Haircut in My Language

Someone, please tell me:  Why is it so difficult to find a place for a man to get a decent haircut?

It’s not like I need a haircut all the time.  I show up for this quarterly, like a corporate financial report.  My father tells me that he is old enough to remember a time when men sat in the barber’s chair on the corner for a touch-up every week.  I have a feeling that the experience was intended to be more social than depilatory.

I’ve read about remnants of the haircut as social experience lingering on in barber shops frequented by African-Americans in urban communities.  And while I support public opportunities for socialization, perhaps it is my suburban sensibilities that cause me to prefer an arm’s length business transaction.

Notice to hair cutters:  I’m not here to make a new friend; I don’t expect you to be my bartender.  I don’t want to swap life stories, nor do I wish to discuss the presidential election, my marriage or even the weather.  If you do ask me a question, I will endeavor to respond politely and I expect the same courtesy in return.  Please can the rudeness and do not inquire about my weekend plans or what I’m having for dinner.  In return, it will be my pleasure to include a generous tip to express appreciation for your time and expertise.

Some would claim that my attitude paints me as inhuman.  At some level, I would have to agree.  I’m still hoping that modern technology comes up with a reliable robo-barber.  Tim Cook and Satya Nadella, are you listening?

These days, it seems that my alternatives are the national unisex haircutting chains or the local three-chair shop that we pass regularly along the highway.  Yesterday, I tried the latter and was quite disappointed.  I suppose that, from an “it’s all relative” viewpoint, I have no cause to complain.  At least I didn’t emerge looking like a Marine on Parris Island, as I did after my previous haircut in Fresno.  My chief complaint is that the hair cutter, who was not at all gentle, nicked me twice.  I attempted to point this out by yelling “Ow!” but I don’t think she got the message.

I suppose I should be grateful that this hair cutter did not attempt to engage me in conversation.  Perhaps this was due to the language barrier.  As she seemed to understand the general type of hair cut I was requesting, I was not aware of this issue until she was done and I asked how much I owed.  Although she repeated herself twice, I could not understand what she was saying.  She finally resorted to the international language of money by holding up the corresponding number of fingers.  Now, I am all in favor of multiculturalism, but I do believe that we require a common language in which we can all communicate.  Perhaps this is easy for me to say, because English has become something of an international language and happens to be the language which I speak.  Perhaps I need to “check my privilege.”  Should the common language we choose turn out to be Spanish, Mandarin or something else, I will begin studying.  In the meantime, however, I expect those with whom I am spending my money to speak enough English so that we can conduct business without resorting to sign language.

Until then, does anyone know a decent place for a guy to get a haircut?

 

Advertisements

Be Humble

My parents tried to teach me to be humble through a variety of pithy phrases, among them “don’t get too big for your britches” and “don’t be a sassy pants.”  I’m still not too sure what either of these means, but I think it has something to do with not bragging about your clothes.

Zappos Core Value #10:  Be Humble

For years, I thought that being humble wasn’t a very good thing at all.  If a person is in humble circumstances, that means that he’s poor.  And if you are well and truly humiliated, it is said that you “eat humble pie.”

As if that weren’t enough, I associated being humble with minimizing one’s own finest attributes.  Whatever happened to tooting your own horn?  You can’t expect anyone else to do that for you.  As they say, “if you’ve got it, flaunt it.”

It took a few decades of experience and a bit of maturity to come to the understanding that I had it all wrong.  Gradually, I came to several conclusions:

  • No matter how good you are at something, someone else (usually someone younger) is better. (This is a good thing.  It gives you something to strive for.)
  • When you finally think you have all the answers, they change the questions on you.
  • “After the fire, a still small voice.” 1 Kings 19:12
  • “This is the way the world ends / Not with a bang, but a whimper.” S. Eliot

Ultimately, I believe that being humble is a close partner of being grateful.  If I am able to make just one person’s life better in some small way, I am grateful for that.

The world is a big place, and most of what we do in life is insignificant in the grand scheme of things.  No one is going to write a book about what I did at work today, nor will what I had for lunch make the local newspaper.  However, if I’m very lucky, perhaps one of my coworkers will go home and tell his wife that a manager gave him a nice compliment today.  Perhaps that will put a smile on her face and she’ll return the favor to someone else who needs it, who will do the same for more people.  As you can see, I am a big fan of “paying it forward.”  If someone is kind to me, it makes me want to do the same for others.

