Vail Daily column: Keeping agreements
After stepping down as CEO of a mid-sized Denver company nearly 20 years ago, I assumed the mostly titular position of chairman. However, there was one aspect of that position I thoroughly enjoyed — administering our college intern program.
The other day I was cleaning out old paper files that accumulated over the years. I decided to create PDF documents and to transfer the material to my computer. It was quite a retrospective to look back 10, 20 and 30 years and view my business career from a very different perspective. In many ways, it was like traveling back in a time machine.
After reviewing material containing old business proposals, training regimens, job descriptions, etc., I had to admit there were many things I could have done more effectively. Nonetheless, there are some aspects of business that can be referred to as eternal truths, i.e., “the customer may not always be right, but he or she is always the customer,” a maxim I espoused my entire working career.
Training interns was a bifurcated proposition — the young people in our program (college sophomore, juniors and seniors) needed training in the technical aspects of the business, but more importantly it was critical they be introduced to a culture of achievement and success; the intangibles that go far beyond sales, marketing and customer service
The first question I would ask our interns was, “What’s your definition of success?” I received a myriad of answers, and as one might expect, most revolved around making money — that seemed to be the primary metric for them. While making money is certainly a worthy goal, I wanted to provide them with a different perspective regarding the topic of success, so I gave them the best definition of success I had ever come across.
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It came from motivational speaker and personal development guru Brian Tracy who defined success as follows: Success is not a destination — it is a journey with six continuing requirements. One, peace of mind; two, good health and a high level of energy; three, loving relationships; four, financial freedom, which can be defined as having enough money that we need not worry about it; five, a commitment to worthy goals and ideals; and, six, a feeling of personal fulfillment or self-actualization.
What I found interesting was that of every intern enrolled in our program, not a one was able to recall ever hearing any of these concepts discussed at their respective universities even though each intern came from their university’s business school.
After spending a few minutes discussing the “requirements,” without fail the next question I would get was, “So how do we get there?” That was a very fair question considering their ages, usually between 19 and 21, and I would respond as follows, “While an plan of action is a very individual thing, there is a common denominator that each of you could begin practicing immediately.”
At which time I would reveal the common denominator, i.e., “keeping agreements!” because if we look at it honestly, most problems, whether personal or in business begin with not keeping agreements, not being true to our words or saying one thing and doing another.
The point I attempted to make was that when you keep your agreements, you don’t have to squirm, equivocate or come up with lame excuses regardless of the situation.
That concept is as relevant today as it was 20 years ago. Twenty-first century America can be a vague and unclear world. There are so many waffle words, so much parsing, so many equivocations and so many ways to imply or sort of say what we kind of intend to possibly do.
In such a world it’s difficult to overstate the power of being specific and using measurable terms (I’ll pick you up at 8 should mean 8 and not 8:45.) Think about some of our everyday frustrations; the waiter who gives us poor service is actually breaking his agreement with his employer, or the service technician who shows up two hours late for an appointment. And even if the delay were unavoidable, the courtesy of a phone call would have been in order. Then there’s the driver who receives a speeding ticket — that too is a broken agreement since along with a driver’s license comes an agreement to follow the rules of the road.
How many marriages are unsuccessful because one party or the other failed to keep the agreements made on their wedding day? How many workplace problems are caused by someone failing to keep an agreement? (A person doesn’t bother to call in sick until noon leaving his or her boss to wonder where they are while sticking his or her co-workers with extra work.) And when our kids “get into trouble,” doesn’t it usually involve a broken agreement, like failing to be home by curfew?
Regardless of our position in life, the amount of money we have or how intelligent and personable we are, the words of the founder of EST training, Werner Erhard, resonate today more than ever, to wit: “Your life will work to the degree you keep your agreements.”
Butch Mazzuca, of Edwards, writes regularly for the Vail Daily. He can be reached at email@example.com.