Archive for the ‘Chip’s Story’ Category
[Originally posted July 22, 2010 on the Huffington Post]
I’m a premature grandpa. At age 49, I’ve got a couple of grandsons, Deshawn and Danari, who are 15 and 13 and you might as well call them “Generation Why?” because they’re at that age when they’re full of questions. While we were riding the rollercoaster at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk about a week ago, Danari asked me what were the most important lessons I learned when I was a kid? I was tempted to take a page out of All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, but a teenager doesn’t want to hear vague platitudes like “clean up your own mess” or “say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.” No, what Danari wanted to know is which classes had the most profound impact on me as a leader today? Good question.
It’s natural to believe that reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmatic are the fundamentals for a successful adulthood as communication and logic are hallmarks of great leadership. And, of course, I learned about the value of teamwork on the playground in P.E. and came face to face with winning & losing and good sportsmanship which are essential values of competitive capitalism. But, those classes are too obvious as answers to Danari’s question. I spent some time deeply pondering what skills I built in the classroom all those years ago that truly serve me in ways I could never have imagined. Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that three particular junior high school classes have the most relevance to my day-to-day leadership skill set today.
First, let’s start with the worst. Actually, Ada Wurst was my Art teacher and she gave me the only B I received in junior high, so she taught me a lesson in humility (yes, my definition of being “type A” was to get all A’s in school). She also figured out that I was color blind – I couldn’t see those numbers in the color bubbles. Flunking color (but with a reason) made me feel a little better as I just thought I might just be color dumb. But, most importantly, Ms. Wurst helped me to see the genius in being able to see patterns that aren’t obvious to everyone else. Learning to make art was a qualitative process and I learned that qualitative intelligence depends on a nuanced perception of the qualities one encounters or creates. So much of leadership today is judgment, not calculation…creativity, not analysis. So, Ms. Wurst taught me the art of conceptual blockbusting, how to truly “think outside the box” and color outside the lines.
Secondly, I have to nominate Mr. Worthington and his Health class. When most of us think of health class, we imagine it as purely an exercise in human biology. Yes, we did learn about the reproductive organs and where babies come from (progressively more important for 7th graders these days) and about puberty, nutrition, and how to take care of oneself. But, our greatest learning was about how to create well-being beyond our body. Mr. Worthington helped me to see that one’s physical body quite often is just a manifestation of what’s going on inside emotionally and maybe even spiritually. Health – broadly defined – is mind, body, and spirit. And, that’s just as true in a company as it is for an individual. Mr. Worthington reminded us that we could “be all that we could be” only a couple of years after Dr. Abraham Maslow had proclaimed that in his books about the hierarchy of needs and the U.S. Army adopted it as its advertising slogan in the 1980′s. Mr. Worthington taught me about my worth.
Finally, if there’s one skill I learned in eighth grade that serves me well today it’s time management. And, one of my hidden time management skills is that I type at a speed that’s probably about twice that of the typical CEO. Profuse thanks need to go to my spinster Typing teacher Ms. Binns (yes, these names are, in fact, real). This cranky old battle axe sent more than a few of us into tears as she exhorted us on how typing was such a pivotal part of our lives. I remember one smart ass student who once asked her, “Why do we need to type when our fathers have secretaries and typing pools that handle all that clerical stuff?” Ms. Binns peered over her glasses with a mean stare and said, “Don’t assume you’ll always have someone to type your letters for you!” Clearly, this woman had a crystal ball into the era of PC’s and iPads when a leader who’s an expert typist can shave off a couple of hours of slaving in front of the computer compared to the guy who chose “Metals” class instead of Typing. Ms. Binns’ Typing class should have been subtitled “Time Management.”
Mrs. Wurst. Mr. Worthington. Ms. Binns. Who knew that the perspectives and skills you introduced me to would serve me so well today as a leader? Wherever you are, I just want to say thanks for helping me have an artful view of the world, a healthy and holistic view of myself and my company, and an expeditious ability to communicate in writing.
Viktor Frankl, the Austrian psychologist, who was imprisoned in a Nazi death camp and wrote one of the ultimate tomes on existence (“Man’s Search for Meaning”) once lamented, “People have enough to live by but nothing to live for: they have the means but no meaning.” This is the predicament of modern man. Once we’ve addressed our basic needs in life, what do we strive for?
