Business Philosophy

The 5 People

A friend of mine reached out today and asked me to fill out a Google form with my thoughts on her talents, traits, and what I thought she’d be good at. She’s figuring out her next career steps and it’s a cool method. Nearly two years ago she made the jump. You know – the jump most of us entertain at some point – the one where you sell all your stuff and take off indefinitely. That jump.

One of the last questions on the form was about her “brand” and who I thought she was; essentially what was her human elevator pitch. To me, she’s the person that jumped. Who does that?

I’ve only known of two others in my life and I suspect that puts me three up on most people. There’s her, my cousin that moved to a little island off the coast of Puerto Rico nearly 20 years ago, and the other was someone I’d never met but his Ted Talk stuck with me when I saw it in 2012.

His name was Scott Dinsmore and he started something called “Live your legend.” I think the idea was to find work that you loved or at least didn’t hate? I honestly don’t recall the details. This was 2012, I was in my early 30’s and I found something about his presentation mesmerizing. As far as Ted Talks and novel ideas go it wasn’t in the top 20 but I found myself coming back to it.

I followed Dinsmore on social media. I was curious as a car crash as to how someone – who by all accounts had a promising, normal career path – opted to leave it behind for this; whatever this was. He even had a wife. I had a wife and there I was grinding away 50-60 hour weeks for no one in particular. This dude said “deuces” (this was 2012) and went his own way. Could I do that?

Spoilers: no, I couldn’t. At least not all the way. I craved security and certainty far too much. I poked the ether with a few entrepreneurial prods but nothing progressed.

But I digress. Back to Dinsmore, my friend, and why we’re here. As I was telling my friend about Scott I had to look up the Ted Talk and I watched it again for the first time in at least seven years. In doing so I was reminded of one of the key points of his talk; the big “hack.” Remember life hacks? So fun to say. “Put mayo on the outside of a grilled cheese instead of butter – LIFE HACK!” That wasn’t his but it’s a good one nevertheless. 

It was around the midway point where Dinsmore brings up a quote from Jim Rohn

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

I’ll be honest, for years I thought it was a quote from the ESPN guy Jim Rome and I was surprised he’d say something so profound. I mean this was the guy who got knocked off his own stage.

I was reminded that I’d been fortunate enough to meet and get to hang out with people who became the defining influences on my life. People that younger me didn’t think I deserved to get to become. In the order I got to meet them:

  1. Marshall – My best friend in high school and again, today. This guy is True North and the moral compass I’ve always needed. He’s been an incredibly supportive and influential force in my life for more than 25 years. I literally wouldn’t be who I am without him. I don’t know if there’s a better “let’s have a beer” partner on earth.
  2. Brett – My best friend in college through today. Brett is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. Knowing him pushed me to be better than I was letting myself get away with at the time, both personally and academically. When it comes to a partner for an intellectual argument there is no one better.
  3. My wife – IYKYK. She’s genuinely the nicest person you’ve ever met in your life; full stop. Her kindness has transformed me into a far more patient, forgiving, and respectful person than I ever would have recognized in the mirror. Every day she makes me believe I can be a better person by giving me a good reputation to live up to.
  4. Mike – We met at the Collier Companies back in 2004 and became fast friends. Mike was smart, professional, capable, warm, and sincere. He was a lot of things that I wasn’t and he made me vastly better in so many ways. I couldn’t do what I do at the level I do it if I hadn’t met Mike. He passed last July and I find myself missing him more and more with each passing week. Hug your friends more.
  5. My KC Manager Crew – For eight years I worked with the best people and formed the strongest of bonds. While working to become a trustworthy leader I became great friends with the people who would help cement who I would become at work; someone to be counted on in tough times and the person with the best jokes. Ask of any of them. They’ll tell you I’m an absolute riot. No one ever gave a full-body eye roll or walked out of a room at a dad-joke that landed with the grace of a shattered moon.

