Tag Archives: managing

Top Shelf

It’s Foodie Friday, and if we weren’t in the midst of a pandemic, I’d be heading to my favorite local watering hole late this afternoon to celebrate the end of another work week. Since that’s not possible at the moment with all the bars and restaurants closed, I’ll do my celebrating here. I’m not going to lie either – I generally don’t pour myself an end of day beverage only on Fridays. From what I can glean from many of my friends’ posts on social media, I’m not drinking alone either.

One of the local establishments – a high-end cocktail lounge – has been selling their house-made mixers and syrups to have some income during this time. Of course, we bought some, mostly to support them but also because if ever there was a time to upgrade the cocktail game, this would be it. The other day, we made a beverage using one of the syrups and it was delicious, so much better than our usual drink. It got me thinking about what we did differently and, as I thought about it, there was a business point as well.

First, we used a really good vodka as well as the syrup. There was a top-shelf liqueur called for and we didn’t try to get a less-expensive brand. The lemon juice was fresh too. Unlike many times, we actually measured the ingredients and put them in a shaker with lots of ice to get a proper chill. I don’t know about you, but most of the time, I’m not measuring my drink proportions. Yes, I know that a typical highball (liquor plus mixer) is supposed to be a 3 to 2 mixer to booze ratio. Once in awhile, I’m sure my concoctions achieve that but those times are probably the exception.

The business point? Only the best ingredients, better known as your team. It’s worth spending more on the best you can get. Second, measuring, better known as data. If you’re not measuring how do you know how you’re doing? How do you know what’s working? It’s not enough that the cash register rings (and worse when it doesn’t). What’s causing it to ring? Can it ring louder and more often? Measuring is how we know.

Finally, putting the best ingredients in an environment where they’ll shine – the stainless shaker filled with ice, a chilled glass – made a big difference. You need to do the same with your team. Give them the best chance to be their best. Is it harder now with people working remotely? Of course, but finding a way to build that environment is your job, isn’t it? I’ve always said that a manager’s job is to help his team to do their jobs, first and foremost.

Try this: make your usual beverage next time but get the best ingredients you can afford and measure them carefully. Freshly squeezed juice, ginger beer with real ginger, whatever. Put them in a nice, well-chilled glass. Let me know if it doesn’t taste a whole lot better, ok?

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Filed under Consulting, food, Helpful Hints

Having An Abundance Of Talent And Failing

Foodie Friday! I’ll caution you that there are some Top Chef spoilers ahead so if you’ve not watched last night’s Restaurant Wars episode, you might want to come back later. It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Top Chef and the pinnacle of every season is when the chefs divide into two teams for restaurant wars. Last night’s episode, which resulted in the elimination of one of the more talented chefs (who is also a fan-favorite) reminded me of a great business point.

As the chefs divided up into teams, it was very obvious that one team had four of the best chefs left in the competition. Several were James Beard Award winners, all have opened successful restaurants (several of them have multiple restaurants), and because this season is an All-Star competition, a few had advanced to the Top Chef finals in previous seasons. The other team had talent but if Vegas was setting a betting line on which team would win restaurant wars, there was no question which team would be the favorite.

When the smoke cleared and judgment had been rendered, the favorites lost and it wasn’t really close. The other team’s food was better executed, their service was more organized, and the menu was more inspired. All of that raises the point that talent alone isn’t the determining factor for success, which is our business point today.

What was evident watching the teams prepare their food was that the losing team was disorganized. They each knew what dishes they were making but other than the chef leading the team, none of them seemed to understand why the menu was the way it was nor how the flavors needed to complement one another. Teams that do well depend on an understanding of roles as well as tasks to avoid clashing, overlapping, or conflicting.

