Until They Know You Care...

Until They Know You Care…

This week I had an opportunity to attend the Society of Lake Management Professionals annual summit. It was a phenomenal conference, held at Daytona Beach Hard Rock Hotel. If it had been warm instead of in the 50s and 60s, it would have been hard being present at the conference, and there would have been many more bodies on the beach.

I was an invited guest speaker at the summit. This summit usually features key notes and talks about the science of lake management—think fish, aeration, chemicals, monitoring, testing, and more! But this year, the executive director of the Society decided to address topics relevant to small business owners.

I met Maryanne, the SLMP executive director, at a Florida Society of Association Executives Roundtable speaking event, and from that gained this invitation. My talk at the roundtable was on Leading without Authority, geared for the executive who needs to guide their own development, or for executives who lead teams so they can create an environment of encouragement for self-directed professional development.

Some New Territory

When Maryanne asked if I would come and give a talk, I responded affirmatively. Between that request, though, and the conference date, the talk changed at her request from a repeat of the Leading without Authority topic, to addressing Hiring/Retention/Inspiration/Innovation, in 70 minutes. Some of this was new territory for me to present on, but none of it were unknown topics for me and it was really interesting to research these topics.

The 150 attendees were grouped at tables of 9, with a Table Leader assigned to each table, and a 3M tablet for recording working group thoughts.

In working groups, we addressed hiring: how challenging it is today, how to approach it as a small business. We addressed retention, and the pitfalls of an inflationary environment and the challenge of keeping up with rising salaries so your staff is not lured away. Also, we addressed inspiration and how to keep the good feelings rolling. We addressed innovation, working hard versus smart, and how to motivate when financial motivators aren’t working.

Quotes Can Be Gifts

When I wrapped up the talk, I tied in a quote from Teddy Roosevelt that was used frequently in the early days around Alpha UMi, thanks to Robin Wikle. That quote is, “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

It was that quote that lead one of the attendees, Harry, to catch me during a later break and share the following story.

Harry lives and works out of Huntsville, Alabama, where there is a Toyota assembly plant. One day he was in line with a gentleman who was sporting a Toyota hat, so Harry asked him if he worked at the plant.

The Toyota man replied affirmatively. Harry’s next question was whether the plant was unionized. The Toyota man said no. Harry then asked if Toyota took care of the workers. The Toyota man replied, “Let me tell you about that. When I arrive for my shift, and I work 2nd shift, a man with a clipboard greets me by name and asks me how I want my steak cooked. I tell him, and he then lets me know that at my meal break, I’ll be having steak, potato, salad and iced tea. And then I’m wished a good shift. Toyota cares about us. They do this every night.”

How Caring Is Shown

That is caring. The workers would not be able to leave the plan to get a meal with the time allocated. Toyota went above and beyond to bring dinner in, a good dinner, that said “we care.” And the employees responded well to that message.

That conversation with Harry happened a few hours ago, but I’ve been thinking about it ever since. In my career, I have had my share of tough bosses, and “What have you done for me lately” type of jobs. But I stuck with it because it always led to the next opportunity, a means to an end.

In my days at IBM, they took their pound of flesh. But in return, I got to participate in symposiums, sales events and management training that were the best of the breed. They sent me to get a Ph.D. as my job. And when I returned, they were surprised, because most of their Ph.D.s went on to work elsewhere, which was okay because IBM believed that they were seeding the population of forward thinkers. Besides, many would come back to IBM after a decade or so away. It took the deep IBM pockets to have an attitude like that.

Did my management team at IBM care about me? Well, they showed more interest in my professional development than any other company I ever worked for, and had a lot of resources to throw my education. And in 20/20 hindsight, they really wanted me to succeed, whether it was with them, or somewhere else.

Can Care Look Different?

Did my management team at IBM really care? I never thought so when we were subjected to 80 weeks on shifts to get a system delivered with congressional oversight. But I was in the trees and couldn’t see the forest (the bigger picture.) We got that system delivered at great personal sacrifice. And I guess someone noticed because I now get to use Ph.D. after my name which they made it my job to acquire.

Someone cared. Not sure who that was. But as I can now see the forest, I can feel gratitude to those who made it possible. If only they were still around to thank.

Preparing and giving talks for conferences like this is not a cake walk. I spend hours in research, and usually I get to experience a panic attack sometime during the night before a presentation. But I always learn something. I always get to meet someone with a thought to consider in a future talk, like Harry and his Toyota man interaction. And I usually get some form of positive encouragement that makes it worthwhile, particularly when I get asked to do another speaking gig, or I get to engage in conversation for companies or colleges who want our products.

I hope they can tell that I care.