Some time ago, I walked into a small, one of a kind, coffee shop. The place was clean and the coffee good, but what stuck with me was my conversation with the woman behind the counter.
As I approached the register, I was met with a pleasant smile and a kind, “Good morning, how may I help you today?” The handprinted name tag on her smock read “Helpful Helen”. As I watched her perform her duties, it became apparent to me that she was living up to her name…
- I was unfamiliar with the menu – Helen was helpful & patient
- Numerous people were crowding the cafe, many sending off signals of being in a rush – Helen was helpful & efficient
- A customer asked for directions to a nearby business – Helen was helpful & informative
Although I appreciated her service, what struck me was her passion. The place was busy that day; I imagine it is busy most everyday. However, as customer after customer came to the counter, Helen greeted each with a smile, called many by name, connected with everyone in the moment, and seemed to make each person feel special.
When I thanked her for her service, she looked at me and and said, “You’re very welcome. It was a pleasure to serve you today and I hope to see you in the future.”
I responded, “Well, the next time I’m in town, I will certainly come here for breakfast.” I quickly added, “You truly seem to enjoy your job.”
In all sincerity, Helpful Helen replied, “There are lots of things I can do in life, but I’ve realized that my biggest contribution comes from serving the people who come through our door every morning and making their day a bit brighter. I love my job!”
Helpful Helen had me. The next time I came to town, I would make it a point to visit this little shop. She wasn’t merely serving coffee, she was choosing to make a positive impact on every person who walked through the door.
Helen had a rare gift. She knew her unique contribution and she was fulfilling it.
Perhaps you are thinking to yourself, I’m glad Patrick had a pleasant experience, but I don’t run a small coffee shop. Our work and people are far removed from Helen’s world.
Regardless of what you do and who you work with, I think we would all agree that having more competent, confident, committed, and contributing people in our organizations would be a wonderful thing.
What would it mean to you and your organization if you had a culture of Helens? A culture of passionate contributors striving to bring their best to every meeting, every customer touchpoint, every task, every day?
Disclaimer: Bare with me. I’m not trying to be overly simplistic. I know that some people will never choose to be a Helen. I also know that there are many organizational elements that must be built, aligned, and maintained to achieve a team of Helens. (Click here for a post where I discuss five such programs.)
However, a few naysayers shouldn’t hold you back; nor, should some organizational program that might be years in the future keep you from make progress – today.
How might you start?
Ask each of your people to answer these questions, reflect on their responses, and then to set up a time to have a conversation with you about their answers.
- What do you do that energizes you?
- What drains your energy?
- What do your customers (internal or external) need that is currently going unfulfilled?
- What could you be really awesome at doing?
- What do you see yourself doing now and in the future?
- What does your ‘gut’ tell you is the right thing to do?
After your discussion, encourage them to answer one more question, “What will you uniquely contribute in your role to our organization?”
Ask them to write down their answer to the final question and to share it with a few people to gain feedback. Invite them to refine it, to truly make their own. Lastly, encourage them to put it in a place where they will see it everyday and to reflect on it.
Oh, and you should do it too. This isn’t just an exercise for frontline employees. It’s for you as well.
Accelerate Your Efforts
Download a tool that you can use with your team to get the conversation started.
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.