Tag Archives: business thinking

No Applause, Please

There is a solitaire game that I play on my phone. When you “win”, you get a round of applause most of the time. Sometimes, you don’t. There is just silence, probably because you didn’t solve the hand quickly enough. In a weird way, the lack of applause feels as if you’ve not won if that makes any sense.

That, in microcosm, is a very dangerous thing, both in business and in life. Expecting applause for work well done creates expectations that are infrequently met, and that leads to all sorts of bad places. Anger, frustration, and jealousy all begin to rear their ugly heads as some members of the team begin to compare the applause they receive with that others receive. It may not be literal applause but everything from mentions in a staff meeting to promotions to raises all count.

I’m not against giving applause – far from it. I’ve worked for bosses who made it clear that almost no applause would be forthcoming because they believed that employees were fungible. When applause was given, either literally or figuratively, it generally went to the higher-ups and not to the folks who really were responsible for the good work. As managers and teammates, we need to do what we can to support those who deserve recognition (I’m not in favor of “participation awards” for everyone, though). What I do approach with caution is the expectation we have that we’re going to receive some figurative love when it’s warranted.

Doing what you do for the applause creates false expectations. It makes us buy into a belief system that may not be our own. For example, you may not care about making a lot of money but when you see others doing so who do less or inferior work, you may wonder why you’re not getting rich too. People get “rich” in all sorts of ways. Teachers, ministers, first-responders and many others generally aren’t well-paid nor do they get much applause on a daily basis. Most of the folks I know who work in those professions have adjusted their thinking to take satisfaction in their own accomplishments and not in others’ recognition of those things. They spend their lives doing good work and not seeking applause. How about you?

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Why Is Right So Hard?

A long post today – please bear with me. I’m sure you have heard about the cancellation of Roseanne after the show’s namesake sent out a racist tweet. There was about a two-hour delay from when the tweet went public until ABC pulled the plug on the program. During that time, I wondered if ABC and parent company Disney would do the right thing. They did and it’s a great example to any of us in business about something that I’m passionate about.

You know we don’t do politics here. This isn’t political – it’s all business, people. Let’s look at this from a business perspective and let me explain why I’m so proud to be an ABC alumnus today.

First, the business background. This piece from Variety explains the issues ABC has had for years on Tuesday nights. In Roseanne, they finally had not only a hit program but a show around which they could build a solid night of programming. While they had not reaped a huge financial windfall from the show (it was a midseason replacement), they were poised to use it in the negotiations for ad time during the upcoming season. The way things work is that if you want to buy a hit you generally have to buy other programming too to get the best pricing. In other words, the loss is more about what might have been rather than existing dollars. Still, it is a financial hit.

Which leads me to the point about which I’m passionate. ABC made a decision to do the right thing no matter the financial cost or how disruptive it may be to their business. I’m sure they also looked to the potential cost to the Disney brand if they were to give tacit approval to what Roseanne tweeted by doing nothing. They looked to the long-term and to take action in accordance with their own principles and not the easy road. While there is never a good time for something like this to take place, this is probably about the worst possible time, given that the upfront selling season is beginning and ABC just announced their schedule, which will now have to be remade, two weeks ago.

Why is it so hard for companies to do the right thing? A heck of a lot don’t. Insurance companies who spend more effort finding ways to deny claims than to pay them.  Oil companies who fund fake studies to promote climate change denial rather than working to find clean energy. Food and tobacco companies that know about the problems with their products but who fight efforts to make the public aware. Those are just a few examples and I’m sure you can think of many more.

Contrast ABC’s quick, decisive action with other media companies who protected bad behavior by big-time talent. It didn’t require multiple meetings or in-depth analysis. The right course of action was obvious. I’d argue it was as well in other recent cases where the company failed to do the right thing. Equifax knew they had a hacking problem months before they told the public. In that time, executives may have sold $1.8 Billion in shares. Someone at Wells Fargo must have come up with the plan to charge half a million consumers for insurance they didn’t need. Why didn’t someone say “oh hell no” and fire the person on the spot? Even Apple failed to do the right thing by not telling customers it was slowing down their phones even though customers asked.

