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Can You Believe This One?

This one is one for the books. My PhD dissertation looks into what motivates employees to do what they do inside of an organization, where some of what employees do within an organization can be related to how leadership actually leads. In other words, is it an organization’s leadership that guides employees to do what they do or is it employees’ own self-awareness of right from wrong that motivates employees to do what they do inside of an organization?

On Friday November 23, 2012 I visited 59 Diner on Sheppard in Houston Texas as I do once in a while for a late breakfast. This particular visit was very interesting for me for as I recieved my order of eggs, bacon, and wheat toast I noticed small white hairs on the toast and before I had time to say something to the waitress, she was gone! My meal was delivered by a different waitress other than my original waitress who entered my order, which by the way did not come back to check on me for the rest of my visit. Realizing my orignal waitress was not coming to me to check up on my needs, I hailed a different waitress who just happened to walk by. The restaurant was not busy (in my opinion) compared to other days I had visited this particular location of this restaurant chain. I mentioned to this particular waitress that there was an issue with my toast as she picked up the plate of toast and said, “I’m sorry, did they butter your toast and you didn’t want butter”? I said no and that there were blonde hairs on each slice of the toast and I would like a new order of toast. She looked closer at the toast and said, “oh yes, there are hairs on there” and immediately dumped the plate of toast behind the counter (I was seated at the counter as I always do when visiting this restaurant) and she walked away.

I assumed she heard me ask for a new order of toast so I decided to watch her to determine how long it would take her to; 1) put new toast in the toaster, and 2) notify her manager there was a potential food issue. As a student of human behavior I passed the time by watching her to see when she would do one of the two items above or both. I assumed she would do both at the same time but I also wondered what the message from 59 Diner’s leadership regarding potential food problems was to employees. I also question what 59 Diner’s procedure is in correcting customer complaints of food issues because up to this point (20 minutes) she had done nothing to notify her manager or replace my order of toast. Remember, the restaurant was not as busy as I have seen it in the past (in my opinion) so I really don’t know what might have made her forget to do two very important things (above) based on my issue. The funniest thing of all was that I was sitting at the counter in front of everyone so it’s not like she forgot about me. Every time she walked back to get her other orders from the cook window or make a shake she could see me – I think, unless she simply tuned me out.

As I sat there wondering when I would get my new toast (I had finished my breakfast by this time) I was trying to figure out what those blonde hairs could have been when it hit me! They spread butter on the toast with a paint brush and the bristles of the brush are being left on the toast! Yuck, those bristles are synthetic and are not digestible! WTF!!

After about 35 minutes I realized I had to say something, anything so I asked the waitress who originally took my toast away where my new order of toast was and she very apologetically said she would bring me a new order. I stopped her from doing that and asked if she ever figured out what the blonde hairs might have been. She said no of course because she was really busy and totally forgot about me, my toast, and the blonde hair. Really, too busy to address a food issue? I mentioned to her that I am from Los Angeles where in that county, restaurants get an A, B, or C grade by County Health officials relative to the cleanliness and overall health of an eatery (including taco trucks). I mentioned to her that had this happened in Los Angeles County, I would complain and have the restaurant closed for ten days until the issue is corrected (I do not work for Los Angeles County but I am familiar with their policies because L.A. County Health officials are transparent about eatery grading – I am merely speculating as to the duration if any in closing an eatery). So I asked her, “Can you afford to be out of work for ten days”? She of course said no. I explained to her that maybe the blonde hair on my toast may have been from the bristles on the paint brush they use and she said, “Yes, maybe; it’s been there for a long time”. I asked if there is a time frame in which the paint brushes should be replaced and she said, “I think managers are supposed to do that”. I mentioned to her that I doubt her manager knew anything regarding the paint brush or my toast because she never said anything to him about it as I have been watching her. She admitted that she was too busy to have mentioned my issues to her manager. At this point I thought to help and said to her very direct and sternly, “go over there and throw the paint brush away – I want to see you throw the paint brush away”. She easily walked over to the small stainless steel bin where the paint brush is housed (and residual butter sits) and threw them away (she found two paint brushes in the small bin). She came back to me to apologize again and I told her not to worry but I did ask her if she thought there might be fallen bristles in the stainless steel bin from the paint brushes as well. She said, “oh yes, that’s right”! I directly and firmly asked her again to go over to the bin and dump it out which she did. She came back to me after dumping the stainless steel bin and I asked her if she felt better that she finally took care of something that should have been done in the first place. I mentioned to her that her action will now force management to replace the old paint brushes with new paint brushes because she threw out the old ones. Again, she mentioned that sort of maintenance is typically up to management where I praised her for doing a good thing regardless of her role within this unit’s organizational structure and that she not only should support management by looking for things like this, but should be aware that food safety is more important that corporate policy. I further explained, “your manager has no clue the paint brushes needed to be changed or he would have done it by now (I assume, or he is a terrible leader)”, where she noticed it and didn’t do anything about it either. Not good. In my opinion, this organization has serious quality control issues as well as poor leadership and poor training.