And, of course, modern man is a worker bee. Business means busy-ness. We toil away to keep up with the financial cost of living, sometimes not recognizing the spiritual cost of living in a world that often is more focused on our means than our meaning. But, we’ve traded the assembly line for the office cubicle, braun for brain, and an increasing number of us expect that the personal transformation we create outside the office can be possible within the realm of the workplace, too. We work 25% more hours per week than we did a generation ago (and that doesn’t even count the emails at home and BlackBerry messages on vacation). So, if we don’t find meaning at work, it will purely be in the crevices of life where we’ll have to find soulful sustenance.
Gurnek Bains, the lead author of Meaning, Inc: The Blueprint for Business Success in the 21st Century suggests, “The creation of meaning directly drives commitment and engagement and this has a tangible and demonstrable impact on business results. Now that other forms of competitive advantage have become commodities, creating a sense of meaning for people will be what makes the difference for most companies in the future.”
According to the authors who interviewed more than 10,000 executives, such “Meaning Inc. companies” as Google, Virgin, Genentech, Southwest Airlines, and Tata understand that the key to raising levels of performance is “to create a sense of meaning that is real as opposed to going through the motions of creating statements of purpose and values.” Not only do such companies regularly appear on lists of best places to work, but shares in those with a ten-year stock history have gone up 600%, far faster than their competitors.
I started my company nearly a quarter century ago and decided that the name of the company should also be its mission statement. Joie de Vivre Hospitality has grown into America’s second largest boutique hotelier based upon our mission of “creating opportunities to celebrate the joy of life.” This compelling credo has even been distilled down to a two-word mantra (“Create Joy”) that is stamped into blue rubber bracelets that many of our employees wear and all our new employees receive during new hire orientation.
But, one learns the difference between a glorified mission statement and a belief system that guides behavior when a company faces a once-in-a-lifetime economic downturn (and we’ve had two of these in the San Francisco Bay Area in the past decade). In late 2001, I was struggling. I had 1,000 employees at the time and I didn’t know how I was going to make payroll. The combination of the dot-com crash, 9/11, and a worsening economy meant that my hotel company, Joie de Vivre, was at risk. About that time, I walked into the local bookstore in search of a business book that would cure my financial woes or at least give me a clue about how to survive. Within minutes, I realized I needed something more serious. I found myself sauntering from the business section to the self-help section of the bookstore (conveniently located next to each other) and that’s where I reacquainted myself with Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, one of the most famous psychological theories of human motivation.
I guess a guy who calls his company Joie de Vivre would naturally gravitate to self-actualization. Maslow was famous for being an early leader in the human potential movement based upon his belief that psychology had been too obsessed with worst practices and there’s a lot to learn from best practices in human behavior. He first popularized the wisdom, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail” as it aptly described the psychology profession’s over-emphasis on neurosis in the mid-20th century. Spending the afternoon reading Maslow helped me to see one of the most neglected facts in business: the fact that we’re all human. And, no matter our role in business – as a line level employee, as a CEO, as a customer, or as an investor – we all have a hierarchy of needs of what’s importance to us. As I read more about Maslow, I came to understand that late in his life (I was able to obtain his private journals for the last ten years of his life), he started applying his hierarchy of needs to organizations, and, specifically to business. But, unfortunately, Abe died young at age 62 in 1970 before he could closely look at how his primary theory could shift from the individual to the collective.
During that downturn nearly ten years ago, I decided to start “channeling Abe” to see how his theory could apply to my company. I figured the worst that could happen is we’d go bankrupt, so why not learn something along the way. I synthesized Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs from five levels to three key themes: Survival (addressing physiological and safety), Succeed (social/belonging and esteem), and Transformation (self-actualization) which make up what I call the Transformation Pyramid. These themes aren’t just relevant in business, they’re fundamental in life. And, then I looked at how we could apply these themes to our three most important stakeholders in Joie de Vivre: our employees, our customers, and our investors. For the sake of this article, I will focus purely on the Employee Pyramid.