I know that last one is cheating, but so what, it’s my list. More importantly than these people are the dozens of others I’ve been influenced by over the years. And that jives with this guy who says Rohn is wrong; it’s not just the 5 people that make you who you are. Cool. I don’t think he’s wrong but we’ve got to start somewhere and people love lists.

I hope you’ve got great people around you; people that want to see you grow and succeed. It’s nearly a superpower having that in your corner.

Oh, right; Dinsmore. I nearly forgot. I said “was” earlier because he sadly passed away in 2015 while hiking Mt Kilimanjaro. He jumped. Not from the mountain which I understand is notoriously “flat” as mountains go, but rather jumped in the sense that he sold his stuff and decided to travel the world while continuing his work. Again, who does that? It’s inspiring.

Not the dying – though dying doing something you truly wanted to do is likely as good as it gets – but the deciding to exchange your safe stock life for one you’re sure you need.

And inspiration is about more than getting others to do what you did; it’s about reminding them of what’s possible and what kind of world we could have if we’re willing to choose it. I like living in a world where people pursue their passions.

Thanks to everyone I’ve had the benefit of knowing thus far. I hope I’ve been at least half as helpful in shaping you as you have me.

Push Decision Making Down

Captain David Marquet of the USS Santa Fe turned his ship from worst to first by pushing decision making – and with it, commitment, innovation, passion – down the org chart.

As I’ve written about before, the default position of most in charge is “no.” There’s precious little upside to saying yes, especially if you’re not completely versed in the scenario or stakes. And who has time to get versed in the scenario? So, the response is silence; static at the other end of the line. “No” wins the game by default.

In this video, Captain Marquet discusses how he went from a “permission-based” system to an “intentions-based” one and the results that came with it.

The captain decided to reverse the polarity of the decision-making. In a conventional organization, the top gathers data from the people closest to the product/service, mull it over, and then dictates back what is to happen next. They are always reactive, and usually reacting later than needed to be of much use. Most of the time management didn’t know a problem existed until it had already been solved by the front lines, or at least a patch had been created that allowed the mission to continue.

I watched my former mentor, Nathan Collier, wrestle with this first hand. He lamented early in my career that as we continued to grow as an organization we’d face new challenges in communication and decision making. How could we react swiftly and competently if we decision-makers in the organization couldn’t or wouldn’t make timely decisions? The first time I heard this was in 2004 and it became a theme that ran for years and haunted most conversations with general managers and up. Few had good answers.

In one moment of quiet introspection with 35 or more stuffed into a conference room someone slammed the table and shouted “Get ‘er done!” The room was silent for all of twenty seconds before this interruption and that was enough to kill the mood. They didn’t get it – this wasn’t something to be muscled through.

What got you here won’t get you there.

Marshall Goldsmith, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful

Nathan liked that quote and I understood why he’d employ it week after week. The acumen and systems that built the backbone of a local company were all but useless for managing a decentralized company that would span cities and states. He found Captain Marquet’s book inspirational and the era of “I intend to” (or “IIT”) was launched around 2008.

Now, all a GM needed was to send an email to their Regional Manager with IIT in the subject line and their proposed course of action. They’d flesh out their reasoning in the body, but that was it. If not responded to 48 hours later they were free to proceed.

And then it ended as quickly as it began.

There were 4-5 Regional Managers inundated with “IIT” emails from 25-30 GMs declaring their intent to do everything from approve capital repairs to changing marketing campaigns. Regionals had 48 hours to respond with a reason not to do whatever that thing was or the GM was free to carry it out. Regionals couldn’t keep up as a backlog of delayed projects suddenly sprang back to life. Someone had to pull the plug and a massive financial crisis was the hard yank needed.

