leadership dot #3449: smorgasbord

When I was growing up, smorgasbords were all the rage in the restaurant world. Whether it was an all-you-can-eat, a giant salad bar, or an all-out buffet, dining establishments that thrived provided not just quantity, but choice. The few fast food outlets there were served their fare in a standard format — there was none of the personalization that is so common in facilities today — so many restaurants offered dining options via the big buffet.

Today’s version of the smorgasbord is the food hall where many restaurants occupy the same building. It’s an upscale, modern version of the mall food court which morphed from the smorgasbord format. Both allow diners to pick which restaurant suits their pallet or dietary needs, and they can still enjoy the companionship of others who may have different tastes. Choosing a food hall is easier than the hassle of coming to an agreement on one place with a limited menu. so people go where there are options.

People have always liked options for their food but they like choices for other things as well. Can you offer your services in a food hall-type format combining your business with other similar businesses under the same roof to generate a larger audience? A wedding hall with all the planning services together? A baby hall with everything new parents need to get started? A new home hall with decorators and contractors working side-by-side?

Similar organizations aren’t always competition.

Prospect Park, Minneapolis

leadership dot #3438: thanks

Receiving a tangible thank you note is a rarity in this age of verbal or electronic acknowledgments, so I was very surprised to receive one from an unlikely source. I purchased popcorn from the Boy Scouts selling at my door and when the treat was delivered the Scout handed me a thank you note along with my purchase.

It was a small gesture but a meaningful one — teaching him good manners as well as appreciating my contribution to his cause. In all my years of buying popcorn, wrapping paper, treats, and fundraising items of all types, I have never received such a note.

Thank you notes require minimal effort compared to their return. Never underestimate the goodwill you can earn with a simple signed note.

leadership dot #3416: deep

I watched a panel discussion with the members of Spotlight, the Boston Globe investigative unit that won a Pulitzer for their coverage of priest abuse in the Catholic Church. I was a journalism major and have a special affinity for those in the news, especially today when investigative journalism is more important than ever.

The panelists shared that one of the gifts of the unit is the luxury of having time to truly research a story, conduct follow up, file information requests, put pressure on people to get the story, and be persistent enough to “get the information from people that don’t want to give it to us.” Having extended time to research a story frees them from the pressures of a daily deadline and allows them to not only research the story and write it but also to add the interactive multimedia elements that allow their findings to resonate with a broader audience and have a greater impact.

A panelist commented that not all the work of Spotlight makes it to the front page, rather some of their most important work is the scandals that they prevent because people know Spotlight (and good reporters like them) will be looking over their shoulder.

While your organization likely doesn’t need an investigative research unit, consider whether it would benefit from a team that has the luxury of time. Could you dedicate a team (or person) to go deep on consumer feedback? Have a few people who are given time to pursue new partnerships? Allow selected staff members to have the time to reengineer high-impact processes?

The world operates on tight deadlines but surprising and significant work can happen when you allow the right people to work without them. Go deep to uncover insights you don’t see on the surface.

Source: Boston Globe Summit: Spotlight — an institution within an institution, September 24, 2021

leadership dot #3399: superstar

My car dealership allows you to choose “your” service advisor and request that person when you schedule appointments. My guy is Nate. My car had a warning light come on so I called him. He was his usual delightful self, arranged the appointment around my schedule, and provided a loaner for my convenience. Only when I arrived, I learned he was home with a sick child.

The gentlemen who took care of me were polite and helpful, but they weren’t anything special. It created a whole different experience. They were good, but they weren’t great, and it caused me to ponder why.

Nate makes me feel like he knows me, my car, and will take care of me. He calls me by my preferred name instead of the formal name in their system. I trust him to be a straight-shooter and to only do what repairs are necessary because there have been times when he did a quick fix to see if we really needed a full replacement. And he explains the work without making me feel stupid — a rarity in the car repair world.

None of this is rocket science but it makes a world of difference in the service experience. I bought my car at this dealership because of Nate, and drive two hours each time I need a repair. It’s all worth it to me.

