I recently came back from a trip to Medellin, Colombia (my wife is from there) and had the opportunity to meet lots of her old friends and family. I ate really well and generally had a good time, but one of the things I was most impressed with was the courtesy of the people.
These people are courteous. Seriously courteous.
In fact, I’ve never been in a place where people are more nice and courteous. Let me give you some examples. If you’ve ever had the opportunity to go in a taxi, whether in the US or overseas, you know the drill. You tell them where you want to go, they acknowledge with a nod and drive off, or say something like “sure” or “ok”. Perhaps you’ve been in a place where they were nicer and greeted you in a more surprisingly nice way. But generally, I’m not surprised by the courteousness of taxi drivers.
That is until I went to Colombia. You hop inside the taxi, tell them where you want to go, and they’ll usually respond with si señor, con mucho gusto, which means yes sir, it would be my pleasure. Or they’ll say some derivative of that. At first I thought it was a fluke. Just one or two. But all of them are like that there. And when you arrive at your destination they are equally nice.
And it wasn’t just the taxi drivers. In different restaurants that we went to, whether fast-food type or more formal sit-down type restaurants, the people exhibited such white glove courtesy that I began to feel kind of important. I thought, maybe they know that I’m not from there and so they want to impress me? Maybe the suspect that I have some money? But no, our friends there told us they treat everyone like that. And our friends there treat everyone that they come into contact the same way.
But all this stuff about courtesy got me to wondering how such levels of courtesy ever got into their national system and culture to begin with? More specifically, I was wondering if the people were being conscious and purposeful in their courtesy, or if these were just idioms and phrases that have become a part of their culture and vocabulary and that, therefore, make them sound really courteous? I don’t think I’d have any way of knowing, but the net result is the same: people leave with a “wow” factor.
I’m no expert in developing a corporate culture, but I’ve seen firsthand the difference how simply replacing vocabulary changes the entire tone of the conversation and your experience. You can add in the behavior associated with the vocabulary, but just this part by itself makes a huge difference.
On my way home this evening from a meeting I stopped by a Publix grocery store. Their motto in Publix is “Where Shopping is a Pleasure.” Guess what? It is a pleasure to shop there. It’s not crowded, and the employees are exceptionally friendly and helpful. I asked for where something was, and the employee personally walked me over to help me find it. After they bagged my groceries, the young man asked if he could walk the grocery cart to my car and help me load the groceries. He may not have sincerely wanted to walk the groceries out for me, but him asking if he could made me feel good and I believed that he was willing to do it.
So here’s the bottom line.
In your organization or churches how do employees/volunteers interact with clients or customers? What kind of words do they use? I believe we could all do a big service by learning to replace simple words with more expressive and helpful words. Below are some examples.
Instead of answering something with just “yes,” how about saying “absolutely”?
Instead of saying “no,” how about adding in “no, i’m sorry we can’t/are not able to”
You may not be able to help me, and the honest answer might be no, but I just feel so much better about your “no” if you at least seem sympathetic about my condition.
In every organization there are probably hundreds of phrases that should be changed or adapted to more readily meet the needs of the people you’re trying to reach.
So how can you actually enforce this and make a dent towards making this part of your organizational culture? How about instituting a “naughty” jar at your leader’s meetings? When someone uses one of the wrong words, they put some money in the jar. One of my own leaders gave me this idea.
So when referring to small groups, the naughty word would be dividing the group whereas the good word is multiplying. When referring to the paper you hand out at the door, the naughty word would be bulletin (as the word has generally lost its meaning and is not used outside of a church context) where as the good word would be program.
These words seem inconsequential at first, especially by themselves. But together, as a whole, when all your people are using them, they give a guest a picture of what your organization is really all about. Hopefully a picture and experience that makes them go “wow.”
So what do you think? What are some ideas that you’ve heard about, seen, or experienced that you feel go a long way towards shaping organizational culture? What are some words that you’re trying to replace towards shaping a particular culture?