Connect, Communicate & Contribute

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Engagement is the hot leadership strategy these days. On some subliminal level, we know what it means. But on a practical level, it is much more difficult to define. It is like so many ideas during this time of epic transition in society.  Abstractions are easier to understand that actual actions.

I'm involved in a project with the Presbyterian Churches (PCUSA) in North Carolina to raise money for our ministries on college and university campuses. It is more than a fund raising project. It is an engagement one, as we engage all segments, levels and congregations of the North Carolina Presbyterian world to support our work with students, faculty and university administrators.As we have worked through the various strategies that we need to successfully meet our financial goals, we are at the same time affecting change in people's perceptions and actions. This is very much what engagement means in its current use.

Our engagement strategy is built around actions that we are asking people and their churches to take. In this sense engagement, isn't just marketing, but encouragement to action. The emphasis on action, rather engagement, is because engagement is an ambiguous term. It can mean only mental engagement. And ultimately that sort of engagement does not produce results. Actions builds confidence, and confidence builds strength. So the goal of any engagement process should be more people participating, action, doing, taking initiative in three specific areas that we have identified as critical to our success.

We are focused on three types of actions: Connection, Communication and Contribution. If we succeed in increasing the level of connection, communication and contribution, then our campaign will be successful. This is true for any organization.

The simple idea that lies behind connecting, communicating and contributing is the importance of personal initiative. If you want people to be engaged, then they have to take initiative. When their initiative is focused on making connections with people, communicating their mission in terms of a story, and intentionally and strategically contributing by making a difference that matters, then engagement ceases to be a cool abstract business idea, and a living reality within your organization.

I cannot emphasize enough that the key is creating an environment where people feel free to take initiative to connect, communicate and contribute. If there is fear or too many boundaries to cross or obstacles to overcome, then they won't.

What does it mean to Connect, Communicate and Contribute?

Here's a starting point for each.

Connection: Connection

We all move through our lives in relationships with others. Some people are family, others are friends, many are colleagues and the vast majority are people who are nameless faces that we pass by along our life's journey.

There are three keys to connection.

The first key is that through our connections we open ourselves up to a broader, more diverse context.  The perspective we gain helps us to better understand who we are and how we fit in the social and organizational settings where we live and work.

The second key is our connecting strengthens community. When I introduce one person to another, the opportunities that can grow from that connection far out weight the ones we have without those connections. Living in isolation, which is not the same as being an introvert, weakens the institutions that society depends upon for its strength.

The third key is that when we connect, we are placing ourselves in a relationship of potential mutuality of contribution. I can pinpoint people with whom I connect with around the world for whom our mutual support for one another is an important foundation strength for our lives. We don't connect just to receive something from someone, but also to give in mutual benefit.

Communication: Communicating

With the growth of social media, everyone is a communicator. However, what do we mean by communication?

The most common fallacy regarding communication is that it is about what I communicate to others.  It is the old model of information distribution as communication.

The kind of communication that matters, that engages people to participate and contribute, is one that is more like a conversation. It is a two exchange, rather than simply a one-way download of my opinion.

The real purpose behind communication is to establish a connection that builds an environment of respect, trust, commitment, and contribution. This produces real conversations that matter. This is how communication becomes genuine engagement.

Contribution:  

I have seen so many organizations during my professional career that were languishing because there was no spirit of contribution.By this I mean, the people who were the organization did not see themselves as the owners of its mission. They were employees hired to do a job.

A culture of contribution is built upon a foundation of appreciation and thanks.

Typically, people see thanks as a response to a gift of some kind. As a response, it is less an act of initiative, though deciding to write a note, rather than sending an email, is a greater act of initiative because the effort and cost are more. 

The purpose here is to understand how increasing contributions by people is a form of engagement. Five Actions of Gratitude - blogpixRED

The Five Actions of Gratitude are acts of personal initiative. They are intentional and strategic. They are acts of mutuality that provide meaning and reality to the connections that we've made. Let's take a quick look at each to understand their function as sources of contribution. I've written more extensively about this under the title, The Stewardship of Gratitude.

Say Thanks: Too often saying thanks is a way we close a conversation. That is not what this is. Instead, we are expressing a perspective that identifies how the connection to someone, group or community has made a difference to them.  Our giving of thanks contributes to the strengthening of the ties that bind a social or organizational setting together.  I've heard it said that Saying Thanks is the "lubrication" that greases the wheels of society, making them run smoothly.  This is part of its contribution.

Give Back: When we give back in service, we are giving, contributing to a person, an organization or a community that has given to us. This is the heart of what we know as volunteerism and philanthropy. For many people, this is where our most significant contributions are made.

Make Welcome: This act of hospitality, or Hostmanship as Jan Gunnarsson suggests, creates an environment of openness, inviting people to join as participants who give, create, contribute their gifts and talent.  Openness and hostmanship are not automatic actions. They are intentional actions of initiative that create the opportunity for an organization to develop a culture of open contribution. Where there is openness to contribute, there is engagement.

Honor Others: When we practice honor, we elevate the human connection that exists in an organization or a community. I cannot think of an more important contribution than to create an environment where each person is honored with respect and thanks for the contributions that they make. Do this, and the motivation to contribute will grow.

Create Goodness: If we were to live to create goodness, we'd spend our days as contributors, and less as passive recipients of others creative goodness. My vision of this is to see an organization where every single employee take personal initiative to create goodness that makes a difference that matters.  To do this means that we'd face all those obstacles and cultrual barriers to engagement, and create a place where people can discover a fulfilling life of contribution as creators of goodness.

