Drinking the Soup

Hazel served coffee in our staff canteen. “I haven’t seen you for a while,” she said to me one day. “No - I have been travelling on business in North America,” I explained. She replied, “Oh, I wish I knew; you could have brought me back a pin-badge. I collect them you know!”

I was doing a staff presentation in Newfoundland and Sharon asked me, “When are we getting our new storm-jackets?” I explained that local management would have to make those kinds of decisions.

During lunchtime one day, when the office seemed almost empty, I picked up a phone call from someone at the local heli-port. “I am looking for HR. We were supposed to get a briefing before we fly offshore, but no one is here.”

I got a note from Tom, a staff member, in response to one of my weekly messages. In it, he explained that his 30th wedding anniversary was that day!

In each case, the story could have ended there.
However, each presented an unexpected opportunity for a positive reaction. Doug Conant, former CEO of Campbell Soup Company calls these potential ‘touch points’ and suggests that a leader′s impact and legacy are built through hundreds, even thousands, of interactive moments in time.

I agree that touch points are hugely important. They impact not only the individual, but can spread like ripples in a pond.

So a few weeks after I had talked to Hazel, I was travelling in Australia and while waiting at an airport, I remembered Hazel’s hobby. I bought a small Aussy enamel pin-badge. She was delighted with the unexpected gift and told everyone who bought a coffee about it for a while afterwards.

I bought Sharon a storm jacket and had it stencilled with a special message. She became a vocal ambassador for the company and our values.

I jumped in the car and travelled to the heli-port. I gave the briefing to the offshore crew simply introducing myself as ‘Bob from the office.’ It was a few days later that my line managers began to ask if it really was true – had I really delivered the briefing or were our employees mistaken.

I sent Tom and his wife Tara some flowers. They were surprised and delighted – a small gesture but deeply appreciated.

The most common touch point opportunities I have had over the years are simply to talk to staff when I meet them. I often sat with people I didn’t recognise in canteens and staff coffee shops simply asking them how they were doing and about their families.

I also got the chance to respond to employees who commented on my weekly messages. I tried to respond to every comment and, since I started these in 2006, I have responded to more than 10,000 comments.

Each of these is minor touch points and help to shape the culture and reinforce the Core Values of the business. Most of these touch points are not planned, and they are not cynical or contrived because they are genuine. I think it makes a difference.
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Bob Keiller
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