Please Don't Tell My Customers, "We Can't Do That"
I don't know about the rest of you, but I already see a tremendous shortage of work to do in most industries. Yet, I still hear our people telling customers, "We can't do that," like it's been programmed into us. It drives me absolutely crazy, because I know there is nothing we can't do if we put our minds to it. How often is this happening that I don't even hear about?
With backlogs being so low, why can't people see the opportunity in saying "yes" to new tasks and different projects? I sincerely believe it comes from our upbringing. All our lives, we were told "no" and trained not to take any kind of risk. Think about it, you've probably told your kids things like, "Don't pour your own tea or you might spill it, don't cross the road or you may get run over, don't go near the oven or you could get burned, don't ride your bike in the grass, no, you can't use that fishing pole or it will get tangled up," and the granddaddy of them all, "What makes you think you can do that?" (Now, safety as a legitimate concern is one thing, but the negativity goes on and on.) By the time we are 18, we believe that there really isn't much we can do as we have learned to accept limitations from all around us. Then perception becomes reality. So, I've made it a point to preach to our people not to accept limitations blindly, to get the facts and, for heaven's sake, not to tell our customers we can't do something, just because we've never done it before.
So, you'd think I would have this issue gone from my companies, right? Wrong. This just happened to me again. I was in a meeting with a manager and a potential (large) customer, when the customer asked if we could do something we had never done before. I immediately got excited about trying something new, especially when it was similar to work we already do. Then, the manager let the air out of my sails by shaking his head no and telling the customer, "I have never seen anything that says we can do that type of work." My heart nearly jumped out of my chest when I heard that, so I stuck my nose in and said, "Let's try it and see what happens." Guess what? As it turned out, we easily did the work, and it could turn into a lot more work for this customer and others. Looking back, I thought, why would our manager tell this customer "no" without researching to see if we could do it? It's because he was trained from birth to accept limitations.
So how do we get people to think "yes" first, instead of "no?" We must first retrain ourselves to look for the "yes" instead of accepting the "no." I have a theory that for every negative thought that enters our minds, we have to tell ourselves subconsciously 27 times the opposite. This isn't easy. Like our employees, we also were programmed to accept the negative. It's easier to say "no" and walk away, than to try to figure it out. Those negative thoughts will keep coming back, time and time again. Every time one does, even if it is the same one you battled before, you've got to turn it into a positive. Once your people see your positive approach, maybe it will become second nature to them to have one, too.
For most of us who have struggled through the last three years of this great recession, I realize it is hard to convince ourselves and our employees that we can get back to the top. But, if we don't use every means possible to show we believe it, we will never get back to where we were. Employees won't follow someone who doesn't believe it himself. If it's happening in my companies, it just might be happening in yours. So, let's nurture those positive beliefs about the great (and different) things our companies can do, and then assure our people convince our customers that we can do it. Remember, both positive and critical beliefs start at the top.