Strategic Connection, Communication and Contribution

These actions of personal initiative are not tactics for failing systems to buffer themselves against the harshness of a declining situaiton. Instead,these are strategies of change that help leaders and their organizations make the necessary transition from the organizational forms of the past into those that emerging. These are strategies of engagement because that create a different social environment for people.

At some fundamental level, we'd have to address the organization's structure to determine to what extent it can support a growing environment of connection, communication and contribution. This is the most difficult question because are embedded forms that are resistant to change. They do not adapt well to creative forces from outside of their own control. Yet, the engagement are identifying with these three strategies is an intentional relinquishing of control so that people are free to create their own ways of contributing.

In this sense, leadership shifts from a control mandate to a facilitating, equipping and visioning one. Leaders create an environment of openness so that personal intiative can create new structures for contribution. As a result, leaders become the keep and nurturer of the values of the company. They are constantly reminding everyone of these values of personal initiative, creativity and contribution.  They are protective of this openness that produces engagement.

The future belongs to those people who can create an organizational and community environment where personal initiative to connect, communication and contribute becomes the culture. When we do this, engagement transitions from being the hot topic of the moment to the reality that we find live with every day.


Gratitude: Circle of Impact Conversation Guides

This is the last in a series of post describing the message and use of my Circle of Impact Guides.

Five Actions Gratitude

This guide developed out of a desire to identify how a person and an organization should act when gratitude is the motivation. Gratitude, I've discovered, is a response to another person's kindness.

Aristotle wrote,

Kindness is …
”helpfulness towards someone in need, not in return for anything, nor for the advantage of the helper himself, but for that of the person helped.”

I have written about this idea both here and here.

The purpose behind this guide is a belief that gratitude is not just a feeling, but a way we should live. Therefore, the Five Actions can be described in the following way.

We Say Thanks in Gratefulness.

We Give Back in Service.

We Make Welcome in Hospitality.

We Honor Others in Recognition

We Create Goodness through Personal Leadership that Makes a Difference That Matters

How To Use This Guide:

As a team, talk through each of the actions and identify specific steps that you can take to make each one a part of your team's experience.  It is important to understand that at some level each one of these actions is a gracious response to some person or situation.

For example, to Say Thanks Every Day is to recognize the kindness and generosity of others who have made a difference in your life and work. This is true even of your team who may be the beneficiaries of other teams or individuals.

One of the simplest practices is to write a note of thanks. It is better than an email, a tweet or a text message. It is a sign of effort to write a note and send it by mail.

Another example is how we practice hospitality. (I wrote about this in my review of Jan Gunnarsson and Olle Bloehm's marvelous little book, Hostmanship.) Making people Welcome is not just for when they come by for a visit. It is how new people join, and become full participants and contributors. The fewer the barriers to leadership, the higher the level of hospitality that is practiced. Hospitality is concerned with creating an open and opportunity rich environment for people. This is an action of gratitude because we are creating an environment that anticipates reasons to say thanks and offer recognition for the contributions of people.

It is in this kind of environment that people find the opportunity to Create Goodness out of their own sense of purpose or call to take initiative to make a difference.  When a person discovers and fulfills their purpose, that discover that without the assistance from others, some known and others unknown, that this fulfillment is possible. A result of this response in gratitude is that people find that their lives are Personally Meaningful, Socially Fulfilled, and the are Making a Difference that Matters.

When your team can identify how to develop your practices based on the Five Actions of Gratitude, you'll begin to see that many of the issues that formerly inhibited your work together begin to be resolved.

This is a conversation guide not a prescriptive formula. You and your team must decide what each of these actions mean in your context. The conversation will lead to a serious consideration of the importance of your relationships with one another, and how to make them work better.


A Reminder to Brothers, Fathers, and Men

Jan Gunnarsson is the co-author of a wonderful little book called Hostmanship. He sent me a note today on Facebook that I want to share.

Hi Ed! As my mission in life is Hostmanship and to contribute to a more welcoming world, i felt really sad when a saw a photograph in the news. Well, i picked up my guitar and sang right out what I felt, went to a studio, got some musicians together and put the result on Youtube.

Here's his song.

Jan ends his song with these words.

Don't just react. Act.
Don't just think. Talk.
Don't just sit. Walk.
Pass It On.
This song is from a Father with hopes that you might donate something to an organization that makes this world a better place to live in. That's all.

We are living in a time when the economic hardships that affect individuals are impacting non-profit organizations as well. If you can contribute money, great. If you can contribute your time and talents, even better. Our communities and our world depends on individuals taking the initiative to make a difference by giving. If this means going without an extra cup of coffee, a movie next weekend or a second trip to the store today, so be it.

Thanks for the gifts you give. May they come back to you as satisfaction that you've made a difference.


Saying Thanks Every Day - my inspiration for this ethic of giving

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When the Johnny Bunko contest was announced last fall, my first reaction was Say Thanks Every Day. It was a recognition of the importance of what others do for us every day.  But what was it that opened my mind to think that this response was the right one? I've been thinking about this over the past few weeks.

I can now trace my inspiration for Saying Thanks Every Day to my experience with people who picked up and moved to the Mississippi Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.  Some came for a few weeks, other many months, a couple families I met, two years, and one woman, has been there since the beginning of the recovery.

