Tag Archive for identity

Should Happens (Thanks, Josh)

should.008You can blend in, or you can be OK with being different. It’s pretty difficult to have it both ways.

Not that people and organizations won’t try.

It’s understandable too. Lots of folks are dying to tell you and any other organization what you should do.

Within the friendly confines of a team meeting, it’s easy to say you’re going to do this or that bold thing. It’s not nearly as difficult for a group of executives or managers to say they’re going to take a risk and do something different than it is for them to actually do that different thing. And the degree of difficulty is ratcheted up even another notch or twelve when the feedback on that something different isn’t 100% positive.

(Weird how suddenly that’s the standard when folks start to get nervous and want an out. When else is 100% the standard for success? We wouldn’t be able to do anything! But I digress…)

When a person or organization does something different — something outside the norm — you can almost be certain they’re going to catch some sort of flack, and often a lot of flack. Sometimes it’s from well-meaning folks; other times it’ll be from people who are taking the opportunity to take a shot at you. Kind of goes with the territory though, right? You want the feedback either way, or at least you should. Doesn’t mean they’re right; but they’re not necessarily wrong just because they’re acting like donkeys. (And you might also double check to be sure that it’s not you being the aforementioned donkey. We all end up doing that more often than we’d care to admit. At least I do.)

There are oodles of people out there — and maybe inside your organization who are more than willing to precisely describe for you how you or your organization should be acting. Or how they should be marketing. Or how they should be training. Or how they should be operating. Or how they should be dressing. Or how they should (or should not) be using social media. Or how they should be doing any number of things.

Before you know it, they’re shoulding all over you.

You’re knee-deep in should.

They’re so full of should it makes you want to slap them (figuratively, of course).

And you’re torn. I don’t give two shoulds about what they think, you say to yourself.

Or do I? Maybe I should give a should. Or two.

Before long you’re scared shouldless and aren’t quite sure what the heck to do.

You have that Oh Should moment. Or maybe even that Holy Should moment. Are they right or is this culture stuff really just a bunch of bullshould?

Then one of a few things happens:

You start spending all your time trying to convince the whole wide world that you’re right instead of doing your thing, or…

You get super defensive and repeat the above, or…

You start to believe them and begin to pull back, or…

You start to doubt yourself, or…

You get so caught up in complaining about no one else “getting it” that you become more known for that complaining than for the thing you’re doing that people aren’t getting.


But here’s the thing — if you try to bend to every whim of every individual or every group that tells you how you should do or be something, you’re going to drive yourself crazy. You’ll just be getting jerked back and forth like those psychotic rat terriers you see on “walks” with people.

They’ll say you should avoid being so boring, so you’ll lighten up. Then they’ll say you should be more professional, so you’ll tighten back up.

They’ll say you should have more staff, so you’ll beef up. Then they’ll say you should “be more efficient” because your staffing numbers are “above the industry norm” (or something) and you’ll do an efficiency study.

They’ll say that since workplaces are universally becoming more casual, you should too; so you finally bite the bullet and do a jeans day. Then a customer or three will complain about the jeans and so you’ll revoke the jeans day on account of the fact that 0.000001% of your customer base didn’t like the fabric content of your employees’ trousers. But then your employees are going to be irritated that you’ve taken away the jeans privileges they just got. And then you’re in a real pickle because either way you go, someone’s going to be ticked.

So then what do you do? You’re darned if you do. Darned if you don’t. You’re up should creek without a paddle.


You’re OK with being different. You’re OK being you. You’re OK with having a unique organizational identity and culture, and you understand that not every organism in the universe is going to love you.

Sometimes you just shouldn’t give a should.

(Hat tip to Josh Wooley, AVP Ops & Member Experience at Mazuma, for giving me a title for this thing.)

Leaders: Stop Offering Breadsticks

The music was absolutely dreadful, yet I continued subjecting myself to it; it was a crisis situation, after all. Anything having to do with pizza rises to that level for me. On and on the music went, pummeling me with the occasional advertisement sandwiched between 90’s pop grooves. All that was missing was Casey Kasem’s love-child Ryan Seacrest chiming in to tell me about the song I would hear next.

I heard a loud “click” followed by what sounded like a cell phone recording of the inside of a school bus carrying a bunch of noisy seventh-graders back from a basketball game. I waited expectantly, but when I didn’t hear any discernible comment, I initiated the conversation.

Me: Hello?

Manager: Yeah, hi. This is [name], the manager.

Me: OK, hi, [name]. Did they tell you why I was holding?

Manager: Yeah I guess we skipped your order.

Me: Pardon? [the reason for my confusion here will be clear momentarily]

Manager: We somehow skipped your order.

Me: You skipped my order?

Non-verbose Manager: Yeah.

I called an hour ago to check on our order because it had been over an hour since I ordered it; and when I originally ordered it, you said it’d be here in 30-40 minutes. So I spoke with one of your employees to check on the ETA, and she said–and I quote–“It’s already out the door and on its way. It should be there really soon.


Me: Hello?

Manager: Yeah, I’m here.

Me: Um…so this is the fourth straight order that you guys have messed up for us. I’m actually only ordering tonight because your district manager sent us a gift certificate to make amends for the fact that you guys messed up the previous orders. And now this has happened.

Manager: Yeah, we’re just a little busy, so….we could have it out to you in probably 45 minutes to an hour.

