In Memory of a Class Act

It was the late 1960’s when I got to see David McCallum (be still my teenaged heart) in person in Minneapolis, MN – close enough to get this photo of him.

Fresh off his success as Illya Kuryakin in the popular TV series, The Man from Uncle, McCallum was the featured guest speaker at a national conference for volunteers (like myself) who worked with children with Down Syndrome and other intellectual and developmental disabilities. The conference was hosted by the organization now known as The Arc, and McCallum was their national spokesperson then.

I was one of several members representing YOUTH PARC: Youth Organized and United To Help the Pennsylvania Arc at this conference. Besides networking with other youth Arc volunteers throughout the U.S., the main draw was hearing this celebrity share his passion for helping the children we served.

Sadly, David McCallum passed away a few days ago. Well known for his roles in The Man from Uncle and in NCIS (as pathologist “Ducky” Mallard), among other roles in movies and TV shows, I don’t know how many others knew this side of him.

His online obituaries acknowledge this man as a talented actor, musician, renaissance man, family man, and gentleman. These tributes reinforce the wonderful man that I first met at that youth conference decades ago.

I didn’t see an actor who was full of himself. Instead, I saw a kind-hearted man who sincerely advocated for children with developmental disabilities. He was also most genuine and approachable. While you can’t see it from the cropped photo above, McCallum didn’t speak from the podium. Instead, he sat at the end of the stage with Kenny Robinson, president of the YOUTH Arc, to address the audience. I’ve treasured this beautiful memory ever since.

Thank you, David McCallum. You were a class act.

Rest in peace.

[Photo by Sybil F. Stershic]

Customer service

“We want your business, not your bad mood”

Facts of life for business:

1: No business has an unlimited supply of employees and customers.
2: Recruitment and retention of both employees and customers are necessary for business survival.
3: Cultivating good employees is as important as cultivating good customers.

However, when good employees are subject to rude and demanding customers, it’s time to let those customers go.

That’s exactly what one business owner did. He was compelled to write the following in response to rude and unruly customers who made a scene at his new steakhouse restaurant shortly after it opened. (The following is cited with permission and minor editing for clarity and space.)

We are a new business – learning and adjusting.

We are not perfect; we are and will make mistakes.

This does NOT give you the right to berate us, scream at us, call us names …

As this business’s primary owner, I will protect and defend my employees – to work in an environment where they feel comfortable and safe.

As this business’s primary owner, I will admit when I am wrong or my employees are wrong and we made a mistake.

I do not want people to pay for food or an experience they did not enjoy. You want a refund? All you need to do is ask.

As this business’s primary owner, a fellow human being, and someone who cares and loves his community and wants it to be a great place to work and live, I cannot believe how inhumane people treat others.

I will personally kick you out of this business if you are unable to treat people like people. You will leave and not be allowed back.

We have customers SCREAMING at employees because we ran out of milk.

We have customers BERATING our employees because we don’t give free bread.

If you are so upset we ran out of milk, and we sincerely apologized for the inconvenience but you still find it necessary to be a jerk – you are gone.

If you walk in here expecting free bread when we NEVER offered it, and you can’t stop complaining about it and decide to treat our staff rudely because of it – you are gone.

You don’t walk into a grocery store demanding free food.

You don’t go to a gas station demanding free gas.

Grow up or go elsewhere.

It’s ok with us.

We want your business, not your bad mood.

Regardless of your experience, we welcome your good or bad or scathing review.

HOWEVER, if you choose to act like a child, a jerk, even an $&@@&$@, we are going to remove you. You are not entitled to treat our staff like you most likely treat everyone else.

If anyone would like clarification on our policy for treating employees with basic decency, you can call either restaurant to speak with me personally; you can also talk to me about your experience. If it’s good, great. If it’s bad, then we need to learn how to adjust and fix it going forward.

Thank you,
Richard Austin, President – Bella’s Sicilian and Bella’s Steakhouse.