In his research on people who were being all they can be, Maslow came to realize that the deepest motivations were at the top of the pyramid and took on an inspirational quality. At one point in his research on people’s relationship with their work, he interviewed dozens of nurses and asked the question, “Why did you go into nursing?” Although the initial questions were rather superficial, as he dug deeper asking questions like, “What are the greatest moments of reward, or tell me a moment so wonderful it made you weep or gave you cold shivers of ecstacy,” he found the nurses expressing peak experiences that were virtually life altering. And those nurses who were most able to express a peak experience seemed most “called” by their work.
Maslow wrote, “People do not respond for long to small and self-centered purposes or to self-aggrandizing work. Too many organizations ask us to engage in hollow work, to be enthusiastic about small-minded visions, to commit ourselves to selfish purposes, to engage our energy in competitive drives. Those who offer us this petty work hope we won’t notice how lifeless it is….when we respond with disgust, when we withdraw our energy from such endeavors, it is a sign of our commitment to life and to each other.” Reading Maslow helped me see that the Employee Pyramid was really defined by Money (Survival), Recognition (Success), and Meaning (Transformation).
We all have base needs that need to be met and our work compensation package is the means to that end. But, Gallup has shown in multiple surveys that money isn’t the primary reason people leave a company (in fact, it usually comes in fourth place). People join a company and they leave their boss. Recognition – which addresses people’s Success needs that usually tap into one’s sense of social/belonging or esteem needs – is what creates loyalty in the workplace. But, money and recognition are external motivators for people who have a job or a career. Those who are living a calling – like the nurses Maslow interviewed – have transcended the bartering relationship that defines most employers with employees. They have tapped into an internal motivation that fuels them. They are inspired by what they do. They have moved from just focusing on the tasks they do each day to tapping into the purpose or imagining the impact of their work. That’s when an employee has moved to the transformational peak of the pyramid as they become more focused on that intangible we call Meaning.
Most companies get a little lost in the ether at the top of the pyramid as it’s easier for managers to “manage what they can measure” and it’s simpler to do a benchmark compensation survey than to try to measure meaning. Someday we may have a “Corporate Meaning Index” just like we have a “Dow Jones Stock Index” so that we can quickly scan who is playing at the top of the pyramid and who isn’t. In studying my own company and dozens of other meaning-driven businesses, I’ve come to realize that workplace meaning can be dissected into meaning at work and meaning in work. Meaning at work relates to how an employee feels about the company, their work environment, and the company’s mission. Meaning in work relates to how an employee feels about their specific job task.
I believe that meaning at work is ever more important than meaning in work. When employees believe in the work of the company, the whole Hierarchy of Needs is satisfied. Those employees clearly have their base needs met because they have confidence in the financial viability of the company, which means they have a secure job. Believing in the company’s mission also typically creates deeper alliances among employees because that sense of being part of a connected crew and the pride that comes from that success satisfies our social or esteem needs. Finally, our self-actualization needs can be met by feeling that we are part of an organization making a difference in the world plus there’s a halo effect that may render the work you do day-to-day even more meaningful.
One of the most profound decisions we made during the depth of that last downturn was to start to managing our business based upon meaning and to start measuring meaning in a variety of ways, whether it be questions on our twice-annual work climate surveys or whether it was asking in the monthly staff meetings with our line staff, “What’s the best experience you’ve had in the past month here at work?” The question I like to ask our employees goes something like this, “Most of us think of our job in terms of ‘what am I getting? What if you asked yourself daily ‘what am I becoming as a result of this job?” Helping our employees reframe their work, changing their work tasks to make them more meaningful, and creating a democratic culture in which employees help define our business strategy has helped JdV’s employee turnover drop to one-third the industry average. And we were recently crowned the “second best place to work” in the San Francisco Bay Area, unusual for a service company full of people cleaning toilets in a region full of famous high-tech companies with their plush corporate campuses.
I learned quite a bit about meaning in business during the last downturn, but this downturn has been full of lessons also. During the dot-com bust, my desire to learn tended to be more organizational, but this worldwide Great Recession has led to more personal lessons. I don’t know about you, but I’ve found myself on an emotional rollercoaster the past couple of years. I’ve had five friends or colleagues commit suicide, primarily due to stresses at work, and, I’ve seen countless companies in the travel and design industries dissolve under the pressure of this relentless economy. My greatest lesson in this downturn has been to create a series of what I call “Emotional Equations” (the title of my next book coming out in 2011) that help remind me how the world works. The most profound equation that I’ve used for myself and for the managers in my company has been DESPAIR = SUFFERING – MEANING and I learned this from reading Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning.
