Tough Man, Tender Chicken: Lessons from Frank Perdue

iStock_000008310866Small

A Visionary Leader

He entered many of our homes via television, winning our hearts with his clever ads about his chicken.  Appearing in hundreds of ads, Frank Perdue turned Perdue chicken into a national brand.  “It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken,” the ads touted.

Frank Perdue was a visionary business leader.  He focused on culture, leadership development, packaging, promotion, and operational excellence perhaps years before others.

Frank and Mitzi Perdue, Used by Permission Frank and Mitzi Perdue, Used by Permission

Recently, his wife, Mitzi Perdue, wrote a biography Tough Man, Tender Chicken: Business and Life Lessons from Frank Perdue.  The book paints the picture of the man, allowing us glimpses into his personal life, but also is full of business and leadership advice.

Mitzi herself holds a BA in government from Harvard, a masters in public administration from George Washington and was for years a syndicated columnist for Capitol News then Scripps Howard.

I recently had the opportunity to talk with her about her late husband.

 

“Find out what the customer wants and then make it better.” –Frank Perdue

 

Take Care of the Customer

There are so many business and life lessons in this book.  Let me just ask about a few areas.

One story you tell was about packaging.  It grabbed my attention because he wanted better packaging, but his team said no.  They said it was too expensive.  I know he was frugal, so his commitment to make it happen speaks volumes.  That little story says so much about his style and determination. Would you help us understand why this was so important to him?

Funny you picked on that story because it happens that I’m (I think) unusually qualified to comment on it.  My master’s thesis from George Washington University was on the importance of packaging.  I felt that the packaging of an idea or a product wasn’t as important as the content, but it was way up high as a consideration.  Frank intuitively understood this concept without having to get a master’s degree!  In the cases of the cartons that chicken was delivered in back in the late 1960s, it was pretty much industry standard to have flimsy boxes that might leave someone’s processing plant looking fine, but by the time they arrived at the distributor’s loading dock in a big city, the box might be crushed and leaking.  Crushed and leaking boxes were a mega-headache for the distributor because it’s hard to handle them on a forklift, and it’s unsanitary.  Frank realized that if he could create boxes that wouldn’t crush or leak, he’d be solving one of the distributors’ major problems.  His attitude was that as long as his goal was to be the best, the price almost didn’t matter, he had to fix the fragile boxes because, “We can’t afford not to.”  It fit in with his motto of, “Take care of the customer,” and the result was that when a distributor wanted chicken, he probably had Perdue on his speed dial. Packaging was an extraordinary competitive edge for us.

Mitzi Perdue, Used by Permission Mitzi Perdue, Used by Permission

“A business that doesn’t change is a business that is going to die.” –Frank Perdue

 

Build A Culture of Disagreement

Take us into the culture of the company.  It tolerated disagreement and strong opinions.  As you say it tolerated “really forceful disagreement.”  How did Frank encourage this?  When did he, as a leader, stop the argument and unify the team?

Wasted Authority is Poor Leadership

My Hands Are Empty What Can I Do?
This is a guest post by Bruce Rhoades. Bruce is a personal friend and mentor. Having run numerous organizations, he is now retired. He reluctantly leaves his sail boat on occasion to help me with strategy, pricing, technology and product development issues. He also just joined Twitter. Follow him here.

Poor Leaders

All of us have experienced a leader who is controlling, arbitrary and makes decisions with little input from anyone while remaining un-influenceable.  Likewise, we have experienced a leader who does not delegate and demands that he or she make all the decisions while relegating dutiful implementation to subordinates.  These leaders mostly use positional authority to “run” the organization.  This type of leadership and management does not grow people, limits the potential of the organization and creates a stifling atmosphere with little collaboration.  Not good.

 

“Wasted authority results in weak organizations.” -Bruce Rhoades

 

Wasted Authority

At the other end of the spectrum is wasted authority, a management trait that results in weak leadership that is also damaging to the organization.  What is wasted authority?  We have all probably seen examples of managers who exhibit this trait:

  • Delaying decisions and overanalyzing.  In a meeting, all the options for a decision are clear and a decision is needed.  But the manager asks for more analysis, delaying the decision for the whole organization.
  • Delaying decisions to hope for consensus.  Likewise, there is the meeting where options are clear, but there is disagreement among the subordinates in the meeting.  No more data is really needed and it is clear that the “boss” needs to decide.  Instead, the discussion goes on and on until the meetings adjourned with no decision.  The boss is waiting for a consensus to emerge…
  • Inexcusable behavior.  An associate has behaved in a manner that is inconsistent with the company expectations. It is ignored by the leader, repeatedly, with the excuse that, “That is just Jim.”
  • Wandering agendas.  The discussion in a group is wandering way off-topic.  The leader allows the discussion to ramble into many issues that are irrelevant to the real topic.  Before long, people are disagreeing on things that were not even supposed to be on the agenda.
  • The silent elephant.  Then there is the meeting where everyone knows about “the elephant in the room” – a huge issue that no one wants to discuss outright but everyone knows about. The meeting goes on as if nothing is wrong.
  • Poor customer response.  The organization’s response to a customer problem was poor, and the customer was ill-treated. The leader clearly knows about the situation but is too busy to look into the details. The customer complains no more so the issue is forgotten.
  • No recognition.  A particular associate has performed well above his or her norm and has done an exceptional job for a situation, but the manager says or does nothing, no “great job”, no recognition – just a “thanks” and moves on the next meeting.
  • Performance Ambush.  An associate made a mistake. The leader does nothing but a year later brings it up in a performance review with the associate.
  • Too many details.  Finally, the leader discusses a situation in excruciating detail, allowing the whole team to get mired in details, losing sight of the real issue. The whole team consumes great amounts of time needlessly.

