You may remember this line from Arthur Miller’s Death of A Salesman or maybe you recall your elementary school teachers saying it in a slightly different way. You may not have known it at the time but they were giving you good advice for your career and your business.
As a professor, I always paid attention to any change in the mood of the classroom. If a usually outgoing student was particularly withdrawn, I’d check with him or her at the end of class. The last time I did this I found the student was being troubled by nightmares and he started getting counseling. At the end of the term, he gave me a super strong handshake and told me how much I had helped him. I didn’t do much. I just paid attention.
I see what happens when people at work stop paying attention. Here are a couple of examples: Yesterday in my water aerobics class [yes, you read correctly], the instructor was in his own world as he led us through a series of complicated moves that would have been more appropriate for the Tokyo Water Olympics or the guys in the Japanese movie, Water Boys. The 6 people in the class had pretty much given up trying to follow the instructor’s moves but he never veered from his routine. There was no connect between him and the class. I think the class will be even smaller next week and it won’t be long before he is doing these routines by himself in his bath tub.
My favorite Italian restaurant expanded so quickly that they were never able to get the right managers, chefs or wait staff. The last time I went to one of the branches, the place was almost empty. The owner blamed the employees for the decline in business and the employees confided in me about having to go to the hospital because of all the stress. The owner gave me a lot of free samples of food, I suppose in an effort to keep a good customer. He would have been better off giving some tender loving care to the employees, but he didn`t notice them or didn`t want to. I heard this branch will close soon. Too bad for everyone.
In our gallery, we try to pay attention to every client who walks in. Some want to talk, some want to be quiet, some want to use the toilet [yes, that’s true too] and we listen to what the customers say about the art. We deliver to our clients homes, usually for free, and help the customer hang the work too if they ask. We want to talk with the client about the art they like. We want to make sure they enjoy the work for many years to come.
One of our artists had prepared magnificent screen prints but the backs were all soiled. We knew clients would not accept them, even though the images themselves were so beautiful. After framing, no one would notice, but we noticed and asked her to prepare others.
A long time ago, I heard the president of Boeing give a presentation. He talked about how he doesn’t have a limo pick him up when he arrives at any airport. He takes the same transportation that local people use. After all, if he’s going to sell planes in that country, he’s got to know about the infrastructure that brings people to the airport. If the infrastructure is poor, he’ll be limited in his efforts to expand air transportation and sell more airplanes. It would be a lot easier for him to take a limo, but he knew about the importance of paying attention.
Things out of kilter for you or others at work? Maybe it’s time for more attention tone paid. Don’t point the finger and say who should pay attention. Start with where attention should be paid, then get the right people to do it. A conversation is always a good place to begin.
P.S. I just remember what prompted me to write this note in the first place. I had grabbed a meal at a local Indian restaurant, not my favorite one but one that was convenient, just a few minutes from my home. It`s February when I write this but all over the restaurant there were signs advertising their specials for Christmas parties. Did anyone think about taking these down? Did anyone notice?
H had told me about a restaurant critic on Japanese TV who said that you could tell a good sushi restaurant by the cleanliness of the noren, the curtain hanging outside the restaurant. I understand now why. If they care enough about cleaning the curtain, they will most likely be paying attention to the food too.
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