Managing You

Foodie Friday, and today it may be a bit of a gross-out fest.  There is a thread on Reddit in which fast food workers are asked what should we NOT order at your restaurant? Why not?  The responses aren’t pretty.  OK, that’s a lie.  They’re disgusting.  That said, they’re instructive in a few ways, the most obvious of which is that the worldwide megaphone is now amplifies all of the dirty little secrets that once were told from bar stool to bar stool after work.  It’s not about trade secrets.  Those generally have competitive value.  These secrets are things that are worst practices that no solid organization would follow.

English: This is actually Tom's Restaurant, NY...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What struck me was how often cutting corner resulted in unsafe conditions.  People not washing their hands, food held at unsafe temperatures, food recycled for days, often transformed from one dish into another, and worse.  I will never drink anything in a restaurant with ice in it again after many reports of filthy ice machines that are never cleaned.  But it’s not the unsanitary conditions that are instructive.

Many of the restaurants mentioned are part of a national chain.  Some are franchised, some are corporately owned.  IN every case the writer mentions standard set by the parent organization for cleanliness and food safety.  In every one of these cases, those standards were ignored.  There are a couple of weak links in the chain.

First, it’s clear that the managers make the difference.  Several of the threads discuss how managers ignored the problem even after an employee pointed it out. I think this quote from someone working at an Olive Garden sums it up nicely:

The whole kitchen is incredibly organized, and it’s incredible that we can serve the amount of food that we do with so few kitchen staff, so I think that OG’s corporate system(Darden) is pretty good at what they do. I just happen to work at a location with an insane and incompetent manager.

There are dozens of other examples of brand being sabotaged by an incompetent individual who won’t adhere to standards.  But there is another weak link.  What about the workers themselves? It maybe true that you have an incompetent manager, but this Reddit demonstrates clearly that the employees recognized how wrong and unsafe the situation was.  How about taking some responsibility for disaster they see?  I guarantee you that every company can be reached with safety concerns.  This, however, was typical:

I try very hard to stick to our safety standards and common sense safety standards. I am not in charge of any of the meat dishes, pastas or sauces, and while I’ve expressed my concerns to my coworkers who do work these stations, every single one speaks Spanish, and I speak English.  Also, to be honest, I’m more interested in maintaining pleasant relationships with my coworkers than reporting them to my manager. It’s not my responsibility to manage the kitchen.

In any business, success and failure needs to be a shared thing.  Every employee and any level needs to feel invested in that success, certainly enough so that they are unwilling to let safety issues slide or are able to risk interpersonal relationships to move the entire organization forward.  The more senior the employee the more critical (as is the weak managers) this becomes.  We need to get people to manage themselves well enough that they can take responsibility. Making it happen is something to ponder.

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Filed under food, Huh?, Reality checks

One Mistake You Can’t Make

There are many things that go wrong in any business and even more that possibly can.  Today I want to talk about the biggest mistake a manager can make and how to avoid it.  Those of you who are regular customers here on the screed might be thinking I’m heading into a rant on accountability.  You’re not far off.  People must be held accountable once they’re clear about what their responsibilities entail.  That, however isn’t the mistake.

Let’s agree up front that stuff is going to go wrong.  Even if it’s not totally wrong, things might be done in a more efficient manner or in a way that resonates more loudly with your customers.  When whatever it is goes wrong, the first instinct is often to burn (figuratively) the responsible parties at the stake.  I’ve worked for managers who would dress down an employee loudly and publicly for an error.  Part of the reprimand was often something about how mistakes are unacceptable.  Period.


You cannot have employees thinking that failure of any sort is bad.  Yes, those responsible should be held accountable.  They can’t, however, feel free to create, innovate, and push the envelope if they perceive the sword of Damocles hanging over their heads at all times.  That’s paralyzing and inefficient.  It’s also a sure route to stagnation and failure.

The demand we can make is that people learn from whatever the mistake is and not repeat it.  I’m very comfortable chastising someone for doing the same thing wrong.  I’m less so when they tried, failed, and learned.  Good ideas happen because people follow their instincts without second guessing.  They speak up loudly when they have a new idea.  That’s the kind of environment in which I want to work.  You?

