Monday, January 28, 2008

The Heart of Work

by Tom Hinton

When I was a college student at the University of Maryland, I was very fortunate to land a part-time job in the Washington, D.C. area with a non-profit organization that served people with disabilities. My boss was named Robert. Despite the fact that Robert had been paralyzed from wounds he suffered in the Vietnam War, he was a positive and kind person who brought an abundance of excitement and positive thinking to the workplace. Even though he was confined to a wheelchair, Robert never let his physical limitations reduce his spirits. He was always upbeat and motivating. He was a great role model for us.

Robert expected good things from his employees and, in turn, he tried to instill in us a sense of responsibility to the organization and a commitment to give our very best, one hundred percent of the time.

Robert taught me several important lessons about leadership and how to succeed in the workplace. He believed that success in the workplace boiled down to two things --building positive relationships with other employees, and distinguishing yourself as part of the team.

When Robert talked about leadership, he was fond of citing the HEART acronym. He told us if we would lead with heart, we would always be successful regardless of the kind of business we managed or our rank or title. Here it is.

“H” stands for Humility. Never forget to check your ego at the door when you show-up for work. Always share the credit with those that got you there. If you are humble and give your team the credit for a job well done, it’s amazing how many people will want to be part of your team. Another part of humility is admitting you don’t have all the answers. Robert used to remind us that the best leaders solicit ideas and solutions from others because no two people see things the same. It’s just possible somebody else will have a good idea you didn’t think of! By the way, part of humility is acknowledging people for their good ideas. Humility is also putting the needs and interests of others first. Robert reminded us that the best leaders always put their teammates first. Great leaders are accustomed to being served last.

“E” represents Energy. When you arrive at work make sure you bring your best with you. Robert reminded us to put an extra jolt of energy and excitement in our voices when we answered the telephone or greeted a volunteer-member of the organization. He said that we should never forget that the person on the other end of the telephone line might be feeling down or in need of an emotional lift. Try to be the person who brings a little extra positive energy to the office because some people might have forgotten theirs.

Robert also told me that the fastest way to boost workplace productivity and results is to energize the workplace. Create a friendly, positive environment that invites people to give their best and enjoy themselves. Finally, Robert told us that there is no room in the workplace for toxic talk or negativity. Only positive energy would be allowed in his department. That’s why Robert never complained about the weather, the traffic, or his physical limitations. Although he was uncomfortable and suffered some physical pain, he never showed it. In fact, he always celebrated life to its fullest each and every day. Whenever we saw Robert wheeling around the office, we quickly realized that any complaints we had about life paled in comparison to what he had overcome.

“A” is for Abundance. Regardless of the cards life deals us, Robert believed that every person was capable of creating abundance in their life. He was a shining example of this. He took stock of his talents and attributes and did the best he could with them. If Robert awoke in the morning feeling sorry for himself or angry because he had lost the use of his legs, we never saw a hint of this. By the time he rolled into work, he had transformed any frown or physical discomfort into a smile and he was focused on doing the best he could.

Robert also taught us something else about abundance. It had little to do with money or possessions. When Robert spoke about abundance, he would always talk about the emotional aspects of abundance -- the heart and soul of abundance -- our ability to serve others. “The well of abundance never runs dry,” he was fond of saying.

“R” is for Respect. At work, we were frequently reminded to respect the needs of our members and each other. “Every human being deserves respect,” Robert would tell us. He also reminded us that there would be times during the day when someone would call our office and wouldn’t know how to ask for help. Perhaps it was their sense of pride or their inability to face their physical limitations. But, it was very important that we listen to each caller and give people a chance to work through their pain and anger. In the end, Robert reminded us, everyone wants to know you’re their friend; that you care about them as a person. This was Robert’s definition of respect. He understood that human dignity, when reduced to its lowest common denominator, amounted to kindness, caring, and understanding.

“T” represents “Think.” If there was one thing that got Robert hot under the collar it was when people opened their mouths before they put their brains in gear. Robert insisted that we think about what we wanted to say before we said it, and planned what we wanted to do before we did it! He encouraged us to write drafts before we sent a letter. Robert also suggested that we script-out our calls to prospective members before dialing the number so we didn’t get tongue-tied or lost in our thought process. It was good advice.

Robert, who served as a First Sergeant in his U.S. Army company, told us that when you are under fire in a combat situation, you learn quickly to think, or you might not survive. His military training and quick thinking saved his life when his company came under heavy enemy fire for several hours. Despite his wounds, he kept his cool and was able to drag himself and two wounded comrades to safety. His valor earned him a Silver Star. His story was a powerful reminder of why it’s important to train your mind and discipline your thought process so you can react calmly and quickly in any situation.

Twenty-five years later I still use Robert’s HEART acronym. I am also appreciative to have had the kind of boss who genuinely cared about his employees and was willing to give us many special gifts that would last a lifetime. Now, whenever I hear people talk about the heart of work, I think fondly of Robert and the heart he gave all of us who worked with him.

