A father’s tough love is the harder job

As the father of an adult daughter and son, and the grandfather of four knucklehead boys (Hurricane, Tornado, Crash and Train Wreck), I’ve learned some things about love.

All the hours logged as Dad and Poppy have often caused me to contemplate how different are the roles of mother and father, especially in the overt demonstration of parental love. It’s fascinating how the manifestation of this love differs between mother and father—biologically, emotionally and experientially.

A mother’s love, at once sweet and fierce, is observed in almost all animals, not just humans. No doubt you’ve heard this metaphor: “… as sweet as a mother’s love,” and this warning: “Don’t get between a momma bear and her cub.” I have been a witness to, and recipient of both of these expressions of love, and there truly is no other force in nature like it.

But it troubles me that there are no corresponding references to a father’s love. In fact, a human father’s love is more often associated with unfortunate references such as, “tough” and “disciplinarian.” And here’s a warning no child has ever heard: “Just wait ’til your mother gets home!”

Could this be why Father’s Day is not quite as big a deal as Mother’s Day? Just sayin’ …

Mothers occupy the pinnacle of parental love – with justification. And not to take anything away from them, but let’s be honest: since a mother’s sweet love is as primal as the miracle of birth, they don’t have to work too hard to deliver it. But there is a uniqueness about a father’s love that deserves a better rap. Here why:

Unlike a mother’s sweet love, a father’s tough love does not exist outside of Homo sapiens.
When a father’s parental toughness is called for, especially when applied to an indignant recipient (read: teenager), it requires a love that has found the courage to at once endure an immediate negative response and a willingness to defer gratification – sometimes for years.
No one is more keenly aware of the distinction between the application of these two demonstrations of love than a single parent (especially single moms), where both kinds are required of the same person, perhaps within minutes.

Mothers, please forgive any bias you may detect, but here’s my conclusion about parental love: The only force in the universe that comes close to a mother’s sweet love is a father’s tough love. But the latter is the harder job, and the return on investment almost always takes longer.

Write this on a rock … Happy Father’s Day, Dads. You’ve earned it.

Defending your business against Big Boxes and Cyber-Boxes

Besides the traditional, local competitive landscape small business retailers must navigate every day, they also feel pressure from two other fronts to which they’re typically less adept at responding:

1. The Big Boxes, anchored around the corner.
2. Cyber-competitors, untethered in the Internet.

And pressure from the second one is increasing every day.

Here are a few ideas on how Main Street businesses can minimize the pressure from these two:

Big Box competitors
Let’s begin with these two truths:

1. Unlike Big Boxes, a small business doesn’t have to conquer the world to be successful.

2. The price war is over and you lost.

Your most qualified prospects and reliable customers are also the least likely to spend much time or money with a Big Box. The same feeling that attracts them to the customization and connection of your small business also causes them to be unimpressed by size and underwhelmed by poor service. Those who don’t fit this profile were never real prospects for you anyway; get over it – let them go. Your job is to re-enforce that “connection/customization” emotion by delivering value, not price, and quit trying to be something you’re not – big.

Online competitors
Those same customers just mentioned, who love your small business special sauce, still expect you to provide some level of online support. Your brick-and-mortar store doesn’t have to conquer the e-business world to keep customers happy, but you do have to show up online. Here’s what that means:

1. Two words that reveal why you MUST have a professional presence online: local search. Prospects and customers use local search every day – especially on smart phones – to find companies and consider their offerings. Disregard the imperative of local search optimization at your peril. There are professionals who can help you with this – let them.

2. Besides a regular website, yours must also be mobile-ready, including a hot phone link and directions. Nothing about your business’s past was mobile, but mobile will define your future.

3. Prospects and customers increasingly expect businesses they like to connect with them with useful information, service announcements, and special offerings.

There’s a reason the special offerings were listed last. “Connect” means by any means: email, text, Twitter, Facebook, etc. If you aren’t asking prospects and customers for their electronic contact information, which platform they prefer, and then connect with them there, your business will suffer the slow death of irrelevance. And remember, some will still just want face-to-face.

You can compete against the Big Boxes by merely not trying to be like them. And regarding traditional best practices and the virtual world, remember this: it’s not either/or, it’s both/and.

Write this on a rock … You don’t have to conquer the world; just show up and be yourself.

Face-to-Face: Old School fundamental and New School cool

For 172 years, communication technologies have sought relevance in an increasingly noisy universe.

