A book excerpt from Managing with Aloha, Bringing Hawai‘i’s Universal Values to the Art of Business
Chapter 11: ‘Ike loa
To know well
To seek knowledge and wisdom
‘Ike loa is the value of learning.
Seek knowledge, for new knowledge is the food for mind, heart and soul.
Learning inspires us, and with ‘Ike loa we constantly give birth to new creative possibilities.
‘Ike loa promotes learning in the ‘Ohana; we must incorporate the seeking of knowledge and wisdom into our business plan and into our daily practice.
‘Ike loa is to know well, and knowing others well enhances our relationships and broadens our prospects.
‘Ike loa. Pursue wisdom. Learn and know well.
The value of learning
‘Ike loa is the value that my managers have told me “turns you into an absolute fanatic” and I suppose that’s true. It is one of my favorites, for it is all about learning and seeking more knowledge, something I am very passionate about. Gaining more knowledge equates to having more confidence and belief in one’s ability and capacity to learn, and having more of that self-belief empowers you, liberates you and releases a creativity you may not have even realized you possessed. You constantly give birth to new possibilities in this creative process; you create your own destiny seeking your best possible life (‘Imi ola).
You are sure to feed your body each day, aren’t you? Well, new knowledge is the food for mind, heart and soul. Without it, you are not providing nourishment for your overall well-being. We grow as we learn.
To a business, knowledge is the asset of intellectual capital. Great managers have intellectual capital in good supply, and they work at refreshing it and keeping it well-stocked.
I stand firm and unmoving in my belief that someone who calls themselves a manager of people must be a learner, and they must dedicate themselves to non-stop, sequential and consequential learning. Sequential in that it builds upon previous lessons learned, and it takes you through a process where you question instruction and do not always accept what you are taught at face value; you polish it like a gem in your mind until something about it rings true for you. Consequential in that it is worthwhile stuff; it makes a difference for you, and you aren’t simply collecting lessons on some scorecard. There’s some personal take-away in it for you. Now that you know it, you’re going to use it.
Personally, ‘Ike loa will naturally come to mind for me whenever I speak with others about Kuleana and one’s personal sense of responsibility. I had once seen this quote attributed to Jan Carlzon, former CEO of Scandinavian Airlines Systems: “… an individual who is given information cannot help but take responsibility.” It was easy for me to nod in agreement with those words for I’ve experienced it so many times within my own experience, and as a manager it became an employee ownership strategy for me. The wonderful thing is that with learning you are not just passing out information: You are teaching people how to think.
Learning inspires you
I recently assisted a client with their executive recruitment efforts, and at their request I interviewed a gentleman with years of experience in his field. He had been associated with organizations that I recognized as firms known for their quality standards and highly ethical reputations. He was professional, articulate and charming. Early in our conversation, I could tell his personality was one that would assure him quick acceptance with my client’s staff and with their customers, and he revealed substantial character when he spoke about the values he believed in. However, the interview was over for me when I asked him to tell me about something he had read lately, and he responded, “Oh, I don’t read much. Just the occasional golf or travel magazine.”
You may be thinking that was pretty single-minded of me, however the position this gentleman was applying for required that he exhibit rousing leadership; he would lead other managers and his operation needed to consistently deal with new variables that had emerged in the marketplace within which my client competed. I could not fathom how he would possibly conjure up leadership that would inspire others to follow if he was not linked into learning habits that would inspire him. Energy begets energy, and when people are not up for work on any given day, it is the manager who must be the catalyst that energizes them. That’s a hefty requirement, and one we need to continually replenish.
If managers are to become truly great managers they must be voracious readers, and they must make pulse-checking connections with some community of learning in their chosen industry. They must benchmark success, and they must network with others who are successful, thus opening themselves to auditory learning as well. They simply must. It is by remaining students that managers become better teachers, and great managers teach and teach constantly.
Learn by reading
At Christmastime, I was usually able to pack the gifts for two dozen managers in just one carrying crate: They all got books. For some of them, it was probably the third or fourth one I’d asked them to read in the past year, and the only surprise in my wrapped but obviously-shaped gift was the title. Magazine and web articles were sent to them frequently as building blocks that took away the intimidation a former non-reader may have once had when presented with a 300-page book. Reading had become part of the culture.