About the Author: Tom Hinton is president of CRI Global, LLC and is recognized as America's leader on Business Excellence. Tom is also a dynamic business speaker who helps his clients create a culture of excellence in the workplace. He can be reached at

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Tom Hinton of ACC Assesses Most Profitable Companies

by Tom Hinton

In reviewing the results of the Fortune 500 rankings and profit numbers from the second half of 2006, it might surprise you that many of the most profitable companies are not household names. In fact, none of the top ten companies that posted the biggest percentage increases in profits from 2005 to 2006 are US companies. What’s even more surprising, three of the five companies that had the highest percentage gain in profits during the second half of 2006, are in the food services business.

While the ten most profitable companies in 2006 remain household names (ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell, BP, Citigroup, Bank of America, General Electric, Gazprom, Pfizer, and Chevron), those rankings are certain to shift with the downturn in the US economy. Future financial fortunes are shifting from the US to more prosperous markets in Asia, China, India, and South America.

As the United States struggles through a recession in 2008 -- and Japan, Germany, France, China, and Britain try to avoid getting whipped by the American economic backlash -- investors are looking to top-performing foreign companies that are well-positioned to withstand America’s recessionary fallout.

Here are five companies worth examining based on their profitability, superior customer service, strong global positions, and capable leadership.

At the top of the leader board for most profitable companies in 2006 is Compass Group, a British-based company that is considered the market leader in providing food and a range of selected support services to customers in the workplace. Compass Group ranked Number One in “biggest increase in profits during the second half of 2006 with a whopping percentage increase of over 27,000%. That’s right! Mergers and acquisitions certainly helped Compass Group’s bottom line in 2006.

Edeka Zentrale, which ranked Number Two for the biggest increase in profits for the second half of 2006, is Germany's leading food retailer and wholesaler with more than 13,800 outlets which operate as largely independent retailers supplied by its own regional food wholesalers. Edeka Zentrale enjoyed a 3,000% increase in profits from 2005 to 2006.

Alcan was the third most profitable company during the second half of 2006. Alcan has evolved into one of the globe’s leading suppliers of bauxite, alumina and aluminum, and a top-ranked provider of engineered and packaging materials, delivering increased productivity, competitiveness and profitability to customers around the world.
Alcan has some 68,000 employees, including its joint ventures, in 61 countries and regions. It’s based in Montreal, Canada with 2006 revenues of $23.6 billion and a handsome profit gain of over 1,200% from 2005.

China Life Insurance Company captured the fourth spot with 2006 profit gains of 595% as compared to its 2005 performance. China Life provides annuity products and life insurance to individuals and groups in China. The company offers products and services, such as individual and group life insurance, accident, and health insurance. It distributes its products through its direct sales representatives; agents; intermediaries; and commercial banks, postal savings, and cooperative saving institutions. The company was founded in 1949 and is headquartered in Beijing, China.

In the number five spot is Royal Ahold based in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Ahold is an international group of quality supermarkets with operations in the United States and Europe. Among its US brands are Stop & Shop, Giant Foods, and which provides internet-based shopping and grocery delivery for other brands. Ahold enjoyed a 582% increase in profits in 2006.

While the United States will spend most of this year in a recession as a result of its mismanaged war spending and sagging consumer confidence, there are several financial opportunities on the horizon as more foreign companies emerge as profit leaders in 2008.

About the Author: Tom Hinton is president of the American Consumer Council. Tom is a popular speaker at business conferences and corporate events. He can be reached at

Thursday, January 3, 2008

New Year's Resolutions for Everyone Except Me!

by Bill Kalmar

Now that I have your attention, let me explain. This year I will enter a very special age group, namely, those people eligible for Medicare. The magical age of 65 provides one with certain mystical rights—Medicare benefits, of course, which means we’ll be swimming in extra disposable income. Yeah, right! And how about another increase in social security benefits without having to endure a performance review! And most importantly, the removal of all vestiges of political correctness, as if that ever encumbered me!

An added benefit is moving into the 65–69 age group for competing in sporting events or, as it’s sometimes referred to as “65 to death.” For those of you who may be runners you know that I will now be the youngest in a group of runners vying for prizes given only to the first three finishers in each age group. Not that this makes for a significant advantage because in my last 10K (6.2 mi) race, I was roundly beaten by a 72-year-old. I wonder if he passed the drug test.

In any event, I no longer have to make any New Year’s resolutions because changes to my lifestyle at this juncture could be injurious to my health, well being, and mental acuity. For me to make any personal resolutions would be a waste of time and thus I’m making them for all of you. Just chalk it up to senility.

