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If You Want People to Change, Buy Them a Cup of Coffee

By Randy Hall

I visited a Starbucks recently, which I don’t do often. But I was on my way to a practice and thought I would get coffee for my ride. As I pulled up to pay for my coffee at the drive-through window, the cashier told me that there was no charge. The person in front of me had paid for my coffee already. What?? I was stunned for a moment as I tried to comprehend this. I would never be able to thank the person in front of me and I had never even met the person! Yet, they had bought my coffee. What most interested me was that they knew when they did it they would never be thanked. And, in all likelihood, I would never be able to return the favor.

I immediately thought this was an amazingly genuine gesture. I wanted to be participate too, so I paid for the person behind me. The cashier in the window smiled and said, “That’s three in a row. Pretty cool.”

Helping People Change

In my work with veterinary practices, I sometimes hear that we can’t change the behavior of others. While that’s essentially correct (they have to change it themselves), we can help them decide to make the change in the first place. I woke up from what were habitual actions – paying for my coffee, driving – and decided to do something different than I normally would have done. I changed my behavior because of the actions of someone else. As we lead our teams, we have to do the same thing. We want to cause those kinds of changes.

Almost everything we humans do is a reaction to what others around us do. We have far more power to lead others than we think. As leaders, we have to focus on how to use that power to drive positive change in our practice. Everything we do with our clients or our team will have an impact. By choosing our action, we also get to choose the impact.

I once worked with a hospital manager who felt like all he did during the day was solve people’s problems. And truthfully, that’s exactly what he did. He had unknowingly trained people to believe that he was the problem solver. The boss. The person with the answers. As I helped him shift those reactions, he began asking questions like:

  • What do you think the best solution would be?
  • Who else have you talked to about the best way to address this?
  • What have you done so far to fix the problem?

He woke up from his habit of just giving answers. He consciously decided to take an action that would cause others to react differently. And, over a short period of time, people began solving more problems themselves. The hospital manager could focus on how the practice needed to improve, change and grow.

What You Do Matters

What do you do, either as a habit or an ingrained way of operating, that causes people to respond to you they way they do? It’s a tough question, but an important one. You want to be certain you do things that engage and innovate your team! Few things matter more than the actions of the employees who work in your practice. And sometimes, all you have to do is wake them up and buy them a cup of coffee.