Chef Kevin, who was in charge of the team, designed a meal to be served family-style, with many dishes exiting the kitchen at once. While that works when you’re serving your own family, having to serve a full restaurant put an amazing amount of pressure on the kitchen, and not surprisingly, the service was incredibly slow. They needed to turn over tables in an hour but this style of service took longer and patrons were sitting for 90 minutes, which resulted in a backed-up restaurant. It’s nice to have a vision but had Kevin considered the team’s ability to execute his ambitious vision multiple times an hour, he might have altered his plan. That might have been the result of overconfidence, which often is a problem for the very talented. When you believe that you are unbeatable and that your successes will continue, you can get sloppy, lose concentration, or in the worst cases, slip into arrogance. Was there some of that last night? Just maybe.

Bad communication can often lie at the root of why talented teams fail but that seemed OK in the kitchen. However, the front of house staff wasn’t properly briefed because Kevin wasn’t thinking about that task and never told the chef whose job it was to do the briefing to stop what they were doing and get to the front of the house. It’s never enough to have a great plan. Without great execution, you’re lost.

I wouldn’t say the better team won. I’d say the team that executed better won. Their vision was more simple, their product was innovative, and most importantly, they maximized the talent they had. It’s something to think about as you’re working with your team, right?

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Filed under Consulting, food

Crisitunity

I think it’s Foodie Friday although it’s fairly easy to lose track when most days are pretty much the same these days as we all ride out the current pandemic crisis. While many businesses have been damaged and many people hurt, the restaurant business has been particularly hard hit. Most places have ordered them not to serve anything other than take-out. Order volume is way down. Many of the staff have been laid off or fired altogether. Couple that with the fact that the food business is generally a low-margin business to begin with and you have a dire situation.

Think for a minute how other industries are affected by the restaurant situation. Suppliers now face uncertainty. Landlords might not get paid. If they own the building that’s one thing but if they owe a lender payments, they’re in trouble as well. But as Lisa points out to Homer, a crisis is also an opportunity.



One thing I’ve noticed is that there is suddenly a much great awareness of the interconnectivity of all the constituencies of every business, restaurant and otherwise. It all starts with customers, of course, but also shows how critical everyone is and how many people touch a business. Need supplies? What if the delivery person can’t work and there aren’t replacements. What if the supply chain is interrupted due to hoarding? I’m sure you’ve seen that as stores began to see hoarding they imposed limits on the numbers of what could be bought, not to limit their sales but to make sure they were serving as many people as possible. I call it equity, you can call it fairness or whatever you like.


I’ve got friends who work in the food business. Some of them have been laid off. Others continue to work, taking the risk each day that they might become ill to help their restaurant survive during the crisis. They can’t work from home. When this is over, think about that as you’re wondering whether to tip the extra 5%.

I’m hopeful that other businesses will think more about equity. Will that mean higher wages, better working conditions, and increased benefits? I don’t know but I know we won’t be going back to the world as it was. I’m sure many great people are rethinking their choice of employer if not their career choices. I’m quite sure that many employers won’t have the same staff back, resulting in the loss of institutional memory, increased hiring and training costs, and even more lost time. What are they doing about that? Using the crisis to put the “new” world in the context of equity is a start. You can’t pretend nothing has changed. How are you going to?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

South Bye Bye

These are odd times indeed and it’s when we’re under stress that our true nature often shows. That same is true of organizations and that’s often to their detriment because that true nature is often anti-customer. There is an excellent example of this in what’s going on with the SXSW Festival.

If you’re unfamiliar with the South By Southwest festival, or South By as it’s commonly known, this is how it describes itself:

The event has changed in many surprising and meaningful ways since 1987, but at its core, SXSW remains a tool for creative people to develop their careers by bringing together people from around the globe to meet, learn and share ideas.

It’s sort of a spring break for the tech, marketing, film, and music communities and it attracts thousands of people who attend for the connections they might make, for the music they’ll hear, and for the learnings they’ll take away. It’s become a huge deal and passes to the event cost about $1,400 per person for mid-priced interactive badges that last the length of the 9-day festival. It’s an investment, obviously, and that doesn’t include all the spending by agencies and sponsors.

