Tag Archives: management

Stew

It’s nearly 80 degrees here on this Foodie Friday and one might think that winter is gone. Not so fast – it will be in the mid-40’s tomorrow so we’re not yet past stew weather. Stews are a winter staple and since there are endless variations of them, one can’t really get bored with making them.

Some folks think of stews as a thick soup but I think that vastly underrates the dish. I wouldn’t serve soup over noodles or mashed potatoes, would you? As it turns out, they teach us a bit about managing too.

One thing that’s great about stews is that the longer they sit, the better they get as long as you don’t raise the temperature too far. You need to choose your protein – generally meat – wisely. You want the inexpensive cuts that really aren’t good for much else since they contain a lot of connective tissue. They require lengthy cooking (pressure cooking excepted) so that tissue can break down and the meat can transform into tender loveliness.

The meat needs to be seared properly. That means you can’t overload your pan or the meat with steam and not brown. You don’t want to put too much flour on the meat or into the stew to help thicken it or you end up with a gloppy mess. Let the collagen from the meat do its job. If you need more thickening, use gelatin (look it up!) which does the job without changing the flavor or adding lumps.

So why is this appropriate for our business blog? Your team is your stew. You need to find the right ingredients, which are often the overlooked cuts. The best stew meat comes from the muscles that do a lot of work but need help in transforming into dinner greatness. Dig deeper for people, especially the ones who’ve been working hard but maybe not getting the recognition they deserve. You need a sturdy pot that can hold the heat. That, dear readers, is often you, the leader of the team. Great stews have lots of individual components, each of which needs to be added at the right time or it will get mushy. This speaks to the need to pay attention to the individuals on your team to bring out the best in each of them. Pull things together, apply some gentle heat, and give it time. Your team is a magnificent stew!

Here is a list of stews. It is quite varied, but the dishes have a lot in common while still being quite distinctive. Your stew – your team – will be too. Go out and pull it together.

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Filed under Consulting, Thinking Aloud

Five Feet From Where?

If you’ve been reading the screed on a regular basis of late, you know that my recent experience of purchasing and moving into a new home has provided wonderful fodder for my rants. Today will continue the trend.

One thing that I asked the builder to do as part of the deal was to put up a five-foot fence in the back yard. He agreed and yet another adventure in communication began. It dawned on me as this adventure progressed that there is a great business point contained within.

I live in a community that has an HOA – a homeowner’s association. I’d never lived with one before and so wasn’t really used to the fact that most of the people living in “neighborhoods” down here live with the fact that a board can tell them everything from what color they can paint their home to the type of trees they can plant to the type and height of the fences they can erect and where. To build my fence, I needed HOA approval, and that’s when the fun started. I couldn’t get that approval until I actually owned the home. Until then, the developer’s regulations applied, meaning the fence could only extend five feet from the side of the house and be no more than four feet high. I wanted to live with the HOA rule of the fence being five feet from the property line, not from the house, which in my case meant it would extend an extra eight feet from the house. I also wanted the HOA to approve a five-foot-high fence. You with me so far?

The builder was happy to put up the fence but he would have to do so within the builder regulations unless I wanted to wait almost 2 months, the time it would take to close on the house and go through the HOA approval process. I won’t bore you with the details, but I managed to get the approval much faster (it helps to have golf buddies with good connections). The fence was going up as of last Friday and should be done by Monday, move-in day.

I drove by the new house on Friday and sure enough, the five foot high posts were in the ground, exactly five feet from the house and NOT from the property line. Despite many emails and calls back and forth, somehow the point of the delay – to get a variance to get five feet from the property line and not from the house – was lost even though the message about extra height got through. The fence company was told five feet from the house and they were not happy when they got the call to reset all the posts. Of course, there were also emails asking for proof that the variance had been granted (they’d received the copies several weeks before). As of right now, I’m looking at posts five feet high sitting five feet from the property line (and 13 feet from the house) awaiting the rails and pickets to be attached, hopefully, today or tomorrow.

What’s the business point? No matter what you think you’re communicating to someone, it’s always a good idea to review it again, especially when it involves something that’s not easily undone. Have the person repeat the instructions back to you. Make sure that nothing was lost in the communication. In my case, “five feet” wasn’t the issue. Five feet from where certainly was and that’s what got lost somehow. Good teams are all built around great communication. So are good partnerships and great customer service.

