My wife, Jamie, and I were in Indianapolis for a meeting and found ourselves with a few hours to kill before catching a flight out of town. We decided to take advantage of the time by going to the local shopping mall as Jamie was in the market for a new pair of shoes. A Nordstrom Department store anchored the mall, so we swung by to see if we could find the footwear.
A sales associate named Carmen warmly greeted us as we entered the shoe department. She asked what we were looking for and offered to help us on our quest. Carmen walked Jamie through the options and brought her several pairs to try.
The shoes were nice, but nothing was entirely right. In all honesty, if Carmen had pushed a bit, she would have closed the sale. Some items were close enough to work, but that’s not what happened.
Perceiving Jamie’s hesitancy, Carmen said, “It doesn’t seem like we have the perfect pair for you today. We had a pair in the past that would have been perfect, but the manufacturer discontinued them. I checked and there are no pairs left in our inventory system. I’d rather not sell you something that isn’t quite right. A shoe store in the mall has some very nice items that might meet your needs, and I’ve seen customers have great luck there. Why don’t we take a walk to see if we can find something that will work better?”
I was shocked.
Did Carmen suggest forgoing a sale and possible commission to take us to another shop in the mall?
Yep. That’s what she told us and precisely what we did.
Carmen informed a co-worker that she was leaving and escorted us out of Nordstrom and to the other store. Once we arrived, she explained to the salesperson what we were looking for and stayed until we completed the purchase. Jamie was thrilled with the new shoes and floored by Carmen’s level of service.
We walked back to Nordstrom with Carmen, thanked her for her time, and asked to speak to her manager. We shared with the manager our appreciation for Carmen and her excellent work. The manager thanked us for our feedback and informed us that Carmen is one of her very best employees. She added, “Carmen does what we want from all of our associates. She works to understand customer problems and then acts to fix them.
If you want your people to solve problems like Carmen, then you need to straighten up your ACT: Authority, Clarity, and Transparency.
Many individuals and teams fail to make decisions or take action because they don’t feel they have the authority to act. Suppose you want to create a culture where decision-making and owning problems happen. You need to let people know what decisions are within their authority and allow them to make those decisions without second-guessing every choice. Carmen opted to skip the one-time sale and help Jamie find the perfect shoes because she knew that making that decision was not only suitable for Jamie but encouraged by her leader.
The first step in the problem-solving process is to clarify the problem you are looking to solve. People need to be clear on the issue before starting on the solution. In the example above, Carmen understood that the problem she needed to solve wasn’t to sell Jamie a single pair of shoes but to help her find footwear that exactly met her needs. Doing the former would create a customer for the day, but the latter makes a customer for life.
People may feel that they are empowered to make decisions and that they are clear on the problem. Still, they can’t effectively do so without visibility into the information needed to make informed decisions. Wise leaders understand that and create environments where people have access to information. Carmen knew what items were in her store and what was available in their network.
This week’s tool and video are designed to help you to remember and to put into practice ACT. Print, post, and share with others. Use it to assess how you currently support your team, to spur conversation with colleagues, and to challenge people at all levels to be better problem solvers.
If you want to dive a bit deeper into how you approach your leadership roles, listen to my conversation with Hitendra Wadwa about his book Inner Mastery, Outer Impact: How Your Five Core Energies Hold the Key to Success. Hitendra is a Professor at Columbia Business School and the Founder of the Mentora Institute. His simple yet profound insight that success in life and leadership originates from within has led to the training and transformation of thousands of executives worldwide.
Patrick Leddin, PhD is a speaker, global leadership consultant, and The Wall Street Journal bestselling author of The Five-Week Leadership Challenge. Patrick is an Associate Professor at Vanderbilt University with a thriving leadership blog and podcast, and 25-years of leadership experience. He offers an unparalleled mix of academic rigor and real-world experience.