Note: Austin’s restaurants are based in Geneva NY, and my husband and I have enjoyed dining in Bella’s Sicilian Ristorante when visiting the Finger Lakes region.

As a long-time employee experience advocate, I applaud Austin publicly defending his employees in this situation. It speaks highly of the culture he has created in his business, and it’s why my husband and I will continue to support his restaurants.

[Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash]
Customer service

Customer Service Behind the Mask: We Need More Like Laura

With the exception of surgical doctors and nurses who are used to communicating while wearing masks, many of us are challenged to communicate effectively when half of our faces are covered. Until the pandemic, I took for granted how much our facial expressions greatly enhance verbal communications and personal interactions.

Yet skilled service providers can still excel despite unseen smiles, muffled voices, plexiglass separators, and social distancing. That’s what I learned last year from Laura, who works at Wegmans.

Here’s an excerpt from my note to Wegmans about my experience.

“I’m writing to commend Laura who works in the Allentown PA store pharmacy and processed the paperwork for me to receive my flu shot.

What impressed me most about this young woman was her courteous and professional manner in welcoming customers and making eye contact while asking routine questions that can become tedious. I may not have been able to see her smile behind her mask, but I could tell she was giving me her full attention.

Please know I’m a business professional specializing in employee-customer engagement. I understand the tendency of some employees to perform on auto-pilot when processing repetitive paperwork in high volume situations. That’s why I complimented Laura on her customer-focused behaviors today — her attentiveness made me feel welcome, showed that she cared, and didn’t make me feel like an imposition.”

Kudos to Laura and all frontline employees who continue to deliver a positive experience without the ability to fully face customers.

[Photo by Evgeni Tcherkasski on Unsplash]





What R-R-Resonated with Me in 2020

Like most people, I’m looking forward to putting 2020 behind us.

Reflecting on the year, I noticed many words starting with “r” used to describe the pandemic’s immediate, near- and long-term impacts. Here are the r-words that most resonated with me and why.

  • Response and recovery
    How healthcare professionals, scientists, leaders, and communities acted to help those affected. How business and educators adapted/adopted technology to enable people to work and learn virtually. People who also helped include manufacturers who revamped their facilities to make sanitizer; volunteers who made masks; mental health experts who made themselves available for counseling; restauranteurs and volunteers who provided food for people on the front lines and those in need. [This list is not exhaustive.]
  • Recognition 
    How people celebrated the heroic efforts of healthcare workers, “essential” front-line workers, food service, and others who continued to serve while at risk themselves.
  • Reset, reframe
    Coming to grips with the situation and putting it in perspective. Like other major natural and man-made disruptions that significantly change our behaviors and priorities (e.g., earthquakes, fires, epidemics, wars, etc.), COVID-19 is a societal reset that will affect how we live and work.
  • Resilience
    This is our ability to face adversity, bounce back from it, and learn and grow from the experience. I’m continually amazed how people manage to cope and adapt. Getting through a traumatic situation involves persevering and building on what works and what doesn’t.
  • Renew, reimagine
    Changes in how we live and work in response to the pandemic created opportunities to re-think how we live and work.
  • Reality
    The need to be realistic while trying to be positive also resonated with me as turning the calendar page to a new year doesn’t mean an automatic refresh.

“We are in this for the long haul. Expecting that a single day will come when we are liberated from the stresses and challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic will, sadly, be an exercise in frustration. We will likely never go back to the same “normal” in which we operated in January of 2020.” Beth Steinhorn, Redefining Leadership: Finding Balance in Recovery and Renewal

Ready to move forward
It’s too early to predict what the world will look like post-pandemic, except that we are profoundly changed. I’m hopeful that at some point we’ll experience the eventual return of in-person collaborative meetings that co-exist with virtual ones; unrestricted in-person dining; attendance at cultural, entertainment, and sports venues; group celebrations; and handshakes and hugs — especially hugs!

