The One-Minute Change That Will Transform Your Company

We talk a lot about major pivots--but what about minor ones? Here's how one small piece of pivotal behavior can change your company for the better.

Behavior is the mirror in which everyone shows their image.--Goethe

Can a single behavior elevate an entire organization? It can--if it’s the right behavior. Here’s how a simple 1-minute act helped an organization reinforce its purpose and outperform its competition by leaps and bounds.

I have a college-age daughter. My family and I were moving her into Boston University (BU) over Labor Day weekend. The four of us, mom, dad, college daughter and her younger sister, were standing on the street, looking befuddled at the campus map. At that moment, a friendly and official-looking gentleman approached us, asking, “Can I help you find something?”

He introduced himself as the dean of students. He asked where we were from, told us he was delighted to have us on campus, and pointed us in the right direction.

Keep in mind that this is a major university in the middle of a huge city with 4,500 freshmen moving in on the same day. Yet the dean himself personally approached us. And here’s the kicker: it’s not just because he’s a friendly extrovert. It’s their official campus policy.

Any staff member who sees someone looking at one of the big maps is expected to approach them and offer help. One staff member joked, “It’s a fireable offense to walk by people at the map and not offer to help.”

They don’t view it as a punitive thing. That single behavior--help people when they’re standing at the sign--is purposeful for the BU staff. It was emblematic of their organizational culture and how they perceive themselves. It reinforces BU’s purpose of “Educating students to be reflective, resourceful individuals ready to live, adapt, and lead in an interconnected world.”

Dean Kenneth Elmore, the gentleman who greeted my family at the sign, says, “We should never walk past [people who are] looking at a map or if they visibly look lost. I tell my staff that [this is an] opportunity to step up and see how you can help them. If I do see that you walked past them, because you have other things on your mind, we need to have a conversation and think about whether or not you should still work here.”

Greeting people at the sign is more than just a nicety at BU; it reinforces their purpose.
The BU dean’s office website says their aim is to “enhance the quality, character, and perspectives of our students.” Elmore says, “We have this incredible privilege: we get to engage these young people . . . from all over the world . . . in thinking about their hopes and their dreams. If we can guide them a little bit, that’s invaluable; that’s our purpose.”

It might sound like a lofty goal that applies only to nonprofits or academia, but choosing a pivotal Noble Sales Purpose (NSP) behavior is a simple yet incredibly effective model that any organization can implement.

For example, consider what would happen if an airline established the following company-wide policy for all employees: “If you walk by someone in the airport who looks lost, offer to help that person. It doesn’t matter if you’re a pilot, a baggage handler, or the chief executive officer (CEO); be proactive and offer to help.”

How long would it take before customers started to view that airline differently from the competitors? How much more empathy would employees and executives have for weary travelers if they had more positive interactions with them before they started complaining? How would the employees treat their customers if they saw senior leadership consistently modeling helpfulness and patience?

The staff member is able to successfully solve a simple problem quickly and be thanked for it. After doing this once or twice, it becomes self-reinforcing. Staff members start to see themselves as problem solvers and ambassadors for their “company.” And you cannot overestimate the ripple effect this has on the organization’s culture.

That single policy sends a message to everyone, both inside and outside the organization: “Our goal is to be helpful. We care about people, and we place a high priority on interpersonal interactions.”

When employees of every level personally connect with customers, they empathize with them and carry that knowledge back to their job.

Elmore describes the impact it has on staff members: “They’re a lot more present. They notice what happens around them a lot more [and] are more actively observant when they are out walking to get from one place to the next. They started to pick up pieces of paper. They have to be more present in their environment.”

We tend to believe that behavior follows attitude--and in many cases, it does. This book is about how mindset change can result in a behavior change. But one of the ways you can fast track the NSP mindset change is to choose a single behavior that reinforces it.

Changing the way you act will change the way you feel. It becomes self-reinforcing.

Measuring Your Behavior

It’s always challenging to attempt to measure attitudinal issues. BU’s Dean Elmore, who lives in the world of academic metrics, says, “I am always looking to find metrics for the way human beings relate to each other. I am struggling to find little ways we can measure it.”

