Be a Good Product

Jul 27, 2023

A couple of weeks ago, I read a quote that has stuck with me. I researched it to find out where it originated and found several different versions. I didn’t find a definitive author, though Martin Luther is generally credited with a slightly differently worded quote. The quote? “The Christian does his duty not by putting little crosses on the product, but by making good products because God is interested in good craftsmanship.”

If you’ve been reading my thoughts for very long, you know that I’m a Christian, but this quote is valuable regardless of your religious affiliation. Let’s change out a few words and see how it sits. “A good person does their duty not by bragging about a product but by making good products because we are all interested in good craftsmanship.” Now that we’ve reframed it, I think it really becomes indefensible because who wouldn’t rather have a well-crafted product than junk? Now it’s time for the plot twist… the product we’ll be talking about in this week’s thoughts is us.

Over the years, I’ve had the occasional opportunity to speak with some junior high business classes about what it’s like in business. The teacher (who’s fantastic at her job) brings in several people from different careers to help students understand what’s on the horizon. One of the things I’m always asked to cover during my time is judging others. I start out by telling the class that I’m judging them, and they're judging me. We’ve all been doing it since the moment we walked into the room. We do it all the time every day, and quite frankly, it’s ok and even appropriate. We live in the greatest and most free country in the world. We can say and do controversial things and are well within our rights to do so. Unfortunately, what doesn’t come with those rights is a requirement of approval from everyone else. For instance, if I had arrived for my interview with Wes Spohr in shredded camo shorts and a cropped tank top (hope you enjoy that visual 😊), I would have been within my rights. Conversely, Wes would have been well within his rights to judge that I wasn’t the right candidate to represent Ag Partners Cooperative, Inc in my role.

Another example might be if an athlete chooses not to be disciplined in their diet and workout routines in the offseason and waits to put in the effort until the season. The player would be within his rights, but the team would also be within their rights to judge their actions and choose to go with another player. This pattern carries on throughout society with examples ranging from Chick-fil-A having the right to close on Sunday to honor their beliefs, but consumers having the right to attack them for it. Bud Light has the right to choose how they market their product, and consumers that disagree have the right to choose another option. Here’s the crux of the situation: Being a good product is determined through the eyes of the consumer. So, who’s the consumer? The simple answer is that it can be nearly anyone. Your family (most important), employer, friends, church, community, ANYONE!

It's my belief that nearly everyone wants to be a good product. It comes down to motivation. So where does the motivation come from? Great question! In my opinion, there are 2 basic types of communication, internal and external.

Let’s start with the most important motivation – the motivation inside of you. It provides the foundation for achieving whatever you want in your future. I remember multiple times throughout my career in which I would listen to a coworker explain how they don’t put in extra effort because that’s not their job. I’ve also listened to them complain about not being promoted. I’ve also seen great, and I’d like to provide a couple of examples.

The first example is a man named Darin Hunhoff. Darin is the Executive Vice President of Energy for CHS Inc. He started 14+ years ago with CHS (before it was CHS) as a local energy salesperson. I haven’t known him through the entire process, but I’ve been fortunate enough to observe and admire him for the past 9 years. From my vantage point looking up, he has been intentionally stamping his work with excellence and treating everyone with respect every step of his climb in the company. I’ve noticed that when the area he is leading wins, he gives the credit away. When things didn’t go quite right, he publicly owns it as his fault. The result has been a steady climb in a career that I believe he loves.

The 2nd person was pointed out to me by Curtis Stahel on the leadership team. When you arrive at our Axtel and Summit locations led by Paul Winkler, you’ll see the weeds managed, clean facilities, and a prideful workplace. He leads his team to autograph their work with intentional excellence, not to be noticed, but because internal motivation drives them to do good work.

While internal motivation is the most important, external motivation feels good, and quite frankly is the catalyst for future opportunity. Let’s take that apart. First, it is nice to have your efforts noticed and appreciated. I’m not talking about a giant celebration and trophy, but rather when someone tells you that they see the effort you are putting forth and that it is appreciated. It can’t be the only reason you do good work, but it certainly helps on tougher days. Next, it can serve as a catalyst. When the good work you are doing is recognized in front of others, you begin to be seen as the type of person who is ready to handle more.

I’ve been on both sides of the spectrum in my career. Early in my career, I was led by Brad Grecco in a couple of different positions. I was young and ambitious and the direct feedback from him, while not fun, served as the foundation for my career. There were times that I would grumble about not being recognized or considered for a new role. He would tell me (I’m paraphrasing) that anyone can be average, better is for the one who is exceptional on their own. He would also say (direct quote) “Anyone can bring a problem; leaders bring a solution. If you want more, show me what you can do, don’t bore me with what you can’t.” He provided me with feedback that I wasn’t doing the type of work that should be noticed, celebrated, and promoted. I’ve also been on the other side. During my time at CHS, I put in more than what was expected of me day in and day out. I worked when no one was watching, and through the Lord’s blessing, I was able to find success at each of my positions. I received the award as the top CES and the top District Manager of Lubricants (multiple times). Those honors put me on the radar for future opportunities, but that success and honor would not have come without my leaders' and peers' support and recognition, and I’m thankful for it.

That leads me to this week’s challenge… Wherever you are, whatever your role, BE A GOOD PRODUCT. If you work at a facility, be intentional about maintaining and operating exceptionally. Manage the weeds that are sure to come, whether the weed is a dirty office or an actual weed in the parking lot. If you drive a truck, be exceptional in your safety and cleanliness standards. If you’re in the office, be exceptional in your workspace organization and communication. Put yourself in a position for someone to provide you with compliments on the amazing work you do. I want this so much for you that I’m begging to be one of those people. If you are autographing your work with excellence, take a picture and shoot it to me in a message. I want to see your organized shop, clean truck, office, and bathroom (no selfies in the bathroom, please), maintained driveway, or clean workspace. I want to be a champion for you to be noticed. Share your good craftsmanship!