That’s why it is so important for managers to lead by example.  Whatever behaviors we model are likely to be copied, consciously or not, by employees.  Send the right message, do the right thing, wow a customer, spread the love and you may just have done something good for thousands of people.

To me, humility is about being satisfied with the small things, knowing that the small things are really all that matter.

Most important of all, believe.  Believe in yourself, believe in your customers, believe in what you do.

Believe that you can.

Thank you for staying with me for the past ten days as I made my way through Zappos Core Values.  It’s wonderful to find a business I can truly admire.  Could I be a future Zapponian?  One can dream!

Tomorrow on A Map of California:  14th century Japanese warlords have taken over my life!

NaBloPoMo 2015 Logonanopoblano2015dark

Be Passionate and Determined

“Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”  Doesn’t that sound ideal?  But for most of us, it’s only a dream.  We grab at anything that pays the bills, keeps our kids fed and keeps a roof over our heads.  Instead of making the most of what we are doing while we work toward doing what we really want to do, we treat employment with all the enthusiasm of zombies.  I believe that Zappos has helped to show us that there is another way.

Ninth in a series.

Zappos Core Value #9:  Be Passionate and Determined

In my experience, “passion” is about the last word that many would associate with their jobs.  Too many of my coworkers and subordinates have treated their employment with an attitude of bare tolerance.  “This is just what I do to earn a paycheck,” is their sad refrain.

I shake my head and say “Life’s too short, dude!  Go do something else.”

I have come to the conclusion that this unfortunate situation is often the product of “job mismatch.”  As much as management seeks to avoid this, it can be tough.  There are lots of people who can “fake it” for a 45-minute interview, then show their true colors once hired.  Applicants know we want to see indications of interest in the company, investment in their career, cheerfulness and, yes, passion.  I once played a part in hiring an applicant who seemed to embody all of these qualities.  She told me this was her “dream job” and that she had to pinch herself to believe that she wasn’t really dreaming.  A month later, she left to go work elsewhere.  Perhaps it was us disappointing her as much as the other way around.

Once you’re on the job, passion and determination can’t be faked.  You might get away with it at the interview, but when you have a customer screaming at you for the third time in the same day, you either have what it takes or you don’t.

I like to think of employment as something like a marriage:  You’re supposed to take it for better or worse.  You don’t run away or give up on days that fall into the “worse” category.

In an industry in which success is measured by the happiness of the customer, employees must be committed to doing whatever is necessary to ensure that happiness.  It’s always nice when you get a customer who is already happy with the company, but most of the time, you have to create that happiness.  Fortunately, happiness is contagious.  However, this means that employees must have the right attitude in order to transmit that happiness to the customer.  This is what I mean by “passion.”  It’s that determination that “I am going to satisfy you if it’s the last damned thing I do.”

I will grant you that turning around an unhappy customer is often not an easy thing to accomplish.  Pulling off this feat requires having a lot of arrows in your quiver.  Apologizing as if you just broke your best friend’s heart.  Knowledge of products, availability and payment and delivery options.  Offering to refund money and resend the item as well.  Offering free next day shipment.  Coming through on all those promises.

As a customer service rep¸ I would know that I’d succeeded when my customer was rendered speechless.  Or when she would ask me why I was trying so hard.  Or when he would say it’s hard to stay mad when I’m so, well, nice.

Working in customer service can be an emotional roller coaster.  However, it doesn’t matter how good an actor/actress you are.  If you’re not a true believer, the customer will see right through you, at which point you are toast.

But if you’re truly aghast that something happened to prevent the customer from being delighted the first time around, and if you are determined to move heaven and earth to make it right, you might have the passion required to work in a place like Zappos.

I hope I get to find out personally one of these days.

Tomorrow:  We finish up Zappos Week with Core Value #10 – Be Humble.

NaBloPoMo 2015 Logonanopoblano2015dark

Do More With Less

In Hamlet, Shakespeare opined that brevity is the soul of wit.  Perhaps this makes the bard among the first to express the idea that less is more.  While I’ve always believed that only more is more (something to which anyone unfortunate enough to have been subject to my writing can attest), I am fully on board with the business practice of maximizing profits by squeezing every drop out of existing resources.  As my parents used to tell me: “You’d better make it last.  That’s all there is.”

Eighth in a series.

Zappos Core Value #8:  Do More with Less

When we were kids, we used to tell a riddle that went something like this:

Q: Which room is always growing?

