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Labor Day, Smiles, and Flies

MichelleJonesHS

Merriam-Webster provides several definitions for the word “labor,” including “the services performed by workers for wages as distinguished from those rendered by entrepreneurs for profits,” and “an economic group comprising those who do manual labor or work for wages.”

As Labor Day approaches in the U.S., I think of the workers in our society and especially frontline staff. Restaurant servers, hotel housekeepers, flight attendants, valet drivers, bellmen, ticket takers, toll booth workers—these are all folks I encounter in my work and in my personal life. They work hard, often for less-than-great wages, and some rely on tips. These workers usually go unnoticed—they’re part of the scenery—until we have an emotional reaction, whether negative or positive.

We definitely remember when we have a negative experience. Like when the gate agent changes your seat assignment even though you paid for a window seat wingfront. The reason given is that it’s a small aircraft and they have to evenly distribute the weight. There is no apology for the inconvenience or offer to refund the seat assignment charge. That can leave a bad taste in your mouth for flying in general but particularly for that air carrier, right?

Similarly, we also remember when we have an excellent customer service experience. The frazzled and overwhelmed restaurant hostess who seats your party of five in a better table because she remembers you from lunch earlier in the day. The shopkeeper who strikes up a conversation with you because she can tell you’re not from the area and she wants to be sure you feel welcome in her city.

It’s easy to have the attitude, “Well that’s their job; they are in customer service.” Yes, of course it would be wonderful if all frontline workers were cheery at all times. They may not realize just how much their demeanor can affect the perception of the company by the end user.

But it is our responsibility as customers to realize these are hard workers who deserve respect, kindness, and patience. The old saying that you attract more flies with honey than with vinegar is true and goes both ways. A smile and kind word can go a long way to better someone’s day. (For the record, I never understood why anyone wanted to attract flies, but I digress…)

So as Labor Day plans likely include travel, eating out, and gathering with friends and family, be sure to be kind to those who are working on the long weekend.

Why Are Manhole Covers Round?

Casey Jones 4x5 (2)

Why are manhole covers round? This question and many others make a list of the 100 most ridiculous job interview questions ever. Here are a few of my other favorites:

  • If you were a box of cereal what would you be and why?
  • Who would win in a fight between Spiderman and Batman?
  • If there were a movie produced about your life, who would play you, and why?

A quick Google search reveals many such lists offering hundreds of equally ridiculous interview questions from all kinds of companies, not just the quirky ones that seem to thrive on being viewed as weird.

I stumbled onto these lists after a friend let me know that she was preparing for a job interview and asked for help. My first instinct was to find some questions she might be asked and help her prepare the best answers. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that cramming for the interview by anticipating questions was not the best way to prepare.

The most important question to answer is whether we really want the job at all. This may seem like an altogether too obvious first step but to answer this question, one must do some soul searching and understand the job inside and out. There’s a big difference between running away from a job and running to one, and we should know in our hearts that we really want the job. Being desperate to leave a position clouds our objectivity and judgment and may create blind spots regarding a prospective employer. Worse yet, we might say things we don’t mean or embellish on our experience, creating expectations we may not be able to meet.

We should also seek to understand the value system of the people we’ll be working for and with and whether our values and theirs are compatible. This means doing our homework about the team we might be joining and preparing before the interview so we can have ready pertinent questions that will shed light on what environment we’ll be walking into.

It’s also critical to ask ourselves if the job we are seeking is one we are only willing to lease or one we want to own. Leasing suggests that we view our job as temporary while owning our career conveys an entirely different level of commitment. And if our prospective job is one we only see ourselves keeping for a few years while looking for another, better position, we should probably be looking elsewhere.

Once we’ve answered these fundamental questions, it’s time to turn our attention to what we bring to the new job. We need to be prepared to answer how we are uniquely qualified for the position and have facts to back this claim. We should objectively demonstrate how we’ve produced results, whether in overcoming challenges, creating positive outcomes, or leading innovation that has helped reach broad company or organizational goals.