But BU has found at least one measurement to use, and it’s the same one that sales forces use: money. Elmore explains, “We saw an increase of 12 percent in the number of students who are participating in our annual giving. That says something about the total good experience they have here.”

Measurements, of course, are helpful. But there’s no need to make this any harder than it has to be. The concept is simple: choose one behavior that everyone in your company or team can do. If you pick the right one, you’ll be aware of the fact that it’s working right from the start.

Here’s a way to think about it: our NSP is [insert NSP]; that’s why we always [insert behavior].

For example, my company says, “Our NSP is to help organizations create passionate, purpose-driven sales forces; that’s why we always ask the extra question.”

Choosing Your Pivotal Behavior

Here are some guidelines regarding your pivotal NSP behavior:

  • It should take less than a minute.
  • Everyone in the company should be able to do it.
  • You must hold each other accountable for it.
  • There are no excuses for not doing it.
You can have the best product in the world, but the only way to evoke true passion is with people. When you make a proactive decision about how you relate to one another, your culture starts to shift.

You’ve probably heard the expression “act as if.” If you aspire to something, act as if you’re a person who has already achieved it. If you want to become an organization that makes a difference to customers, act as if you already do. Your NSP speaks to your aspirations for your customers. Choosing one pivotal behavior is a concrete way to prove that you’re serious about it.

Related: How P&G, Southwest, And Google Learned To Sell With Noble Purpose.

Find more stories about every kind of pivot by subscribing to the Fast Company newsletter.

Excerpted with permission of the publisher, Wiley, from Selling with Noble Purpose: How to Drive Revenue and Do Work That Makes You Proud by Lisa Earle McLeod. Copyright 2012 by Lisa Earle McLeod. This book is available at all bookstores and online booksellers.

--Lisa Earle McLeod is a sales leadership consultant who has worked with clients like Apple, Kimberly-Clark, and Pfizer to create passionate, purpose-driven sales organizations.

[Image: Flickr user Purplemattfish]

Add New Comment

34 Comments

  • Mary Lynne

    I have found that writing hand written notes to customers is one of the best ways to build a relationship as well as keep a cusomter for the long haul.  We write thank you's to new customers, birthday cards if we know their birthday, and Thanksgiving and Christmas cards, you name it! It is simple - it takes just a minute - but the reward is well worth the time investment!

  • Guest

    This is a smart thing to do, and it creates lasting good will. I send holiday cards to our biggest customers, even though they are not MY customers personally. And it costs next to nothing. 

  • Jim Layton

    I had a similar experience when visiting Law Schools with my daughter years ago.  We had just left UNC Law School where after making an appointment with the dean, driving 8 hours, were met by his secretary and told he was 'too busy to see us'.  We then drove over to Washington & Lee University to visit their law school and were in the hallway looking at a map on the wall when a lady walked by and asked if we need some help, she then took us into her office - she happened to be the Dean.  When my daughter introduced herself to her, she knew my daughters name and told us how they looked forward to her attending law school at W&L.  You can guess where she chose to go to Law School.  I continue to tell everyone of this kind act and how it changed both my daughters and my life.

  • Guest

    Great concept: "The One-Minute Customer Service Experience." But what's an employee in any service industry to do when his or her superiors don't support this approach with customers and co-workers alike? I am not kidding....

  • Mary Lynne

    As a Customer Service manager I believe if your actions are not extreme, meaning they could not be taken offensively or cost the company money, etc., that you could lead by example and possibly influence the managers and co-workers in your company.  Share your positive customer feedback and maybe they will follow suit.  If not, at least you know that your interactions with the customer will shine a good light on your company and their services.

  • Ali

    I was part of a program called Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship at BU and coming from a country in the Middle East and interacting at the overall environment of BU I could tell that universities around the world, including the heavy funded ones, would take centuries to come near BU.  I would meet the Dean of GSM, then Dean Luis Latif, almost everywhere in the building and on a daily basis.

    www.jobibex.com

  • eichenwald

    Lisa, 

    Thank you for your thought provoking column. At our company, LRN, we like to say it's not what you do that matters most, but how you do it. Your example from BU really brings this point to life.

