A few weeks back I was in Chicago, listening to Coach John Calipari, men's basketball head coach at the University of Kentucky, deliver his keynote address at our Fall Leadership Conference. His speech, like his best-selling book Players First: Coaching From the Inside Out, included insight into how he encourages his recruits, players, and their families to think of him as a fellow human being, as opposed to simply a coach. He challenged the audience, consisting of our sales representatives and executives, to consider whom they want to be their customers and colleagues. Unsurprisingly, he got a response of "human being" from several attendees in the crowd.

Coach pushed back and said, "I know that's how you want to be seen by your customers, but what do your business cards actually say you are?" The crowd replied, in unison, "Human Being!" Somewhat incredulously, Coach responded that he didn't believe it and wanted to see a business card for himself.

When an employee walked up to the stage and offered his Power Home Remodeling Group business card for closer inspection, Coach was shocked to see that it did, in fact, state his title as "Human Being." He was even more surprised when he realized that this wasn't the only "Human Being" in the crowd of 200--every Power employee in the room held the title, ever since I introduced the concept this past February.

Last year, I read a fantastically thought-provoking book called The Leader Who Had No Title, by Robin Sharma, world-renowned leadership guru of whose philosophies I've long been a fan. The book got me thinking about how I could apply some of his concepts and create change in our company, one of the largest home remodeling companies in the country with $300 million in sales and nearly 1,400 employees nationwide.

I've always believed that the flatter the organization, the greater the potential for creativity and a feeling of ownership across every level, regardless of tenure and title. What if there was a way for every single employee to view one another--and perhaps most important, our customers--as a human being instead of a title or category, uniting all of us and creating a true team atmosphere? Rather than treating customers and prospects as potential sales, what if we got to know them, took the time to care about them, and committed to do what is right by them? Not as a sales tactic, but because doing so aligns with our values--the foundation for our success.

The more I thought about it, the more I was convinced that there was no better place to infuse a human element than our business cards, as they define who we are and have the potential to convey our values to our customers and partners.

As with every unconventional initiative in the corporate world, my idea was definitely met with some pushback from my colleagues on our senior management team, so I was admittedly a bit nervous when we coordinated a surprise room drop of the new business cards at our Winter Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C. By the next morning, as I prepared to address 150 members of our sales leadership team, my apprehension had grown and I was starting to worry they would think this was simply a gimmick and laugh me off the stage.

At the opening session, the room was abuzz as I officially unveiled this change initiative to the room full of employees who were overwhelmingly enthusiastic and immediately embraced it. I was thrilled when I realized I wasn't alone in thinking this was a truer depiction of where we are--and who we want to be--in the eyes of our partners. Every single person was a human being, above all, and would operate as such moving forward. The change in title made a difference, and continues to today as more and more employees have embraced this philosophy in their daily interactions with customers and one another.

It's pretty simple, actually. By humanizing our workplace and challenging one another to take ownership regardless of tenure or title, we were better able to extend that humanization to our customers and make a positive impact on customer service, which is ultimately at the core of our success. In addition, it's opened the door for more thought sharing and ideation among all employees--not just those at the management level. Finally, it's a conversation starter, an invaluable tool for all who are interacting with prospective customers day in and day out, and it has unexpectedly empowered those customers to provide essential feedback about our organization and the way we conduct our business.

At the end of the day, we are all just human beings. Find a way that works for you to reinforce that reality at your organization and consider the possibilities for change.

Published on: Oct 16, 2014