Why We LOVE the Southwest Team After All These Years

Last week I flew back up to Nashville for Song Team, Team-Building gigs with Bank of America and SCA. The gigs could not have been more different. Tuesday night Scott Barrier, Sherrie Austin and I teamed up with 50 enthusiastic folks from Bank of America in an intimate setting. This was the first face to face meeting ever between these two departments, and we were honored to kick off a new era of collaboration at this forward-looking company. The next day, 11 other writer/facilitators and a full-band were my partners, in giving an interactive keynote for over 400 attendees at SCA where over the past year a merger has occurred, and where after a year of prep work this highly innovative, and creative company is moving forward with ONE vision. We were honored here as well, to be part of a new age of creativity, collaboration and innovation at a Fortune 500 company looking towards the future. What impressed me most about our clients on this trip was that the leadership in both instances, really seemed to “get it.” What did they get?

  • Setting the stage with a unified vision
  • Accentuating the strengths of the team
  • Clearly communicating the goals
  • Bringing everyone to the table

That’s what they got.   And it’s clear, that both companies are on the right path.  Keeping their eyes on the success of both their internal AND their external customers’ needs.  And guess what, because of this strong leadership, the employees for these companies are ALL IN!

On the trip back, Southwest Airlines impressed me, as they’ve done so many times before.  For some reason, I didn’t check in early enough.  Which, since I travel with a big ole’ Gibson guitar, is something I take seriously…usually.  I want to make sure there is always overhead space for the instrument.  When you travel in C group, occasionally, you may be out of luck. Southwest though, flying to and from Nashville, is typically VERY sensitive to the needs of musicians.    Here I was wandering onto the plane late, and the attendant at the front, without prompting from me, had already seen my guitar, and radioed back to her counterpart near the rear of the plane, to “reserve” a spot for my guitar to rest….she knows how many of us pickers feel about checking our babies.  I truly appreciated that.  Small detail, but makes a difference! Near the end of the flight, the crew dimmed the lights, and asked us to close our window blinds.  They they turned on some small emergency lights as “Candles” and sang happy birthday to a surprised passenger.  This is “business as usual” for the Southwest team.  But on a daily basis, their business as usual creates thousands of loyal customers….daily.

The Sum of the Parts

It’s been too long since I’ve written you in this space, and for that I apologize. To be honest, since taking on the role of Director of Operations at Big Dog Ranch Rescue, I’ve been overwhelmed by the undertaking in many ways. 11 months into the process I feel I’m starting to get the hang of it, and the inklings of a work-life balance are creeping back into my existence.

Today I read Neil Gaiman’s ‘Make Good Art” speech in book form. It’s a cool concept/graphic design oriented gift book, recounting this well-known speech he made at a University graduation ceremony May 17th, 2012. The gist of the talk is that those who “make good art” make many mistakes, BIG mistakes, and a variety of mistakes…and that the best artists do this often. The concept resonates with me, but truthfully, as I sit here looking at the lake and the seabirds on this Sunday morning…I really latched on to something else, though it was not the author’s intended message.

This book was quite driven by layout. So much so as a matter of fact, that though the entire book was comprised of snippets from Neils’ speech, he and the graphic artist shared billing equally at books end.

What hit me in the face upon reading both what Gaiman had to say, and how he said it was this.

When a painter paints, it’s truly the blending of colors and shades, the contrast between light and dark, and the context of white space vs. occupied space that tell the story of the work. How well the painter accomplishes this teaming of elements, in turn decides how successful the work will be in making a dent in the fragmented impression-span of today’s viewer.

When a dancer dances alone, it’s a sequence of moves, highly choreographed, much practiced…that all work together in creating a seamless stream of movement that is the actual “routine” of a dancer. The story is made of up pieces. Similarly, if the routine involves multiple dancers, rather than a solo act, it’s the joint movements or actions of the collective, which becomes the overall “painting” of this dance.

One of the most prolific songwriting teams in history, husband and wife Barry Mann, and Cynthia Weil are featured on Sunday Morning Live on CBS this morning. “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” and dozens of other landmark hits, were inked by this dynamic duo. Talk about a collaboration on multiple levels! Their combined talents, Cynthia for the words, and Barry for the music were largely responsible for creating the soundtrack of a generation. See where I’m going here? The sum of the parts is where it’s at.

Who can you team up with today to make progress, improve something, create your personal masterpiece, push one little corner of the world into better shape?

A Lesson from Google on Keeping Your Employees – (Sharing from Adam Vacarro)

Google’s decision to place senior vice president of advertising (and employee No. 16) Susan Wojcicki at the helm of YouTube offers an important lesson about retaining employees.

