to do this for you.”

In truth, we did have a bad experience; a horrible experience. A manager I had never seen before was there; and the serving staff was clearly the “B” team. Everything – absolutely everything – had been off.

But the manager had made it right… he had done all of the ‘correct’ things… he apologized profusely. He ‘comped’ most of the food. He couldn’t have done more. And, in fact, we had returned to this restaurant many, many times in the intervening months with nothing but wonderful experiences.

I graciously accepted the waitress’ kind offer. Then I looked across the room to catch the eye of this manager, who I hadn’t seen since that fateful night. I motioned him over to the table.

I thanked him… and then told him that I was curious about his reasoning… I do a lot of leadership training; I consult on the creation of corporate culture. What prompted him to make this offer… especially after he had gone out of his way to satisfy us so many months ago?

“We’re not interested in one-offs,” the manager said. “We don’t target the occasional customer.  Our mission is to create customers for life.

Wow. How’s that for a mission statement?

The husband-wife team of Jim and Maria Kennedy run Atlantic Sea Kayaking, the premier adventure kayaking and walking-tour company in Ireland. Over a glass of wine one night, I asked Jim about his company’s culture… about his mission.

“If our customers don’t go away from our trips saying that they had the best experience of their lives, Maria and I think that we have failed.”

OMG. That sounded like an audacious mission. Until I looked at the Kennedy’s trip reviews and mentions in places like the Wall Street Journal. They deliver on their promise.

Tony Hsieh of Zappos fame is passionate about his business. But it’s never been about selling shoes. Hsieh is legendary for his company’s customer service. And the title of his book states his core mission: Delivering Happiness. 

When Hsieh started his company, he felt so strongly about this mission – and about the culture he wanted to create – that he offered to pay his new hires to quit after they had completed their training period. He wanted to suffuse his company and surround himself only with people who were passionate about what he was really selling. Screenshot 2014-05-27 17.09.51

Whether accountants, lawyers, consultants, financial advisors, coaches, health care professionals, mechanics, artists or parents; whether in food service, kayaking or shoes; we are all in sales. And whether you’re selling a widget or a product, a service or an idea, it is virtually impossible to differentiate yourself from the competition. You get lost in the noise of the marketplace. Everyone’s got something similar; and you can never compete on price.

When all you’re selling is the ‘thing,’ you’ll never break out from the pack. But when you delight; when you create an amazing experience for your customers and clients, they will remember you… for life.

What is it that you are (really) selling?








Rearranging The Deck Chairs

My youngest son turned 21 this past week.

When he was 14, I took him on a Disney cruise. One night, he decided that he was going to “rearrange” all of the deck chairs and move them onto the elevators. This apparent misuse of time and resources seemed to amuse him. It amused Philip, the smartly dressed security officer who knocked at my cabin door at 2:00 a.m., much less.

All of us, though, can fall victim to “rearranging the deck chairs.”

This phrase originated in the stories surrounding the sinking of the Titanic. It means “to do something pointless or insignificant that will soon be overtaken by events, or that contributes nothing to the solution of a current problem.”

It appears in various guises.  Here’s how we hear it from some of our coaching clients:

  • I’m going to get to making those sales calls as soon as I alphabetize the list.
  • I’m going to start the business as soon as I get the logo designed.
  • I’m going to launch the program as soon as the website is done.
  • I’ll get out to those networking events right after the business cards come.
  • I’ll get to work as soon as I finish the (next) degree, program, seminar, certification.

This stuff looks important; it sounds “necessary.”

But, in reality, it’s hiding behind the appearance of busy.

It’s doing stuff that puts off what really needs to be done.

Sure businesses need infrastructure; and I’m a huge believer in continuing personal and professional development.

But what’s most important is getting out into the world and serving; launching that product; using the idea; doing the work; sharing the gifts and talents in the ways that only you can do. images

Of course, “things” get in the way like our

  • generalized overwhelm
  • fear of failure
  • fear of success
  • fear of what “others” will think
  • lack of clarity
  • inertia and resistance

Creatives and intellectuals love to fall in love with their ideas; they like to engage in constant thought, reflection, and improvement. Entrepreneurs want excellence. And there is no question that in certain areas of life we need high levels of training, certification and a demand for perfection, like in air traffic control and brain surgery.

But for most of us, we just need to do the work; show up every day and do the work.

The real work. Not the busy work.

For most of us, it’s better done than perfect.

Seth Godin suggests that all the kvetching is pointless unless we get our work out into the world, unless we “ship” what we have to offer.

You can rearrange the deck chairs. But the boat will go down.



Jumbo Shrimp

I unintentionally stirred a shit-storm last week with my newsletter.

I recommended that everyone take a vacation this summer; that vacations are essential to our well-being.

This, apparently, is controversial.

Taking vacations, so the criticism went, suggests that you are not a team player. It might even mean that you’re weak. If your boss tells you not to take them, then you can’t.

I get it. I worked in that culture. I coach a lot of folks who work in that culture.

It’s not a sustainable culture.

We are not machines. We cannot be ‘on’ 24/7/365. It’s just not possible.

The studies are clear and the science backs it up: In cultures that promote a ‘machine’ model, stress is high, turnover is high, the error rate is high (this, of course, finally gets the attention of the professional firms I work with), employee engagement is low, productivity suffers, and job satisfaction is in the toilet.

The testosterone laden, muscle-drive, brute force thing can get us through emergencies and the rare episodic project that has a real (not imagined or manipulated) deadline. All of us have to endure these episodes from time to time. But these are exceptions in a culture of wellness, in a corporate culture that truly values its people. And they exist! They really do! I had the great privilege of doing a series of wellness workshops for a number of accounting firm in the middle of tax season! Talk about evolved cultures!

