Tag Archives: management

I Don’t Need A Hero

If you’ve spent any time reading this drivel, you’ve probably seen my constant nagging to provide value by solving problems. No, I’ve not changed my thinking about that, but I’d like to put one stipulation on the statement: make sure that the problem is real. I’m thinking specifically of those people who have hero syndrome. Not the seriously ill type such as the firefighter who is also an arsonist, lighting fires so they can save the day. I mean the people who are constantly solving problems that don’t exist.

I used to work with someone who would stick their head in my office and report that some client or partner was having an issue. They also told me not to worry – they were on the case and would handle it. Phew! Of course, it was rather odd when I mentioned to one of the “saved” partners that I was happy that my team member was able to solve their issue and the partner had no clue what I meant. Fortunately, the “hero” in question moved on not long afterward.

The other side of the equation is also true. There are people who are the “go-to” people in various areas and who become indispensable, so much so that their mental and physical health can suffer because they don’t want to disappoint anyone. It’s another aspect of hero syndrome. They feel as if they won’t be appreciated if they ask for help. Instead, they often become bitter, burnout, or both.

How do we handle people with hero syndrome? First, make sure the problems they are solving are real and are worth solving. Not everything is a crisis, you know. Second, make sure that they have the resources to solve the problem quickly, efficiently, and completely.  Sometimes for those of us who were higher-ups, it means getting your hands dirtier than usual, often doing work for which you’re overqualified. I always felt as if I was paid to be everyone’s safety net, so if it was a job I could do, I did it. I have plenty of paper cut scars from making last-minute copies and assembling binders when I was needed. Finally, pay attention to the folks who are constantly being heroes. Make sure they’re not lighting the fires they’re busy extinguishing. Make sure no one is constantly backlogged with work and everyone knows it’s OK to just say “no” when they’re overwhelmed. Those times are when those of us in management earn our pay.

Make sense?

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints, Reality checks

Our Daily Bread

I was struck, this Foodie Friday, by an article written for the Civil Eats site about how much bread is wasted. I don’t mean financial resources. This is actual bread: loaves, bagels, even donuts. As the piece states:

There’s also the fact that, except in the most exclusive bakeries, a bare shelf is a no-no. Customers expect fresh bread and lots of it. Sugar and fat are also relatively inexpensive, so it is safer to make too much and donate the leftovers than it is to risk running out.

Apparently, it’s a worldwide epidemic, caused, in part, by the growth of factory bread. You know: mass-produced loaves that taste like nothing and are full of fat, carbs, and not much else. Putting aside the quality of the products, I hate waste in all of its forms but particularly when it comes to food. Yes, there are people in this country and around the world who are starving, but I don’t think for a minute that the food either you or I throw out is taken from their mouths. I also get that the statement is more a reminder to be thankful for what we have. What’s lost in idly tossing out food or giving away a bakery’s excess is something I learned from both my friend’s grandmother who taught me to cook and from watching Jacques Pepin on TV.

Nothing is to be wasted. Old bread becomes breadcrumbs or a panade to round out meatballs or a meatloaf. Maybe it’s even the star of a Panzanella. Top mac and cheese with fresh breadcrumbs. Veggie trimmings can be collected and used to make broth, as can shrimp shells or meat trimmings. Ground beef generally is, in fact, meat trimmings.Find some Jacques Pepin videos on YouTube and you’ll be struck by how everything he has is used somehow, even as a garnish.

Bakeries might need to do a better job of managing their dough, but so do we. The kitchen mantra of wasting nothing needs to apply to every business. I once saw the events group at the NHL dragging full garbage bins. They were tossing the contents of their closet which contained event signs and other stuff. We turned their garbage into a million dollar auction business. Nothing is wasted.

What if the bakeries and supermarkets changed the paradigm? What if empty shelves were a sign of an in-demand, high-quality product? What if they made less? Great BBQ places run out of food in hours. It sure makes projecting your P&L a lot easier when you know that you’ll sell everything you make. Sure, you’re losing a bit of upside by running out, but how does that compare with what you’re wasting? Food for thought!

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Filed under Consulting, food

Hot Dog! It’s Friday!

It’s Foodie Friday! I spent many years working in the sports business and because of that, I was privileged to attend hundreds of sporting events around the world. One of the best parts of those experiences was the food. Inevitably, there was some down time which allowed me to wander about the arena or stadium and sample the food. I am a big believer in what I consider the truism (as the late great Frank Deford wrote) that a hot dog tastes better at the ball park. I’m such a devotee of having a dog (or 3) at the game that I usually have one before I even get to my seat. But why is that, and, more importantly for our purposes here, what does that tell us about our business?

A cooked hot dog garnished with mustard.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You might suppose that it’s the particular brand of dog served. I’ve purchased the identical brands served at various places and they never taste the same when I prepare them at home. I’ve boiled them, steamed them, grilled them, or some combination of methods and yet while the taste is similar, it’s not the same. It’s not the condiments or the bun (steamed, grilled, toasted, or right out of the bag – doesn’t matter!). No, dear readers, it’s the environment.