Any of these things could have been prevented if the businesspeople involved had acted honorably. By that, I mean in a way that would stand up to public scrutiny when measured against ethical and moral standards. Someone knew, someone could have nipped it in the bud, and someone could have used it as a teaching moment to explain why doing the right thing is important.

I know not everyone shares exactly the same standards, but I do believe that placing customers’ needs about profits, thinking long-term, and behaving as if the customer were your Mom or Dad rather than a “mark” is better than maximizing revenue. Shareholder value comes from long-term customers with high lifetime values and a sterling reputation. You get those by opting to do the right thing.

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What Are Your Limits?

What can’t you do? If you’re a child of my children‘s generation, you’ve probably been told since you were born that you can do anything. You have no limits. Does anyone really believe that’s true – that there isn’t anything we can’t do if we try really hard and practice a lot?

As you know if you’ve spent any time in this space, I play golf. I’m not horrible at it although I’m far from really good. I do practice and I might just try too hard. That said, there are shots I just can’t hit and never will be able to despite knowing how to do so and practicing them (you go ahead and hit that 225-yard shot over water and a bunker into a tight pin on a narrow green without landing in trouble).

Knowing your limits is important both in life and in business. We all want to help the team but learning to say “no” when you’re asked to take on more work than you can possibly do well really IS helping. Everyone hits the wall at some point and taking on too many projects or work that you’re not qualified to do well is a great way to hit it bang on.

Many ski areas have signs that remind you to ski within your limits. There is a sign at Bethpage Black, a golf course which has hosted the U.S. Open, that, in essence, asks you to know your limitations as a golfer and respect them.

Many people want to learn and to grow. Most people want to take on a new challenge. While you do need to push your limits to do this, at the same time, you need to be conscious of your abilities and approach any new goals appropriately. In golf or skiing, we can take lessons. How many businesspeople invest in courses to improve their skills?

In skiing and riding, we wear protective gear. The problem is that sometimes we get a false sense of security and push too far. In business, we rely on data from dodgy sources or only those surveys that tell us what we want to hear to give us that same false sense. Instead of recognizing the limits of the information, we believe it.

I’ve been playing the guitar since I was 10. I still can’t play like Clapton or Page despite well over 10,000 hours of practice. It may be some sort of physical ability I don’t have which they do. Then again, I probably have some mental abilities that have let me learn many skills they don’t have. Learning what you can and can’t do even with practice, instruction, and perseverance is key, and accepting those limitations, disheartening as it can be, can help make you better, not worse. Does that make sense?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

Soap To Soda To Gum

It’s Foodie Friday and today we’re going to raise a glass to chewing gum. Well, not to the gum itself, but to the founder of the Wrigley Chewing Gum Company, Mr. William Wrigley. While he made his fortune selling gum, he started out to do something quite different and therein lies the thought I have for us today.

English: Doublemint gum Photo by User:Hephaest...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mr. Wrigley began selling soap. Like many of us in business, he tried to distinguish his brand by giving his customers a little something extra which would help distinguish him and his product from the competition. In his case, he would give away baking powder. After a time, he figured out that his customers liked the baking powder more than the soap and so he started to sell baking powder. Along with the baking powder, he gave away two packages of gum. You can guess what happened next.

There are two things in his story that I think are relevant to any of us in business. First, giving the customers what my Creole friends call a “lagniappe” – a little something extra – always pays dividends and sometimes they’re huge. I don’t know if Mr. Wrigley’s soap (or baking powder) were premium-priced to cover the cost of the extras he gave away, but the outcome certainly negated any cost. Always ask yourself how you can do more for the customer.

