Watching a grown man cry over being offered a banana is something I won't soon forget.

This is exactly what happened as I was on a team that ministered to inmates at the Neal Unit. This unit is one of many state prisons in Texas that participates in the Kairos Prison Ministry. I was honored to have spent several years serving in this program. Part of this ministry is a weekend in which the volunteers get to spend three and a half days inside the unit with 42 inmates in a workshop setting. We also were able to bring in meals, courtesy of our wives, and serve the inmates. Many times, serving the food to them made more of an impact than the words that were spoken. 

I remember one Saturday afternoon approaching a table with a platter full of bananas.  I offered one to an inmate sitting at my table, and he gratefully accepted. Within one minute his eyes welled up and he began to weep, almost uncontrollably. He looked up at me through the tears and said, "This is the first banana I have had in 17 years." He spent five more minutes looking at it before carefully peeling it and eating it. He then said, "Why do you guys come here and spend time with us? Don't you have a family? Why would you spend your free time hanging out with losers like us?" I explained to him that we were called to serve, and that we really weren't that much different. He then told me how much it meant to him to be served.  He said it made him feel special, and that he hadn't felt very special in years. There is something about being waited on, servant-style, by someone that you admire. It is uncomfortably exhilarating.

If serving a banana to an inmate made this kind of impact, how different would the culture of our dealership be if we took a little time to serve our employees?

The typical organizational pyramid has the Dealer Principle or GM sitting on top with the managers below them, then the employees and so on.  In order to create a servant culture, the pyramid must be turned upside-down. The Dealer/GM is on the bottom and works FOR his or her managers by providing everything they need to be successful. Encouragement, training, tools, personnel, and any other resources needed. The managers should do the same for the employees and we all work for the eventual 'boss', the customer. 

Servant management isn't a declaration, it's a mindset. It takes practice. Evidence of this culture change will be found in the little things you do.  Just do them regularly.

Here are just a few small things that you can do that will produce big changes.

  • Wheel the grill out and cook some brats for the employees. Go buy yourself an apron and have 'Servant' ironed on the front. Ask each employee how they want their brat dressed. look them in the eye, and serve it to them.
  • Admit to an employee that you have made a mistake and ask for their forgiveness. If you think this is weak, you're weak. It takes a much stronger leader to admit a mistake than to cover one up.
  • Give frequent raises to hourly employees that are doing a great job. I have been known to give 10¢ per hour raise every few weeks. This lets them know that their efforts are not going unnoticed.
  • Empower your people. Give every employee the ability to resolve a customer conflict, within limits. This lets them know that you trust them and there ability to make decisions. Problems also get rectified much quicker as a result.
  • Involve their family in contests or events. A teammate's spouse or children can be advocates for employment longevity.
  • Share manufacturer bonuses. Most manufacturers have volume or CSI-related quarterly bonuses. Take some or all of it, split it up EVENLY, and pay it out in cash at a luncheon.

Herb Kelleher, the founder of Southwest Airlines, took his company to the top of his industry with the philosophy that "Customers are #2"  He always felt that if he served his employees first, his customers would always be taken care of.  

There is a myth in business that managers that cater to their employees are somehow weak and get run over by their people. I think the folks at Southwest Airlines, Zappos, Google, SAS, Edward Jones, and others, would disagree.

Until your quarterly earnings report look like theirs, you're in no place to argue.

The phrase "Can I help you?" is perhaps, the most overused sentence in the history of business. But, could you imagine if every time we said "Can I help you?" or "What can I do for you today?", we actually meant it? In essence, what can I do for you right now, that will help you accomplish what ever it is that you want to do?  How can I put my own selfish needs aside, for as long as it takes, to think of YOUR situation?

As managers, we eat well. Let's spend a little more time feeding.

Take off your bib and put on an apron.

Who's your Danny?

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Comment by Scott Wilson on August 11, 2014 at 5:05pm
This is my core belief and who I am. Thank you for putting it into words.
Comment by Joelle Felice Paige on July 18, 2014 at 5:18pm

Loved this! Excellent articles! Wish more Managers had this much insight into "the little things"!

Comment by Ed Allen on July 18, 2014 at 3:39pm did!

Comment by Brian Bennington on July 18, 2014 at 3:07pm

Hey Ed, You and Danny both set yourselves on a higher plain because of your understanding that good management demands much more giving than taking.  However, I hope that sign in your office had the word "responsibility" spelled correctly.... 

Comment by Ed Allen on July 18, 2014 at 2:00pm

Danny...Excellent points!!! When I was in management I had a sign in my office...."Rank does not provide privilege...but rather it requires responsability".

Comment by Brian Bennington on July 14, 2014 at 10:50pm

Well, Danny "The Nose" is back!  And, don't worry, you are "my Danny."  Initially, I hesitated reading this post as I'm not a big banana lover, but because it was you, I forged ahead and did it anyway.  Between you and Marsh Buice, a GSM and DE/ADM member in Lake Charles, Louisiana, you've both got me stumped as to why you southern boys are so much more "sensitive" than the management I'm familiar with here out west.  Your generosity and graciousness are mighty refreshing, but to know it's truly sincere, I'd have to talk to a couple of your reps and I'd also have to know how you got your job.  Don't get me wrong, as I know and have worked with managers in SoCal that are cut from the same cloth as you, but they're a minority.

You should definitely preface your bullet points "Small things you can do...." with the words, "In a perfect world...."  The "cooking brats for the crew" is easy, but the rest, especially "asking for forgiveness" and "sharing the money" is a reach.  As I was already a well-seasoned sales person long before I sold my first car, which was a real "lark" compared to what I "cut my chops" selling previously, I learned quickly that nearly all vehicle sales peoples' experience was, unfortunately, limited to vehicles sales.  And in SoCal, the land of never ending new customers walking through the door, the concept of ongoing follow-up was vaguely understood, if understood at all.              

By the time I interviewed for my last sales position, I not only had become nearly impossible not to hire (primarily because I'd share a couple the 40+ testimonial binder "sales tools" I'd collected from my customers proclaiming I was "the best car salesman they'd ever met"), I had developed a two-page questionnaire to cover nearly everything you really want answers to before you'd ever go to work for a dealership.  And, for those managers whose insecurity I could sense, I assured them I'd never want a management job, which was 100% correct.  

Personally, I'd never be presumptuous enough to suggest how managers can improve their behavior (I'll leave that to Marsh and you), but I would give some advice to sales reps that Robert De Niro proclaimed in his movie "Heat."  The first time anything looks like it's "going south" (with management), be ready to leave and not look back within 30 seconds.  But, to be able to do it successfully and not hurt your income too much, you best have a better relationship with your customers than the dealership does.  Really, it's just another advantage of consistent, well thought-out personal follow-up.  Of note, it's the same kind of follow-up I've been producing for the reps and management of a small group of client dealerships for over 20 years.  (As to your generosity, it reminds me of the difference between northern girls and southern girls.  A northern girl says "you can" while a southern girl says "Y'all can."  I apologize ahead of time to anyone offended by a "sick old man's humor," and to show the sincerity of my regret for this really terrible joke, I probably cut off one of my fingers.  I'd do a toe instead, but I don't have any left!)   

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