Thursday, January 30, 2014

Atlanta Snowapocolypse

You have probably read or seen video on the news of the events of the last few days in the Atlanta Metro area. Here is how it happened in my life.

Tuesday started like any other day. I woke up at 5:30 AM and was on the road for my 42 mile commute just before 6. It was fairly cold, and I had dressed according. The National Weather Service had issued a Severe Winter Weather Watch for our area and a Severe Winter Weather Warning for areas South of Atlanta. When I checked things before I headed out on my commute, I noticed they had revised their forecasts to include snow further North including Atlanta. Around 11 AM I noticed light snow flakes falling outside my office window. At Noon, I went downstairs to the food court area for lunch and sat and watched it snow. It was cold enough that the snow was sticking on canopies on the outside face of the building and the wind was picking up. I remembered in 1986 when I had first moved to Atlanta from college that my coworkers told me about a winter storm that quickly moved into the Atlanta area shutting down roads leaving people stranded in their cars. I also remembered two years ago when the weather folks forecasted rain followed by freezing temperatures and snow. It did just that and shutdown the entire metro area because after the rain no one felt it important to spread salt or sand. So, the roads froze over with a solid thick sheet of ice and everything was closed for three straight days. I wondered how much snow we would get and how it would effect my commute. I was thankful that I was to get off at 3:30 PM instead of 5 like a lot of other people.

When I returned to my office, I noticed the traffic outside my window on 14th Street and Juniper Street was unusually heavy and slowly moving if at all. I walked over to the other side of our office and looked out at 14th Street as it leads to the on-ramp for I-75. It was bumper to bumper as far as the eye could see. I looked down Peachtree ST and the two North bound lanes were at a standstill. I hope the traffic dissipates before 3:30 PM, I thought. My co-workers started telling me about school closings around 1 PM. Soon after I received an email that the management office for our building was closing. My supervisor called and said she was trying to get permission to close our office by 2 PM. I thought it would not be helpful as all the streets around our building were choked with traffic. Where would we go? A couple co-workers left early to try to pick up their children from school as the schools had called to notify them they were closing.

 
 
(pictures taken at 1:28 PM, Tuesday January 28, 2013)


2 PM came and went without an office closing email. I walked back and looked out onto Peachtree ST. It was now jammed in both North and South directions. I went back to my office and pulled up Google maps to try to evaluate my options. Every major highway or Interstate that ran towards my home was solid red. I knew that it would be useless to try to travel on Peachtree ST, and I assumed I needed to avoid the intersection where GA 400 and I-285 crossed as it was always difficult on late afternoons, Fridays or Holidays and today would be worse. Google maps confirmed that for me. I continued to hope that all of the traffic that had begun the commute at 1 PM would begin to dissipate before I left. I considered some alternate routes in my head, but Google continued to show me that they were not viable alternatives.

At 2:45 PM, we were notified the office would close promptly at 3 PM. A quick glance out the window confirmed my worst fears. Traffic had not improved in two hours. I checked the exit from the parking deck and cars were lined up trying to get onto Peachtree, but no one was letting them out. When we were dismissed, I made my way to the parking deck and prepared for a long night. I have left at 4 PM and 5 PM before and those days had turned into 2 hour commutes. I guessed this might be more like 3 or even 4 hours. Instead of leaving the parking deck as I normally would via Peachtree ST., I headed down a level to the 14th ST. exit. As I exited the parking deck, I could see 14th was at a standstill going towards Peachtree, so I turned the other way and headed towards Piedmont. My original plan was to turn onto Peachtree Circle and re-intersect Peachtree ST  several blocks further North to try and avoid some of the traffic. At a long redlight, I fired up Google Navigation on my Samsung S4 Android smartphone. I entered my home address and set options to avoid interstates and to select the fastest route considering traffic.

