Category Archives: Helpful Hints

The Right Questions

I was watching the Dems’ debate last night. I’m pretty much a political junkie and this has been an interesting few months as the Democratic candidates sort themselves out en route to a nominee.

As I was watching, I was reminded that the next year is really a very long job interview for a very big job. Watching the debate in that context made me realize that the moderators weren’t approaching it that way at all. They were asking the wrong kind of questions, at least right up until the last one about “someone we’d be surprised you’re friends with.” Let me explain because if you manage a business, hiring is one of the most important tasks you have.

If you’re still asking lame questions such as “tell me about yourself” or “where will you be in five years,” you really should leave the interviewing to someone else. The purpose of an interview is to find out things that aren’t on a resume but which have a huge impact on a candidate’s ultimate success or failure. In my mind, “smart” is the main thing I’m looking for along with intellectual curiosity. I spend my time trying to get answers that demonstrate a candidate’s possession of those qualities or lack thereof. To you, some other things might be important. You need to hone your questions to shine a light on the areas that are critical to you.

Don’t ask “yes/no” questions. Do ask hypothetical questions that reflect the reality of what will be the candidate’s day to day job. I used to test the candidate’s knowledge of my company to see if they really wanted to work there or if they were just looking for a job. “What did you find in your research about us that surprised you?” “As you were finding out about us, what questions came up that I might be able to help answer for you?” If the answers are vague or focused on things like salary or benefits, this is a person who wants a job and not a career. That’s fine, but it’s not what I want.

Asking the right questions can make all the difference in assembling a team for the long-term or constantly having to replace people who either leave for a better gig or who aren’t really qualified in the first place. The right questions get you the right people. You with me?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud

The Dead Of Dining

I came up with today’s Foodie Friday topic this past week as I was dining out. Which of course leads to The Grateful Dead. If any of you are Deadheads, one thing you know is that when the band was on and in full flight they were magnificent. They could take you with them as they soared musically. Unfortunately, the odds of that happening on any given night were not close to 100%.

It’s the thing that frustrates most of us who listened to The Dead. You could go to a show never knowing if you were going to walk away uplifted or disappointed. The experience was inconsistent. They were the musical personification of the old Mother Goose nursery rhyme:

There was a little girl who had a little curl
Right in the middle of her forehead;
When she was good, she was very, very good,
And when she was bad she was horrid.

OK, back to food. I took a little mini-vacation this week to an island just off the North Carolina coast. It was lovely but because it is a relatively small island, there are limited dining options. One of these options was a place that serves Mexican food. The first time I dined there I had a lovely skirt steak but what struck me was how good the accompanying rice and black beans were. The beans were perfectly textured with a little smokiness coming from a piece of smoked pork tossed in the pot. The rice was billowy. I made it a point to return on another night.

The second night I dined there, the beans were bland and tough, as was the rice. In fact, the rice had a crunch to it, not like the lovely socarrat that forms in paella but from being undercooked and raw. Everything from the drinks to the entrees seems to have been tossed together with a minimum of care and thought.

It reminded me that one thing we need in business is consistency. Whether we’re serving food or figures, customers need to know that they can count on our product meeting a high standard each and every time. Employees and our team need to know that everyone is treated fairly and using the same standards. Unlike The Dead or this restaurant, we can’t miss the mark as often as we hit it. The only times we miss the standards we set should be those occasions when we move those standards up a notch. Make sense?

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints, Music

McRib And You

The big news this Foodie Friday is the return of the McRib sandwich. It’s only going to be around for a limited time and only at select McDonald’s stores (which is about 10,000 of them). If you’ve never had one of these babies, it’s a pork patty formed to look like pork ribs (but boneless) on a bun with pickles and onions and a fair amount fo a sweet barbeque sauce.

I’d be very dishonest if I said this concoction appalls me since I’m a fan of the thing, or at least I was before I both quit eating a lot of carbs (45g in this baby) and lived in a place where real BBQ pork sandwiches are easier to find than a decent deli. When it hit the market back in 1981, it was a dud. It’s been released every so often since into a limited number of outlets and it sells out.

There is something any business can learn from the McRib or the pumpkin spice craze at Starbucks or Dunkin’. It’s the smart tactic of giving customers a reason to come back. There is a restaurant here in town that I patronize on a regular basis. The food is quite good but there are rarely any specials. It gets boring, frankly. I’ve tried pretty much everything on the menu. Something special might get me to make a special trip as opposed to the every 10 days or so when I want a really good burger.

