Learning from Gil and a Thank You to Mary

Diana DeRosa, Liz Ruggiero, Mary Phelps-Hathaway, JJ Hathaway, Tracey Scharf, Penny Peck and Skye O'Dell
Diana DeRosa, Liz Ruggiero, Mary Phelps-Hathaway, JJ Hathaway, Tracey Scharf, Penny Peck and Skye O'Dell

I’ve been driving or flying to Kentucky quite a bit over the past couple of years in preparation for the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. In addition to covering a variety of events I’ve been working on a number of in-depth profiles of the key people behind the scenes at WEG. You’ll find some of those here on horsesdaily or visit my Examiner page at WEG_Profiles to view some of those bios, but don’t forget to come back and hear about my latest trip to Kentucky spending time with Mary and her staff and learning from Gil Merrick.

When Mary found out I’d be in Kentucky for the American Horse Publications weekend she invited me to be part of Gil’s Mastery Concepts one-day educational course. Mary invited those who work full or part-time for her on a regular basis to learn from Gil how we could do an even better job.

Gil Merrick
Gil Merrick

In my words Mastery Concepts is about people working together the best they can not only with each other but also with the readers and clients. It’s also about better relationships in our personal lives. It seems like a simple concept and as Gil said right from the start “you already know everything I am going to tell you but this will allow the light bulb to go on.”

Gil was right about everything he reminded us of, from the importance of groups getting together face-to-face to the value of treating each other and your clients with respect. His ultimate goal for us and for any company where he presents his Mastery Concepts program is focused on effectiveness in the workplace.

Gil’s program is based on a lifetime of dealing with different working environments learning from that experience which ones are the most effective. He has spent most of his business life focused on the outcome. “Everywhere we go in life we spend our time and energy producing results,” he commented.

“I consider it a lifetime inquiry,” remarked Gil when he talked about what’s going on when things get difficult in our lives. “Human effectiveness applies to every aspect of our lives. As life starts to throw circumstances, how we react to all of those is the key.”

Gil also emphasized the fact that while we were all going to recognize what he was going to talk about the important fact was that “we were all hearing it together. This is not a lecture but rather a way to give us a framework about how to have conversations with each other.”

The great thing about our interaction with Gil was just that. Throughout the session we asked questions, passed along comments and even cracked a few jokes. At one point Mary passed along an interesting thought when she said, “You can learn a lot about people by how they handle lost luggage.”

I’d like to add that you can also learn alot about someone by how they deal with getting stuck in traffic.

Getting To Know The Staff

Early on in our meeting I realized that I’d not met most of the people that were in that room and yet had interacted with many of them frequently over the years. I also realized that I wasn’t as familiar as I should be with all the Horsesdaily and Dressagedaily web sites have to offer, from selling horses, to news, to marketing your business or service to a biographical who’s who section.

Liz Ruggiero handles the HorseMarket section of Horsesdaily. This is a place where for $200 you get an ad (picture and write-up) to sell your horse on the site for six months. That section has grown so dramatically that Liz is in charge of overseeing that one section of the site. Liz came to Horsesdaily as a perfect example of the type of person Mary likes to work with. She’s circled herself with strangers she met who she offered a job because she liked their work ethic or friends she knew she could trust.

Many of these people don’t just work for Mary but have other jobs and yet everyone has a strong devotion for doing a good job at Horsesdaily. In addition to HorseMarket, Liz also works at a barn. Even Mary has another job in that she sells insurance for Markel.

Liz came with little to no experience on computers and yet Mary helped her to believe in herself and now she does an incredible job in all aspects with HorseMarket. This involves a lot of customer service. Both Mary’s way of supporting Liz and her understanding of the right way to deal with customers are two areas that Gil applauded and emphasized the importance of.

When Mary needed someone to handle her accounting she headed to a course that Penny Peck was teaching at a local junior college. After one class she knew that this wasn’t what she wanted to do and so instead she hired Penny. In time Penny graduated from accounting to posting articles on the site to managing Horsesdaily.com.

If you’ve been watching the new creative web site that now is Dressagedaily and Horsesdaily, a lot of credit for that goes to Skye O’Dell, the new website designer. She’s been working with Mary for three years and has added tons of stuff to what the web site offers. Skye’s goal is to make the site user friendly.