As teens, we learned algebra and found there were constants and variables in an equation. That’s true in life, too. The constant in a concentration camp, or in a recession, is suffering. There will always be suffering. Yet, the variable in life is meaning, how do we find a sense of meaning, even in the most difficult times? This is a question that I’ve asked myself and those I work with because if you can find meaning in the rubble, you will naturally lessen the despair that you feel. That’s how this equation works: more meaning, less despair. Yet, most of us in a difficult time put our attention on the suffering. Life and business is all about where you place your attention. If Viktor Frankl can live through a death camp by rediscovering the importance of meaning in our lives, we can live through a painful recession by reframing this difficult economic experience as the ultimate wisdom creator.
[Originally posted June 15, 2010 on the Huffington Post]
That’s paraphrasing a wisdom Warren Buffett once uttered (by the way, Warren Buffett’s lunch auction sold for a record $2.63 million last weekend in the annual charity fundraiser for Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco; this is the highest winning bid in this 11th annual event so maybe the economy is coming back!) Bill George, former CEO for Medtronic when that medical instruments company experienced the largest capitalization growth of any New York Stock Exchange company in the 90s, takes this headline one step further, “Do your shareholders choose you or do you choose them? Sophisticated CEO’s choose their investors by defining their particular business approach and strategy and assuring their investors are aligned with that program.”
This was a bell-ringing week for me … literally. A week ago, I got the honor of standing at the podium of the New York Stock Exchange to open trading on Monday morning for the world’s most well-known marketplace. On that very day, the Wall Street Journal reported that I’d sold a majority share in my company to a company owned by an heir to the founders of Hyatt. After 23 years, I was no longer the sole shareholder of my company, nor necessarily in control of my company’s destiny. How did that feel? While there’s a series of mixed emotions — just like the word “surrender” has multiple meanings, both positive and negative — I have to say that I feel like a proud father who’s married his daughter off to just the right guy. Sad at the passing of an era, but satisfied that this is exactly what’s supposed to be happening and I couldn’t choose a better partner for my offspring.
There are three kinds of investors: those focused on winning the game of “Survivor,” those focused on building relationships as their means of success, and those focused on creating a legacy who put their money where their heart is. Think of a pyramid with three levels. At the base of the pyramid – the widest point on the triangle — is the vast majority of investors, those that see investing as one constant set of transactions. These investors tend to focus on optimizing the most amount of return on their money in the shortest period of time. It is the fundamental principle behind return on investment (ROI) or internal rate of return (IRR) calculations and it is part of the basic language almost all investors use to determine whether they’ve survived in their investment practice. But, there are some investors who take a little longer view of their relationship with the company they invest in. If the “survival-driven” investor is focused on obtaining as much “milk” as quickly as possible, the relationship investor in the middle of the pyramid is more focused on the “cow” because it’s the cow that creates the milk. Happy cows make more milk. Warren Buffett says most investors forget that it’s the relationship with the cow that creates the success of maximum milk, or “moolah,” and he applies this long-term perspective to the businesses he invests in.
But, then there are those few, unique investors at the peak of the pyramid for whom investing creates pride of ownership. For them, investing could even be an exercise in self-actualization. Yes, they may be interested in return on investment and relationships may be fundamental to whom they invest with, but these “legacy” investors seek to change the world by the means of how they invest. The best advice I could ever give an entrepreneur is to create a purpose that’s so compelling and has benefit to the world beyond enriching yourself and see what kind of investors pop up in your life as a result of manifesting this kind of dream.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve met with dozens of investors who’ve done their due diligence on our company. The process isn’t a whole lot different than a beauty pageant with judges measuring your body parts and asking you open-ended questions. Some judges saw us purely as a vehicle for maximizing return. They were looking for “36-24-36.” Others saw that our history of creating loyal relationships with our employees and customers drove long-term results for the hotels we manage. I guess they were looking for “Ms. Congeniality.” But, in the end, literally out of the blue, the ultimate suitor who won the contest to own a majority share of this company is someone who profoundly understands that our name — Joie de Vivre — is also our mission, creating joy of life, and this investor realizes how truly powerful that purpose is to a company in a service industry like hospitality. This investor was looking for beauty beyond our stats or our ability to smile well. They gave us the crown because they could see the halo that comes from creating a purpose that’s meant to make a better world beyond the sloganeering that often comes with those words. I feel incredibly lucky to have found a primary investor who wears this pair of glasses when they make their investments.