I think the problem was due to two issues:

  1. There was such a backlog of things that were ignored/delayed that it was too much all at once. Especially for too few people to vet in any meaningful way. People that were still responsible for the outcomes of these decisions.
  2. The GMs were young. The vast majority of us were under 30 and experience was in short supply. One of the perks about the early days of working for the Collier Companies was that one could gain a ton of experience very early in one’s career. It wasn’t uncommon for PT leasing agents to become a GM within 12 months if they were bright and motivated. What they lacked in experience they made up for in enthusiasm and energy. That lack of experience fell on the Regional Managers who were very experienced, most having worked in the industry for at least ten years at that point. Put simply, the system was unbalanced.

I write all this now as our new venture has me pondering the right approach to leadership, culture, and how we want to build our new enterprise for success. What got me here won’t get me there. I can’t be the guy in the room solving problems. I can’t take every phone call, create the daily agenda, or decide what’s best for every moving piece of what I’m sure will become a sprawling empire in the coming years.

As we hire our first GM, how do we build a culture that will keep decision-making close to those affected by the decisions? What areas do we focus on controlling and what do we encourage the site staff to innovate and create? 

I have some ideas and I’m realizing that not knowing is pretty exciting. I’m ready to be surprised by what we find and what we decide to do as an organization going forward.

“Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose” or Coach Taylor meets Sun Tzu

Everyone loves a good motivational speech and there are few better than the ones from our favorite movies. The one where Rocky says that’s how winning is done. The one where Al Pacino talks about the game being one of inches and the inches are all around us. The one in Independence Day where President Bill Pullman says they won’t go quietly into that good night. Stellar stuff, all.

As much as I love them, I can’t use them every day. What I can use is a mantra, and not from a movie but a TV show – the long canceled Friday Night Lights. It’s simple and startlingly prescient. I can’t stop seeing it everywhere.

“Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose”

I think of this when we get something wrong because we allowed ourselves to become easily swayed by the information we didn’t bother to interrogate. I find myself muttering it when someone makes a stunning reversal and course corrects after allowing the truth of the situation to come to them.

All that, and honestly, I’m a sucker for six words. There’s music to that number, arriving in two-word pairs. Hemmingway once won a contest by penning a compelling story with only six words: “For sale, baby shoes, never worn.” My first Mission Statement at CVI was only six words: “Be professional, Solve problems, Create value.” Distilling something meaningful into six words is an art and I’m its favorite patron.

Clear Eyes

The ability to see. The ability to identify what is happening all around you and not deluding yourself about the conditions on the ground, in the air, or in your own heart. You can see it all and you need that ability if you’re going to do anything meaningful.

Any idiot can make decrees or decisions while not knowing what’s happening; that’s most of life. What an effective agent of change needs is the ability to discern what the hell is happening; both inside and outside themselves.

Sun Tzu says any winning General must master the Five Factors:

  • The Purpose
  • The Weather
  • The Terrain
  • The Leadership
  • The System

You can’t master anything if you can’t see it. And not just with your eyes. You need to see it with every part of your understanding. You especially need to see that which you’re inclined or incentivized not to see. Clear Eyes is of supreme importance and so it comes first. As mantras go, this one is fire.

  • The Purpose is the cause, the morality; what are we fighting for? Is this who we are? Do we know?
  • The Weather is the conditions. If not the rain or wind then the market forces at work.
  • The Terrain is the ground, the topography. If not a battlefield then the shelf or the venue the sales battle will be fought.
  • The Leadership is not only those in charge but those whose influence exceeds their titles. How capable are your leaders to produce and adapt on the fly?
  • The System is my favorite. It’s the thing that accounts and adapts (or should) for all the strengths and weaknesses of the others on this list. It’s what we have the most control over if we’d only recognize it and give it its due.

The General who masters the Five Factors will win every engagement, even if they don’t. Clear Eyes reminds us that we should never lie to ourselves. Self-awareness is one of our most powerful weapons if we’ll develop it properly.

How many times have you seen a person, organization, or company, fail because they couldn’t see clearly; because they refused to see clearly? Too many.

