To a degree every company treats its employees like objects. They have to, individuals must fit in a pre-designed structure, otherwise groups of people will not and cannot move effectively toward a common goal. However, to the degree that employees are treated like objects, they tend to treat each other like objects and, perhaps worse, treat customers the same way.
The easiest way for leaders to manage workers is to structure their activities. Seemingly, the more control over behavior, the greater the control of outcomes. It is the theme of this book that such control produces inferior results.
Earn Their Loyalty is a story that emphasizes the human element of business. There is a lot of work involved in fostering effective interpersonal behavior, trust is vital, and feedback is an absolute. It’s much easier just to make up rules, one size fits all. There are many concepts and tools presented here to enable you to develop your people beyond being rule followers. It is our contention that making the effort to support people, rather than direct them, is the better way.
If you use your new knowledge and skills to enhance relationships, the bottom line won’t have to be watched with such diligence, or worried about as much either.
Robert Brown, George Corbett, A. F. McTavish
Seattle Orlando Dundee
A Meeting on a Train
Rain lashed at me sideways as soon as I opened the taxi door. By the time I’d raced into the train station, my hair was plastered to my head and my shoes, socks and pants were soaked. Halfway through my trip to Scotland and six of seven days had been the same, dreary skies, persistent showers and a temperature that never roused itself above six degrees Celsius. I was a long way from Orlando where it was probably ninety-five degrees with the sun as big as a pie plate.
The Dundee train station was like all train stations, a dimly lit cavernous place where sounds echoed for a time before drifting away. Pigeons roosted on rafters high above and strutted on the vast walkways. With my first class Britrail pass handy, I found the platform for the next leg of my journey, Dundee to Inverness, gateway to the Highlands.
I’m a businessman. I can figure solutions for most problems and those I can’t solve I work hard enough to overcome. But I sure haven’t been much good for what seems like a long time. I had been going through the motions at work. Deep inside I knew there are things more important than someone buying a five-piece dinette set. Although I still did my job pretty well, I didn’t care if any of our stores sold much furniture; not a good attitude for a Senior Vice President. Not good for customers. Not good for employees. Not good for me.
The train screeched to a halt at the head of the tracks. The two first-class cars were the old-fashioned ones I had hoped for. I climbed up the steps and found my compartment. After sliding open the wooden door, I hoisted my bags onto the overhead rack and took my seat by the window. This early in the season I might be lucky enough to have the compartment to myself.
Within ten minutes, the train pulled slowly out of the station and back into the rain. No one had come into my compartment except a young man selling snacks. My cup of tea and plastic wrapped block of shortbread sat on the small table under the window. Passing by outside were back gardens of homes framed with stone walls and almost all included a green or light blue wooden shed. As the train gathered speed, the scenery changed from close-by homes to distant rolling hills. I settled into my seat. I was as content as I had been in a long time.
As soon as the sway of the car and the clack of the wheels were in harmony, I could feel the forward pressure of the train slowing down. The village of Hodge was our first stop and I suppose we were there already. Hoping to keep my compartment to myself, I pulled out my newspaper and sprawled along the seat to take up as much room as possible. Soon there were footsteps up and down the corridor, some stopping by the door, but no one opened it. The train lurched forward.
Just as I was about to put the paper down, the door slid open. I didn’t look, but I could hear someone closing the door and sitting on the bench opposite mine. I peeked around the paper to see a man dressed in a grey tweed sports coat, white shirt and blue tie. He had a Scot’s ruddy complexion and was probably pushing sixty. He wore one of those flat caps that many Scots men wear.
He looked my way and noticed I was looking at him. He smiled, touched a finger to his cap and said, “Morning.”
“Morning,” I replied and went back behind my paper.
We rode in silence for a while, but eventually we both looked at each other at the same time and had to do introductions.
“Angus McTavish,” he said, reaching out his hand. “You’re American.”
I shook his hand. “Yes. George Corbett from Orlando, Florida.”
“It is a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Corbett. Are you enjoying our weather? Must be a lot different than what you get in Florida.”
“A lot different. I don’t think I’ve warmed up since I got here.”
“Aye. It’s a damp cold. Gets into your bones. Are you on holiday to our small corner of the world?”
“Yeah. Traveling around your wonderful country, mostly by train. I’ve been to Glasgow and Edinburgh, now I want to see a bit of the Highlands, maybe get over to see some of the islands.”
The young man with the snack cart came by again. I bought another cup of tea while my new compartment companion bought a cup of coffee and two bags of “crisps,” what they call potato chips over here.
I noticed Angus shaking his head as the kid left. He looked at me. “That lad is a walking symbol for much of what is wrong with business these days. Absolutely no sense of service. Are you a businessman, Mr. Corbett?”