[Originally posted Nov. 9, 2009 on the Huffington Post]
Why are entrepreneurs loved and CEO’s hated? It’s a bit of irony that has not been lost on me this past week as a bunch of cyber-strangers weighed in on their perception of me based upon a photo. Is this a crazy entrepreneur or a CEO who has lost his mind and proper bearings?
Back in June, the Rasmussen Reports released a survey of Americans’ favorable vs unfavorable ratings of various professions. At the top of the list with almost no negativity were small business owners and entrepreneurs. Religious leaders were a fair percentage back, but still near the top. Bankers were evenly loved and hated, while journalists, lawyers, and stockbrokers started to make up the bottom of the list. But, in the valley of the despised were CEO’s and Members of Congress. Three times as many people give these two professions negative ratings as compared to the positives.
So, what happens when you start out as an entrepreneur but grow into being a CEO due to the success of your company? Is Steve Jobs an entrepreneur or a CEO? How about Richard Branson? So much of it has to do with how you show up – are you still yourself or have you become the empty, shifty “suit”? Well, I started my company almost two dozen years ago as sort of an artist entrepreneur and I’ve been getting “atta boys” along the way. Yet, when I showed up in the Nevada desert to enjoy a few days of artistic utopia at Burning Man, had a few pics taken of me, and then posted them on my Facebook account, the question of whether I was a wacky entrepreneur or a father figure CEO made me a cause celeb the past few days. Take a look at the blog I wrote for BNET and the nearly 150 comments that arose from this topical question of how much of a CEO’s personal life should we be exposed to?
What’s most fascinating is to read that those who championed my right to be myself saw me as a grown-up entrepreneur, but those who thought I’d crossed the line by posting my Burning Man photos to my private Facebook account saw me as the CEO who had a certain decorum of professionalism that I needed to maintain (even though, frankly, that sterile decorum may be one of the reasons why Americans score CEO’s so low). One of those who counseled me on being a little more professional writes as if he were a self-hating CEO, “As much as you may not enjoy it, being a CEO brings with it the serious responsibilities of being a parental role model.” Clearly, this parental thing ain’t working based upon the Rasmussen results. More encouraging were the comments like “I am glad to see someone can be successful and not turn into a soulless robot” or “how refreshing it is to see a CEO who is also a human.”
One common comment was that I should separate my friends from my business associates on my Facebook page and only let my friends into that part of my site that might have photos like this. I don’t know what century they’re living in, but many of us – especially those who work long hours in business – find that some of our closest friends are those we connect with during our business day. This work/life frappe has created a blended experience in which it’s harder than ever to compartmentalize. Thank God….we may put a few shrinks out of business, but we’re likely to be a whole lot happier. Public image should equal private reality.
Ironically, my first book’s subtitle was “Daring to be Yourself in Business,” and I’m seeing how vital that is in the age of transparency. With the internet and social networks taking a more prominent place in our lives, being true to yourself (and everyone else) is almost a requirement. In fact, I’d suggest that the Rasmussen poll is really a litmus test for authenticity. The more people see the participants in the profession as authentic, the more heroic they become in the eyes of the public. Authenticity is where the culture is headed. It’s an evolutionary process (coincidentally, the theme of this last year’s Burning Man was “Evolution”). And, I’m still just figuring out my evolutionary process of gravitating from being an entrepreneur to being a CEO. Yet, this experience has just reinforced a powerful lesson. Maybe the role model CEO I’m supposed to be isn’t the traditional icon that people don’t like and don’t trust, but it’s the CHO: the Chief Human Officer. That’s really the conundrum a modern age role model CEO must solve: how can we be human and be a CEO at the same time?