In the days that followed some article’s distribution, I could easily pick out those who were the movers and shakers in my operation. They were the ones who always had something to talk about that was different, new, inquisitive and thought-provoking. They were within their creative process. They were polishing gems of new learning in their minds, looking for new insights that would energize and inspire them.
Promoting learning in the ‘Ohana
Of course ‘Ike loa with the rest of my employees differed. While I could drive and uphold this “reading homework” standard for my managers, other approaches were more effective with the staff.
This being said, a few of my Alaka‘i Nalu eagerly devoured M.J. Harden’s book, Voices of Wisdom. One of them told me it was the first book he’d read since he got out of high school, and he planned to make up for lost time. It’s a matter of matching the right book to the right person. Today, I often recommend managers suggest The Automatic Millionaire by David Bach to their employees who need help with managing their finances and breaking out of the stress that money can create.
Still the premise and belief was the same, and my conviction was equally unwavering: Knowledge is a key, and learning is vitally important. One phrase they’d hear from me often was that continuous learning was essential to the success of our business, it was not a luxury. As business partners in our ‘Ohana in business, we’d learn together so we could succeed together.
Organizations need to embrace learning because it is the excitement about new discoveries that helps them let go of the old sacred cows that may not be working for them anymore: New learning lends objectivity to the emotion that will keep people comfortably tied to their old ways. The pace of change in today’s world is amazingly quick, and even the most technologically inclined among us struggle to keep up with it. If we are to stay in the business game, we need to explore the new concepts and ideas which emerge, and we need to embrace varied points of view. Frankly, as managers we must be brave enough to admit we need help in our own game, and then go get it. ‘Ike loa is a value that brings that need into our comfort zone, for in applying it we help our staff as much as we help ourselves. Let me share a story with you on how I came to fully understand this.
The very first position that I held at Hualalai was as retail manager, hired to open three different retail stores. A few years before then, I’d stepped down from the demands of a job that had normally required 60 hours per week from me, for it was too much time to give with two children just 3 and 6 years old. However, I still needed a full-time job, and I still wanted to be a manager. Fortunately for me, retail would reveal itself as my next career. ‘Ike loa became my new mantra, for boy did I have a lot to learn: I’d never done any retail before. It was a wonderfully exciting time for me, for I was learning and learning constantly, and I was able to put my new learning into immediate practice.
However, once I arrived at Hualalai my responsibilities became overwhelming; within two years the retail volume I was accustomed to jumped from the thousands of dollars to the millions. I was right back at those 60 hours per week I’d once left behind, and I needed some help.
In creating the Hualalai retail department, there was one thing I was particularly proud of: my crew. We had been able to hire an opening ‘Ohana that was very passionate in their Ho‘ohana (their work intent), and most were Mea Ho‘okipa, exceptionally in tune with the needs of our guests. I admired them and I respected them, and I knew that they were the best ones to give me the help I needed. I was confident that talent surrounded me: I just had to tap into it more effectively.
We started a weekly forum called ShopTalk. For one hour each week, every retail clerk on the resort —which included a modest warehouse staff —would participate in this forum of retail learning. Product knowledge was a staple on the agenda, and my vendors were asked to help me teach it —they were the ones who knew most about their own products (think back to Kuleana and delegation strategy). My shop managers were asked to facilitate forums on store operations, and our warehouse staff covered that operation.
For my part, I normally taught and explained our retail business plan, investing more in our relationship as business partners. As retail manager I was also buyer, and I’d attend the instructional seminars given at trade shows as student so I could replenish my own arsenal as teacher: My crew came to think of my post-travel ShopTalks as the trend discussions they could look forward to, linking our local operation with the retail industry as a whole. Soon we found that our ShopTalk students became the teachers too: As Mea Ho‘okipa, they were the best qualified to mentor all of us about delivering better service, and maintaining our ever-constant focus on the customer. ShopTalk became both a forum for learning and a celebration of the immense wealth of talent we had and could share with each other.