Full Hearts

Are you in to it? Do you believe in what you’re saying? Do you believe and trust in what you’re doing? Does what you do each day, right now, resonate with your core beliefs?

Can you stay focused and dedicated when things get tough and your path gets blocked? Can you fight through self-doubt, stumbles, and the hellish unknown? Can you manage to lose a battle without losing yourself?

Can’t Lose

There are two types of losses; the one on the scoreboard and the one in your mind. You can’t fully control the first kind of loss. You can plan, scrap, and brawl with all your might and you may still lose when the points are tallied. The second kind though? That’s all you.

Keep your vision clear. Don’t lie to yourself, ever, about anything.
Walk your talk. Believe in what you’re doing and be prepared for the way to get rough. Don’t lose yourself.

Do those two things and you’ll never lose.

When you think you know what you’re looking for.

In this undated video (probably 2008), Best Selling Author Malcolm Gladwell explains how we have a fundamental mismatch problem in how we assess which people will be successful in a given field. He starts with the differences between NBA scouting combine results and how players actually wind up fairing in the league and then goes on to point out all sorts of other gaps as only Gladwell can

The whole talk is fantastic as Gladwell may be the greatest storyteller of our time. I could listen to the man read a Swahili phone book and I would swear it was Les Miserables.

Gladwell’s point here is that we absolutely suck when it comes to using criteria that will give us a meaningful incite to the how well a person will perform in a given role. For Teachers, we require all manner of certificates only to find these have virtually no impact on the actual performance of the teacher. Job interviews are generally only good for finding out if you’re attracted to someone, it turns out. Or perhaps they’re only useful for discovering if someone is very good in social interaction, but for all sorts of other jobs, how well one does in an interview translates poorly to the ultimate role they’ll have should they be hired.

Around ten years ago we had a major issue in a tough market where our newest Community Managers were getting their clocks cleaned. Their teams couldn’t sell to save their lives, and these new Managers were grossly incapable of teaching them how to sell as they’d never done it before themselves. How did this happen?

It turns out that we’d been promoting “Rental Managers” aka “Assistant Community Managers” who were responsible for collecting rent, running reports, and that’s about it. They avoided sales related work like it had two types of the plague. So, of course, when they got promoted to their own ship they had no idea how to hire for sales ability or how to teach it.

Why would we do this? Because the people in charge of minting the new Community Managers were people who lived in glass offices and who dealt a lot with reports. Guess who typically had great reports? Rental Managers. They were two peas in a pod. Of course, the Brass new that sales mattered, but they overlooked this factor when hiring because they liked the cut of the RM’s jib. They could see a bit of themselves in these up-and-comers, and did you see how clean their reports were? Plus they tended to LOOK like Community Managers.

The most vital component in a Community Manager at the time (in the toughest student rental market in the country) was the ability to rent units, the ability to hire people who could do likewise, and the ability to train the uninitiated on their team. And here we were hiring without any real regard for that fact. The people we should have been promoting to these roles were our best salespeople who lacked any of the care or ability for the paperwork reporting. That’s a relatively easy problem to solve – at least far easier than a whole team at a community that can’t sell ice water at noon in Phoenix.

Maybe the answer would have been to split the job into equal halves; give two nearby communities to a pair of Managers. One would be in charge of the sales and training for each while the other handled the books and reporting. The two would compliment one another and with any luck, some of their skills would rub off on each other. Maybe an Area Manager would have been the way to go, with a couple of executive salespeople put in place to cover the selling and training. There’s any number of solutions, but we were wildly wrong on our criteria for assessing a simple promotion and it cost us big.

I’m sure this mismatch is all too common for you as well. How many times have you experienced one in your life, where you or your organization made decisions on things by assessing criteria that mattered not a bit in determining the outcome or the best course of action? What blinded you? How did you eventually see past it, or have you?

“I Intend To”

Bureaucracy is a bitch.

