In the front of our office building in the lobby area, we have a lot of beautiful typographic signage with really powerful quotes. For instance, one is a Henry Ford quote that says, “A business that makes nothing but money is a poor business.” That we put on the walls to help display our culture to any visiting clients or prospects.
Well, we have a quote from Aristotle on one of them, and it says: “Quality is not an act, it is a habit.” And to be totally transparent, I picked that one because I thought, well, we’re really serious about quality, and I mean, it’s Aristotle!
But this past January, along with some other friends, I read through “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg. My main take-away from his book was that the true power of a habit is that you no longer think about doing a certain thing or behaving a certain way. One habit my wife and I broke out of after reading this book were late-night snacking. I’ve got 3 kids under the age of 5, and after we get them down to bed… it’s time for a reward. And for Mary and I, that meant stuffing our face with all manner of comfort snack food. As you can imagine, this is not a good long term habit to have in place. So we determined we will no longer eat after a certain time.
Believe me, for the first month, every night after we got the kids down what did I think about? What did I want to do? I wanted to snack. but after about a month… habit took root. And it is powerful, because now after the kids go down, I don’t think about snacking. Because it’s not a habit anymore.
Aristotle, in his quote, is saying the same is true of quality. It’s not a one-off accomplishment. It’s not one moment of refined greatness. Quality is born out of habit. Doing the right thing, the right way, with the right attitude each and every day.
So how does this apply to business? My first thought was customer service and experience. Good quality customer service is born out of habit. If every day it feels like a grind to serve… if it’s always an uphill battle to get your team to problem-solve on behalf of the client, to be readily available to serve their needs and to go the extra mile for them, then quality customer service is not a habit for your team yet.
The other day, I overheard a team member on the phone. She was fielding a call where someone was inquiring about a particular product that wasn’t a great fit for us, so she politely explained that to them, and then offered her the name and phone number of another company in town who could help her out. She hung up and continued her work. Didn’t think a thing about it. The politeness. The extra mile of giving her the name and number of someone else. All just a habit. And in my mind, that doesn’t lessen the act of service, it just makes it that much more powerful, and sustainable.
The challenge for you and for me and for those of us who are in the business of serving people is that it takes time for a habit to take root. There’s that transition, that in-between, that limbo space where you’re trying to adopt a new practice or kill off a bad old practice. That’s where we most often quit and relapse into our old habits.
Let me encourage you to keep pushing, keep your team pushing because on the other side of that struggle is a better place. And as crazy as it sounds, you won’t even have to think about it anymore.
Quality won’t be a series of actions, it’ll be your habit.
I’m in a peer advisory group with some other local business owners, and we have a saying that gets thrown around in our monthly meetings from time to time. The saying is “be the buffalo.”
Now for some context on the saying. Out in the West, in the open plains where buffalo roam and cattle herds graze, you can often see storm clouds take shape and form on the horizon hours before the storm actually reaches you. And here’s a fact about free-ranging cattle. When they see the storm clouds coming, they often turn and try to run away from the storm as it overtakes them. Unfortunately, by running away from the storm, they often prolong the amount of time they have to spend in the wind and the rain.
Conversely, when wild buffalo see the storm gathering on the horizon, they collectively turn and run directly into the storm. Ironically, by running straight into the storm they cut the amount of time they have to endure the storm significantly. Hence our beloved phrase:
Be the buffalo.
When we see conflict, confrontation, trial, hardship, and struggle forming on the figurative horizon, we encourage one another to lean into that coming storm. Face it head-on. Don’t run away from the struggle. It’ll only end up prolonging the issue. This principle is vital in the workplace.
Take for instance managing a client’s expectations. If I’m honest with myself, a lot of issues that have gotten blown up with a client didn’t happen because the problem popped up at the last second. We saw the situation forming, and instead of confronting it, we acted like the cattle and we tried to outrun it. This normally doesn’t work. But I’ve seen time and time again, when we choose to be the buffalo, things tend to work out just fine.
Storms are inevitable. Situations happen. Mistakes are made. Bad news doesn’t get better with time. Be the buffalo. Lean in. Embrace the challenge. Run headlong into the storm. And overcome.