Just then, a second waitress approached us both as she overheard my comments and agreed that the paint brushes needed to be changed but didn’t say anything. Just then the waitress I had been talking to came out of nowhere to say, “I actually noticed it earlier but thought the hair was from the older waitresses working the earlier shift”. Really! And she still did nothing!! You have got to be kidding me!! Why doesn’t Houston have a restaurant grading program?

By this time, the manager joined the conversation but not with me. He quietly asked the first waitress what we were talking about and he nodded his head saying, “good you threw the paint brush away, I meant to replace that earlier so I will do it now”. Really? He didn’t even acknowledge me.

So what is wrong with this story (yes, this really happened)? How does an organization get like this or am I too rigid that I expect better from not only the place I eat but from employee behavior? I have to admit that in my organization of 80+ employees my managers and I miss a couple of quality control items every now and then, but then again we are not preparing food nor do we prep food right in front of the customer as they do at 59 Diner (we make metal enclosures). Is it possible for an organization to be 100% accurate in quality control, management, or even training? Should organizations spend more time and money on their leaders or spend more time and money training employees?

I have to say that in my over twelve years of consulting small and medium size businesses and managing an organization of 80+ employees I hope to never have a customer notice such a glaring issue (health issue) such as I witnessed at 59 Diner. I also hope that those business owners and managers who might happen upon this blog take heed of its message which is a message I preach to my clients and my own employees all the time, “never believe this organization is that well structured or that well organized that it could do no wrong because there is always opportunity to improve something”.

I challenge the leadership at 59 Diner to respond to this blog by writing a comment and I also welcome thoughts and ideas from other managers and business owners as to how you motivate employees to do their best. If you want to know how I create positive motivation for my employees you are more than welcome to visit my office in Houston to see for yourself. Unscripted, unrehearsed and unedited, my employees would be more than happy to share their experiences.

Unemployment Rate is Down in 45 States?

Really? I thought it was the end of the world last year when Fox News annouced we were headed into double dip recession in Q3 of 2011. Oh boy, and my friends wonder why I only watch cartoons. Because the National news is great at creating fear and depression! Oiy!

According to the Washington Post, there has been a drop in unemployment claims in 45 states “bolstering a range of positive economic data suggesting that a stronger recovery is taking hold across the nation”. Great news!

It’s great news in my opinion for those who are willing to get up and get to work and for those who ever wanted to start a small business. Economic times such as these are great for small business start ups…they just are. This is a great article by V. Dion Haynes at the Post, check it out Washington Post.com

Small Business Optimism

So I was right about 15 months ago stating that businesses will bounce back when everyone else was forecasting a double dip recession, implosion of major banks, and the devaluing of the American dollar. This article from CNBC bolsters this thinking where most of my clients over the last year can attest to positives outlooks as well as growth and planned capital spend over the next two and three years. In the last 15 months, the company in Houston I own a small portion of has realzied over 51% growth in sales YOY and well over 72% growth in sales since 2009. Internal operations are off the charts with a Real Internal Growth (RIG) number of well over 12%. That is truly a number we can take to the bank and we did. Today we received a second steel laser cutting machine worth just under half-million. In the last 18 months we have not only improved efficiencies to go from a 45 day lead time to a 24 hour lead time (yes, it’s true) that we now operate with two laser cutting machines having only financed once of them. Truly amazing. My consulting company, Allectus LLC has also shown equal if not better growth YOY. Why do you suppose that is? If my consulting business continues to grow that tells me two things. 1) Business owners realize they can manage their businesses better and they hire Allectus LLC, 2) Business owners see the potential in their industries to organize and develop better structures to meet the demand coming in the next 2-3 years. Read this article, it’s a good one. CNBC.com

Small Business Definition

There is an interesting article attached to this blog by the Associated Press. Its asks a great question, “what is the value to the U.S. economy of small businesses?” What a great question.