A: Mush-room!

The real answer, of course, is “room for improvement.”  No matter how well something is going, it can always be done better. And as the world revolves and technology evolves, room for improvement keeps growing.

These days, the improvement that businesses feel most compelled to make involves efficiency.  In good times, doing the job with fewer resources increases profits; in not-so-good times, it can be the difference between survival and insolvency.

One of the worst experiences I’ve ever had as a manager was the time that half my staff was laid off due to financial difficulties.  After the shock wore off came sadness, then guilt by the remaining staff that they got to stay while their coworkers were out of a job, followed by anger that we had to continue to do the same amount of work with half the people to do it.  As hard as this was, it caused us to dig deep down into our reserves of resourcefulness, to find short cuts that did not compromise customer service and to do more work than we thought we were capable of doing.  We had to work harder and work smarter.

There are a number of different popular sayings that seem apt.  “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”  “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”  However you say it, you may be surprised what you’re capable of doing when you have to.

The most successful businesses learn to do more with less before they’re placed in a position in which they have no choice.  In fact, efforts to find ways of doing things better, faster and more economically have become almost routine, integrated into the corporate culture.  And why not?  Employees who are treated right tend to be committed to the success of their employers and make it their business to find ways to save time and money.

It’s always nice when we hit that “eureka” moment when a light bulb turns on and a whole new way of looking at things suddenly becomes obvious.  More often, however, it is the little things that make the big differences.  Shaving off a minute or a dollar here and there adds up quickly.

Learning to do more with less starts with making the most of current resources rather than always trying to obtain more.  This is especially true of human resources.  Why utilize an employee to perform just one narrow job when he or she has many talents that can be harnessed toward the company’s success?  Maybe you’re a customer service representative, but you might have a degree in accounting and artistic talent.  Why should I have you sit on the phones when what I really need right now is to have a new logo designed or to figure out a way to reduce our tax liabilities?  To be really crude for a minute, I’m going to squeeze you like a lemon. This is perfectly in keeping with the Golden Rule, as it is exactly how I would like to be treated!  As they say in the Army, I want to be all that I can be, and I hope you do, too.

So, hey there, Lemon.  I don’t want you to sit on the counter and look pretty until you rot.  On the contrary, I want to get every drop of juice out of you.  You have so much to offer and I plan to take full advantage of that!

There is nothing wrong with wanting more and pursuing it.  However, I also count my blessings and appreciate a company that does the same, that makes the most of what it already has before it goes looking for more.

You and me, Zappos, we’re on the same page.

Tomorrow:  Core Value #9 – Be Passionate and Determined

NaBloPoMo 2015 Logonanopoblano2015dark

Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit

As we approach Thanksgiving and Christmas, I find myself thinking about family a lot.  Admittedly, this involves worrying about such things as how we can help my two nephews who are out of work and what we will do about my octogenarian parents when they are unable to live alone any longer.  Even so, I get that warm and fuzzy feeling as I look forward to sharing Thanksgiving dinner with family and then celebrating Dad’s birthday a few days later.  We’ve started buying Christmas presents and imagining the looks on the faces of our grandnephews and grandnieces on Christmas morning.  I keep catching myself singing Christmas songs in the shower.  But then I go to work.  Wouldn’t it be great if I could carry that family feeling with me?

Seventh in a series.

Zappos Core Value #7:  Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit

One of my favorite memories from the early 1980s is Sisters Sledge singing “We Are Family.”  It’s just such a goofy, upbeat song that I can’t help bobbing my head and singing along.

It’s interesting that we tend to think of work and family as diametrically opposed concepts.  After all, work is what takes us away from our families, right?  And yet, most of us who have worked in a particular location for any period of time seem to develop “work friendships” that may or may not spill over into our personal lives outside of the office.  More romances than anyone can count have blossomed among coworkers.  (My wife and I, now married for nearly 17 years, serve as a prime example.)  And I keep hearing about close platonic relationships at work among “work husbands” and “work wives.”  Whether it’s a girls’ night out or just a chat over the cubicle divider, we try to bring “that family feeling” into the workplace.

And why shouldn’t we?  Developing positive relationships makes our days at work a lot more pleasant than they would be if we had to toil in solitary silence.  Plus, it’s nice to have people with whom we can “talk shop” and who understand exactly what’s going on without having to explain everything from scratch.  They know how it is and they can commiserate with us.