What few people realize is that as an upper level exec, in a lot of too many organizations, there’s virtually no natural incentive to approve… well, anything. If you don’t approve requests or initiatives, what can go wrong? You don’t get some (rare) praise for accomplishing something – big deal. But if you approve something and it goes wrong??

As a young Community Manager, if I had a broken hot tub that needed a $1.6k repair and it was over my $500 spending limit, I’d need express written approval.  No biggie, right? I’ll just email my boss and get an answer.

After multiple follow ups, weeks later, there’s no answer beyond the yawning chasm of silence. Why wouldn’t they just tell me ‘no’ if that’s what they wanted? Because not answering the question meant they were the safest they could be.

See, there’s risk in saying yes to things. What if someone comes along later and says you screwed up by approving that thing which could have been done cheaper, better, differently, etc…? What if I get yelled at? What if… something something bad feeling?

I wasn’t alone. A LOT of my cohorts’ bosses did the same thing. Ignore, brush off, delay, deflect, slow roll, forget – anything to not have to take a stand on something that should be easy because the fear was always at their neck that they’d get ripped for it. They wanted express permission from the owner before they’d be ok saying yes. What point was there for their existence then? We could just get the permission from the owner if that’s all it was.

When the issue finally reached crisis level, the owner had the foresight to implement the system that Simon mentions at the 33 minute mark in this video: “I Intend To.”

The way it worked was, if we needed to do something and couldn’t get an answer, we’d fire off an email with “IIT:” in the subject line. If we weren’t told NO within 48 hours, we were free to do it. It changed the onus from getting approval to bosses having to say NO if they felt something shouldn’t be done.

As you can imagine, things improved immediately. Bosses who didn’t have good reasons to say no, besides their personal fear, could tacitly approve something without lifting a finger. Oh happy day!

And don’t get me wrong – I don’t mean to say there shouldn’t be checks and balances and proper vetting of capital requests. By all means, I’d include how many bids I’d received, what the nature of the issue was, what the repair proposed was, why that was a rational way to proceed and what the timeline would be. I’d proactively try to answer every question I could get to make sure it was in line with our company’s values and goals.

Bottom line or TL;DR: There’s all kinds of benefit in empowering your people as opposed to teaching them to subsist on compliance. Your people aren’t the problem, your environment, your culture are the problem.

Eliminate bureaucracy, breed commitment by increasing your team’s involvement.

 

Show Up. Or, Why Omelets Don’t Matter.

Note: this is a classic post from July 2012, hope you enjoy.

We’re all presented with a thousand decisions in a day – even the ones we don’t make are technically decisions – and I observed a few today and I thought I would share as I feel they are:

1. Completely random – so a good example of our lives.

2. Indicative of a theme I’d like to touch on – but let’s not spoil the fun just yet.

First, we have a Bistro at work which serves between 4 and 12 thousand meals a week. No biggie there, we’re getting quite good at it. One of our front line people is the best – totally awesome. She makes remarkable omelets with the deft precision of a Samurai, that happens to hold a personal grudge against unborn chickens.

Mmmmmm Omelet

 

 

 

 

On this particular morning we’re hosting a large sports camp which features 120 kids and assorted coaches. Towards the end of breakfast this omelet samurai asks me if she can make one of her famous omelets for the Head Coach (it’s his camp) as she wasn’t sure if he paid or not. This concern was voiced directly in front of said Coach whose business we’re eager to retain – omelets are never extra with breakfast.

Second: I’m told that we reportedly rebuffed a new Resident who relayed that their AC was not in working order on Saturday. As it didn’t constitute an “extreme emergency” we told them to wait for Monday. For those not familiar with Florida in late July, allow me to put down rumors about the unending cold front we experience during this time of year. In fact, we have Emergency Maintenance defined as “No AC when the temp outside is over 85 degrees.” I believe it was 99 on this particular day, though it could have been 93.

