Tag Archives: managing

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 Helpful Hints, Reality checks

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

How Rude

This Foodie Friday our topic is rudeness. OK, maybe not rudeness per se but whatever it is one would call being brusque with servers in bars, restaurants, grocery stores, and elsewhere. You know what I’m talking about. You probably have a friend who treats the waitstaff as if they are indentured servants rather than food service professionals who work long hours for not a lot of money. Maybe they make ridiculous demands or maybe they manage to find fault with everything that’s sent from the kitchen, causing problems not just for the server but also for the cook who will probably have to refire the dish.

It’s an important business point. When you’re dining out, you’re in a position of power with respect to the servers and, to a lesser extent, the entire kitchen. In an office setting, there are managers who revel in that and they’re the ones whose subordinates can’t wait to find employment elsewhere. No one likes being treated dismissively. The rude manager is probably feeling a need to demonstrate how special (or entitled) they are. To a lesser extent, I think they’re trying to see what they can get away with. Unfortunately, subordinates rarely get the chance to tell the manager’s manager how detrimental this behavior is to the entire team.

I’m not saying we need to be obsequious either to the waitstaff or to our subordinates. I am saying that “please,” “thank you,” and other demonstrations of appreciation (a nice tip to the server, a decent raise if possible to the employee) will get you better results than being demanding and rude. I often wished that I could take every candidate I was thinking of hiring out for a meal, or at least for coffee. You will learn an awful lot about their character, especially if the service really is bad or if their order gets messed up.

One of my bosses told me a long time ago to think about managing as if I were moving a piece of string. If you get behind it and push, it rarely will go where you want. If you get out in front and pull, you can lead it anywhere. Good manners are part of being out in front, whether in a restaurant or an office, don’t you think?

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud

It’s Time For Brunch!

It’s Foodie Friday and the topic this week is brunch. You might not have noticed, but having breakfast late is a thing. In fact, many restaurants are adding a specific brunch menu while all-day breakfast has contributed mightily to McDonald’s improved financial results. Consumer research shows the growth of brunch service in restaurants around the country as customers enjoy breakfast foods all day and night long.

Mid-City New Orleans: Brunch at the Ruby Slipp...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

According to its 2017 MenuTrends report, Datassential reveals brunch was available at 4.9 percent of all chain and independent restaurants in the United States in 2016, compared to 2.0 percent of restaurants ten years prior. Over the past four years (2012-2016), brunch service in U.S. restaurants increased by 43.5 percent.

In other words, restaurants are catering (pun intended) to the desires of their customers for breakfast foods around the clock. I’m willing to bet your local diner has always served breakfast all day so this isn’t exactly a surprise or huge innovation. What is an interesting development is how many places have responded and added a brunch or all day breakfast menu.

Contrast this with a place I know that opened as a casual lunch business, got great reviews, but not enough business. The owner didn’t want to change his business hours to include early supper to take advantage of the increased foot traffic in the neighborhood after 5. He wasn’t able to make a go of it. The flaw wasn’t the food or the service or even the location. It was in not responding to the realities of the market and the opportunities those realities presented.

Your business might be making similar mistakes. What are your customers telling you? What are market trends showing? It may be overly simplistic, but if customers are enjoying breakfast foods all day long, your job, if you’re in the breakfast business at least part of the day, is to serve them all day as well. You can fight your competitors but you can’t fight your customers’ tastes! Make sense?

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The Right Fielder

There’s an old song by Peter, Paul, and Mary that contains a few lines that were 100% true when I was a kid:

‘Cause the fastest, the strongest, played shortstop and first
The last ones they picked were the worst
I never needed to ask, it was sealed,
I just took up my place in right field.

The kid whose fielding skills were weakest ended up playing right. The thinking was that most batters, if they got it out of the infield, would have to pull the ball and nearly everyone seemed to hit right-handed. Ergo, the right fielder would not have a chance either to make a play or to make an error.