Frost wrote Something there is that doesn’t love a wall. Apparently, that something is unclear instruction and faulty communication, right?

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The Easy Way Out For Whom?

It seems as if I’m writing a series of posts inspired by my having decided to purchase a new house. I guess when we shake up our lives a bit we get inspired, or at least we get confronted by how some businesses are a lot better than others in many ways.

Today’s tale is yet another head-shaker. One of the things I found myself needing as I planned out my new digs was a few pieces of furniture. Like many people, I took to the internet to browse online and I found things at both Wayfair and Ikea that were priced well and seemed to be of good quality. The closest Ikea store is three hours from me and Wayfair only operates online, so I did my ordering via the web.

The orders showed up pretty much on time. There was a delay in the Ikea boxes due to the fact that I wasn’t at the new house to receive them. Of course, while Ikea told me the time window in which things would arrive, they never said someone had to be there. A call to customer service and we rescheduled delivery for a few days later. If you’re telling the customer when the boxes will arrive, why not also tell them they need to be around while you have their attention? Wayfair’s deliveries were just placed on the porch without incident.

That, however, is far from the end of the tale. The real fun began after I opened the boxes. I needed to assemble the furniture and of course, the first step is to make sure all the pieces and hardware had arrived safely. They hadn’t. In two cases, one from each company, a key piece of the item was damaged and not just cosmetically. I needed replacement pieces before I could go any further.

This is where the head shaking begins. Ikea’s website says:

If you are not able to visit the store, and only one piece of the unit is damaged, call us within 365 days of the purchase with your receipt information and we will be happy to deliver the missing items within 7-10 days.

Wayfair’s policy is:

Through our online portal you can:

  • Order free replacement parts (e.g. table legs, missing screws)
  • Replace the entire item for free
  • Get in touch with Customer Service

Be sure to complete this process within 30 days of your delivery date.

No problem in either case. I contacted them and told them exactly which parts were damaged, even using the part numbers out of the assembly manuals. Want to guess what I was told? Neither company ships parts. Instead, they would ship me a complete item. I could then take the damaged part from the box and throw away or donate the rest. Huh?
These are not small items. A large bookcase from Ikea and a desk from Wayfair, each of which weighed around 100 lbs in the boxes. How is it possible it costs less to send a complete item than to have some system for having inventory replacement parts? I get that these items come pre-packaged from many manufacturers. I’m also sure these companies can track which parts of which items often show up damaged (that’s what data is for, right?). Why not order a stock of those parts instead of devastating your margins by shipping two complete items and only getting paid for one?
Many of us in business do things because it’s the easy way out. We don’t take the time to question a system that seems to be working even though it’s not optimal. When things have “always been done that way” or when a report shows up regularly and heads right to the recycling bin, we don’t ask ourselves “why” often enough. The system these two companies have doesn’t really work for anyone except the folks in the warehouse and the shipping companies. The margins are bad. The customer has to dispose of a lot of wood and packaging they don’t want or need. But I guess they think it’s working. Are you making the same mistake?

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Happy MLK Day. Dream On!

I think I got it right last year so I’m reposting it this year along with the introduction I wrote at the time. Happy birthday, Dr. King!

As I sat down to write this morning’s screed with Dr. King’s birthday on my mind, I realized that it’s been 50 years since that horrible year of 1968. I was 13 at the time and if you’re younger than about 55 today you probably have no memories of the almost non-stop bad news. It’s hard to believe but things seemed even more screwed up and polarized than they do today. The day Dr. King was shot is one of my indelible memories and the killing of Bobby Kennedy two months later snuffed out a small glimmer of hope that Dr. King’s legacy might come to fruition soon. It took another 40 years for that although there are valid arguments that we as a country are still waiting in many ways.

With that, what follows is my post on celebrating Dr, King and his message from a few years ago. It’s about listening, something many of us don’t do often enough. Maybe you can give it a try this week?

Today is the day we pause to celebrate Dr. King’s birthday.  I went back and looked at my post from two years ago, which was about dreams – specifically one of Dr. King’s dreams becoming a reality.  That was sort of focused on what he saw – his vision.  Today I want to focus on one of the great man’s best qualities that influenced how he acted to make that vision real.  I think it’s applicable to business.  No, it’s not going to be another ethics rant (although those are never out of style in my book).  Today, it’s about the most important skill I think all great businesspeople – and great leaders – possess.

