“What we stand for”

I have been a customer of The Container Store (ContainerStore.com) for a few years now. I discovered it as we were redoing our kitchen and needed small glass jars for our new spice rack. That first order was wonderful and I have enjoyed perusing their catalogues and website ever since. I order things from them from time-to-time and always have positive experiences.

When I received an email from them today, titled “What we stand for” I read it immediately. To be honest, I expected it to be a sales pitch.  Instead, it was a discussion of their organizational priorities. Their six business principles are fascinating. As you read them, think about what your organization and you (personally) believe (in word and action) about these six areas.

1. “One Great Person = Three Good People.”  In other words, hire great people and you can decrease the size of your staff. And, having fewer (but great) people means you have more resources to use in paying those great people and in investing in other critical areas. I have always believed in this principle. As a leader, I “inherited” some staff and was able to bring in new people as vacancies came about. I sought out “great” people, already on the staff and new hires, and called them the “dream team.” Each one knew that I wanted them to stay with the organization for a long time. And, they knew that I was working hard to improve their job satisfaction. A “great” team member is more valuable than any accountant can calculate.

2. “Communication is Leadership.” What a great principle. I believe that if you are not communicating, you are not leading. You cannot be effective if you are not actively working to keep the team informed. Don’t worry about overloading them – great team members are rarely concerned or burdened by too much information. And, surprisingly enough, communication is two-way. What amazing ideas can come from team members when they are trusted with information in and out of their department. For synergy to take place, communication is mandatory.

3. “Fill the other guy’s basket to the brim. Making money then becomes an easy proposition.” The Container Store believes in benefitting their vendors. I find that those who treat each encounter with a vendor or competitor as a negotiation will find themselves always on the battlefield; nothing is easy. When we look for the win-win opportunities, coordination and cooperation will generate income – now or later. How many times have we returned to the church or store or salesperson because we found the atmosphere to be supportive and respectful? Jesus said it best, “Here is a simple, rule-of-thumb guide for behavior: As yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them.” (Matthew 7:12a)

4. “The Best Selection, Service and Price.” Some would argue that you must trade away quality to ensure low prices. But, do we really want poor quality or limited choices? So often, we over commit ourselves and our organizations. Rather than stick to our knitting (thanks, Stephen Covey), we try to do or to be it all. By being overextended, our quality suffers and we end up not being the leader or organization of choice. Price matters, but before you cut corners to lower prices, think hard about what your client or customer really wants in the areas of quality and product.

5. “Intuition does not come to an unprepared mind. You need to train before it happens.” When I worked for the government, we had two kinds of training: mandatory and voluntary. Any guesses as to which was given the highest priority? You are right; mandatory training took up nearly all of our training time. It was usually in response to organizational fear of potential lawsuits or legal challenges. But, the mandatory training rarely fostered new ideas or creative problem solving. Are you “sharpening the saw” (thanks again, Mr. Covey) for you and your team? What are you doing today to invest in quality training?

6. “Man in the desert selling.” When someone comes to The Container Store looking for an item, the organization works to understand the customer’s situation. And, rather than simply selling a glass of water to a man in the desert, they look to help satisfy that customer’s entire need. What a great idea. Too often, we fail to understand the individual’s needs; we look only to satisfy their stated requests. For instance, when a spouse asks for a dinner out, it isn’t just the satisfaction of hunger that is the goal; they desire conversation and companionship. When an organization seeks consulting advice about resolving a personal issue, they may really need are new ideas to improve employee morale. Let’s widen our vision and improve our production and usefulness.

Any of these ideas sound like great goals for you or your organization? Take one task on this week and work to improve in that area.

Remember that exploring a new continent requires that we take a first step!

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