Tag Archives: management

Bad Coaching

Most of us seek advice of some sort. It can be as simple as reading product reviews before we make a purchase or a restaurant reservation or as complicated as hiring a business advisor or a life coach. It’s information that adds to our own opinions as we make decisions, and one of the most important life skills is figuring out what’s good information and what’s not.

I thought of this while I watched this video from the European Tour. It’s 4 minutes of that tour’s golf professionals giving advice to a series of amateurs. The advice ranges from the nutty to the idiotic and every one of the amateurs follows it to the best of their ability. It’s silly stuff, ranging from stretching your eyeballs as part of your warm-up to piling grass on the ball to swinging blindfolded to throwing the club.

Here is the thing that resonated: the amateurs hung on every word of this bogus advice because it came from credible sources, tour pros. It reminded me of several clients I’ve had who had been given demonstrably wrong information from consultants or companies that positioned themselves as experts. Unlike the golf example, this wasn’t done as a joke and it did have negative consequences for my clients.

So here are a few things to think about. First, do your due diligence. Make sure the person giving you advice is qualified to do so. Not that there aren’t smart young people, but it’s less likely that a person with two or three years of business experience will have the broad perspective of someone with twenty or thirty years.

Next, avoid generic solutions. Good advice is tailored to the recipient. Golf pros who give the same lessons to everyone are generally horrible teachers. Your business is as personal as your golf swing, and any advice you get must be tailored to you.

If your advisor talks a lot more than he or she listens, dump them. In the video, some of the amateurs question the “tip” they’ve been given but the pro keeps chattering away, ignoring the questions.

I think that’s all good advice!

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints

Offer Fewer Fries

This Foodie Friday, I want us to think about less being more. Specifically, it’s the balance between quality and quantity. I’m of the opinion that when it comes to food, high-quality ingredients expertly prepared are more satisfying than a large portion of bland, low-quality food.

Photo by Stephanie McCabe

For example, think about a bread basket that arrives at your table. Rich, dense bread slathered in high-quality butter is not something you’d eat much of. Compare that with a bunch of Wonder Bread and store-brand butter that you might have at home. The latter is tasteless and not satisfying and I’ll bet you eat more of it.

McDonald’s proved this point in 1990 when they stopped frying their fries in beef tallow. It was a knee-jerk reaction to people believing that trans fats were better than natural fats (turned out to be totally wrong). The fries never tasted the same and, more importantly for our discussion today, were not as filling. I’m convinced that the reason we have supersized portions is that the current fries are so unfulfilling. It’s probably why we have an obesity problem as well. I suspect there were cost-savings too, but are those savings worth ruining the reputation of your signature product?

Look at Europe. France and Italy, two fantastic food cultures, don’t serve you big portions and yet it’s hard to walk away from a meal in either place still hungry. The dishes are rich and tasty. High fat? Sure. Caloric? Yes, but you don’t eat as much. For the restaurant, this can mean lower food costs (smaller portions) which might be taken as higher margins or passed along to customers. You can’t really eat a huge portion of fries cooked in duck fat, believe me.

This is a principle which I believe any business can use. Consumers don’t want (or need) tons of low-quality products. Sure, they might be duped into thinking of them as great values (“Look at that portion!”), but over time your customers realize that they’re not really satisfied.

Example: think of Word or Excel. They are extremely complex products and yet most users take advantage of a tiny amount of that complexity. Why not offer a simpler product to the masses that cost less and save the complex version for those people who really need it (and charge them accordingly?). You can find articles dating back over a decade complaining about Word’s complexity and yet it wasn’t made simpler.

Less can be a lot more. Think about offering fewer, but much better, fries. People can be satisfied with less as long as it’s top quality at an affordable price. I’d rather be sated and healthy than hungry and sick. You?

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Filed under food, Huh?

Keeping It Real

Back in 2015, an engineer at Twitter asked his security team to look into fake accounts. He said he was stunned to find that a significant percentage of the total accounts created on Twitter had Russian and Ukrainian IP addresses and he also found that they were, for the most part, fake. They were “bots”.

Photo by Alex Knight on Unsplash

No, today isn’t a political rant about how our Democracy might just have been hijacked by a foreign power. Rather, what happened next, as told in this piece by Bloomberg, is instructive to any of us in business because it raises a few issues that are common to us all.

