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?
It’s Foodie Friday and this week I’d like to highlight a business lesson I was reminded of while watching “A Chef’s Life.” If you’re not familiar with the show, it’s a series (now in its fifth season) that features Vivian Howard, the chef at a restaurant in eastern North Carolina, as she runs her restaurant, raises her kids, writes what is now an acclaimed cookbook, and improves her craft. I watch it both for the great storytelling as well as to learn about the local food traditions and recipes of the Carolinas.
As the series has progressed and Vivian’s star has risen, she has sent some time ruminating on the fact that she spends far less time in the kitchen of her restaurant than when she opened it. She also talks about how strange it feels when she actually does go back into the kitchen, whether it’s to develop new dishes or to do a quality check. This resonated with me even though my business has nothing to do with running a restaurant.
Executive chefs are really managers. While they were once line cooks, the amount of time they spend cooking is inversely proportionate to the responsibility they have. Like any manager, their job is to make sure that the entire operation is moving in sync and that the people who do the actual work have the tools and materials they need. They teach where necessary but other than in emergencies, they don’t step in and actually do the job that is the responsibility of their subordinates.
This is probably the hardest thing for new managers to understand. I remember that when I began managing people it was extremely frustrating to watch my subordinates take more time to do projects I could do in a flash. Their work was often full of errors, mistakes I wouldn’t have made just because I had a lot more experience. But doing the work for them would have been just as big an error since they wouldn’t learn and I would not be working with the other members of the department.
On the show, Vivian remarks that show doesn’t feel as if she’s doing anything when she’s in the restaurant’s kitchen now because it runs most days without her. I used to feel the same way as I was learning that my job entailed different “doings.” Wandering around and listening, clarifying goals, working with other department heads, giving a pat on the back to someone and a kick in the butt to another are all part of the manager’s job but when you’re used to having an overloaded project list and deadlines, it doesn’t feel as if you’re doing much at all. In reality, Vivian has done a fantastic job managing since her operation runs well on its own. She can focus on the next project – new dishes, new restaurants, the next book – while knowing her business is operating efficiently. Not a bad model for any of us!
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?
(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.
One thing that bad golfers do (and I’m speaking from personal experience here) is to misalign themselves. They might point the clubface at their target but they fail to get their hips, shoulders, and knees properly aligned. When they go to hit the shot, inevitably the ball goes someplace other than where the golfer desires.
I thought of that this morning as I read the results of a study on marketing compensation. Conducted by MediaPost, the study found that:
Agencies and their clients are far apart in terms of what they deem to be the most fair method of compensation, according to findings of a survey of advertiser and agency execs conducted recently by Advertiser Perceptions for MediaPost. While labor-based fees are the No. 1 method preferred by agencies (45%), incentive methods were the top choice among marketers (40%).
You might not be a marketing agency or a marketer, but there is something to be taken from that for whatever business you’re in. Think of a car’s four wheels. When they’re properly aligned, the car is easy to hold on the course you set. If one wheel is out of alignment, the car pulls left or right and you’re constantly having to fight to keep it heading where you want.
Your business is no different. Your goals and your customers’ goals have to be in alignment. So too do yours and your team’s. Being paid fairly is a critical part of the employer/employee relationship, and no one is going to do their best work if they feel like they’ve been treated unfairly. I’ve known agencies who’ve resigned clients because they felt that they were losing money servicing the account. I actually had a client who hired me to complete a project over a few weeks. When I presented the completed work in a little over a week, they asked to reduce what I was being paid since “it didn’t take as long as we thought.” In that case, it was my fault for not being sure that their expectations (how long it would take and the value of that time) were in alignment with how I did the work and the value of the project regardless of the time spent. Sure, I could have sat on the completed work until it was due, but that has no benefit to my client and only helps me justify what they’re paying.
All the wheels need to be aligned. The club face and your body need to be aligned. The goals and expectations of everyone in your organization need to be aligned, and that alignment must extend to your customers as well. Hard to do sometimes, but always worth it, right?
Filed under Consulting, Huh?
If you’ve been wondering where the screed has been for the last couple of days, the post below from 2009 will explain everything. Originally titled “The BOA,” the “meeting” I’m attending is an incredibly valuable gathering both for me and for my clients because it helps me be a better advisor. Enjoy!
