Monthly Archives: December 2016

Top Posts Of The Year – Foodie Friday Edition

If you read this screed with any regularity, you know that Friday’s topic is always food-related. The post below is the most-read foodie post of 2016. It was published last January and was originally called “Ripe.” It was a rumination on a banana and businesses that forego strategy for speed. As you’ll read, I’m not a fan of racing to the wrong destination, or to no destination at all. Amazing where one banana can take you, isn’t it? A healthy and happy New Year to you all. On to 2017!

It’s Foodie Friday and this week’s post is inspired by my breakfast. My weekday breakfast almost always involves a banana, and this morning’s banana looked yummy until I actually bit in. It was not really ripe enough. The texture was too hard for my taste and the flavors hadn’t really matured. In fact, it was kind of tasteless and quite unsatisfying. The banana would definitely have benefited from another day or two of ripening. 

Despite my day not being off to a great start, a business point popped into my head. Many businesses suffer from the same phenomenon as the banana (although honestly, I am not blaming the banana for being eaten too soon). We don’t let things ripen and we move overly fast. I see this with some clients who forget the original business plan when a new opportunity presents itself, losing sight of what had got the business to this point. That sort of action – moving too fast away from what was a good idea – does nothing but engender short-term thinking.

Failing to let the business ripen also means you’ve not got enough customer feedback. It takes time to scale, and even if you enjoy explosive growth, it takes time for both the business and your customers to figure out what feedback is meaningful based on repeat engagements, etc. You would much rather hear from a customer who has purchased and used your product several times that a one-time experience.

You need to ripen to assess the right size of your staff. You need to ripen to estimate what your real operating costs are and will be. To the extent scale improves product costs, you need to ripen in order to make that assessment. Finally, you need to ripen to ascertain what your real capital needs are. Early cash flow won’t be as promising as it will become down the road (hopefully) but those needs don’t present themselves right away.

I am all for moving quickly, particularly when a company is young.  Haste, however, can make waste when that speed and a failure to let things ripen means a loss of focus.  Make sense?

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Filed under Consulting, food, Thinking Aloud

Top Posts Of The Year #1

What follows is the most-read post I published during this past year. We’ll have the most-read Foodie Friday post tomorrow. Originally titled “Why I Might Have Unfollowed You,” I wrote this right after Election Day. I was sort of hopeful at the time that a lot of the vitriol and outright lying that had lead up to that day would stop. It didn’t and hasn’t, but having unfollowed a number of the worst offenders in my feed has helped. I’m also gratified that the concerns over “fake news” have grown large enough that they’re finally being addressed. Of course, I’m not sure some people branding The NY Times or other legitimate news outlets as fake moves the discussion forward. In any event, I’m glad that this was the most read post because it was really one of the most heartfelt ones I wrote this year.

I have been at this blogging thing for over 2,000 posts and 8 years (May of 2008, actually) and I’ve yet to write a political post. Today may be the closest I’ve come although obviously, I’ve used politics to help us appreciate some business points along the way.

I’ve stopped following a few people on Facebook in the last few days, something I’ve rarely done and usually only when the accounts get filled with spam. The folks I unfollowed are people I know personally – I tend not to be Facebook friends with most business associates or random friends of friends. I unfollowed them because this election has brought out the worst in them. I don’t mean that I disagree with their point of view. Many of my closest friends and I hold diametrically opposed political views. I mean that they’ve stopped supporting their views with any sort of facts and are choosing to ignore the facts when they’re presented to them. They are living in the horrible confirmational bias reality that tells them sexism, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism are not only OK but the real voice of America as evidenced by this election.

They go on to criticize people for exercising their First Amendment rights to assemble and protest in vitriolic hateful posts. They continue to post outright lies which are easily disproven with a brief search. They dismiss sources such as CNN and the NY Times as biased and won’t believe anything they report, mostly because they disagree with them. They forget that a majority of America voted for a woman and a liberal agenda. Rather than contemplating how to be inclusive of that agenda as we move forward, they post about “taking back” the country, I guess from the majority who voted the other way. They fail to condemn miscreants who bully, threaten, and harm fellow citizens. Their children behave the same way in school. This is shameful, and denying the facts doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.