The engineer was part of the security team. That team was tasked with keeping the platform secure. He took his findings to another team – the growth team – which had the responsibility for increasing the user base. That user base number is critical for every business since how the business is valued is based in part on how many users (we can’t really say people in this case, can we?) are active. Discovering that a significant percentage of the user base was fake could have a negative effect on the business’ balance sheet, and in this, we begin to see the problem.

There is a misalignment of goals. If part of security is keeping the platform free from spambots, the people responsible for deleting the spambots can’t have any goals which make deleting those bots counterproductive. In this case, the engineer was told to “stay in his lane”. In other words, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain – the reality of our user numbers – it’s not your job.

No organization should have these kinds of silos. No organization can base its public statements about growth and user engagement on numbers it knows are fake. It’s one thing for users to inflate their follower numbers by buying fake followers but it’s quite another for Twitter itself to be aware of these non-human accounts and to do nothing about them because they want to keep their user numbers up.

I don’t mean to single out Twitter. The same issue persists on Facebook and other social platforms and it’s way more insidious than research can find. There is a term – dark social – that refers to sharing activity among the network’s members that isn’t easily measured. Let’s say a fake account spreads a lie and maybe even buys an ad to do so. We can see how many impressions the ad had or how many followers the fake account has. What we can’t easily see is the network effect. I see the post and am outraged about it. I tell five friends, who tell five of their friends, etc., particularly when it’s shared off the network itself via email or text.

I am fairly certain that each of these networks could identify and stop this activity despite what you might have seen in Congress last week. Those were the lawyers testifying, not the engineers. The point for your business is to keep everyone’s goals in alignment, don’t build silos, and to be honest with yourself and with your investors. These are public companies who might just be committing fraud, but every company has the same responsibility for honesty and transparency.  You with me?

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Filed under digital media, Huh?, Thinking Aloud

The Real Magic

I bought a ticket yesterday to see the Michigan Wolverine basketball team play North Carolina. It’s a chance to see a team that I root for in person, and since I don’t live close to Ann Arbor, those chances don’t come very often without significant travel. It wasn’t cheap – over $100 to sit in a so-so seat – but as I’ve written many times, cost and value aren’t the same

Yes, the game will be on TV and I could just stay home and watch it, as I do many of their other games. In fact, as a person who made a living in the sports TV business, I often ask myself why people both going to games now at all. After all, it’s expensive, it’s time-consuming, and the viewing experience is often much better sitting at home. I know from my time at a league that clubs are well-aware of this and they try to make the game-day experience worth the time and money, and many do. But the real reason I and other fans go to the game is something that any of us can bring to our business: authenticity.

I’ve been to hundreds of sporting events. I’ve been to hundreds of concerts. They’re often forgettable – your team getting shellacked or a bad night for a band. But every time the experience is real, and part of that is sharing it with thousands of others. Some bands forget this – they use a lot of recorded sound in their show, often including vocals. Some teams come out tired and slow – maybe it’s their third game in four days. No magic there because in neither case are we seeing the real deal – an organization performing at its full potential. The fans know it too – there’s no electricity in the building (and in sports, there’s often a lot of negative energy expressed as booing). People want experiences, and especially experiences they can share.

This is something any business should remember. Customers want something real. They can tell when we’re “fake nice” or when we’re being unresponsive. They want consistency too. The fan who pays for the “off night” goes away unhappy and is unlikely to return. As our lives get more virtual, I think we all crave genuine things, experiences and businesses among the things for which we hunger. You?

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Filed under Thinking Aloud, sports business

You’re Bacon Me Crazy

This Foodie Friday, I come to you with a perfect example of how businesses often get things wrong. I hear you wondering how anything involving bacon can go wrong, but stick with me here and I think you’ll understand my distress.

English: Uncooked pork belly bacon strips disp...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was widely reported this week that scientists in China have created 12 healthy pigs with 24% less body fat. If you care to read all about it, the results were published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. I didn’t bother to read it because it makes me both sad and angry. From my perspective, most pork we get in this country is already too lean. Fat is flavor, and most of the pork we get has very little. The exception is bacon.

I use bacon the way many cooks do. Sure, I bake it and eat it as part of a full breakfast (put a little Old Bay on those bad boys before you bake them – a revelation!). Rendered down, it yields lovely fat in which to saute your aromatics and get any recipe off to a great start. Wrapped around a lean cut of meat, it prevents that cut from drying out. And who doesn’t love to toss some lardons into salads, omelets, pastas, grilled vegetables, or potatoes? Lean bacon defeats the entire purpose of the cut!