Piedmont was pretty congested as we crawled past Piedmont Park at 9 mph, but we were moving, and I found comfort in that fact. After a few miles, I noticed that Google was taking me a different route than I had considered in my head. I elected to stick with navigation as opposed to my own guesses. After all, the I had no idea on traffic. Within an hour I was merging onto GA 13 a route I often use. But navigation was telling me to merge onto I-85N. This sounded like a really bad idea to me. One, I-85 was really out of the way to me and Two, it was always slammed with traffic whenever I have been on it. But again, I yielded to navigation this time holding my breath expecting to find a parking lot. I was surprised to find traffic moving. At 25 mph, but again, at least it was moving. There was snow on both sides of the road but traffic was keeping a path mowed in each lane. Navigation showed it was going to have me exit in about 6 miles, so I settled in to stay in the two right lanes and prepare to exit the interstate in a few exits. Just a couple miles before the exit, navigation alerted that if had found a quicker route and asked if I would like to change routes. I clicked yes, and it instructed me to stay on the interstate for 20 miles. This really made me uncomfortable, but I decided to stick with it. As I merged onto I-985, I was surprised to find virtually no traffic at all. I cruised along at highway speed until the exit for GA 20. I noted the temperature was now around 24F and ice was forming at the base of my windshield. I knew this meant the road and bridges would be icing up.

GA 20 between Buford and Cumming has several bridges and stoplights at the top of hills. I figured this could be the highest probability of problems. I caught a red light at the top of the hill at Windermere. I was second car in light behind a Dodge Charger, and the left lane was open. I quickly thought the Charger was rear wheel drive and would probably have issues getting off the light. So, as I slowly approached the red light, I changed into the left lane. When the light turned green, I felt tire spin and the front of my front wheel drive danced a little. The traction control kicked on, I did a little counter steering to maintain my lane, and I was moving forward. When I had regained traction I looked in my mirror to see the Charger still trying to get moving and a line of traffic behind it. They would be losing this road in another hour I thought and there were several more hills ahead of me. I encountered a few more ice patches and continued to keep moving. I finally reached the intersection of GA 20 and GA 400. I elected to get onto 400 North as my wife had informed me she had come through there about 30 minutes earlier and 400 North was navigable. The ramp to 400 was icy and barely had detectable tire tracks, but I managed to maneuver onto 400. 400 Traffic was heavy and moving around 15 mph. As looked far ahead I could see two DOT trucks spreading sand and traffic slowly following. I reached our home and was grateful. I realized that another hour and most of the roads would be impassible. My 42 mile commute had taken just over 2 hours.

As I watched the news, read Facebook status updates, and texted co-workers, I began to learn that folks that had left work before me had gotten stuck behind wrecks and had not gotten home yet. One friend who left at 1 PM who lives near us ended up getting home at 7 PM after driving 400 from downtown all the way up. Another co-worker ended up 9 hrs to make a 30 mile commute. People were sleeping in cars. Folks were running out of gas and walking to gas stations, grocery stores, and even Home Depot for a warm place to find shelter. One friend of our daughter works for a Daycare center that sits on a hill. The parents could not get up the hill to pick up their children, so several employees spent the night with the children. Several schools could not get school buses to school and the children ended up sleeping in the gym. Some school buses got stuck on the iced roads and children ended up sleeping in the school bus overnight. So many schools closed at the same time and so many offices closed at the same time that millions of cars hit the roads, highways and interstates and overwhelmed the roadways. Before traffic could work itself out, the roads began to freeze, ice developed and vehicles spun out, wrecked, and became stuck. Salt and sand trucks could not treat the roads due to all the cars and the huge traffic jam.

By morning, there were cars abandoned on the sides of roads and highways all over the metro-area and some even abandoned in the middle of roadways. Probably the greatest thing that came of all of this mess was how social media engaged. Someone started a group on Facebook called "SnowedOutAtlanta". It amassed 55,655 members. The group was launched with this purpose "Post here details of who needs help and where. Also please post details of where people can get help from". People began posting where friends and family were stuck needing help. Others began posting offering room in their homes. People went out on four-wheel ATVs to carry people to gas stations. Others went out with sandwiches, bottles of water, and hot chocolate. The people of the metro Atlanta area took in complete strangers and provided them with food, dry clothing, and shelter.