I long to be anti-social. It’s not that I don’t enjoy people. Next to dogs, people are just about the best species ever created. Certainly better than toads. No, my anti-social longing comes from people overload. Being a hospitality honcho means lots of pressing the flesh, not in that vacant politician sort of way….more in that smiling, nodding, empathizing, problem solving kind of way. There’s no doubt I get great meaning out of my connection to other humans. But, it can be a little like eating that second banana split. It felt so good until it felt so bad.
So, I retreat. Rather than calling it anti-social behavior, let’s just call it pro-cocooning. After a long week of having my external antennae maxed out, it’s such a relief to get in touch with my internal antennae to understand what kind of weather is occurring on planet Chip. Most of us are a little intimidated by writing – especially if it’s in a personal journal – as if we’re being asked to communicate in a foreign language. But, it’s really quite a simple equation. Take a brain, add a heart, and a willingness to slow down enough to observe life – subtract out that voice of your 2nd grade brutally critical school teacher – and you might just write a few lines that could strike a chord (maybe a truly out of key chord, but at least some kind of chord).
Most of us are willing to live chord-less lives. Or we think we need to read before we can write. There are lots of great books about writing out there in the world. Some of my favorites are Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones , Brenda Ueland’s If You Want To Write , and Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird . But, let’s be honest, all these books basically say the same thing. Write as if no one’s watching and, by the way, do it naked…or at least expose yourself to yourself in all your glory. I find that I write my best passages (in whose opinion my internal critic asks?) when I have no idea where I’m going….when I’m scriptless and full of curiosity. Sort of like the carefree driving my partner Donald and I did in the English Cotswolds countryside last week….even better, we were driving on the wrong side of the road. My best writing happens when I’m thinking on the wrong side of the road.
I guess it helps that as a kid I was an introvert and wanted to be a writer when I grew up (an idea that was rather blasphemous to my sensible father). Well, now I’m grown up and I am a writer. The reality is I always was one but I had to try out a few odd identities along the way like real estate developer, political activist, philanthropist, and hotelier. Those clothes fit fine, but when I’m home alone, I’ve got to tell ya that I love being the naked writer. (I suppose the fact I’m sharing this with you makes me a bit of an exhibitionist.)
OK, let me clean this up and tell you how I got on this stream of consciousness. I was interviewed by a journalist this week who asked me how I could juggle being a very public hospitality CEO with being a very private “prolific writer” (his words). Out of nowhere, I said something like “most ambitious real estate execs are awfully focused on the here and now – not in a zen sort of way, but more as a form of instant gratification – yet winning a transaction-driven negotiation to buy a property gives you a high that lasts a few days. Strong earnings or profits might last a few quarters and make you a few bucks, but that’s awfully transitory. Bricks and mortar – the legacy that an evolved real estate developer creates for a community – lasts a few generations. Strangely enough, it’s words and thoughts that have the potential to last a few eternities.” I’m a big Thoreau fan – he died nearly 150 years ago – and I also pull out my Marcus Aurelius when I’m looking for a little insight (he left the planet more than 1,800 years ago).
I write. Birds fly. We do it to transport ourselves. My hope is that my form of flying just might make a difference for someone else out there – maybe even 100 years from now. If I write with that kind of forced posterity, it will be stale from the moment that synapse of inspiration flows straight through this keyboard. So, instead, I just fly and hope like hell I have a good time and don’t have to flap too hard. That’s what it was like writing PEAK . Sure, it was grueling working a 60-hour CEO Monday through Friday existence bookended by marathon writing sessions on weekends. No sane human would do this if they didn’t enjoy it. Writing PEAK was my form of self-actualization. I lost track of time. I lost track of eating. I lost track of me. I lost my mind, yet I found my spirit…that enduring spirit that felt like it was channeling old Abe Maslow more than 35 years after his death.
I write to connect…to connect with myself as well as to connect with some sort of ethereal consciousness (as if I’m grasping inspiration out of thin air). But, strangely enough, I write to connect with others. To connect with like-minded souls who will resonate with my moments of clarity and my moments of darkness. To connect with leaders who will feel emboldened to influence their workplace in a new way.
Maybe I’m not so anti-social after all.