Karin’s Leadership Articles

I spent many years in a “trust but verify” culture. What this meant was that I, and every executive above me, was expected to constantly show up in the retail stores to experience what was happening as the customers would.

Is there a bird’s nest over the front entrance risking bird poop falling on a customer’s head? Are customers being serviced in a timely way? Does the store look inviting with all light bulbs on and phones charged? Are the employees up to speed on the latest products and services? Can the store managers articulate their key initiatives and what they could do to improve?

There’s no question that knowing an exec could stop in at any time, kept everyone on their toes. The stores undoubtedly were cleaner and the customer service better as a result.

Of course these visits were always stressful. The general sentiment was that there was “No such thing as a good visit, only not a bad one.”

Which is what made the technique I learned from my predecessor so brilliant.

Every summer, instead of the usual pop-in store visits, Chris and his right hand guy, Jimmy, would pack up a van, wrap it in some marketing bling, and hit the road for a month visiting over a hundred stores across a nine-hour radius.

The schedule was pre-announced and there was one big rule: only positive feedback, celebration and fun.

If something was wrong, he or Jimmy would just quietly fix it, and make a note to circle back at some later point to see if there was a chronic problem.

This tour was all about noticing what was right.

He would do his homework and came prepared with all kinds of recognition, along with a token of appreciation for every employee.

The store managers came up with all kinds of creative ways to add to the fun.  Jimmy took tons of pictures of every visit. Every evening, they would Photoshop them into creative collage, including names of those recognized and why, along with descriptions of best practices. This “postcard” was emailed to the entire region every evening.

The other store directors jokingly referred to the month as “Chris’ love tour,” but Chris didn’t care, he knew what worked.

The truth is, the employees loved the love.

Of course, results skyrocketed during that time. Everyone wanted to be on top of their game when the tour stopped by their store.

And as you can imagine, there was not a bird’s nest in sight. The phones all had charge, and the employees knew all about the latest products and services.

Trust your employees to rise to the occasion, and they will.

Sounds easy, right? But I know a lot of managers who fumble their managing by walking around (MBWA).

There’s real power in getting out with your people with a single intention– to uplift, recognize and celebrate.

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


    • Karin Hurt

      Bob, Excellent. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts.

  1. Steve Borek

    Encourage the heart and respect each person on the team.

    The thought of showing the love is uncomfortable for many. Once they get out of their comfort zone and become humble and vulnerable the dynamic of the team magically seems to change.

    Sounded like a great trip!

    • Karin Hurt

      Steve, Indeed. GREAT trip.

  2. Debbie Smith

    I love this! As someone who works within education and has worked across district, state, for-profit, and non-profit entities, I am all about positive reinforcement. This is positive reinforcement at its best!

    I worked for a State Superintendent of Education who used to do a statewide yellow bus tour. As part of her senior staff, we loaded up in a yellow school bus (nothing cushy) and traveled around the state visiting districts and celebrating the great things different schools were doing. Being “present” with your team (no matter how large or what field you are in) is so important!

    • Karin Hurt

      Debbie, Thanks so much for sharing your story. Love the concept of a yellow bus tour. Shows that this kind of idea can be adopted across many contexts.

  3. Terri Klass

    Excellent post, Karin with so many terrific points! I love swapping out “sneak check-ups” for “celebrate what went well”.

    I think another way to bring out the best in our teams is to take the time and get to know them. I worked with a senior manager who was having a rough time getting his team to pull up their sleeves when things got tough. He decided to get to know what excites the people on his team in and outside of work. By putting relationship building first, people felt recognized and willing to go the extra mile.

    Thanks Karin!

  4. LaRae Quy

    As mundane as it sounds, getting to know your team is always the most efficient and effective way to get more out of them.

    Many say that is what made Dave Goldberg so great as a CEO at SurveyMonkey—he actually knew all 300 people who worked for him…and not only that, he knew about them. It takes time and effort but that personal touch can really make the difference.

    Great article, Karin!

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