It just happened at the hairdresser! Getting a hair cut is no longer a chore, because of one thing. Her name is Michelle.
She, and what she shared today, are the focus of this story, because Michelle epitomises what employee engagement sounds like.
Michelle is an incredible professional. She knows my name, she always remembers the tiniest little details of my life and what part of my story needs an update between appointments. She’s genuinely excited to ask about my next art project and wants to see updates and photos. We share about love, life, work, and her pending nuptials to her beloved. She knows I am focusing on balance in my life and in her own way, holds me accountable. The fact the she is a skilled hairdresser is secondary to the relationship we have. These days I walk in and say ‘you’re in charge’ and she just knows how to transform me.
Today, I listened from a whole new space. Having just wrapped up a morning’s coaching perhaps I was more attuned than usual.
Michelle is never there on a Monday. I felt it was my lucky day to get a last minute appointment, and I asked ‘why are you here today?’. She responded ‘Oh, one of the team needed to do training and I needed to cover. My boss has been so generous to me this year that I volunteered to come in today. It doesn’t matter, I love my job and I got to see you!’
Somehow we meandered into a conversation about her boss. She spoke in glowing terms of a 34 year old dynamo, who was entrepreneurial, caring, and trusting of Michelle to run the salon alone. Michelle appreciated this and said ‘the thing that makes this work is that I am crystal clear on what she wants me to do and I can do it’. She added ‘we had a conversation a while ago to make sure we both felt confident in each other’s understanding of the tasks and my capacity, so now she has another exciting project she can do instead’. Michelle loved being of service and being in charge. The thing I heard was the explicit understanding and the importance of shared purpose and dialogue that made this sense possible.
As we moved through the cutting time, Michelle pointed out a promotional item on the bench in front of me asking ‘have you seen what we are doing with sustainable salons?’ and I had not, but the mere use of the word sustainable had me interested. She came to explain that she and the salon had recently been certified as a sustainable salon and this meant they were enacting a whole series of new behaviours for a very important cause – the environment.
Michelle came alive… ‘Did you know that hair can be used to soak up oil from oil spills? We are collecting all of the hair we cut off and Sustainable Salons is using the hair as an alternative to chemically treating the spill. Better still, they salvage the hair at the end and can retrieve the oil’. Fascinating! ‘And we are doing things differently behind the scenes too. We are washing out all of the containers to recover them. Some of our customers have asked me why, but I cannot understand how they cannot see the importance of this and it is only a change to a few processes to make it happen’ …. Music to my ears. ‘Even though it is extra work, I believe in it’. I believe in Michelle. I respect what she stands for.
What a wonderful initiative by Sustainable Salons. They have infused the ‘why’ through their certification process and now Michelle advocates on their behalf. I jumped online to take a look. No Fb page! Mmmmm – better remedy that one! Otherwise – wow. And very smart to align with a large brand like Toni and Guy.
We share a little more. I share about my largest client and it happens to be the same client that recently delivered a case of beer to her salon to cater for the growing ‘male’ clientele. You see women are usually offered wine in the evening as a part of the experience – but what about the blokes. Well done Asahi for balancing the ledger. Beer and a blowdry! Smart. Michelle loves that breakthrough too because she can now look after her male customers with the offer.
Michelle shows the hallmarks of a healthy culture at the level it is best received – right to the customer. She runs a successful business (given). She builds enduring relationships. She invests time in meaningful projects and shares this with the customer. She has a passion for what she does. She goes the extra mile for team mates and her employer because she cares and feels cared for. Her personal life revolves around work and they work together in a yin yang fashion and the give and take make her work place more meaningful.
There are many places to measure the health of a culture and my experience today suggests this is one of the most powerful. Yet, a customer need not be external to the business. Every day we take care of the requests, concerns and needs of a multitude of customers, and I wonder if we see them the same way Michelle sees me?
Who are your customers? What do you do for them each and every day? How do take care of them? Would they say the same for you as I do for Michelle? What could you do to make sure you have an explicit understanding of what your customer expects of you? And what can you share with your customer to make sure you meet their standards? What kinds of relationships are you fostering?
I am not asking these as ‘collective’ questions, but to help you reflect on your personal brand. How you ‘show up’, and how aligned you are.
Get this. I travel from Queensland to New South Wales to get my hair cut. But I am not buying a cut. I am buying a customer experience – Michelle’s warm and spirited personality, care, and conversation. Toni and Guy Chatswood – you have a star and to the Salon Manager, and Sustainable Salons, you’re doing all the right things.
Michelle – wishing you and Alex every happiness. I am humbled to call you a friend.