A few years ago, while walking through the Knoxville airport, I was enthusiastically greeted by a young man. He was working at a newly opened Quiznos. While it was a bit early for lunch, the young man had an effervescent personality so I engaged with him. He asked for my name and introduced himself as Denzel, a “sandwich artists”. Because it was so early, I had no intention of ordering a sandwich and told Denzel that. He countered with, “Mr Richardson, have you ever eaten a sandwich masterfully created by a sandwich artist?” I admitted that I had not. Then he said, “Mr. Richardson, you have to eat sometime you might as well eat the best!” Then he assured me that he’d make the best sandwich I had ever eaten! You probably guessed the rest. I not only ordered a sandwich but also a cookie, bag of chips and a drink (heck I may have bought a car from him!). His service was exemplary; he was a master of upselling; and he created a need. His exceptional service skills, wit, and professionalism truly made him an artist. After our short interaction, Denzel thanked me for letting him create a masterpiece for me and he told me to make sure to drop by the next time I was at the airport. Wow, this from a nineteen year-old fast food employee who viewed his job as much more important than most in his position. I told Denzel that I was a keynote speaker and that I wanted to talk about him in my speech that week.
On my next trip a week or two later, I stopped by Quiznos to tell the manager on duty about my experience with Denzel. As I related my story, the manager seemed almost sullen. Then she told me that one of their regular customers had noticed Denzel’s great attitude and work ethic and offered Denzel a new job. I learned that the staff there missed Denzel and his artistry. I shared this story many times emphasizing how having the right attitude and taking pride in your work creates opportunities for career advancement and how empowering employees to add their uniqueness to their work pays huge dividends. Every time I told the story, I wondered how things had turned out for Denzel.
Last week, in route to get a haircut, I walked past a U.S. Cellular retail store. As a customer approached the entrance, I heard a familiar voice say. “Good morning and welcome to U.S. Cellular.” There was Denzel armed with his contagious attitude and his million dollar smile. I delayed my haircut a few minutes and talked with Denzel. He confirmed that he had indeed been hired away because of his attitude and work ethic, attributes that earned him a 40% pay increase, a job with benefits, and a promising new career that he loves. He seemed to be putting the same great attitude and work ethic into his new job. I wonder how much better our work places would be if we populated them with employees who exhibited the skills that Denzel did.