So I unfollowed them. I welcome the opportunity to discuss politics with folks of all sides as long as we stick to the facts and don’t engage in ad hominem attacks. Hypocrisy is a no-no as well (look up what our newly-elected President was saying four years ago about the unfairness of a popular vote win not translating into an Electoral College win and how people should be marching in the streets!). Those are things I try to do in business as well and so should you. In the meantime, let’s remember that our system doesn’t deny the minority party any ability to influence policy (witness the last 8 years of Republicans slowing/changing/denying Obama‘s policies) and that in two years there’s another chance to change things again.

I’m sorry for using this platform to get his off my chest. I hope you’ve not had to unfollow folks and your friends are more rational than some of mine seem to be. I’m hoping everyone will just calm down a bit and work to be the change each of us wants to see in the world while not building walls. I don’t mean on our borders but those between our fellow citizens and ourselves. The people I unfollowed were doing just that and I’m not having any of it. You?

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Filed under Huh?, Reality checks

Top Posts Of The Year #2

This post was written last April and was originally called “Hanging On.” Ostensibly it was about reexamining all of the things we do in our businesses. As I’m rereading it I think it was also about grasping that collecting “stuff” can sometimes get in the way of success, however you care to define that word.

The house is still on the market but all the detritus is long gone. If I accomplished anything in 2016, this post just might explain what it was.

We’re selling our home. The kids are grown and living on their own.  We don’t need all the space and the property is too large and expensive to maintain. In other words, we’re doing the downsizing (or rightsizing!) that many folks in our situation do. Obviously, a lot of “stuff” has aggregated over the 30+ years we’ve been in the house and we spent many hours over the last few weeks decluttering. 

This past weekend was spent scanning old tax returns and putting the supporting documents into a “shred” box. Why were we hanging on to receipts from anything beyond the 3 years the IRS recommends? Who knows. We also found (and put in the shred box) canceled checks from every decade beginning in the late 1970’s. That was long before banks did everything electronically and held scanned copies for you. I guess we got in the habit of filing them away.

In addition to the financial documents, we tossed (or donated) things that had sat in the basement or the attic for many years without anyone missing them. It’s nice, for example, that nearly every sporting event I attending during my years in sports TV gave out a duffel bag of some sort but having 20 bags in the attic gathering dust when someone somewhere needs one is silly, right?

So here is the question for you. When was the last time you took a look at the “stuff” hanging around your business? I don’t mean extra duffel bags or canceled checks. All the detritus we collect over the years is due in part to a process we have in place.  When was the last time you examined the things, processes, etc. – to which you’re hanging on and why?

It’s not just a matter of freeing up space.  It also means you question each thing you touch and its relevance to your business moving forward. I found a number of things (an automatic pasta maker, a countertop deep fryer) that I won’t ever use again but were hanging around the basement.  I rarely eat pasta anymore and it takes less time to make it by hand then it does to clean the machine after a use.  Why was I hanging on to it?

Old habits die hard, especially in business.  We need to stop hanging on and get our proverbial business houses cleaned up.  It makes wherever we decide to go next a much easier move.  You with me?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud

Top Posts Of The Year #3

Continuing our countdown to the most-read post of the year, this post is from last May. I’ll often use something that has happened to me as a case study, particularly when it involved bad customer service. I generally find that many of the issues that escalate into customers not returning to a business involve things that could be prevented or remedied with transparency. This post is one of those cases. Originally called “I Got Trucked,” it was prompted by a bad van rental experience. Enjoy!

I rented a cargo van and that’s when the fun started. I mentioned in another post that we’re preparing to sell Rancho Deluxe and part of the process is cleaning out 30 years of stuff. I booked a cargo van through Enterprise, a company from which I’ve rented cars in the past without issue. They confirmed my reservation but just to be safe I went to the local lot and examined the vehicle I was renting a week ahead of time to be sure it would serve my needs. It was fine.

