In last month’s blog, we kicked off our 20 Years of FISH! celebration with memorable quotes from people who have used the philosophy to improve their lives. This month we explore another great FISH! insight:

“To change an organization, you’ve got to change yourself. As I work on myself I find I have a bigger impact on people than when I was trying to work on them.”
– Rob Gregory, owner, Rochester Ford Toyota

It’s tempting, especially for leaders, to try to “fix” people—to change or improve them so they do more of what you like and less of what you don’t.

The problem is that it doesn’t work. Studies in business and education show threats or punishment may work for a short time but don’t produce lasting change. People may comply but they won’t believe. They will give what you demand (when you are watching them) but nothing more. They won’t bring the best of themselves to work.

So how do you influence people? It starts with your example. You must “be” the change you seek in others.

Overcoming mistrust
Rob Gregory bought a car dealership, Rochester Ford Toyota, whose employees had a rocky relationship with the previous owner. The owner cared only about squeezing maximum profit from each sale and to achieve it, he set the staff against each other as competitors rather than as teammates. Customer and staff satisfaction were low. Mistrust was high.

The staff’s skepticism was heightened when Rob announced a one-price sales strategy. Instead of negotiating with customers and pressuring them to pay more, which frustrated most people, the price of each car was set. The staff would shift its focus from serving rather than winning a negotiation. Rob believed this would boost customer satisfaction and lead to higher profits, but it meant the staff had to sell more cars to make the same money.

Rob saw The FISH! Philosophy as a way to remind the staff to help customers and each other. Some employees embraced FISH! right away. Others were already living it. But most hesitated. They were watching Rob.

It starts with you
Rob realized he couldn’t ask people to Be There or Choose Your Attitude when they didn’t know what he stood for.

So he began “working on himself” instead of trying to fix others. He started listening to employees he hadn’t always listened to before. He met weekly with the service technicians to understand their concerns, the first time an owner had done that for them. Through these conversations Rob and the technicians built mutual respect and an understanding of the values they shared.

Rob paid more attention to how his choices affected others. When staff gave him feedback on how he had handled a situation—good or bad—he listened, reflected and thanked them for the coaching.

When employees made mistakes, he focused on teaching vs. reacting. One of the dealership’s values said: “We have nothing of greater value than our employees.” If you value people, Rob reminded himself, you will be patient with them as they learn.

The more the staff saw Rob living The FISH! Philosophy, the more they joined in. Employees focused intensely on “getting outside themselves,” as Rob described it, and serving people. Customer and employee satisfaction improved dramatically—and so did profits.

Living your commitments
As the staff embraced The FISH! Philosophy, the dealership put up a billboard encouraging customers to “Ask Us About Our Fish.” It was a way to remind everyone what they were committed to.

After the billboard had been up about a year, Rob suggested one with a different message. In his mind, The FISH! Philosophy had done its job. Time to check it off and try something new.

No way, the staff responded. “Do we always choose great attitudes? Are we there for each other without fail? Do we always make their day? Do we consistently play in a way that increases trust and energizes us?”

“Well, not always,” Rob admitted. “We’re not perfect.”

“And you want to move on?”

Inspired by Rob’s example, the staff had come to see The FISH! Philosophy is a way of living, not a short-term fix. The dealership put up another FISH! billboard with four points: 1. Play—Make It Fun; 2. Make Their Day—Go MAD (Make a Difference); 3. Be There—Right Here, Right Now; and 4. Choose Your Attitude—Make a Choice.

Seventeen years later, Rob’s dealership, now called Rochester Motor Cars, still lists The FISH! Philosophy as a set of guiding practices its employees use to make a positive difference. (Rob and his staff also are featured in the book FISH! Tales and our FISH! For Leaders video series.)

Be a Living Example
What about your workplace or life would you like to “fix” or improve in 2019? Before you start, answer these questions.

  1. How will I Be There for people who need me? How will I deal with distractions that keep me from being fully present for them?
  2. What attitudes will help me be more successful and create the life I want for myself? What attitudes are likely to get in my way?
  3. How will I show people I appreciate them? Who could use a kind word or a helpful gesture?
  4. How will I find more fun in what I need to get done? What will I do to lighten the mood and relieve stress? What new ideas might I Play with?

It’s not easy to “work” on yourself when there are so many people or problems you’d rather work on. You may not even consider yourself a leader. But if you focus on helping others and building great relationships, you will influence others—no matter what your job.

The more people see you living what you say you are committed to, the more they will want to join you.