A Letter to Best Buy

A letter to Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly:

The distance from the vision of the board room and the store floor is often great.

On November 27, 2013, I picked out a new computer I wanted to buy. Normally I buy items from Amazon, but for major electronics I like to talk to someone with expertise. I had seen you on TV and read about your transformation at Best Buy in the newspaper. I decided to go to Best Buy.

I entered the Minnetonka store at about 10:15 AM. The story was near empty. I went to the computer section and walked directly to the computer I wanted. I stood in front of it and waited. And waited. And waited some more. I waved at clerks, paced the floor, complained to other customers, and looked irritated, because I was irritated. Two clerks walked by and told me they would send someone to help me. No one came. I did not see a clerk in the entire section the entire time I was there. Finally I pulled a box out from under the counter, carried it to the front of the store, and the man at the door said, “Sir, can I see your receipt?” I replied, “Hell, I can’t find a clerk to talk to me and tell me about the computer I want to buy.” He said, “Do you want to see the manager?” I said I did. The manager came, and I told him my story. He apologized. I paid for the computer and left. I never did speak to a clerk about the computer. No one ever talked to me about an extended warranty, or the Geek Squad. I could have purchased the computer at Amazon for less cost, less time, and much less irritation. I posted my story at the Best Buy Face Book page. A customer service person wrote me with great scripted empathy. When I posted my story on my Face Book page, I immediately received horror stories from nine friends.

I worked in management and executive positions in the Circulation division of the Minneapolis Star Tribune for many years and led a transformation there in the early 1990’s. I then completed my Ph.D. in Leadership and Organizational Change and consulted with leaders on transformation for 13 years before I retired from consulting. I recently published an e-book: “Value Driven Leadership: A Story of Personal and Organizational Transformation” on Amazon.

A couple of observations:

1.      Your message is undercut drastically by such poor service, recovery from that service, and scripted empathy. I walked into Best Buy expecting your enthusiasm and promise of a great customer experience. I wanted that expertise. I got none of it.

2.      The manager looked stricken. He apologized. But if he really understood customer service, he would have known the importance of a strong recovery when the store falls short. He might have said, “I will get my most knowledgeable clerk to go over this computer with you until you are totally satisfied.” He didn’t. The person who wrote the Face Book response was being empathetic from a script. That’s not empathetic; that’s being a trained reader.

3.      The behavior of the clerks showed they had not internalized customer service: had they, one of them would have taken responsibility for me until my needs were met. None did.

4.      Maybe many clerks were in training, in a meeting or doing something else. Then the manager should have interrupted them and said, “Customer service is our top priority. Our customers are not being served. Everyone get out on the floor and take care of the customers.”

5.      The last data I read long ago said that every unhappy customer tells 14 other people. I told hundreds via social media, and I’ll probably blog about it too.

6.      You might consider a “secret shopper” program to use as a positive method to recognize, reward, and coach employees.

Best wishes,

My New Book: Value Driven Leadership

I am happy to announce the publication of my second e-book: Value Driven Leadership: A Story of Personal and Organizational Transformation at Amazon.com 

You may not be interested in leadership and organizations or in a more than 20-year-old story but stick with me for a moment.

Some times in life we have an unexpected experience that dramatically alters the trajectory of our life forever.

This book is about one of those experiences in my life.

I didn’t set out to be a change agent at the Star Tribune newspaper in Minneapolis, MN. I needed a job. On my first day, the union steward told me what the rules were: dress down, cheat on expenses and overtime, and don’t make other union guys look bad.

I wasn’t going to conform to mediocrity or let someone else decide the course of my life. I set out to change the place. About 15 years later, a vice president told me that I was making others mad by leading change in the culture of the company. I continued to do what I was doing.

In between those sickening moments, I led change in the work, culture, and performance of the company through nine promotions and steps on the organizational chart.

Sometimes people come together and create something special and when that happens, it is mystical.

Challenged by a Teamster’s Union organizing effort and revenue shortfalls in the newspaper industry, we had to cut millions of dollars from the budget and defeat the union. We decided to do something different. We defined Value Driven Leadership for ourselves and choose to live true to our values. We created a vision for our work lives. We got everyone involved. We made sure everyone felt valued, involved, and informed.