-Peace

Monday, January 27, 2014

Authentic Community vs Lip Service - The Outsiders

video link: http://youtu.be/x54Md1puim4


First the disclaimer. I am not calling any organization out directly, and I will not reveal where this happened so do not bother asking. K?

Everywhere we turn these days we hear people talking about building community. Churches, fraternities, sororities, civic clubs, even subdivisions. Sometimes I wonder if we really know what it means.
I attended a large meeting the other day. When the doors to the meeting room opened,  I was one of the first through the door. The door holder said to me, "How about going over to the other side of the room." I understood the request as people tend to plop down at the table closest to the door and late comers have to wiggle to the far side of the room to find an open table. So I graciously complied.

People continued to file into the room filling tables passing by me and occasionally greeting me as they passed. After a few minutes,  I noticed that no one was sitting down at the table where I was seated despite me knowing several of those filing past me and speaking. After about 10 minutes a member of the host team walks up and asks me to move to another table. Maybe there is something wrong with my internal wiring,  but that just hit me wrong. I felt like I needed to apologize for sitting at the wrong table or perhaps for no one liking me enough to bother sitting with me. I did a quick sniff check. Yeah my deodorant was still holding up. I did not know everyone that had entered the room behind me, so I can not accept that I am such a jerk no one wanted to be stuck sitting with me. But there I was, and now it was my responsibility to get up and go find a table of folks to sit with that had made the choice not to sit with me originally. "Why would I do that?"  I thought. If they chose not to sit with me when they came in, they obviously are not going to be real welcoming if I get up and walk over and sit down with them. Maybe the events of the last several days made me hypersensitive to it all. I cannot say for sure. But I can tell you I hated the feeling. I hated the feeling of being ostracized and rejected, but then to be asked to correct it just seemed really wrong. 

I stood up. I looked around the room of tables filled with people happily chattering away and realized I was not welcome and could show myself to the door. I pulled on my jacket and headed for the door. Not a single word was spoken to me as I crossed the room and made my exit. I have seen this play out before and I'm sure I will experience it again. Maybe they were all just so caught up in their conversations they never noticed me sitting there beginning to feel like the last kid picked for a softball team in grade school. I can remember it like it was yesterday. Maybe they did not notice me bolt for the door. I do not know. But I do know this: I do not stay somewhere that I do not feel welcomed and neither will your volunteers or clients.

If we are going to create authentic community, we have to be intentional. True, I could have obeyed and got up and moved. I have at least partial blame in this whole deal. Who knows, I might have gotten a warm reception at another table. But when you are feeling rejected, do you want to risk more of the same? At the same time, any 3 or 4 of the hundreds of people that walked passed me could have just as easily sat down with me.  

My take away from this experience is this: I plan to watch for folks alone when I walk into a big rooms in the future and go sit down with them. Is not that true community? Seeking out the folks that do not seemed to be in the clique and making them feel welcome? Would you consider joining me?

-Peace

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Customers



I never really thought I would write on this topic, but for some reason it keeps bubbling up so I give. I owned and operated a computer consulting firm for several years in the 1990s. It literally was launched in the living room of our rural farmhouse and before all was said and done grew into a computer store with three employees. There were a lot of lessons learned through that experience. Yes, there are some people you will encounter that you cannot afford to have as customers. People that no matter what you do, you will never be able to please.  It is their problem not yours.

Despite that issue, I continue to run into entrepreneurs who have no value for their customers - any of them. It reminds me of a friend who her and her husband operated an ice maker sales and service business and a story she shared. She walked into a local store and after a few minutes of browsing, a sales associate practically knocked her down in his haste. Her response? "Young man, you need to recognize something. I am a customer. I represent income. You represent expense. Check with your manager and see which one they value most."