Many studies have demonstrated the effect that environmental elements have on our perception of food. Obvious things such as lighting and less obvious things such as the music playing have been proven to change how we perceive food tastes. One obvious example is food eaten on an airplane, where the pressure is lower and the noise is higher. Our taste buds don’t function as well at 35,000 feet so airline chefs overseason their dishes (the combination of dryness and low pressure reduces the sensitivity of your taste buds to sweet and salty foods by around 30%, according to a 2010 study conducted by Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics). What does this have to do with your business?

A lot. The environment we create in our offices or stores or even our digital presences can affect how workers and customers “taste” what we’re offering. If we demonstrate a commitment to openness and trust, we create an environment where everyone perceives that things are better than elsewhere even when they’re common events. We can yell and scream while we eat at the ballpark. The food tastes better because we’re having fun. Are you encouraging that kind of fun in your place of business? Most concession stands offer condiments so you can have your food the way you like it. Do you offer the same kind of personalization to your workers or customers? Do you take their personal lives into account and offer some flexibility in hours or remote work?

Think about why the same dog you prepare at home tastes way better at the stadium as you think about how you approach your customers and your business. You’ll be on the way to standing out from your competitors, even if they’re offering a similar product or service.

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Filed under food, Consulting, Thinking Aloud

Living In A Potemkin Village

I’m not sure if the story is true (historians disagree), but back around the time of The American Revolution, Russia had fought a war to annex Crimea (talk about history repeating itself!). The governor of the region, Potemkin, was trying to impress the empress and the ambassadors from other countries as they toured “New Russia.” Although the region was devastated, Potemkin set up “mobile villages” which were populated by his men dressed as peasants. As the barges with the VIP’s passed by, they’d be impressed by how lovely it all seemed. Once they were gone, the villages would be dismantled and moved to the next location. The term “Potemkin Village” has come to mean any construction (literal or figurative) built solely to deceive others into thinking that a situation is better than it is.

The term (as well as a key plot element in Blazing Saddles!) came to mind as I read an article about a new app that allows businesses employing it to summon “its ideal crowd and pay the people to stand in place like extras on a movie set. They’ve even been handpicked by a casting agent of sorts, an algorithmic one that selects each person according to age, location, style, and Facebook likes.” Presumably, when you see the line, FOMO kicks in and you are overcome by an insatiable desire to join the crowd.

I’m not naive. I worked in TV for a long time and know how laugh tracks are used and how stage managers will fire up a crowd to applaud as a show goes to and returns from a commercial break. I get enough press releases to recognize hyperbole and the need to surround something very common with an uncommon sense of excitement. The use of this app by a business, however, reeks of opacity when transparency is a critical element in marketing these days. In my mind, it’s as bad as any other kind of “fake news” that is manufactured out of the air to advance an agenda.

How would you feel if you found out that most of the other people attending a party were paid to be there? Deceived, I’ll bet, and that feeling generally leads to anger and a determination never to go back. Is that how you want your customers to feel?

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Filed under Reality checks, Consulting, Huh?

Supermarket Sweep

It’s Foodie Friday but I want to talk about Thursday. Why Thursday? That’s the day I do my grocery shopping because my preferred supermarket gives a 5% discount to seniors. Stop snickering – I managed to live this long and I deserve the benefit!

One thing I’ve gotten much better about is saving as I shop. Nothing brings joy to me these days like finding a coupon that I can layer on top of an item already on sale. This happened yesterday with Duke’s Mayo and I was nearly brought to tears. In any event, I thought I might pass along a few things I’ve learned, and as it turns out, many of them have a lot of application to your business as well.

First, I try to make some sort of a weekly meal plan. You’d be shocked how much easier shopping is when you know what you’ll be making in advance. I leave myself some flexibility – maybe the rapini looks good and I’ll swap out the asparagus I’d planned to buy. Maybe I’ll just say “beef” as a protein and rely on whatever I can find that’s on sale or, even better, a “yellow tag” special that’s deeply discounted because it’s near its last day of sale. I do look at the circulars that come on Wednesday to help me plan, and the coupons that come the previous Sunday also guide my thinking. The key is that before I step foot into the store I already know why I’m there and what, specifically, I need to buy.

This sort of planning is something I encourage clients to do with their businesses. Chasing the latest shiny object without some sort of a coherent plan rarely works out well. Yes, I’m a believer in just walking to the meat or fish or produce section, buying what looks good on an opportunistic basis, and going from there, but I’ve found that in general, I do better in the long run (and the wallet) by having a plan. Opportunities will always arise but we should only take advantage of the ones that make sense, given our overall plan.