The pursuit of a new career, position, or promotion requires intense circumspection, self-awareness, and preparation. No quirky quiz will ensure that you and your new job are a great fit.

Incidentally and maybe obvious to most is that manhole covers are round instead of square because a round cover won’t fall through the hole. Oh, and I’m picking Batman over Spiderman but please don’t ask why.

We Challenge You: Park Your Park

Rachel_Yoka 2013

We know parking isn’t just about cars—it’s all about people, mobility, and transportation systems that work together to build community. Who knows better how to transform a parking space than the leading organization of parking professionals?

From a one “park” in 2005 to nearly 1,000 tiny parks around the world in 2011, Park(ing) Day has grown by leaps and bounds. An annual worldwide event in which artists, designers, and citizens get creative, this movement takes metered parking spots and turns them into temporary parks. Many cities even host their own Park(ing) Days, including Denver and Philadelphia. This year’s one-day celebration of tiny, temporary parks in parking spaces will be the best yet because this time, it’s your turn.

IPI is throwing down the gauntlet to parking professionals to participate in Park(ing) Day.  Here’s how.

  1. Go do your homework at parkingday.org and sign up.
  2. Let us you know you plan to participate by sending an email to yoka@parking.org.
  3. On Park(ing) Day, post your best photos to IPI’s Facebook Page (facebook.com/IPI.InternationalParkingInstitute) with the hashtag #IPIParkingDay.
  4. Use all your social media channels to get the word out, and have a little (or a lot of) fun with it.

The winning team will receive their own Parking Matters® swag bag and, of course, bragging (and blogging) rights. I, for one, cannot wait to see what you crafty parking professionals come up with.

Pay It Forward

Brett Wood

I’m not sure how many of you use Flipboard on your tablet or smartphone, but it’s an amazing source of all kinds of news for any subject you are interested in. For me, it’s all about college football, urban planning, travel, and, of course, parking. The parking news page is everything you could hope for, including industry news, information about municipal/university parking challenges, innovations in parking, etc. Of course, there are always articles and slideshows about how badly people park. That’s my secret obsession—seeing how badly people behave in parking lots and the awesome reactions of their colleagues and neighbors. Seriously, Google “bad parking.” It might not get any better than that.

But the other day, I ran across a great story about humanity in the form of parking tickets. Recently in Australia, a new mother spent several days in the hospital with her sick 9-month old baby. When the child was released, the mother returned to her car to find a parking ticket on her car. But instead of the normal information, she found a note that read:

Hi there, I saw your car had a parking ticket on it. Im sure whatever you are going
through at the hospital is tough enough, so Ive paid it for you. Hope things get better!

You often hear of this concept in other forms: parking meter angels feeding coins into a meter to pay for an expiring transaction; someone buying the food or coffee of the person behind them in a drive-thru line. But this was one of the first times I had heard of someone taking care of a ticket while it still sat on the car. The concept seemed extremely generous and really served to make the new mother’s day a little brighter.

It also got me thinking about the policies and practices of our parking enforcement staffs and decision makers. Why should the new mother have received the ticket in the first place? Well, I’m sure the enforcement program at the hospital was put in place to manage demand and ensure a seamless customer experience. But was there appropriate signage or navigation to show the new mother where to park or how to pay? When the system was designed, did the decision-makers think about how distraught a patient might be upon arrival or that parking might be a very distant afterthought? Were hospital employees instructed to inform the patient about parking policy when they arrived?

Many of these customer service amenities might help to make the parking experience better and alleviate the need to write the ticket in the first place. While the mystery patron was very noble in their payment of the citation, the hospital could also pay it forward by making the parking experience a little easier.

The Three Rs

Bonnie Watts

 

“Every human being has to feel a part of a tribe. It’s programmed into us. And you have to feel that you’re contributing to something.” – Steven Hatfill

I recently attended an education training event, not much different than IPI members attending an annual conference. The overall theme of this event was “Engaging Your Tribe and Unleashing Human Potential.” “Tribe” was defined in many ways depending on your environment and we all interact with many tribes on a daily basis; our family, friends, community, work, and professional life. Often these tribes collide or overlap and we don’t nurture some as much as others. I am surrounded by friends and colleagues who work hard and are continually trying to balance their careers and their personal lives, but often one is sacrificed for the other and the effects become disengagement and general frustration at not being enough to everyone.