From ShopTalk evolved our Vendor Partnership Program, an initiative that would serve as a model for our peers in the industry: Word of its effectiveness was lauded by vendors who participated, and they encouraged other retailers to consider it. In this program retail clerks adopted shop vendors they were interested in working with directly because they loved their product. Their goal within the program was to learn and then participate in my buying process while improving our vendor-business relationship. For my part, I fine-tuned our supplier certification and procurement systems so that both vendor and retail clerk had the right tools to work with. When a product line entered a new season, catalogs and promotional mailings went directly to the retail clerk, and no longer were delayed in my inbox. Vendors enrolled in the program made appointments directly with the retail clerk they were assigned to, and they would spend more time in the shop and less playing phone tag with me. Vendor servicing of our account improved, product turn improved, in-shop visual displays improved, new product knowledge was more timely, sales volume in special orders jumped and there was an unbelievable amount of creative energy generated within our entire retail ‘Ohana.
Of course for me, this also meant I got the help I had desperately needed. My industry peers were amazed that we were able to run the Hualalai retail operation with only one director who managed the business plan and functioned as buyer and merchandiser and with a single shop manager in each outlet. I was retail manager, the assumed “expert,” yet my retail clerks and warehouse staff did a much better job with their vendors than I possibly could have done. Because the clerks were restricted to working in-shop and could not travel with me, the lines of accountability became pragmatically clear, and I learned to let go in-shop and honor their domain. In turn they celebrated the faith and trust I placed in them; they were encouraged to take bigger risks with the responsibility they assumed. However, I felt connected and in-touch: They were very open in communicating to me what they needed from me as support (Kākou and Lōkahi were maintained).
Both ShopTalk and the vendor partnership program came from our belief in ‘Ike loa, and what the pursuit of more knowledge could do for us. As they gained more information my retail clerks accepted their Kuleana (more responsibility) wholeheartedly; they accepted complete product-line ownership and they became empowered and self-motivated, understanding that ultimately their success was measured by our sales and customer loyalty.
Enter ‘Ike loa into your business plan
‘Ike loa was guaranteed its place on the very first draft of the business plan I wrote for my own business, Say Leadership Coaching. When tax time came, I entered a parenthesis in the language of my tax accountant: ‘Ike loa (Staff Training and Education). Even starting my business as a one-woman show, I fully realized that if my business was to survive and thrive, it would have to continually invest in my learning and development, and that of every prospective employee to come.
I incorporated what I’d learned as basic good business sense, for I have been blessed and fortunate that this assumption has been in the business plan of every company I have worked for. After living more than 30 years worth of experience seeing the good results of this practice, part of my mana‘o (deeply held beliefs) is this: Businesses must invest in the training and education of their employees. Safety training alone is an area where on-the-job safety training has direct monetary benefits to your bottom line with savings in medical premiums, loss time prevention and workers compensation. And training need not be very expensive: My only cost for ShopTalk was one hour of labor time per week for each employee, and it more than paid for itself in the concrete sales dollars those employees generated as a direct result.
With managers in particular, I believe that companies must bridge training expenses with travel expenses: We live in an increasingly globally aware society and managers today must enlarge their professional networks. Yes, I absolutely feel that managers must be culturally sensitive and respect the sense of place that resides wherever they manage. However, knowledge has a universal character and is immensely adaptable, and we cannot be too incestuous, blindly feeling we have all the answers in our own school yard. The managers in Hawai‘i who aspire to greater leadership roles must embrace diversity and be leaders in their chosen fields as a whole: They have to travel out of the islands if they are to pursue ‘Ike loa and their own learning to the fullest. Kūlia i ka nu‘u: strive to the summit.
Get the most out of the travel dollar you spend: When managers return, be sure there is a forum wherein they immediately graduate from student to teacher and coach. Knowing that this was the expectation, my own five-hour plane trip from the U.S. west coast was always well spent designing lesson plans. With ShopTalk, we were very creative and Kākou (inclusive) in our reach for discussion facilitators. Our head golf professional would speak on retail trends he’d heard about at the annual PGA show. Our spa director would speak on new developments discussed at the annual ISpa convention, and how these new concepts could possibly translate to different retail product for our customers. They collected sample trade publications that were devoured by the staff, for they’d come home to the energy and excitement that ‘Ike loa naturally engenders.
