Will Obamacare fix the healthcare issues facing our nation? Will raising minimum wage really bring some people out of poverty? These are politically charged questions that are facing our nation today and history will be the storyteller on how effective these initiatives, and others like them, are in solving the complex issues they represent. These types of problems remind me of a story about starfish. There are times when starfish are washed upon the shore and unless they get back into the water, they die. A man and his grandson were walking on the beach and the grandfather was picking up the starfish and throwing them back in. The boy said to him, “Grandpa, there is no way you can save all of these starfish, why bother, it makes no difference.” The grandfather replied as he tossed another starfish back in, “It makes all the difference in the world to this one.”

As leaders, we tend to get very focussed on managing relationships with our peers and executive management colleagues. There is a national speaker and author I have been following for years who said something in a talk a few weeks ago that really made me stop and think. He said that our ability to rebuild cities is dependent on how well we treat the underserved. It is not in dealing with the elite that the battle is won, it is in how we honor the broken in society. I am not trying to rebuild a city where I work, not directly anyway, but I am always trying to build, or rebuild, an effective team. What I try to do most in my leadership role, is model behavior and set a standard. I start with forming and maintaining good relationships with my direct reports and show them how to build and manage good relationships with their direct reports; this is how you build a great culture. According to this speakers comments, focussing on the elite is not where it is at. What if everyone in the department saw me showing as much honor to the IT help desk staff as I do the CFO or COO. How would that shift their thinking?

This is not really the first time I had heard this principle. Our leadership team really embraced this several years ago when we first started to build our team. We knew that we had to show honor to those who didn’t have a title with a “C” in it or were not considered management, or we would be discredited or even disrespected. As a group, we made the decision that all of our org charts would be upside down and that we would put the people who generally are not honored in the place where business culture today shows most honor, at the top. Where transactions happen in your place of work, whether it is retail, healthcare, finance, or educations, is where your business will be made or broken. In healthcare, we spend a lot of time instructing direct caregivers how to provide world class service. In IT, I should spend at least some of my time working with help desk folks, where several hundred work tickets, AKA customer touchpoints, are generated each week. I say “should spend a lot of time,” because in truth I do not. What about managers and supervisors, shouldn’t they be the ones spending time with the help desk, instructing and training them? Yes, that is true, and I look at help desk productivity reports all the time. If making the help desk more productive was my goal, reports and meetings with managers would do the trick, but that is not all that I am after. I wan’t to take the ordinary and make it extraordinary. I want to let those who don’t have 500+ LinkedIn connections, those who who follow more than those who follow them on Twitter, those who answer the phone all day and help customers, I want to let them know that they already are extraordinary, unique, and gifted individuals. I want to let them know and see that they are city builders!

After I thought about the talk I heard and its implications, I was convicted. Confession time, get real time, authentic time, I definitely do not have it all figured out. But, it turns out, I am in good company, because I have never worked in a place where the “C” levels spent a lot of time at the point of transaction. The awareness is growing that this is where real change can happen, and some in my organization model this well, but there is much yet to learn and do. As a city builder, I am going to commit to the underserved, the ones without a title, and see just how great we can make this place!



  1. Michael Vann | Reply

    Great article. First point of contact is where the magic happens and where it can break down into something undesirable for the customer and the organization. This is where the “face” of the organization is portrayed.

    In my mind, it’s critical that departmental senior and mid level leadership are in tune with their direct reports. Understanding their workflow, customer base, individual specialties and everyday difficulties are essential pieces of knowledge enabling that leadership make proper adjustments and tweaks. This optimizes workflow processes and enables staff to provide the most effective service possible.

    1. Bill Rieger Post author | Reply
      Bill Rieger

      Thank you Michael. Since I know where you work, I will ask you if you think your leadership practices what they preach! Feedback always keeps people accountable. Thanks again!

      1. Michael Vann | Reply


        Great question. Where I work, I think that we do it well. Probably better than most places I have had experience with. I believe that’s partly due to leadership understanding how important bidirectional communication is within the environment as well as being a relatively small shop. I also believe that small groups intuitively communicate and cooperate more effectively than large lumbering groups. Closer relationships and bonds are built in this setting.

        I do see initiative on the part of our Directors and departmental senior leadership to work vertically up and down the organizational chart to make a positive impact for fellow co-worker and customers alike.

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