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Leaders can have fun too

March 21, 2022

I think we so easily get mired down in the seriousness of what we do that we can’t see the fun or light-hearted opportunities our jobs present. And that’s true for leaders too! Leaders can be fun.

I was working in a heavily regulated business and our function was to do construction work for customers. In that regulated environment we largely ignored the customer experience—if they wanted their project done, they had to work with us. There really wasn’t another choice.

Over time, our business model began to change, and we realized that we quickly had to readjust how we managed the customer’s experience. We needed to pay more attention to the wants and needs of our customers.

But how could we start to change the mindset of our leadership team to make these adjustments? And for an extra added bonus, could we have fun doing it?

Here’s what we did.

I proposed that we take a trip to the mall. The leadership team was paired up and given the assignment to purchase a specific item and spend no more than $50. They had to find a store that sold the item, purchase it, and report back to the group on their customer experience.

This earned me skepticism and a few eye rolls. Thankfully, the team was willing to go along with the idea.

After a couple hours of shopping, we met at a mall restaurant to review our experiences. Everyone was able to purchase the item they were tasked with finding. But that’s where the similarities ended.

Our customer experiences were all over the board. One team had to find a motivational poster. You know the kind—they hang in classrooms and corporate conference rooms. This team had a wonderful interaction at their store. The sales associate went above and beyond to get the poster framed within the allotted time and $50 budget.

My partner and I didn’t fare so well. I can't recall what we were looking for but our first stop was at Sears. We entered the store and started our stopwatch. We walked around looking at nothing in particular for 15 minutes just to see if an employee would help us locate our item. 15 minutes… that’s almost forever in the retail world when a customer needs help. No one came up to us to offer any assistance and, in fact, it was several minutes before we even saw someone else in the store. I don’t know what was going on at the store that day, but it’s no wonder they went out of business. And we never did find our item there. We picked it up later at a sporting goods store.

As we ate lunch, we talked and dissected our differing experiences about which stores did well and not so well. We discussed how we could take what we learned and adopt it to deliver an excellent customer experience for our business. It was a valuable learning event. And we accomplished our objective: to get the team to start thinking like customers, to put ourselves in their shoes, and to evaluate not only if we were meeting customer needs but HOW we were doing it.

And in the end, we had a lot of fun!

. . .

Jeff Custer is a long-time leader at both private and Fortune 500 companies where he has developed and led both high performance individuals and teams. He is passionate about developing leaders and building high impact teams. Jeff resides in the United States.


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