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Filed under Helpful Hints

I Am Not A Crook

Ben Bradlee died yesterday. For anyone who lived through the Watergate era I think it’s impossible not to know how important a figure he was. For those of you who only read about that time in history class (or worse, those of you who haven’t), Mr. Bradlee was the editor of The Washington Post during Watergate and he was the man who allowed the investigation and reporting of a break in at the Democratic headquarters (located in the Watergate complex) to go on even though everyone thought it was, in the words of the White House press secretary, a “third-rate burglary.”

Why should you care?  Let’s begin with something from the obituary his paper ran:

From the moment he took over The Post newsroom in 1965, Mr. Bradlee sought to create an important newspaper that would go far beyond the traditional model of a metropolitan daily. He achieved that goal by combining compelling news stories based on aggressive reporting with engaging feature pieces of a kind previously associated with the best magazines. His charm and gift for leadership helped him hire and inspire a talented staff and eventually made him the most celebrated newspaper editor of his era.

Let me add something to that to put it in perspective.  The August Harris Poll found that 76% of U.S. adults surveyed believe that celebrity gossip and scandal stories receive too much coverage, while 49% believe that entertainment news in general gets too much attention.  The kind of journalism practiced by the Post in the Bradlee era is almost dead, having given way to partisan bickering, “advertorials”, and reprinted press releases.  The real lesson for all of us in business is the last sentence I quoted: leadership.

It is very easy in the realities of business to take the easy road.  It’s easy to let a local robbery story go when the pressures to do so from your management, your advertisers, and the Executive Branch of the government are telling you to do so.  Bradlee didn’t, nor did he when he decided to print stories based on the Pentagon Papers, a secret Pentagon history of the Vietnam War.  That is leadership – doing what is right, setting standards, and inspiring those who work with you to do so as well.

“People have got to know whether or not their President is a crook. Well, I’m not a crook.”  It might have been at that moment that the notion of trusting one’s president and government fell apart forever.  Ben Bradlee and his commitment to excellence and the truth, even if the face of his own doubts and fears, opened our eyes.  The business standards he lived by are mostly gone now in his field which is a damn shame.  Maybe we can all work a little harder to keep them in our own?

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Filed under Reality checks, What's Going On

Whistling In The Dark

When we’re afraid of something but want to put on a brave face, we’re said to be whistling in the dark.  I suspect that many marketers are, or should be, doing exactly that.  It seems, you see, that the level of mistrust of what brands are putting out there is so high that a significant portion of online users trust a stranger’s opinion on public forums or blogs more than they trust branded advertisements.


The Forrester folks found that nearly a third – 32% – of people feel that way.  One response, therefore, might be to consider a shift to content marketing.  As I’ve written before, since much of that sort of marketing is what one might term “sneaky” I think it compounds the mistrust situation.   Maybe the right answer is to find and engage brand advocates – someone who enjoys your product or service so much that they’re eager to tell others about it.  It’s not hard to find them – see who is engaging with the social content you’re putting out there for starters.  Maybe offer them a discount.  Maybe give them “insider” access or let them know what’s in the product pipeline.

Most of what you’re trying to do is to make them feel special because they are.  They are a trusted resource to their networks and what they say is more believable to many than what you have to say as a brand.  Of course that also means you can’t lie to them or mislead them.  The stakes become higher since they can tear you down just as quickly as they can help you grow.  Then again, since we’re always trying to be consumer-focused, open and honest in our marketing, this should not be an issue.

We can whistle in the dark and pretend all is well or we can think about improving what we’re doing every day without hanging on to legacy thinking.  Your call.

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Filed under digital media, Thinking Aloud

Shining A Light On Flashlights

You probably have a flashlight app on your phone.  I know I do.  It comes in quite handy as you’re fumbling around when you get home later than expected and haven’t turned on any lights to help you find the door lock.  Prevents one from tripping over any stray cats in the driveway too.

Here is something you might not know about your flashlight app or about any other app for that matter.  It may be doing way more than just lighting up your way.  It may be spying on you and leaking data about you all over the place.  According to a piece on Wired this morning:

The FTC has clamped down on another flashlight apps for doing downloading data for advertisers without informing consumers, and these seemingly innocuous apps are only a small part of the problem. On my phone, several apps want access to information they probably shouldn’t, and odds are, that’s the case with your phone too. The lesson here is that when it comes to mobile software, there’s really no such thing as a free app. But there’s a corollary, and it’s that this whole world of mobile app privacy is both murkier and more troubling than things are on your computer desktop.

