The Coach's Corner

Setting the Table

January 21st, 2019 // Tom Doescher //

Tom Doescher - Doescher Advisors

If any family members or good friends were to come to me and say they want to open a restaurant, I would beg them to pick another business. But Danny Meyer, owner of the Union Square Cafe in Manhattan and author of Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business, has somehow survived — and even thrived — in one of the most competitive markets in the world. Recently I had the pleasure of hearing him speak, which provided some insight into his success.

I believe many of his philosophies, some of which are listed below, apply to all of us in business. As always, I will offer some editorial comments:

  1. Business, like life, is all about how you make people feel. It’s that simple and it’s that hard.
  2. Hospitality is the foundation of Meyer’s business philosophy. Virtually nothing else is as important as how one is made to feel in any business transaction.
  3. Understanding the distinction between service and hospitality has been at the foundation of Meyer’s success. Service is the technical delivery of a product. Hospitality is how the delivery of that product makes the recipient feel. (Editorial comment: In the past, I’ve shared David Maister’s famous concept of the difference between quality service and quality work.)
  4. Meyer credits several mentors for his success. (Editorial comment: Who are your mentors? The older I get, the more I am reminded of the impact made by those who mentored me, including my dad. I find myself quoting my dad, a career postal worker, more than ever.)
  5. Invest in your community. A business that understands how powerful it is to create wealth for the community stands a much higher chance of creating wealth for its own investors. (Editorial comment: As I’ve learned, investment in the community is also very important to your team members, especially those under 30.)
  6. Meyer has a list of traits he looks for in his managers, and it includes an infectious attitude, self-awareness, patience and tough love, and not feeling threatened by others.
  7. Meyer provides a great list of trust versus fear, including empowering v. ruling, giving v. selfishness, listening v. telling, and hopeful v. cynical.

When I heard Meyer speak, the comment that impacted me the most was related to his 5-step plan for addressing mistakes with a customer: Awareness, Acknowledgement, Apology, Action and Additional Generosity. It was this last step that really resonated with me. Meyer instructs his team to do something special for a guest whose experience has been less than stellar, such as offering them an extra dessert or even a complimentary meal, depending on how bad the mistake was. In my experience, this is where many of us fall short. We may already have lost money on the transaction, so giving more away isn’t natural — but I think Meyer is on to something.

Especially in today’s tech-dominated world, I strongly believe businesses that are able to provide a personal touch have a major competitive advantage. As an example, I have a client who recently purchased a pontoon boat, and he received a phone call from the owner of the boat manufacturer. How do you think he felt? How many other potential boat-buyers has he told — and will he tell — about his experience? Better yet, this client started calling his own customers, which has led to great success.

Alive at Work

January 7th, 2019 // Tom Doescher //

Tom Doescher - Doescher Advisors

Really, is that possible? To be alive at work? I know lots of business owners who wish their associates would share more ideas and be more creative. In fact, I’ve probably felt that way over the years myself. In his book, Alive at Work, author Daniel Cable offers some suggestions for those of us who want to love what we do.

Before I get to the main subject, I’d like to offer an observation. Let me start with a story. Probably 20 years ago, I had the privilege of hearing the famous MIT economist, Lester Thurow, speak at an executive forum. He said something that day that I’ve never forgotten. He stated that he’s often asked how he predicts the future. To answer those questions, he said he merely looks at what’s already happening, and then extrapolates into the future.

I’ve noticed in the past year or two that many of the “business” books I read make reference to the brain and how it functions. Cable, for example, quotes Gallup research that I’ve mentioned before, indicating that 80 percent of workers don’t feel they can be their best at work and 70 percent say they aren’t engaged at work. According to Cable, the reason for those numbers is the fact that many organizations are deactivating the part of the employee’s brain called the “seeking system,” which controls an employee’s drive and motivation. He suggests that the opposite of the seeking system is the “fear system,” which was created by the Industrial Revolution and is a result of the Command & Control approach to management. Cable goes on to say that when the seeking system is triggered, rather than the fear system, the chemical dopamine is released and employees experience an urge to explore, understand and contribute.

I’m going to stop there, but suffice it to say that treating your associates one way shuts them down and treating them another way causes greater engagement and excitement. Once again, I’m stepping outside of my area of expertise, but I personally experienced what Cable refers to as the “seeking system” and the related dopamine for most of my 40-year career at Plante Moran.

Cable also offers some great examples of companies that have embraced the seeking system approach. I’ve talked about many of these types of behaviors before, but I had no idea that doing the right thing can cause a positive reaction in the brain.

If you’re interested in this subject, I would recommend Cable’s book.

To close, I’m going to provide this quote from the book: “To prompt employees’ curiosity and learning through experimentation, a leader can start with the humble purpose of serving others and being open to learning from employees. When leaders express feelings of uncertainty and humility, and share their own developmental journeys, they end up encouraging a learning mindset in others.”

As I’ve mentioned before, my mentor, Ken Kunkel, has modeled this for the almost 50 years that I’ve known him, and he continues to have a positive impact on the world today.


The Stack 9 Hard Questions

December 3rd, 2018 // Tom Doescher //

Tom Doescher - Doescher Advisors

In my last post, I summarized highlights from The Great Game of Business, written by business owner Jack Stack. In this post, I’ve listed nine tough rhetorical questions that remind me of Marcus Buckingham’s 12 (now 8) Questions. Here goes:

  1. What are you personally giving to the people you manage?
  2. Do you spend as much time thinking about your team as you spend thinking about customers?
  3. Do you share your problems, or do you keep them to yourself?
  4. Do you, yourself, operate with an open book? Do you let your people know everything that you know?
  5. Are you getting the benefit of your team’s intelligence, or do you still think you’re responsible for coming up with the answers on your own?
  6. Do your people know what to do without being told, or do they wait to get a list from you? Is everybody working toward the same goal? Does everybody know what it is? Do you let people figure out the best way to get there?
  7. Do you know what gets your people angriest? Have you ever asked them about their frustrations and their fears? What keeps them awake at night?
  8. Have you talked to your team about your own fears and frustrations? Can you let down your guard enough to do that? Are you willing to make yourself vulnerable? Do you have enough self-confidence to take the risk to be transparent with them?
  9. Most important, if the answer to any of these questions is no, do you really want to change?

