I know that’s a strong title, and an unfair one without qualification. I promise I’ll explain in detail just after I tell you about my last trip to Chicago.

My wife and I took our two older daughters to Chicago for two nights of fun in the city. We interacted with the trendiest brands – we stayed at the Waldorf Astoria, dined at RPM, took spin classes at SoulCycle, and went to see Hamilton. And fun it was!

It was also a learning experience. I learned the importance and the power of a single employee.

I learned that no matter how much you spend on marketing, advertising, brand management, social media, whatever…your front-line employee can make or break your success.

Here’s what happened:

First, the hotel. When we arrived at reception there were two lines – one short, one long. I stupidly chose the short one. You know why the line was short? The front desk employee at the head of my line was unhelpful and apathetic, while her counterpart at the head of the long line was amazing. He took the time to really welcome each guest, to ensure their every preference and need was met, and to explain all the great features of the hotel. He then shook each guest’s hand, came out from behind the desk to hand them their keys, and walked them to the elevator.

Guess what? When we got to our room, it wasn’t even what we had asked for. I went back downstairs and gladly stood in the long line.

Then we went for dinner. RPM is a well-known Italian restaurant that probably doesn’t need me to say a single good thing about the food (it was some of the best I’ve had).

Anyway, it was our waiter that had us talking for days after.

He was Johnny on the Spot the entire time, working backward from our target departure and timing the delivery of every single dish on our table with perfection. And, he was funny. If this guy left RPM and went to work at another restaurant, I’d follow him there.

Then we went to Hamilton. Can’t say enough good stuff about the show. Go see it. Take your kids. Take your friends. No lessons here, except maybe not to challenge your foe to a duel.

The next morning, we went to SoulCycle as a family. SoulCycle is a high-end spin studio with a cult-like following and supposed $1.2B valuation. My kids came up with the line, “families who spin together win together.” I thought it was cute, so I joined them. I’m not really into spin studios. I’m a cyclist.
I don’t do the woo-woo, motivational classes…I just want to work hard and sweat. But I had heard about this brand for long enough I wanted to see for myself what it was all about. And you know what? It was surprisingly worthwhile. The instructor was a ten. He pushed us to our limits and had us motivated to work all the way through 45-minutes of heart-pounding, bass-thumping, sweat-producing spinning. It was way harder than I thought it was going to be, and way more fun. We left on fire. So much so that we signed up again for the next day, and we told many of our friends about how great it was.

We went back…new day, same business, new instructor. She was a five at best. Not worth my time or money, and certainly not worthy of referrals. It was at this moment that everything clicked: your business is not what you say it is; it’s what your people make it.

It’s your business.
It’s your brand.
It’s your reputation.
It’s your people’s jobs to make your standards and your promises a reality.
It’s your job to hire and coach the right people.
And it’s your front-line employees (you know, the ones who interact with your customers) that matter most. The guy or girl at the desk (in our world, likely a counterman or a center manager) controls your destiny.

So, how’s your center manager? What qualities and attributes do they possess?

Maybe a better question is, what qualities and attributes do you wish they possessed?

Make a list of everything that’s important to you:

• Honest
• Friendly
• Smart
• Resourceful
• Punctual
• Reliable
• Trustworthy
• High closing ratio

Those are just a few to get you started. This is your business, not mine. You get to choose.

Now highlight the three or four most important things to you. The ones that are deal-breakers.

Here’s the hard part: ask yourself, “Does my center manager meet those expectations? Do they have what I need them to have in order to represent my brand and conduct business in a way that makes me proud?”

Let’s say they do have what it takes. Consider yourself lucky and do everything you can to hold on to them and to coach them to continued success.

Now, let’s say they don’t. The next step would be to consider whether their shortcomings are an attitude issue or an aptitude issue. If aptitude, you train them until they get it right…or until you just can’t train them anymore. If attitude…then it’s time to fire your center manager.