More and more, we are all attached to a number of mobile devices because we can’t be disconnected for too long from the barrage of emails, messages, phone calls, and requests that come from any one of our tribes. Finding hotspots or a charging outlet is just as important as finding good parking (I know our parking professionals can relate to that!). The more we respond, the more the demand for response. It becomes a vicious cycle that can lead to burnout and exhaustion. Our tribes then begin to feel we’re less engaged or less enthusiastic and the once super-star employee isn’t performing quite the same or the family isn’t getting as much face time and ultimately, we feel less passionate about any one or all of those areas.

“Unleashing Human Potential” was intriguing to me. It explored the thought that perhaps events (much like the IPI Conference & Expo) can unleash human potential both professionally and personally. That was even more intriguing to me! So I sat on the edge of my seat to find out: How do you do that? The presenter suggested that people want to connect with others who have the same passions, interests, and struggles and that with positive emotional experiences, people take risks and get outside their comfort zones. Creating a vibe of caring enables growth and creativity and allows for the [employee, partner, colleague, child] to contribute to the fullest. I was frantically taking notes and as I sat there, I realized I had an “Ah-ha” moment. Aren’t those the best?

For myself and my various tribes, I could see how there was a need for re-igniting human potential. That perhaps we aren’t always operating at our best and contributing at our fullest because we individually had not taken the time to Rest, Recharge, and Reconnect with our passions. With the constant demands on our time from all directions, is it possible that we are not giving our undivided attention to the things we are most passionate about? And what would happen if we did? What if you put away the phone during your son’s baseball game or left the laptop at home when you went on vacation with the family or took a day off just to work on building a deck or gave your time at the homeless shelter? Maybe you have pet day at the office or bring your son/daughter to work or an office baseball outing or cookout to reconnect on a personal level?

I came back from this meeting with a whole new outlook. I feel refreshed, recharged, and refocused but most importantly, I’m reprioritizing! I’m encouraging it with others around me. I’m already feeling more creative and more connected to my tribes.

Greetings From Old Orchard Beach Maine!

Bill_Smith_Jan.2015

I’m sitting on the beach with a suitably fruity drink in my hand. Yes, that’s Jimmy Buffett playing in the background. It’s nice to have a little stress-free time, isn’t it?

We all look forward to vacation so we can strip some of the stress from our lives, but it seems to me that we cause a lot of our own stress unnecessarily. One of the ways we do this is to chase every bit of work that presents itself. You’ve all been there: staying at the office late to finish a proposal for work that you aren’t even sure you want to win. Work isn’t always going to be fun (that’s why it’s called work, right?), but we shouldn’t be setting ourselves up for failure by pursuing projects that we don’t want to do or pitching people with whom we don’t want to work.

All too often, though, that’s exactly what we do. At many organizations, the mantra is “any work is good work.”

Rather than pursuing every opportunity that presents itself, parking organizations should seek clients, customers, and strategic partners they want to work with. The best connections are with organizations that share your values. The best customers value what you do and what you stand for—and, by the way, they are more willing to pay a premium for it.

How do you find these ideal customers? Part of the challenge is truly understanding the markets you serve and where the best clients can be found, and then directing your marketing—your personal outreach and networking, public relations, advertising, online marketing, etc.—to those targets, and other organizations like them.

Also, tell your story in your marketing. Who are you? Why do you do what you do? What sets you and your people apart? When you convey these types of messages, you will naturally attract the types of organizations with which you want to work. They will seek you out.

Connecting with the right customers (not just any customer) will dramatically improve your organization. Your organization will be more successful, your customer interactions will be more pleasant, and your stress level (and your staffs’) will drop significantly. It makes work a day at the beach.

