First Things When?
By Richard Hadden
It’s been a hot summer at our house. Particularly so this summer, because three weeks ago our 20-year-old air conditioning system finally breathed its last. The prescription was “replace”, not “repair”. Ouch! Two days and $6,500 later, I was cool and comfortable again, if not quite as financially secure as at the beginning of the week.
The new system worked beautifully, for all of 18 days, when the big thingy in the back yard with the big fan stopped working. You grasp my level of HVAC expertise, do you not?
I called the contractor at 7pm, when my wife and I agreed that the warmth we were both feeling was unlikely to be hormone-related. While looking up the phone number online, I found solace in a large banner on the home page of the contractor’s website: “Our Number One priority is your comfort.”
When the emergency tech called me back, the Number One thing out of his mouth was, “Warranty service is only good from 8-5 Monday through Friday, so if I come all the way out there tonight, whether I can fix it or not, you’ll have to pay for a service call.”
There was no “Sorry you’re sweltering after having spent lots of money on a brand new top quality system.” Nothing about, “We’ll do everything we can to get your house cool as soon as possible.” In contrast to the website’s claim, his Number One priority was getting paid for making a trip, irrespective of any results that might or might not arise from it.
We run a business, and we understand that people can’t perform their services for free (not that folks don’t ask us to, but that’s another story…). What chapped me was that the technician’s first thought (Number One Priority) was not my comfort. It was his payment.
But I don’t blame the technician. He learned his priorities from someone, almost certainly his boss, who probably learned them from the owner of the company.
Priorities. What’s most important in your business? And how do your employees know what those priorities are?
Your priorities are not what’s engraved on the fancy plaque in your lobby, or emblazoned on your website. What’s most important in your business is displayed every day in how you and those you lead work with your customers, each other, and whoever else you encounter in the course of your work.
Much of the value you provide as a leader in your organization is to clearly articulate, and then make some meaning out of, your organization’s most important priorities. As we noted in our book, Contented Cows STILL Give Better Milk, former Johnson & Johnson CEO Jim Burke said that he spent upwards of 40% of his time explaining and living out the famous J&J credo. Not developing it – explaining it!
If you want to know what the top priorities are in your company, here’s a quick and easy (though not always painless) exercise. Go and ask. Poll the next half dozen employees you happen to see, and simply ask, “In your view, what are our top three business priorities here?” Listen not only for the content of their answers, but for consistency among those you ask – and with your own answers to that question.
If, for example, you want to think that your Number One priority is your customers’ comfort, but your employees think the Number One priority is billing after-hours warranty labor, that could explain a lot. In this case, it explains why this homeowner is in the market for a new HVAC company for the next time.
Richard Hadden is a leadership speaker, author, and consultant who helps organizations improve their business results by virtue of a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. He and Bill Catlette are the authors of the popular “Contented Cows” leadership book series, and Rebooting Leadership. Their newest book, Contented Cows STILL Give Better Milk, published by John Wiley & Sons, is now available. Learn more about them and their work at ContentedCows.com.