At some point, Wrigley realized that he had to pivot his business because his sideline was more successful and popular than his main business. He’s not alone in this. WeWork grew out of a baby clothes business renting unused space in their building. Instagram was something that grew out of the users of a whiskey lover’s app posting photos. The founders recognized that the photo sharing was more important to the users than the whiskey information. When Justin.Tv began letting users stream videos, (having started as just one guy streaming his own life) the “gaming” channel blew up and Twitch was born.

We need to keep an open mind when we see opportunities. Yes, we can’t always be chasing the new shiny new thing, but when one aspect of our business is screaming to be given a lot more attention, we need not be afraid of making a pivot. Mr. Wrigley pivoted (twice) a century ago, and while technology has changed, the basic business acumen he displayed hasn’t. Ruminate about that!

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A.I. Aye Yi Yi

One of the hottest topics in business these days is artificial intelligence. One can hardly pick up a business publication of any sort and not trip over an algorithm. AI is being used to do everything from writing articles to running chatbots to protecting against fraud. There is one problem with AI, though, and that’s our topic today. 

You’ve probably encountered something that’s the product of AI. A fair number of game summaries one finds in the sports pages (physical or digital) are, in fact, written by machines. Same with many company summaries in the financial section. The main problem with these pieces is that they’re great at populating a template with all the facts and not so great at figuring out the “why.” You might also have used an online chat function to get some customer service support. More often then not, that’s AI at work as well. But that’s not the business problem I want to discuss.

The problem with most of the AI solutions I read about is that they’re all geared toward helping a business but they’re not focused at all on helping the customer. If you’ve ever wandered into an AI-driven customer support phone line you know what I mean. Get outside of what the algorithm can handle and your blood pressure is sure to soar. While the bot on the other end knows all about you if you’re able to identify yourself in the way the AI is designed (frequent shopper number, etc.), if you don’t know what phone number was used to create the account or you’re a frequent shopper without a frequent shopper ID (some folks don’t live being tracked, you know), it’s hard to get support. Humans are still better at solving many non-standard requests.

I get that sharing all your data – what you read, what you watch, where you go, what you eat, etc. – can help a company give you better recommendations. The problem is that many of the companies use that as a pretext to sell you products you might not really need. Can any of us really know how the data was used to create a recommendation? When a fitness app tells us we’re having sleep issues because our data says so and says we need to buy a new mattress, can we trust that or is it an affiliate deal that brings the fitness app a commission? Maybe we just ought not to have that nightcap instead if we want to sleep better?

I think the use of AI in some areas is fantastic. Fraud protection, for example. It’s easy for AI to spot something that’s out of place in your credit card use and send you an alert. That’s customer-centric. Using a bot to cut costs while providing a lesser experience isn’t and that’s my issue with much of the AI work that’s going on now. What’s your take?

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

Copycat Recipes

This Foodie Friday we’re contemplating the field of endeavor known as copycat recipes. If you read any food sites, at some point you come across recipes which attempt to replicate some of the more popular dishes from chain restaurants. Yes, you too can have unlimited Red Lobster Cheddar Bay biscuits and Chick-Fil-A sandwiches at the same time!

There are books of these recipes and I’ll admit to having tried a couple over the years. While I’ve come close to duplicating a few dishes I’ve enjoyed in restaurants, the results were not exactly the same. One wouldn’t expect that though. I’m not using the same ingredients (the bacon I buy may not be what McDonald’s uses) nor do I have a commercial convection oven or deep fryer. Still, they were enjoyable enough and in a couple of cases, the experience inspired me to create my own variation that I liked even better.

I think these recipes can be fun for some but they miss a fundamental point. Making Girl Scout Samoas at home, besides being incredibly time-consuming, doesn’t support the Girl Scouts. When I want a “hot now” Krispy Kreme, I don’t want to wait a few hours for my homemade versions to rise and fry. What makes some of these dishes so good, in part, is that you don’t have to cook them. They’re risk-free, they’re ready when you want them, they’re always available, and they’re consistent. And of course, that’s the point today.

