Monthly Archives: March 2018

The Road To Hell

English: McDonalds' sign in Harlem.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Let’s end the week with a Foodie Friday screed about the embodiment of the old saying that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” To do so, I’m going to turn to one of our frequent subjects, McDonald’s.

While there are several ways the maxim can be interpreted, I’m focused on the meaning that even good intentions can bring about unintended consequences. That’s what happened when the fast-food king tried to improve things for their customers and, in so doing, made things a lot worse for their employees. As Bloomberg reported, the company is implementing new technology and pushing workers for faster delivery. While the intention is to help customers get in and out of the store quickly, the result is that it is breeding chaos in the stores as well as precipitating higher worker turnover. The unfamiliarity the staff has with the new systems, as well as the higher turnover, means that the food is actually taking longer to get served and drive-through times are increasing.

Another food example. Back in the 1970’s, catfish farmers introduced the Asian Carp into their breeding ponds. The idea was to keep the ponds clear of algae and plankton which would improve the health and quality of the catfish they were breeding. The carp, however, are aggressive and eat voraciously, eating up to 20% of their body weight in a day. They managed to escape the limited areas of the breeding ponds and have found their way to the Great Lakes via the Mississipi and Ohio Rivers where they are decimating native species of fish.

We have to consider even the most remote negative consequences as we put our well-intentioned plans in place. A zero-tolerance policy forbidding teachers from touching students? Great idea until a fight breaks out and teachers can’t step in. Putting a bounty on snakes to eliminate a health hazard? Wonderful, until people begin breeding snakes for the bounty (the Cobra Effect). In McDonald’s case, they had the best of intentions in reducing a friction point for their customers. They didn’t, however, fully consider the other possible consequences and that created a bit of a fail ultimately. Take the time to consider as many outcomes as you can and you’ll increase your chances of staying on the road to places other than hell.


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Filed under Consulting, food, Huh?

Who Are Those Guys?

I don’t know if you remember the classic film “Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid,” but I thought of it as I was reading this morning. Paul Newman and Robert Redford play the title characters who spend much of the movie being pursued by a group of men determined to bring them to justice. Every time they think they’re in the clear, the posse turns up again, at which point Newman or Redford asks “who are those guys?”

I suspect that a number of my former colleagues in television have had a similar experience over the last few years. I remember having one back in the 1990’s when ESPN became a major presence in sports. In the late 1980’s, we used to laugh about them at our TV sports sales meetings.  After all, even though the industry, spurred on by the 1984  Cable Act, was wiring the country like crazy, cable was barely in half the homes. Even as late as 1992, Springsteen told us there were 57 channels and nothing on.

Then BOOM. TV ratings started to dive and cable ratings started to climb. The peach baskets the broadcast networks used to stick out the window and fill up with money started to take a lot longer to fill up. Who were those guys? Well, we identified our competition and started to extract payments from cable carriers just as our cable brethren did. Things we different but more stable, and the broadcasters began buying the cable content providers.

Things continued to change. I’ll let the CEO of Turner (as quoted in Digiday) explain what happened next:

All of a sudden, our biggest competitors are no longer Disney, Fox, NBC, CBS and other networks; it’s these “digital companies” that are coming in and taking two-thirds of all digital ad revenues and 85 percent of the marginal growth in digital ad revenues.

Who are those guys? The point that any business can take away from the TV experience is this. Someone is always chasing you. You have something they want, whether it’s customers, market share, technology, data, or just plain attention. Like the posse, they’re going to be relentless. Unlike the posse, it’s never going to be the same guys all the time. You need to be attentive and take countermeasures, hopefully not like Butch and Sundance do by jumping off a cliff.

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But You Got To Have Friends

According to Facebook, I have 388 friends. One very social member of my family has over 1,300. I suspect that in her case, and I’m quite sure that in mine, that some of those “friends” couldn’t pick you out of a lineup, so one might speculate as to how real the friendship is.

There is a much easier and yet way harsher method for figuring out the whole friendship thing. First, ask yourself who routinely interacts with you off social media. Then ask yourself of that group who does so when they don’t need anything from you. After that, you can ask yourself who from that much smaller group will return your call when YOU need something and, even more importantly, who will actually help you. We’re now approaching your real friend count.

