CHICAGO — What are the keys to having success? I believe that there are three:
People — The ability to deal with people is one of the most overlooked but essential management skills. Managing people includes various aspects of leadership: building a team, setting goals, overcoming resistance to change, and motivating. The history of mankind is filled with stories about how one highly skilled man was able to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds and accomplish the impossible. Just think of the “people skills” that Columbus needed to convince his crew to sail toward the edge of the earth.
Even the most knowledgeable and best-equipped manager cannot produce without the help and cooperation of his or her team. We all find ourselves in the same position, dependent on our associates to help us achieve our company’s goals. No matter how hard we work, we cannot succeed without their help.
So, what do we do about this dependence? How much time do we devote to improving our skills in this area? A quick review of available educational material from the various trade associations would show that little is devoted to the topic. Even in college, the various theories for how to handle and manage people were glossed over quickly, I recall.
I have come to realize that my ability to understand the needs, wants and desires of my associates is dependent on my willingness to ask them. Years ago, I tested my ability to predict my associates’ desires by asking some simple questions.
Do we go to the North Hospital employee appreciation day, avoiding long lines and harried servers, or do we go to the Main Hospital and accept the long wait and the problems associated with large crowds? They all wanted to go to the Main Hospital because their friends worked there. Their emphasis was on community, not on whether their meal would be served quickly.
As I continued to test my knowledge, writing down the answers I expected them to give, I was always 100% wrong.
It is impossible for a manager or an owner to lead or inspire a group of associates he or she does not understand. Get to know your associates. Understand life from their viewpoint, and respect their diversity and heritage. By working to develop this insight, you are getting ready to lead.
Education — Managing does not require a Ph.D., a master’s degree or even a bachelor’s, but they help. By continuing your education, you exercise the mind and leave it open to new ideas, suggestions and advancements in technology. All these degrees are just tools to be utilized to get the job done in the best manner possible.
I spent four years in college getting a degree in forest recreation, but my entire career has been in the laundry industry. I have never worked in a national park or forest, given a ranger talk about the environment, or utilized my land-use planning skills.
But I have used my business and psychology minors in ways I never expected. The value of a college degree is not just in what you learned but in what you had to achieve to get it. The true value is in learning how to set goals, having the willingness to sacrifice, and demonstrating the ability to stay the course.
No matter how much you have learned, you never outgrow the need for knowledge. The world is continually changing. Our industry is constantly changing, and we must be willing to continue learning in order to keep up.
Technology — I have been in the laundry business for more than 38 years. I have seen the slow but steady progress as technology entered our industry. Some managers avoid it at all costs, while others wildly embrace it—even when it is not a good fit.
Being able to utilize a computer, evaluate equipment for purchase, and determine what will work together and what won’t requires a manager to develop a proper understanding of new technology.
My father, a brilliant chemist, refused to use a word-processing program to write his book on the history of our family. He was comfortable using an old, manual typewriter, so he did it his way, slowly but surely. Nate Belkin once referred to Fashion Seal’s computer room as a sterile area because he didn’t want to know anything about it. He, like my dad, refused to have a computer on his desk.
I continue to see exciting changes on display every two years at the Clean Show. My attendance helps me to keep abreast of the many technological advances being made in the industry. Key contacts from all sections of the industry become my “panel of experts” as I try to decide what new technology might work in my laundry.
Constant attention to these three key areas of your management responsibilities will help you succeed.