Who is Stevie Ray


Stevie Ray has been a columnist for the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal since 1997, making him the longest running local columnist for the publication.  Not long ago, his column became nationally syndicated to all Business Journals across the country.

Stevie writes from his perspective both as a business owner and man-on-the-street customer.  He is the author of four books and has his work published in the Harvard Business Review.  If you like what he has to say, leave a comment.  If you don’t like what he has to say, leave one anyway.

Want Some Fudge? What Key?

My family wanted to surprise our mother for her birthday this year, so we took her for a weekend in Charleston, South Carolina. As tourists, we did our part to contribute to the state’s annual tourism revenue of just over $16.5 billion. If you visit most places that rely heavily on tourist’s dollars for revenue, you see a kind of love-hate relationship with visitors. The locals know that their livelihood depends on the kindness, and generosity, of strangers and this can foster gratitude, as well as resentment. I have visited plenty of tourist traps where the staff “thanks you for your business” with such apathy that you feel like cattle being moved through the stalls at an auction house.

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Manage Behaviors or Lead to Outcomes: Only One Means Profits

I am tired of hearing, “There is a difference between being a manager and a leader.” Whoever created that phrase didn’t know anything about running a business. Sure, there is a difference between simply managing people’s time and leading them to excel, but the phrase above gives managers the excuse to ignore the big picture and leaders the excuse to stare at mission statements while overlooking the everyday life of the company. Everyone leads, or should. An employee who has been on the job only a few weeks longer than the new hire will lead the new kid on the block. The question is, will that leadership be in the direction you want?

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Why Some Jobs Will Never Be Automated

I would guess about 90 percent of the services I receive from people could be replaced by automation. There are ice cream dispensers to replace the guy behind the counter. Reservation websites can hold your theatre tickets as easily as the box office personnel. In fact, the battle rages as to which people prefer; someone answering the phone and directing you to the appropriate department, or a phone menu that lets you self-direct. Which-ever side of the issue gets your vote; there is one reason that so many jobs will never be automated with any success. It is the answer to the question I ask groups at workshops all the time, “What is the only difference between you and automation?”

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The More You Give, The More You Get

I was reading an inflight magazine recently (yes, I had run out of real things to do) and saw a quote by an executive that reminded me of the one of the oldest business lessons around. A woman was asked for one piece of advice she would offer busy executives. She said, “Be generous with your time. It will always pay you back in spades.” I use that sentiment to compare experiences I have had with two different companies in the past month. One was with a tree service. After years of letting the tree in our front yard grow unchecked, my wife and I decided we didn’t need flora that reached the stratosphere. Being typical consumers, we got bids from several tree companies. We didn’t go with the cheapest one, we went with the one that was responsive to our call, reasonable in their price, and had an air of professionalism.

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Look Pal, I’m the Expert

I walked into the huge, fancy ballroom in Las Vegas in the afternoon to set up for my evening presentation. The sound technician met me at the door. Most of the time I hear, “We have a number of microphone options; if you tell me your preference we can get you set up right away. At this hotel, I was met with, “You gonna need a handheld, a lavalier, or what?” I relied, “I like a handheld, they sound better.” Without acknowledging that words actually came out of my mouth, he walked away. He returned a minute later and handed me a microphone. “Mind if I give it a quick sound check?” I asked. He said, “I already did a sound check, it works.” With that, he flipped the switch on, jammed the microphone up to his mouth and said, “Check, check, check. See?”

I continued, “No offense to Eminem, but I hold my mic a little lower in front of my chest so I don’t look like a rapper. Can we turn up the volume a bit so I can back off the mic?” He replied with a twinge of sarcasm, “Oh. You mean you don’t want to hold it the same way that Obama, Bill Gates, and Colin Powell when they were here?” I tried to imagine Bill Gates holding a microphone half an inch from his face and singing, “Yo, yo, yo, wha’s up Vegas?” I said, “As much as I admire our former Secretary of State, I would like it a little lower. “This is a tough room for sound,” he said. “You’re gonna get feedback.” (The loud squeal you hear when a microphone is moved in front of a speaker) I looked around. Other than the decorations, it was set up pretty much like every other hotel ballroom. I said, “I think we’ll be okay. Please set it louder for me.”

The evening presentation went off without a hitch. The next morning I had a break-out in a smaller room in the hotel and met another sound technician from the hotel. Thinking the previous night’s conversation was just the outcome of a tired, grumpy employee, I asked for the volume to be turned up a bit so I didn’t have to place the microphone half and inch from my face. “If you knew anything about this type of microphone,” he said, “you would know that it sounds best that way. And if I turn it up, you’re gonna get feedback.” I said, “I’ll be careful. Please turn it up.” The break-out went fine; no loud squealing sounds.