Third: A Senior Associate informs me that a parent is on the phone and wishes to renew their kid’s lease under an old offer letter we sent out weeks ago. The current offer is a much better deal for the Resident/Parent and we always offer unsigned leases the current deal.

It's that easy

So, what do all these have in common? This question haunted my entire day.

 

 

At my old place of work, we had these portraits of all the employees on the wall and each had a quote that supposedly the person lived by. The majority said some fluff like “Seize the day” though one stood out to me for its simplicity and eloquence. It read simply “SHOW UP.”

I thought “Is this good?” and let it marinate. Then, after a half hour, I grilled it up with some delicious business acumen and served it with a glass of “OH YEAH.” The words were from a new friend named Dan O’Connor and I couldn’t help but roll around in their brilliance. SHOW UP! How deep did those words go?

The decisions I cited all shared a lack of “showing up” – not in the physical sense, but in the other, deeper sense. Of being mentally “there” where things really happen. I’ve come to appreciate that the big difference between getting it done and saying we gave it our best, is the belief that by simply standing our post, that we’ve managed to “show up.”

Not by a long shot.

It’s not stupidity or ignorance of lack of experience – these three individuals are all some of our best. Seriously, I tout their drive and desire constantly. This was a case of not being there mentally, in a moment, and that’s all there is.

Make the omelet! Paid or not, who cares!? I’ve never beaten or punished someone for giving away three eggs and some veggies! Take a chance! On the guy you KNOW is the “The GUY” we’re trying to impress. Don’t call him a cheapskate in front of his face!

What, exactly is “an extreme emergency” pray tell? As opposed to a regular emergency? Which we don’t care about? If Weather.com tells you it’s 83.5 degrees outside and they’re not happy, call it in!

They want to renew and you want to pick a fight? Over someone giving you their hard-earned money? TAKE IT! By any means! Make it EASY for them! Fall all over yourself to accommodate them and make them happy! That’s what we do!

I felt failure today. Failure in transmitting the message. I often state that “It’s the spirit of the law that matters, not the letter” though I recognize not everyone hears this message. That is my fault and it’s my charge to make sure it’s known, and known well. Not with bigger bull horns, but with a better plan – not more regulation, but with more discussion. Conversations build empires and right now? I have a fiefdom.

“The single biggest misconception about communication is the belief that it has occurred.”

Business Culture, Prime Directives, and killing John Connor

I got sent this email yesterday, which was one I’d sent some three years ago while at CVI-Orlando. At the time we were six months into a $2 million renovation, and working concertedly to establish a new culture.

When you’re trying to build culture, it’s important to be honest and authentically one’s self. People loathe artifice and inherently move away from it. This email happens to be “me” in written form, and I think it was evident of something that’s worked for me over the years. People know it’s not just some corporate policy I’m being forced to endorse while a concealed derringer burrows into the small of my back, but something I full-throatily support.

I offer it here at as an unedited look, an example, of how I believe in communicating with my teams. Also, I just really crack myself up and I can’t get enough of my choice of analogy here. How great is that hipster John Connor meme?

Big thanks to Larry for 1. Having kept this all these years, and 2. For thinking of me enough to send it to me now. It was a nice laugh during a really busy time and a great glimpse of some of the most fun I’ve had during my career.

Ourmission

ourmission2

ourmission3

Apartment Video Maintenance Tips, Made Easy

I hate when things break around the house. Having bought my first one three years ago, I’ve often found myself in the position of trying to figure out how to repair various issues on the fly. With YouTube as the Time Life books of our generation, there haven’t been many things I’ve needed to call someone for.

A light bulb came on: quick access, to short videos about common maintenance issues, would be wildly helpful to our Residents. Housing college students means that necessarily a good number of them have never; done their own laundry, run a dishwasher, or unclogged a toilet. A website that explains how to do it themselves is a non-starter. Ditto for a manual or handbook. For Millennials, video is king. Even better, every one of them come with a mobile video player permanently affixed to their hand. How do you leverage that?

