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Speak the Language: Remember, It Is the Little Things

T Paul ThomasFor my column this month, I have decided to write about two things that I experienced in the last 30 days. Both have real world lessons for anyone running a company or managing a business or employees.

Speak the Language

My youngest son, Ross, will be graduating from Northern Arizona University in December and we have wanted to do a trip to Europe together. He is a history guy and has wanted to travel to London and Normandy to see firsthand sites from WWII. So, we went to London and Paris for eight days.

As we arrived at our Paris hotel, we were greeted by a young man at the front desk, who rattled off something in French. I responded that we didn’t speak French and wanted to check in. The man then went into a long lecture (in English) about why do Americans come to Paris without knowing the language. I explained that we actually knew the basics and thanked him for being willing to speak English to us.

In addition to being a student at NAU, Ross works nearly full-time at the Amara Resort in Sedona as a valet and bellman. As we walked to our room reflecting on the scolding for not being bilingual, Ross said, “I would never treat a guest like that. I would have been fired.”

It is an interesting business lesson. If your business depends on customer satisfaction (I’m not sure a business exists that doesn’t) you as the employee or business owner must be accepting of those that don’t speak the language. It is your job to take care of the customer.

I had another “language” experience this week. I have a trailer that needed to be fixed (it is another Ross story for later) and went to a local trailer business. I don’t speak “trailer” so I’m not familiar with the official name of each part. I just knew my trailer needed to be fixed. I kindly asked the owner if she would walk outside to my trailer and take a look at it. She asked, “Well, what is wrong with it?” I explained it was broken to which she replied, “What is broke?” It took me back to Paris all over again. I just wanted my trailer fixed and I don’t speak the language.

As business owners, it is our responsibility to create a culture that understands not everyone speaks our language and it is we who need to be bilingual. Regardless of whether it is French or Trailer.

It Is the Little Things

Over the last month, I have seen several of my students get wonderful job offers. It has been a rewarding experience because in many cases, I have helped the students with their résumés, cover letters, interviews and even things like how to tie a tie.

I have also had several friends get promotions or move into new facilities in the last 30 days.

What continues to surprise me in both of these situations is that the management of the companies fail to understand the importance of the “little things.” Yes, salary is important, but what employees really want to know is what is their email address going to be, where will they be sitting, will they have an office, what kind of computer or tablet will they get, what day will they start?

A good friend of mine was recently promoted to a very senior executive role. While he has been at the company a long time, he doesn’t have an office in the building with the CEO (he will now report to the CEO). He had one request: “Can I have one of the vacant offices in the HQ building?” That was three weeks ago and as of yesterday, he still doesn’t know.

As business owners and CEOs, don’t forget, it is always little things that make employees happy and motivated. Take the time to ask your employees what little things they want. I think you’ll be surprised. FBN


T Paul Thomas teaches business and entrepreneurship at Northern Arizona University and serves as Chief Entrepreneur at the NACET Accelerator. Prior to joining NAU and NACET in 2013 Paul spent 25 years as a serial CEO and president. Paul can be reached at

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