Archive for the 'Management Fundamentals' Category

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.

Are you looking for answers in the wrong places?

This is a story about three small business owners who had one thing in common: a wise man named Luther. Oh, by the way, Luther is their janitor.

On Mondays, Luther cleans the offices at National Supply Co., Inc. Sometimes he talks with the founder, Mr. Gilbert.

One Monday afternoon Mr. Gilbert said, “Luther, I don’t know how long I can survive.”

“What’s wrong, Mr. G?” Luther asked.

“It’s those big-box competitors,” Mr. Gilbert said. “I’ve looked under every rock for ways to lower our prices and increase advertising, but I just can’t compete with those guys.”

“Maybe you’re looking in the wrong place,” Luther offered.

“What do you mean?” Mr. Gilbert asked.

“Those big competitors will always be with us,” Luther reminded him. “Why don’t you emphasize the value of the human connection and customized service that only a small business like yours can deliver? Those two things alone are worth more than anything the Big Boxes offer.”

On Wednesdays, when Luther cleans the offices at Central Data Corp., he often visits with the owner, Sarah.

“Luther, I always assumed my kids would take over my business, but now it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen,” Sarah lamented one day.

“Why aren’t they interested in the business?” Luther asked.

“I’m stumped, she said. “I’ve shown them the opportunity and how profitable the business can be. What else can I do?”

“Maybe you’re asking them to look in the wrong place,” Luther suggested.

“What do you mean?” Sarah asked.

“Sarah, I’ve noticed how much you love what you do,” said Luther, “even when times were tougher and things weren’t so rosy. From what I’ve seen, being an entrepreneur is as much about nourishing the spirit as growing the bank account. Help them think about that.”

On Fridays, Luther cleans the offices at Westco Dynamics, Inc. Mr. West usually talks with Luther for a few minutes, but he seemed pensive today.

“Luther, my family was so poor that we struggled just to survive,” Mr. West said. “When I left home, I vowed to never be that unhappy again.”

“Mr. West, it sounds like you’ve got something stuck in your craw,” Luther observed.

“Aw, it’s nothing,” Mr. West fibbed. “It’s just that, with all my money and stuff, I still can’t stop looking for ways to make sure I’ll never be poor again.”

“Maybe you’re looking in the wrong place,” said Luther.

“What do you mean?” Mr. West asked.

Then Luther said, “You’ve been motivated by the fear of being poor instead of the joy of creating something from nothing. Try finding happiness in knowing that you provide valuable products and services for your customers, and jobs and income for your employees and their families. Remember, money and stuff only give you options, not happiness.”

Write this on a rock … When you’re looking for answers, make sure you look in the right places.

Four things salespeople can learn from Sir Laurence Olivier

The great English actor, Sir Laurence Olivier, once admitted after a lifetime on stage and screen that he had always suffered from stage fright.

Think about that. One of the 20th century’s most revered actors, who appeared in over 120 stage roles, 60 movies, more than 15 television productions and countless performances, actually battled the fear of rejection and failure. But when you look at his numbers, it’s obvious that Sir Laurence’s “condition” didn’t cost him success.

So, what about you? What do your “numbers” look like? Your sales numbers, I mean.

Sadly, too often, well-trained and motivated people allow something to prevent them from achieving their numbers. That “something” is to the marketplace what stage fright is to acting: call reluctance, brought on by the fear of rejection and fear of failure.

The good news about call reluctance is that you can overcome it the way Sir Laurence overcame stage fright. Indeed, his success, and the fact that he was willing to talk about his condition, provides us with at least four clues about his professional courage and spirit.

1. He recognized a personal performance challenge.
2. He accepted it as something that must be dealt with.
3. He took steps to minimize negative effects.
4. He refused to let it get in the way of his goals and success.

How can you tell if you or someone in your organization has debilitating call reluctance? You’ll find it in the numbers: insufficient call reports; a missed selling step such as proposal delivery; a poor close ratio; and of course, failure to meet sales budgets.