We worked on a series of videos with important questions in mind: What’s the vital information we’d want someone to know in a moment when they need it most? What are the types of calls we get all the time that take seconds to fix? Resetting a breaker, a GFI, unclogging a toilet, resetting a garbage disposal – all the easy stuff that a Resident could do themselves in seconds, if they only knew how.

Important to the project was making sure we didn’t make each video too long, or make it complicated in any way. A three minute run-time would kill our click-through rate. Most of our videos are 20 seconds or less and specialized to whatever you’re looking for in the moment.

Knight Circle's new magnetic QR code/short URL sheet for fast video maintenance tips.

Knight Circle’s new magnetic QR code/short URL sheet for fast video maintenance tips.

You can either scan the QR code with your phone or type in the short URL for each area of the apartment, and then you’ll get a playlist of videos to choose from on our YouTube page. At first, we toyed with the idea of stickers on each appliance or area of the home with a quick link to a video specific to that item, but this quickly proved unwieldy. We settled on a 6″x9″ magnet that could be placed on the fridge in each unit – an area where it’s likely to survive and be ever-present in our Residents lives, but not intrusive.

Starting this August, we’ll be placing them on each Fridge as we complete our final inspection walks prior to move-in and dropping some info to look out for them with our new move-in email.

Our mission states that we seek to simplify the complicated and we think this is a huge step in that direction. By allowing our Residents to quickly learn easy lessons about apartment maintenance, and by relieving the work load for our Technicians and CAs, we can free up time better suited to proactive items that really deliver value.

Andy Warhol Has Advice For You…

sowhatDon’t sweat it. If something is bothering you for that long, do something about it. You don’t have to be a mess. Things happen. Roll with the punches. Glasses break. Milk spills. Pencils have erasers.
timechanges

People get used to new ideas. New ideas change things. Probably the only way time plays a part – but he’s right. Time by itself won’t change things. Unless we’re talking about a banana. Time will do just fine on that. realfakeThis one’s a problem I think all people should have. I think if you’re not constantly flirting with the idea of what’s real then you’re not pushing the membrane of reality to see how stretchy it is. There are a plethora of things people insist are real but are nothing more than constructs of habit and tradition that we do merely for lack of introspection and the willingness to look a bit weird. bizasart Being good in business requires a massive supply of self-awareness and self-honesty. I think art requires the same thing. The best comedians I’ve noticed are some of the most honest people I’ve ever seen. They see things the way they are, not as everyone would like you to see them – and they speak up. Makeart

Get the product out the door. No one cares about your book or your poem, or your picture if you never make it. I’ve worked with hundreds of good people who failed to produce even the most rudimentary of suggestion for a; flyer, form, website, sign, banner, you name it – out of fear. Crank out enough art to choke them. Something will stick.
cokesYou’re not better than anyone else. Yeah, you are. At a thing or things – but not intrinsically. Don’t fall in love with your own image or the sound of your voice so much you forget what a simple pleasure a coke can be. Stop and drink the sodas. gorevidalonandyThis is easily the greatest backhanded compliment I’ve ever seen or heard. There may be no greater source of heat in the universe than this burn. Go ahead. Put your hand to the screen. Feel that? You could cook bacon on that.

To write a better Mission Statement, have a better mission.

Planning is invaluable, but plans are useless.

Planning is invaluable, but plans are useless.

For the last year we’ve been discussing our Mission and who we want to be as a team. What’s the imprint of our collective souls and what words do we want to live by, faithfully? It’s not an easy question and it’s taken us the better part of a year, with regular meetings, to arrive at this:

In everything we do we seek to simplify the complicated. Because nothing is faster, we trust our teammates and clients freely and implicitly, and we treat them that way. Doing so builds a safe environment where communication is free-flowing, open, and honest.