Me: You can see why that’s not OK, right? [My esteemed readers, please don’t judge me. I was exasperated at this point :)] Especially since I’m ordering with this gift certificate because you guys have pulled similar stuff the last three times we’ve ordered?

Manager: Well, it’s kind of not our fault. Know what I mean?

Me: No. I do not. I’m not sure who else could be responsible for our order getting messed up four straight times.

Manager: Look, I can get you some free breadsticks with your order when it comes in an hour.

Me: I’m not trying to be rude here, but I feel like you’re missing the point. I don’t want free breadsticks. I don’t want another gift certificate. All I really wanted was our food.

Manager: Well, I can get it to you in an hour.

Me: Can you help me understand why when I called over an hour ago, your employee told me that our stuff was out the door and would be here really soon? And then when I spoke with you, you said the order had never left the building at all because it had been skipped? It feels like someone’s not been honest with me.

Manager: Well maybe they assumed it was on its way.

Me: You know what–please just cancel my order. I’ll have to go pick up pizza from somewhere else.

Manager: Why would you cancel the order?

Me: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me four times, and I’m an idiot for continuing to order from here over and over again.

Manager: I can give you free breadsticks.

Me: Are you kidding?

And so went my conversation with that location of a national pizza chain. It was the fourth straight order of mine they’d messed up. No kidding. Fourth time. It was bizarre, really. I mean, we’ve all had orders messed up before; no big deal. Maybe even twice in a row–hey, weird stuff happens. But then it happened on a third straight order for us; they forgot part of the order. And then this.

The side thought in my head was how badly this manager was botching this whole thing, especially in light of the fact that his company’s thing over the past couple years was not to make excuses, but to own up to the ugly truth that their pizza just hadn’t been all that good lately. And then there was the other commercial where the kid sent in a picture of his pizza stuck to the top of the pizza box. The CEO used the picture on their national ads, telling us that that sort of thing wasn’t OK, and they were going to fix it. To heck with acting like they had it all put together and that their pizza was on the same level as manna from heaven (Old Testament reference, anyone?). Nope, none of that. No dancing. No hiding. No excuses.

I loved them for that. I loved that they were embracing vulnerability on a large scale, and with their CEO leading the charge. It was becoming a competitive advantage for them, as their customers and revenue reacted positively to the shift in strategy. They were redefining their brand and their culture at the same time, which is how it should be so you don’t have huge disconnects like the one I’ve been experiencing with this pizza joint.

As leaders, even the well-intentioned among us, we still do this stuff more than we should, right? We’re tempted to dodge responsibility for something. We want to explain this or that away. We want to give people breadsticks instead of being vulnerable and admitting a mistake.

Want to build trust with your team? Be vulnerable. Want to build trust with consumers? Be vulnerable. And forget the breadsticks.


Halloween, Clowns, & Organizational Identity

Halloween is cool. For the most part, anyway. Seems to be a fun thing for kiddos (unless, of course, you grew up Baptist, in which case “Fall Festival” was a fun thing for kiddos). But regardless of what you called or call that thing where kids dress up in costumes and get candy, it seems to be a pretty good time.

For me, the scary part every year, and really whether it’s Halloween or not, is the clowns. I’m one of those weird people who thinks clowns are creepy all year round. They’re grown adults with painted skin and a variety of expressions smeared onto their faces. You’ve got happy clowns, sad clowns, surprised clowns, deranged clowns, constipated clowns, goth clowns, and so on; but for me they all fall into one category: creepy.

I’m not entirely sure why, but ever since watching Bozo the clown when I was little, I always just sort of assumed that most clowns were actually serial killers or some other sort of equally-evil humans underneath the rainbow-colored hair and painted-on smiles. I’m only half-kidding. My first, gut instinct on the rare occasion I see a clown is to kick that clown in the shin and bop him in the big, red nose.

And don’t get me started on Santa and the Easter Bunny…

In some twisted sense, it seems like that’s what some organizations do too. We try to dress ourselves up and paint some weird identity on our collective faces that’s different from what we really are or hope to be.

For example, deep down inside, maybe you want to be a fun, even quirky organization. You start hiring fun, quirky people. You start having more fun during the day. You begin to laugh more. People start to have a good time working together and helping customers (or members, for my credit union gang).

And then, for some reason, someone, somewhere says something like this: “Well, we can’t have people laughing in front of customers….” Or asks something like: “What if people see us having fun on the clock? Will they think we don’t take our work seriously?” Or maybe it’s some other similar question.

Right then, right there, you’re at a decision point. Your organization has to decide who it really wants to be. Do you want to paint a particular facial expression onto your collective faces? Or do you want to hire people with the right attitudes and let them be themselves?

I’m not saying every organization needs to be any particular thing–fun or otherwise. I’m just saying that organizations need to figure out who they are and then live it loudly. You’re not going to make everyone happy, so quit trying. If you want to be a fun organization, then be that. Some people will like it; others won’t. If you want to be consistently serious-minded, then be that. Some folks will like it; others won’t.

But whatever it is you think is important to you, and whatever it is you say that you are, just be that. Forget the face-painted smiles or frowns or whatever else.

As a closing side-note, if you’re a nice human adult who enjoys dressing up like a clown, please don’t take this post personally. I hope we can still be friends. Like the kind of friends who don’t go anywhere near each other when one or the other is dressed like a clown.