leadership dot #3691: brew

I know that dogs are humans’ best friends, but this new product takes it a bit too far. Anheuser-Busch has developed a new Dog Brew product, a tasty bone-in pork butt broth specifically made for canines. It’s a pricey concoction, $15 for 4 cans, but presumably serves to promote healthy digestion and provide extra nutrients to Fido.

What I suspect is truly behind the brew’s development is a way to utilize byproducts from the making of actual beer. It’s a risky move, in my opinion, as the similarity of packaging could confuse humans and lead them to drink the product (yuck!), or, worse yet, lead people to think that giving real Busch to dogs is acceptable when alcohol is toxic to pets.

Category-jumping may bring in some revenue but completely strays from Busch’s core business. Don’t risk your reputation by grabbing at any bone for a buck.

leadership dot #3690: painting

I’m having the inside of my garage repaired and painted, a job I definitely do not want to do myself. But my painter, Paul, seems to actually enjoy the work, more than for the income it brings.

“I like painting because it provides instant gratification,” he said. “I can tell right away what I have done vs. doing electrical work where the first thing I have to do is figure out what somebody else did wrong. Painting you can see.”

I think all of us need some aspect of our work that provides tangible results. Creating a formula-driven spreadsheet. Clearing our inbox. Submitting a grant. Mowing the grass. Cooking a meal. Cleaning out a closet.

It’s fine to toil in settings that have a long-term impact as many non-profits do but to keep up the motivation and momentum, sprinkle in some short-term accomplishments. Remind yourself that you are making progress by painting the equivalent of your wall.

leadership dot #3689: 3 hours

I returned an item at Dick’s and the cashier noted that there was a coupon attached to my receipt, providing me $20 off a $100 purchase. I thought I would give it to my sports-crazed nephew, who undoubtedly spends that amount with regularity — but then I noticed that the coupon was “valid for 3 hours.” Seriously?

My mind immediately flashed to yesterday’s dot (#3688) about stupid rules, but my second thought was “well, at least I’ll get a dot out of it.” I have found that aggravating situations often have lessons buried in them, helping me clearly see what not to do. People often say they learn supervision by doing everything opposite from what their bad boss did; the same principle applies to service situations. If you find something ridiculous, chances are your employees or customers will, too.

leadership dot #3688: raincheck

Our local grocery store is running a week of daily specials and I went to purchase my bargain-priced butter — only they were sold out. I asked if they were offering rainchecks and the answer was “we stopped giving them out at 5:00.” This arbitrary decision didn’t sit well with me, so I asked why. The clerk said: “That’s what management told us to say if customers asked.”

What?! I wonder how the clerk felt as he parroted back this ridiculous line.

The situation made me think of the Harvard Business Review article that I quote often in my supervision sessions. Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones surveyed employees to determine what characteristics made up the “best workplace on Earth.” One of five answers: “Stupid rules don’t exist.”

Employees don’t want to deliver BS excuses to customers and see them infuriated because the policies don’t make sense. They want to be the “helpful smile in every aisle” as they allegedly were hired to be.

Don’t put your staff in the position of being the bad guy. If you determine that an undesirable policy is absolutely necessary, communicate it widely to help set customer expectations, make it universal, and have someone with authority available to enforce it. Throwing in an apology, regret, or an ounce of compassion wouldn’t hurt either.

Stupid rules are just that — stupid — and cost more in ill-will for everyone than they save.

leadership dot #3687: potatoes

If I asked you which state grew the most potatoes, I’ll bet most could correctly name Idaho. But what’s your guess for what state is number two or three?

Until this weekend, I would have had no idea, but through a very clever partnership, I learned that Wisconsin is the third-largest grower of spuds in the U.S. (Washington State is number two.) The Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association helped create this awareness by sponsoring a touring music and dance troupe, the Kids from Wisconsin. The Kids travel the state and perform almost daily for two months, reaching 120,000 people. They end the first portion of the show by having the audience sing along to a little jingle about Wisconsin potatoes, they capture it on an iPad, and I’m sure that someone will post it on social media, reaching an even larger audience.

It seems like an unlikely pairing — kids between ages 15-20 and locally-grown potatoes — but it is actually a smart vehicle to increase recognition among the hundreds of adults who watch the Kids perform. The first step toward changing consumer behavior is raising awareness and the Growers certainly achieved that goal with an ad in the program, t-shirts, and most importantly, active participation by both the singers and the audience. Follow their cue and forge a partnership with a source that can engage your potential users in a tactical and unexpected way.

leadership dot #3686: wet

I have a canvas chair that stays out on my patio. Invariably, wetness soaks through to my pants when I sit on it in the morning. The chair doesn’t look wet. It doesn’t feel wet. It doesn’t matter if it has rained or not. The canvas holds moisture and soaks through with pressure.