Their example is of giving and self-sacrifice, of the desire to help and make a difference. Frankly, I have been moved by seeing what has taken place down there. It is largely hidden from the public's view because it was never a wide-spread movement of giving. It was simply people taking initiative to give in tangible ways.

I am grateful for them, and give thanks every time I hear a Katrina report for those who went and contributed. 

Please don't think this is something in the past. It isn't. It is still going on today. People are still taking time off work, using their vacation time, and at their own expense to travel from across the country to go to New Orleans and the Mississppi Gulf Coast to continue to rebuild the physical structures of communities - homes.

There is an ethic of giving taking place there that has has begun to transform how people think about their relationships, their businesses and their communities.  For all the things I've written about here and in my newspaper column, Hostmanship is the one that keeps coming up. Read my review here to learn more.

I want you to understand that there is something happening, and this vote for Saying Thanks Every Day is just a small part of it. it is happening without a lot of fanfare, and if Saying Thanks Every Day wins, then it will have a bit more public notice.

So, if you have not voted, please do so through next Thursday, January 15. (Voting is closed.)

And it doesn't go without saying, Thanks very much.


Hostmanship Review repost #7

This is a repost of my review of Hostmanship for the benefit of those who have found me through the Great Johnny Bunko Challenge. My 7th. lesson is Say, Thanks, Every Day. A fitting action of Hostmanship.  A portion of this review will appear each day throughout the week.


Hostmanship cover 2

This is the last post in a series on the book Hostmanship - The art of making people feel welcome, by Jan Gunnarsson and Olle Blohm.  You can find the whole review as a downloadable ebook here .

Hostmanship is a leadership approach that mirrors what is called servant leadership, a business leadership concept developed by the late Robert Greenleaf.  His work is carried on by an organization under his name. The Greenleaf center describes servant leadership this way.

Servant-Leadership is a practical philosophy that supports people who choose to serve first, and then lead as a way of expanding service to individuals and institutions.  Servant-leaders may or may not hold formal leadership positions.  Servant-leadership encourages collaboration, trust, foresight, listening, and the ethical use of power and empowerment.

Here's Robert Greenleaf's own definition.

The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first.  Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead.  He or she is sharply different from the person who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions.  For such it will be a later choice to serve – after leadership is established.  The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types.  Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.

 

The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served.  The best test, and difficult to administer, is: do those served grow as persons; do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society; will they benefit, or, at least, will they not be further deprived?”

Taken from the Servant As Leader published by Robert Greenleaf in 1970.


Servant leadership is what people should do.  The problem is that we primarily think of it as a system of leadership to be applied like a manufacturing process. It is not a technique driven solution to organizational problems.  It is something different, and that difference I believe is what Jan Gunnarsson has understood in this idea called Hostmanship.

The difference between the two concepts is that Servant Leadership begins with the desire for the leader to serve. Hostmanship begins with the leader as a person.

As the authors say, Hostmanship is an attitude. It is an attitude that is exhibited in action, in relationship.  This is a throwback to the philosophy of ancient Greece that saw in the action of a person the character of the person. The better the character the better the action.  And in this case the better the Hostmanship character the greater acts of service as a servant leader.

I have struggled for over twenty years with the way leadership is conceived in American organizations.  I do find it primarily technique driven. Master these skills. Adopt this style. And you'll be an effective leader.  I don't think it really happens that way.

Rather, leadership character develops under stress and testing.  The real character of the person emerges when the walls of responsibility are closing in and there is no easy escape.  When pressure builds and there is the inclination to flee or hide, and you stand your ground and find a way out.  This is the pressure cooker that builds or reveals leadership character.  And if you come through it as a servant leader, you will most likely have the makings of being an excellent host to your company's guests.

Literally everyday, I talk with people in the crucible of leadership stress and demand. They are not all clients in fact most are not. They are simply people of all types who desire to make a difference in their lives, and seeking for some way to make it work.  I don't think servant leadership as a management concept addresses this situation for most leaders.  I do think that Hostmanship begins to.

Hostmanship is an attitude about people and your relationship with people in a business context. It is an attitude of openness and caring expressed in service. But it begins by recognizing who you really are.  Do you really know your own limitations?  Do you really see your limitations as a gift of direction for your life and the course of your business?  Where you are limited means either, don't go there or I need someone to fill the gap. Hostmanship leaves behind our natural arrogance that puts ourselves above our guest, and instead puts us in a more humble relationship to people so that mutual service and benefit may result.

I've known about Hostmanship for a long time, though I didn't know the name or of the Swedish authors that brought the world this fine little book. I've known it as much as a guest who wants my hosts to be at their best. I want to be the kind of guest that wants my host to serve me with joy and anticipation for the appreciation that I can return to them.  Yes, you are hearing correctly that I think guests have as much to do with the quality of service as hosts do.

Hostmanship is born in caring and kindness towards others.  It is not a weak or passive approach to leadership. Rather it is the most difficult type of leadership there is.  It is the attitude and the character that precedes servant leadership. It is the leadership of personal responsibility.  It is my taking responsibility for my actions in relation to my guest and the environment that my guest finds them in when they come to me for service. It is the leadership of the whole person realized through their function, in their organization, for their destination and nation.

I hope you will acquire a copy of Hostmanship and share copies with your friends and colleagues.  It will make not only a business difference, but also a personal one that will bring great satisfaction and happiness.