Next, once I have a plan I go through all the coupons, tossing the ones that have expired and matching the ones that haven’t to items that are on sale or in my meal plan. It’s rare that I purchase anything at full price unless there is a pressing need and I can’t find a brand on sale or with a coupon. Like you, I have preferred brands and I’ll stock up on them when they’re on sale. That sort of opportunistic and volume purchasing is something any business can do. Make commitments to providers for a long term in return for a discount. Don’t hesitate to take advantage of lower costs provided that you’re receiving equal value. By the way, this is how your customers think which is why it’s imperative that you emphasize that value you provide to go along with your reasonable costs.

By the way, even if you don’t get a newspaper, most stores post their circulars online, and there are plenty of free online coupons you can print off and take on your trip. As in business, the key is research, planning, and the careful allocation of capital on those things that are in the plan. Make sense?

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints

Buy Less, Get More

I recently bought a Chromebook that has a touchscreen. I’ve been using a MacBook Air for half a dozen years as my primary computer but it has slowed to a crawl and work was taking much longer to get done. I debated replacing the Mac but then I took a hard look at what functions the laptop served. Over the last few years, nearly everything I have been doing is done in the cloud and having a device that’s basically a glorified web browser actually seemed like a good idea. I moved my accounting to a cloud-based system and started using the Google suite of office programs (Docs, Sheets, etc.) in lieu of the programs on my Mac. I’ve been a lot more productive and I got a large Android tablet out of it to boot (the Chromebook flips around to be a tablet!).

There are a few other things that I noticed. First, this device reminds me of the Mac when I first got it. The thing just works. It updates itself, it’s safe from malware, battery life is good, and it’s easy to add extensions to customize it to my liking. I can run any Android app the will run on a phone (admittedly, that’s often a so-so experience) and that opens up a ton of additional software on a bigger screen than my phone.

This isn’t a screed to get you to buy a Chromebook. The point, rather, is to get you to think about why you buy, build, hire, or otherwise add to your organization. Another Mac would have been overkill based on what I needed the device to do. I saved money (the Chromebook cost about half of what a new MacBook would have cost) and I’m more productive. We often spend our precious resources on unnecessary things and that’s bad management.

Some examples. Most of the people who buy Microsoft Word have no clue how to use most of its features. The same with Excel. They are both wonderfully powerful programs but there are so many features that they become difficult to use and simple tasks can become daunting. There are free programs out there, and there are some great alternatives to the Office suite that have 99% of what most of us will ever need. You buy less and get more.

Another one. I worked with some managers over the years who would always put new positions into their budgets. Did they need them? Nope, but since other departments were growing, they felt as if they had to grow too. A corporate form of keeping up with the Joneses, I guess. We can’t manage our businesses to impress other people or out of jealousy. We can’t spend on a Rolls Royce when all that’s called for in order to get the job done is a Volkswagen.

Buying less can often get us more. It certainly did in my case. Give it a try?

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Filed under Reality checks, Helpful Hints

I Almost Did Something Stupid

I’ve mentioned before here on the screed that I have friends of all political persuasions. By definition, that means that some of them diverge quite a bit from where I stand on various issues. I posted something on Facebook the other day about an action the Senate took to restrict press access (since rescinded). While my post had to do with the need for our First Amendment rights to remain unimpeded, a friend replied with a long comment that was a litany of hate speech the left wing had spewed. I suspect he was reacting to the horrible shootings in Alexandria last week.

He had missed my point entirely but that’s not my topic today. Instead, I want to reflect upon my immediate response and why it can be a horrible mistake in business. Within a few seconds of reading his rant, I had flipped over to the place on Facebook where you can block someone. After all, I don’t want my page to be filled with half-truths and venom. Fortunately, I took a breath and remembered a couple of things. First, this guy is a friend of over 20 years, and I know he has a big heart even if his head seems to interpret the world very differently from mine. Second, he and I have had many chats about politics and we’ve actually found that we agree on a lot more than you might expect. But it was the last thing I thought about which is relevant to you and to your business.

One of the biggest problems anyone in business can face is incomplete information. The other thing is that they live in an echo chamber, a place where all they hear is their own voice reflected back at them. Some people like it that way – I’ve worked for guys who never heard anything that contradicted their world view because they made it intolerable for anyone who brought them that sort of information. Closing off your mind to divergent points of view doesn’t improve your decision-making nor does it reflect the reality of the world. If you believe that all your customers are happy and totally satisfied, you’re delusional. Shooting the messenger or writing off the negative reviews is short-sighted. Ignoring data that point to a different direction than the one you’re taking is simply fostering ignorance. When I thought about blocking my friend and his divergent thinking from my page, I was heading down a very dangerous road (and infringing on his First Amendment rights too!).

As I’ve written before, I’m a firm believer in anyone’s ability – inside or outside of business – to express their opinions. I insist, however, that those opinions be grounded in fact. Is that how you approach things? Do you welcome new ideas and new thinking? Are you keeping an open mind?

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Filed under Reality checks