Category Archives: Thinking Aloud

Ball Position

I haven’t bored you with a golf-related screed in a while so let’s try that today. Yes, it relates to business too, of course. As I generally do over the weekend, I played golf. If you’ve been a reader for any amount of time you know that I find a great number of life lessons (and business lessons) on the links. Of course, given how badly I played the last few rounds, the only learning of which I became convinced was that I was really terrible at this game.

This morning, with my head a little more clear I went to the driving range. For those of you who are golfers, I thought that my problem was that I needed to shallow out (make a little flatter) my swing because I was digging very deep divots and not striking the ball particularly well. From time to time, especially when I was off the fairway (it happens), I was spraying the ball right because I couldn’t get the clubface back to square due, I thought, to the steepness of my swing.

None of that technical stuff matters, however. I had diagnosed the issue and thought I knew the answer so I went to the range to make a swing change. As with anything, big changes take time and I wanted to get going. You with me so far?

Well, as I was warming up to begin practice, an odd thing happened. I hit a ball with it positioned farther forward (think closer to my left foot) in my stance. The result was an absolutely pure shot – straight, high, and far. No real divot either, just a nice scrape along the ground. I tried it again – the same result. OMG – I don’t stink – the ball was just too far back (toward my right foot) in my stance and I had to come at it too steeply to hit it. With it forward everything else was fine. The club pro was on the range giving a lesson and he wandered over when he was done. He confirmed my swing looked pretty good. and that yes, something as simple as moving the ball forward 3 inches could change everything. Which is, of course, the business point.

How many times have things not been going well and someone – the boss, the management team, maybe you – rants that wholesale changes are needed? This usually starts a chain of events that paralyzes the enterprise. Here is the thing – it’s rare that a business loses its mojo overnight. It’s usually a gradual process of tiny changes, much like me having the ball slide further back in my stance little by little until I became used to playing it too far back which was making it difficult to play well. Businesses let things “slide back” too until they can’t operate well.

Much like my fix, it’s rare that major changes are needed in a business. It’s usually just a matter of paying attention to what had become different over time. It may require some outside eyes to help with that, but usually, the folks with good institutional memory can provide answers (yet another reason why you don’t get rid of all us older employees!).

Wholesale swing changes? Nah – just a tweak in ball position. Think about that the next time you’re contemplating a major change in your business. Yes, that might be needed but isn’t starting with some simple changes much easier and cost-effective?

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud

When I’m…

Most of the time, this blog is about you, or at least about something that I think could be helpful to you. Today, if you’ll indulge me since it’s my birthday, it’s mostly about me, although maybe there’s something you could take away as well.

When I was 12, The Beatles put out the Sgt. Pepper album. It had a little ditty called “When I’m 64” on it. While to most of us the song was brand-new, it turns out it was one of the first songs Paul ever wrote and was in The Beatles performance repertoire quite early on (they played it when their amps went out). It seemed kind of hokey to 12-year-old me and the lyrics about being old and losing my hair seemed very far off.

Well, that was in 1967, and if you can do the math, it’s 52 years later. So let’s see – I was 12 and if add 52 that’s OMFG – I’m 64! Well, happy frickin’ birthday, old man. Yep, the future is now. My hair is mostly gone too. I don’t, however, ask myself if I’m still needed (nor do I have Vera, Chuck or Dave as grandchildren). I also realize the song is about getting old together and is sung by a young person. 64, by the way, is still pretty young. That said, may I impart a little wisdom from this almost-aged one?

I try to live in the moment. I’ve made an effort to stop looking back and wanting things to have been different and I try not to look too far forward because things happen each day that affect what the future might hold. That’s not as easy as it sounds, at least not for me. When I do look back, I try not to think of things I would do differently as mistakes but as lessons. I’ve always been a pretty good student and have never had to repeat a class so learning those lessons thoroughly prevents the outcomes I might change from happening again.

Like most of us, I’ve experienced unbelievable joy and unbearable sadness. The trick isn’t, as some folks say, not to get too caught up in either. I think experiencing them fully is the best (and worst) part of being human. It’s when we stop feeling and are emotionally dead to the world that we have problems. I just try to remember that the highs and lows will pass and while each of those extremes affects us in some way, the changes they bring make each day more interesting than the last.

Mostly, what I’ve learned is exactly that: it’s about constant curiosity and learning. Growth and wisdom come from that learning and we’re all in this together, like it or not. Helping others to grow and to learn, as I set out to do as a teacher 40 years ago and still do now in a different way, assures that the world answers the “will you still need me” question in the affirmative. Does that make sense?

Leave a comment

Filed under Helpful Hints, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud, What's Going On

False Inferences

This Foodie Friday, let’s give a round of applause to Burger King, A&W, White Castle, and all of the other burger chains who are beginning to serve Impossible Burgers. OK, throw in the donut chains who are serving the Beyond Meat “sausage” products too. Are they indistinguishable from their meat-based versions? I have no idea – I generally don’t go to QSRs when I want a burger although I might have to just to try one out.