There is something else. Here is a quote from a marketing professor at Northwestern:

For fast-food chains in particular, which rely on familiarity, holiday items can offer consumers some variety. “You need consistency because that’s the brand mantra,” said Chernev. “But no matter how much you like something, consuming something different … increases the enjoyment of what you consumed before.” Chernev says it’s a neat marketing ploy: Although a specialty item may be exciting on its own, it can also remind consumers how much they like the basics.
In my mind, it’s like how being on vacation often reminds you of how much you like being home if that makes any sense. In any event, every business needs to think about how a special product promotion (vs. a sale price promotion) can provide an overall lift to the business.  Got it?

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints, What's Going On

What A Waste

In addition to it being Foodie Friday, it’s also trash day. Every Thursday night I wheel the trash and recycling bins out to the curb to await their pick-up Friday morning. That also means that each Thursday I go through the fridge and toss any food that has reached its expiration date or any leftovers that didn’t manage to get consumed after they were cooked sometime in the previous 5 days. In all candor, it’s one of the more frustrating things for me since I absolutely HATE to waste food.

Yes, I was of the generation who had parents that reminded us that children were starving in Europe (which they actually were as the continent rebuilt after WWII) and elsewhere but I don’t think that’s really what bothers me. It’s also not the feeling like I’m tossing cash money into the trash bin although that in effect is exactly what I’m doing. I just don’t like to waste anything. That’s one of the many reasons I’ve always admired Jacques Pepin who would always demonstrate how to make use of every scrap of food on his cooking shows.

This from a Food52 piece:

The average American ends up throwing away a full 103 pounds of spoiled food each year, according to a recent survey of 2,000 people conducted by OnePoll for Bosch home appliances. That works out to an average of 4 items a week, or the weekly equivalent of $53.81. All told, per the survey results, the average American adult will waste 6,180 pounds of food in their lifetime.

Food isn’t the only area where we waste perfectly good things either. Plastic bags are a plague, for example. I’m surprised stores still offer them or don’t hand out reusable bags. My supermarket sells big reusable bags at cost and will replace them for free if they rip. Trader Joe’s does something similar. It’s good for the customer, good for the environment, and good for the business since they don’t have to purchase as many single-use bags.

There is a lot of waste in business, of course, and I don’t just mean single-use bags. We produce reports that no one reads just because the report has always been produced. We don’t look at the analytics of what we’re doing on the web and in social media to understand if the bang is commiserated with the buck – the time and effort – we spend making those platforms hum.  We waste time in endless group email chains to solve a problem when one brief meeting would serve to fix the whole thing.

Be waste averse. Not just in your fridge but in your office as well. Your wallet and your CFO will thank you!

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Filed under Consulting, food, Helpful Hints

Changes In Latitude

I did something today that I consider a bit of a milestone and I’d like to share it with you because it brings up a bigger point. One of the areas that I used to help clients with was Search Engine Optimization (SEO). While I never claimed to be an expert on the subject I knew enough to get clients started in improving their rankings, often to great effect. In order to stay current, I had 10 different feeds from blogs relating to SEO funneling into my feed reader. Each day I’d peruse the latest and great information, trying to stay current so my advice would be solid.

I also had half a dozen feeds from the advertising trades and six others that talked about analytics. Reading them throughout each day, along with the feeds on the sports business and many tech feeds, probably took a total of an hour or two each day, and when there were big developments, often longer.

I got that time back today because I deleted those feeds from my news stream. I’ve changed the focus of my business to franchise consulting and frankly, keeping current on tech, advertising, and media when I have very little practical reason to do so (other than to amuse you here on the screed) was an inefficient use of my time. While I am still subscribed to a number of feeds in those areas to maintain a knowledge base, I’m cutting the cord on most of them.

What’s been surprising as I hit the “delete” key is how long it has taken me to do this and that’s the point I think is relevant to each of us. It’s hard to let go. I still consider myself a TV guy even though I haven’t worked in the TV business for almost 20 years. Most of the people with whom I worked are on to other things or retired. I couldn’t let go though and was faithfully reading the trades I read when it was my daily life.

I’ve been at this new line of consulting for a year. I’m thoroughly enjoying it and business is good. Despite that, it’s a struggle not to look in the reaview mirror sometimes at the business life that was yesterday instead of spending that time focusing on what’s ahead. I’m hoping that deleting the feeds and freeing up some time will encourage me looking forward and I hope it’s something you’ll think about as well. As Jimmy Buffett says,

Its these changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes
Nothing remains quite the same

Make sense?