Hostmanship Review repost #6

This is a repost of my review of Hostmanship for the benefit of those who have found me through the Great Johnny Bunko Challenge. My 7th. lesson is Say, Thanks, Every Day. A fitting action of Hostmanship.  A portion of this review will appear each day throughout the week.

Hostmanship cover 2

This is the sixth in a series on the book Hostmanship - The art of making people feel welcome, by Jan Gunnarsson and Olle Blohm.  You can find the whole review as a downloadable ebook here .

National Hostmanship

Jan Gunnarsson and Olle Blohm wrote this book focused on Hostmanship as it applies to people and companies in Sweden.  One of the outcomes that they hoped to achieve is raising the pride that Swedes have in the country and expressing that pride to visitors from other countries.

There are many ways to welcome someone to your country.  Your hostmanship is a reflection of your personality.  If you are Swedish, you might take a foreign guest to a hockey or bandy match in the winter or a boat ride to the archipelago in the summer.  You might buy tickets to a concert in Dalhalla or stay a night at the Ice Hotel.  You'd want to show them something exotic about your country.

Your hostmanship is a reflection of you, what you're fascinated by, what makes you proud and what makes you Swedish.  National hostmanship is a way to show your guests that it's not just any country they have traveled to; it's your country.
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Being a host in your country is very much a question of pride.  You have to want to show off what's yours and not be afraid to occasionally defend yourself.  You live here and you've taken a stand - you're Swedish.

As I read these words, and the entire chapter, I thought about how this applies to being an American.  I felt that as a country we had lost something that the authors are trying to encourage in their country.  In America, I think this is a more complex issue. There really isn't a single America. We are a nation of immigrants and geographic regions.

Think of the difference between an Italian from the North End of Boston and or a Navaho living in northern Arizona. Very different cultures, traditions and geographic locales.  Yet both American.  People take pride in being an American when they are away from our shores.  When home they take pride in the indigenous culture of their region.

For example, when visitors come to our home, we want to show them the mountains and help them listen to some mountain music that has its roots in the ancient Scots-Irish Celtic string music tradition.  As a North Carolinian, I want them to share with them basketball and barbeque.  More than anything, we want to share our friends with them.

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Several years ago, a young woman and her family from North Ireland that my son had met a church youth conference came to America for a month long journey.  A week was spent, not so much with us, but in our neck of the woods here in Western North Carolina.  We gathered with friends for dinner. I took the father and the brother who is wheel-chair bound with MS down to the camp where our Boy Scout troop was at summer camp.  Daniel, the boy, is a scout back in Belfast.  It was so much fun to share parent's day at camp with him and his dad. We took the family to a mountain farm to pick blueberries. We helped them to understand who we are, and especially the Scots-Irish heritage of our region.

This type of hostmanship is highly personal. It requires a personal relationship for hostmanship to be done.

I believe what Gunnarsson and Blohm are suggesting is something different. And it is this that is both its genius and its most problematic aspect.

They are not saying, "be a host when convenient."  They are saying that live every day as a host. That every person whom you meet act as a host to them.  They are saying make an effort to share your country with the guest, the visitor, and the stranger.

The problematic nature of this it would seem is that so many people come to America looking for a better life. This phenomenon in particular is being played out on our southern border with Mexico where thousands cross our border every day seeking a variety of things - some noble and some illegal.  I'm not making a comment about government action.  I am suggesting that what Hostmanship implies is that people who come to our country are guests, and that certain privileges, rights and responsibilities come with being a guest.

As a guest in my home or my nation, you have the right to be treated with dignity, as a person and with due respect. You don't have a right to knowingly and with malice violate our laws and culture.  You have the responsibility as a guest of treating our country with respect.  If we can establish mutual respect, then a relationship of trust can be built, and then I can show you my country, and you can tell me your desires for your life and family, and why you have come here.

I know Mexicans who come to America to work to support their families that live back in their home country.  They spend nine months working, sending checks home and then they return home for three months, and then return to work again. These guests in our country work in the Christmas tree industry in our region.  They are people who are respectful of the communities where they live and as a result build a long-term relationship with the families that hire them.

This is an example to me for how in our country people can act as hosts to people from foreign lands who come here for more than a holiday visit.

There are many more aspects of Hostmanship on a national level that require us to reflect upon how we present the best of our country to the world.

I am proud to be an American.  I love all the regions of our vast land.  I love the rich blend of cultures that make the regions unique.  I am pleased, therefore, that Hostmanship ends with this call to National Hostmanship.  It is a very good attitude to encourage.


Hostmanship Review repost #4

This is a repost of my review of Hostmanship for the benefit of those who have found me through the Great Johnny Bunko Challenge. My 7th. lesson is Say, Thanks, Every Day. A fitting action of Hostmanship.  A portion of this review will appear each day throughout the week.

Hostmanship cover 2

This is the fourth in a series on the book Hostmanship - The art of making people feel welcome, by Jan Gunnarsson and Olle Blohm.  You can find the whole review as a downloadable ebook here .

Organizational Hostmanship

Unless impossibly small, every organization is divided up into functional units. You have a sales force. There’s a fulfillment office, a HR department and a production staff. Each function has its own purpose and method for operating and measuring their performance. The leadership challenge is to avoid the silo effect, which is the fragmentation into territorial units who are protective of their turf. Unless addressed proactively an organization will devolve into separate little fiefdoms.