Here is the problem. They canceled the festival over concerns about the spread of the coronavirus and won’t refund attendees and vendors. They’re offering to defer your ticket to 2021, 2022, or 2023, but they won’t give you back the money. Is this in accordance with their stated policies? Yes, it is, but as we began the piece, these are odd times and maybe, just maybe, it’s time for this business to have another think about alienating their customers.

Many agencies have been cutting back their spending as the festival has become too big and unwieldy. I suspect this might anger those who haven’t been cutting back. Airlines have been refunding tickets and Airbnb recently announced that some coronavirus-related cancellations will qualify for refunds under its “extenuating circumstances” policy.  Many of the attendees are small business people looking to promote themselves or artists they represent. Tying up this money for at least a year can be a big hit, one that just might put them out of business by the next festival.

On top of all this, the festival company fired 30% of its employees. Insurance won’t cover enough to maintain the full-time staff where it was.

Should a cancellation something that should have been in the disaster plan? You would think so. This didn’t happen overnight. Companies and artists began pulling out of the festival weeks ago. Should the decisions that seem to have been taken about how to handle the aftermath of a cancellation been more consumer and business partner-friendly? Based on the extreme negative responses in both sectors, definitely so. Will SXSW ever recover from this? Time will tell, but the lessons we can learn will be the same. Be customer-centric. The short-term pain leads to long-term gain most of the time.

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints, Huh?, What's Going On

One More Chance

Foodie Friday at last! I live in a smallish town. For a town its size, there are actually a lot of dining options and many good examples of different cuisines. Still, it’s always disappointing when one of the places here goes way downhill.

That happened to a place we used to frequent. They arguably had the best burger in town. It was ground in-house and always cooked perfectly (mid-rare, and only because they grind the meat themselves). They had wonderful parmesan truffle fries. When I wrote about this place two years ago I said

They grind the burgers themselves out of a combination of several cuts of beef and they cook it nicely. It’s perfectly seasoned and is served on a bun that absorbs the juices without falling apart. I order mine with bacon and a runny fried egg (why not have breakfast with your burger?) but they offer many other options. It’s a work of art: the Mona Lisa of burgers.

Unfortunately, shortly after I wrote that, things began going downhill. First, our favorite bartender (we always eat at the bar) departed for parts unknown and even texting him didn’t help since he must have got a new phone number (people generally don’t change their numbers just to avoid me). Then something changed in the kitchen. The burger wasn’t the same and it was never cooked right. The fries left the menu. Soon, we left too and haven’t returned.

A few weeks ago, signs went up outside the place that new management was coming. Their Facebook page went into more detail. So the other night, we decided to give it a second chance and went back. We sat at our usual places at the bar and the new owners were sitting there having dinner. We talked about what had changed and they talked a lot about how they were going to make it better. And it was better! The burger was a little different but was ground in house and cooked well. It was back and it was joined by a really good fried chicken sandwich that was new. Woo hoo!

My point today is about second chances. Some people think that there are no second chances in life. As managers, they operate the same way. One employee screw-up and the relationship is never the same. That’s wrong. Giving someone a second chance is giving them the opportunity to improve. Mistakes are learning opportunities.  In general, the only mistakes I wouldn’t tolerate were errors that resulted in destroying trust (you lied to me) or multiple repetitions of the same mistake. That’s either willful or demonstrates that you can’t – or won’t – learn.

Maya Angelou said something that’s always resonated with me on this subject. “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” That’s what I think we all should be after, whether it’s as managers or as people looking for a great burger. Things can change, people can do better. When you see that those changes have happened, I think it’s incumbent on us to give a second chance to see if things have improved. Don’t you?

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud

TLI

We live in a time when many people overshare. You know what I’m talking about. They post pictures of what they’re eating. They check-in and post about every place they go with the exception of the bathroom. Every random thought is posted with the hope of stimulating some response even when the thoughts are pretty vacuous and of interest to none but the author (Hey, be nice – this screed doesn’t count!).