Scary.  I did a quick audit of the dozens of apps I have installed on my phone and while most don’t seem to ask for more permissions than might seem logical, a few do.  One app – which ostensibly is there to help me find recipes – asks for permission to :

  • find accounts on the device
  • add or remove accounts
  • read sync statistics
  • create accounts and set passwords
  • use accounts on the device
  • read sync settings
  • toggle sync on and off

Of course I went to read the FAQ section of the app and while it was easy to read it mentioned nothing about what and why it was collecting the data.  So I checked the Privacy Policy which did explain it in legal terms. For most people, that is far less friendly than plain English.  The format of the policy made it almost impossible to read on the device.  It was presented unlike any other piece of information about or in the app.  This tells me one thing: they’re hiding something.  The app is now gone even though I think I know why they want those permissions (the app has its own account system to let you save recipes, shopping lists, etc) because I don’t trust it.

We build trust via transparency and good behavior.  Stealing user data to sell to advertisers without an explicit permission from the data’s owner is neither.  Some smart mobile company is going to position itself as being the “completely safe” one, an environment with apps that don’t leak data and where encryption is the norm.  Until then, check your app permissions.  You might find it illuminating.

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Filed under Huh?, Thinking Aloud

Everything Is A Special

Foodie Friday Fun this week begins with a chalkboard.  I went out for dinner last night and the place I went was small.  After having been seated, one might expect the server to produce a menu.  He didn’t.  Instead he pointed to a chalkboard hanging on wall next to the open kitchen.  “Tonight’s menu is there” he said.  There were no specials – everything was a special.

The menu was small.  A few different types of crostini, two different types of pasta, a fish, a lamb dish, a beef dish, a duck dish and dessert.  Only three.  Everything was based on the ingredients available locally that day.  Having researched the place prior to going, I’d seen an assortment of previous menus.  One or two of the dishes popped up several times but the menus really varied from day-to-day.  They reflected the philosophy of the owners: fresh seasonal ingredients prepared simply.  Which of course got me thinking.

Many businesses try to be all things to all people.  They produce products in response to a competitor’s success.  Brand and line extensions are one way to leverage all of the brand equity we’ve built up.  The reality is that if the “larger menu” isn’t done as well as the array of choices that built that equity in the first place, we end up diluting what we’ve built up in the consumer’s mind.

The local ingredients had another advantage – much lower costs since they weren’t being shipped from around the world.  The prices at this place were reasonable.  They didn’t serve wine or liquor although you could bring your own (and they didn’t charge corkage!).  Again, maintaining a wine list was a distraction for them.  No inventory can go bad when you don’t have any.

I think this place’s philosophy is a good one for businesses to emulate.  Do a few things well.  Make everything special.  Make your products with the best “ingredients” you can find, where they be the people who provide your services or the materials from which your products are made.  Quality over quantity?  Maybe, although I think quantity comes from quality.  What do you think?

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Filed under Consulting, food

What’s Missing?

Big headline this morning on eMarketer.  It reads:

Good News: Publishers and Media Buyers Both Like Native Ads

I don’t know about you but I feel so much better that native advertising is here to stay.  For those of you unfamiliar with the subject, native advertising is ad content that presents itself as editorial.  Maybe you’re reading the website of a popular magazine and there is an article on what to look for when buying sunscreen.  Maybe you don’t notice that it’s written by the head of marketing from a sunscreen manufacturer.  If you know that, does it call into question any of the information you’re reading?  It does in my mind if that information recommends that you look for certain things on the label (you can bet they’re on HIS product’s label), etc.

This piece over at copyblogger can show you more examples.  My guess is that you had no idea that some of what you’ll see is advertising.  That’s the issue I have with the headline.  Publishers are represented.  So are advertisers through their media buyers.  What’s missing?

You are.  We are.  Consumers are.  They may like it but do you?  I don’t.  And this does not make me feel any better about it:

In a June 2014 study by Mixpo, nearly three-quarters of US publishers said having a native advertising offering was important. And they were taking action. The majority of respondents offered a native advertising solution, and an additional one-fifth planned to do so within the next few years at most.

I don’t want to have to wonder if anything I’m reading is editorial or advertising.  I don’t want to be researching my research to ascertain if it’s unbiased or quietly (some might say sneakily) advocating a brand.  I don’t like native ads unless they are clearly labeled as “advertising” and I’m sad that what I think (or what you think) doesn’t seem to be part of the equation that’s formulated about its future.

What’s your take?

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Filed under Reality checks, Thinking Aloud