Gunnarsson and Blohm address this reality in what they call Functional Hostmanship. They begin by identifying the principal attitude that lies behind this destructive tendency in organizations. When people view people with "thinly veiled contempt"(their phrase) they are making a statement that their function area is all that matters in the operation of the company.  We've all either been treated to or have exhibited ourselves the condescension that one person or group has toward "them" who are not like us. When this attitude exists within an organization it is difficult for any sense of being a team to develop.

I’ve told the story before of the hosiery mill where I did a project several years ago. The mill was organized around 17 separate stages in the manufacturing of socks. Each stage was so isolated from the other stages - meaning their whole focus was on their function and their function alone - that no one in one stage knew what the stage before or after it did. This fragmentation was major factor in the eventual closing of the business.  It extended beyond the manufacturing floor to the executive suite.  In essence, everyone was there to do their own thing and receive their just compensation.

The cure for thinly veiled contempt is respect. Respect for other people, their backgrounds and the belief that everyone will make their best choice based on the situation at hand. If you look at it that way, it is easy to like other people, cherish the moment, to treat interaction with your guests as uplifting and always focus on the guest’s needs. You will clearly feel that you, your function and your organization are part of something bigger than yourselves.

The key to Functional Hostmanship is this attitude of respect. How is this done? It begins with the recognition that we each must be responsible for our own part of the organization. If we sit in judgment of others, we are in essence taking on ourselves the responsibility of knowing what is best for them to do in their function area. When we respect someone, we accept his or her responsibility for knowing what to do and doing it. Consequently, we accept our own responsibility for doing our part.  This is partly why I see Hostmanship as an ethic of responsibility.

In truth, I can’t fix anyone. That is a delusion. To think so is a denial of reality. If we are honest and objective, we have a difficult enough time changing ourselves, much less other people and whole departments with our business. But that is the attitude of thinly veiled contempt. We think we know better than them, and often we don’t. Contempt is really a clever way to avoid responsibility. When I am contemptible toward some person or department, I am really trying to avoid that functional group’s scrutiny of me and my department. As a result, we put up walls to avoid criticism. Our isolation not only keeps us from learning how to do a better job, but also hurts the company.

Gunnarsson and Blohm describe it this way.

A guest is a guest is a guest

The surest way not to misjudge a guest is never to judge anyone. What your guest chooses to wear, how she cuts her hair or who she is with is up to her. What you should be interested in is her needs. When I mentioned in the last section the ability to read a guest, I meant doing it without making value judgments. Your focus should be on the situation at hand and the function within the company the guests decided to turn to.

Hostmanship is fixed before the guest ever arrives. It is part of the overall performance, expressed at a predetermined level in harmony with other functions and the company as a whole. In other words, the hostmanship you offer is constant as the products you sell, which in turn differ merely in terms of size, model, color, etc. The guest expects you to play your role and not break the spell.

Hostmanship is a way to bring unity and cooperation to your company. Just as personal hostmanship is integral to functional hostmanship, functional hostmanship is essential to organizational hostmanship. We’ll look at that stage of Hostmanship tomorrow.

Frankly, Organizational Hostmanship is where most people think of customer service belongs.  Too often though it simply means a program of techniques employed to improve customer recruitment and retention. The idea of loyal customers or guests, as Gunnarsson and Blohm describe, to many organizations is little more than just trying to build repeat business.

Hostmanship is about creating loyal customers or guests. It is an ethical system of business relationships built upon the personal responsibility of employees to act as hosts to the guests of the business.  

Gunnarsson and Blohm trace good hostmanship to a clear, well-stated mission. From their perspective a good mission incorporates clarity about “Why we are here” answering what need or problem is met through your business. It addresses how the culture of the business achieves that mission and what you do as a business.

Because hostmanship is fundamentally an ethical perspective, it finds its expression in the culture of the organization.

As luck would have it, there are really only two kinds of corporate cultures, and only one of them promotes hostmanship. You either create a culture where everything is steered in detail, where management lists every possible problem and standard operating procedure is never to promise anything without consulting a supervisor. Or you can try to create a culture where values are the overriding concern, where the key is shared responsibility. A culture where the satisfaction of every employee is a priority and where a level of hostmanship has been established. That’s when a philosophy of hostmanship develops, and the hostmanship you offer is firmly accepted by every member of that culture.

Hostmanship isn't a quick turn around approach to organizational improvement. Rather it is a culture forming methodology that creates the foundation for a sustainable relationship with guests. It is an attitude that the company projects that is open and welcoming to its guests.


Hostmanship Review repost #3

This is a repost of my review of Hostmanship for the benefit of those who have found me through the Great Johnny Bunko Challenge. My 7th. lesson is Say, Thanks, Every Day. A fitting action of Hostmanship.  A portion of this review will appear each day throughout the week.

Hostmanship cover 2

This is the third in a series of postings on the book - Hostmanship - The art of making people feel welcome.The first posting - an introduction -can be found here, and the second on Personal Hostmanship, here.

Functional Hostmanship

Unless impossibly small, every organization is divided up into functional units. You have a sales force. There’s a fulfillment office, a HR department and a production staff. Each function has its own purpose and method for operating and measuring their performance. The leadership challenge is to avoid the silo effect, which is the fragmentation into territorial units who are protective of their turf. Unless addressed proactively an organization will devolve into separate little fiefdoms.