Those afflicted with call reluctance will often:

  • Call on customers they like instead of new prospects.
  • Spend time on safe activities, like paperwork, instead of face-to-face prospecting.
  • Make excuses when asked about why they aren’t getting in front of customers.
  • If you aren’t making your sales numbers, the problem might be call reluctance. See if you recognize any of the behavior in the list above. If so, consider Sir Laurence’s list again. There’s a good chance that you’ll need help with the first point, recognition, because most of us aren’t good at seeing our own shortcomings. And the third one, taking steps to minimize the challenge, will likely require help from a professional trainer.

    But dealing with two and four, acceptance and refusing to give in, will require calling on inner strengths. You’ll have to ask yourself if you’re allowing fear to control and direct your life. Or are you more like Sir Laurence Olivier – prepared to recognize, deal with and minimize the effects of your challenges? And in the face of these challenges, can you draw on your spirit to accomplish your goals.

    Write this on a rock … Don’t let call reluctance prevent you from having the maximum opportunity to be successful.

    What politicians, small business and mice have in common

    Almost 20 years ago, Dr. Spencer Johnson wrote a legendary book titled, Who Moved My Cheese? It tells a story about four characters who ate only cheese.

    Early in the story all four characters went to the same place in their world – a maze – to get cheese. The first two were not picky about their cheese or where they found it – it was just food. In fact, the current place in the maze where they found and ate cheese was literally just that. So when someone moved their cheese, they immediately started looking for the new place where cheese was being put.
    For the second two characters in Johnson’s story, cheese represented more than food; they had allowed themselves to become defined by the specific cheese found in that specific place in the maze. To them, this cheese was more than nourishment, it also represented their esteem, success and happiness. You’ve heard of being hidebound. Well you might say these two were cheesebound (my term, not Johnson’s), which really wasn’t a problem until someone moved their cheese.

    Twenty-five years ago, in his book (and film), Paradigms: The Business of Discovering the Future, futurist Joel Barker defined a paradigm as a set of rules that: 1) establishes/defines boundaries; and 2) tells you how to be successful within those boundaries. Barker says paradigms, both written and unwritten, can be useful until there’s a shift, which is what happened to the cheesebound characters in Johnson’s story. When someone moved their cheese, instead of looking for new cheese like their maze-mates, they whined and dithered so long in the old place – now devoid of cheese – that they put their survival in jeopardy.

    Johnson’s cautionary tale – and the two sides of Barker’s paradigm coin – apply to all parts of life, especially politics and business.

    For generations, the Democrat and Republican Parties each showed up at the same corner of their own political maze where they had always found the same cheese. Like the second characters in Johnson’s story, both parties had been nourished and defined by the cheese they found in that specific spot. But when someone moved their cheese, as the electorate is doing now, the cheesebound members whine and struggle to maintain their identity instead of taking action to find new cheese. In his book Johnson says, “Old beliefs do not lead you to new cheese.”

    Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are like the first two characters in Johnson’s story. Neither define themselves by the old cheese in the old location. They went looking for and, to the surprise of their party leadership, found new cheese. Johnson says, “Movement in a new direction helps you find the new cheese.”

    Small business owners should watch the clinic that the Democrats and Republicans are putting on this year on the wages of being cheesebound. Like the electorate, customers are moving cheese and shifting paradigms all over the marketplace. You cannot afford to become cheesebound.

    Write this on a rock … Blasingame’s Law of Business Love: It’s okay to fall in love with what you do, but it’s not okay to fall in love with how you do it.

    Do you value your soybeans more than your time?

    Ever think about time as a commodity? Commodity: something in common use, readily available and virtually the same wherever you find it.

    Time certainly fits that definition, doesn’t it? But so does a soybean.

    Time may be the only commodity we haven’t synthesized. Until we do, it will continue to be unique among commodities and, consequently, our most valuable. And yet, as precious as time is, it’s an expensive irony that it’s the commodity we often waste the most, sometimes as if it were worth nothing. Meanwhile, we take extreme measures to protect every soybean.