As managers, business owners, and organizational leaders, we should never lose site of her point. Unfortunately in the hustle and bustle of the daily demands, we forget it. Every time I walk into a restaurant that is busy and the host or hostess begins to lead us to a table, invariably someone on the wait staff busy serving the customers at their assigned table will try to run over me. My value to them will only change if I am seated at one of their tables, and they begin to want me to tip. But what is my motivation to reward your service if you tried to knock me down 10 minutes ago?

To ever achieve success in any organization,  the people we serve have to feel valued. It is safe to assume that I do not feel valued by the wait staff that tries to knock me down on my way to a table. Communication plays a big part in the value equation. A couple of weeks ago,  I placed an order for a piece of equipment for our organization. The business owner had me send our billing and delivery address and committed to sending us an invoice and offered to schedule the delivery date. I committed to mailing a check upon receiving the invoice. Later that day, I received an invoice made out to a completely different organization for a completely different piece of equipment. So, I immediately responded to the sender notifying them of the error. Four days later I received a corrected invoice made out to the delivery address instead of the billing address. I mailed a check that evening. The agreed delivery date arrives and no equipment. I call them and get voicemail. I leave a message and follow up with an email. The next afternoon I get a call from the owner. He explains that they had not received our check so they delayed delivery.  Would it not have been a good idea to contact the customer and reset their expectations when that decision was made? And ask yourself,  why was the check delayed? Because it took them four days to send a corrected invoice. Does the customer feel valued at this point? No. The business is making it abudently clear they are solely after the dollar. The owner quickly commits that if the check is in the afternoon mail, he will reschedule delivery the next morning or Friday at the latest. Good save.

Thursday our operations manager buzzs me and says a bank is on the phone asking to verify a check. It is the check for the equipment in question. We verify that we did in fact issue that check to the company on the face of the check. Now mind you the owner did not call or email and say, "Hey we got your check and we are rescheduling your delivery. " The only way we knew they had received the check was because their bank called. No delivery on Thursday or Friday. Feeling valued? Negative. I call and receive another commitment for Monday.  Do I believe them? Nope. Monday comes and no delivery. I email them expressing my frustration with their lack of follow through, empty promises on delivery dates, and the lack of communication.  I receive a return call from a woman who apologizes for the delayed delivery and floats a story about truck problems and says "I meant to call all our deliveries but your number fell through the cracks." Then she commits, "We will get your delivery first thing in the morning or certainly by Wednesday at the latest." No delivery on Tuesday or Wednesday and no phone call or email to explain.Will they receive repeat business? Will we recommend them to other organizations requiring the same equipment? I will let you draw your own conclusions.

Maybe the world is big enough that you can aggravate everyone that comes to you as a customer and repeat customers are not of value. But I have found the best advertising any business can do is the word of mouth from satisfied customers. Make them feel valued and not only will they return when they need your product and services again, but they will be your advocate to their network of friends and family.

Remember Newton's law? For every force their is an equal and opposite force? Yes. The converse is true. Frustrate your customer. Try to walk over them like they are in your way. Do not communicate with them when you do not do what you have said you will do. They will not come back except maybe with an attorney and a lawsuit. And they certainly will not recommend you to their personal network of friends and family. Oh contrair! They will be the first to steer potential customers away from you.

It's your choice. Yes, it takes a little extra effort and time, but it pays huge rewards. Under commit. Over deliver. Do what you say you are going to do. If something comes up and you cannot meet a commitment, contact them. Do not force them to hunt you down for an explanation. Ensure to deliver on the secondary commitment when you failed on the initial. Make them feel valued if your income is important to you.