The round of applause is not for taste but for trying to expand their customer bases to include vegetarians and vegans. My vegan daughter will (rarely) go to a QSR and get what amounts to lettuce and tomato on a bun (think a chicken sandwich without the chicken) although some of the chains offer truly vegan patties and sandwiches.

Burger King is not one of those – their veggie burger has both milk and eggs in it. However, they are one of the first chains to add the Impossible Burger to their offerings. As it seems with many things business-related, there is a dark lining to the silver cloud. It turns out, unless you specifically ask, the Impossible Burger is cooked with the same broiler as regular burgers and chicken. So much for vegan or even vegetarian. Burger King says that 90% of the people who ordered the Impossible Whopper during a trial run this spring are meat eaters, which means most diners may not care if their faux-meat patties are cooked alongside classic beef ones. In fairness, they don’t label the product as vegan either. Still, it raises a point I want to bring to the surface today.

Humans make inferences. We use our beliefs as assumptions and make inferences based on those assumptions. We do that because we can’t act without them. We have to have some basis for understanding and the only way for us to take action is to use our assumptions to make inferences. An assumption is something we “know” based on our beliefs or previous experience.

When Burger King offers a burger that is a vegan alternative to a meat-based product (something that’s known) you can see how a customer will infer it’s still vegan even when it’s not labeled as such.  If there is room for the customer to draw a faulty inference based on reasonable assumptions, I think we need to go out of our way to correct them. I also think that it’s way out of bounds to create those false inferences knowingly – having the customer see that something is 35% off and a good buy when you marked it up the week before with the intent of marking it back down.

The difference between “relaxing” and “wasting time” is all in the meaning we assign to what we’re doing, the inferences we draw. The difference between “selling” and “dishonesty” or “hyperbole” or even “grifting” is also based on inferences. Not allowing customers to draw a well-constructed line from their assumptions to inferences and meaning is bad business in the long run, don’t you think?

Leave a comment

Filed under food, Huh?, Thinking Aloud

Why Doesn’t Everything Have An FDD?

Have you ever heard of a Franchise Disclosure Document? I hadn’t either until I became involved in matching people up with franchise opportunities. You can read about what the FDD entails here but in a nutshell, it’s meant to be a document that provides enough information to someone thinking about investing in a franchise so that that person can make an educated decision about the investment. It’s sort of like a prospectus you would receive before you invested in a mutual fund or a stock.

If you’re someone who is looking at franchises, putting the FDD’s of a couple of brands in which you’re interested side by side can be enlightening. You will see the differences in the ongoing fees you’re going to be paying as well as the estimated start-up costs you’ll incur. You can look at how many franchisees have joined the system over the years and where they’re located. You can see if any have left the system as well as if there are any bankruptcies or legal actions. You’ll see any differences in how they define the territory to which you’re getting exclusive rights (and if the rights you’re getting are, in fact, exclusive). In short, you’re being given a document that provides the bulk of the information you would probably have to spend weeks researching on your own if you could even find it.  In fact, the FDD even gives you a list of current franchisee so you can “validate” the franchise by calling them and asking them to tell you even more information.

My first thought when I read my first FDD was “wouldn’t it be nice if EVERYTHING had an FDD?” I mean, who wouldn’t want to be handed this kind of information by law? Not only that, once you get the FDD there is a mandatory waiting period before the franchisor can take your money, even if you’re ready to sign up on the spot. Wouldn’t THAT be nice when you’re being pressured into making a quick decision about a big purchase such as a car or a house?

Come to think of it, if you’ve ever bought a car or a house, have you remotely thought that you had complete information? Maybe you got a mechanic or a building inspector to look at them but wouldn’t it be great to have an FDD?

That’s something any business should keep in mind. While we might not want to make up a 250+ page document, we should strive to disclose as much important information as we can throughout the decision-making process to potential customers and partners. Not only does it make them feel more secure in their decision to sign up with you but it also prevents a lot of surprises down the road. Just because we’re not legally obligated to provide something that’s the equivalent of an FDD doesn’t mean we shouldn’t, don’t you think?

And if you’re ready to change your life and look at a new opportunity, click here and I’ll help you make that happen. With an FDD too!

Leave a comment

Filed under Consulting, Franchises, Thinking Aloud

Becoming An Icon

What do you think of when you hear the word “icon”? You might think of those little squares on your smartphone screen that link you into an app. You might think of some other graphic that has meaning in the way that it looks. Or you might think about someone or something that is a symbol and is the object of uncritical devotion, as the dictionary defines it. It’s this last meaning that I want to address today.

Photo by Agnieszka Kowalczyk

You can probably think of several iconic brands – companies that are market leaders and offer great (read that as high-value even if they’re not high-cost) products to their customers. Disney, Apple, and others would qualify here. They have a lot of things in common despite their very different business sectors. They have strong branding that is unique in the consumers’ mind. The brand itself has a clearly defined meaning in those minds as well. Customers know what to expect and the reality of the product they receive usually beats those expectations.