At 2pm the day of the rental I got a call from Enterprise asking if I was indeed coming to pick it up. I said yes, the reservation is for 5:30 and that’s when I’ll be there. I asked if there was an issue. The guy on the phone said no, we have a van, it’s just not the one you saw. Hmm. Is it the same size? “No, it’s a little shorter.” “You mean less tall because I need height to get some items in?” “No, the length is less.” OK, not an issue.

5:30 comes and I go to get the van. It is quite nice but a miniature version of what I rented. It was no bigger than a minivan or large SUV, and not at all satisfactory for my needs. The customer service rep was very apologetic, informing me that the person who rented it last hadn’t brought it back, they’d been working all day to find me another one, etc. All well and good, but it’s 5:40, most other rental places have closed or will close in the next 20 minutes, and I need a van.

What’s the business lesson? First and foremost, be honest with your customers. Obviously, they knew there was an issue at 2 when they called. Why not be honest? I’ve been on the other end of this, running the NHL’s online commerce. One year we were completely out of hockey jerseys and the inventory system failed to turn off new orders. I told the customer service reps to be honest – we would not be able to fulfill the orders by Christmas and if the customers didn’t want a credit then a full refund should be offered. More than that, I asked our commerce folks to be proactive and contact the people immediately, since it is unacceptable that some kid wouldn’t get a gift due to our faulty inventory management.

Had they been open about the problem at 2, it would have given me 3 hours to find a replacement. They were also dishonest about the size of the replacement. It had nowhere close to the cargo capacity of what I rented. No, I didn’t take the replacement Enterprise offered me. I scrambled and was lucky enough to convince a U-Haul dealer to stay open an extra 15 minutes to rent me something like what I rented in the first place. It will cost me a few bucks more but at least I got what I needed.

I’m hoping this was an aberration on Enterprise’s part. As I said above, I’ve rented cars from them before without a hitch. Customers don’t expect perfection but they do expect to be told when there is a problem and to be told what you’re doing to solve it. I wasn’t told there was a problem until it was too late, and what they had done was to throw up their hands when they couldn’t find a replacement in their own inventory (ever hear of an airline rebooking you on another airline? Maybe get one from someone else?). The goodwill you’ll generate by doing so will outweigh the negative of the moment.  You with me?

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Filed under Consulting, Huh?, What's Going On

Top Posts Of The Year #4

Courtesy Jeffrey Beall

Each year at this time, I repost the most read 4 “regular” posts and the top Foodie Friday post from this calendar year. That’s what I’ll be doing this week. The #4 most-read post was written prior to the Super Bowl and was a pre-game appreciation for Peyton Manning‘s last game. Originally titled “The Wily Old Veteran,” it deals with things one learns over time. In retrospect, it was probably a bit of a love note to my fellow “experienced” business people too. Enjoy!

The Super Bowl is this Sunday and if you’re not going to be watching it you are a member of a small minority in this country. It’s been hard to avoid hearing about the upcoming tilt for weeks, and it has become almost impossible this week. That’s not a complaint, by the way. I’m a huge fan and while it’s sad to see the NFL season end, this year’s game offers us something of a business lesson as part of the deal.

Amidst all of the hoopla, you might have heard Peyton Manning’s name more than once. If you follow the game at all you’re aware that he is a guaranteed first-ballot Hall Of Fame player who might be playing in his last game. You might also be aware that he missed a significant part of the regular season with a foot injury. In his place, Brock Osweiler came in and lead the team to a number of victories. He is clearly Denver’s quarterback of the future. Even after Manning got healthy, Osweiler had the starting job and was only back on the bench after Denver stumbled in a late season game and Manning came in. So why is Manning starting the Super Bowl?

You might say “oh, it’s a tribute to his wonderful career and that must be respected.” The real answer is the business point today. As an article written about the game said

Manning, not Osweiler, will start Sunday against the Carolina Panthers after reclaiming the job he lost to foot problems and turnovers earlier in the season. The five-time MVP‘s experience outweighed his limitations for the stretch run on a Denver team that relies on the running game and defense.