It’s quite possible that someone will try to copy what it is you’re doing if you’re doing it well. In the case of recipes, the cook can’t turn to the copyright law to protect the dish. Recipes aren’t subject to copyright. Mp3 players had been around for several years before Apple “copied” the recipe and improved it. One could argue that Apple was the victim when Microsoft “copied” the graphical interface that became Windows from Apple, who had “copied” it from Xerox. Sure, you can file a patent to protect you but that immediately makes how you’re doing what you’re doing available to anyone. They can then produce a variant on what you’re doing. Each of the folks in my examples made the recipe their own. That’s the point. You protect your secret recipe in either of two ways and the law has little to do with either.

The first is never to make the product public so no one has a chance to duplicate what you’ve got. Obviously, that’s not a great solution. The other way is to make sure that you produce the end-result to a consistently high standard which is risk-free for the customer, and that you provide that customer with an unrivaled level of support and service. That’s why copycat recipes will never be as good as what you get when you dine out. You copy?

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NECCO Wafers, Sky Bars, And Misplaced Effort

Sky Bar

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Our topic this Foodie Friday is the plight of The New England Confectionary Company, makers of NECCO wafers (did you know the name was an acronym?), Sky Bars, and Sweethearts, among other well-known candy brands. There is a fair chance that the 120-year-old company will soon be out of business. Their factory was sold and the company is actively looking for a buyer. The company has notified the city and state that layoffs may soon be coming. The situation is pretty dire.

Even though most of their brands are not really great candies (Sky Bar being the exception in my book), panic has ensued among fans of NECCO wafers. An article on Grubstreet highlights how fans have responded to  one candy-selling website:

The site says that during the month of March, after the panic began, it received 253 emails and 167 phone calls from customers looking for Necco-brand candies. Twenty-nine people offered to pay at least double the going bulk rate, and three reportedly said they’d perform free labor in exchange for priority treatment. One woman wanted 100 pounds of Necco’s glorified Tums, which she planned to vacuum-seal to keep her prepper stash fresh “for years.” (A standard 24-wafer roll weighs 2.02 ounces, so she was requesting about 800 packs.) Another woman said she’d trade her late-model Honda Accord for all of CandyStore.com’s remaining Necco candy.

There is a lesson in this for any business since these hard-core fans seem to be preparing for a funeral rather than figuring out how to cure the disease. All of their panic buying is misplaced effort since what they should be doing is trying to get the company the capital it needs to continue operations. While 420 people may have asked how to buy candy, only 73 people have donated to a GoFundMe campaign the CEO has organized. He, by the way, is apparently clueless about the difference between donation crowdfunding and equity crowdfunding since he had to amend his campaign to say he can’t offer stock:

We have been informed by several people that we cannot offer shares in the company in return for your donations. We are sorry, we do not know if they are right or wrong but we can’t take the chance . If you would like us to return your donation just let us know.

He is apparently in panic mode too and hasn’t sought advice from anyone who is familiar with equity crowdfunding or maybe even an initial coin offering.  Running scared will do that to you, although I know $20 million isn’t just laying around the street anyplace. I’d rather find customers than investors.

Worrying about the symptoms instead of the disease is generally a futile exercise in the long-term. I recognize that when someone is bleeding out you have to staunch the flow before you can worry about what caused it, but in this case, the efforts that have been made by fans of the company (buying up all the product) won’t be as effective as sending the money directly to the company. The company, for its part, hasn’t been very proactive. The factory was sold a year ago and this situation has been coming ever since. I don’t know how they involved their supply chain and their customers in stabilizing the situation, but the fact that they’re down to asking for money on GoFundMe (and it would be among the largest non-blockchain crowdfunding projects if it works) tells me that a lot of time was wasted.

Stay tuned!

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