To me, great leaders serve to fulfill the needs of their people.  For Dr. King, it meant endless meetings with various groups to understand their concerns and explain how broadening civil liberties to be more inclusive could help meet them.  For those of us in business, it means paying more attention to the concerns of our customers and co-workers than to our own agenda – these folks ARE our agenda to a certain extent, along with the underlying needs of our businesses.  In a word – listen.

Everyone wants to feel as if their ideas and thoughts are being heard if not acted upon. Without someone hearing them, acting on those concerns is impossible. Listening, then speaking, brings trust.

I know this isn’t a new thought in this space but it came to mind on this day thinking of Dr. King.  If you go back to the early days of Dr. King’s involvement in the civil rights movement, it’s pretty clear that he was a reluctant leader. He was drafted to lead and was kind of unsure of himself.  As he listened to the members of the community and other clergies, he realized that he was simply a voice for the community and their agenda became his agenda.

Many of you will be familiar with Stephen R. Covey, who wrote that we ought to “seek first to understand, then to be understood.”  I think Dr. King if he read pop-psychology, would have appreciated that.

What are you listening to today?

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Filed under Growing up, Helpful Hints, What's Going On

Top Posts Of 2018 #3

It has become an end of year tradition here in the screed that I use the time between Christmas and New Year to post the most-read posts written during this past year. You guys did a lot of reading – traffic was up 17% this year over last. Thank you!

Today I’m posting the third most-read post. Tomorrow will be #2. On Friday you’ll see the most-read Foodie Friday post and Monday will be the most-read of the year. Today’s post was written last August following my daughter’s wedding. It’s about decision-making, which is a hard thing for many people. Maybe that’s something to put on the resolution list I just know you’re writing now?

I had one of those wonderful Dad moments over the weekend. We walked our youngest daughter down the aisle to meet her true love under the wedding canopy. It’s one of those moments that really don’t hit you until you’re standing there at the back looking down the aisle. In my case, 28 years of this child’s (now woman’s) life came flooding back in a rush. I wonder what the pictures captured as we walked her forward?

Of course, the 48 hours preceding the wedding were a minor nightmare as family, friends, and others hustled to transform a huge empty space into a magical circus that could seat 130 for dinner as well as for the wedding ceremony. Place settings, table and site decorations, room for aerialists and fire-breathers (I’m not kidding), as well as dancing and food all needed to be pulled together. And that’s what leads to today’s screed because the entire process reminded me of one thing.

Nothing happens without someone making a decision. That sounds awfully basic but it almost crippled us as we set the wedding up. First, no one was really in charge and empowered to have the final call. Does the salad plate sit on the table or on the dinner plate? 10-minute discussion. Where should the dessert bar go? 10-minute discussion. Silverware rolled into napkins or placed separately? 10-minute discussion. Meanwhile, a dozen helpers are sitting idle and the clock is ticking.

It’s critical that decisions get made. It’s critical that there be firm deadlines set by which they’ll get made and that someone is empowered to make the decision at that deadline if one hasn’t been reached in some other way. The team needs to have a roadmap, a project plan with milestones. It’s a guide which can limit distractions (and emergency trips to the store!). Don’t go chasing every shiny object that presents itself and keep to the deadlines you set. Appoint a “benevolent monarch” whose word is law when those deadlines come.

As with most productions, there were things that didn’t go as planned and, as with most productions, no one in the audience noticed. The bride was gorgeous, the drinks were cold, and the dance floor crowded. The most important decision did get made: for two people to spend their lives together. We were all just lucky enough to watch that marriage happen. You, however, can’t run your business just on luck. Make some decisions!

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Seven New Fishes

This is the last Foodie Friday post before Christmas and I’m writing it while sitting on a train heading north. Seven years ago (how is this for synergy), I wrote a piece about the Seven Fishes. You’ll read the original piece below.  In addition to the original business point it makes, this train ride is adding a corollary. With spotty wifi, I have quite a bit of time to reflect. One thing I’m anticipating is that while my family has its own holiday traditions, this year will be different. My sister has moved far away, so no Christmas morning with her family. We welcomed a new person into our family officially this past summer so the core family itself is different. The gifts have become less important; the family time way more so.

To put the end at the beginning, questioning why we do things in business needs to be done with the knowledge that like it or not, change is constant. We might as well control the change and not react to it. To those of you celebrating, Merry Christmas. To those of you just eating, enjoy.