Gunnarsson and Blohm address this reality in what they call Functional Hostmanship. They begin by identifying the principal attitude that lies behind this destructive tendency in organizations. When people view people with "thinly veiled contempt"(their phrase) they are making a statement that their function area is all that matters in the operation of the company.  We've all either been treated to or have exhibited ourselves the condescension that one person or group has toward "them" who are not like us. When this attitude exists within an organization it is difficult for any sense of being a team to develop.

I’ve told the story before of the hosiery mill where I did a project several years ago. The mill was organized around 17 separate stages in the manufacturing of socks. Each stage was so isolated from the other stages - meaning their whole focus was on their function and their function alone - that no one in one stage knew what the stage before or after it did. This fragmentation was major factor in the eventual closing of the business.  It extended beyond the manufacturing floor to the executive suite.  In essence, everyone was there to do their own thing and receive their just compensation.

The cure for thinly veiled contempt is respect. Respect for other people, their backgrounds and the belief that everyone will make their best choice based on the situation at hand. If you look at it that way, it is easy to like other people, cherish the moment, to treat interaction with your guests as uplifting and always focus on the guest’s needs. You will clearly feel that you, your function and your organization are part of something bigger than yourselves.

The key to Functional Hostmanship is this attitude of respect. How is this done? It begins with the recognition that we each must be responsible for our own part of the organization. If we sit in judgment of others, we are in essence taking on ourselves the responsibility of knowing what is best for them to do in their function area. When we respect someone, we accept his or her responsibility for knowing what to do and doing it. Consequently, we accept our own responsibility for doing our part.  This is partly why I see Hostmanship as an ethic of responsibility.

In truth, I can’t fix anyone. That is a delusion. To think so is a denial of reality. If we are honest and objective, we have a difficult enough time changing ourselves, much less other people and whole departments with our business. But that is the attitude of thinly veiled contempt. We think we know better than them, and often we don’t. Contempt is really a clever way to avoid responsibility. When I am contemptible toward some person or department, I am really trying to avoid that functional group’s scrutiny of me and my department. As a result, we put up walls to avoid criticism. Our isolation not only keeps us from learning how to do a better job, but also hurts the company.

Gunnarsson and Blohm describe it this way.

A guest is a guest is a guest

The surest way not to misjudge a guest is never to judge anyone. What your guest chooses to wear, how she cuts her hair or who she is with is up to her. What you should be interested in is her needs. When I mentioned in the last section the ability to read a guest, I meant doing it without making value judgments. Your focus should be on the situation at hand and the function within the company the guests decided to turn to.

Hostmanship is fixed before the guest ever arrives. It is part of the overall performance, expressed at a predetermined level in harmony with other functions and the company as a whole. In other words, the hostmanship you offer is constant as the products you sell, which in turn differ merely in terms of size, model, color, etc. The guest expects you to play your role and not break the spell.

Hostmanship is a way to bring unity and cooperation to your company. Just as personal hostmanship is integral to functional hostmanship, functional hostmanship is essential to organizational hostmanship. We’ll look at that stage of Hostmanship tomorrow.


Hostmanship Review repost #2

This is a repost of my review of Hostmanship for the benefit of those who have found me through the Great Johnny Bunko Challenge. My 7th. lesson is Say, Thanks, Every Day. A fitting action of Hostmanship.  A portion of this review will appear each day throughout the week.

Hostmanship cover 2

This is a serial review of the book, Hostmanship - The art of making people feel welcome - by Jan Gunnarsson and Olle Blohm.  The first entry introduces the idea of Hostmanship and its dimensions.

This second entry focuses on the first stage of Hostmanship - Personal Hostmanship.

Having read this little book, I am left with the impression that we Americans think of business as primarily a set of tactics, strategies and tasks that we do. We are focused on activities and not so much on the inner conditions of effectiveness. Personal Hostmanship is a way to address that lack of connection to personal excellence.

For Jan Gunnarsson and Olle Blohm, there is a distinction between hostmanship and customer service.

One of the big differences between hostmanship and a "service attitude" is the feeling that stays with you after the guest is gone.

In service, the focus is on the recipient, and we say that as long as the guest is happy you've done a good job.  In hostmanship, the focus is on the provider. Good hostmanship is something you take home, that becomes part of you. It's something that helps you to develop your personality.

This is really counter-intuitive. We have been told that the customer comes first; the customer is always right; be self-sacrificing, etc.  Hostmanship challenges these notions with the simple idea that healthy, balanced, happy people make the best hosts. This means that we each must have an eye to our own "self-care."  Of course, this idea may be a cultural distinctive of Sweden. Here in the US, we tend to think everything IS about us. Of course, this is not what they are saying.  It is about something more personally challenging that just taking care of yourself.

To have the courage to step forward requires confidence, and that can only be attained if you know yourself.  It's also one of the biggest challenges as a host.  You have to understand yourself, who you are, where you come from, your references, values, prejudices and limitations.

Read that last sentence again. That's a tall order, and quite different than simply living a stress-free, pleasure-rich life.  To achieve this level of life is to become a person of wisdom; a person of integrity; a person who is whole, complete and "together."  I'm sure that when the idea of hostmanship was introduced that it appeared to be simply a clever way to talk about customer service.  Instead it is an insightful way for one human being to make a difference in the life of another.

