What the Song “Church Clothes” by @Lecrae Can Teach Us About Business

One of my favorite musical acts is Atlanta-based rapper, Lecrae. He produces music that challenges people’s pre-conceived notions about what it means to be Christian, a father, a man, successful, a varetiy of things. However, that’s not what makes him wildly popular—it’s because the music is really good—the fact that it could influence a person in a positive direction, comes as a bonus.

A song from a few years ago, “Church Clothes,” is written from the perspective that basically hits on the things that non-Christians levy against the church as reasons for why they don’t believe or reasons why they don’t come to church. It’s catchy, but the message definitely drives home some of the hypocrisy in the church and how it does a lot of the work of driving people away from God, because of things that they do as His representatives.

Looking beyond the message of the song, I believe that there’s some lessons that can be applied to developing a successful organization. It really boils down to taking ourselves out of our own perspective as the business owner and looking at our business from the perspective of someone that’s coming to your business for the first time.

A while back I had a great conversation on the phone, catching up with one of our community leaders here in Brandon. She recently left her previous position to start a new venture here in the Brandon area for the same organization. New startups, even if they’re part of established organizations are always fun, especially if it goes in a different direction from where the organization traditionally heads in. It’s almost like being out there on the frontier or the wild, wild west. It’s a lot of fun and scary at the same time. If you’ve ever started a business or pioneered a new division, you know what I’m talking about. It forces you to step out of your comfort zone and do things you’ve probably never done before.

During our conversation she mentioned how, even though she’s starting this new adventure, she was still working out of the same office and that it was a little weird seeing all the same people, but not really being involved in what they were doing. She works in a membership based organization and there’s direct interaction with the members going on in the building every day. Not being part of the program, she said, was different — but not a bad thing. While she told me that it dawned on me what a great opportunity for her that was. She, for the first time in years, had the opportunity to look at the organization she had been working in for years from the outside — in just the same way as someone that’s brand new would. Over the years, we’ve come to call that in the martial arts industry, stepping outside of your “black belt eyes.”

The problem with Black Belt Eyes is that we have been initiated into every aspect of our martial art through years of training, hard work, and indoctrination. Not everyone has that same knowledge, especially those that are brand new to your program or are prospective students. You look at the martial arts with the eyes of someone with a passion for the martial arts and in many cases there are things that you do in your program (and me too) that you don’t question because that’s the way you’ve done them for years and already understand the reasoning for it. New people don’t have that luxury.

This even spills over to our concept of marketing. As John Graden, one of the early champions of the concept of getting out of “black belt eyes” put it:

When Black Belt Eyes see an ad with a jump side kick, they are drawn to the most important aspect of the ad for black belts. It’s not the headline, the copy, or the offer. Black Belt Eyes will check to make sure the kid has his foot bladed and the other foot is tucked. That’s not a bad thing. It reflects your standards as a black belt. But if you choose not to run that ad because you don’t do jump kicks, then your Black Belt Eyes may have cost you 40 to 60 phone calls which should have converted to 20 to 30 new students.

When your prospect views your ad, they don’t care really about any of the details of the ad (color of the uniform, if the technique is perfect). What matters to their Market Eyes is, of course, What Can You Do For Me?

So, what can we do about this? How do we keep that others first mentality? How do we keep our eyes focused on the experience of the new client (and in turn, I believe, this will improve the overall experience of new people). Below, I’ve outlined a few ideas I use to try and keep those concepts at the front of my mind.

1. Ask Hard Questions of Yourself.

“Logic is the Beginning of Wisdom, Not the End.” — Spock, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

The first step in any evaluation is to start with yourself. Ultimately, you have the most power over yourself to make changes. Evaluate your daily habits, how you speak, how you write, what your introductions to people are like. Everything. Always asking yourself, “How does this look to someone that doesn’t know about martial arts?” My wife has sometimes pointed out to me that I come off as though I’m dismissive of people, when that’s not actually the case, I’m just very busy. However, the people I interact with don’t know that. Even the people that know me best could feel slighted or less than valued, when I’m just lost in the thoughts of going through my day and all the plates I have spinning at any one time.