Experience isn’t something that you can teach – it’s something you need to gain over time. As I tell clients – most of whom are younger than I am – you hire me in part so that you don’t make all the mistakes I’ve made over the years. While you can stay up all night to work through a problem, I have probably faced the same problem multiple times over the last 40 years.  It might be possible to read about business and to learn (and I encourage you to do so!), but there is no substitute for living through business situations.  That takes time, patience, an open mind, and a willingness to accept that there might be many valid solutions to the problem you’re facing.

I will be rooting for the wily old veteran to have a good game no matter how his team does.  Every team needs one to help lead them into battle.  How about yours?

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud

Time For What?

It’s Foodie Friday and the topic is time. Now, what the heck does time have to do with our usual Friday food rant? As it turns out, quite a bit. I was reading this article from Eater on the year’s advances in food technology. What struck me as I read the piece wasn’t so much any one piece of tech (although I’m not sure how I’ve lived without a bacon emoji until now) but how many of the innovations had to do with time.

There are a few items mentioned that reduce the time a customer needs to wait in person to be seated. There are other that reduce the time a customer needs to wait to receive their food after placing their orders. Still others involved getting take out food delivered in less time (nothing like a speedy drone to beat the traffic!). 80% of the innovations mentioned in the article involve saving time somehow, mostly to benefit the customer but in so doing also increasing service capacity and, in theory, profits. We love those win-win scenarios!

All this time saving does, however, beg the question: what are people going to do with the time savings? It seems these days that the answer involves consuming more content and the marketing messages pushed through the channels containing that content. Let me throw out a different thought.

Since so many people, in the food industry and elsewhere, seem to be wanting each of us to have a little more free time in our day, why don’t we use it to do some of the things we apparently don’t have enough time to do now? You know: read a book or spend a few minutes actually researching an issue that’s meaningful to us so the next time we share a story we’re sure of our facts. Take some of that newly found spare time and go say “hi” to someone in person instead of messaging. Throw a ball to your dog or with your kid.

It’s a season of family and gift-giving. How about we use the gift of time all these innovations afford us wisely?Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, Joyous Festivus, and enjoy whatever you’re celebrating!

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints

Social, Smoke, And MIrrors

I’m frustrated. Some of the frustration is with myself because I can’t seem to explain why hiring certain people to work on your business is a bad idea when compared to hiring other kinds of experts. Some of the frustration is with businesspeople who don’t seem to grasp that the tools aren’t the business. In an effort to ease my aforementioned frustrations, let me vent a bit and, hopefully, in the process of doing so help clarify the issues.

With very few exceptions, a recent college grad is not an expert on how to use social media as a marketing tactic. I think the supposition is that since most of these kids have been on social media for a decade and are generally quick to adopt the next new thing that they’re qualified to lead your social media efforts. That is as ridiculous as assuming that I am qualified to repair my car just because I’ve been driving for 40 years. Rattling off buzzwords isn’t the same as understanding business goals. Doing things because they’re “cool” or because they appeal to the social media person isn’t a great strategy. Things are done because they serve the customer and in so doing, move the company toward one of more business goals.

The tools aren’t the business. We use the right tool at the right time for the right purpose in everything we do. We don’t decide “I’m going to use a hammer” when the goal is to cut meat. I’ve had discussions with potential clients who have no clue why they’re on Facebook or Twitter. I’ve had others who blast out a dozen pieces of content a day with no examination of their analytics to help refine the type of content they’re pushing, the frequency with which they do so, and the channel(s) they employ.

I’m open to suggestions for cutting through the smoke and mirrors. It’s not so much that my proposals to help aren’t chosen (and I know I’m speaking for several other senior consultant types here) but that the ones that get chosen are doomed to failure because they’re style over substance. This hurts everyone – platforms, clients, consultants, and ultimately customers. We can’t expect clients to invest in developing channels – particularly social – if we can’t produce results. We can’t produce results if we don’t understand the underlying business and its customer base.

Thanks for indulging me today. What’s on your mind?

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Filed under Consulting, Huh?