Throughout my career, I’ve been blessed with mentors who have invested time in me, and somehow, I have been smart enough to listen. I pride myself on learning from others, many of those around me that may not even think that they are teaching me. In the closing days of 2018, the most valuable lessons I learned were from my daughter, and a hand full of “elves.”
A few weeks ago, my daughter was assigned a project on “sustainability”. Part of the is project required her to come up with a service project and spend at least four hours on it. Most, as you would expect, migrated towards food, water, energy, the environment, all very important and noble goals. Through conversations with my wife however, my daughter took a different path. She wanted to work on sustaining HOPE.
I’d like to share her words with you, but before I get there, when she was finishing up her project, I asked her “why hope”? She struggled to find the words to justify her reasoning, but ended up explaining that everyone realizes that you need food and water to sustain life, but that people deserved something extra, someone believing in them and giving them hope. That hope isn’t something you can touch or feel, so it is harder for people to understand that you need hope to sustain life and her goal was to teach them that.
Here is part of her essay:
“I care about society and others even if I don’t know them, so I am preparing care packages for the homeless. I have named them Believer Packages because I want them to believe in themselves. I feel like everyone should get lucky sometimes and get more than they were expecting. You never know, and you can’t predict someone’s life and what situation they may be in. So, it is best to try and help someone out in the best way possible. Let me give you an example of my thought process.
Say it’s your best friend’s birthday. You get them a present, except you just hand it to them, there’s no joy, no tone in your voice. That then leads to the present having no meaning. But let’s say you hand it to them, and there’s excitement, there’s smiles everywhere. You just gave the present a memory. Lots of people in the world think that it’s the present that counts. The truth is, it isn’t the present, it’s the words and the life behind it all.
For example, in the believer packages there’s the little wooden word that spells “Hope”. Now, at first my father didn’t understand why I wanted to possibly waste a dollar on a piece of wood. I told him that later he would discover the reason as to why. People think that there’s just a basic definition for homeless people. They think they're just people without homes, food, or money to live off of. But that is just the literal term for it. You can’t ever predict someone’s situation or what their life is like. It isn’t simple. People mainly give them money and food, and they feel like they helped. Which, they did except they didn’t. They handed money, without thinking where it would actually go to. And once is spent, it’s gone.
In the Believer Package, I put water and food, a first aid kit, sweets, hygiene stuff, socks, and a $5 McDonald's gift card so that they can go in and get whatever they want, their choice. I also put a note of appreciation and a puzzle book, so they have something enjoyable to do. I want to make the believer package more than just a survival kit, I want to make it a sustainable memory.”
She was right. I understood all of the items that she was putting in the package and even recommended the socks - after all, who couldn’t use a new, warm pair of socks. But I didn’t understand spending, or in my mind wasting a dollar on a piece of wood that spelled HOPE, nor did I get the puzzle book. But it was that simple touch that elevated the package from something practical to something more personal, to something that showed a sense of understanding and that “I care about you.” Her way of sustaining hope.
I saw this manifested in our business this holiday season. We ran into an issue with shipping to a particular area of the world, which required some of our “elves” (as I like to call our social media and customer experience teams) to work extra hard to make a few situations right. In cases like these, we have a protocol to do what you would expect – upgrade the shipping, substitute a missing item with a better one at no cost, discount the purchase. But a few of our “elves” went to a new level. In the reshipped packages, they often added a “treat” - perhaps a hand-written note, a small toy if they knew it was for a kid, or sample that we had, maybe even “Dash”, our new elf made it into the box. One “elf” actually took it upon himself to wrap the delayed gift and deliver it to the home itself, while another one of our stores sent a small care package to an expectant mother whose package was delayed. In each case, it was a small and simple gesture of kindness, of caring, of showing that while we are human and make mistakes, someone cares. I monitor Facebook (much to my team’s dismay at times) and would watch as customers would come to us, understandably upset with a delayed package and within a short period of time, I would see the follow up conversation and resolution. But what was most heart-warming, and rewarding was when customers would experience that extra touch, how they would respond with absolute joy. Mistakes happen, they often can’t be avoided, but a simple gesture can make all of the difference in the world. These simple gestures are important in every aspect of life. This isn’t a homeless thing, or a customer service thing, it is an everyday thing. Though I have yet to achieve consistency (a goal of mine in 2019), when someone on my team has a birthday, I try to send them a hand-written note. Yes, it would be easier and more consistent, as I have missed a few, to simply print off cards and distribute them, but I think that extra personal touch is important. We spend time focused on training, technology, artificial intelligence, algorithms. Many of our issues, personally and politically become desensitized and turned into statistics, fodder for debate and arguments, mean tweets, and even (gulp) memes meant to prove a point, often times forgetting that on the other side of that order, that desk, that wall, there is a human. And sometimes those simple gestures, those acts of kindness can turn statistics into smiles.
As for my daughter’s Believer Packages? On Christmas Eve, we had one in our car and saw someone whose sign read “Disabled & Unemployed” so we gave it to him. Shortly after, we saw someone far more in need, and without any packages in the car, my daughter asked if we could skip getting ice cream, so we could drive home and get one. We hurried back home, and she and my wife made the trip back as quickly as possible, hoping that he was still there. Thankfully he was. Lily and Karen introduced themselves, Lily gave him the Believer Package and explained what was in it. Gary couldn’t have been happier that someone, let alone a kid on Christmas Eve who should be thinking about presents under the tree took the time to care about someone like him. He said, “I live off the dollar menu!” and was very appreciative of all of the items in the bag, including the puzzle book and that one-dollar wooden word HOPE. Because I think that simple gesture gave him hope, and it reminded me of how important these simple acts are. A lesson I will take forward into 2019. Happy New Year!