Making Things Grow

Published: September 28, 2009

By Jim Lichtman
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Jim McCann likes to make things grow.  McCann acquired the 1-800-FLOWERS number in 1986 after successfully building his own chain of 14 flower shops in the New York metropolitan area. While creating a reliable brand name, he focused on instilling a sense of trust and convenience in an industry that previously had no leader.

McCann attributes much of his success to the training he received in his prior job-as a social worker. As an administrator at St. John’s Home for Boys in Rockaway, New York, McCann recalls how he helped underprivileged children learn how to overcome the scourge of poverty, drugs and despair. His experiences greatly influenced the open management style he uses today.

“My personal philosophy is based on the premise and true value, both personally and professionally, of building relationships.  When I first began my professional career, I was the director of a group home for high school aged boys in Far Rockaway, New York.

“At first, I tried to create and establish a relationship with the entire group.  After months of spinning my wheels in a futile attempt to make an impact on the lives of these young men, I took a step back and examined my approach.  Was I doing something wrong?  Why did it always seem as though I was reacting to problems and not preventing problems?

“At that point, I decided to observe the techniques of others that were successful in this field.  What I noticed was successful social workers developed unique relationships with individuals and not groups.  They searched and sought for ways in which to connect with an individual.  Whether it was a common interest in sports, movies, authors, food, or just about anything, successful people find common ground to build the foundation of a personal relationship.

“In my book, Stop and Sell the Roses, I recall several of my attempts to connect and build relationships with the individuals under my charge.  In one case, I decided to plant tomatoes in the very small backyard of our home.  One of the boys, Norman, came through the yard on his way home from school one day and thought I was crazy for planting the tomatoes.  Norman laughed and predicted that the plants wouldn’t last a day.

“Well, every day I timed my gardening work to coincide with Norman’s after school arrival.  With each passing day our conversations about the tomatoes, school, sports and girls grew a little longer – longer to the point where the garden was not mine but ours.  I made a connection with Norman and a relationship was born.

“I followed the same approach with all the boys in the home, and before I knew it the pattern changed, and I began to have a positive effect on the personal lives of these young men.

“What was true for those kids in Far Rockaway has also proven true for my employees.  To the extent that you connect to your people and connect them to one another, the windfall in productivity and spirit is enormous.”

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