International Towing and Recovery Museum

Isaiah Mouw

Oklahoma City may boast about being home of the world’s first parking meter, but it was my hometown of Chattanooga, Tenn., that gave birth to the tow truck. I didn’t know this tidbit of information before visiting the International Towing and Recovery Museum on a lazy Sunday afternoon. The museum was a pleasant surprise with lots of antique tow vehicles and other unique tow vehicles including the “World’s Fastest Wrecker” and an actual military wrecker that marched alongside Patton’s advance on Germany.mouwblog

Towing goes hand-in-hand with most parking operations and typically is associated with a negative experience or connotation. It’s easy to yell at a tow truck driver or tow yard employee (remember ESPN’s Britt McHenry) who has towed your vehicle, but that might change for a visitor to the Towing Memorial in the front of the museum which recognizes hundreds of towing professionals who lost their lives on the job helping others. A short section of the museum also remembers the tow drivers who worked round the clock during 9/11 to clear debris and vehicles helping rescue workers at Ground Zero.

The museum also had a lot of kid-friendly tow trucks along with several replicas of the most famous children’s tow truck celebrity: Mater from Pixar’s “Cars” movie. I love visiting unique or quirky museums when I travel and this was no exception. But most importantly, this may have inspired me to start the first ever International Parking Museum. If there’s a museum for barbed wire and a museum for toilets, why can’t there be one for parking.

Enhancing Pedestrian Safety in Parking Environments

L. Dennis Burns

We have all heard of the serious concerns related to distracted driving, but it turns out that this level of distraction also applies to pedestrians. Promoting pedestrian safety in parking environments (parking lots, garages, and vehicular drop-off areas) is one of the primary goals of parking professionals, planners, and property managers, and with good reason. Studies show that as many as one in four pedestrian-related accidents occur in parking lots. Of these, about 20 percent result in severe injury or death. With such a large number of accidents occurring in parking areas, doing everything possible to promote safety in these locations has become a top priority of responsible agencies across the nation.
Burns1

Fortunately, many communities have taken effective steps to reduce the number of local parking lot accidents. One excellent example is Montgomery County, Md., which has conducted an active campaign of this type since 2010. The program was a Best of 2014 winner in IPI’s Parking Matters® Marketing & Communications Awards. You can read more and download some of their collateral materials here. Some of the measures implemented in the county include the following:

  • Placing safety awareness messages in high-traffic areas such as grocery stores, apartment complexes, and on city busses.
  • Showing public service trailers in movie theaters prior to motion pictures.
  • Holding press conferences and other media events to highlight the importance of parking lot pedestrian safety.
  • Conducting focus groups with segments of the population, such as seniors, who are at especially high risk for parking lot-related accidents.

Burns2One statistic from the Montgomery County report that stood out is that 13 percent of parking-related accidents involved vehicles entering or exiting parking facilities.

One of the best programs that I have seen across the country when it comes to addressing this issues is the Capital City Development Corporation (CCDC) in Boise, Idaho.

CCDC currently employees several effective tools to mitigate potential pedestrian safety concerns primarily focused on vehicular exits from parking facilities. At many of these garage egress points, exiting vehicles must cross pedestrian sidewalks.

For garage exit lanes that cross active sidewalks, the following practices are employed:

  • Caution Car Coming Electronic Signage
  • Audible Alarms
  • Signage and Alarm Activation Systems
  • Convex Mirrors
  • Transitional Lighting

Have you undertaken a critical review of pedestrian safety issues for your program lately? If not, I encourage you to do so. I am happy to share resources and reference materials upon request.

 

Group Listening

cropped2014

Research can really help guide decision-making. You may have done some formal or informal marketing research for your organization. Easy access to SurveyMonkey and other online surveying tools have made polls a snap, though I feel strongly that without the assist of a bona fide marketing research expert, questions can be poorly worded or worded to invite bias and result in useless or erroneous results (but that’s a post for another day).

