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Watching a grown man cry over being offered a banana is something I won't soon forget.

This is exactly what happened as I was on a team that ministered to inmates at the Neal Unit. This unit is one of many state prisons in Texas that participates in the Kairos Prison Ministry. I was honored to have spent several years serving in this program. Part of this ministry is a weekend in which the volunteers get to spend three and a half days inside the unit with 42 inmates in a workshop setting. We also were able to bring in meals, courtesy of our wives, and serve the inmates. Many times, serving the food to them made more of an impact than the words that were spoken. 

I remember one Saturday afternoon approaching a table with a platter full of bananas.  I offered one to an inmate sitting at my table, and he gratefully accepted. Within one minute his eyes welled up and he began to weep...almost uncontrollably. He looked up at me through the tears and said, "This is the first banana I have had in 17 years." He spent five more minutes looking at it before carefully peeling it and eating it. He then said, "Why do you guys come here and spend time with us? Don't you have a family? Why would you spend your free time hanging out with losers like us?" I explained to him that we were called to serve, and that we really weren't that much different. He then told me how much it meant to him to be served.  He said it made him feel special, and that he hadn't felt very special in years. There is something about being waited on, servant-style, by someone that you admire. It is uncomfortably exhilarating.

If serving a banana to an inmate made this kind of impact, how different would the culture of our dealership be if we took a little time to serve our employees?

The typical organizational pyramid has the Dealer Principle or GM sitting on top with the managers below them, then the employees and so on.  In order to create a servant culture, the pyramid must be turned upside-down. The Dealer/GM is on the bottom and works FOR his or her managers by providing everything they need to be successful. Encouragement, training, tools, personnel, and any other resources needed. The managers should do the same for the employees and we all work for the eventual 'boss', the customer. 

Servant management isn't a declaration, it's a mindset. It takes practice. Evidence of this culture change will be found in the little things you do.  Just do them regularly.

Here are just a few small things that you can do that will produce big changes.

  • Wheel the grill out and cook some brats for the employees. Go buy yourself an apron and have 'Servant' ironed on the front. Ask each employee how they want their brat dressed. look them in the eye, and serve it to them.
  • Admit to an employee that you have made a mistake and ask for their forgiveness. If you think this is weak, you're weak. It takes a much stronger leader to admit a mistake than to cover one up.
  • Give frequent raises to hourly employees that are doing a great job. I have been known to give 10¢ per hour raise every few weeks. This lets them know that their efforts are not going unnoticed.
  • Empower your people. Give every employee the ability to resolve a customer conflict, within limits. This lets them know that you trust them and there ability to make decisions. Problems also get rectified much quicker as a result.
  • Involve their family in contests or events. A teammate's spouse or children can be advocates for employment longevity.
  • Share manufacturer bonuses. Most manufacturers have volume or CSI-related quarterly bonuses. Take some or all of it, split it up EVENLY, and pay it out in cash at a luncheon.

Herb Kelleher, the founder of Southwest Airlines, took his company to the top of his industry with the philosophy that "Customers are #2"  He always felt that if he served his employees first, his customers would always be taken care of.  

There is a myth in business that managers that cater to their employees are somehow weak and get run over by their people. I think the folks at Southwest Airlines, Zappos, Google, SAS, Edward Jones, and others, would disagree.

Until your quarterly earnings report look like theirs, you're in no place to argue.

The phrase "Can I help you?" is perhaps, the most overused sentence in the history of business. But, could you imagine if every time we said "Can I help you?" or "What can I do for you today?", we actually meant it? In essence, what can I do for you right now, that will help you accomplish what ever it is that you want to do?  How can I put my own selfish needs aside, for as long as it takes, to think of YOUR situation?

As managers, we eat well. Let's spend a little more time feeding.

It's time to take off your bib and put on an apron.

Who's your Danny?

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Comment by Brian Amberg on March 24, 2015 at 1:21pm

Amen and well said Danny! I will add it's even more a matter of the heart than the mind. From the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks (and the hands act). Keep walking the walk, lives will be changed.

Comment by Danny Benites on July 19, 2014 at 10:20am

Thank you Carl!

Comment by Carl Maeda on July 17, 2014 at 1:06am

You have the Heart of a Servant my friend.

Its' an awesome gift to have!

And I love the message in your post!

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