I am sure that most of us will be able to add to this list of situations where authority was wasted and leadership lost.

 

“Culture and expectations are established via actions of the leader.” -Bruce Rhoades

 

Wasted authority usually takes one of the following forms:

  • Indecisiveness when it is clear that a decision should be made
  • Failure to take action when cultural expectations are violated or associates misbehave
  • Failure to address large, well-known issues openly and directly
  • Inability to provide timely feedback to teach individuals and the organization
  • Ignoring customer issues that the organization simply takes for granted
  • Failure to frame an issue, articulate priorities and delegate to others

 

“Wasted leadership authority creates extensive organizational damage.” -Bruce Rhoades

 

Wasted authority by the leader has many damaging effects on an organization:

 

Failure to decide

Achieving Peak Performance by Conquering the 7 Summits of Sales

iStock_000030876236Small

Climbing to the Top

  • What’s the best formula for setting goals?
  • How do I prepare and truly commit to achieving them?
  • What about perseverance?
  • How do I overcome resistance?

Someone wisely once told me that to achieve something great, “Find the person who has already climbed the mountain.”  In this case, I found someone who literally has climbed mountains.  Susan Ershler has successfully climbed the elite Seven Summits and is a sought-after international speaker who has served in leadership positions for Fortune 500 companies for more than twenty years.  She is also the author of  CONQUERING THE SEVEN SUMMITS OF SALES: From Everest To Every Business, Achieving Peak Performance

 

How to Set Goals

You have a new formula for setting goals.  It’s not the SMART model, it’s the CLIMB model.  Would you share that with us?

It all begins with a well-defined vision and a set of clearly defined goals. The CLIMB system we developed on our journey to becoming top performers will provide you with a structured approach to goal setting that is both disciplined and focused.

C – Concise:  Your goals must be specific, quantifiable, actionable, and support your vision.

L – Levelheaded:  Your vision and goals must be realistic and attainable based on your current skills and level of professional development.

I – Integrated:  Your goals must be related, relevant, and integrated with your vision.

M – Measurable:  You must hold yourself accountable by using objective metrics to track your progress against goals. You must “measure the mountain.”

B – Big:  Being realistic doesn’t mean thinking small. Be bold and ambitious in projecting your future. Think Big!

 

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” -Ben Franklin

Everest Base Camp Sue

The Importance of Preparation

Let’s talk about preparation.  Obviously preparing for a climb elevates it to a life or death activity.  How have you used what you learned in climbing about preparation in other areas like sales or goals?
No BIG mountain is scaled in a single climb. No quota or BIG business objective is achieved in a single day. You must step away from the business and create a detailed roadmap that delineates every step of your journey and includes metrics to measure success along the way.

If we don’t have a plan in writing, we have a tendency to react to disruptive things, for example like constant email. We need to make sure we focus on the important activities that will lead us to success, reviewing our plan on a daily basis.

 

The Power of Commitment

Commitment.  Many talk a good game.  You may believe them, but then they quit before they even get going.  How do you help people truly commit?

Achieving peak performance, both personally and professionally, can dramatically change our lives. So once we have a vision we must commit to achieving it.  Peak performers say, “I will” not “I will try.”  For example, if you want to climb a mountain or run a marathon, sign up, pay the fee and then work backwards.  In climbing, I had to visualize myself on the summit of Everest – that was my vision in advance for years.  In business, I viewed myself as a vice president in the Fortune 500 world for years before I achieved that title.  Big visions can take years to achieve, but say, “I will do it” and never give up.

 

“Peak performers say I will, not I will try.”

When Should Leaders Walk Away?

iStock_000005772458Small
This is a guest post by Dave Yarin. Dave is a compliance and risk management consultant to directors of large and mid-size companies and the author of the upcoming book Fair Warning – The Information Within. You can follow Dave on Twitter.

The Sunk Cost Theory

The supersonic Concorde jet’s tragic crash in 2000 and retirement in 2003 was the end of a troubled history for the aircraft.  Plagued by design and development cost over-runs, the British and French governments that jointly developed the Concorde also knew that the plane wouldn’t be an economically viable business, yet they pressed on despite these warnings.  The plane’s history gave rise to the metaphor “The Concorde Fallacy” to describe when an individual or company spends more to continue a failed project rather than abandon it or pursue a less-costly alternative.  But why do companies behave this way, and can they overcome this phenomenon and make the critical decisions necessary for long-term success?

 

Leadership Danger: ignoring warnings to justify past decisions.

