From A 3rd Serving of Chicken Soup for the Soul


We are challenged on every hand to work untiringly to achieve excellence in our lifework. Not all men are called to specialized or professional jobs; even fewer rise to the heights of genius in the arts and sciences; many are called to be laborers in factories, fields, and streets. But no work is insignificant. All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence. If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the host of heaven and earth will pause to say, “Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

Last fall I was asked to speak to 3,000 employees of a large supermarket chain in the Midwest on building customer loyalty and regenerating the spirit in your workplace.

One of the ideas I stressed was the importance of adding a personal “signature” to your work. With all the downsizing, reengineering, overwhelming technological changes and stress in the workplace, I think it is essential for each of us to find a way we can really feel good about ourselves and our jobs. One of the most powerful ways to do this is to do something that differentiates you from all the other people that do the same thing you do.

I shared the example of a United Airlines pilot who, after everything is under control in the cockpit, goes to the computer and randomly selects several people on board the flight and handwrites them a thank-you note for their business. A graphic artist I work with always encloses a piece of sugarless gum in everything he sends his customers, so you never throw away any mail from him!

A Northwest Airlines baggage attendant decided that his personal signature would be to collect all the luggage tags that fall off customers’ suitcases, which in the past have been simply tossed in the garbage, and in his free time send them back with a note thanking them for flying Northwest. A senior manager with whom I worked decided that his personal signature would be to attach Kleenex to memos that he knows his employees won’t like very much.

After sharing several other examples of how people add their unique spirit to their jobs, I challenged the audience to get their creative juices flowing and to come up with their own creative personal signature.

About three weeks after I had spoken to the supermarket employees, my phone rang late one afternoon. The person on the line told me that his name was Johnny and that he was a bagger in one of the stores. He also told me that he was a person with Down’s syndrome. He said, “Barbara, I liked what you said!” Then he went on to tell me that when he’d gone home that night, he asked his dad to teach him to use the computer.

He said they set up a program using three columns, and each night now when he goes home, he finds a “thought for the day.” He said when he can’t find one he likes, he “thinks one up!” Then he types it into the computer, prints out multiple copies, cuts them out, and signs his name on the back of each one. The next day, as he bags customers’ groceries—“with flourish”—he puts a thought for the day in each person’s groceries, adding his own personal signature in a heartwarming, fun and creative way.

One month later the manager of the store called me. He said, “Barbara, you won’t believe what happened today. When I went out on the floor this morning, the line at Johnny’s
checkout was three times longer than any other line! I went ballistic yelling, ‘Get more lanes open! Get more people out here,’ but the customers said, ‘No no! We want to be in Johnny’s lane—we want the thought for the day!’”

The manager said one woman approached him and said, “I only used to shop once a week. Now I come here every time I go by because I want the thought for the day!” (Imagine what that does to the bottom line!) He ended by saying, “Who do you think is the most important person in our whole store? Johnny, of course!”

Three months later he called me again. “You and Johnny have transformed our store! Now in the floral department, when they have a broken flower or an unused corsage, they go out on the floor and find an elderly woman or a little girl and pin it on them. One of our meat packers loves Snoopy, so he bought 50,000 Snoopy stickers, and each time he packages a piece of meat, he puts a Snoopy sticker on it. We are having so much fun, and so are our customers!”

That is spirit in the workplace!

Barbara A. Glanz

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