When I don’t understand something at work, it’s nice not to have to run to the boss when I can go to a friendly coworker for help and know he won’t roll his eyes.  There are coworkers who allow me to brainstorm with them and who will warn me if my bright idea is really rather lame.  And, of course, it’s a mighty good feeling to celebrate successes as a team.

I like the phrase “family spirit” that Zappos uses.  Family implies pooling resources for mutual benefit.  It also implies mutual regard and teamwork.  These are “feel good” attributes that don’t have to be limited to our home lives.  It’s a shame that too many, both employers and employees, seem to prefer to make work a misery for everyone involved, including the customers.

When employees share responsibilities and share details of their personal lives, we can avoid that unnatural line of demarcation between home life and work life that some believe is inevitable.  Ultimately, it’s our own decision whether we are going to make the most of our time at work or just dread every minute that we have to be there.

It is encouraging that some companies value their employees enough to be cheerleaders, fully invested in their success.  Often, this starts with injecting fun into the work environment, allowing employees to be themselves.  I value the feeling of togetherness among coworkers.  This is where I start singing the Sisters Sledge song.

Some will tell you that this is artificial and forced, that we are just at work to do a job, get paid and go home.  I, for one, refuse to live my life that way.  Life is way too short for such foolishness.  And it is well known that happy employees lead to happy customers and a successful business.  “Teamwork makes the dream work” is not a meaningless phrase.

Unless, of course, we want it to be.

Tomorrow:  Core Value # 8 – Do More with Less

NaBloPoMo 2015 Logonanopoblano2015dark

Build Open and Honest Relationships with Communication

This is the week that I sing a love song to Zappos!  Join me in my journey through the ten core values.

Zappos Core Value #6:  Build Open and Honest Relationships with Communication

Sixth in a series.

Here’s an oldie but goodie:  You start working at a new company and your manager tells you that she has an “open door policy.”  You have to be there a little while before you can determine whether your manager’s door is open just a crack or all the way (and whether that crack is wide enough for you to jam your foot in).

Unfortunately, this reminds me of a particular parenting style I’ve witnessed in which a mother or father tells the kid “you can always talk to me about anything.”  Then, when the time comes, it turns out that this is code for “don’t bother me, kid.”

I find it difficult to understand why a manager wouldn’t want to maintain good communication with her team and why company higher-ups wouldn’t want to keep the lines of communication open with the rank and file.  Sadly, some managers prefer to live in a world of their own making.  “Don’t confuse me with the facts” seems to be the predominant philosophy of these ostriches.  I enjoy playing “let’s pretend” with my three year old grandniece, but this tactic doesn’t work so well in the business world.

It’s no joke that the truth can hurt.  Nevertheless, brutal honesty is just as much the key to a successful relationship between managers and employees as it is between businesses and their customers.  Sometimes I need to be hit right between the eyes by having an employee or customer tell me that I’m being an ass.  I may be stunned at first, but I always end up thanking them for giving me an attitude adjustment upside the head.  If no one tells you, how are you going to know?

I’ll never forget the time when, as a supervisor, one of my team members took offense that I called her out for being a chatterbox.  He was insulted that I would dare make such an accusation.  However, the guy was a gossip, plain and simple.  Being friendly and talkative is surely an asset, but not at the expense of serving our customers.  And not when telling tales about your coworkers seems to be your raison d’être.  I was amazed when, about a year later, he sheepishly admitted to me that I had been right.  He had been so upset by my comments that he thought about them for a good long time and eventually made the necessary changes.

Granted, such a positive outcome doesn’t always occur.  I have a bit of a reputation as a meanie because I like to tell it like it is.  This is not a one-way thing, however.  If I dish it out, I expect to take it, too.  My staff seems to enjoy taking advantage of this opportunity on a regular basis.  Although it’s not always pleasant at the time, I appreciate when my employees “keep it real.”  If I’m starting to micromanage a bit, by all means, tell me to back off.  I have to learn by making mistakes and making corrections, because there is no other way to learn.

One of my pet peeves is upper management that treats employees like mushrooms — keeping them in the dark and feeding them bullshit.  How can you feel a part of things, know where you fit into the big picture, if information is treated as a closely guarded secret?

