Fred works at Barnes and Noble

240px-Barnes_and_Noble_logo.svgI love books and bookstores. Growing up an only child there obviously wasn’t a sibling around so books became my closest companions. They were always available and never let me down. So naturally, I love bookstores. My local Barnes and Noble is my hangout and despite the electronic book phenomena, I firmly believe that bookstores are the piazza’s of the 21st century. It’s where ideas are exchanged and people come together.

One day I ran into “Fred” at the B&N in Westminster, Colorado – except her name was actually Catie. I was sitting in the cafè area and watched as Catie helped customer after customer. She moved with energy, smiled and seemed like it was actually her privilege to help the person, rather than an inconvenience. She didn’t just tell customers where to find books, she walked there with them, and when they didn’t have a book, she cheerily ordered it and wished them a good day.

Now, most every employee at every B&N I’ve been too (and I’ve been to dozens throughout the country – it’s kind of a hobby of mine when I travel – visiting B&N’s), have done the same thing for their customers. They help you find a book, or order a book if they don’t have something in stock. Their customer service is very good. But what made Catie different is her excitement about being able to help people – like it was her privilege, AND, the fact that it seemed she shared her customers’ desire to get the book – she demonstrated empathy. Catie is definitely a Fred.

Mark Sanborn says that customers don’t have relationships with organizations, they have relationships with individuals (Sanborn 75). So how can you cultivate Fred’s in your team or organization? Sanborn lists four elements – Find, Reward, Educate, Demonstrate (yes, the acronym spells F-R-E-D).

  • Find. There are 3 ways to find a Fred. First, let them find you, but for this strategy to be successful you need to already have some Fred’s working for you (Sanborn 77). Talent attracts talent. Like attracts like. Fred’s want to play with the first string team. Second, you can discover the dormant Fred’s in your team. Sometimes it is just watching for people who do things exceptionally well (Sanborn 79) and encouraging them. You can also reward them with a little bit more flexibility or allow them some creative freedom in how they accomplish the goals. Third, you can hire them. Ask why anyone would do more than necessary. Ask them to describe an exceptional customer experience they’ve encountered and what made it exceptional (Sanborn 79). Many time Fred’s can be found through observation. I know that I’d have hired Catie on the spot to represent my company if I had the need.
  • Reward. Despite all of the managerial rhetoric and cheerleading we do not get the behavior we hope for we get the behavior we reward (Sanborn 81). Identify what your people feel is a reward or an award for them. For some people it truly is more money, for others it is recognition or higher levels of responsibility. “When you don’t see much meaning in what you do, you won’t bring much value to what you do,” Mark Sanborn (83). Share with your team the importance of their job and the meaning it has to others. It is also critical to not jump all over someone when they try and fail. That will surely kill any future innovation and severely hamper your Fred development.

    There is a great line in the movie Take Me Home Tonight, starring Topher Grace. Grace stars as a recent college graduate who is failing to launch – he’s still living at home and working a minimum wage job. He tells his dad he’s a failure. His dad (played by actor Michael Biehn) tells him that he is not allowed to “credit himself” as a failure, because to fail you must first try, something he has not yet done.

  • Educate. Since I am a professional educator and trainer I might be a little biased here but Sanborn backs me up. If people are taught only ordinary subjects and skills they will only know how to be ordinary (Sanborn 86). You should be teaching your employees how to be extraordinary which can happen with a legitimate investment in training, but also through example. As you become more Fred-like you will find examples of Fred’s and Anti-Fred’s everywhere. Record in writing all of the ideas and examples that you see. Then, challenge the people on your team to find examples as well. Make it a contest to see who’s got the best Fred example. This promotes the sharing of Fred-like qualities in the workplace.When you find good ideas or good examples make sure you properly adapt the idea to your situation. I see this in my other life all the time. As an aviation security expert I’ve watched how the United States attempted to adapt good security practices from other countries but ended up watering them down to the point of not just ineffectiveness, but actually increased the risk of the thing they were trying to prevent. It is like a recipe, if you want it to taste like it’s supposed to you have to put in the proper ingredients in the right amounts.
  • Demonstrate. You’re going to have a really hard time cultivating Fred’s if you do not be Fred-like in your own actions (Sanborn 90-91). My good friend and director of Centennial Airport, Robert Olislagers, taught me this very important lesson. Even before Robert and I knew each other that well when he would introduce me to others at an industry conference he would introduce me like a rock star – like it was the other person’s privilege to be meeting me. Robert had done his homework and had the key points of my resume memorized and would always talk me up. Then I noticed he does that with everyone he knows. He is giving all of us significance and as a result he is one of the most respected and well-liked people in our industry. That, and the fact he is one of the most knowledgeable airport managers in the world.Sanborn does caution us that when demonstrating your friend like qualities make sure that you inspire others, not intimidate others. Don’t expect people to achieve your level of Fred-ness right away. Reward them for small victories, and just like Robert does when he introduces somebody – make that person feel just as significant for their contribution no matter how large or small – always acknowledge them and show them how they’ve added value (Sanborn 95).

“Those who can’t do, teach.” I hate that saying because there is no truth to it. I love Sanborn’s new quote: those who can, teach best (Sanborn 94). And although I’m an educator by training and by profession, I have learned far more from watching the Roberts and the Catie’s of the world than I ever did from a management training session. Your employees are learning from you – what are you teaching them? If someone wrote a book about your management style what would be the title?

Sanborn, Mark. The Fred Factor: How Passion in Your Work and Life Can Turn the Ordinary into the Extraordinary. New York: Currency/Doubleday, 2004. Print.

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