I wish you all a better, safer, and more sane New Year!

[Image credits: Goodbye 2020 by Immo Wegmann on Unsplash. 2021 Stay healthy by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay.]




“Hi, this is a truly candid auto-reply you wish you’d thought of first”

“Find lightness and humor in each day. There is a lot to be worried about, and with good reason. Counterbalance this heaviness with something funny each day …” Margie Donlon, psychologist

This is why I’m sharing this post from Vu Le, a respected nonprofit professional, writer, speaker, and founder of Nonprofit AF. I love his bio that says, “Vu’s passion to make the world better, combined with a low score on the Law School Admission Test, drove him into the field of nonprofit work, where he learned that we should take the work seriously, but not ourselves. There’s tons of humor in the nonprofit world, and someone needs to document it.”

Fortunately for us, that someone is Vu. Here is his post, shared with permission, and abridged for space. Enjoy!

Honest email auto-replies you can use during these challenging times by Vu Le

Hi everyone. The past few months have been ridiculous. If you’ve emailed me, you literally got this auto-response back:

“Hi. This is an automatic reply. Due to parenting and homeschooling two small children, I will be slow to respond to emails. And I’ll be honest, I may forget to respond completely. If something is urgent, please call or text me. Thank you. Vu.”

This has actually been extremely helpful to have in place, as folks have been a lot more understanding when they hear from me three months after they email. Things are not normal. We all need to be a little more honest with one another in our communications. With that in mind, here are some auto-responses I drafted to serve as inspiration for you all. Feel free to adapt them to suit your needs:

General: “Hi, thank you for your message. This auto-response is to let you know that due to the pandemic, election anxiety, and other factors, it may take me some time to respond if I ever get around to it. If you need immediate assistance, I hope you find it somewhere.”

For parents of small children: “Hello, this is an auto-response. I am a parent with small children, so I am constantly exhausted and frazzled and it may take some time before I get back to you. My kids are a joy and it is so wonderful to get to spend so much time with them. It’s like getting to eat your favorite ice cream! But a whole gallon of it! Every day! If something is urgent, it’s best to call me, but keep in mind that there will be screaming and crying and the smoke alarm might go off during our chat because Chloe might be trying to set the couch on fire again. I look forward to a conversation with an actual human adult, so please call me! Especially if you understand these new ways that kids are being taught how to do second-grade math!”

For exasperated BIPOC folks: “Hi, this is an auto-reply letting you know that as a [Black, Indigenous, woman of color, etc.] I am exhausted by the relentless assault on my safety and chance at happiness these past four years, and also since always. It might take me a while to get back to you because I’m tired of fighting and deserve a break so I am just going to be growing hybrid flowers on Animal Crossing New Horizons and making them into hats. If you are white, especially if you are a cisgender straight white dude, here’s my Venmo and Cash App so you can pay for some of the emotional labor I’ve had to do to educate you about various stuff over the years.”

For grantwriters putting up with BS: “Thank you for emailing me. This is an auto-reply. I will get back to you as soon as I finish these 18 grant proposals that for some reason are all due next week. Despite the pandemic and the threats to our communities, many funders continue to operate as if things are completely normal. Which is why I still have to answer inane-ass questions like ‘please explain your organization’s history, mission, vision, values, evaluation strategies, and recent successes in 100 words or less.’ Thank you for your patience…unless, you’re one of these funders who are forcing nonprofits to waste our time, in which case, screw you. (Haha, just kidding. You know, grantwriter humor and all. Please give us money!)”

For nonprofit directors: “Thank you so much for your message. This auto-reply is to let you know that I received your email and that I will get back to you as soon as possible. However, right now we are dealing with multiple challenges, including cashflow issues, Zoom fatigue, and general stress and chaos. Half the team is gone due to furlough and layoffs. Also, since the office has been empty, there is a mice infestation that started attracting rattlesnakes. Thank you for your understanding. If you would like to donate to our Rattlesnake Relocation Fund, please click the donate button on our website.”