There are people who can do the job and others who shine at their work. If you find yourself with a superstar, especially one in a front-facing position, never minimize the impact that one person can have on your organization. Reward them, appreciate them, and cherish them as your key organizational differentiator.

leadership dot #3351: home run

I can’t even begin to conceive the logistical challenges that faced the organizers of the MLB game at the Field of Dreams. While it may have looked like a regular stadium on television, this was a professional-grade, temporary structure built literally in the middle of a cornfield in a town of 4000, over 30 miles from the nearest “big city” of 50,000. There was no electricity, let alone the power necessary for massive outdoor lighting, a press box, Jumbotron, and concessions. There was no water. No restrooms. Heck, there wasn’t even a road to the field beyond a rickety one-lane bridge across the creek.

Yet, last week, 8000 fans watched two major league teams play there on a night that made you forget all of that. And I was lucky enough to be there as one of the workers.

I have been involved in many major events in my career but this one triumphs as the most well-run. They thought of almost every detail: a med-vac helicopter on the grounds in case of a medical emergency, an entire severe weather shelter constructed to protect the crowds if necessary, rows of dump trucks full of wood chips making aisles in the parking lots (aka plowed-under fields) after heavy rain the night before.

Through it all, two people remained at a command base to handle radio requests from staff and deploy the resources necessary to meet the demands that arose. There was no chaos or running around, rather they had people on standby to address whatever came up. The event ran like it was a recurring production in an established facility.

There are lessons every organization can learn from the game in the corn. 1) pre-planning is golden. They pulled off an MLB game in a field with nary a hitch. The more you can visualize the event, anticipate the needs and address them in advance, the more smoothly the day will run. 2) Having a central person that handles questions, delegates, and triages also contributes to event success. A calm leader can transfer that confidence to the entire staff and tend to the issues without adding any additional drama. 3) Ambiance changes everything. It’s worth investing to create a unique environment and it’s possible to accomplish just about anywhere.

The mantra of the Field of Dreams movie applied to MLB: “If you build it, they will come” but the real trick is building it in such a way that they want to come again. Follow these three lessons to make your next event a home run.

leadership dot #3312: Isabel

While on vacation, we stopped at Isabel’s Market + Eatery. I assumed that the name came either from the owner or someone special in the owner’s life, but I was wrong. Isabel was long gone before the market opened but her life’s story epitomized the community-centric mission the owners were trying to achieve so they adopted the name to inspire them.

Isabel Graham was a teacher and principal in Chicago for her career, but when she died in 1954 she gave $5,000 to the church her father built in Michigan where she was born. Today, the gift is valued at over $1 million and funds many charities every year.

The Market + Eatery dedication reads: “We chose the name Isabel because of our deep respect for her commitment to our community. We will continue to try and honor her by setting a good example, teaching those who want to learn, ‘planting seeds’ in the community she loved, bringing people together, creating memories, and always expressing gratitude for where we live.”

Who can you look to for inspiration? We often think of people we know personally or those who are famous and known by many, but maybe the best role models are the “Isabels” in your orbit. Think about the values you wish to preserve and find someone who lived them to bring your story to life. Remaining true to your “Isabel” is much more tangible and likely to occur than if the values you aspire to follow are only from a nameless poster on the wall.

leadership dot #3307: cop-out

If you know Chicago, you know the iconic Lake Shore Drive that snakes along the shores of Lake Michigan through the heart of downtown. So, if you were a city council member who wanted to bestow recognition on someone, renaming that particular road would be among the highest honors you could bestow.

And the City Council proposed doing just that: renaming Lake Shore Drive to Jean Baptiste Point DuSable to acknowledge the Haitian settler who opened a trading post in the city and is considered to be the first permanent, non-indigenous resident. So far, so good.

But in what is being reported as “a compromise”, council members voted to rename the road Jean Baptiste Point DuSable Lake Shore Drive instead. To me, that isn’t a compromise, it is a cop-out. By leaving Lake Shore Drive as part of the name, it almost guarantees that that reference will remain the common vernacular. Including the entire name of the honored settler (vs. making it DuSable Drive) also complicates the ease of use, even for those enthusiastic about the change.