    There is tremendous value in framing behavioral change as a “one minute pivot”. It gives an organization a quick, easy outlet to start elevating performance with behaviors that everyone can engage in right away. That said, our experience is that real change takes a journey. And, it only comes about when organizations really understand their cultures, are ready to take on a constellation of bad behaviors, and make the investment to really measure their progress.

    At LRN, we’re working hard to build out the capabilities to help companies and organizations do that job better. It is hard to measure attitudes. But, as they say, you get what you measure. So we’re going after measuring behavior.  To learn more, check out our work at “howmetrics”. We’d love to hear from you and your readers.

    Mike Eichenwald

  • D Vanliere

    Coool Opening video!  I will go back for more investigation when I have time.  Your pitch invites us to dig deeper and gives us a reason to.  One criticism, after the video your basic web page seems to take too long to load and loads things down a bit...some things missing on my system.

  • Penny Barratt

    We experienced exactly the same thing when my son was entering Durham University in UK and we were dropping him off at his residency at the University College at Durham. The approach was made by the College Union but it amounted to the same experience. We had no sooner stopped the car than a number of helpers came to off load his bags and then within 30 mins he was collected to join his new college entrants (the University operates a collegiate system with around 200 freshmen intakes per year per college), however its not the numbers its the way in which new starters are included and then encoraged to be involved and make friends, so that they are part of the University from set go, that is important and effective.

    It says a lot about how this could be transferred to good effect in business. How new emplyees' first experience in starting a new job and joining a new Company, becoming part of an established team and being included, could be vastly improved. This positive approach would give the right impression and involvement that could create a loyal staff member who recognises they have made the right choice in coming to this organisation. Not enough new employees experioence anything like this, even with an induction programme in place, too often the personal touch is missing.

  • Guest

    Great story and it is always the little things which people remember, but maybe they need a better map.

  • Ken Marchtaler

    Its amazing that the simplest of things can make all the difference in the world.  Thank you for sharing this valuable information!

  • rmhconsult.com

    I guess it all boils down to one thing 'If you have the ability, you have the responsibility".

  • Arthur Friedman

    I have done this in the past, and it almost always seems to positively engage them in further conversation / interaction. This interaction demonstartes a certain friendliness among staff, vis-a-vis the consumer, and alomost always results in a better sale / interaction, which positively affects the bottom line.

    We must remember, that we are here to sell (market) our goods/services. How nuch more willing is the client willing to do their part (buy our services) when they percieve a positive attitude on the part of staff and management! its like shooting fish in a barrel.

  • Don7097

    Good story. Stop after paragraph four. Great. NSP. Another Acronymn. Let's spend more time on execution and forget the latest flowery mission statement.

  • D Vanliere

    The problem is not the flowery mission statement, it is that we stop there.  Describing for the organization what they are really about (the old story about building the best buggy whips vs. realizing we're in the transportation business) is what flowery mission statements are supposed to be for...but without looking at what that means for our organization, and just having a pretty framed statement to put up all over the organization misses the point.  BU has put wheels on their statement and it moves! This article starts that process off by showing us it doesn't have to take longer than a minute to begin putting wheels on our flowery mission statements, and that will be where the cost of the retreat that produced the flowery mission statement really finds ROI.

  • Shubhro Banerjee

    It is an implementation of a business concept that is called "EMPATHY".....AND IT HAS A GREAT FUTURE IN BRAND BUILDING.

  • Mark Kenton

    When I worked at Scholz and Friends they had what they called family's, the family looked after you, it was brilliant.

  • Dan Boos

    I have been working on a year-long study that identifies and measures individual behavior that can be and should be incorporated into business and customer environmentts.  The practice stated in this article further demonstrates the positive impact of such practices when institutionalized and better yet, when internalized by leadership and employees.    For many years I have recommended such programs to HR/OD VPs and directors as being a critical component to developing high-performance business cultures as well as a customer-centric operations.  That being said: I believe that many organizations are slow on the uptake as they find it difficult to quantify the ROI of most programs focused on human dynamics.  The thing is though, that these type programs have very little overhead associated with them and the return is measurable in terms of customer satisfaction rate.  I'm glad that Lisa Earle McLeod wrote the above article and recommend reading her book as well.
    Dan Boos, principal at BCS.