Icons offer high value. Customers get their problems solved at what they perceive to be a fair investment of time and money. Icons are also very consistent – it’s a repeatable brand experience. Lastly, their positions are highly-defensible. It will be very hard for another brand to take its place. None of that is news to you, right?

The question I have is why don’t we think of our personal brands in the same way? Do we think about becoming an iconic business person, one that has a strong, unique branding in the business world? Are we consistent, offering all of those with whom we interact the same, high-quality experience? When people deal with us, whether they are partners, clients, suppliers, peers or employees, do they know what to expect? Are they excited about that prospect because they know a positive experience awaits?

In a world where we’re heading for a million corporations of one, your personal brand is becoming your corporate brand. Why not make it as iconic as you can?

Leave a comment

Filed under Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud

Harder Than It Looks

It’s Foodie Friday and yesterday I took my old beast of a smoker out for a July 4th spin. Of all the things I transported from the wilds of Connecticut to sunny (read that as hotter than blazes) North Carolina, The Beast was probably the most difficult thing to move. It was the subject of a Foodie Friday post all on its own a couple of years back. As I described it at the time:

Photo by Jaden Hatch

The Beast is made of heavy steel that’s quite thick and it weighs well over 100 pounds even without my usual load of meats inside. As I was cleaning up the old Rancho Deluxe to get ready for its sale, the smoker was one of the very few things that I was adamant about saving for the move.

Yesterday I fired it up and did some racks of ribs, some chicken and some sausage. They came out quite well, thanks. What also came out was a reminder that something so simple – putting meat into a box and letting it cook slowly – is way harder and less simple than it looks.

First, prepping the meat. One might just salt and pepper the ribs and toss them in. Yes, one COULD do that, but it would be a disservice to the ribs and your palate. What’s less easy is removing the membrane and assembling a nice dry rub of several spices to bring out the flavor of the wood smoke and the pork. Similarly, you COULD just plop the whole chicken on a rack and let it smoke or you could halve it, brine it, season it properly and then proceed.

Next is cooking. Good BBQ is NOT a passive activity. Don’t let the guy sitting next to his cooker sucking down a beer mislead you. He’s there to keep a watchful eye on the on temperature, adjusting the air intake to raise or lower the temperature in the box and to add fuel when needed. I find that checking every 30 minutes or so at a minimum is critical.

Wood chips are a must. You can’t toss them on the fire – they won’t smoke, they’ll burn. You need to soak them after you think about what kind of wood chips to use. Hickory? Mesquite? Fruitwood like apple or peach?

The point I’m trying to make here is that something as simple as smoking a piece of meat is much harder than it looks if you’re going to do it right. So are many things in business. Assembling a team and keeping it functioning at a high level. Handling customer service issues.  Managing capital and cash flow. Every one of those things as well as many others as much harder than they might appear. What each of us needs to do is never underestimate the difficulty of anything until we’ve mastered it. That mindset makes us read, learn, and stay humble.

Leave a comment

Filed under food, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

The Fundamentals

I was watching the College World Series the other night. My Wolverines are in the final with a chance to win a very surprising national championship (they weren’t supposed to get this far). Go Blue!

Many of the articles attributed their success to great pitching and that’s something whose importance you can never overstate in my opinion. However, there is one other factor I noticed in watching this team that’s applicable to any business. This team has been well-coached in the fundamentals. Let me explain.

Bunting is a lost art in baseball. It’s attempted in many of the major league games I watch and is rarely executed perfectly. Maybe I’m yearning for the age when Phil Rizzuto would school the Yankee teams on bunting (he was among the best ever at it) but I’ve now seen Michigan lay down several perfect bunts on the correct side of the plate based on the situation and the defense. That’s knowing and practicing the fundamentals.

They run the bases well and don’t make bad decisions. Sure, a coach is involved in the decision, but if you don’t hit the bases in stride and run with your head up you’ll miss the “stop/go” signal. They are not too anxious at the plate, often running the pitcher deep into the count. Over time, that has an impact and the more pitches you see, the greater the likelihood that you’ll get one you like. Again, these are fundamentals.

The same holds true in your business. How well schooled is your staff – or are you – in the fundamentals of your operation? Does everyone understand how you are creating value for your customers and your enterprise? Since, as Eisenhower said, the plan may be useless but planning is essential, is everyone involved in that fundamental process? You probably use a lot of industry-specific terms in your office. Does everyone fully understand them and speak your language fluently?

As managers, our job is to make sure that the team has the skills to perform and that skill almost always relies on some fundamentals. Teach them, practice them, and make sure that they’re executed perfectly every time. Like this Michigan team, you’re probably going to overperform and get unexpectedly great results. Make sense?

Leave a comment

Filed under Consulting, Thinking Aloud