One thing I learned after I began managing people many decades ago is that even though it’s called “work,” it doesn’t have to seem that way all the time. Since I was still pretty young (24) when I got my first managerial responsibility, I still placed a good deal of emphasis on having fun as well as getting the work done. In fact, most of the time when problems arose it was because I had failed to act in a way that would be how I would want my boss to act or that I’d forgotten that for most people, work is what they do and not who they are. Let me explain why remembering to have fun is just as important as remembering to get things done.
I felt I was running a benevolent dictatorship. What I mean is that most decisions were mine because I bore the responsibility for them to the powers that be whether I had made them or not. However, I rarely took those decisions in a vacuum. I got input from my team and always encouraged them to voice their opinions. They knew that I might not decide to do things the way that they wanted but that I’d listened and considered their thinking on the matter.
That’s part of having fun. It’s letting every member of the team feel valued. It’s taking what we were doing together seriously but not taking ourselves so seriously. I read somewhere that great leaders are ambassadors of happy. I like that, especially since I’ve worked for a few bosses to whom “happy” and “staff” were never words that intersected.
People have fun when they know what to expect from their leader. When leaders make a conscious effort to have fun, whether via silly signs or self-deprecating humor or through the constant appreciation of the good work of each person on the team. That’s when “work” becomes a place that’s a lot more than a job or a paycheck. Ask yourself, “are we having fun yet?” Ask your team too. Are you? Are they?
This Foodie Friday sees us trying to answer the all-important question about whether to tip on the pre- or post-tax amount of the check. I suppose in some ways this falls into the category of “is a hot dog a sandwich?” but it has practical implications for the people on the receiving end of those tips, your waitstaff.
The thought for this was put in my head by an ongoing column on The Takeout, called Ask The Salty Waitress. Rather than getting caught up in the philosophical arguments for and against tipping off the taxed amount, she does something that I have often urged people in business to do: look at the practical and not at the hypothetical. She takes us through the math of the financial implications of tipping each way. In the end, it amount s to a $2 difference in a high tax area on a $100 check. Her feeling – and mine – is that the $2 probably means a lot more to the tippee that to the person eating out in a nice place.
This happens in business all the time. I’ve seen dozens of times when a meeting devolves into a heated argument over something in a contract. Everyone is standing on their principles but neglecting the real world. Often, when you can get the meeting to focus on the actual differences of conceding a point and getting something done vs. standing on principle and prolonging the discussion, the actual differences are actually pretty insubstantial, like the $2 tip.
Call me a pragmatist or call me someone who prefers to spend his time on things that warrant it, but my first instinct is always to figure out what the real outcomes are. If the result of taking either path is to have you end up in pretty much the same place then I’m taking the path of least resistance. You?
I went to see my parents last week and my Dad and I got to talking about business as we often do. In the course of the conversation, we got into how things are different today from when I broke into the business world and not all for the better. No, today isn’t another chapter in “Keith Is A Cranky Old Man”, but please bear with me if I sound like one along the way. Like the proverbial pile of pony crap, there’s a pony in here someplace.
When I got into business and for the first 20 years I was there, things weren’t all that different from when my Dad was in the same business. The business model was the same and the processes for conducting business was pretty much the same. He was more of the “Mad Men” era than I was although I caught the very end of it in many ways. Things started to change two decades in – they got faster, more complicated and far less personal than when he was a TV guy.
One thing that didn’t change was you had to learn how to carry yourself like a pro. You had to learn how to interact with clients. You had to learn how to dress and to drink (yes, three-martini lunches were real). The older sales types would rib us younger guys mercilessly but they were training us, much as professional athletes will mess with rookies even as they’re teaching them how to dress and behave. I feel as if that’s gone today in many ways and I’m not a fan.
What’s changed now, another two decades in, is that there is so much unprofessional behavior that I’m beyond angry – I’m kind of sad. People who I barely know will ask me to make an introduction to someone they know I know. It seems as if many younger people operate in a transactional way – what can you do for me – rather than on an interpersonal way. Carrying themselves with character and decency seems a foreign notion. Showing up on time and dressed for business (not in a tie, not in a suit, but not in jeans and a T-shirt either) when you have a meeting are foreign notions.
The people who don’t need loans are the ones to whom banks want to give them. I always tried to look like I didn’t need a loan when I went in to ask for one. I carried the same thinking into my business life. Look successful. Carry yourself as if you are and understand the metrics that identify you as successful in your job. Be a pro. Don’t whine. Pitch in. Care about others and the team as much as you do yourself. Is all of that short for grow up?
It’s Foodie Friday and the topic this week is allergies, specifically food allergies. Milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybean account for 90 percent of all food allergies in the United States. Think for a minute about how many people are employed making food in the restaurant business. As with any large population, there is a percentage of those people with food allergies. Now, look at the previous list of the top things that cause those allergies. It’s pretty clear that if you have a food allergy and want to cook professionally that you’re going have to have a plan for dealing with it since the thing that causes it is probably going to be nearby quite a bit.
There is an article on Eater that discusses this topic. Called How Chefs With Food Allergies Make It Work, it’s an interesting look at how gluten intolerance affects a pasta chef and how other chefs deal with an inability to taste – or in some cases even to touch – an ingredient that sets off a bad reaction. I’d go beyond allergies, actually. Say you’re a vegetarian and you’re assigned to the meat station. How do you taste? What about a vegan who is assigned to make a stew or chili, where seasoning is paramount and tasting required? If you can’t touch fish, how can you tell when it’s properly cooked?
There’s a lesson in there for any of us in business. I used to supervise technical people and I’m not a highly technical person myself. I couldn’t see if lines of code were messed up nor could I grasp the intricacies of a network beyond a certain point. I was like a chef with an allergy – I couldn’t personally taste and instead I had to rely on others. What I could do – and what you can do when you find yourself in a similar situation – is to learn to ask the right questions. A chef that can’t taste a dish can ask if there is a balance between salt and acid. He can ask what flavors are dominant and if the ingredient that’s being highlighted is predominant enough. You may not be able to “taste” your accounting but you can ask the right questions about how things are being done. You’re not a lawyer (no allergic jokes please) so you can’t “taste” the various indemnifications and liabilities, but you can ask the lawyer the right questions about specific concerns you might have.
Learning to ask the right questions and learning how to listen carefully to answers is part of being a great businessperson. You may be unable to taste or touch a particular area of the business but you can always use others to fill in your understanding just as a chef with allergies uses others to help them. In fact, that “liability” is actually an asset in a time when more customers suffer from the same issues. As one chef is quoted, “Someone with allergies is going to be a lot more cognizant and proactive in the kitchen space.” I take that to mean someone who has learned to work with others toward a common goal that’s customer-focused. Isn’t that why we’re all in business?