You have to take a look at what you’re doing and if necessary change it. Is your conversations laced with techno babble? Speaking to prospects about katas, or hyungs, or any other terms that only other martial artists would know is sometimes a turn off as well. There are many different things that you can examine about yourself, but the real point is to be HONEST and change what needs to be changed. Don’t let your martial arts cloud the point your trying to convey if the details of it are strictly relevant. Learn to project and explain in a way that they will relate to.

2. Ask For Help from those you trust.

“He who is afraid of asking, is afraid of learning.” — Danish Proverb

Even harder than asking yourself the hard questions and being honest with yourself is asking someone else to evaluate your program. I know, it can be hard to hear someone criticize your program even in a constructive way. I sometimes feel myself become defensive because I’ve poured so much of myself and my effort into my program. However, if you’re like me, then that’s exactly the reason you should be asking for someone’s help in evaluating your program, processes, and systems.

In one of the articles I read of John Graden’s before writing this one, he explains our lack of objectivity, relating it back to an advertisement:

A Black Belt Eyes ad will have someone getting kicked in the head. The owner knows that one of life’s simple pleasures is wrapping your foot around someone’s head with a hook or round kick. The readers, however, with their Market Eyes, may translate that image into what will happen to them at that school. They can’t even imagine getting their leg up that high, so they are not identifying with the kicker.

Asking for help, however, is a tricky process. You can do many things, but the biggest danger you could run into is having it turn into a XYZ Karate bashing fest. The best thing to do is keep it positive and steer the conversation in the right direction. Then, really listen. If your close ones that you’re asking for help from are worried about you becoming defensive, then you’ll never get anythign that is useful.

When I mentioned this topic on Facebook, one instructor from a martial arts school in Maine wrote that his “significant other” double checks him. This is often a very good way to go. I remember having a conversation with my wife a few weeks ago in which she informed me that our martial arts school, of all the places that she goes, was the most “unfriendly” to her bringing our twin toddlers with her. Not that anyone’s rude to them, we love kids around here, but because there was no place for them to be other than in the lobby which made it VERY difficult for her to participate in the iLoveKickboxing classes we have here. My wife represents a prime demographic we are trying to reach with that program — young mothers with children. In a community like ours, there’s a lot of them that have small kids that are too young to participate in any of our classes, yet (we typically don’t start kids until 4 years old). At first I was defensive (not with her, in my chest I could feel the adrenaline pumping, like I was a bear protecting a cub). However, once I pushed that down, you know what I realized? She was right! (She often is, don’t tell her I said that.)

Now, the process from there is what to do with that information? In the case of the exchange with my wife, do we create a “kid’s club” for toddlers? I’m not interested in making one that’s available to kids older than 3, because we want those kids enrolled and taking class if they’re here. In any case, I don’t have a solution for that problem (opportunity!) yet. However, the very fact that I am aware of it now is worth gold to me because I can overcome it as an obstacle.

3. Use Survey’s and After Action Reports at Every Level.

As a physician, I understand how important it is to collect data on people so we can understand what’s happening with them. I will be in the position to help enable that knowledge.
- Laurel Clark

One of the most brilliant martial arts schools I’ve had the chance to observe uses these to gather valuable data about the experience each one of their clients is having. When I say they use them, I mean they use them multiple time per year with each category of students, including students coming to the end of their 30-Day Trial Program. Then, unlike some schools I’ve seen, they actually compile the data and use it to notice trends and make plans or adjustments to the way they operate their programs. The sheer volume of data they’ve managed to accumulate with regards to customer service, teaching methods, satisfaction, understanding why people quit, why people enroll, allows them to make decisions based upon real information instead of their best guess. This eliminates a lot of the fog that sometimes can be created with black belt eyes. If this is what large companies do, then it’s probably a good idea for us to do it as well.

In the case of survey’s, the structure matters. You want to structure it in such a way that you get useful data. Like asking for help, if you go about it wrong, it can turn into a XYZ Karate bashing event. Which is not what you want because like using negative language in the classroom, that rarely encourages you or tells you how to adjust and make changes.

