“The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.” – Coach John Wooden
What is worse over the long term? Is it ultimately more demoralizing to an organization to institute standards and to then pay nothing more than lip service to them, or to throw caution to the wind and have no standards at all?
It’s a serious and legitimate question. After all, much of modern life in recent years has involved abandoning or downplaying those behaviors and practices that seem to bear little relationship to the things that must get done on a day-to-day basis.
At the risk of sounding picky, this article will argue that, far from being a relic of an earlier era, standards of appearance, behavior and execution constitute one of the few ways we have of distinguishing who we are amid the jumble of brands and personalities. If we honor them, they will repay us with the kind of annual rewards that attended Mr. Wooden’s legendary basketball teams.
On the other hand, if we pay them superficial lip service, we will be exposed as pretenders.
Are You Ready For Business?
Frankly, it depends on the business you’re in. If you have defined your route service teams as being largely in the delivery business, then readiness is a fairly easy condition to meet. It’s when you start believing you’re in the sales and service business that things can get troublesome.
If we are truly in a sales and service business built around cleanliness and order, then cleanliness begins with the vehicle. Has it been inspected and deemed clean, inside and out? Let’s get more demanding. If you were a customer of your company, would you be favorably or unfavorably impressed by the condition of the truck your clean garments and sparkling linens are delivered in?
What about the appearance of your routes service reps? We hate to admit it, but we have witnessed massive variations in personal appearance standards during our years as consultants in this business. Do your people meet 100% of your dress code requirements every day? Should you care if they don’t? Are your team members routinely clean-shaven and well-coiffed? Do they wear the right footwear, or is safety an afterthought? If you have a company hat, are they proud enough of your company to wear it?
Being lax on personal appearance standards is the first indicator your customers will receive of varying quality standards in the product you sell. It will also be seen as an indicator of your organization’s lack of focus. Over time, your customers will assume that your company does not commit and adhere to uniformly high-quality standards. Make no mistake. They will conclude that you simply do not care and search for someone who exudes that professional look.
What about the tools of the trade? Do your route reps have them at all times? Do they routinely carry samples? Do they have a measuring tape on their person or size sample range on their truck? After all, personnel change constantly these days. To be unprepared for handling customer inquiries and solving problems with new products and services is to completely miss foundational opportunities for growth.
Do You Execute According To Plan?
Execution begins before the first product is stocked. Does your route rep park the company truck in a spot where it does not interfere with your customer’s business? At the end of the day, everything we do sends a message. Is it the right one? Do they routinely clean up the service area after the visit?
More importantly, do you insist that your route reps debrief with clients either before and/or after the stop? This is perhaps the most critically important moment for your brand during the entire sales and service process; it is your chance to take credit as an organization for the value you provide. To fail at proving value at every opportunity is to invite undercutting from a price-conscious competitor, as you are not special in that client’s eyes.
Your people should be specific in describing added value. This is your chance to tell your customer about garments you have delivered to new employees, notify of uniform upgrades for pre-existing employees, or take credit for other add-on or ancillary services you have provided.
Finally, this is also time to toot your own horn. If you have signed a new client or re- signed an existing account, this is when you take credit. If it’s your anniversary of being in business, say so. Do it in person, not merely in an email. Why? Because people equate successes with other people. Besides, success multiplies when it’s shared.
Every End Is The Beginning Of Something.
Do your route reps close out the day with a debriefing from their supervisor? Brushing off a daily debrief is easy. Doing so is also a first step on a slippery slope to brand oblivion. Again, shoddy debriefs are a sign that sustainable quality just isn’t that important to the company culture.
Fact is, your route service reps actually need to have a meaningful conversation with a qualified leader about the day’s events even if they’re seasoned pros. This is where reality testing and proactive planning actually happen. The end of the day is that important time when important issues can be discussed without the pressure of schedule.
Is the route expanding or contracting? Are there competitive issues that need to be challenged or addressed? Has there been a change in ownership in an account, or any significant changes in personnel? Sharing these issues and concerns makes them organizational issues as opposed to purely personal ones. It’s your chance to let your employees know their professionalism is supported by the entire management team.
Making numbers is important. Whatever you have chosen as your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) or measurable performance standards, they need to be discussed daily/weekly with a service leader to keep everyone on the same playing field. More to the point, failure to maintain KPIs sends the message that corporate goals are unimportant until a point is reached that calls for a “Hail Mary.” This is amateurism.
Finally, the debriefing should include a proactive approach. In other words, the last half should be a look-ahead to assess any developing problems or opportunities with accounts. Discuss potential renewals or non-renewals. This is the time to get issues on the table and eyeball strategies to combat them before they require more drastic action.
The point is: daily debriefings represent your best chance to challenge your team to its best efforts in a systematic manner. Failure to do so indicates a willingness to accept whatever fate the marketplace decides your brand deserves.
Don’t be surprised if that’s second best.
Execution isn’t magic. It takes practice. It’s simply running your playbook day after day until you run it better than the other team runs theirs. Half of life may be just showing up, but the other half is showing up with the confidence to win because your people know what’s demanded of them, embrace the standards and are poised to perform to the best of their ability.
We’ll close with one last thought. To know – and not to do – is not to know. If reading these words has made you at all nervous about something, you know what you need to do.