As an owner of a couple of small businesses and a consultant to many other small businesses from manufacturers, construction companies, and professonal services, I “believe” I understand the value of small businesses in the U.S. economy. It’s pretty simple really. Small businesses are truly the backbone of any economy – regardless of what the business produces, manufactures and or sells. In other words, as this is a good article relative to the knowledge of the author about small businesses, no matter what you may hear or who you choose to believe, small businesses in the U.S. are truly the lifeblood on this economy. It’s basic math – we should try it. So no matter what your policical affiliation, left or right, up down, blue red – small businesses in the U.S. are the single most important aspect of this country’s economic stability.

Read the article at CNBC.com

Measuring Employee Performance

The other day I sat with one of my employees to do his 30 day performance review and was reminded of how truly important a performance evaluation truly is to employees. According to Abraham Maslow (1968), a fundamental psychological desire of every human being is the need to “be”. In other words, all of us, inlcuding me need to “feel” accepted, acknowledged, and appreciated whether it is at work, at home, and in society (Facebook, MySpace, Mercedes-Benz, Rolex, etc). And being that we spend more time at work than anywhere else in our lives, it is imperative that business managers recognize and respect the importance of employee performance evaluations.

Over the years I have developed a pretty elaborate Employee Performance Evaluaition System (EPES) that not only helps manage business operations through training but it satisfies that fundamental need of human existence to feel acknowledged, part of the organization, and their opinion matters. In other words, evaluations are great training opportunities for employees as well as managers and evaluations are a fantastic way to show employees management is listening, and management cares not only about each employees’ success, but the success of the business as a whole.

As I sat and discussed this employee’s last 30 days I noticed he was ready and organized with bullet points, reports, and quantifiable data depicting his percieved progress over the last 30 days. What we need to take away from this is that he is serious about his success within the organization becuase we have shown him that the organization is a success and we need him to be a part of that success. He’s been watching us a managers as we have been watching his performance. In other words, this person “gets-it” and is aware and in control of his future within the organization.

Part of the success of any evaluation program is the consistency in which it is administered. Rather, you cannot introduce an evaluation program and not use it. I’ve witnessed this many times. Employees, believe it or not, want structure, they want leadership, and they want direction. An evaluation system facilitates that for them AND over time, perforance evaluations make managing the business much easier. As I meet new clients I often here (from employees) that there needs to be an evaluation program plugged into their organization, and they need direction, and they need leadership. Installed properly and used accordingly, an employee evaluation program will make everyone’s life so much easier within your organization. Don’t know how to do this? Call me and I will walk you through it.

Good luck.

Are you ready for 2012?

This time of year we are all asking the same question “is my business prepared for 2012?” What does being prepared really mean? Do we have enough employees? Do we have enough sources for working capital? Or is a more important question “is my business organized enough to withstand whatever may come?” That is the million dollar question. What is to come of the U.S. economy in 2012 or better yet, what is to come of the global economy in 2012 and is your business prepared? Please do not believe your business has done well enough in 2011 that you don’t need to double check your organization’s status and please do not believe your 2011 business performance was so bad that it will be the same in 2012. In other words, be prepared at all times.

One of the companies I own a small percentage of did very well this year despite negative outlook by National media and the constant “nay-sayers” and doubting Thomases.

How did we do it? Three parts; 1) Commitment, 2) Courage, 3) Consistency.

1) Commit to change those things that are wrong with your business’ operations and stay changed. Don’t revert to what you know are bad habits. Search for professional opinion to determine where your business might be flawed, fix the flaw and commit to that change.