‘Ike loa in daily practice
Everyone has the capacity for learning. This capacity is a gift of our birth, and it is not difficult to begin learning processes within your own company’s culture. One way is to simply incorporate it into your daily communication forums: Personally, I have the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company to thank for teaching this to me so very well with their daily Line-up. For 10-15 minutes each day Ritz-Carlton managers are required to start their employee work shifts by sharing the information they feel is vital to current daily company and market knowledge. The human resources department in each hotel does most of the work for you, with a daily Line-up sheet distributed to each department manager with the information that is to be consistently shared. My own hotel’s general manager figured he’d do the company policy one better: Human resources was given eight minutes and department heads were required to fill the other seven minutes with departmental “learning bites.”
When I led the operations team at Hualalai, my Ritz-Carlton daily Line-up evolved to something we called the Daily ‘Ohana Mālama (taking care of our ‘Ohana in business). The process was pretty much the same, still only 15 minutes per shift. And the theme was still about learning. However, with the Daily ‘Ohana Mālama we took care to ensure that ‘Ike loa was incorporated into our language. After the success we’d enjoyed with ShopTalk, we confidently delegated facilitation of this daily process well below the supervisory level, and we uncovered another benefit: Employees were much more adept at soliciting feedback from their peers on a daily basis than were the managers —they knew the right questions to ask.
When we spoke of the value of ‘Ike loa, we would simply concentrate on the meaning: to know well. What else did we need to know? Managers were encouraged to have question-and-answer discussions within other staff forums that would turn anyone with a possible answer into a teacher and coach for everyone else. For example, these were some of the questions that managers would use to start discussions with their employees: Take notice of Kākou and the language of we.
- What are the things you’d like to learn more about? What kind of knowledge would make it easier for you to practice the art of Ho‘okipa with our guests?
- What have you learned about recently? How has this new knowledge helped you —at home, on the job, at play, in any way —and how did you learn it?
- How can we best stay connected with the rest of the company? What are the tools we have to keep needed information readily at our fingertips?
- Often, our customers are our best teachers in alerting us to how we must deliver exceptional service. What are some examples within our own department in which we’ve found a better way to practice the art of Ho‘okipa because a guest clued us in? Going forward, how can we be more open to receiving these lessons our guests offer us?
‘Ike loa is to know well, and we’d simply assume there was always more to learn. The more your staff knows about their jobs and why they are important, the more passionate they will be about them, and the more they will experience their own creative transformations in the process. Learning becomes more than their school-days memory; it starts to mean something concrete for them because they gain personal results from it.
Learning is about the student
I’ve said often within these pages that managers must be mentors, teachers and coaches. However, as ShopTalk taught us, managers needn’t be the designated experts; the best teachers are alaka‘i ka ‘ike (guides of learning) who guide their students to the best sources of the learning (kumu a‘o) they need. In other words, the best teachers are those who understand that learning is about the student and what that student feels they need to learn. The best teaching is highly personal: It doesn’t follow a set formula. And the act of learning itself is transformational, just as we had learned happens with Kuleana, and accepting responsibility.
One of my employees learned to play slack key guitar after decades of wishing he could, because he’d gained “learning confidence” from some of the programs we had enrolled him in while at Hualalai. What he has learned now overflows to others; the music he creates is hauntingly beautiful, and he adores sharing it. In other words, gaining knowledge also creates an abundance mentality. Once you learn something that excites you, you feel you must share it with others —just as I am hoping to do through this book.
The Daily Five Minutes
Perhaps my most valuable lesson in ‘Ike loa was the one born at Hualalai out of our desire to know our employees well. We instinctively knew we could manage better the more intimately we knew those we managed. ‘Ike loa became the birthplace of a core standard we initiated with all managers called “The Daily Five Minutes.” It started as an experiment, and it was so effective that it became non-negotiable as a habit my managers were required to cultivate and practice daily.
It is a simple habit: Each day, without fail, managers are to give five minutes of no-agenda time to at least one of their employees. They’d log the event in a simple checklist of names to ensure they didn’t miss anyone, and they’d speak to each employee in turn on a regular basis.
