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Learning to value the keystone COPPSS: Find your link between core values and higher profits

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Learning to value the keystone COPPSS: Find your link between core values and higher profits

If a scientist extracted your company’s DNA and placed it under a microscope, the image he would see is your operating values. A statement of operating values is the cultural backbone of your organization. It’s a list of valued traits and behaviors required of all employees.

Your vision statement shows employees where you want to go. Your operating values spell out how to get there.

These core values should run so deep through your culture that the hurricane winds of markets, product offerings, and economic conditions can’t uproot them. If you can imagine any circumstances that would force one of these values off the list, then it’s not a core value and should never have been identified as one. Like your mission statement, these values -— or success behaviors -— must be championed and modeled by management. Otherwise, employees will shrug off an aggressive “Values We Value” campaign as just another disingenuous corporate initiative.

Articulating its values helps an organization avoid hiring and harboring people who don’t measure up. For instance, if hiring managers scope out candidates based on attention to detail, world-class service skills, and innovative thinking, it’s unlikely that a disorganized, lazy conformist seeking a rut to burrow into will sneak past the front gate. And those who do will soon either run for the door or be shown the door.

The ideal Tires Plus employee possessed six qualities. Scott McPhee, our retail operations veep, coined the acronym COPPSS to make these attributes easy to remember: Caring, Optimistic, Passionate, Persistent, Systems-disciplined, and Spirit-filled. We snapped up everyone we could who embodied these six keystone COPPSS.

1) Caring. Twenty-four years in my workplace laboratory convinced me there are two kinds of employees -— those who are deflated and those who are energized by interactions with others. Granted, the distinction may initially be difficult to discern.

Nineteen out of 20 job applicants will assure you they “love working with people.” Yet, six months into the job, the self-proclaimed “people person” is bellowing, “These people are driving me nuts!”

We sought out employees who loved to make someone’s day. Every business, regardless of its offering, is in the business of helping people. And every employee, no matter how removed from customers and colleagues, contributes to the organization’s CQ (Caring Quotient). The higher the CQ, the more harmony in the workplace. And that means happier, more productive employees.

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Stress and losing ourselves in our work are just two of the factors that can push aside “the better angels of our nature.” Several years ago, I found myself hunched over my laptop on a flight from Minneapolis to San Diego. I was trying to nail a deadline under less than ideal conditions, made worse by the oaf in front of me who fully cranked his seat into my lap.

Agitated over this guy’s boxing in my six-foot, two-inch frame, I sank my knees, already pressed into his seat, a little deeper to send a message. Forty-five minutes later, a woman in her eighties rose out of the seat in front of me and used a walker to reach the restroom. I was horrified. I had zinged an elderly lady, of all people, with my knee-jerk reaction.

To this day I draw upon the image of that woman when I’m in a rush. It reminds me to always recognize the humanity of other people.

2) Optimistic. In the Optimism Olympics, Eddie Haskell wouldn’t even be allowed in the stadium. At best, Eddie’s oily brand of optimism on “Leave It to Beaver” was annoying (“Mrs. Cleaver, I know your dinner party is going to be a big success!”). So is the modern corporate equivalent (“That’s an awesome report, boss; it’s going to double our revenues!”). At worst, it perpetuates dishonest behavior.

On the opposite end, overt negativism kills initiative and deadens spirit. It’s also contagious. I’ve seen one employee with a rotten attitude seductively infect his colleagues until a black cloud hovered over an entire department.

Grousing about co-workers is especially toxic. It sows dissention and doubt throughout your shop. Pessimism becomes self-fulfilling. Once your people lock themselves into it, they wind up spending more energy justifying their negativity than in searching for solutions.

Take the time I got steamed during a biannual operating-plan review. Dan, one of our regional managers, had unilaterally reversed our formula of devoting 10% of a plan analysis to identifying obstacles and 90% on how to hurdle them. His presentation turned into one long excuse for why he hadn’t met his profit goals. Typically, I’m gentle with underperformers, especially in front of their peers. But Dan wore my patience thin. I asked him point-blank why he hadn’t told us about his problems earlier so they could’ve been solved by now. He mumbled something about not being able to get people’s attention. It was clear he still didn’t get it. A few months later we had to “free up his future.” Not caring on our part? Not excising a cancerous attitude like that wouldn’t have been caring to our team.