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Filed under Growing up, Helpful Hints, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

Variations On A Pimento

Happy Foodie Friday! Years ago I started serving pimento cheese as one of the snacks I had available as guests arrived for Thanksgiving. I can’t recall what started me down this path. As a Yankee, it was not a food that I’d eaten other than hearing about it being offered as a sandwich on-site during the annual Masters Tournament. The guests liked it and I served it thereafter. In fact, it became a household staple of sorts.

Little did I know at the time that I’d end up here in the South where pimento cheese is as common as mosquitos. What I didn’t understand, however, is how its use is as widespread as it is nor the seemingly endless number of variations, both personal and commercial. Everyone’s mama makes THE BEST pimento cheese and you can go from tailgate to tailgate at any pregame and find out just how different a single food can be. Of course, one look in any southern supermarket will tell you the same thing. There are dozens of brands and often several flavors (jalapeno pimento cheese, anyone?) from each brand.

As with many things southern, pimento cheese was born in the north and moved here. This is a terrific history of the stuff from Serious Eats but in a nutshell

The original version started out as something quite different: the marriage of cream cheese and canned pimentos, two popular and newly-available products of the industrial food trade.

It evolved into the basic grated cheese (usually cheddar), mayo (Duke’s, please) and pimentos recipe over time. The variations upon that basic theme are endless. I caused a bit of a stir when I presented my variation on the theme by adding green onions and Worcestershire sauce to mine, using two types of cheese. A friend ridiculed me until the friend’s mama tried it and loved it. So much for my Noo Yawk tinkering!

This is the third time I’m writing about pimento cheese and yet each of the posts has been different. Why I raise this topic here at all in a business blog is that it reminds me that not everything we do in business has to be completely new or innovative. Just taking something that’s basically good as is and making it a little better can be a win. Think about how Apple made the mp3 player better or Amazon transformed online shopping. eBay made a better auction engine and the Japanese saved their economy by taking things that were developed elsewhere and improving them.  It’s not finding the needle in the haystack that transforms your business. It’s often figuring out how to make the haystack itself just a bit better.

I’ve yet to sample any pimento cheese here that is made in a way that’s delicious but incomprehensible. Most of the time, it’s a variation that is smart and understandable and makes you wonder why you didn’t try that. I think a lot of the great things in business are just like that, don’t you?

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud

Unlucky Food

Happy Foodie Friday to all you triskaidekaphobics out there! That’s right – it’s Friday the 13th and those with a fear of the number 13 apparently aren’t the only ones with some fears this day. As it turns out, there is a whole host of fears about food, most of which I knew nothing about until I consulted the Googles. For example, did you know that chicken wings are unlucky to have on New Year’s Eve? It is because wings are believed to make your luck fly away from you and who wants that when you’re just starting a new year?

Who knew that some people consider lobster an unlucky food? I always considered myself pretty lucky when I could afford to get one at a restaurant, but some folks think that because lobsters can swim backward, they too are avoided on the New Year’s menu. The thinking is that swimming backward means you have messed it all up and you need to start over in life.

Cutting bananas, not crushing eggshells, and how you place your chopsticks are all involved in food-related bad luck beliefs. As it turns out, there are some things that we can take away from misplaced beliefs. Many businesses have had their products also suffer from beliefs based on rumors and not on facts. I think you’ve probably heard the one that KFC had to change their name from Kentucky Fried Chicken because what they began serving was not actually chicken. Like an email that circulated when this was a hot rumor said:

KFC does not use real chickens. They actually use genetically manipulated organisms. These so-called ‘chickens’ are kept alive by tubes inserted into their bodies to pump blood and nutrients throughout their structure. They have no beaks, no feathers, and no feet.

Oy. For you Coca-Cola enthusiasts, you’ll be pleased to know that Coke does not contain a bug-based dye nor has anyone ever died from drinking it while eating Mentos, both “facts” that circulated years back.  Neither P&G nor Starbucks are devil worshippers which some folks state as fact based on their logos. Bubble Yum doesn’t contain spider eggs.

You can laugh, but every one of those companies and dozens more has had to spend resources fighting “facts”, most of which wouldn’t have ever seen the light of day in the pre-Internet times.  As a business, it reminds us that monitoring social media is critical to stop things such as these from ever spreading. It also reminds us as citizens that training ourselves (and our kids!) to exercise critical thinking and pursue facts based in truth and not in rumor is paramount.

Friday the 13th? A full moon as well? Shouldn’t it really be Halloween?

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints, Reality checks