For overwhelmed DEI consultants: “Hi, this is an automatic reply. If you are contacting me for a training or facilitation on undoing racism, advancing equity, etc., there is a 6-to-12-month waiting period. Y’all should have done this way before it was popular to do so. Feel free to contact another consultant, or else let me know you want to be on this waiting list. Meanwhile, use this time to find money, because this is exhausting for me so it’s not going to be cheap for you.”

For existentialists: “This is an auto-response. I will try to get back to you as soon as I can. But what exactly is the point of doing so? Life is a loose collection of primal screams echoing in the Void. As Heinrich Böll once said, I am a clown…and I collect moments.’ Are we not all clowns putting on the makeup of professionalism, collecting moments of productivity and meaning to display in gaudy curiosity cabinets for other clowns to gawk at? Your email and my response are nothing but a series of ritualized actions to distract us from the horrors of inevitable oblivion.”

Thank you, Vu! You can read more of his posts at Nonprofit AF. [Image by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash]






Pathetic Tales from the Clueless in Charge

Incredulous but true. Here are several examples of the absurd-in-action from the executive suite.

  • A colleague who works in sales shared that her employer is undergoing massive changes and consolidation. Besides reducing staff and increasing the remaining employees’ workload, management also lowered sales commissions while raising sales goals.
  • At a staff meeting the head of a small organization announced the company was outsourcing its IT work — without having first told or consulted with the person responsible for the in-house IT function.
  • A CEO invested in a senior management team retreat where everyone, including the CEO, committed to agreed-upon behaviors to improve team efficiency and effectiveness. Several months later, the team found that everyone except the CEO was living up to their commitments.
  • The president of an well-respected ad agency called a staff meeting to announce a “merger of equals” with a firm that was much bigger and actually acquiring the smaller agency. It was news to the staff including several of the agency’s senior partners who had not been told their agency was being shopped. It was also news to the retired CEO and founder who kept an office and secretary in the agency but was out of town when the meeting was held. He learned of the deal when it hit the newspapers.
  • A CEO, who complained about wasting time in a company-wide email, made everyone wait for him on an all-hands call before cancelling it 25 minutes later. While he never acknowledged his actions (contrary to his pet-peeve), he continued to complain about employees wasting time.
Call the executives/decision-makers in these situations by whatever words fit: clueless, unrealistic, inept, [fill-in-the-blank with your own description]. Whatever you choose to describe them, they are also major contributors to employee frustration, disengagement, and burnout.
Customer service Engagement Marketing Training & Development

Building Connections and Engagement in “Smart Women Conversations”

Connecting and engaging people in the workplace with LEGO® … just one of many fascinating topics shared in my video discussion with Smart Women Conversations’ host Yvonne DiVita, respected blogger, serial entrepreneur, and my former publisher who remains a dear friend.

Yvonne launched Smart Women Conversations to “inform, educate, create laughter and share stories of reinvention” as part of her passion to “inspire and educate smart, talented women eager for business success today.”

I’m honored and humbled to be among the impressive women interviewed in this special series and invite you to read Yvonne’s introduction or just watch and listen to our conversation below.

To learn more, please visit Nurturing Big Ideas and check out these other Smart Women Conversations.



When It Comes to Social Media, I Agree with Audrey Hepburn

Here’s what Audrey Hepburn’s character Regina Lampert says when she meets Cary Grant’s character for the first time in the 1963 classic film, Charade.

Grant: “Do we know each other?”

Hepburn: “Why? Do you think we’re going to?”

Grant: “I don’t know. How would I know?”

Hepburn: “Because I already know an awful lot of people, and till one of them dies I couldn’t possibly meet anyone else.”