In order to have work and lives we love, we need to rest and recover. We need vacations!

This was a hard-learned lesson for me. When I worked in The Big Firm, I was told at orientation that we needed to bill 2000+ hours a year; and that we got three weeks of vacation… but that no one ever took them. And as an endurance athlete, I believed that the best way to train (and work!) was, in fact, to keep on going.

Of course, societally, this is exactly what we’re taught: That in order to succeed, we need to work longer, harder faster.

Until what? We’re dead? why_less_is_more

But then I discovered, through my mountaineering and as a distance runner, that rest and recovery is actually an integral part of the equation. That we get stronger when we rest and recover. That we can go longer, harder faster… when we have rested and recovered.

That we’re more focused, attentive, engaged and productive when we’ve rested and recovered.

The same is true in our careers.

Last year there were more than 500,000,000 (that’s 5 hundred million) unused paid vacations days left on the table by American workers. That’s screwed up. I took 12 weeks of vacation last year and enjoyed every single one of them… and then was able to bring a focus and vibrancy to our business and the people we serve in a way that would not have been possible without that time away. (If you’re going to leave some days on the table this year, send them over to me… I’ll be happy to use them. But I’d prefer if you’d take them for yourself.)

I got asked at a workshop this past week how you make this happen for yourself in a culture that doesn’t support it (this from a woman whose husband works in the brokerage industry). This is a very tough question with no easy answer… we want our jobs, we need our jobs, we want to be perceived to be ‘on the team.’ It feels horribly risky to break from the pack. (And sometimes it is.) But, at the same time, if we’re truly going to be responsible for ourselves and for those we love… and if we are going to be leaders, regardless of our job title, or position, we have an obligation to advocate for ourselves… and for those around us.

If you are leader or manager reading this piece, I urge you: Deep dive into the research, evaluate your culture and study the impact. The managers and leaders who see their people late at night or on a Saturday morning and take them aside to coach them on being better stewards of their time: These are the companies that will lead; these are the companies that will thrive.

I know it seems paradoxical. But less really is more.

Hopefully it’s one of those paradoxes that maybe, just maybe, we might learn to live with… kinda like jumbo shrimp.






I Envy You

She ran up behind me and matched my pace.

I didn’t know her. But she clearly knew me.

“I loved your Facebook pictures from Ireland,” she said. “I envy your lifestyle.”

“Yeah, thanks, it’s pretty fine,” I gasped as I crested the hill.

She peeled off to the right.

If I hadn’t been hypoxic in the moment, I would have said more.

I would have said that envy is good. How-to-get-rid-of-envy1

Envy is a voicemail, a text message from your heart.

Envy tells you that there is something that is lacking, something that you want, something that your Spirit seeks, something that would bring you joy.

I would have said to her that you need to listen to your envy.

What’s it saying?

What’s not working? What needs to change? What needs to be subtracted? What needs to be added in?

What are the goals you are not attaining? What are the dreams you are not fulfilling?

Yeah, my lifestyle might be good. But what are you thirsting for? What is it that you want; that you really, really want?

Know your envy, befriend your envy, understand your envy. Deconstruct your envy. Hear its siren call.

And after you’ve snuggled with your envy for a bit, harness its energy.

Put it to work.

Too often envy can be turned inward; and become bitterness, resentment, victimhood.

Know that envy calls you higher.

Get clear. Take action. Grab hold of the life you want.

Envy is not a deadly sin. It is a gift.

Get busy. Use it.





Time Is Money

(This is an encore of a post first published on November 10, 2011)

What if money didn’t exist anymore? What if it was no longer the medium of exchange?

What if, instead of money, time was our currency?

This is the premise of the Justin Timberlake movie, In Time.

In the movie, everyone who is born lives to age 25; and is then allotted just one more year. A clock, ingrained on each person’s forearm, starts counting down to zero.

Zero is the moment of death.

People earn more time by working. The harder and longer they work, the more time they earn. People expend time by buying groceries – and lattes. Time is traded between friends and loved ones. And stolen by thieves.

Such a commodity has time become that it is publicly traded on world exchanges.

People who have only a little time are poor.  They live from minute to minute, day to day, barely getting by. The poor, those without time, rush about in frantic efforts to survive, hoping to scrape enough together to live another hour, or another day.

The rich have amassed great surpluses of time. They live palatial lives in walled cities, guarded carefully against the masses who threaten to overthrow their comfort and occupy their streets.

Time is controlled and manipulated. It favors the smart and the quick and those of the manner born.  It is dominated by the powerful. The rich get richer; their years accumulating into decades and centuries.

For the poor, the clock runs out.

Even for a die-hard capitalist, In Time challenges significant assumptions and raises troubling questions: Shouldn’t everyone have equal access to time? Why should the “rich” have more time than the “poor?” Shouldn’t there be a redistribution of time so that everyone has an equal amount? Why should the few live long lives at the expense of those many who are less fortunate?

Of course, there are those who have worked long and hard for the time they have saved. They are rewarded for their tenacity and creativity,their intelligence and ingenuity.

And then there are those who squander their time; and piss it away.

The movie forces us to confront the ultimate truth of our lives: money doesn’t really matter; time is our only currency.

It’s all we ever really have.

How we spend our time makes manifest our being in the world; it is our legacy.

At the end of the movie, Timberlake’s character is asked how much time he has left.  He looks at the clock counting down on his arm and says, “Just a day. But think of what we can do in a day.”

Each day, a new gift.

What can you do in a day?

TODAY marks the publication of my second book, The Power Principles of Time Mastery: Do Less. Make More. Have Fun. Take advantage of our special pre-publication offer and get your signed copy today. While there’s time!   Click HERE now!