I decided not to tell either of these guys that I was a sound technician for a number of years in my youth and I could not only quote them the mathematical formula used to determine feedback levels, but I own the very microphone they used at the hotel. I didn’t mention it because the point is not who knows more about a subject, the point is whether the customer wants to come back to your business the next time they need a service. We all need to have pride in our work, and being an expert in a particular field feels good. It should, it takes years to gain expertise and we should take pride in our accomplishments. However, taking pride and ownership should never cross over into shutting out input.

If you have ever used the phrase, “I’ve been doing this for X years, I know what I’m doing!” you might need to examine how that affects your ability to listen and accommodate others. Throughout history, some of the best ideas have been prefaced with, “Well I’m no expert, but have you thought of trying it this way?” Sure, we must use our expertise to make sure a customer doesn’t ask for something that will ultimately fail, but too often we use that excuse just because we don’t want to do something a different way than we are accustomed. Instead of using expertise to justify laziness, a good professional uses every opportunity to allow input from others to refresh old methods and shake up routine. That way, you can say, “I’ve been doing this for X years, and I’m still learning.”

Stevie Ray is a nationally recognized corporate speaker and trainer, helping companies improve communication skills, customer service, leadership, and team management.  He can be reached at www.stevierays.org or stevie@stevierays.org.

If someone forwarded this article to you and you would like to have Stevie Ray’s column sent to you each month absolutely free, click here.

Help your employees learn firsthand the techniques Stevie Ray has gained from working with corporations around the globe.  Click here right now to go to the web site for Stevie Ray’s Improv Company and see what he can do for you.

If your company is planning an event and you need entertainment so this one doesn’t feel just like the last one, click here.

Learn to deliver powerful presentations, think on the spot, and other valuable skills by clicking here and ordering books authored by Stevie Ray.

Just Text Me

The purpose of the word old-fashioned is to label what is obsolete, which isn’t good. The only time we like hearing old-fashioned is before ice cream. The phone has become old-fashioned, unless you use any other function on the device except the phone itself. It is now more common to hear the phrase, “Text me on my phone” than “Call me on my phone.” But let’s talk about what is really obsolete. Obsolete refers to something that is no longer efficient or useful. Why make a phone call when text or e-mail are faster? The belief is that talking on a phone is obsolete; except that it is not.

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Just Wait Until Your Manager Gets Home

I remember watching the show Leave it To Beaver as a kid on a black and white TV set; the kind that was built into a living room cabinet so you could close it and not have the neighbors think that all you did all evening was sit around and watch TV. This was back in the day when all you did all evening was sit around and watch TV. This was also a time when you actually knew most of your neighbors, let alone cared what they thought about what you did with your time. Hardly an episode of that show could go by without hearing the mother, June Cleaver, say the immortal phrase, “You just wait until your father comes home!”

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Keep Your Employees Happy, Cross Connect Them

Employee engagement. The newest, most elusive goal in American business. It seems every company takes an annual step back to survey their staff to find out who is “highly engaged” as opposed to “disconnected” from the company. If the scores skew in the wrong direction, someone from HR has to step in and see why Chad from accounting doesn’t believe his spreadsheets have an impact on a company with over 300,000 employees and $11.6 billion in annual profits. There is usually a brief conversation about “how this company can’t get along with the work you do,” then Chad goes back to a cubicle that he once shared with a cube-mate who was let go the previous week, after being told the company couldn’t get along without his work either. At the annual employee appreciation party the CEO shows a PowerPoint slide with an upward-slanting line graph, tells the crowd that they are the reason everything is going so well, and sits down for dinner at a table with a Reserved sign on it so none of those people can sit with him.

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We All Take an Oath of Office

If it was good enough for Lincoln, Truman, and Roosevelt, it should be good enough for all of us; the oath of office. And while our day-to-day duties may not be as weighty as to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, there is a duty that everyone accepts when moving up the ladder of their organization. Everyone who holds a leadership position is charged with preserving, protecting, and defending the actions of their company. The problem is, too many people secretly add their own addendum, unless I don’t happen to agree with the policy. In such cases, preserving and defending is replaced with backstabbing and dodging.

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A Human Voice Will Get You a Human Response

I never gamble. I have nothing against what casinos call “gaming;” it is a source of entertainment for tens of thousands of people, it just isn’t my thing. That isn’t to say I don’t put myself in situations when I play the odds. Like when I call a company’s customer service department. The gamble? Will I get a real human being or the human equivalent of a computer? So far I am hitting about 10%. Only one out of ten calls results in me engaging with a real person in a way that feels genuine.

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