I was traveling last week and had tossed a couple of recent copies of Harvard Business Review (HBR) into my briefcase before leaving home. So on the plane, I dutifully grabbed the April issue and was greeted by a cover that said, “We Studied 25,453 Companies over 44 Years to Find the 3 Rules for Success.” As was HBR’s intention, they had my attention.
I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
If you’re like many, you have been watching the NCAA basketball tournament. And if you’re one of the lucky few, you might be on top of the leader board in your office pool or your team might be one of the Final Four.
When I was 12 years old, my family moved from Milwaukee to a small town in Iowa. How small? Well, we didn’t have a McDonald’s or even a single traffic light. On our first day in town, my brother, who was and continues to be a year younger than I, walked four blocks with me to the small grocery store that sat on Main Street. Our mother had sent us down to pick up a few items to feed the team of movers who were diligently unloading our belongings.
While in the store, we were approached by a very kind woman who happened to know exactly who we were. “You must be the new pastor’s sons,” she said. “I work up at the school. Why don’t you let me take you up there and show you around?” My brother and I quickly—and hopefully politely—countered that we had to get back home with the groceries for our mother.
Over the weekend, an adaptation of The Wizard of Oz was released. If you’re like me, you grew up watching the 1939 classic. The new film got me thinking about those wonderful characters created by L. Frank Baum. There’s the Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and of course Dorothy. Each one is etched into my memory from years of watching the film, even if I had to cover my eyes when the evil Wicked Witch of the West appeared on the screen.
As with many movies, there is much to be learned as a manager and employee from the characters in The Wizard of Oz. Each one teaches us something about what it takes to be a productive and successful businessperson.
It’s always good to remember that people are people. In our society, we tend to put people on a pedestal. Athletes, actors, musicians, and even business executives are revered and idolized. Consider how Michael Jordan, George Clooney, Elvis Presley, and Steve Jobs are perceived. Elvis—only his first name is necessary—is still the second best-selling artist of all time (only behind The Beatles), and he’s been dead for more than 35 years! Somehow we elevate these people to god-like status, but they’re very human.
When I read the letter that recently fired Groupon CEO Andrew Mason had sent to employees, I was reminded that people are people. The letter was genuine, surprisingly humorous, and above all honest. It showed Mason to be a self-effacing, caring, and “real” person. It was refreshing. At a time when we tend to idolize big company executives, here’s a guy who’s “keeping it real,” and I can’t help but believe the employees at Groupon are going to miss their leader.
There is a lot written about the advantages of chemistry and great company culture, but what really are those things? A company is a social organization with rules that govern the relationships between people and among groups. There is a division of activity, and there is agreement regarding certain obligations of the various parties. This is true of all companies. So what causes one to have a culture that is superior to that of another?
In the end, it all comes down to the people. I have often said that the quality of the experience is equal to the quality of the people involved. Associate with high-quality individuals, and you are much more likely to have a positive experience. That’s true in business as much as in any endeavor you undertake.
There’s a very powerful scene from the first episode of the television series The Newsroom, which debuted on HBO last year. In the scene, the news anchor, played by Jeff Daniels, is a member of a panel that sits before a large auditorium filled with adults of various ages. A young woman from the crowd steps forward to ask a question: “Can you say why America is the greatest country in the world?”
The other two panelists answer the question quickly with pat answers about diversity and freedom, but Daniels’ character thinks for a second and says, “It’s not the greatest country in the world.” The moderator, obviously uncomfortable with that answer, tries to change the subject, but the anchorman continues with a harsh and honest assessment about why America isn’t the greatest country in the world. The crowd sits in shocked silence.
As I write this, it’s Super Bowl Sunday, and tens of millions of viewers will be tuning in to watch the big game tonight. In fact, I heard this morning that 177 million people watched last year’s game. For most of us, our team’s season is over. With 32 teams in the NFL, there’s only a 1-in-16 chance your team is playing in the big game. So we find other reasons to watch the Super Bowl. Some tune in for the commercials, others watch for the halftime entertainment, and a certain portion actually wants to watch the game regardless of whether their team is playing.
One of the big story lines for today’s game is that two brothers are facing off in the Super Bowl as head coaches of the opposing teams. Imagine being at the cusp of the ultimate achievement in your profession only to find that the one person standing in your way is your sibling. To achieve your life’s dream, you need to ensure that your brother doesn’t reach his. It seems to me that regardless of which Harbaugh ends up on top, it will be a bittersweet victory at best.
What’s your favorite subject? For many people it’s me. I don’t mean me; I mean them. To them, me is them. Got it?