Every time, I feel it and think that today will somehow be different — that the problem will have miraculously gone away — and so I sit on it again, only to become wet in inopportune places.

This chair could be an analogy for how many people or organizations address their issues. We know that the problem is unresolved. We know bad things will happen if we do what we have always done, or worse yet, ignore it. We know that nothing has changed. Yet, somehow, we believe that because we can’t see the problem, it is not there. As a result, we behave accordingly and face the undesirable consequences, often again and again.

A problem doesn’t have to be visible to be real. Don’t be fooled into behaving otherwise.

leadership dot #3685: simplifying

Nestled in among the surf shops and souvenir stands that line Waikiki Beach in Honolulu is a different kind of store — one that rents bridal gowns. It makes sense that many destination weddings occur on this piece of paradise, so Something Borrowed minimizes the bulk that brides-to-be need to carry.

Something Borrowed rents gowns ($300) and suits ($200) with their hassle-free “rent, wear, return” policy. While the low price may get you in the door, in addition to the rental boutique, they also offer wedding planning services where you may spend a far greater amount. Their coordination encompasses as much or as little as you are willing to pay for — everything from proposal planning to a photo tour to wedding week coordination ($4500). Their full-service plan will handle the smallest of details and orchestrate everything so you just have to show up.

Think about whether you can “borrow” part of the Something Borrowed business model and handle the details that could come easily to someone who does them all the time but may be overwhelming for one-time users (think funerals, a baby, or a new pet). If you simplify a complex transaction for someone, there are people out there who will accept your proposal and say “yes.”

leadership dot #3684: guide

One of the advantages of traveling as a family of twelve is that you become your own group for tours. As a result, we were assigned a personal guide to help us navigate through the Polynesian Cultural Center, a day-long experience that showcases the culture of several Polynesian countries.

Having a private guide meant that we could craft our own itinerary and then have someone to efficiently ensure we saw the parts of the park that were most meaningful to us. Before we started out, Lohan asked us several questions, such as:

  • Did we want to see a little bit about each country or go in-depth with one or two?
  • Would we rather see shows in each area or spend more time on activities?
  • Was there anything in particular that we wanted to be sure to do?

Lohan said that to become a guide he had to memorize a 72-page script and pass tests on the material. While the Cultural Center may have gone to lengths to standardize the witty comments and information the guides shared, allowing each group the ability to tailor their day helped our group have a positive experience and create lasting memories of the place.

Of course, we paid extra for the service, but having someone who could personalize our visit and expertly navigate us through the park without any waiting, map-reading, or getting lost was worth every cent. Disney and other places could take a lesson from the Cultural Center.

Think about whether there is a way for you to offer a guide for the experience you provide. Many hospitals have volunteers who escort incoming patients to their initial intake location, schools could provide escorts to help navigate the entry onto campus or on the first day in classroom buildings, or government centers and large complexes could also utilize guides to help minimize the confusion.

Don’t stop at providing signs or a map. Adding that personal touch makes all the difference.

Our guide, Lohan.

leadership dot #3683: shaka

Hawaiians know it as the shaka, meaning hello or symbol of okay. I know it as the Hang Ten gesture, used by surfers to communicate “hang loose.” It can convey good, how are you, or a host of other greetings — all through the hand gesture of a raised little finger and thumb.

Legend has many origin stories for the gesture, but the Polynesian Cultural Center attributes it to Hamana Kalili who lost three fingers of his hand in a sugar mill accident, leaving him only the thumb and pinky. He used his remaining digits to communicate when the sugar cane rail cars were cleared for departure and others copied his shorthand, much like using a thumbs-up sign.

Kalili could have seen his loss of fingers as a shortcoming but instead turned his accident into a distinctive greeting that is still used far beyond the islands. Do you have a liability that instead may become a unique calling card if you embraced it? Perhaps you could hang loose about your misfortune and turn it into a signature feature.

leadership dot #3682: pineapple

If I say “Dole,” it’s likely the first word that comes to mind is “pineapple” and that word likely conjures images of Hawaii. Thanks to entrepreneur James Dole, the brand Dole, pineapple, and Hawaii have been synonymous since the turn of the twentieth century.

Pineapple had been growing in the islands long before Dole arrived, but it was he who recognized that to create a sustainable market, distribution to the mainland was key. As a result, Dole opened massive canneries to package the fruit and conducted recipe contests to help New Englanders see possibilities for how to use this exotic new treat. (The pineapple upside-down cake was a winner!) His savvy paid off, and Dole became one of the largest distributors of pineapple for a century.

It wasn’t enough for Dole to grow the fruit or even package it. He had to champion it from plant to table, overcoming barriers at each step along the way.

Think about your idea and evaluate whether you have continued to nurture it far enough into the process. A great idea at one stage will flounder if you don’t provide the support to see it through to the ultimate user.