Mary’s sister Nancy was also there and worked with Mary in her earlier days as a photographer and videographer. Now Nancy works a lot with graphic design and photography and she has a side business where she makes candles. Beyond that she is a yoga instructor. “You can’t rely on one job anymore,” she offered. “The manufacturing world is high stress and no creativity but pays the bills. The people I work with are very nice but those in the industry are tough to work with. Yoga has helped my whole way of looking at life.”

Tracey Scharf was a waitress. One day while at the restaurant Mary noticed Tracey’s penmanship. “I needed someone to write show codes and the name on the back of the photos in the days of film photography.” At the time Tracey was pregnant but that didn’t stop her. “They’d come back from a show with rolls and rolls and rolls. It was very mundane but required you to be very organized. Mary isn’t very organized and so it started with that but then it got to where I started to organize her whole life.” Now Tracey works full time handling just about every aspect of Mary’s business. “Every phone call comes through to my office.”

Learning from Gil

Gil listened as all of us interjected our thoughts and outlined our lives before commenting, “We are the accumulation of every choice we have made.” While some of you reading this will wonder why I am revealing all this information about everyone who works with Mary, the key here is that our lives are who we are and how we handle our personal and business lives are all interrelated.

“Life happens,” explained Gil. “Nobody wants some of the things to happen but they do and now we have to manage it, to own it. That’s where the responsibility of how to be effective with the choices we make starts.” Remembering that life happens and that you may need to revise your vision is one of the concepts behind Gil’s program. “You guys are listening to life very astutely and reacting to it,” he explained.

Mary’s vision of the organization is varied. “Sometimes I think I created a monster. This has constant demands and a huge sense of responsibility to keep it successful. The vision is the same as when I started and that is build it and they will come, build your audience, serve your audience and then you will be able to create a way to support your effort. We have a very solid situation right now. But now it is time for me to be the conductor.”

That role of conductor involves making sure that the 10,000 unique daily visitors to the site are greeted with content. “Those eyeballs on the screen looking at our site are important. Now it’s time to capitalize on the readership that we have built up,” confirmed Mary.

We had been rolling along talking about all the positives. Gil was clearly impressed with the strong foundation and positive working relationship. Yet, he still wanted us to understand how to handle the “upsets.” In Gil’s terms an “upset” is an “unfulfilled expectation.” In this situation the key is to “manage the source so that the upset can go away;” find out why someone is upset and then address that upset in a positive and understanding way.

“Anytime you see that someone is upset you need to find the source of the unfulfilled expectation. When your customers complain that is like handing you a gold nugget because people that don’t complain, will probably go somewhere else,” noted Gil. “Clients vote with their feet, they leave,” he continued. “Unresolved upsets become a source of stress.

Gil also focused on the importance of “agreements” and how effectively you manage them. “Be clear about what you expect so that there are no questions.” Whether you are someone doing a project for someone or a web site offering a service, clarity is critical. “If you are going to do a job then define when the job will be finished. If you offer something specific on your site be clear about what you do and don’t offer,” added Gil.

Mary and Gil

Throughout Gil’s talk he would pass along nuggets of valuable information.

“You honor yourself at your word. Respect for yourself is your word. There are people that don’t care about that. However, if you plan to be successful then you need to care. “You are better as a team. When we build something in life you are much better when you partner with other people.”

Enrollment - Gil next focused on the five phases of “enrollment.”

Number One is that we have a “relationship” with one another that is based on some level of trust. “If every time I give you my word I achieve that then that creates a level of trust. If you consistently make excuses then that level of trust doesn’t happen. If a corporation is not rigorous about keeping their agreement then they take the chance of losing customers.”

Number Two are the ideas you come up with and the “value” you will get. That builds on the relationship you have built (or have not built). You then need to communicate with the person as to why it is valuable to them (targeted marketing).

Number Three is “feasabilty” – Who, What, When, Where, How.

Number Four is the “action,” which is generally the challenge for the virtual companies. “Come up with really effective tools for managing the agreement,” commented Gil. “For example, charts outlining the agreements so that you can track everything.”

Number Five is “acknowledge and appreciation” for what has been achieved, which is something that Gil intimated that Mary does quite well using the concept of bringing everyone to Kentucky for this day of learning as an example.

The topic started to change direction a bit and the concept of the big company versus smaller companies came up. “The smaller model is starting to replace the larger model because people enjoy the intimacy of being part of a group,” explained Gil. He also encouraged us to remember that “power is in the commitments.”