Here is the good news. You don’t really need all that many friends. This report from goes back to 2016:

According to new research, you only need five friends in your life. British psychologist, Robin Dunbarm breaks down our friendships into layers.

The top layer consists of a spouse or best friend that you interact with daily. The next includes up to four people — that you care about and require weekly attention to maintain the relationship. The layers after that are made up of mere acquaintances.

Why the rant about friendship today? Because those few real friends are the key to your business success. They provide two of the parts of Maslow’s Hierarchy that allow you to function productively. They are your sounding board. They can, as they have in my case, help you grow your business by providing contact with potential clients (every client I’ve ever had, save for one, is as a result of a friendship, either directly or indirectly).

The Michael Corleone character in The Godfather says “My father taught me many things here — he taught me in this room. He taught me — keep your friends close but your enemies closer.” I get his meaning – understand those who would do you harm and pay constant attention to them – but I disagree about the closer part. Find your few true friends, both inside and outside of business, and pay them as much attention as you do anything. Your business will benefit and so will you. Make sense?

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Side Dishes

It’s Foodie Friday and today I’m inspired by a friend of mine who loves side dishes. Anytime a meal is discussed, the only question raised is “what are the sides?” Beef Wellington that took hours to prepare? Meh, but what kind of potatoes? You slaved for five hours over a perfect Bolognese Sauce? Interesting, but what veggies are we having?

I suspect that many of us think in an opposite manner. Side dishes are a throw-in – a starch of some sort, maybe some roasted veggies and a salad. When was the last time you just tossed a steak on the grill but worked for hours over perfect Pommes Dauphine? I suspect the next time will be the first since it’s much easier to put a bag of tater tots in the oven. Even when one goes to many restaurants, while the main proteins often have lengthy descriptions of each dish, the side dishes are generally just a listing of the vegetables and starches available.

I’m starting to pay a bit more attention to the sides. As it turns out, many businesses are too. What do I mean? Take the airlines. Originally, “ancillary revenues” such as baggage fees, change fees, advance boarding fees, and all of those horrible nickel and dime items the flying public hates were just side dishes. The main business was in filling seats. Today, airlines make over $80 Billion on these sidelines, and in many ways, they’re the entire profit center for the business. In other cases, what began as a side dish became the business. Groupon used to be an online fundraising site and only sold stuff as a sideline. Nintendo sold playing cards and making video games was a sideline. Twitter was a side project within a podcasting company called Odeo.

When was the last time you thought about the side dishes contained within your business? Maybe there are folks out there who love the sides more than the main and would be willing to skip the main altogether?

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Pay Me Now Or Pay Me Later

One thing that frustrates me is some folks’ inability to understand cost and value. There have been a few times over my last decade of consulting when that inability manifests itself in a particularly bad way. I’ve begun work with clients on more that one occasion where the client has spent a lot (in one case, close to a million dollars) of their seed money to build websites that didn’t accomplish what the client needed them to do. Most of the reason for this was that they hired the lowest-cost option. They failed to see that the value they needed was in their provider understanding the client’s business and delivering a solution that met the business requirements. Instead, they hired someone who made them a beautiful website that was fairly useless from a business perspective. That’s cost vs. value. They saved on cost and failed on value.

Startup companies are notoriously short of funds. Often the founders are working without pay and the thought of paying consultants, lawyers, accountants, and other professionals is anathema to them. That’s a big mistake. I worked with another startup that took intellectual property advice from “a friend who had done this before” instead of a lawyer. I noticed a potential problem with their name immediately but they were happy to go with their friend’s advice despite my asking about a legal opinion. As a result, once they launched their brand, they received a cease and desist letter informing them that they were infringing on another trademark. That resulted in a major depletion of their remaining funds to rebrand and to pay a lawyer to respond to the C&D. Cost vs. value in action.

What’s my point? If you’re venturing onto new grounds, hire some guides before you get lost. You’re going to be paying these professionals at some point and you might as well do so early on. Yes, it’s a cost you don’t think you can afford, but the value you receive can prevent very expensive mistakes and will ultimately save you money in the long run. Had I or any reasonably smart consultant been involved early, we would have talked about what analytics we needed from the website to make actionable business decisions before we worried about anything else. Every dollar spent on the site afterward would advance the business’ goals and not to making art rather than commerce.