It’s TMI – Too Much Information, and I’ll admit that at times I’ve been as guilty as anyone. In my defense, I’ve now accepted that you can’t win an argument on Facebook even when you’re armed with facts so I won’t be engaging in THAT anymore. But one thing that I find to be just as bad as TMI is TLI – Too Little Information and that’s today’s subject.

A real-life example. I represent over 500 different franchise brands. While I’m very well acquainted with several dozen, it’s not really feasible for my aging brain to retain complete information about all of them, especially the ones I don’t discuss very often. Fortunately, the network I’m part of provides an information page on each of the brands and often there are recorded webinars that provide even more information. The brands themselves maintain the pages. Some provide a few pages for us to read with key selling points, finances the candidate must have, etc. There are often sales brochures we can download and send. Most importantly, they tell us why their brand is different from their competition. The very best brands give us extensive information and it makes it easy to present their brand. No issues here.

A large number, however, gives us nothing. Oh sure, we know what the franchise costs and what the royalty rates are, but we don’t have any materials to send nor do we have any information beyond the very basics. It’s TLI and it makes my job quite difficult. How do I represent a brand that’s a mystery to me? What distinguishes one residential cleaning service franchise from another? How is your lawn service franchise unique? Why should someone invest in your franchise vs. another in the same category?

You may be guilty of the same thing. Do you give employees enough information about a task you’re asking them to complete? How about vendors? Do they really understand why and how you use their products so they can provide better service? All of us in business are constantly providing information to various constituencies. The key is avoiding TLI just as much as we all want to avoid TMI. Make sense?

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints

Tajine

This Foodie Friday, let’s investigate tajine. Those of you with some knowledge of middle eastern or northern African food and cooking will recognize that a tajine is both a dish and a cooking vessel. You probably aren’t aware that it makes a great business point as well.

The dish, as one might expect, varies quite a bit depending on the location and culture. Generally speaking, a tajine is a stew that’s cooked slowly. Depending on the culture, it can have meats, fish, regional spices and broth. Some cultures add fruit and nuts. In Tunisia, eggs and cheese are common additions, making the stew more like a frittata.

What most of the cultures have in common is that the dish is cooked in a pot with a pyramid-shaped lid that does most of the work for you and produces consistently moist results, condensing and redirecting steam back into the food. Technically you don’t need a tajine to cook a tajine (see what I did there?) but because the pot is made from porous terra cotta, it gets seasoned and infused with flavors over time. Yes, very much like a great cast-iron skillet. Yes, you could use a slow-cooker which develops a similar cooking environment and yes, some tajine pots are enameled so they don’t really absorb flavor, but no matter which way you go, the business point remains the same.

A tajine is very much a product of a specific environment. The flavors reflect the culture and what the pot does so well is to create a condition that keeps the product inside in an optimal state. I think that’s what great corporate cultures do as well. First, they select “ingredients” – people and processes – that reflect who they are as an organization. Next, they create an environment that allows those ingredients to combine while protecting them from burning or overcooking. It’s a slow, gentle braise.

Think about the best places in which you worked. I’ll bet it was a “braise” environment and not “broiling”. I’ve worked in the latter and the staff tended to be overcooked quite quickly.  It’s like one lovely description of tajine cooking says:

Fill the pot with your layered ingredients before it has fully heated, either at room temperature or when barely warm. This helps to mediate overall temperature and prevent any scorching. There’s no sautéing necessary—simply layer ingredients and add liquid all in one go. A moist and saucy tagine comes from the trapped steam, not pre-cooking.

As you’re creating your corporate tajine, think about both the dish and the pot. Keep the staff from scorching and the environment so it creates optimal conditions for success. It’s probably simpler than you think if you have the right tools!

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Filed under food, Thinking Aloud