I’m guessing Marcus Buckingham would love this list.

Consider doing a self-assessment first. Then, have your leadership team members complete a self-assessment, followed by a company assessment.

For those of you who are nervous, I’ll quote my dad once again: “It is what it is.” Take the risk and, if you’re not where you could be, do something about it.

The Great Game of Business

November 12th, 2018 // Tom Doescher //

Tom Doescher - Doescher Advisors

In my recent post, I mentioned I was going to read The Great Game of Business, written by Jack Stack. Although it’s a book about Open Book Management (OBM), it was way more than that. Stack details what happened when he and his buddies —non-college-educated, blue-collar people —  purchased a failing International Harvester plant where they had worked for years.

In the first third of the book, Stack provides his thoughts on OBM, and shares his leadership philosophies. As my dad would say, “He has a lot of common sense.” To whet your appetite for his book, here are a few of my favorite takeaways (of course, with my editorial comments):

  1. The best, most efficient, most profitable way to operate a business is to give everybody in the company a voice in saying how the company is run and a stake in the financial outcome, good or bad.
  2. Middle managers have the most difficult role in the company because they have to please many masters. (Editorial comment: At my former firm, there’s a position called “In-Charge.” In my opinion, it was — and probably still is — the hardest job. The In-Charge must supervise the team, keep the client happy, keep the partner happy, and complete the work assignments accurately and within budget.)
  3. There’s a reason you get paid more when you become a manager. You’re taking on more responsibility, and you’re giving up some of your freedom. (Editorial comment: Wow, I’ve never seen this in writing, but I used to say those exact words to our partners. As a leader, in public, you surrender some of your personal points of view or opinions. This was very hard for some, including me, at times.)
  4. “That’s why I get angry at the loudmouths who talk about winning through intimidation. Not only are they dead wrong, but they are promoting one of the most destructive myths in American business.” (Editorial comment: Need I say more?)
  5. Tunnel vision is a big problem in business.
  6. Too many goals are useless.
  7. Bad housekeeping is frequently a sign of trouble. (Editorial comment: Japanese manufacturers have taught us about the importance of adopting the 5S workplace organization method.)
  8. No matter how hard you try to be open, people are still intimidated by the title, the door, the desk — all symbols of power. (Editorial comment: This is so true. So, realize it and don’t make it worse.)

There are many more great recommendations, but I’ll stop there.

In the balance of the book, Stack provides many practical, detailed ideas for implementing OBM. Just a warning: He also offers some (just a few) political points of view, and isn’t shy about his support of capitalism.

Stack also has a very strong point of view when it comes to his belief that associates should receive stock in the company, and he makes a very good case for his position. I happen to disagree with him, and believe you can accomplish the same goal with deferred compensation or phantom stock pegged to the company enterprise value. In this area, I would strongly suggest you seek outside counsel from your advisers, including your attorney and accountants. As always, I’d be happy to discuss my views, if you’d like to talk about it.

In my next post, I’ll share one last list of rhetorical questions that Stack provided that might be worth asking yourself and your leadership team. The list reminded me of Marcus Buckingham’s 12 (now 8) Questions, which I’ve discussed in the past.

It’s All About Jobs, Part 2

October 22nd, 2018 // Tom Doescher //

Tom Doescher - Doescher Advisors

In my last blog, I discussed the commitment Barbara and I have to helping business owners create good jobs. I mentioned Defending The Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy, written by Rev. Robert Sirico, a Catholic priest and co-founder and president of The Acton Institute. Fr. Robert comments on many topics, but here are some takeaways specifically related to jobs:

  1. The expression “to make money” is a very good description of the process in a free market. It all begins because people are making things or creating things (it may be a product or a service). Before the taking comes the making.
  2. An increasing number of experts from the developing world have come to recognize the pitfalls of government-to-government aid. (Editorial comment: Barbara and I have observed this firsthand in many countries.)
  3. The countries that have found ways of unleashing creativity through economic freedom have lifted millions out of poverty.
  4. Capitalism is fueled by human creativity in a system that rewards people for serving the wants and needs of others.
  5. In summary, the identification of greed with business profits and generosity with not-for-profits is too simplistic. As tempting as it may be, we cannot demonize profit and canonize poverty. (Editorial comment: Fr. Robert does a wonderful job of making this point. I can add that, for years, I’ve observed business owners do many wonderful acts of kindness for their associates and for the poor in their communities. I will continue this series and share some of my favorites.)
  6. The entrepreneur in a free market, far more than the government bureaucrat or central planner under socialism, must submit himself to the wants and needs of the consumer if he is to profit.
  7. What tends to make people happier is earned success — in other words, the feeling of accomplishment that comes with a job well done, a job that others find valuable.

Fr. Robert provided many references to credible research studies and wonderfully explained many different dynamics of a “free market” approach versus the alternative.

For those interested in learning more about this subject, I would recommend reading Fr. Robert’s book as well as a number of the books he references, such as The Road to Serfdom by Friedrich A. Hayek.

The Advisor’s Corner

Tom DoescherYou’ll find stories from the trenches, business lessons, and pertinent questions to help you find inspiration, professional growth, and leadership savvy.

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