At Work

Rediscover Your Purpose Through the Yellow Door

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To my surprise, the unique display is still standing in the store. I have not shopped here in several months, but I had to chuckle. When it originally appeared on the sales floor, the attention-grabbing door struck me as vivid and captivating. Definitely outside conventional store décor. 

The first time I saw it, I was impressed. Now years later, I stand in the store chuckling silently. If my recollection has served me correctly, the yellow door arrived three or four CEOs ago. It’s been at least seven years, maybe more. Across this decade, the chain has experienced a revolving door of leaders who have attempted to bring revitalization. 

I’ve been a big fan of J.C. Penney’s for many years. I recall back-to-school shopping as a teenager. Across the decades, our family has regularly purchased high-quality goods at a fair price. When I ponder what’s transpired, I sincerely identify with the men and women who have been at J.C. Penney’s helm. Many of us aiming to lead businesses and organizations in the wake of the pandemic can feel their pain.

How do we bounce back? How to pivot properly is challenging. How to introduce substantive change can seem puzzling. How do we turn something in a positive direction so it’s flourishing again? Long-term, successful companies, solid churches, and well-intended service organizations are facing an array of similar circumstances every day.

The Yellow Door Effect

Contemplating the big yellow store display, I see it as a metaphor. We’ll call it the Yellow Door Effect, and it goes like this. 

We tried something big, bright, and new. It might have worked. (Okay, sort of, or sort of not.) But years later, it’s still standing front and center in our company’s culture. It’s probably been here far too long. It might be a practice, a policy, a sales method, a team or committee, a piece of furniture, or even a fixture like a literal door. 

Perhaps leaders and team members have lost clarity of mission and a sense of our deeper purpose. Something once good and well-intended is locked in place. Our endeavor’s overall purpose seems fuzzy, uncertain. What can we do about the Yellow Door Effect?

Take a bigger, better look, to gain an accurate perspective.

Too often, we’re missing the effect altogether. It’s good to ask: 

  • What’s still standing around or what are we hanging onto that’s not really working? 
  • When was the last time we tried something new? 
  • What was our most recent, healthy risk? 
  • Does our client base seem sluggish and bored, or are they energetic? 
  • Have we changed things up lately, or are we stuck on the same old methods and approaches we dubbed innovative in yesteryear? 

Upon asking such questions, if any of your answers fall flat or trail away from the upside, there’s a very good chance you have Yellow Door Effect haunting your biz or org.

Revisit a fresh strategy process.

Organizations and businesses of all shapes and sizes get sucked into just surviving. Many stop dreaming and executing. It may be time to utilize a fresh survey tool. A SOAR analysis can serve you well, or your own blend of three to five primarily qualitative questions. 

Run analysis with a cross section of key people. Compile the results. Then gather to talk about the findings. In tandem, ask the group: 

  • What stands out as your best possible fresh directions? 
  • What seems like a worthy new endeavor to try? 
  • How about several joy-seeking dreams to pursue? 

Don’t forget that a big part of the imago Dei (Gen. 1:26-28) involves exploring what’s new, fresh, and creative.

Contemplate the all-important blazing question: What’s our purpose, really?

Over time, even the most historically successful endeavors develop blurry vision. Leaders can mistakenly buy into the great divide between the secular and the sacred. In doing so, we lose clarity about serving others based on love for God, love for neighbor, and for God’s glory. 

Businesses and organizations can lose sight of the primary aim to lovingly serve people. In The Integrated Life, Ken Eldred cites J.C. Penney’s personal critique of dichotomized thinking from many decades ago. In an early store ad, Penney reflected prevalent thinking in his day: 

The assumption was that business is secular, and service is religious. I have never been able to accept that line of arbitrary demarcation . . . Is not service part and parcel of business? It seems to me so; business is therefore as much religious as it is secular. If we follow the admonition to love God, and our neighbors as ourselves, it will lead us to understand that, first of all, success is a matter of the spirit.

Thus, Penney’s original aim was much deeper than glitzy yellow doors. This integrated founder’s foundational aim in business was serving others to the glory of God. There’s another way you can deal with the Yellow Door Effect.

Declare a couple very action-based, achievable goals plus one very audacious one.

Most organizations are currently in a prime zone for rebuilding and reinvigorating. So, pick a couple endeavors that you sense are bound to succeed, provided you and your team put your whole hearts into them. Make sure you pick one that’s distinctly a BHAG (a big, hairy, audacious, goal). Set a goal that stretches you and your team into the discomfort zone. Then intentionally design bold, one-step-at-a-time strategies to take you there!

Is the door still there?

I’m cheering for Penney’s to succeed. They’ve still successfully garnered my spending on several purchases in recent months. I bought my wife a very cool jacket on sale for Valentine’s Day. And I found an exceptionally sweet tie to wear to my son’s wedding.

Rest assured, I’ll be shopping at Penney’s again in upcoming weeks. Of course, I’ll be eager to see if the door is still standing there.

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