As your organization grapples with how to recognize its history, work hard to achieve a worthy end. Not everything needs to be all-or-nothing, but compromise recognition rings hollow to me. Better to have followed the mayor’s suggestion to rename the Riverwalk, name a park in his honor, or provide some acknowledgement that may actually serve to raise awareness about DuSable and his legacy than to settle on an unwieldy name that will be overshadowed by its attachment to the current designation.

leadership dot #3291: impact

As you no doubt have heard, Juneteenth has been designated as a new Federal Holiday to commemorate the day the last enslaved Black people learned that they were free. I wrote about its meaning last year (dot 2926) so this year I turn to consider the yet-to-be-understood implications of designating another Federal holiday.

I wonder what changes the official action will inspire. Will children (and adults!) learn more about the events surrounding this date since it is an official holiday? How will this new-day-off for millions impact future summer calendars? With only two weeks between Juneteenth and Independence Day, will that period become a collective holiday — full of vacations and downtime? Will mid-June now be favored — or avoided — for weddings and other celebrations as people seek to plan other events around what has become a holiday weekend? Will Juneteenth now spur on a host of new festivals and cultural events? How many other employers will add Juneteenth to their employee benefit plans, creating economic ripples throughout the country? Will the designation help tell America’s story to future generations? Such significant legislation spurs so many questions and possibilities!

Consider what Juneteenth could mean for your organization and plan now for how you can leverage or capitalize on the recognition it will receive next year to contribute your portion of the messaging beyond the inevitable holiday sales. Prepare to educate yourself and your team about why the date has significance and what lessons can be learned from it. Just as no one knew the impact of that day 156 years ago in Texas, neither do we know the ripple effect of commemorating Juneteenth as a Federal holiday. Don’t waste the window to do something new as a result of this action.

leadership dot #3275: limbo

As mask mandates have been lifted and phasing out of pandemic precautionary behavior has begun, I am reminded of a change theory I wrote about in 2018 (dot 2301) in which I shared a model used by nonprofit Alia. The diagram represents the “old way” on the left being phased out as the organization heads toward the “new way” on the right. However, in the middle there is an overlap of the two ways of operating, lovingly referred to as “crazytown” because some processes are the old way and some reflect the new way, often making for crazy times as people attempt to figure out how to behave.

I feel like we are all living in crazytown lately. I went to one store that required masks and across town the same franchise did not. One store has its dressing rooms open while those at the adjoining store remain closed. Some establishments have reverted to extended hours and others remain on condensed schedules. Some dine-in options are available while others continue to operate as drive-through only. A commercial on the radio today promoted a product for when you’re “stuck at home baking” followed by another ad for entertainment options that now exist. I flew on planes at full capacity, yet there was hardly any place open in the terminals.

The old and the new are intersecting at a slower pace than when we shut down. But before you rush back into doing things “as they were” reflect on what practices from the new way you wish to preserve. Our school district is continuing remote learning as an option. My salon has loosened some of its protocols but will continue bringing dryers to the individual chairs instead of in a central location. I think sanitizer has become a permanent fixture in my car. My pre-ordering of food via an app will continue as it eliminates waiting in line.

What will you add? What will you let go of? Take advantage of this rare period of system-wide limbo to make choices that will benefit you long after social distancing has been forgotten.

Download the diagram here.

leadership dot #3272: legislate

At 11 minutes before midnight on the last night of the session, our state legislature passed a measure that went into effect immediately. Whether you agree with the bill or not, it signals how legislating has become reactionary — focused on the short-term political element rather than the long-term impacts any legislation imposes. No bill needed to be put in effect in the dark of night.

Politics has become volleyball — one side overturning the acts of the previous administration, only until the new administration can come in and do the same. With the loss of moderates in both parties, we have forfeited the middle, and along with it, the essential element of compromise.

On this Memorial Day, we honor those who died in the performance of their military duties while serving to protect democracy and the American way of life. Let us hope that those who are living will see clear to make those sacrifices worthwhile by focusing on the long-term health of the country instead of the just political gain of the moment.