Here’s what I’m proposing for 2008:

  • I resolve that all wait staff in restaurants pay attention to me while taking my order and quit looking around to view other activities that may be going on in the restaurant. If I’m not the center of attention then perhaps my waiter should extract the tip for my meal from the people he or she is so attracted to. Is it too much to ask that the wait staff at least appear to be focused and interested in providing me with exceptional customer service?
  • Speaking of restaurants, I resolve that all establishments serving food leave the hot water valve on in the restrooms. How many times have you encountered a restroom sink that only has cold water? I have a confession to make in that regard. On a regular basis when I discover a lack of hot water, I instinctively reach under the sink and turn on the hot water valve, which inexplicably has been turned off. On some occasions, I have even used my handy Swiss Army knife to override the system. How the wait staff washes their hands with cold water is beyond me. So next time you visit a restroom at McDonalds, Wendy’s, or Burger King and the water is hot, you have me to thank for it.
  • I resolve that all phone calls I make in 2008 don’t contain the message: “For quality purposes this call may be recorded or monitored by a supervisor.” Do we really believe that someone is hired specifically to listen to phone calls all day? At one point in my career I managed a customer service telephone area and we found it just as effective by practicing “management by walking around” and overhearing the representatives rather then listening to reams of recorded messages at day-end. If there is to be a phone message I recommend that it be: “For truth of disclosure purposes, this call is not being monitored because we’re tired of fooling you to make you think that it is.”
  • I resolve that when executives are released from an organization the words “Leaving to devote more time to other activities and family” be fully explained. What are those other activities and what does his or her family have to say about the executive's sudden arrival on the home scene? Is the family happy and content or would they rather the executive just focus on those “other activities.” Just when you thought you have heard all the reasons for someone to depart an organization try this from global chief growth officer Thomas Hernquist who spearheaded Hershey Co.’s premium and dark chocolate portfolios and who resigned from the company effective December 31. Hernquist said he intends to work on ventures that “leverage strategic consumer insights.” Wow! That is just too cerebral for my soon to be 65 year old brain! Why couldn’t he have just said that he was pursuing other activities? Or my favorite: “Leaving so I can function in a jerk-free environment.”
  • I resolve that the words “merger of equals” and “synergy” be banned from business jargon forever. We all know that there is no such thing as a merger of equals—Daimler-Chrysler certainly proved that. In a merger there is always one dominant party and thus synergy means “We will look for ways to combine our processes but ultimately we bought your company so our processes will be used.” If that sounds cynical on my part, I think it’s also realistic. I, along with many of you, have been through mergers and frankly none have been pleasant. So for 2008 let’s substitute the words “Full court press take no prisoners buy-out” for “merger of equals.”
  • I resolve that when organizations release staff because of the company’s desire to “go in a different direction” that new “direction” or strategy should be spelled out to the remaining staff and the shareholders. What if the new direction is contrary to the expectations of those who will now have to implement it?
  • I resolve that all meetings start and end on time. In that regard, let me share with you the thoughts of two captains of industry on being punctual. First, Bob Iger, President and CEO of Walt Disney:“Meetings need to start on time. I’m zealous about that because my day needs to be managed like clockwork. If people are late for meetings, the meetings tend to go late, which throws off my agenda thereafter. I frequently start the meeting even if all the people expected to be in attendance aren’t there. I don’t need to say to people, ‘Be on time’, they know.”

And this from Simon Cooper, president and chief operating officer of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co.: “I’ve always believed that if you’re late, it says something about the lack of value you have for other people’s time. Being on time for all meetings is the best use of time in the workplace. I hope I’ve instilled that in my staff. I certainly embarrass them if they’re not.” That pretty much sums it up for me. One other comment and that is at the end of a meeting if someone leaves without an assignment that person wasn’t needed at the meeting and shouldn’t be invited back for subsequent meetings on the same topic.

  • I resolve that all establishments that imprint a survey request on receipts provide me with on the spot reimbursement for completing the survey. Over the years I have completed surveys for every department store, coffee shop, bagel store, and sundry other establishments without benefit of a thank you. Sure the receipt indicates that I have been entered into a drawing for $5,000 but I doubt it. Just the other day I asked the Barista at a local coffee shop if he was aware of anyone who had ever won a cash prize by completing a survey and of course the answer was a resounding “No.” So from now on, I want a free coffee or bagel for completing the form.

Well, those are just some of the resolutions for all of you for 2008. If I sound like the fictional deranged character Howard Beale from the movie Network when he said, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore,” so be it. At my age I think I’ve earned it and, yes, I am feeling a bit deranged from service expectations not being to my liking especially when it comes to hot tap water in restrooms. Does Medicare cover my idiosyncrasies?

Just so you don’t think that I’m bonkers, I want to make one resolution of my own. That is that you the readers of QualityInsider continue to invite me into your offices and homes for another year. I thoroughly enjoy the relationship with the experienced and professional staff of the publication and how they make me look so good each month. I also resolve to provide you with some thoughts on quality and customer service and other pertinent topics that hopefully you will find interesting, informative, and perhaps even humorous.

Now time to retreat into my ice-covered hammock. If some of my resolutions have left you perplexed and troubled just keep in mind the words of comedian Joey Adams when he uttered: “May all your troubles last as long as your New Year’s resolutions.”

About the author
William J. Kalmar has extensive business experience, including service with a Fortune 500 bank and the Michigan Quality Council, of which he served as director. He has been a member of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Board of Overseers and a Baldrige examiner. He’s also been named quality professional of the year by the Detroit Chapter of ASQP. Now semi retired, he’s a freelance writer for the Detroit News; writes a monthly column for Mature Advisor newspaper; is a mystery shopper for several companies; is a frequent presenter and lecturer; does radio voice-overs; and competes in duathlons.