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Remodeling columnist Paul Winans worked recently with Buck Reilly and Christopher Block, owners of Habify, a design build firm located in Coral Gables, Fla. Their working relationship started with Winans working with Buck, Chris, and the Habify team during an on-site meeting. Here's how Paul reports what happened, starting with details from Buck on one of the items that came out of that meeting.

“First some background: In our past two company-wide meetings, we have devoted a part of the meeting to discussing customer service. I have been using Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People as the base for the points of discussion. The first discussion was primarily introducing/defining customer service at Habify as more than being prompt, polite, and professional and discussing some of the underlying values that are important for customer service to become ingrained in one’s actions.”

My thoughts: Buck and Chris are working to have their people understand what the two of them feel embodies the Habify experience, what the company is selling to clients. Getting clear about this is tough work and is never done. The more a company keeps working on this, the more likely it is to be successful.

“At the end of the first meeting, I asked them to think of a person most people would be familiar with who personifies how Habify might represent itself to the world (customers, potential customers, vendors, suppliers, each other) and that we would be sharing our choices at the next meeting. I told them that I pictured Mr. Rogers, which drew laughter from most people. Mr. Rogers might seem unlikely, as someone not related to the construction or business world or even the grown up world for that matter. I didn't expand on why I chose him at that meeting.”

Buck is taking a step by step approach. To help his people he provided a hint about what they might consider when choosing the person who they thought symbolizes what Habify is about.

“At our next meeting, when we reached the agenda item for Customer Service, I started playing the Mr. Rogers theme song from my iPad and went through the same routine that Mr. Rogers did at the start of his show (changing my shoes and putting on a sweater).

“Chris and I want our meetings to be fun and everyone to be engaged, participate in the discussions, and to shape our customer service approach rather than having it dictated to them. I expected that my antics would get everyone's attention and hoped that if I was willing to do something somewhat embarrassing it would make it easier for everyone to speak up without too much anxiety about their comments being judged.

“After a lot of laughter I said ‘hello neighbors’ and explained that Mr. Rogers was my personification of how Habify might present itself to the world because he is so sincere and honest and I really believe him when he says ‘I like you just the way you are.’ I asked them to imagine how Mr. Rogers might deal with a plumber who did shoddy work in his house. I don't think he would be a doormat or berate the plumber for doing a poor job. I imagine he would sit down and have a frank conversation about the work, where it didn't meet his expectations and get the plumber to fix the work while feeling good about doing so, perhaps by asking the plumber if he is happy with the work.”

By making his examples real ones from Habify’s day-to-day world, Buck helps his people get more and more focused on what the company thinks is important. And by doing it with a light touch and some humor, he makes his message easy to get.

“I had read that Mr. Rogers had a couch and chairs in his office rather than a desk because he thought a desk was too much of a barrier, which I think shows how he might have dealt with people.

“Having watched Mr. Rogers when I was a little boy growing up I felt a special connection to Mr Rogers and I knew that I could speak about him with a true sense of admiration. My explanation was brief and I didn't talk about my childhood or anything like that but I think I did get everyone laughing and hopefully tucked a lesson into the message.”

Buck used a person who truly made a difference in his life. His message to his people, that Habify is about caring for those who they serve, caring beyond simply getting the work done, is all the more powerful because of his choice of Mr. Rogers.

“I won't go into the values of the people that the team chose but the choices were interesting

  • Michael Jordan
  • Steve Jobs
  • Jon Stewart
  • Henry Ford
  • Paul Winans
  • Massimo Vignelli
  • Norm Abram
  • Bill Mollison
  • Ani DiFranco

Quite a variety. And how did yours truly make the cut?!”

What an interesting thing to do with your people. You realize your company IS your neighborhood. Who do you want your people to be inspired by while they are working in it? Help them figure that out with your guidance and input.

In other words, be like Mr. Rogers.

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