    So, what’s the solution? Organization – it’s the nexus between time and productivity.

    We commit resources to acquire all kinds of stuff – information, materials, etc. – with the intention of accomplishing something, like a bid or a marketing project, which typically will need to happen within a predetermined period of time. But whether it happens as planned — including on-time —often depends more on how organized we are than our capability, or the information and resources we’ve acquired.

    If someone stole your new $2000 computer, you would have them arrested. But how often has being unorganized cost you more than $2000 in an unsuccessful bid, loss of a contract or other opportunity? In the justice system of the marketplace, that’s the same as being arrested, indicted, tried, convicted and sentenced to some level of failure. So what does your organization “record” look like?

    But let’s cut ourselves a little slack. It’s not easy for a small business to be organized when you have one person doing the work of three, or 25 doing the work of 40. Such ratios are one of the markers of a small business – doing more with less – especially these days. Consequently, a large project can be so intimidating that it creates the dread disease that’s worse than anything your soybeans could get: procrastination.

    Professional organizers say cure procrastination with one critical practice: Break large projects into an assembly of smaller ones. Instead of thinking about a large project like it’s an elephant you have to eat all at once, split it into an assembly of smaller pieces and take them on one at a time.

    How small is small? How about small enough to complete while you’re waiting on hold? Not with the IRS. Much shorter, like with a customer.

    Break big projects into bite-size pieces to help you work smarter, not harder; increase your competitive advantage; and use that most precious commodity - time - more efficiently.

    Write this on a rock … Value your time like you’d value a load of soybeans.

    Are you asking the Outsourcing Power Question?

    Biutou Doumbia lives in a tiny village in Mali, in western Africa. She and her family live in poverty, very close to the line between survival and, well, you know.

    Oh, one more thing: Biutou is a small business owner. She makes and sells peanut butter.

    In Mali, as reported in a Wall Street Journal article, peanut butter is made the same way African women have made other staples for millennia: by grinding the seeds on a rock with a wooden pestle. You might say Biutou’s operation is vertically integrated: She grows the peanuts, then manufactures, sells and distributes her product.

    Over two centuries ago, in The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith explained how markets are made by the division of labor. And free markets created capitalism, which Ayn Rand called, “the only system geared to the life of a rational being.”

    Biutou doesn’t know Smith or Rand from a warthog – she’s illiterate. But she is one of Rand’s rational beings. And as such, she recognized the division-of-labor efficiencies offered by a diesel-powered grinder/blender when it became available. Now for 25¢ and a 10-minute wait, the sack of peanuts Biutou carries to the central grinding location turn into better peanut butter than she could make pounding all day with a pestle.

    So Biutou now practices outsourcing, a division of labor process which is the employment of contractors to create efficiencies. Outsourcing is a valid business strategy, as is its opposite – you guessed it – insourcing, the process of removing vendor layers, usually to get closer to customers.

    These two strategies are as different as chocolate and vanilla; but, like ice cream, choosing one doesn’t mean the other is wrong, just different. When Biutou practiced insourcing she didn’t have a choice. You have many choices; but are you choosing wisely?

    One of the things every 21st century small business must do is focus on core competencies: what you do that makes your business valuable to customers. Everything else, theoretically, can be performed by a specialist in your non-core activity.

    Take a look at your own operation to see if – like Biutou – you can find efficiencies and recover time through outsourcing. Ask yourself and your staff Blasingame’s Outsourcing Power Question: Must this task be done in-house? The answer will come from these three questions:

    • How much control do we lose, and can we live with it?
    • What impact will our decision have on customers?
    • How much of not using outsourcing is about ego?

    Remember, any decision to employ outsourcing – or not – should be driven by the desire to seek efficiencies and improve customer service.

    Write this on a rock … Blasingame’s Outsourcing Power Question: Must this task be done in-house?




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