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Bender Plumbing is a fourth-generation family-owned and -operated wholesale distributor with six locations throughout Connecticut. At the heart of our company is its culture —driven by the belief that helping team members develop their skill sets will help them become the best version of themselves. By building up and opening up vulnerabilities, one can conquer whatever mountain one may climb.
In 2017, Bender created a program called Purpose Development Meetings, a self-selected employee program designed to develop tools as a team that we can add to our toolkit and use to become better versions of ourselves at work and home.
During the meetings, we cover and discuss topics from experts such as Patrick Lencioni, best known as the author of “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team,” a popular business fable that explores work team dynamics and offers solutions to help teams perform better; as well as study the teachings of ivy league professors such as Zoe Chance, a professor at Yale University who teaches influence, and focuses on research-based strategies to “help people lead richer, healthier, happier lives.”
In addition, we also discuss subjects designed from within the Bender culture. Teammates get vulnerable, share their stories and learn from each other, and we support each other.
The meetings are 30 minutes long and offered three times a week; we cover one topic per quarter. While not mandatory, the meetings typically have more than 100 team members, more than 50 percent of the Bender team! We make it as easy as possible: each team member can join in their local conference room, at their desk or workstation, or on a phone or tablet via Zoom. The content is new each week, and multiple meetings allow team members to join at their convenience.
Purpose meetings allow us to be self-aware and create opportunities to help fellow team members. The theory is simple: Create a tool that supports someone being a better human being, and you have a better team member, Customers benefit from that.
At the end of each meeting, we discuss teammate takeaways, and how the content was relatable to them — both at and outside of work. The best form of feedback is when a teammate tells a story about how they used one of the Purpose Development tools in real life. Those stories are why we have Purpose Development and keep us motivated to continue bringing great content to the team.
The most significant compliment is when I hear a story about how a tool or specific purpose meeting has helped them become better parents, spouses, partners, team members, volunteers, etc.
Fixed Vs. Growth Mindset
Our current content is “Improve, not Prove.” While proving is to demonstrate the truth by evidence or argument, improving is to have a more desirable outcome. It’s another tool that supports self-awareness. If you aren’t willing to self-reflect and realize when you are trying to prove, you aren’t going to improve or move forward.
This is an important topic because the more we are aware of when trying to prove something, the more opportunities we must manage ourselves and adjust from prove to improve. Putting the problem in front of us (instead of in between) allows us to prove less and be better listeners; when we are better listeners, we become learners.
For example, instead of trying to prove why you deserved a promotion, look for ways to improve the company.
As I write this piece, we have been discussing “Improve, not Prove” for more than six weeks, and I could spend a year on the topic. I am proud that the team has been more vulnerable and less judgmental over the last six weeks, and the trust level has increased significantly.
I also have learned a great deal in the past six weeks, and not shy to share with others:
1. Try not to compare myself to others.
2. Try not to compare others against each other.
3. That handing out Purpose Citations is a great way to acknowledge team members being the best they can be; it’s not about being better than someone else.
4. Run my own race.
5. Happiness comes from what you have, not what you don’t have.
6. Anger creates bad decisions.
We have made the connection between improve/not prove as a fixed mindset vs. a growth mindset. A fixed mindset is when you try to prove yourself and need to be right. Your sandbox is small, and you don’t try things you won’t win at. A growth mindset is about improving yourself, wanting to grow, and learning. Do you want to live your life in a small sandbox?
One tip we have to overcome a fixed mindset is to add “yet” to the end of your sentence. For example, instead of saying, “I don’t know how to golf,” you can say, “I don’t know how to golf yet.”
Some teammate’s takeaways so far on this topic are:
Life and business are a journey of constant improvements.
Success is a constant state of growth and progress.
Trying to prove yourself is a reaction to fear or acting defensively.
Proving is putting the issue in between one another, and improving is when you put the issue in front of one another (to find a solution).
Development for All
One of the main things we have learned is that our tools work if you believe in them and use them correctly. If you try and use a stapler to bang in a nail, it will not work. Same thing for the additional tools in our Purpose Development toolkit.
We have noticed that often organizations only offer personal or professional development to their leadership teams. Our Purpose Development meetings give our entire team, from the CEO to the boots on the ground, an opportunity to grow with numerous ways to attend — in person or via Zoom, and they are recorded for those who cannot attend them live. At Bender, you have an opportunity to help your CEO become a better version of himself!
If our teammates get just one nugget of information they can apply to their world every week, we know we can make a difference. Our teammates take the tools we create at Bender and use them in their home life.
We have learned that we must first help our team become better versions of themselves in their personal lives, and then they naturally become better leaders/teammates/managers/etc., at work.
Mark Chirgwin believes that challenges bring opportunity. As COO at Bender Plumbing, he enjoys coaching team members to be their personal best. As a leader, he believes that status-quo is usually a bad thing, so the need to listen to employees about challenges and struggles are essential.
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