-Peace

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Cold


With all of speeches and writings on global warming,  I did not think we would see this happen. Last winter was mild for the Atlanta metro area.  Mild enough in fact that our small raised garden bed was overcome with bugs. I am pretty sure they ate more green beans than we did. But nonetheless,  we woke up Tuesday morning to 6F in the "Sunny South" and a windchill of -11F. As I bundled up and prepared to begin my commute into the city, my mind went to those homeless souls that live under the overpasses and congregate outside Chick-fil-a in the city waiting for a cup of coffee.

I often get caught up in my own problems and struggles and overlook how blessed I am.  I spent the night in a warm bed under a roof and sheltered from the howling wind. But many do not enjoy that luxury. Whether a product of their own bad decisions or misfortunate situations,  I do not believe that anyone deserves to sleep under a bridge in 6 degree weather.

As I scanned the AJC headlines this morning, there it was. A 70 year old man found dead this morning - hypothermia believed to be the cause of death. Without shelter, he froze to death. We know nothing of his life and struggle only his demise. We cannot cast blame or dismiss his death by calling him a bum. We have failed him. The government system? No. The community. The church. We have failed him. Its unacceptable. We build expensive monumental cathedrals which get used one day a week and lock them up tight six days to keep out vagrants and bums.

Why should we care?

Matthew 25:31-40 NIV : 
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne.  All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.     “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,  I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’    “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’     “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Thursday, January 02, 2014

The Christmas Rush



Let me just go ahead and admit that I would rather have my fingernails ripped of with rusty tweezers than go grocery shopping. The wrestling in the parking lot,  the people parked on the fire lane clearly marked "no parking anytime", the congestion in the driveway, the crowded isles, someone pushing a buggy into your back while your trying to locate something on the shelf, it all gets to me.

But I caved in and agreed to go to the grocery store the weekend before Christmas. What on earth came over me I am unsure. As we pulled in there were four cars in the fire lane snarling traffic as they tried to manuever around them and dodge the pedestrians. Please poke my eyes out with a pencil. We manage to secure a parking spot eight miles from the front door and head for the mouth of the beast.

We enter and it begins. It is like demolition derby with shopping carts. I pity the defenseless shoppers who did not have the foresight to grab a buggy. I proceed down an isle an encounter a woman with her cart on one side of the isle and her on the other. I attempt to part the Red Sea and go between them. She quickly bolts back to the buggy to block my attempt to pass. "None shall pass!" I can hear the black night of the forest say. So I move to go by on her left. As soon as I get alongside,  she turns and knocks me into a freezer case and into the floor. It's all I can do to keep my mouth shut as I get up out of the floor.

We manage to conclude our hunting and gathering experience without further incident and make a beeline for the parking lot. I check my six and the coast is clear. I slide the shifter into reverse and suddenly six cars begin backing out and four more are coming from both directions. It seems the white backup lights draws them light bugs to the bug zapper. After a tiring wrestling match,  we extract ourselves from the melee and return to the safety of our home.

I take a look at the news feed on Facebook and note a status of a friend that lives 50 miles away who had also been to the grocery store. While kneeling to retrieve an item from a bottom shelf, a man hit her with a shopping cart and knocked her over and proceeded without a word.

Relieved to know it's not just me, I pause and reflect on the Christmas Rush. I purposely avoid shopping malls and big box retail strip centers because of this kind of madness. And I knew better than going to the grocery store. But how did we get here? In the name of celebrating the birth of the Savior,  how did we get to the point of the selfish push and shove of competitive shopping? If it is truly the most wonderful time of the year,  how do we clear our conscious of the rude and myopic behavior displayed in preparation? And why is there such a last minute rush and tackle if Target and Walmart have had Christmas items out since the day after Halloween?

It's a heart problem. And I admit my attitude has not been much better than those knocking folks out of their way. We need to refocus off the gift giving and getting and remember the best gift of all - a Savior sent to save our sorry sinful selves who are offended by someone calling us sinners.

God forgive us for making it all about us.