 

Social psychologists refer to a thought process known as the “sunk cost theory,” which often explains why companies ignore warnings and continue forward with failed projects or plans.  The sunk cost theory refers to the unconscious desire to have our current choices justify prior decisions.  It’s the reason many car owners continue to repair a lemon — because they can’t bear to give up on the money they’ve already spent — and it helps to explain why so many homeowners resist selling and cutting their losses when real estate prices tumble, only to unload their houses for even less just a few months later.  Time Magazine’s October 2011 article What Was I Thinking discussed why we often have trouble acting in our best financial interests.  Part of the article discusses why we “can’t let go” of a financial path that we put ourselves on.  For example, lawyers typically rank low on job-satisfaction surveys, but ask an attorney why he or she doesn’t switch careers, and they’ll probably respond by saying how long they’ve been practicing and how much law school cost.  The article also discusses what behavioral economists call loss aversion – the pain of making a loss final outweighs the rational reasons for making that transaction or decision.  The research of Daniel Kahneman, a 2002 Nobel Prize winner and Israeli psychologist, demonstrated that most people respond to the loss of a given amount of money about twice as strongly as they react to a similar gain.

Have companies been able to overcome the sunk cost fallacy, end a failed project despite significant investment, and succeed in the long run?  In the early 1990s, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts embarked on one of the most ambitious information system projects the industry had ever seen. “System 21″ was heralded as “the future of Blue Cross,” a claims processing software marvel that would be cheaper and more responsive to customers.  But after six years of delays, cost overruns, and over $120 million invested in “System 21″, Blue Cross Blue Shield management faced the prospect of going to the board of directors to not only explain the delays but request another $120 million to complete the project.  Blue Cross ultimately scrapped the project and turned its computer operation over to an outside contractor.  The company has since moved on to become one of the most successful health plans in the industry, recording net income of $163.9 million in 2012. In the long run, walking away from a $120 million failed IT project was better than pouring far more time and money into it.

 

Ask if your company is investing in a failing project because it can’t let go.

How to Make Your Next Meeting the Most Effective Ever

Multi ethnic business team at a meeting. Interacting. Focus on w

Do I Have To Go?

In every corporation and social enterprise, we find ourselves in meetings.  We dread going to them.  We love to complain about them.  We poke ourselves to stay awake in them.

Have you ever thought about how important meetings really are?

Ever consider that how you behave in a meeting may have more of an impact on your career?

What if there was a way to turn meetings into “remarkable conversations”?

 

Paul Axtell’s new book,  Meetings Matter: 8 Powerful Strategies for Remarkable Conversations, was a surprise.  Why a surprise?  Because I admit I have groaned about too many meetings, so the thought of reading a book about them was supposed to be my cure for insomnia.  Instead, I found myself reading and re-reading it.  If your calendar has you stuck in too many ineffective meetings, you will find numerous solutions to changing the game in Paul’s new book.

Paul Axtell has been a personal effectiveness consultant and corporate trainer for 35 years.  All of that experience is put too good use in a book packed with advice to be more effective.  Note: this book goes far, far beyond the meeting.

 

“It took me fifteen years to make it look easy.” –Fred Astaire

 

Meetings Matter

Everyone loves to complain about meetings. Too many, too long, too boring. But your new book says meetings matter. Why are meetings such an easy target?

Meetings Matter CoverFirst, the complaints are usually justified.  Our time in ineffective meetings far outweighs our time in powerful meetings.  People are genuinely concerned about being more productive and taking less work home, so time not well spent is galling.  Finally, no one is standing up for the value and leverage that meetings can provide to a project or organization.  We’ve drifted into this place where we complain and don’t even hear ourselves complaining.  Poorly run meetings also start at the top, and from below it can seem like an impossible problem to confront. 

Paul, you raise the stakes to say, “Meetings are at the heart of an effective organization.”

Yes, if we include one-on-ones, meetings compromise most of a supervisor’s or manager’s day.  Meetings are a place and situation where clarity can be achieved, decisions made, alignment garnered and actions identified – all of which work to help forward the work of any organization.  Therefore, meeting skills are a core competency for employees.

 

“One of the most beautiful qualities of true friendship is to understand and to be understood.” –Seneca

 

Choose Your Perspective

Your new book outlines eight strategies for more effective meetings.  Let me ask about just a few.  Number one “Choose the perspective.”  It’s about being intentional, mindful, and catching yourself if you fall into negativity about a meeting.  Why is perspective the starting point?

I believe two things change behavior: perspective and awareness.  Perspective might be the more important of the two because with a disempowering perspective, strategies and tactics have less impact.  We’ve drifted into three perspectives that set us up for failure—meetings don’t matter, it’s not my meeting, and I don’t have to fully engage if I don’t want to.  Very difficult to run a good meeting when people walk in with these points of view.  Just imagine how it would be to lead a meeting where everyone walked in with an attitude that was shaped instead by these perspectives: meetings are leverage and I’m responsible for making this meeting turn out?

 

“It is indispensable to have a habit of observation and reflection.” –Abraham Lincoln

 

The 4 C’s of An Effective Conversation