Professional success demands personal success.  No one can simply switch over from an uncertain, destructive personality at home to a thoughtful, caring one on the job.  In other words, the private you must be in sync with the professional you.  This requires a great deal of thought as to where you are in life and that you make the best of your opportunities.  I realize this isn't easy, and it's something you would do first and foremost to better understand yourself rather than your guests.  But personal hostmanship isn't something you can express halfway.  You have to open up and greet your guests with your entire person.  It requires that you know yourself and express any uncertainty you are feeling to the organization you work for, so that your colleagues can encourage you. They will thank you when they see the results.

Personal Hostmanship creates an environment where the guest's needs can be met.  But it doesn't stand-alone. It requires the other stages to work.

Tomorrow will look at Functional Hostmanship.


Hostmanship Review repost #1

This is a repost of my review of Hostmanship for the benefit of those who have found me through the   Great Johnny Bunko Challenge. My 7th. lesson is Say, Thanks, Every Day. A fitting action of Hostmanship.  A portion of this review will appear each day throughout the week.

Hostmanship cover 2

Hostmanship - The art of making people feel welcome is a remarkable little book by Jan Gunnarsson and Olle Blohm. I came upon this book reading a blog reference to it by Tom Peters. Gunnarsson and Blohm are hospitality industry veterans in Sweden whose take on customer service and leadership is refreshing.

The book provides a fresh look at customer service. I'm going to review the book here at Leading Questions in a six posting serialized version during this week. The first will be a description of what Gunnarsson and Blohm mean by Hostmanship, and then in successive days, I'll take each of the five stages and discuss them. 

What is distinctive about Hostmanship, as compared to most books on customer service, customer experience, word-of-mouth marketing or leadership, is that this is not primarily about strategies and tactics. It is about the attitude that we bring. 

This attitude is captured in a quote from the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard.

If we wish to succeed
in helping someone reach a particular goal
we must first find out where he is now
and start from there.
If we cannot do this,
we merely delude ourselves
into believing that we can help others.
Before we can help someone,
we must know more than he does,
but most of all,
we must understand what he understands.
If we cannot do that, our knowing more will not help.
If we nonetheless wish to show how much we know,
it is only because we are vain and arrogant,
and our true goal is to be admired,
not to help others.
All genuine helpfulness
starts with humility before we wish to help,
so we must understand
that helping
is not a wish to dominate
but a wish to serve.
If we cannot do this,
neither can we help anyone

Hostmanship is about the source of loyal customers. It is about the relationship that is established between a business and the people who benefit from that business. Hostmanship is about the kind of care that is exhibited.  Hostmanship is about making people feel welcome.  Gunnarsson and Blohm recommend stopping using the term customer and instead call them guests.  Customers buy things, guests come and should be made to feel welcome.

What does it mean to feel welcome? Here's how they portray it.

When I walk into a restaurant, there are several things that make me feel welcome:
Information - There should be a menu outside the door.
     Design - that someone cares
     Cleanliness - Everything from the hostess's blouse to crumbs swept off the floor
     Safety - If it's below ground, I want to see an emergency exit
     Greeting - Someone should notice I am there
     Attention - I don't want to sit and wait forever
     Friendliness - It doesn't hurt to smile
     Listen - I want to be heard
     Speed - Service, service, service
     Price - I don't want to be overcharged
All these things affect me before I've even eaten anything.

The difference that is created with Hostmanship is that the heart of a business is an attitude about yourself. It starts with who you are as the leader and with who your employees are, and then that attitude gets translated to the "guests."

Hostmanship is about giving.  It's about sharing a part of yourself and your knowledge. Never forgetting that people who have contacted you are an extension of yourself.  It's about understanding that, at that moment, you are an important part of her life. Not only because you have the answer to her question. You are also the person she has chosen to turn to.

Hostmanship is an art. The host is an artist.

Gunnarsson and Blohm describe this attitude in terms of six fundamentals: Interaction, The Big Picture, Dialogue, Responsibility, Consideration, and Knowledge.  Let's look at each.

Interaction: The authors convey a sense of magic in the encounters that we should have with guests. Each interaction is different.  And we need to see it that way.

When a guest appears at the door of your business, she stands before you with her entire history in tow. What you see is not just a person but also a life's worth of experience.  The question she will soon ask is a product of that experience.  My point is that each meeting is different.

Because it is different, it means that we must look at each interaction as not the same as the one before, but as the one that is taking place right now. When we treat people as guests, they cease to be customers, market segments, or bottom-line fulfillment opportunities. They aren't the next appointment, the next interruption, the next distraction.  They are people. They are not abstract objects that we just deal with. They are people who have real lives and real needs, and they've come to us to have at least one of those needs met.

The Big Picture:  We live in such a segmented, fragmented, silo'ed world. But people don't really see us that way. When a guest walks into the shop or the office, everything is a part of the whole. There is a level of integration that exists that guests sense.  If integrity is lacking, then the guests sense that too.

Being willing to associate yourself with what you sell means to a large extent being part of a guest's experience and making the product come alive. ... What's important is to see the connection between you, the product and the company.  A trinity that in the guest's eyes is always a single entity the moment she visits your business.

Dialogue: There has been much written in the last 15 years about dialogue or in the importance of how we talk with one another.  To a great extent, dialogue is dependent, not on our ability to articulate our thoughts, but rather to listen.  To listen objectively, perceptively and non-prejudicially.