OK, most of the above was a little tongue in cheek, but there is a real point to be made here. When we try to “improve” a product we just might end up destroying it. Lean bacon is a solution in search of a problem, and that is the kiss of death to any offering most of the time. Putting aside the issues many people have with genetically engineered food (this was achieved using CRISPR), there are already many lean alternatives to bacon. OK, it might be a stretch to call them “bacon” but they exist.

None of us can afford to waste time figuring out a problem for something we’ve produced. The process works the other way around. Listen for problems that your intended customer base is having and then find a solution. Much of the time, successful entrepreneurs had the problem themselves, found a solution, and then helped others with the same problem. The camera phone, for example, came about when a new father wanted to send a photo from the delivery room (true story).

As you’re moving along in your business, ask yourself if you’re solving peoples’ problems or if you’re trying to find a use for your solution. Hopefully the former!

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Filed under food, Consulting, Huh?

Business Tourists

When I worked in Manhattan a long time ago, one thing that regularly made me crazy was tourists. They weren’t hard to spot. They weren’t moving along with the general flow of pedestrian traffic. In fact, they often weren’t moving at all as they stopped to gawk at the big buildings or waited until the light turned green before crossing a street that had no traffic.

At holiday time, it was worse. Not only did they stare at the decorations but there were LOTS more of them. They had to have the photo of the Rockefeller Center tree while the rest of us had to BE SOMEWHERE.

It’s become worse with the advent of smartphones. Now, it’s not just the tourists that walk around without purpose. One is constantly bumping into people. We used to have an expression at the NHL: don’t skate with your head down. It meant one should pay attention to the surroundings to avoid nasty collisions. Smartphone users inevitably walk with their heads’ down.

I see that Honolulu, another tourist mecca, has passed a law that will fine you up to $35 if you’re caught staring at your phone when crossing the street. Get caught a second time and it’ll cost you up to $75. Nailed a third time and the fine is $99. Of course, by then you’re probably in a hospital, having been hit by a car. Still, there is a business lesson in this.

It’s way too easy to conduct business with your head down, fixated on what you’re doing while ignoring your surroundings. Heck, many places encourage it, as employees sit in front of computers wearing headphones. That’s a worry (how are people to interact?) but the big concern is ignoring the changing market or new opportunities that emerge. No, we can’t go chasing every shiny new object, but we do need to be aware that they’re out there so we can evaluate if they present a new opportunity or just a distraction. When we’re locked in – whether to a computer screen or a smartphone or to our own internal goings-on – we’re business tourists, out of sync with the pace of business and unaware of our surroundings. Head’s up!

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Filed under Reality checks, Helpful Hints, Consulting

Winner Winner

Monday for is a day of some reflection since it inevitably follows a weekend of sports watching. This time of year one can watch just about any sport being contested at the highest levels. College and pro football are in full swing, as is world soccer. Baseball is in the playoffs as is NASCAR. The NHL and NBA seasons are just getting started, as is the new professional golf season. Not a Saturday or Sunday passes without a bunch of winners.

Business has seasons but they’re generally not as cut and dry as those in sports. It’s pretty much a year-round effort, but it does have quite a bit of winning and losing that goes on. Every day can bring about a victory: a new contract won, a great new hire, a new position or job, or an improvement in the bottom line that the entire team worked to bring about. It’s important, however, to think about what winning means to you. What does it mean to win?

That implies a few other questions you should be asking yourself and your organization. Why are you doing what you’re doing? That question gets at your purpose and begins to provide the measuring stick for victory. We succeed by effort and by striving to reach a goal or goals. Defining what they are is an important piece for each individual and for the common goals your team needs to have.

As businesspeople, we need to remember that winning is different for everyone. We need to foster an environment where each person can win by their own definition. How can we help one another to improve? How can we put ourselves and our organizations in the best position? The answers to those sorts of questions are what fills up sports TV pregame shows and the analysis of how well each player and team accomplished what they set out to do is postgame fodder. Maybe we ought to do pre- and post-game interviews in our places of business since it would become fairly obvious if we’ve defined winning and set ourselves up to achieve victory. What do you think?

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Filed under Thinking Aloud