Now, well into the 21st century, there is actual management pain from an embarrassment of riches of communication innovations. And this discomfort is especially keen when staying connecting with customers: Should you call? Email? Text? How about IM?

And when should you use social media platforms? I’ve had customers who want me to connect with them on Twitter. Others send me notes on LinkedIn.

But in an era where there’s an app for everything, there is one connection method we must never be guilty of minimizing. From Morse to Millennials, in-person connection has retained its relevance as Old School fundamental and New School cool.

Indeed, face-to-face is the original social media.

Today, social media euphoria is being tempered by ROI reality. And as useful as each new communication resource proves to be, they are, after all, merely tools to leverage our physical efforts, not eliminate the basic human need for human interaction. Consider this story:

A sales manager (whose gray hair was not premature) noticed the sales performance of one of his rookies was below budget for the third consecutive month. Of course, he questioned the numbers previously but had allowed his better judgment to be swayed by plausible explanations. Now the newbie’s sales was trending, but in the wrong direction.

Upon more pointed probing, the manager discovered the reason for loss of production: too much electronic and not enough in-person connections. The rookie was relying too heavily on virtual communication at the expense of opportunities to get in front of the customer.

It turns out lack of training, demographic reality and not enough “rubber-meets-the-road” experience left the young pup uncomfortable and unprepared to ask for and conduct meetings, like a proposal presentation. He wasn’t benefiting from how the success rate of growing customer relationships can increase when critical steps are conducted in person. Consequently, this manager immediately developed a training program that established standards for how and when to integrate all customer connection tools, including face-to-face.

If your sales performance isn’t trending the right way, perhaps your salespeople need help getting in front of customers, particularly at critical steps. Like the manager above, you may need to establish specific, measurable and non-negotiable standards for when face-to-face meetings should take place.

From telegraph to Twitter there is one connection option whose relevance has borne witness to every one of the others: in-person contact. Let’s remember John Naisbitt’s prophesy from his 1982 book, Megatrends: “The more high tech we have, the more high touch we will want.”

Write this on a rock … As the original social media, face-to-face will always be relevant.

Remember America’s militia on Memorial Day

This is Jim’s traditional Memorial Day column.

Reasonable people disagree on the origins of Memorial Day, but most accept that the practice of decorating the graves of Americans who died in military service began in earnest during the Civil War.

On May 5, 1868, General John A. Logan, Commander of the Army of the Republic, made Memorial Day official with General Order No. 11, which stated in part, “… the 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country …” And other than Congress making Memorial Day a national holiday on the last Monday in May, America has since honored its fallen heroes from all conflicts pretty much as General Logan ordered.

When America issued its first call to arms before we had a professional army, it went to the militia, which was identified as “all able-bodied men.”  Called “Minutemen” because they could be ready to fight on a minute’s notice, they were primarily shopkeepers, craftsmen, farmers, etc. Today we call them small business owners.

From as far away as Scotland, America’s Minutemen were impressive. Writing about the colonies’ quest for independence in “The Wealth of Nations,” Adam Smith predicted America would prevail thanks to its militia which, “…turns from its primary citizen character into a standing army.”

Early in the 20th century, state militias became the National Guard and the National Defense Act created the Reserves. In every war or conflict since, America has deployed these latter-day Minutemen (and women) alongside regular forces, where they represented a proportional number of casualties.

On this Memorial Day, as we honor all who paid the ultimate price in service to this country, let’s also remember the long tradition of America’s militia, including small business owners and employees, who served courageously on behalf of a grateful nation. It’s hard enough leaving family to march into harm’s way, but the degree of difficulty of that commitment is compounded for volunteers who also disconnect from businesses and full-time careers.

Contemplating the blessing of freedom wherever it may be found, there is one prime truth: Freedom is not free. As beneficiaries of those who paid the ultimate price for our freedom, our only method of repayment—the only way we can ever be worthy of their sacrifice—is to do all we can to maintain the freedom that they paid for and gave to us.

Write this on a rock … God bless those who paid the ultimate price for our freedom, including past and present Minutemen.

10 reasons to never be too cool for Old School

You may think you’re too cool for “Old School,” but there’s one thing it produced that you can’t be successful without: the fundamentals. Here are ten essential operating fundamentals that are timelessly, beautifully, definitively, non-negotiably, Old School.

Financial statements: Become an expert at understanding your financial statements. Spend more time with the numbers below the sales line on your operating statement. Non-negotiable.