Through this environment we continually work to innovate our operational systems to ensure the best possible user experience (UX), from first tour through graduation. Knights Circle creates an exceptional Student Housing experience by focusing on people, and a ceaseless desire to make their lives easier.

A few thoughts relating to our mission statement and how we went into the process of creating it:

It’s focused: We wanted something that wasn’t too long or too all encompassing – if you have five priorities, you have no priorities. We wanted to focus on systems because we all could and everyone had skin in that game. From the bottom up, our organization has an interest in making sure our systems work properly every time. Our clients’ satisfaction is directly wrapped up in our systems, as are our front line team members. If things work right, you’re generally happy with the service – both inside and outside the operation.

It’s not permanent:  I think too often people tend to assume that a mission statement needs to be god speaking for all time. Not so. It’s a living document, much closer to a constitution – this is how we’re assembled and for what purpose. If we no longer feel as though this speaks to our highest purpose, and there’s another revelation that we want to enshrine, then change it we will. The good news is we don’t need anything as unwieldy as a continental congress to do it.

It advises action: A mission statement that can’t help guide your choice in actions isn’t worth the time it takes to read it. If we’re going to say that we trust everyone implicitly, what’s that look like in action? Are there things we’re doing now that suggest we don’t trust people? For example, some managers have required doctor’s notes for absent employees who’ve called out for appointments. Requiring the note says fully “look, we don’t really believe you and we want to see proof – we don’t trust you and we have to protect ourselves from you.” That’s not at all the message we want to send, so we stop doing it. The same with our clients – if they want to switch rooms due to an unsolvable roommate dispute, requiring the jumping through of hoops for documentation in order to offer it, it says “We don’t believe you and we don’t trust you. You’re trying to get over on us and we’re not going to have it.” That was never the intention of course, but that’s the resulting feeling to the client.

 It’s honest: How many times have you looked at a company’s stated mission only to shake your head? The soaring platitudes are exhausting and immediately erode whatever trust you may have had. If an organization can’t be honest with themselves, how can they be honest (consistently, institutionally) with anyone else? We wanted to say something we all believed in and that we all wanted to live by. The best parts of US is our ability to work together and our shared desire to provide a great experience. We were honest with each other that while we’re pretty damn good at this thing, we’re not perfect and we’d like to get closer to that. Breaking it down we realized focusing our energies on perfecting our systems would have a ripple effect positively touching every other aspect of our business; Happier clients, happier Team, and more success.

Another great design by Danae McDermott

Another great design by Danae McDermott

We started with Why: A giant hat tip to Mr. Simon Sinek for his inspirational TED talk. If you’re not familiar, I can’t implore you enough to check out his work (Talks, books, consulting services, etc…) as he’s directly responsible for how we chose to approach this formulation. In short, Sinek advises that great organizations start with Why they do things, then How, then What. Most though do it the other way around and this gets it all wrong, eliminating any of the inspiration and identity that could be had between the client and the company. For an example, ours is as follows:

WHY: We hate needless complication. We like things to work seamlessly. We think we can simplify things better than anyone else because we understand WHY they ultimately should be that way.

HOW: Because we trust each other, and our clients, we’re able to be honest about our business and our shortcomings in our systems. We strive to fix our systems to eliminate institutional defects.

WHAT: An exceptional student housing experience. This starts with everything working the way it should. The exceptional part is that we’re also exceedingly nice and warm, happy people who love what they do and each other. Since we work in a system that values people and making things work, we’ve got lots of goodwill in our hearts to treat you like a rock star and to go out of our way for you. We’re not scared of you, or hiding from you – we want to delight you.

We think this should be a good overall statement for this coming year and I’m impressed with how the team has taken to it with enthusiasm. I’m confident that a year from now, we’ll be writing a different version that recognizes our shifting focus while retaining our core Why, and that’s how it should be. Involvement breeds commitment, and that’s one thing we have plenty of.

What’s your mission? How did you get there? Does it still serve you and your team?