Dialogue requires the courage to see beyond prejudices and a willingness to treat guests in a friendly and personable manner. To show others who you are and offer a memorable encounter. ... Listening is much more than understanding what is said. ... In a dialogue with a guest, the "right" questions aren't always asked. But by listening, you can tell her what she hasn't yet put into words.

Responsibility: Responsibility is the initiative we take to meet our guest’s needs.  It is not simply doing what is required by the job description, but being responsible for the organization's care of the guest.

Assuming responsibility means seeing your business with guest's eyes. What's expected of you? What does your guest need?  How can you help to ensure that the guest benefits from what you do?  In short, are you taking responsibility for your guest's success?

Lying behind responsibility is a commitment or as the authors put it a promise.  The promise can be anything, but it is what you say you will provide to your guests. Here's how they see it.

"I spoke with someone at your company who told me ..."  "In the catalogue it said that it was included ..."  "I phoned before and was promised that you would ..."  "When I was here yesterday you said ..."

It's not unusual to hear such things from a guest you meet for the first time.  She carried a promise with her across the threshold and now expects you to keep it.  It might have been an ad that made the promise or maybe one of your colleagues who the day before was in a hurry to get home and went a little overboard. That doesn't really matter.  As an employee, you are responsible for the big picture and that includes promises.

What is a promise exactly?  And when is it broken? Is a room by the sea where a big tanker is docked outside blocking the view still a room with a view?  ...

When is a promise is broken and what consequences should it have?  These are two questions a responsible organization has to answer.  When I discuss this with people in the tourism industry, they usually refuse to offer any form of compensation when I mention things like ugly curtains.

Gunnarsson and Blohm see criticism as the test of this sense of ethical responsibility.  Their approach to creating opportunities for guests to tell them the truth is rather creative and insightful about human behavior.

One of the toughest challenges is finding out what your guests really think about your business.  I have a hard time believing they will tell you the whole truth even if you ask them.  That may sound cynical, but I think about myself and how I react when someone asks how I feel, how the food tastes, if I slept well, if my car is working all right, if the shoes fit, how the jacket feels, etc. I have a host of polite responses the questioner is expecting to hear.  You simply can't trust what a guest says as she is leaving or what she writes down on a slip of paper and drops in your suggestion box.

Getting to the truth takes more than that, something the guest doesn't expect. Situation where she is surprised by her feelings and eventually can't keep them to herself.

They proceed to tell a story of how the common factor in repeat business was that each guest was dissatisfied at some point in their experience with the company. In one instance a mistake is made and ... well, let them tell the outcome.

We of course apologized, immediately called in housekeeping and, to make it up to them, offered to buy a round of drinks for everyone before dinner that evening. They invariably accepted.

When evening came, we brought the entire company together for a drink in a separate area next to the dining room. It was there that we had our chance. I usually began with a toast and little speech about how what had happened was my fault, and then took advantage of the next half hour of casual chatting to get to know them.  It was a half hour when I had their attention and could sell them on our hotel and town.

This formula proved so successful that we began purposefully forgetting things. ... It was a bit underhanded, I admit, but we learned that complaints could also provide an opportunity to nurture a long-term relationship.

An ethic of responsibility looks for ways to build relationships. What better way that to create opportunities for disappointment to be resolved and the host-guest relationships reconciled.

Consideration: The inclusion of the dimensions of Consideration and Responsibility is why I see Hostmanship as an ethical system for developing customer relationships, or guest relationships.  Consideration is the key to the whole Hostmanship system because it is the key to how we see the guest before us.

Well, consideration means much more than understanding how someone else feels. To me, it means seeing another person's humanity without the blinders of prejudice, and doing so with affection.

Consideration requires the host, not to treat every person alike, but every person with dignity and value. This doesn't mean that guests are always right, or nice, good, pleasant people. It just means that we don't prejudge whom they are because of some identifiable characteristic that might make treat them one or another.

Hostmanship is giving.  Considerately giving of yourself, your time, your energy and your personality.  A willingness to share the best of yourself.

Knowledge:This is not simply mastering a collection of facts. Instead it is knowing how to interpret the situation that your guest is in and apply your knowledge to their situation. This means that a host is always learning, not just more about his field, but also how to integrate that knowledge into the life experience of the guest.

As a host, you also need foresight. It might be a simple thing, like noticing the man in a shirt and sport coat handing in his key before heading out into Malmo on a January night. You know how cold it gets in Malmo in January. Or when you help two British women with theater tickets. It might be worth mentioning that the theater they are attending is quite plain compared to the City Theater. You use your knowledge of the city to steer your guests in the right direction.

A considerate host does much of this naturally.  A good host is always learning, interpreting and thinking.  The goal should be to have enough knowledge to cover all the needs of your guests, and not only as guests but as people.

This sort of knowledge also means that you are aware of the differences in cultures so that your own behavior as host does not unintentionally offend or confuse your guest.

As is seen, there is much to learning Hostmanship. It is an ethic perspective that is similar in idea and practice to Robert Greenleaf's servant leadership concept.  Both intentionally focus on others in order for greater effectiveness to be gained.

Jan Gunnarsson and Olle Blohm divide Hostmanship into five stages of application.

Personal Hostmanship

Functional Hostmanship

Organizational Hostmanship

Destinational Hostmanship

National Hostmanship

I'll look at one of these each day this week.

Until then, you may enjoy reading this simple introduction to Hostmanship that can be downloaded from the Hostmanship site in Sweden.  Make sure you link to the English side of the website.