Budgets: Yuck, right? But operations work best with a track to run on. Creating budgets isn’t hard – sticking to them is. Grow some discipline and get on track.

Cash management: Whether sales are up or down, you must be intimately familiar with your cash picture today, tomorrow, and six months from now. Do not delegate this.

Inventory: This is a euphemism for cash. Inventory that isn’t turning is declining in value and must be converted into cash – ASAP. And if you aren’t practicing Just-In-Time inventory management, do it now.

Vendors: Their success depends on yours. Talk to them about managing inventory, improving margins, lowering freight costs, and new ways to serve customers. Get rid of any vendor that only wants to sell you stuff.

Systems: These are the structured components in your operation which may be outdated and unproductive. Scrutinize employee schedules, delivery routes, opening hours, (your idea here). Nothing is sacred! Nothing.

Customers: Categorize them from the most profitable As, to the least profitable Ds. Worship the As, cater to the Bs, encourage the Cs, and let the Ds learn the meaning of self-service. You might even have to fire a few.

Products: Same song, different verse: A-B-C-D. Stock the fast-turning As, keep some of the Bs handy, and only a couple of the Cs. But never let a D spend the night under your roof unless a customer has paid for it.

Add Value: Find out what customers want instead of trying to get them to take what you need to sell. If you don’t add value to your customers’ operations, like your unhelpful vendors, expect to be fired.

Employees: Let them help you find efficiencies and opportunities. Encourage creativity and entrepreneurial thinking. Invest in training. Share your plan and let them help you accomplish it. Empower producers and cut the dead wood.

Bankers: Don’t be a stranger. Good news or bad, an informed banker can help you. But an uninformed banker is a scared banker, and no one ever got any help from a scared banker!
Focus on these Old School fundamentals and success will come and play in the New School backyard.

Write this on a rock … Even if you’re too cool for Old School, you still have to focus on the fundamentals.

Organizational special sauce: an intangible force

“Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun.”

You may know this line as the commercial jingle describing the Big Mac that McDonald’s created to compete with the Hardee’s Husky, which came with essentially the same condiments, including Hardee’s own special sauce.

Over the years, the term “special sauce” has been re-deployed beyond the burger wars, from condiment to handy metaphor. Management and organizational commentators, like me, have co-opted the term to identify a level of organizational performance beyond extra effort. Here’s how I’ve observed organizational special sauce in the marketplace.

Organizational special sauce isn’t a strategy or campaign, nor can it be achieved with a slogan or mission statement. No special sauce was ever the child of an algorithm, big data, or other amalgamation of ones and zeros. To the chagrin of Wall Street quants, organizational special sauce is an incalculable, unprojectable, and intangible force. It’s 100% performance leverage produced by a single active ingredient: human beings loving to work together toward something they all believe in.

This leverage kicks in like a turbo after quantifiable, tangible leverage reaches its RPM red line. Every business would like to have organizational special sauce but few ever do, because the elements that foster it are not easy to achieve, including, but not limited to:

  • Hiring the best people, who are then respected and valued.
  • Excellence as a non-negotiable performance standard assumed by all stakeholders.
  • Leaders demonstrate all the aspects that define the word: courage, integrity, morals, ethics, commitment, decisiveness, humanity.
  • People are not interchangeable parts, as if they were modules.
  • Corporate values flow to the organization’s last mile as a minimum expectation.
  • Delegation includes responsibility AND authority.
  • Corrective action first presumes shortfalls result from best efforts, and the first management step is redemption.

Here’s how organizational special sauce manifests:

  • Peerless products and services.
  • Industry-leading employee retention.
  • Prospective employees line up to join the organization.
  • Employees and partners are proud of and claim the organization’s excellent reputation.
  • Ethical actions and integrity manifest as devotion to the unenforceable.
  • Customers become the organization’s best salespeople.
  • Teams work harder than they ever did, while having more fun than they ever had.
  • And the classic marker: quantum leap performance.

You can’t demand, buy, or acquire the intangible leverage of special sauce, you can only foster an environment that gives rise to it. It’s an engagement sweet spot that produces results beyond expectations and projections – quantum leap performance.

Organizational special sauce is possible, but rare in public corporations, because it doesn’t conform to the analytical expectations of the Wall Street 90-day conference call. Our here on Main Street it’s more prevalent, where small business leaders know special sauce comes from the intangible resolve of their valued and respected employees.

Write this on a rock … Contributing to organizational special sauce is one of the hardest and most beautiful things you’ll ever do at work.




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