Aloha Training? Make it all personal

Today, a follow-up on number 4 of our 7 Say “Alaka‘i” Business Themes for managers and leaders in 2009: Aloha asset creation via a Ho‘okipa obsession.

Our “Ho‘okipa obsession” is a tireless fixation with delivering exemplary customer service.

Our “Aloha asset creation” is our intention, a goal to assure that the Aloha Spirit is alive and well in our islands of Hawai‘i nei. We want our reputation for the Hawaiian value of Aloha to thrive with solid credibility, because Aloha flourishes all around us in daily practice, extended to our guests and visitors, to our families and in our neighborhoods, and in every single interaction we have with each other.

First, to save you the hunt and click for it, this is what I had written when we first included these two Hawaiian values of Aloha and Ho‘okipa in our strategic initiatives for managers and leaders this year:

4. Aloha asset creation via a Ho‘okipa obsession
It’s high time we stop paying lip service to the Aloha Spirit and get it back again. The only way I see that can happen is for us to return to our Sense of Place as a Hawaiian island chain of diverse yet connected communities which are Lōkahi [harmonious and unified]. This is a tall order to be sure, one requiring much Ha‘aha‘a [humility and open-mindedness] from many of us, but it is a societal order of civility and mutual respect we MUST work on.

We must live true to our values before we can work with them, manage with them, and lead with them. There are several values, inherent to our ancestry that I would love to see thrive and flourish again, and the one which comes to mind most for me is Ho‘okipa, for it is more than good customer service: It is a gracious, virtuous hospitality borne of Aloha as the unconditional acceptance of all others, and Lokomaika‘i, the generosity of good heart.

So where do we start?

In the Managing with Aloha workshops I do, managers and leaders will repeatedly ask me, “What are the concrete strategies with employing Aloha? Do I only hire people who have it? Is it really possible to train people in the Aloha Spirit without scripting it, and so our Aloha expression is authentic and genuinely sincere?”

Let’s tackle those questions one at a time.

1. Do I only hire people who have the Aloha Spirit?

Everyone has the Aloha Spirit. Managers do not judge if people have it or not; they create a working environment where the Aloha within their people rises to the surface to be seen and enjoyed in everything they do. We share our Aloha Spirit freely when we feel like it, and when we feel great about doing so; we are being true to ourselves, versus feeling that we are pretending, going through the motions of a script, or acting “on stage.” We’re genuine versus faking it. And believe me, every customer knows the difference.

That said, I do believe that this spontaneity of Aloha sharing happens more easily for some than for others. The phrase “being true to ourselves” means we are behaving in alignment with our personal values. Aloha itself is a very universal value, that of unconditional love and acceptance, both of self and of other human beings. Therefore, it implies that we need to be comfortable in our own skin, and we are more comfortable at certain times of our lives than we are at others. Those times are highly contextual. In other words, our comfort depends on other factors too, hence my coaching to managers to work within their spheres of influence: Managers make the workplace environment and organizational culture conducive to either enhancing the comfort of self-expression, or detracting from it.

Selection then (and selection differs from judgment), can become a deliberate strategy too. Not every contextual variable is within a manager’s sphere of influence, and each individual must own up to the attitudes and Ho‘ohana [intentional work] they themselves demonstrate and deliver. We choose to share our Aloha or we choose not to, and managers should be selecting their customer service providers from the ranks of those predictably willing to make that choice consistently, and eagerly. Said bluntly, they serve others because they want to (they feel the win-win in it), and not because they have to.

Other values can also complement or detract from Aloha. Ho‘okipa [the value of generous hospitality] is highly complementary. I find that competitiveness can be a detractor. In retail for example, I am not a fan of the quotas and commissions that pit one employee against another in serving a customer; in my own retail history I did away with them in favor of paying my staff a higher wage. As a manager and industry leader, that process was a value variable within my sphere of influence.

2. Is it really possible to train people in the Aloha Spirit?

Now I would clarify the intention of this question, if you first accept that we all have the Aloha Spirit within us as a given.

Managers do not train and coach people in the absence or presence of their Aloha; they train and coach people in the delivery of Ho‘okipa: That generous hospitality of exemplary customer service. When you accept that we all have Aloha, and we all must make the individual choice with sharing it”

  • That acceptance and expectation is clearly articulated as an agreement of behavior on the workplace. Aloha is revered and zealously practiced in ALL systems and processes, and all relationships as a core value of your organizational culture.
  • It is then possible to design your training around the specific expectations of what “exemplary customer service” involves in your organization. Training is on the skill, technique, sharpening of anticipation, and over-the-top definitions of what true service involves. Coaching is relentlessly fixated on the expectation that Ho‘okipa service is consistently given without exception. (For example, as Andrew recently reminded us, pure order-taking doesn’t even come close.)
  • It is then possible to banish the “but I can’t share my Aloha” excuse in favor of exploring why the more accurate “but I won’t share my Aloha” attitude exists, preventing the choice we all have to give others our Aloha or not. We intercept these fumbles with our Alaka‘i management.

Make it all personal.

Sharing our Aloha Spirit with other people is a choice we make of our own free will. It is a personal choice, one that is rooted in our personal values, and in our personal expressions of self.

Therefore —and this may be a stretch for many reading these words, forge on and stick with me! —the workplace and each business wishing to welcome the Aloha Spirit expression with open arms and customer-attuned expectations, must be made highly personal too, where there is no artificial “professional and not personal” distinction.

The argument of personal or professional is often one of semantics: There can be personal choice and the freedom of self-expression in a workplace and business where our behavior remains highly professional: You can have both, so why get hung up on the either/or? State what you want as your workplace expectation. Define it clearly, and be sure your definition is in alignment with your company values. Then, don’t negotiate, and don’t accept less.

Then something magically extraordinary is going to happen. Aloha-personal is going to become your new statement of what Ho‘okipa-professional is all about, both worthy of this sense of place we call Hawai‘i nei.

Related postings in the Say “Alaka‘i” Archives:

Coming on Thursday: And in Aloha our government officials shall lead us.

~ Originally published on Say “Alaka‘i” ~
Aloha Training? Make it all personal.