I leave tomorrow morning on an annual trip I take to Myrtle Beach. In theory, it’s a golf outing but it’s more of a 5 day stay in a rest home getting my batteries recharged. 13 of us go, 12 of whom play golf. The other guy is a “social member” – most golf clubs have them – who enjoys the non-golf activities – cards, movies, and general guy banter. Like “Fight Club“, the first rule is we don’t really talk about it. However, what I can talk about that these are the guys whom I trust, to whom I can turn for advice, and who are honest – often brutally so – with me about everything from my golf game to my attitude. For all of the social networking tools available out there, nothing beats the face to face contact with this group for me. There is a business lesson in this as well.
Every businessperson needs a “board of advisors” for themselves, not their business. While your significant other is a great start, like a business BOA, you need multiple diverse points of view. My group has a few lawyers, an accountant, a few “money” guys, a restaurateur, another digital media expert – you get the idea. Ideally, these are people who can get past how you say things and hear what it is you’re saying. They are comfortable enough with you to know that their candor will be taken in the open, supportive spirit in which it’s offered. When their advice isn’t taken, they’re not offended and are smart enough to hold their tongues when it turns out their advice was right.
So off I go to meet with my BOA. I’ll try to keep posting over the next few days but if I don’t, please understand it’s because I’m in a Board meeting. When is your next meeting? Do you have a board to gather?
I frequently collaborate with other consultants on both projects and proposals. While our skill sets often overlap in some areas, generally we bring different things to the project. One thing I’ve noticed about the process is that some of us are writers and some of us are editors and I think it’s important for any business to have a mix of both. Here is why.
Writers create things. Those of us who think we can write (and I hope 2,000+ blog posts show you that I can!) are right-brain oriented, in my opinion. We see things or hear things and are moved to put our own spin on them. When it comes to business, we can look at or listen to a situation and ideas begin to germinate. In my case, it’s often analyzing the situation at hand and synthesizing a plan based on situations from the past. Sometimes a totally new concept emerges and I write it up as fast as I can because ideas are butterflies – they are beautiful but fleeting.
Editors, on the other hand, seem to be more left-brained. They can take a writer’s ramblings, see the central idea, and make it better. How? By asking questions raised by the writing and demanding answers. They can add structure. Since the ideas are not their own, they have neither a vested interest in protecting anything written nor any insight into what’s being communicated if it isn’t on the page. I think while we need t be passionate about our creations in business we also have to understand that our ideas need to be understood by our audience. Editors make that happen.
As a writer, I’m happy to be edited because a great editor can make me look better than I am. Writers make connections between things and editors make those connections more clear. To a certain extent, writers “do” and editors “help”. And to be clear, I don’t think one is necessarily one or the other. I like to think of myself as a writer who can edit. On these collaborations I referenced, I will frequently put out the first draft for the team but once that’s out there, everyone becomes an editor, refining the proposal or project until it sings.
So where on the spectrum do you fall – more a writer or an editor? Do you have both or your team?
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I went to the dentist last week for a cleaning. Despite having worn braces when I was a kid some of my lower teeth have shifted as I’ve aged and the dentist said I should think about having them straightened out (again). Having endured braces long ago, I told him that unless there was some reason beyond the need to be extra diligent as I brush and floss I would pass. It did, however, get me thinking about braces and I think there is a business lesson here.
Braces work by putting steady pressure on misaligned teeth. Over time, the pressure moves the teeth into the correct position. Orthodontists use rubber bands or springs to exert specific pressure to push the teeth in the proper direction. The trick is that there is constant pressure, and any of you who remember sleeping with the extra pressure of that contraption they had you wear at night will agree that while the pressure isn’t overwhelming it’s quite noticeable.
As managers, we need to act like braces. Organizations often have parts that are misaligned and which need to be moved back into place. As with teeth, one can’t just remove and replace the misaligned elements, at least not until all other options have been exhausted. It’s too traumatic. Figuring out how things ought to line up and applying steady pressure is what we ought to be doing.
The same goes for dealing with people. Really excellent people often have a flaw that can be fixed with time and patience. It’s identifying the problem, applying the corrective devices, increasing the pressure in a helpful but not painful way, and waiting that is the key. The steel railroad ties of my youthful brace experience are long gone, replaced by barely noticeable orthodonture. That’s how managers need to think as well – using a light, barely noticeable hand can be just as effective with the right pressure and design.
How are you fixing things today?