Re/code reports that Wojciki had recently had some of her responsibilities on Google’s senior executive team split with fellow SVP Sridhar Ramaswamy. Moving on from Google wasn’t out of the question. “Wojcicki had been interested in running her own thing [and] had also been a recruitment target for a venture capital or perhaps a CEO role,” the website reports.

Google’s dilemma–a high-performing worker wanting to give her leadership skills a whirl–can come up at any company. You might not be able to hand your employees the keys to a brand as powerful as YouTube, but you can let them scratch their itch by letting them launch their own projects under your umbrella. In other words, you can retain your top talent by encouraging a culture of intrapreneurship.

I know, I know. The term is one that causes many business owners to roll their eyes. It’s been found in the pages of Inc. since the 1980s, but rarely is it clear exactly how a small business with a distinct focus can realistically expect to let every employee chase her dream.

A few months back though, I was able to interview the leader of an Inc. 5000 company–Kansas-based marketing firm DEG Digital–about the company’s dedication to encouraging intrapreneurial endeavors. Among the feathers in CEO Neal Sharma’s cap: More than half of all DEG employees have a different title than the one they were hired with by the end of their first year at the company.

Sharma related the story of then-DEG web strategist Cara Olson, who years ago told him she wanted to leave the company to launch her own email marketing startup. Sharma listened to her idea, then asked her whether she’d want to stick around and launch the project for DEG. Eight years later, Olson manages 30 employees, and email marketing is one of the company’s biggest business units.

Weigh Your Interests

The obvious and important caveat about Olson is that she didn’t want to start a recipe blog or open a coffee shop. It’s unlikely that Sharma would have let her do so on DEG’s time. She wanted to start something that made sense for DEG to have under its umbrella.

So it’s important to clarify that for small businesses, an intrapreneurial initiative should be judged on its fit with your company. Sharma says he tries to approach every employee-pitched project as a venture capitalist would, thinking about the kinds of returns it could ultimately net DEG. At the same time, it’s necessary to weigh how well you can afford to lose that employee.

In the case of Wojcicki, Google’s brass clearly didn’t want to lose her. She’s been with the company since some of its earliest days; the company even operated out of her garage for a time. Putting her in charge of YouTube keeps everybody happy.

Google’s experience with Wojcicki doesn’t perfectly mirror DEG’s with Olson, but both drive home one obvious, yet easy-to-forget point: One key asset you have in your effort to retain top employees is, when reasonable, to let them do what they want.

 

 

Team Building Nashville Style

The Song Team with Amy & Holly at Delta Airlines Cincinnati Leadership Day.

The Song Team with Amy & Holly at Delta Air Lines Cincinnati Leadership Day.

It occurred to me while Sherrie, Michael and myself were working with Delta Air Lines up in "Cincy", that we were witnessing first-hand... a true, team building Nashville style experience, in real time. It was a bit odd actually, though not in a bad way. I mean, it's not as if we haven't seen this many times before while facilitating a songwriting/team building program. That's what we do. But in this case, there was so much give and take, a fast-paced, honest, transparent and ever evolving collaborative process going on in this beautiful,old library ball room.  We even had to vote once or twice on using one word vs. another in certain lines of our collective song.

The back and forth brainstorming was unfolding on stage between Michael, Sherrie and myself for certain(though in my exuberance at how supremely involved the Delta Cincinnati team was, I couldn't keep myself out of the audience)...but the back and forth dialogue and exchanging of ideas were truly happening at a dizzying pace..with an ever building crescendo... between attendees, as well as between attendees and The Song Team. It was amazing.  It inspired me once again, to realize how this process can lead to such proactive dialogue.  Often, this occurs between team-members who don't readily communicate with one another outside of their "normal work circle." This type of active listening and cross-pollination of ideas is often the place where creative solutions "live." It's how we find the ladder, the path that takes us to where we need to be.

With the entire Delta Team

With the entire Delta Team

 

Amy and Holly (we're first name type of folks here:) run a great ship at this particular department within Delta. It was very apparent to us that they honestly believe in the "listen, care, connect" mantra which they preach at Delta. Their department is typically ranked at or near the top, in customer satisfaction rankings when compared to other "sister" departments with whom they compete company-wide, all in an effort to better serve internal and external customers. This is a testament to the fact that their team is truly empowered, engaged and inspired. It starts at the top.  Thanks for including us in your annual Leadership Day program.  Onward and upward 🙂