Since we share the same last name (though we’re not related), I’ve been aware of Ken Blanchard—co-author of The One Minute Manager—probably longer than most folks, but this week’s APICS conference was my first chance to actually hear him speak, and it was quite a treat. In less than an hour’s time, Blanchard offered every person in that packed ballroom a chance to rethink their management strategies, centered on his concept of servant leadership.
Blanchard’s keynote address, titled “Leading at a Higher Level,” challenged his listeners to think of their management roles not merely as a job but as a vocation. Every company, he says, needs to be guided by values, and it’s important that you can define what those values are. “If it becomes clear to your customers that you’re only in business to make money, then they’ll think of you only as a transactional medium.”
Instead, he suggests that a company should strive to be:
1. The provider of choice for customers
2. The employer of choice for employees
3. The investment of choice for investors
4. And a good corporate citizen for the community.
“If you don’t want to be all four things,” he says, “you don’t have a good vision.”
That led into his discussion of servant leadership. “It’s not about you,” Blanchard stressed to the managers in the audience. “It’s about your employees and your customers. A servant leader is one who empowers his or her people to make decisions.”
Blanchard gave the example of the Ritz-Carlton hotel chain, which gives each employee the authority to spend up to $2,000 to solve a customer’s problem without needing a manager’s approval. There was a time when a guest at a Ritz hotel in Atlanta discovered upon arriving at the airport that he’d left his laptop behind in the hotel room, with no time left to go back to retrieve it. He called the hotel to ask them to send the computer via overnight delivery to his next destination, where he was supposed to deliver a presentation the following day. The next day, the employee who took the call wasn’t at work. When her manager asked where she was, he was told, “She’s in Hawaii.” Turns out she didn’t trust the overnight service to get the laptop delivered on time, so she took the next flight out of Atlanta to Honolulu, delivered the laptop in person to the guest—and then promptly took the very next flight back to Atlanta. Rather than considering her travels excessive, the Ritz management team celebrated her dedication to customer service with a party in her honor, making it clear to every employee that the Ritz does indeed take customer service seriously.
“Merely satisfying your customers isn’t good enough,” Blanchard says. “You want them to rave about you, the way that guest with the laptop raves about the Ritz now.” To be that type of a company, you need to be able to paint a picture of the future for yourself and your customers: If a customer does business with your company, what can they expect to happen? Will it be a positive experience? Will they rave about their experience?
For those managers and companies motivated solely by financial gains, Blanchard notes that “profit is the applause you get for treating your people and your customers right.”
From one Blanchard to another, well said, Ken.