Pay us now or pay us later. I think the sooner the better. You?

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You’re Naked

One of the things that can kill you in business is believing your own BS. As a former salesperson (we are really ever NOT salespeople?), that’s hard to admit, but let me explain what I mean. Let’s look at our products and services first and then let’s take a look at ourselves.

I know what I’m good at and what services I can provide. I also know my limitations. When I speak with potential clients, I’m very upfront about both of those things. It’s about setting expectations and not overpromising. If someone needs help, for example, with art, I’m not your guy. If they want help understanding UX, however, I can help. Need basic SEO work? I can do it. Need a lot of backend coding? Not from me, you don’t.

If you sell anything, it has limitations. Failing to acknowledge them leads to underdelivery and that leads to failure. If you can’t recognize and admit where the boundaries are, you’ve got a problem.

The same principle holds for us as managers. The higher up we go, the more we have people around us who are unwilling to criticize or challenge us. While our responsibility gets larger, our circles get smaller. In some cases, a leader makes it a point to eliminate anyone who contradicts their own view of themselves. I always felt this was inversely proportionate to the executive’s strength as a leader. I’ve worked for bosses who welcomed challenges to their opinions and for some who wouldn’t tolerate and dissent. Needless to say, the staff would kill for the former and abandoned the latter as soon as they got a chance.

I read this about former President Obama and his interactions with an unnamed musical artist on the basketball court:

When asked what he could learn about someone from playing basketball with him, Obama talked about self-awareness—singling out “a singer, a musical artist” whom he once played a pick-up game with, someone who was “ballin’” and came “with an entourage,” but utterly sucked on the court. “His shot was broke… he had no self-awareness and thought he was good,” Obama said. “He surrounded himself with people who told him he was good, even though he’s terrible.”

That’s my point exactly. We need people to tell us our shot stinks and that we’re naked, just like the little girl in The Emporer’s New Clothes. It makes us better managers and if we accept the feedback about our products or services, better salespeople. Who doesn’t want that?

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Why I Had To Buy The Crackers

This Foodie Friday we have a tale from the aisles of my local Harris Teeter. For those of you unfamiliar with the chain, it operates over 230 stores and 14 fuel centers in seven states and the District of Columbia. They’re originally from North Carolina and their southern hospitality is the story I’d like to hold up to you (or y’all) today as a best practice for any of us in business.

I do my weekly shopping at the HT, generally on Thursdays (extra 5% discount for us old folks!). I was wandering around the deli section trying to find some crackers that were on sale. An HT employee, whose sole responsibility seemed to be to walk around and to look for confused customers, asked me if I was having trouble finding something. I told her I was and what the missing item was. She walked over to the department manager to inquire and he immediately stopped what he was doing, came over, and told me that he had some more of the items in the back. He encouraged me to keep shopping and return to the deli later while he would go get the items.

No more than 5 minutes later, as I was wandering down an adjacent aisle, up walks the manager, 4 boxes of crackers in hand, one of each flavor. Now, you might not remember this, but I’m fairly fanatical about not eating non-whole grains or sugar or simple carbs. Without looking, I took 2 boxes of the crackers from him, thanked him profusely, and carried on. After he had left, I read the labels. These were not generally the sort of crackers I’d buy. However, he had gone to such effort to get them for me that I felt an obligation to do so.

That, my friends, is the reciprocation tendency in action. That, as you may recall,  is the tendency to want to return the favor when someone helps us or gives us something. I gladly bought two boxes of crackers I’ll probably only serve to guests just because the customer service was so excellent. As an aside, it’s a cultural thing in the store. Someone is constantly available to help you and they do so willingly and immediately. The store also does ongoing customer service surveys.

I’ve written about it before and will continue to do so. Customer service is, by my reckoning, the single most important distinguishing factor for most businesses today. Customers expect convenience and speed when they interact with your company, along with a smile. In this case, I bought something I probably would not have as a way to reward that service. What can you be doing to get your customers to do the same?

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