The healthy middle ground between mind-numbing positivism and gloomy negativity is a place I call authentic optimism. It welcomes thoughtful dissent, inspires the confidence to hurdle any obstacle, and reframes roadblocks as opportunities to get better. For instance: “Yeah, landing this account is a challenge. But if we study the offering our competitor submitted and put Sue on this, we can do it.” As the placebo effect proves, optimism can create ideal outcomes. It’s also a basic law of the office that people will scale the tallest filing cabinet to help cheerful colleagues succeed. Art Linkletter summed it up perfectly:

“Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.”

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Optimism poured out of our phones daily: “It’s a great day at Tires Plus. This is Tom. How can I help you?” You should have heard the reaction when I first proposed that greeting. Groans all around. But I insisted, and soon it became second nature. Eventually, we became aware that a number of Fortune 500 companies had appropriated our greeting. I think that’s great. The world needs all the optimism it can get.

3) Passionate. Selling a new idea to colleagues is like a district attorney trying to persuade a jury to lock up the bad guy: Conviction equals success. More precisely, success hinges on the passion of your convictions. In its purest form, passion is the combustible mixture of meaning and purpose. A passionate pitch is more likely to get a warm reception. But check yourself. Passion needn’t be volcanic. Quiet, controlled passion also packs persuasion. Besides, erupting too often raises eyebrows. People are more apt to help someone who maintains an even keel and hollers “Man overboard!” only after a really loud splash.

A lack of passion is a deal-breaker whether you’re introducing a new initiative, coaching an employee, or apologizing to a customer. Tone and body language speak louder than your words ever will. The B.S. Detector goes berserk when verbal and nonverbal cues don’t jibe. With phony passion running rampant nowadays, don’t be surprised if people put up their guard or search for ulterior motives if they sense your passion isn’t genuine. The cynicism will fade once they see you’re consistent, or if somebody credible vouches for you.

4) Persistent. Our first three tire stores were small converted service stations that also sold gasoline. With the late-’70s energy crisis in full swing, my gasoline allocation was grossly inadequate and I struggled to meet payroll. So I wrote an appeal letter to the federal government for more gas -— denied. I called the Department of Energy’s Midwest office in Chicago to request a meeting with Ray Fiene, the director —- denied (I was told in no uncertain terms that Mr. Fiene was unavailable). Undaunted, I hopped a plane to Chicago and tried to sweet-talk his receptionist -— denied again.

Now, I had seen his picture once so I plopped down, scanned the lobby, and waited. A few hours later, there he was, hurrying past me on his way to the men’s room -— opportunity. I followed right behind him. There, at the urinal, I sidled up beside him, apologized for the intrusion and launched into my pitch. He shot me a look of disbelief. Then he laughed and zipped up. “Okay, kid,” he said, “get into my office!” I did. He heard me out and upped my allocation. That’s how my company survived its earliest, darkest days.

A persistence deficit will derail even the most talented professional. Murphy’s Law –- “Whatever can go wrong will go wrong” -— will never be repealed. But that doesn’t mean you can’t hurdle or dodge Murphy through dogged persistence. When employees bounce off obstacles, educate and inspire them to find another route. Remind them that a corollary of Murphy’s Law is “Whatever’s worth doing will be more difficult and time-consuming than you expected.” Yet, if the juice is worth the squeeze, keep the pressure on.

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Calvin Coolidge’s “Law of Persistence,” dated though it may be, has had a place on my wall ever since I started my business:

“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence.

“Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.

“Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.

“Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts.

“Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

Right on, Calvin. It’s unbelievable the number of people I’ve seen limp away after stumbling over a roadblock or two. Little did they know that success was just around the bend.

5) Systems-disciplined. In my younger, ego-drenched days, I often challenged authority -— professionally and privately -— and relished every opportunity to beat the system. Hindsight is humbling. It’s now clear that playing by the rules produces less chaos and honors others more.