“Please call me George. Yes, I help run a chain of furniture stores throughout the American Southeast. And I agree with you. So much of our business is service and we emphasize that a lot. I suppose half our success is a great product and the other half we owe to great service.”
“Ah, there I have to disagree with you, George. Every business, no matter what the business, is fully ninety-five percent service and no more than five percent everything else.”
Well, I thought, this could be interesting. Here was a Scot from a small village with unknown qualifications disagreeing with me, the son of a successful business family benefiting from a thousand dinner table seminars. I hold a Cal Tech engineering degree and am the proud owner of a Wharton MBA. I have been very fortunate and I’m proud of what I have done and what I can do, once I put my mind to it again.
“That is a strong conviction, Angus, if I may call you that.”
“Of course. We two travelers should be on a first name basis. But at the same time, let me more formally introduce myself.” Angus reached into his inside jacket pocket and pulled out a business card case, took one card and handed it to me.
“That lad with the sweets cart,” Angus continued. “Did you notice what he did?”
I replied that I didn’t notice anything unusual.
“Aye. It escapes the eye.”
I recalled that the young man rolled his cart to the door. He slid open the door, said “Sweets” and stood there saying nothing more, assuming what he was doing was obvious and that we would respond if we wanted anything. Which we did. When we told him what we wanted, he turned to the cart, picked out what we asked for, gave it to us and told us how much we owed. When we gave him the money, he said, “Ta” and off he went. I got exactly what I wanted with minimum fuss and bother. Nothing wrong with that as far as I could see.
Angus smiled. “George, my new American friend, everything that lad did is what is wrong with modern-day business. We miss what is in front of us a hundred times every day. Paying attention to it would improve everything from meeting a deadline to improving customer satisfaction to having employees beg for more work. That lad’s actions, simple as they were, neglected the four cardinal elements of service. And, if you’re interested, I can prove it to you. I know you’re on holiday, but if you want to stop by my facility, I will show you something I can guarantee will be the highlight of your stay in Scotland.”
I pointed to his card. “This formula, is that what you’re talking about?”
“Aye. It’s all in that.”
I smiled. “But you’re not going to explain it to me now.”
He shook his head. “No, no. It’s something that has to be seen. I canna tell it nearly as clearly as I can show it. If you’ve a mind to see, just come by anytime during the workweek and I’d be glad to show you.”
* * *
Angus left the train at the next stop and it wasn’t until we were near Inverness that I took another look at the card. There was no phone number on it. On the back was the quote, “We’re all walking home together.” I wasn’t impressed. During my twenty years in business, I’d listened to a million words at dozens and dozens of seminars and meetings. I’d read all the books, all the articles, and countless reports, and I knew that these new idea gurus, especially the ones that promised the most, delivered mostly hot air in the form of catchy phrases and imperious principles. The least useful of all were the inspirational ones. These promoters were palpably sincere and the message energized everyone for a while, yet the effect on the bottom line was an expense item that would never be recovered. I put the card into my pants pocket intending to throw it away.
I spend five glorious sun-filled days exploring the Highlands, including a great weekend on the Isle of Skye, one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. Florida is essentially an over-cooked pancake moistened by the occasional thunderstorm. By contrast, this part of Scotland was a series of hills and mountains, some snow-capped, all ruggedly strewn with rocks, grasses and moss. High cliffs and the deep sea were always nearby. The distant cry of seagulls added a depth to the air, which, for that wonderful week, had puffy white clouds floating in the foreground and deep blue sky beyond.
I had two days left on my vacation and the choice of trains for my return: Take a direct route to Glasgow or a slower passage that would include Hodge. The card was still in my pocket. I liked Angus. He seemed nice enough, and had strong opinions, that could be fun. I was curious to get a look at whatever his formula meant. I like formulas and I really like standardization. I like to know that if I do X, Y is going to result. Yet, it could be a religious thing; his quote on the back of the card could mean I’d be in for a sermon rather than a seminar. Still, maybe this Angus guy knew something, but if he didn’t, with my rail pass I could simply hop the next train out of town.
I needed a shaking up. I felt better with some pure Highland air in my lungs and my bones had warmed a bit. Yet I still didn’t feel right. I wanted to go back to work and know I was contributing something important.
I spent part of every night in Scotland thinking. Sometimes it was while I was sitting in front of a fire with a warm drink and other times it was while lying in bed in the dim light of early morning. Maybe I had a mild depression. Maybe I was sinking into self-pity or maybe I was simply burned out from too many battles.
In any event, I took a cab to 47 John Street, Hodge, Dundee and knocked on the door.