Gil’s golden nuggets continued. “Integrity is about always doing what you say you are going to do. It starts with taking responsibility for your word which then establishes the trust. When I see people dropping the ball then I recognize that they don’t see things the way that I do. By achieving this you create a foundation of trust.”

Excuses, Excuses, Excuses & Sorry, Glad, Sure

“Life happens is different than excuses,” explained Gil. “People don’t care about our excuses. If your website goes down people only care about the fact that you have broken your agreement in that you agreed to have a website up that they can go to 24 hours a day. When you drop the ball it has a spiraling affect on the other people who have also made agreements counting on you coming through with your agreement.”

Gil’s short phrases spoke volumes.

“We have this need to be right and if I am right I can justify that you are wrong, because if I am successful, I win and you lose."

“Don’t allow yourself to be pulled into gossip. You can ask them if they are asking for your advice but if they aren’t interested in hearing what you have to say than you have the power to stop the conversation. You can say to them, ‘Thanks for sharing all that with me but in my role what request are you making of me.”

“Work with people who want to work with you.”

“You can’t manage someone’s personality but what you can do is note it and understand that you can’t do anything about it.”

Gil emphasized the importance of the words: SORRY – GLAD – SURE. “I am sorry you have a problem. I am glad you brought it to my attention. I am sure we can do something about it,” are the three sentences you need to remember when dealing with someone who is upset.

The best method in dealing with someone you know takes up a lot of your time is at the beginning of your conversation let them know how much time you have.

As Gil explained, “I have taken a stand in that I am not going to let people waste my time because my time is my life. I am not committed to clearing up the toxicity. I am on a campaign to create my own world."

“I can control my personal environment and what I say. I will have my own commitments and ethics. I can control my interaction with each person one-on-one. I can’t control my clients but I can be rigorous on letting them know what my commitments are and my promises.”

Gil also gave some advice about when someone doesn’t like someone you like and is quick to let you know.

“I have formed my own opinion working with him/her and I am very happy working with him/her. I have heard your opinions but this is my experience.” Gil used the example of a pie in that the size of the pieces is how we spend our time. He also noted though that we tend to be rigorous with our career but sell out on our personal life.

He went on to conclude the day talking about the importance of making sure we do things we want to do. When managing our lives if we don’t add in the fun pieces then we get stressed and we start lamenting and get into the victim mode. We need to be aware that we are creating our own upsets. Stress will lead to suffering which leads to us getting sick.

It is for that reason that Gil emphasized “it has to be me first because if I am not well then I am not going to be able to do all the things in my pie. Sometimes we get locked into thinking that we need to take care of them first.”

There was so much more that Gil included in our one day session but the sentence that had the most impact for me repeated from above is, “My time is my life.”

What were even more rewarding after spending a day with Gil was his thoughts about Mary’s group. Gil wrote a note to Mary, which she shared with me. Gil said, “Throughout the past decade your companies have been forward-thinking about how to do business on the internet. Naturally, when a company is successful other companies will try to emulate them. This requires those companies to re-invent themselves on an ongoing basis and to thrive in the face of rapid and ongoing change.

“Mary, you have successfully developed a team of staff members who understand the challenges they face – each of whom has contributed their specific expertise to the success of the Phelps-Hathaway companies for many years. Also, the value that you have brought to this organization by providing clear leadership and direction throughout its history is commendable.

“The team you have put together is rock solid and they understand the concept of implementing the strategies that will carry them into the next decade. I look forward to future opportunities to contribute to the success of that process.”

Rewarding the Staff

Mary is very good at rewarding her staff and she did this again. That began with being greeted at the airport by a white limousine, thanks to Kent Sparks of Lake Cumberland, arriving to a light meal at Mary’s home in Columbia, KY, being part of Gil’s Mastery Concept’s educational day and dinner on a houseboat thanks to Deb Schumann (manager) and Bill Jaspers (owner) at the Lake Cumberland State Dock. Those extra perks help to reinforce some of the things that Gil had emphasized throughout the day by allowing us to get to know each other better in a fun setting.

Mary’s farm and those houseboats are just two hours from where the World Equestrian Games are going to be held at the Kentucky Horse Park. Those of you who have guests or want to create a unique entertainment for your friends, family or clients should consider taking a ride down the peaceful Cumberland Lake surrounded by the beauty that is Kentucky.




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