In our six-week ‘EYES’ course (‘Enhance Your Executive Skills), combining training and executive coaching, we have now covered Fun (Energy) and Leadership development. In the third session we embody the ‘A’ in FLAG. This stands for ‘And’, in other words, ‘something extra’. We constantly need to shine up our product, our service and the way we operate. I use a big, red shiny apple as my symbol of continuous improvement.
When I was born, my mother owned a tea-room, the Handy Tea Room on the corner of West Street and Victoria Road in Pietermaritzburg. The business still exists in the same premises. The misnomer always intrigued me. Why was it called a ‘tea room’ if it didn’t serve or sell tea? I’m still not sure. It sold the basics of bread, milk, cakes, sweets, cigarettes and amongst other supplies, fruit and vegetables.
Being a good mother, my mother started giving me meaningful tasks at a very young age. She encouraged me to engage in activities where I could be successful. One of the first tasks I can remember is being made responsible for polishing the apples. All you need is a soft cloth or tissue paper. It is easy but meaningful work.
When I tell this story to adult audiences, my line of questioning goes something like this:
So, what do you think happened when I rubbed the apple?
And what was the impact of an apple being shiny (rather than dull)?
(Customers liked the look of the apple.)
(it seemed to taste better.)
And so what action did they take?
(They came back for more.)
(They told their friends.)
So, you are saying that not only did they come back for more, but they told their friends that the Handy Tea Room sold the best apples?
So, what was the impact of those two types of action on the business?
And what else happened?
(The shops reputation improved.)
Yes, so now what did my mother have to be careful of?
(She had to make sure that the apples were always of good quality and always consistently shiny.)
So, now that she is selling more apples and her turnover is rising, what else can she do?
(She can start stocking green apples as well as red apples.)
(She can expand her product range to other commodities.)
How does all of this impact on her staffing?
(She has to employ more people.)
At this point one of the audience will usually laughingly refer to the fact that my mother could now refrain from using ‘child labour’!
I continue this line of questioning and this encourages a clear metaphor for continuous improvement. By shining the apples consistently, the ripple effect is enormous. And this can be applied in every aspect of our business and private lives.
So, what can you do on a daily basis to continuously improve your product, your service and the way you operate? Think about it. Just do small things consistently and the impact will be enormous. Another aspect of this story is what can you do to help others be successful? And what would be reciprocal effect be?