It’s not that I wish anyone ill; I just get to the point when I feel overwhelmed by a barrage of requests to:

  • like and/or follow social media pages
  • attend events posted on social media
  • vote in popularity contests (in exchange for my email address)
  • share posts about a cause or issue (what I consider the 21st century equivalent of chain letters).

So many social networks, so little time
The continuing growth of social media technology fuels FOMO (fear of missing out) and makes it easy to fall into the quality vs. quantity trap.

While it’s easy to be overwhelmed with it all, it’s also unrealistic to pay attention to it all. It’s like being at a large party where you just can’t possibly listen to every conversation taking place; nor would you want to.

Like Hepburn’s character in Charade, I don’t want an unlimited social network. That’s why – to better manage my time and sanity – I’ve become more selective about who and what I’m engaging with on social media.

[Image credit – Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn; photo from Pixabay]


True Confessions: I’m Tired of Employee Engagement

I started working on employee engagement long before the “e” word came into vogue, and I’m tired of it. Here’s why.

Overused as a business buzzword, the term “employee engagement” has become meaningless. It gets talked about in executive suites and management meetings, yet few companies actually do anything about it because too much effort is required to change a culture that needs fixing and artificial attempts in a cultural vacuum only make the situation worse.

As a result, I’m just plain tired of:

  • the endless rhetoric and discussions that go nowhere
  • the naysayers who don’t think engagement matters
  • executives frustrated with engagement because it’s not a quick fix.

Employee engagement 1.0 and beyond
When I started Quality Service Marketing more than 30 years ago, my work involved helping clients gain employee commitment to marketing and organizational goals. Managers wanted to know how to get employees motivated and willing to work with them to take care of customers.

Engagement’s scope has evolved since then to recognize that employee and employer each bear responsibility for it. Employees need to show up to work ready, willing, and able to do their best, and employers need to provide a workplace where employees are respected, trusted, and eager to do their best.

Work and workplace expectations have also changed. Employees want meaningful work with flexibility and fair pay. And while some companies proactively engage them as valuable partners, too many still consider them as labor to be manipulated in response to short-term market pressures.

That’s the main reason I’m frustrated with employee engagement. We haven’t fully transitioned from the industrial age of management control over employees-as-commodities to a better model of management with employees-as-respected-partners sharing in responsibility and ownership of results.

Not ready to give up
Despite my frustrations, I’m encouraged when I meet with employees who tell me how great their employers and workplace cultures are. Ditto when I hear and read about successful organizations where employee-care is as important as customer-care.

Despite the clueless-in-charge, there are still leaders out there who value their employees and genuinely want to do better with and by them. So I’m not giving up – because people matter and they deserve better.

[Image credit: photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash]

Training & Development

Why Read About Reading?

Because it’s good for your health.

That’s the key message in Read ‘Em & Reap: 6 Science-Backed Ways Reading Puts You on the Road to Achieving More and Living Longer by Tom Collins. [Disclaimer: I was fortunate to review an early draft of the book.]

Collins draws on research from neurology, psychology, cognition, education, and other fields of science to affirm reading’s benefits that positively impact both physical and mental health. Chapter titles include:

    • Reading Reduces Stress
    • Helps You Sleep
    • Improves Your Decision-Making Capacity
    • Makes You a Better Leader

A quick and enjoyable read, this powerful little book offers insight on “deep reading” to find answers and/or explore problems to generate meaning. Its readers will also find an interesting discussion in the print vs. digital debate.

Why I recommend Read ‘Em & Reap

If you’re a hesitant reader, you’ll get the encouragement you need to read more with help on how to develop a proactive reading plan.

If you’re an avid reader, you’ll appreciate the book’s “tips on adding more reading to your life.”

I enjoyed this book because it affirms the benefits of reading on so many levels. I read nonfiction for work to learn more, and I read fiction for pleasure to escape. Now I’m encouraged to go beyond reading just for work and play. Read ‘Em & Reap was the jump-start I needed to expand my reading even more.