Right fielder position on a baseball diamond

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What does this have to do with business? I suspect that some of us look at our teams and mentally assign one or more of our team members to right field. Rather than demanding that every player meets the high standards needed to play any position, we stick them in a place where we hope nothing important get hits their way. Needless to say, this precipitates an entire series of problems.

First, the rest of the team knows who the weaklings are and can’t understand why they’re still on the team. After all, when the team wins a championship, everyone gets a ring, including the player who was more of a liability than an asset. That breeds resentment.

Second, the weak players are often held to a different standard. There is a lack of accountability since they aren’t as skilled. That’s a huge mistake as well. A team has one set of standards, not different standards for each person. If your business unit is to function as a team, it must be one and not just a collection of individuals.

There are going to be balls hit to right field, wherever right field might lie on your particular field of play. As managers, our job is to be sure that there are no weak spots anywhere and that each member of the team is on the same page, communicating clearly and backing one another up. That’s how we win, right?

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints

Sweets Trolley

It’s Foodie Friday, and this week I’m already looking forward to next week and the Passover and Easter holidays. As you might expect, it’s because of the food. There are a few things that seem only to make an appearance around this time – Easter Pie (pizza rustica) and bilkies (like a knish without a crust) being two of my favorites. Most of these foods, however, are desserts. Macaroons, cakes made with ground nuts instead of flour, Simnel cakes, hot cross buns, and yes, even Peeps are sweets that are now eaten year-round but were originally only eaten around Passover or Easter. That’s why desserts are on my mind.

Desserts began as a “thing” in the 17th century. As a host, you were expected to leave your guests filled to the brim. The word “dessert” comes from Old French “desservir,” “cleaning the table,” and that’s what it did—it filled people up to the brim. I look at it as the “something extra” that takes a good meal and makes it special. If you’ve dined in some restaurants (or are a Harry Potter fan), then you’re aware of the sweets trolley – the cart that comes around after the meal with the desserts. It always makes me feel the way that the sound of the Good Humor truck did as it came around when I was a kid.

So my question for you this Foodie Friday is what’s on your sweets trolley? What desserts have you created to complement and enhance your main meal? How are you filling your customers to the brim? Is your product great but your customer service the dessert? Is your online experience first-rate but the experience of unboxing what you send an added joy? What are you doing that goes above and beyond?

I’m actually not a dessert person – I avoid sweets. This week is one exception because the desserts are so unique and wonderful. What are you doing to entice people who might avoid you to change their mind?

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Filed under Consulting, food

Clear Headed

I’ve been MIA from this space for a few days (hopefully you’ve noticed). I caught some kind of a bug and it pretty much laid me out for a few days. Body aches, a little congestion, and a foggy brain. I had zero energy and just wanted to sleep. More importantly, I couldn’t really focus my thinking on anything.

This may come as a shock to you but I do put a fair amount of what I hope is clear-headed thought into the screed. While I might have been able to force myself to spend a lot of extra time to write something, I thought it a better course of (in)action just to give it a rest. I’m a big believer in doing nothing when one’s head is foggy and let me explain why.

“Foggy” to me just doesn’t mean the state I’ve been in over the last few days. Foggy is when things are unclear at all. It may be because you’re distracted or it may be because the information you need to make a decision is incomplete, unclear, or inadequate. Jason Day, for example, withdrew from a golf tournament a couple of weeks ago because he was distracted by the fact that his mom was having surgery (she’s fine) and he couldn’t focus. Rather than making bad decisions on the course, he made a great one and left it.

Each of us needs to think along the same lines. Sure, sometimes fuzzy logic is called for because we can’t get enough information. In and of itself, that’s a clear-headed decision you make. Oftentimes, however, anything from a cold to a hangover to a family matter to office politics can reduce or eliminate your ability to focus. Those are the times when we need more time because I don’t concur that a bad decision is always better than no decision.

What do you think?

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