Years ago, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) was a client of mine when I worked for the Washington, D.C. advertising/public relations agency Henry J. Kaufman & Associates.Sullivan post graphic

My wonderful FTC client liaison, Nancy Sachs, and I became good friends during a stretch of years when we developed public service announcements to help educate consumers about everything from the FTC’s Funeral Rule to buying used cars. Before each campaign, we did marketing research that included conducting focus groups with eight to 12 people.

These two-hour sessions were carefully moderated by a professional marketing researcher and recorded. Focus group rooms are generally equipped with two-way mirrors so ad agency personnel can watch without becoming a distraction (with full disclosure, of course).

What great entertainment–and so enlightening– to hear people express their feelings on a topic that matters to you or your cause.

Here’s the point: Listening—not just reading results, but really listening–is very valuable when it comes to customers and others you want to reach or serve.

What made me think of this today? I am sitting at gate C in Terminal A at Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C. I’m at an eatery that features at each station an iPad with menu, a plug to charge my phone, and a credit card swipe. From this vantage point I can see my gate which is only about 40 feet away. There must be at least 60 of these stations in this central gate area and travelers are digging it! I charged my phone, ordered breakfast, watched CNN, swiped my credit card to pay, collected a receipt, and was on my way.

Someone did some really good thinking to develop this system and my guess is some good focus-grouping was part of it.

What would bringing together a group of your community, customers, tenants, patrons, students, faculty, staff, or other stakeholders do for your organization?

Is it Really a Garage?

David Hill

Today, I am thinking about my garage.

It is a quite a nice garage: It’s a double-car, concrete slab, heated, insulated facility. There is a nice shingle roof and the siding matches the house. There’s ample wall space for a tool board or for some of those cool neon garage signs, and some nice sliding windows, lots of electrical outlets, and bright fluorescent lights. Overall, it’s a pretty decent little facility, just right for housing two large trucks and associated automotive gear. Appreciated by human males everywhere.

Looking around, though – and thinking deeply about things the way I do – I consider the garage a theoretical construct, a space, a residential element, and a concept for future lifestyle. I note that in some planners’ and architects’ visions, the garage will become an occasional and optional living or “people” space, and with the long-sought, much-anticipated, incessantly talked about by urban planning zealots, and apparently soon-to-be-realized obsolescence of the motor vehicle, I really wonder if the whole concept of the garage is still appropriate to modern times.

So, let’s test the theory. The authoritative Free OnLine Dictionary defines “garage” as

ga·rage

(gə-räzh′, -räj′)

n.

1. A building or indoor space in which to park or keep a motor vehicle.

2. A commercial establishment where cars are repaired, serviced, or parked.

Is this definition still meaningful and accurate? I look to my own garage and add the following definition items:

3.  A building housing 11 old kids’ bicycles in various sizes and states of disrepair, usually stacked against the back wall and jammed together so that if you try and move one, they will all fall over and skin your leg and bang your foot.

4. A building containing your father’s old tools from 1950 or before the invention of electricity, which were only used three times and are too good to throw away.

5. Activity space for the stacking of garbage bags and recycling boxes and contents when it is raining or snowing, or when the garbage bin at the end of the lane is full.

6. Wall space for the display of storage cabinets, antique hunting and fishing gear, and the mother-in-law’s old landscape paintings.

7. Floor space for the situation of spare lumber and panelling pieces, random exotic power tools obtained on Father’s Day but never used, and piles of sawdust not yet cleaned up by resident teenagers.

8. Floor space for the accommodation of large boxes full of baby clothes and learn-to-read books.

9. Additional space accommodating extra boxes of records, gadgets, olds stereo parts, broken furniture, and stale pizza boxes left over from when the last teenager moved out, moved back in again, and then moved out again to a smaller apartment, saying she would be back for all of here valuable stuff “very soon.”

10. Location of the beer fridge.

11. Location of the spousal collection of ancient and dysfunctional family curiosities, for which the spouse remembers the original owner and context but disremembers the actual purpose or function.

In fact, as I look at my garage, the only definition elements absent from the building are those that have anything to do with motor vehicles.

I guess my garage is a modern, visionary, and fully actualized facility after all.

Damn.