2) Be courageous to make relative decisions based on what you know about your operations. Seek professional advice if needed but be courageous in your decision making. If your sales are not where you need them, change the way you sell, or change the message in the sales pitch. If your operations are chewing up your overhead and SG&A expenses, change the way you operate. Often I hear clients say “we’ve always done it this way”. Well, ladies and gentlemen maybe always doing it that way is the wrong way. Note that the external environment is in a constant state of flux, why isn’t your business constantly reviewing its processes to keep up with the ever changing external environment?

3) Remain consistent in future plans and decisions especially when managing employees. Humans will test your consistency and will take advantage of your lack of consistency. Of the many facets of organization management, employees (who are truly just being humans) are the most challenging and the most dynamic where mastering “how” to understand and manage human behavior is a huge opportunity to realize business success. In other words, how you manage and remain consistent in your decisions as it relates to human behavior and how those humans behave within your organization is key to your business success in any economic environment.

Allectus LLC client’s who have communicated with me this year touted great success in their organizations and they look forward to a great 2012 because their businesses are structured, organized and prepared for what every the economy has to throw at them. Get some help for your organization, for your processes and for your employees.

Good luck everyone!

Was 2011 a good year for your business?

Great AP article today about how 2011 will end better than most would have thought (the media-grrr). Rather, most macroeconomic numbers are pointing positve where not only is the National unemployment rate lower at 8.6% but consumer confidence is at its highest point since April of this year.
So what about you and your busienss? What are you going to do in 2012 to keep your business going stronger? What are you going to do in 2012 to help your business perform better if it didn’t in 2011? With so much positive news regarding economic outlook for 2012, are you really prepared or are you just going to sit there?

Read this great AP article from Christopher s. Rugaber, AP Economics Writer at YahooFinance.com

Consumer confidence is better than expected

Unemployment numbers are good if not getting lower and gas prices have fallen where some economists are positve in their outlook for 2012 but still some economists are “Debbie Downers”. Where do you stand? Are you prepared for 2012 regardless economic ups and downs? There is an interesting short article on CNNMoney.com today that makes me wonder how many business owners are truly prepared for 2012. According to end of year summaries and begining of year predictions, your business could be in for a great 2012 or tough road ahead. Either way, is your business organized and prepared for 2012?

Read Chris Isidore’s article on CNNMoney.com

Is the housing report good news?

Tuesday reported better than expected housing starts where as we come into a new year I wonder, is there good news for business via these housing numbers in 2012? Housing starts are up 24.3% from last year and almost 10% from the provious month October. Data such as this as well as positve consumer confidence numbers tells me that finally, finally, the fear mongering National news media can stop creating panic and business owners can now focus on developing their businesses relative to positve data as well as good hard work.

One of my companies will end the year up almost 30% this year over last year with significant RIG numbers to boot. At least four of my previous clients have also reported positve growth numbers for 2011 as well as plans to expand their production facilities in 2012. So the big question is, are the housing numbers finally enough to get you going and fix your business once and for all? I have always said that no matter what occurs in the macroeconomic environment, your business should be in the position to manage whatever might come.

Read this article from CNN Money.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — Home building spiked up in November to the strongest level in almost two years, as record-low mortgage rates and a surge in apartment and condo construction lifted activity.

Housing starts shot up to an annual rate of 685,000 in the month, up 9.3% from October and 24.3% higher than a year earlier. Building activity easily topped predictions of 627,000 starts economists surveyed by Briefing.com were expecting.

Read more at CNNMoney.com

National News on The U.S. Economy

This past Saturday I found myself in the local BMW dealer for service on my car and to my surprise, the showroom floor was packed with potential buyers. What gives? According to the National news and some local news reports (Houston KPRC), the U.S. economy is still in turmoil and we are still headed for a double dip recession. Really?

The next day Sunday, I was in a Best Buy to get my copy of MW3. Great game! Best Buy was also packed with customer buying everything from TVs to computers to smartphones! Seriously? Why is it that the National news presents such doom and gloom and why is that according to the National news, no one person is ever qualified to the President of the United States. In other words, why does the National news present such fear, such end of the world news and such drama?

Should we really be listening to or watching National news? Is the National news just a fear mongering outlet?