Our Foodie Friday theme today is La Vigilia, the Christmas Eve tradition of the Feast of the Seven Fishes.  Now what, you might ask, does a nice Jewish boy know about such things?  Well, having spent a great deal of my youth around my best friend’s Italian mother and grandmother while they cooked, I know quite a bit.  I know that they started to prepare this feast several days in advance, as they put salt cod into water to hydrate it (there was a running battle about using milk to do that).  I know that they spent many hours over the subsequent days preparing all manner of seafood – fried, broiled, and baked.  And I know that it all was mind-blowingly good.

There’s one thing I didn’t know, and still don’t, about the Feast:  what does it represent?  Everyone knows it came as a southern Italian tradition and there are lots of theories about the number 7.  But apparently no one knows for sure and that’s the business point to end the week.

All too often in business, we do things because that’s the way they’ve always been done.  When we ask why or what does it mean, there is much head-scratching and often there’s uncertainty but both are generally followed with a shrug of the shoulders and a supposition that someone higher up wanted it that way.  I used to tell new employees that they possessed a rare commodity: fresh eyes with which to examine all of our business traditions.  They were not supposed to take “because that’s how we’ve always done it” as a satisfactory answer if something didn’t make sense to them.  Sometimes as we dug down into the “why” we figured out a better “how.”

I’m not sure it’s important that we understand the “why” of La Vigilia, but that’s an exception.  In business, everything changes pretty rapidly and the traditional ways may no longer work.  Questioning the reasons why we do certain things is a critical item on the path to success and we should encourage it.

And now, it’s off to go find some fresh fish.  Buon Natale!

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How Did We Get So Far Off Track?

I started working in the digital world in the mid-’90s. While I wasn’t exactly there for the dawn of the digital age, I was a relatively early member of the group of executives that began building businesses on the internet and on walled gardens like AOL used to be. A couple of things that have happened recently have me shaking my head, wondering how it’s all gone sideways.

First, I asked Twitter to send me something:

Keith Ritter, your advertiser list is ready! The list attached includes the advertisers that have included you in a tailored audience. These advertisers have included you in one or more tailored audiences. Tailored audiences are often built from email lists or browsing behaviors. They help advertisers reach prospective customers or people who have already expressed interest in their business.

I figured since I do a fair amount of cookie-blocking and other means to prevent tracking that I’d turn up in a handful of audiences and I was right. I appear in exactly 9 audiences. However, the rest of the 57-page document (not a typo) listed the similar audiences Twitter has decided I fit. They market me as a part of these audiences and I have no control over it. I can opt out and it will change the ads I see on Twitter. It won’t however, remove me from these audiences. I am included in over 1,000 of them, my data used and sold quite unwillingly.

Then there are the constantly apologizing folks at Facebook. This article in the NY Times is both frightening and disappointing. It talks about how Facebook “gave some of the world’s largest technology companies more intrusive access to users’ personal data than it has disclosed, effectively exempting those business partners from its usual privacy rules, according to internal records and interviews.”  Their privacy track record is abominable and every week it seems there is another apology and a promise to do better. Fool me once…

It’s taken years for the marketers and publishers to push back on the rampant fraud and abuse of programmatic ads. Social media is rife with “influencers” who buy fake followers and regularly violate FTC regulations on advertising. It seems that everyone under 30 is either a ninja or a guru. Fake reviews for products that are complete rip-offs are everywhere (run a link to an Amazon review through Fakespot if you don’t believe me).

All of this leaves one question: what the hell happened? How did the digital business world get so screwed up? At some point, Facebook and many other digital businesses decided that making money is way more important than serving their users is, I think, the basic answer. I’m all for making money, as my business track record shows. There are limits, however, and I have a fundamental belief that making money can only happen over the long term when you respect the customer. As the great David Ogilvy once said, “The customer is not a moron. She’s your wife.” Because most of the people who use digital have no concept about how they are tracked and marketed, most businesses treat them as morons and therein lies the problem.

I could rant on but I’ll end it here with a plea. To any of you who are in the digital world, please resolve to get back on track. Way back when in 1995, all we wanted to do was to amuse a few people and keep them engaged. Yes, we sold ads but we also didn’t track people once they left our domain. We didn’t treat them as numbers or rubes. You shouldn’t either. I get that the tools are more sophisticated and more powerful and that the world has changed. Basic business principles and human decency haven’t, have they?

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Filed under Huh?, Reality checks, What's Going On