First Applicant of Smile Transfer Protocol
Act 1: Sure Jobs Suck But How Much?
In 2006 I scored a job as on-site manager for a new service company at Regina International Airport.
The janitorial contract won by my new employer was based on reducing costs.
You know, union dismantling, etc.
To somewhat placate ex-union janitors, all are offered lower pay and fewer benefits to swing the same mop.
Understandably, they are not happy and 50% immediately tell me and the new company to fly a kite.
The remaining 50% elect to stay even though they’re not eager about “pitching in.” I don’t blame them. Reducing expectations is tough.
On top of this dilemma I completely forgot that airports are high security where having fun is frowned upon and nearly illegal.
This was gonna work just dandy.
Act 2: All Stand For The Lord Of Entitlement
At the first staff meeting every previously union arm was crossed.
Legs: crossed. Eyes: crossed. Them: CROSS!
The ten fresh fish had no idea what was going on even though the air is thick with pending disaster.
I worked carefully to be extra respectful as a new manager, aware of this situation’s tension and life’s unfairness.
But, we have an airport to clean and by lawdy, clean it we shall!
Fresh uniforms from the company for everyone. Brand new mops and equipment and 50% new feesh in the sharky-shark tank.
What could possibly go wrong…?
Act 3: Captains Leave The Sheep Last
Within a week, a new ride-on floor scrubber was damaged. Somehow it destroyed a display case.
Supplies evaporated. Absenteeism increased.
Reprimands, the part of management I despised having to do – also increased significantly.
Airport security constantly nabbed me absentmindedly sauntering through “international territory” with my jackknife because cleaning the secure and non secure sides of the airport meant saying howdy to security types several times a day.
This wonky, intense working environment led to two harassment complaints in two months from female staff against airport security.
Two morale dampening multi-week investigations.
Tardiness, sloppiness and time theft abounded. Poor service complaints were way up.
Dispense more tough love, my boss advised.
Maybe he was right. After all, he is the boss.
Maybe kindness isn’t motivating. Maybe I need to stop being human…
Act 4: A Bottle Spins The Person
Exhausted and at the end of my rope, I drown my sorrows while musing over how happy new employees are.
They smile. They laugh. They are engaged and work diligently… until they stop smiling and start turning.
But in the beginning they smile.
What causes those early smiles? What are smiles? Can they be recreated?
The very next morning I gave it a try… IT WORKED!
Whenever I laid a big ‘ol Duchenne smile on folks, they smiled back! It was incredible!
Except for a couple of weiners, everyone returned my smile and quite a few people even glanced back to see what was up with me?
Was this a Just For Laughs episode being recorded or something?
I realized instantly that I had lucked onto an intellectual tool that:
1. Costs nothing
2. Is ubiquitous
3. Is simple to employ
4. Has instant, dramatic, positive effects
I giggled like a little school girl all the way back to my office (and forced a few more smiles out of folks) because this day I knew I had stumbled onto something huge. HUGE!
Act 5: SMILE Dagnabbit!
Later that evening, between the fifth and sixth beers of a nine beer series, I located the name for STP.
Airports love acronyms and STP Smile Transfer Protocol seemed like a perfect fit.
Perfect because STP would allow my staff to focus on CLEARING their space rather than simply cleaning it. By clearing we would aim at positively influencing individual attitudes which I hoped would make our jobs easier.
If our customers felt better about themselves and our facility, maybe that paper ball would hit the trash can or perhaps their shoes would get an extra wipe on the entrance mat and maybe, just maybe that friggin’ toilet would get flushed!
Clear the air and the dirt will follow! was my mantra.
Now, all I needed was a simple program for creating, tracking and rewarding the number of smiles generated and that I found at the bottom of brown bottle number nine. 😎
Act 6: The Difference Between Smirks And Smiles
I excitedly introduced Smile Transfer Protocol to all twenty employees at our next staff meeting.
A large, colorful chart on the wall displayed the program title and places for process participants names and smile counts.
This is how STP worked:
1. Participation was voluntary. (fake smiles okay but imagine forced…)
2. Participants would smile at strangers and count one smile for every smile returned to them.
3. Counting and listing smiles would be on the honor system. Smile total generated by each person listed on our chart daily.
4. Employee generating most smiles over one week wins dinner for two at a restaurant not starting with Mc.
I informed them about the Duchenne smile and how to genuinely fake it. A couple of employees automatically smiled and seemed intrigued.
Then I did something which later proved critical to the instant recognition of STP’s capacity: I set a SMILE BOUNTY on the airport CEO’s head.
On our chart I hung CEO Rob Slinger’s picture and opened a season on him.
This guy is a tough nut to crack, I told them. Every smile from Mister Bitter will add TEN SMILES to your total.
Just saying that created a couple more smiles. Even a disgruntled grinned. I was loving this already!
Of course there were naysayers. They were the majority, judging from the tightly crossed arms and frequent snickers.
Act 7: Miles Of Smiles And A Few Beguiles
STP really created a rift.
Some employees weren’t buying it. They became more flippant than usual, coming in late and dogging it.
Day 1 & 2: Four out of ten participating employees record smiles on our Smile Tally.
Day 3: I notice one of my “clearers” encouraging 80 Japanese tourists to smile as she took their photo. Clocked doing 80 on the concourse! Wow!
That employee’s big score rocked more smilers off their frownies.
Is that fair? That many smiles at once…?!
Day 4: Mid morning the Airport CEO contacted me to ask what the hell was going on? Several cleaners smiled at him this morning and said hello. That’s never happened before.
We better not be dispensing happy powder or anything…
Nope. I explain the STP contest to him. Dude laughs and says Good Show! Keep it up and let me know who wins.
Day 5: Nine out of ten cleaners now recording smiles generated. A few remembered retro.
Received a call from an Air Canada manager wondering what’s up. Her staff are commenting on janitor attitudes.
Many positive verbal and email comments from airport service companies and managers. Even if not every one of my staff is happier, the people they spend all day talking to seem to be.
Day 6: Weekend shift staff catch fire and one generates over 100 single smiles in a day. Emails were sent to me about her joyful attitude. Awesome!
Day 7: At program end nearly 2000 smiles recorded as being generated by my CLEARING staff.
Epilogue: Play It Again Sam
The happy winner of the world’s first Smile Transfer Protocol program loved her dinner out and all ten participants cheered for her success and the outcome they had generated.
The CEO of the airport was so happy with the positive effect on airport morale that he emailed congratulations to my boss and his boss.
Smile Transfer Protocol had the potential to generate hundreds of thousands of smiles every year in our small airport and the effect of those smiles could be measured not only in dollars and cents, but in the enhanced quality of life for those affected.
STP proved in its humble way that smiling is contagious and oh, so powerful.
It’s waay too powerful to be ignored because happy people create happy people and HAPPY PEOPLE CREATE.
Someone around you is waiting to catch happy right now so why not slap a little STP on them?
You’ll both be glad you did!
Thank you, friend.
Photo: We taught our son Brett how to fake smile when he was a year old and people would be blown away whenever he pulled it.
FAKE SMILE! I’d say to Brett, while someone was holding him the baby, and he would grin as if he had teeth. So damn cute!!
In this photo he is two and one-half years old and I caught him “washing stuff” and said FAKE SMILE! – this is what he did…
Don’t tell me shit don’t work.