To be honest, my initial goal was actually to give the managers daily practice in the art of listening well, for I was trying to come up with a solution for the common complaint that “my manager doesn’t ask for my input and feedback, and if I do give it, he/she doesn’t really listen well to what I’m trying to explain to them.” I reasoned that if they had no agenda themselves with this Daily Five Minutes, they wouldn’t half-listen as they mentally prepared what they’d say when they could get a word in. Employees were brought into the plan and openly told about the program: They were asked to prepare something, and be ready to fill the silence when a manager approached them and said, “How about a break from the action here, let’s step away and Take 5.”
In the beginning, the managers were cautioned to give themselves a good 15 to 30-minute window, for there’d likely be some pent-up stuff that had to come out. However, over time, the managers who kept up the habit discovered their Daily Five Minutes rarely stretched over 10. This is what happened: In the process of developing this habit, they greatly improved their own approachability. They had nurtured a circle of comfort for their employees to step into and talk to them —whenever time presented itself. The Daily Five Minutes itself soon became a more personal thing. Employees started to share their lives with them —what they did over the weekend, how their kids were doing in school, how they felt about a local news story. Managers began to know their employees very well, and their employees began to relate to them more as people and not just as managers. They were practicing the art of ‘Ike loa together.
Knowing well enhances relationships
Benefits from the Daily Five Minutes piled up: Managers ceased to judge employee situations prematurely, for they had built up a relationship that demanded all be allowed to speak first —and they wanted to speak with their employees, sure they’d receive more clarity. The Daily Five Minutes became a safe zone where employees felt they could talk story with their manager “off the record,” and managers learned to ask, “Are you venting, or asking for help? Do I keep this in confidence, or do you expect me to take action?” It became clearer who was responsible for following up on things. Managers had less and less of those “If only I had known about this sooner” surprises.
Employees began to initiate the Daily Five Minutes themselves, both with their managers and with other employees they wanted to know better. Everyone learned to say “no” and to be more respectful of time issues, saying scripted sentences that were non-emotional: “Now is not the best time, but I promise to Take 5 with you later.” Everyone became much better at reading expressions and body language, a skill that had added benefits when they were dealing with the customers. Cultural barriers started to break down, because managers started to learn the “communication language” they needed to use to relate to each employee as an individual, and they gained better understanding of the “sense of place” of each one.
So you see, ‘Ike loa promotes all types of knowledge, and it is just knowing, and knowing well. When programs like the Daily Five Minutes give it form, even spontaneous unrehearsed conversation can erase confusion, and replace wrong assumptions with the right information. Personally, I have an ongoing and passionate love affair with books and the written word, yet some of my best knowledge has simply come from talking story with my staff: They are exceptionally patient teachers.
This may be the best place to pause, and explain why I refer to “talking story” fairly often. Unfortunately, our Hawaiian ancestors did not pen a written history of our islands. Information was passed generation to generation verbally, with the ‘Ōlelo (the language and spoken word) and in storytelling. Today there is much effort in our Hawaiian renaissance to record what we know about our past history before the kūpuna (our elders) forget and can no longer tell it to us. Still today, for us to communicate and dialogue is to “talk story.” There is so very much I personally have learned from the ‘ōlelo form of teaching, perhaps most of all that anyone who speaks has the potential to be my teacher. I only need listen as well as I can, quieting the voices in my own head.
As much as I love reading, you cannot replace the interchange that happens between human beings when you ‘ōlelo and talk story with each other. Learning is as much about the questioning, and the requests for clarification and complete understanding. Yes, I am very passionate about ‘Ike loa and all kinds of learning: Call it fanaticism if you will.
And as long as you are alive, it is not over for you— ‘Ike loa waits for you; it beckons to you. Grab your opportunity to learn, and to know well all you wish to know.
‘Ike loa: learn and know well
‘Ike loa is a big part of managing with Aloha, for the manager who adopts ‘Ike loa and incorporates it into his daily practice demonstrates the Aloha of good intent. By investing in the learning of his staff, he shows them how much he believes in them and in their capacity for greater things. He shows them he cares.
Learning inspires you, and ‘Ike loa encourages us to constantly give birth to new creative possibilities. As your knowledge grows, so does your confidence, and your belief in your own capacity and ability to learn more: Your belief in self will liberate, inspire and energize you.
‘Ike loa promotes the building of a learning environment in the ‘Ohana, and we must incorporate the seeking of knowledge and wisdom into our business plan and into our daily practice.
Mahalo for reading.