Fifteen months later, we were a national success story. We melded employee engagement with values and respect for people and brought forth phenomenal business results. Business guru, Tom Peters, wrote about us. We spoke at conferences around the country. People came to visit and see our work. The CEO said out work would change the company forever. Of course there was a dark side to all of this, and I write about that too.

While we did this ground-breaking work, the newspaper industry sat on the edge of a precipice that threatened its very life: The Internet and its impending impact on newspaper readership and advertising revenue.

Soon the industry was in a free-fall decline. The Star Tribune went bankrupt. What happened to our industry-leading work that might help renew an industry?

You may not be interested in leadership, organizations, or newspapers. This story is about much more than those things: the newspaper setting is only the container for a larger story about how life works and can work in all aspects of our lives if we pay attention and learn about the deeper dynamics of life and how to utilize those underlying forces to create a high-energy life filled with aliveness.

My first e-book, Learning to Live: Essays on Life & Leadership tells the story of how my life changed based on the experiences in my new book.

I’d be grateful if you would help me spread the word. Thanks!

Plato’s Cave

Each of us has the Plato’s Caves   of our lives  —  places where fear, habits, wounds, denial, conformity, ignorance, manipulation, and even a cherished way of life blind us to greater insight, awareness, authenticity, and possibilities. Caves are places where we mistake false appearances for reality. We literally “don’t know what we don’t know.”

(Click the above link and see the inside of Learning to Live: Essays on Life and Leadership to read the entire essay on Plato’s Cave at no cost.)

But every once in a while, we get pushed, dragged  —  or even venture willingly  —  out of one of our caves. For example, the alcoholic on his deathbed is forced to make a choice of life or death. If he chooses to stay in his cave, he will die. If he chooses life, he must then see himself as he is  —  always the first step of change  —  not as his delusions and self-deception tell him he is. At first he is as mad as can be at this forced change. It is always painful to be confronted with our false realities. But he slowly becomes acclimated to a new reality. Increased self-awareness and new knowledge bring forth new ways to live with meaning and purpose. This transformation is often called a spiritual awakening.

Modern-day physicists experienced and described similar dynamics as they leaped from one understanding of life to another. Quantum theory presents a strange, unexpected, paradoxical reality utterly different from Newtonian physics. The early scientists who studied quantum theory were like those who leave Plato’s Cave. They found they lacked the thought processes and language necessary to understand their new observations and experiences. Emotionally this change confused, frightened, and required an inner shift in scientists to make sense of what they saw in the subatomic world.

Like drunks and physicists, everyday people have their caves too. Some never leave the caves of their lives and live what Thoreau called “lives of quiet desperation.” Others may leave a cave or two and then stop  —  content with their lives. Still others understand that our worlds have many caves in them. They know they’ll never run out of caves to abandon in search of greater aliveness. They are determined to seek out the caves of their lives and leave them proactively  —  because caves always eventually confine or threaten their spirits.

Despite the loss and fear of change, these seekers choose intentionally to jump into new situations, new learning, and diverse adventures to expand their empathy, experience, and understanding. These people don’t stop leaving the caves of their lives until they die  —  and no one knows what happens after death; perhaps the adventures continue. Whatever the circumstances, leaving a cave involves an inner shift that brings forth a deep examination and change of values, beliefs, and assumptions that evolve life.

The spiritual awakening of the alcoholic, the existential crisis of the quantum physicist, the insights of everyday people, the enlightenment of the seeker, and the moment of metanoia  —  a change of the inner person, like former Chairman and CEO of Perot Systems, Mort Myerson, who exclaimed in a moment of insight, “Everything I thought I knew about leadership is wrong”  —  are similar, as each requires a temporary surrender of the ego, a re-ordering of the psyche, and a fundamental shift of perception.

No one who experiences this transformation will ever see the world in the same ways again. We should not be too proud of our initial inner expansion for we will be called over and over again to leave cave after cave, and journeys always humble the traveler.

Excerpt from:  Learning to Live: Essays on Life and Leadership