Falling down doesn't help you win
Updated: Apr 21
Why your whole team needs to be remarkable
I loved to run when I was a kid. It was fun to race down the sidewalk while dad called out how fast the speedometer in his car said we were going.
I ran one season on the track team in elementary school. I wasn’t particularly fast in the 110-meter hurdles and I *always* finished dead last in the 1600.
When I was in high school, I ran exactly one race on the cross-country team. I trained all summer and was ready to go. About a mile into my first race, a sharp pain started in the middle of my foot and didn’t go away. I was in 5th or 6th place when it started. My best friend was running with me and encouraged me to run through the pain — it’s probably just a cramp, those happen all the time.
By mile two, it felt like I was running with a hot spike in my shoe. Some cramp! I was falling behind. I told my friend to run on ahead, there was no reason for him to lose spots just to run with me.
As the end of the course came into view, I knew I didn’t have far to go so I pressed on and finished the race. As I sat on the ground, rubbing my foot, they brought the results around. 16th place. 24 runners. Not great, but not last either.
An x-ray later showed that one of the bones in the middle of my foot had a stress fracture and it finally broke in that first mile. There were still more than two miles to go when it happened. I grimaced. And I hobbled a bit. The bones pressed back and forth into each other with every step. By the end, it was extremely painful.
But I never fell down.
You see, falling down doesn’t help you finish races. And you can’t win races you don’t finish.
Leaders are often busy working through strategy and other really high-level activities. It is easy to forget there are people on the front lines with our customers.
They can look the part, just like I did.
I had all the hallmarks of a cross country runner — the school uniform, the name brand shoe, a runner’s physique. From the outside, I looked like I was ready.
But I wasn’t.
I couldn’t run effectively with a fractured bone in the middle of my foot. Nobody could see it from the outside. I just looked like a slow runner.
In the same way, every part of the organization has to work together to deliver the promises we make to the people we serve.
A real-life business example will bring this into sharper perspective.
I’m a member of a local health club that’s part of a big, national chain of gyms.
When I joined, they issued a card with a barcode on the back. Every time I go to the gym, the front desk person scans it and a picture comes up on their monitor. They greet me by name and wish me a good workout. They can see all the information about my membership.
The entire process of finding out about me, individually, takes less than 5 seconds.
One night last week, I found another person’s access card in one of the lockers. As I left, I handed it to the person working at the front desk.
Me: I found this card in the locker. It looks like it belongs to Patrick. I bet he’d really appreciate a call so he’ll know someone found his card.
Front Desk Guy: We have a lost-and-found.
Me: When I lost my card in the past, I never knew where I lost it and it never seemed to be in the lost-and-found. Wouldn’t it be nice to get a call from someone at the gym who cares enough about members to let them know when they find their stuff?
Front Desk Guy: That’s what the lost-and-found is for.
Me: But, don’t you just have to scan the card and get his phone number or email? Wouldn’t it be easy to show him the gym cares about him as a member?
Front Desk Guy: Thank you (into the drawer it went)
Me: I get it. I know the gym charges for replacement cards. I guess there’s a reason NOT to let people know.
Front Desk Guy: Have a good evening!
It wasn’t particularly busy at 8:45pm. A quick phone call or email to Patrick wouldn’t have prevented him from doing anything except finishing his water cooler conversation with another employee on the other side of the counter.
That other employee added, “He can check to see if we have his card when he gets here next time.”
And down they fell.
One guy tripped, taking his co-worker and the company’s value proposition with him.
In my view, at least.
...the culture in that gym, which commands a premium over almost every other gym, was Members First?
...Front Desk Guy and his colleague understood the importance of little things that lead to big things like recurring revenue and positive referrals?
...Patrick (and several hundred other members like him) experienced a change from “that place that charges me for every little thing” to “those people care about me”?
I recently read this quote from Seth Godin:
You’ll serve many people. You’ll profit from a few. The whales pay for the minnows. It can work out. But in order to do your best work, you’ll need to seek out and delight the few. And in return, you’ll be rewarded with a cadre of loyal customers who will buy in for all of it. — This Is Marketing, p. 163
This chain is notorious for needing to recruit lots of new monthly memberships.
They’re busy gathering minnows.
What if Patrick was a whale? What if he comes to the gym multiple times a week but, more importantly, actually pays for at least one other high ticket service EVERY MONTH. And, what if Patrick had been doing that for eight or ten years?
Patrick would be a whale for them.
And they treated him like a minnow.
I have neither the time nor inclination to write about the many other examples of this chain’s culture of falling down as I experience it from within this particular club.
Of course, there will be one-time failures and unexpected difficulties. But you can still finish a race with a broken bone.
The bigger picture is about the important work of creating a persistent culture of keeping our promises to the people we serve.
Perhaps the most important questions don’t have anything to do with running or this club. Maybe, the ones that matter apply directly to your company:
Who is at the equivalent of your Front Desk?
Do they know who the whales are?
Have you created a culture and processes that value both the whales and the minnows — with an appropriate priority?
What can you, as a leader, do to continuously improve the systems you allow to be in place within your company?
It takes a leadership commitment to have the right people and systems in place so you don’t fall down at the finish line.
That’s how we win races.
You know how so many people have the Sunday night blues when they get ready for work on Monday? We want there be less of that.
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