Tag Archives: managing

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

A Mustache On The Mona Lisa

It’s Foodie Friday, and I want to relate an experience I had the other night while dining out. It got me thinking about some dumb things folks in the food business do and how any of us in business can be smarter than they seem to have been. I went to get a burger at a local bar that serves excellent food.

The Mona Lisa (or La Joconde, La Gioconda).

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

When the burger came the other night, I asked the server for some mayo to dress the bun. They used to serve a lovely house-made truffle aioli but the menu has changed and now it’s just mayo. What I got was a handful of packets of mayo. You know – the shelf-stable, room temperature stuff you’d get tossed in your bag at a deli for your take-out sandwich. I was shocked and felt like whoever made the decision to serve their condiments as if we were in a concession line someplace was disrespecting the customer, not to mention their own product. They had put a mustache on the Mona Lisa.

It got me thinking. How could these people compromise the excellence of their product by doing something so silly? Then again, we see plenty of examples of this. Ever notice a water bottle that claims to contain “gluten-free” or “non-GMO” water? It’s another example of a business showing their customers disrespect. You assume we’re too dumb to know that water couldn’t possibly contain those things. I’m sure you’ve seen ads for “hormone-free” chicken. Well, yeah – the law prohibits the use of hormones. It’s fake transparency or worse because it shows a contempt for the customer’s lack of knowledge.

Do I think the bar serving me a packet of mayo is as bad as misleading labeling? No, but both actions come from the same place, one we all need to avoid in business. We need to honor our products and services but first and foremost, we need to honor our customers. I get that this is probably nothing more than a cost-saving measure, but I’m also sure there is mayo in the walk-in and putting a spoonful into a little cup may cost a few cents but is more in line with both the quality of the product and the customer’s expectations. Make sense?

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Filed under Consulting, food, Huh?

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

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

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