Arriving at a company that practices open and honest communication can be a little like stepping out of a stifling hot room into the cool, fresh night air.  You just breathe deeply and soak it in.  My staff has the right to expect me to lead them, but it is difficult to do so effectively when I find myself flopping about like a fish.  I enjoy being a leader, but it’s a tough road when you’re heading into the fog.

At companies like Zappos, the open exchange of information makes it possible to lead and actually know where you’re going rather than just guessing.  The holacratic model minimizes the importance of job titles, is committed to the free flow of information throughout the organization and disdains rigid roles in favor of establishing relationships that flex and grow over time.  Sounds like my kind of place!

Can you blame me for wishing I were a Zapponian?

Tomorrow:  Core Value #7 – Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit

NaBloPoMo 2015 Logonanopoblano2015dark

Pursue Growth and Learning

I remember a cartoon posted on the wall of one of my high school classrooms many moons ago.  In it, a boy sits at a man’s feet, apparently the victim of a father-son talk.  “That’s it,” says Dad.  “That’s all I know.”  The sad part is that some are indeed contented with what they know, preferring not to have to learn anything new.  Of course, that cartoon predated the internet by a couple of decades.  With every type of learning opportunity, from webinars to podcasts to MOOCs now available at our fingertips, there is no longer any excuse to be satisfied with what we think we know.  After all, a minute from now what you think you know will no longer be correct.  The only solution is to be a lifelong learner.  How fortunate that employers like Zappos encourage expanding our horizons, resulting in personal growth and increased ability to contribute to both personal and professional success.

Zappos Core Value #5:  Pursue Growth and Learning

My wife’s friend is quite clever.  Although she herself doesn’t enjoy reading, she understands the importance of encouraging her children to read and to maintain a sense of curiosity. Accordingly, when her kids were small, she would walk around with a book as often as possible and sit holding a book even if she weren’t actually reading it.  Her children got the message, and now it is rare for either of them to be seen without a book.  In our age of smart phones and tablets, I find this most amazing.

Indeed, it is true that instilling a passion for knowledge is among the greatest gifts we can give our children.  Growing up, I spent as much time as possible inside a public library.  I consider myself a lifelong learner, which is a distinct advantage in an age in which facts become outdated almost as soon as one learns them.

At work, I encourage my employees to jump on every possible training opportunity, including those not directly related to their current employment.  Whether this means attending a two hour seminar or signing up for a course at the state university, I support it.  If I have to change an employee’s schedule to make this possible, consider it done.  It doesn’t matter what “holes” this creates; we’ll figure out a way to make it work.  Not only is broadening and deepening of knowledge an investment, but it improves an employee’s ability to contribute to our success and increases life satisfaction in general.

I encourage my staff to do outside reading, to look things up online, to figure out how what we do relates to the rest of the world.  In my department, we’re just a little puzzle piece and it helps to have a grip on where we fit in with the big picture.

Back when I first started working in the court system, I discovered that my predecessor had no use for training.  Staff members never went to refresher training and were discouraged from making the three hour round trip from our remote location to the nearest training venue.  I am proud to say that I changed that.  Whenever possible, I would have the subject matter experts come to us.

My people would laugh when I would crook a finger and say “Don’t tell me you already took that training class.  That was ten years ago.  The world is not the same place that it was then.”  It was a novel concept to some of them that checking off a class on the training list didn’t mean that their obligation was forever resolved.

These days, I work in a place where training is decidedly rather hit or miss.  You never know when or if the training class you want will be given, whether you’ll be able to get in due to limited class sizes and whether your manager will allow you the time off to go.  Many of us don’t get a lot of formal training, so I encourage everyone to take the initiative to train themselves.  Thanks to the public library, the internet and the community college, there’s really no excuse to do otherwise.  Yes, I know you have a busy life.  So do I.  It’s all a matter of priorities.

The kind of place where I want to work has a well-stocked library, training that can be accessed online at my convenience, and a management attitude that no learning is ever wasted.  Let me improve myself so that I can improve my contribution to the company.

By the way, I’ve just described Zappos.  I don’t know whether I’ll ever get to work there, but at least I can hold them up as a model of a business that has proven that training and learning are assets we can’t be without rather than liabilities that we can’t afford.  And I am particular impressed with the Z’Apprentice program, in which employees get to try out working in other areas of the company to see whether a good fit exists.  More of that kind of learning, please!

Tomorrow:  Core Value #6 – Build Open and Honest Relationships with Communication

NaBloPoMo 2015 Logonanopoblano2015dark