Friday, March 31, 2017

Never Change!

I mean, really.  Change is scary.  It might lead to success or even recognition.  Change does strange things to us.

I’m going to write about my horse now.  Please bear with me, prepare to saddle up, don’t go wandering off into the sunset, try to shoe a pig.  I’ll do my best not to be cliché.

Sam is a draft horse.  Sometimes draft horses are known as gentle giants.  There was a TV show that told us that.  Big draft horses are gentle, kind souls at heart.  They never get upset and are gentle with kittens and small children. 

Sam is a gentle giant.  He is big and strong and gentle with the barn cats all of the time.  He tends to enjoy small children most of the time.  When he is not being a gentle giant, he is being mule-headed, stubborn and obnoxious.  In the time that he has been my companion and friend, he has tossed me from the saddle five times.  Each time was due to a disagreement as to who was directing whom.  We have our moments. 

While we’ve managed our way through most of the troubles, Sam has a couple of habits that are absolutely unbreakable.  One issue in particular drives me around the bend.  Sam likes to eat grass whenever I am leading him in his halter.  It never fails that, as soon as the halter goes on, his head drops to the ground and he goes after the grass. 

It is not such a bad habit as habits go.  The trouble is, it is something that I don’t want him to do.  I have my reasons.  The reasons are valid so don’t go all judgmental on me. 

I have done just about everything possible to get Sam to stop grazing under halter.  By now, I’ve found that the best I can get is that he will lift his head when I jerk on his rope.  He also pays attention when I say “Stop!” in my dad-voice.  If I say nothing or just keep walking, he’ll drop his head to the ground and stop to grab a bite.  When that happens and because Sam is about 1300 pounds heavier than me, I also stop, often very suddenly. 

They say that horses will change habits within six or seven weeks with steady and consistent training.  Sam has hung on to his habit for five years with absolutely no sign of giving up.  Even for a horse, that’s a long time.

I know a lot of people who are like that.  We have clients who insist on calling with orders, expecting us to just record them.  Each time, we ask for a valid purchase order.  Responses vary but everyone does at least give it lip service.  They are always shocked when they call back a week later and the verbal order has not been started.

My response is always the same.  “I can’t do it without a purchase order”.  Heck, I can’t even remember that we ever discussed the logo if I don’t have a purchase order.  When they finish being upset I will quietly repeat that we can’t keep track of anything without a purchase order.  And their response is typical.  “Well, it’s the way I’ve always done things.” 

In the 25 years Team Mates has been doing business, we have made many changes to our processes.  We have adapted to the requirements of our customers and we have reacted to our growth by streamlining our systems and through the improvement of our processing.  We do this in order to be of better service to our customers.  After all, our goal is to listen to our customers, consider their needs and react through change and adaptation.  That is how we provide service.

Sam will never change.  He is a horse and has a different thought process.  He can’t communicate with me to tell me why he won’t adapt.  He might have his reasons for not wanting to stop eating under halter.  It might be that he just doesn’t understand.  No matter the reason, I don’t ever lose patience with Sam.  He is a horse.  I am not.

My customers, though, are humans (for the most part).  They are reasonably intelligent and we take the time to explain the reason for needing to change our policies and procedures.  We also explain how the changes will benefit them. 

Those customers that see the value of change are usually the most successful in their businesses.  The ones that continue to call in their orders and never change are pretty well guaranteed never to be successful. 


Fortunately, Sam will manage quite nicely.  

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Heroes


In recent years, the debate over immigration in the United States has been epic.  There are few places in the heavily populated regions of this country where you don’t run into foreign-born people working at jobs.  We see people in all lower-paid areas of the service industry who are ‘not from around here’ and yet they work at those jobs every single day. 

No, they’re not just like us U.S.-born citizens.  They have a different language and culture and they earn substantially less money than we do (https://www.bls.gov/news.release/forbrn.nr0.htm).  They work hard in spite of this and they work every single day just like we do.  The aforementioned report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us that the jobless rate in 2015 was actually .5 percent lower for foreign-born people than it was for U.S.-born people. 

I emigrated to the Dominican Republic in 1982 from the U.S.  I went there to see the world from a different point of view and to see what it was like to live somewhere else.  It was a learning experience to state the understated.

I found out what it was like to survive in a completely different culture, to not speak the local language and to see how local citizens acted.  I worked hard to learn Spanish and soon became fairly fluent.   Those first months were frightening, especially when I learned that I wasn’t ‘from around those parts.’  People treated me differently.  I didn’t make a lot of friends at first.  I learned about nationality, about survival in a foreign country, about the very different view from outside the United States and about culture.  I learned a whole lot about who I was (a citizen of the United States) and I learned to respect those who found themselves in a foreign place.

For the most part I was welcomed.  I am from the Latino world’s view of heaven on earth, the home of the American Dream and the two car garage.  I was seen as rich, even when I found myself unemployed and nearly penniless.  There is, by the way, no unemployment net in the Dominican Republic.  You either survive and pay the rent or you find yourself on the street.  It is frightening for someone like me.  Latinos (and I am sure, many others), just live with the risk.  Eventually, by the way, I came back to the United States because I could not live in a country that had electricity 5 to 10 hours a day and expected its citizens to buy generators to make up the difference.