After-Action reports are small recaps of events and/or daily operations performed by the staff. Sometimes this can include customer data, but for the most part it’s from the perspective of the staff and even the owner. Some of the biggest questions that are answered by after-action reports are:

  • Was it successful? (By what criteria?)
  • What went well?
  • What went wrong?
  • What can be done better?
  • What can be eliminated?
  • What should be added?
  • What were some specific comment feedback from clients?

After-Action reports are important in getting rid of the black belt eyes, because you WANT to come up with things that can be improved. So, like being honest with yourself, this is an exercise of setting aside your views on the way things should be and dealing with the way things are. It’s also important to complete these, even if you are a one man operation, because the next time you go to do an event or something similar you’ll have data that was gathered fresh about what you guys thought of it ready for you to use.

4. Develop Specific Systems that Deal with the Perspective of New Students and Prospects Clearly

If your thinking is sloppy, your business will be sloppy. If you are disorganized, your business will be disorganized. If you are greedy, your employees will be greedy, giving you less and less of themselves and always asking for more.
- Michael Gerber

If I had to make a prediction, one of the main reasons people fail to get outside their black belt eyes is because it is simply too much work. The previous three bullets could take you hours, days, maybe even weeks to complete and even longer to make all the changes or improvements that result from it. Then, once a new line of thinking emerges that’s a little bit more in line with Market Eyes, it has to be implemented and a new habit of that thinking emerges. When you’re in your school everyday, I understand how tired and burnt out you can get. I feel it, too.

However, developing a system — a standard operating procedure — that leads potential clients, new students, and even veteran members through the client fulfillment process will greatly improve your ability to avoid black belt eyes and be able to connect greater with your clients and prospective clients because they will be happier and more successful in your program. Clearly defined parameters and objectives coupled with step-by-step process will help you avoid most of the pitfalls of your black belt eyes. On Facebook, one school owner said:

The first thing you want to do is make sure your staff has a specific dialogue for teaching that includes what beginners need to know so it’s not overlooked. This is a way to be sure that it’s not missed.

We want to be specific and clear at every step. Sure, there are going to be people that are only half listening and not reading the stuff you produce, however you can reduce the confusion and let people know exactly what they need to do, what you’re doing for them, and how to find you.

5. Train on Your Systems Often and Consistently.

Good acting is consistency of performance.
Jim Dale

This point could be part of the previous section, however, I wanted to place emphasis on being consistent with the implementation of whatever policies or procedures you have. If you just produce a set of policies and procedures and then set them on the front desk. They’ll never get followed. You have to train and train and train on them. Not just so that it becomes less like an awkward high school production of Annie, but so that your staff has confidence in what they’re doing and feel empowered to actually handle client and prospect events instead of running to you every five seconds for the answer.

It also creates accountability. If you’ve trained on the procedures, you can expect (demand?) that your team follows the procedures because you’ve given them all the tools they need to succeed. If they fail, it’s because of one of three things. 1) The disregarded your procedure/training, 2) The procedure doesn’t work the way you intended, 3) you didn’t give them a procedure or you didn’t train well enough on the procedures. As one instructor put it:

Teaching my leadership team the basics of teaching and business skills helps me see where my blinders are. When they skip steps and leave a new student staring blankly at them, I realize where *I* skipped steps in teaching them to explain it.

Ultimately, you have to accept responsibility that every thing that happens in your school is probably your fault. When your team is successful and creates excited and motivated students, you should praise THEM for their hard work and dedication. When they screw up and someone’s unhappy, you should be looking for where you messed up in the creation of the system. Yes, sometimes the person executing the system is the problem, but that’s still your fault because wasn’t it the management that hired that person in the first place?

6. Love Your Clients

Love can obscure a lot of problems. When you really, genuinely, care for the people that are your clients you will be able to overcome a lot of hurtles when for whatever reason your systems fail and you overlook the goal, we are human afterall.

I’m mostly interested in preventing mistakes, but they do happen. In those instances how you apologize and how you fix it will also tell your new clients or ones that have been with you for a while what you’re really all about.

Great music challenges you, “Church Clothes” by Lecrae is one that beyond the surface message helped me take it to a deeper level and apply to my own world. Give the song a listen, because it’s pretty darn catchy!

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