Choosing to ignore even a minor procedure can be costly, a point I liked to dramatize at store manager meetings. I’d stand in front of the room and ask what a phone call from a potential customer was worth. I’d say, “When we don’t do the things we’re supposed to be doing when they call, you might as well do this,” and I’d take a $100 bill out of my wallet and slowly rip it in half.

“Tom’s point,” said Dave Urspringer, a manager whose Coon Rapids, Minn., store always excelled, “was that if a prospect called and you didn’t use the approved script to determine their needs, then ask to reserve the tires that filled those needs, you’re losing a chance to help a guest and basically throwing $100 out the window, because that’s what an average sale was worth. That really made an impression.”

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Does this mean all rules should be slavishly obeyed? Of course not. Veering off onto the dirt shoulder and roaring past law-abiding traffic may be necessary in emergencies. Just keep an eye on your rearview mirror to make sure the dust you’re kicking up doesn’t cause a fender-bender or pileup.

6) Spirit-filled. On a business trip to Paris in 1998, I had the honor of meeting Francois Michelin, then 73 years old and head of the company bearing his name. Impressed with his vitality, I asked how he stayed in such great shape. “Spirit!” he told me. “When translated into Greek, pneu, the French word for tire, means spirit. Air is to the tire as spirit is to the human body.” He emphasized the point by giving me a big hug. Wow, I thought, I hadn’t realized I was in such a spirit-filled business.

“Spirit-filled” evokes the image of pumping your tank full of air at a metaphysical service station. I believe spirit is an inherent part of who we are —- something to be released rather than created. Spirit flows from seeking meaning and purpose in life. It does not mean espousing religious beliefs around the water cooler. It means having the courage to hold fast to your cherished values and be authentic. When you’re connected to spirit, you’re unconsciously modeling a better way to live and work.

This wisdom is implicit in “May the Force be with you,” Obi-Wan Kenobi’s benediction to Luke Skywalker in “Star Wars.” Call it what you will —- spirit, God, the Force. It’s the omnipresent intelligence that governs everything. Align yourself with it, with the pure intention of benefiting the world, and you’ll emerge from the shadows of self-absorption into the sunshine of selfless service and synchronicity. Doors will open, obstacles will vanish, people will appear -— meaningful coincidences that nudge you ever closer to your goals.

Connecting with spirit is a primal need. Mythologist Joseph Campbell spoke of our innate desire to “feel the rapture of being alive.” I felt this euphoria of living more intensely the more I avoided spiritual tranquilizers -— unhealthy food, booze, lack of exercise, denial, guilt, inappropriate anger.

Russian philosopher P.D. Ouspensky explained that most of us move through life in a waking sleep that prevents us from tapping into our spirit. If that sounds familiar, stop hitting the snooze button. It’s time to wake up.

What are your company’s operating values?

To keep on the path to profitability, you need to develop a statement of operating values for your organization. It is the cultural backbone for your business, says management expert and author Tom Gegax.

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The statement will need to list the valued traits and behaviors required of all your employees. “Your vision statement shows employees where you want to go. Your operating values spell out how to get there,” says Gegax.

One thing to keep in mind: These values and behaviors must be upheld by management, or they will not be honored by employees.

Best-selling author Tom Gegax, cofounder and chairman emeritus of Tires Plus stores, served as that company's chairman and CEO for 24 years. By the time he sold the company in July 2000, it had mushroomed from a concept sketched on a restaurant napkin to a market leader with 150 upscale stores in 10 states and $200 million in revenue.

Thanks to Tom's warm-hearted, tough-minded approach to management, and his team's relentless focus on customer service, the company's turnover rate ranked among the industry's lowest, and its guest enthusiasm index reached 98%. He was named Modern Tire Dealer's Tire Dealer of the Year in 1998.

In 2000, Gegax founded Gegax Management Systems (www.gegax.com) to help growing companies raise profits and reduce stress through fast and affordable business management guidance. His most recent book, "By the Seat of Your Pants: The No-Nonsense Business Management Guide," is already a national bestseller. It can be ordered on the www.moderntiredealer.com home page.

Gegax can be reached via e-mail at tom.gegax@gegax.com or by calling (877) TOM-GEGAX (866-4342).

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