People who come to the United States are looking for work.  They are looking for opportunity.  Legally or illegally many people work to get here and work to stay here, to take the most menial jobs if that is what they have to do.  In the Dominican Republic, I met a lot of Haitians who had gone to the Dominican Republic the very same way, in order to find a slightly better opportunity.  They worked as maids for barely survivable wages because Haiti is even worse economically than the Dominican Republic.  There are simply no jobs in Haiti.  Conditions are horrible.  Haitians are hated, though, and still they go. 

The U.S. citizenry has a long history of treating its immigrants poorly and yet, without that supply of new people, we would not have anyone working in the jobs that we think ourselves too good to perform.  Eventually, those very same people have families, children who become acclimated to our culture and who become assimilated.  Those children become doctors and executives and pillars of our communities.  In short, they become like us.  Then it is their turn to be U.S.-born and to take better jobs, and treat the new arrivals exactly as we have treated those children’s parents.

I think of immigrants as heroes.  I was once in a similar position.  I know just how hard it is to go to another place, not speak the language and to eventually receive the sideways, sarcastic comments directed toward the new arrival.  Immigrants work, they celebrate their culture and they grow families that become Americans in every sense of the word. 

A week ago, we were informed that the United States would have ‘A Day Without an Immigrant’.  I told my staff, the majority of whom are Hispanic and Asian, that I would not penalize them for taking the day off.  All but 2 of the 20 or so folks that work at my company came to work that day.  I thanked them.  I continue to thank them.  They are the heroes to me.  Regardless of the social pressures exerted on them, they said that working that day was more important.  Why?  First, yes, they need the money.  Second, they see themselves as a team, a group of individuals who work together to make a company grow and prosper. 

Their logic was that this whole thing is a non-issue to them.  They live here.  They work.  Who, after all, would they be showing and what would they be proving?  That they had power?  They know that.  I tell them all, every chance I get, that they have that power.  I can’t replace our staff.  That makes them valuable and important both as individuals and as a group. 


The people who make up the fabric of our country are important individuals who are respectable, who work for a living and live for something that they probably could not have in another place.  There is a good reason for people to want to move to the United States.  I know that immigration won’t stop for any reason at all, regardless of who is doing what to whom.  And I know that the people who come here to make a better life for themselves earn the right to be heroes an awful lot of the time.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Promises


I was recently elected to the board of our wine makers’ club.  The meeting was held while I was on vacation and it was suggested that if I wished, I was welcome to send a campaign speech to be read by one of the members. 

My speech consisted of two paragraphs.  First I said that it would really be a pleasure to serve on the board.  The second was my “campaign speech” where I promised wine in the drinking fountains and free pony rides when we hosted the board meeting at my house.  Board meetings are, by the way, open to the entire club and are generally social gatherings.  We do, however, do quite a bit of work at the meetings.

In the past six months, I’ve actually honored both promises.  I gave rides to at least one member, although they were offered to everyone.  The trouble was that my ‘pony’ is actually a large draft horse.  I think that Sam, the large pony, intimidated a few members, even after wine was consumed. 

The second promise was honored, at least to some extent, when I put on a wine blending class.  Instead of fountains, I had pumps in glass bottles that dispensed measured amounts of different wines so that people could measure what they created.  It was a fun class and in the end, I did dispense the wine out of, well, sort of fountains.  I guess that it depends on the definition of a fountain. 

At my company, I have two very important philosophies.  First, tell the truth.  Customers call often and ask if we can do certain jobs and we will give them honest answers.  Also, if we have a problem with any bit of work, and it was our fault, we tell our customers what happened.  Honest answers serve us far better than anything else.  This also applies to our employees.  We will not misrepresent any part of the company’s operations nor will we allow for our employees to do that. 

The second part is that we honor our promises.  When work is promised, we take it very personally if it is not complete at the proper time.  We can’t control every aspect of our surroundings, and know that.  We take the responsibility for our commitments though. 

I have no control over snowstorms that stop all shipments.  While this year has not been terrible in that regard, we have had a lot of people out with illness, sick children and other issues.  It seems as though our staff is never all at the shop at any given moment.  And yet, we take the responsibility and not once have I blamed staff shortages for any job to which we have a committed due date.  The thought that this might be a good excuse is foreign to me. 

After several years of practicing the two policies, our staff also tends to work together tocreate successes.  We didn’t always do this.  The changes took place back in 2008 when I started asking customers and what was required of Team Mates in order to set us apart from other embroidery companies.  The answers were clear and repetitive.  “Honor your promises and tell us the truth” were repeated so often that even a stubborn guy like me actually started to listen.  We changed the way that we did business, learned to track the progress of our orders and tell the truth to each other and to the public at large. 

The result has been that people began to trust us.  Over eight years have passed and the idea that we do this has become so ingrained into the company and to the people that work here and to our customers in general that we generate few complaints and more often than not, we are able to create great successes even through failures.  People understand that if we didn’t deliver on time, something catastrophic and beyond our control has happened.  Usually, rather than penalizing us, we are given help.


It thrills me how well people work together when we deliver on a promise or two.