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?

Leaders Open Doors

Silhouette of businesswoman with briefcase standing in doorway

An Approach to Lift People, Profit and Performance

“I got to open doors for people!”

When Bill Treasurer heard his five-year-old son say those words, he immediately recognized this as valuable leadership advice. With decades of consulting experience, Bill wrote Leaders Open Doors: A Radically Simple Leadership Approach to Lift People, Profits, and Performance as a new approach to leadership. Bill Treasurer is the founder of Giant Leap Consulting. He has led corporate workshops for clients ranging from Saks Fifth Avenue to NASA.

 

“Leadership is about momentum and results.” -Bill Treasurer

 

I wanted Bill to share his approach to leadership and how Leaders Open Doors.  Bill is also careful to explain that leaders open doors, but that does not mean they have always-open door policies:

 

“Allowing yourself to be continuously interrupted is a recipe for lousy leadership.” -Bill Treasurer

 

Open Door Leaders Make People Uncomfortable

What’s most important about leadership?

The focus of leadership should not be the leader. The focus should be on what the leader is doing to create opportunities for those he or she is leading. Ultimately, followers reap the rewards of effective leadership.

I call leaders who focus on creating opportunities for those they serve Open-door Leaders.

 

“Vulnerability is critical to leadership because it mitigates the leader’s ego.” -Bill Treasurer

 

Explain why you say that a leader’s job is to make people uncomfortable.

FINAL 2 (1)People and organizations grow, progress, and evolve by taking on challenges, which are, by definition, uncomfortable things. An Open-door Leader’s job is to nudge people into their discomfort zones.

The trick is nudging people far enough outside their comfort zones that they become motivated to pursue a higher standard of performance, but not so far outside their comfort zones that they get paralyzed with fear.

To be clear, making people uncomfortable does not equate with stoking their fears. There’s nothing more childish than intimidating leadership. Fear is cheap leadership – it takes no effort or thought. Open-door Leaders, conversely, make people feel safe enough that they want to pursue uncomfortable challenges. By creating safety, the leader helps people become comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Virginia “Ginni” Rometty, the CEO of IBM, said it best: “Growth and comfort do not coexist.”

 

“Growth and comfort do not coexist.” -Ginny Rometty

 

Restoring Confidence

How does a leader restore confidence in someone who is discouraged?

Three ways:

  1. Sharing stories of his or her own hardships and struggles. When leaders share stories about their own imperfections, failures, or mistakes with us, we judge ourselves less harshly.
  2. Believing in us more than we believe in ourselves. Leaders have to constantly remind us of our potential so we can see momentary missteps in a larger context.
  3. Give people another shot. Consider, for example, when you were learning how to ride a bike. What did your parents make you do whenever you fell? Get back up and try again. They didn’t stop believing in you just because you fell. They viewed the setback as part of the learning process. Likewise, after a career setback or failure, the leader should help us draw out corrective lessons, and then have us re-attempt the thing that set us back.

 

“Leaders open doors.” -Bill Treasurer

 

How do leaders shift perspective in others?

29 Ways to Celebrate World Hello Day

Hello in different languages

World Hello Day

 

Hallo. Ciao! Hallo. Ni hao! Hola. Marhaba! Shalom. Bonjour!

Friday, November 21 is World Hello Day.

What are you supposed to do on World Hello Day? Greet 10 people. That’s it.

 

“For every goodbye, God also provides a hello.” –Donna Gable Hatch

 

The idea is to encourage the resolution of conflicts through communication instead of force. Sure, we can all point to examples where this is not possible. We may call it idealistic. Still, I like having a day where we can celebrate the power of communication. It’s easy to cite the examples where it is difficult, but there are far more conflicts resolved through negotiation than any other method.

 

“Don’t tell your friends about your indigestion. ‘How are you’ is a greeting, not a question.” –Arthur Guiterman

 

Let’s celebrate that today by sharing World Hello Day with others.

 

29 Ways to Celebrate

Here are a few suggestions on how to make World Hello Day worthwhile:

Greet others enthusiastically today.

 

“When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.” -Jimi Hendrix

 

Introduce yourself to strangers and tell them about World Hello Day.

Share this post with someone you haven’t said hello to in a while.

Let someone cut in front of you in line.

 

“Send out a cheerful, positive greeting, and most of the time you will get back a cheerful, positive greeting.” –Zig Ziglar

 

Make today a day of happiness.

Spend some extra time with a good friend.

Have your team at work write down five things that you are grateful for.

Encourage someone.

Radiate peace and joy.

Make today the day that you forgive someone for good.

 

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” -Gandhi

 

Allow a driver into your lane.

 

“How glorious a greeting the sun gives the mountains!” –John Muir

 

Send Facebook messages or Tweets to 3 people who you admire.

Compliment others sincerely today.

Why Adapting in the Social Age is Key to Survival

Hand Holding A Social Media 3D Sphere

Do you think social media is something to assign to the marketing department?

Do you think social is mainly about getting out your message?

Do you understand that the Social Age changes everything?

 

Adapting to a Social World

I recently had the opportunity to talk with my friends, Ted Coiné and Mark Babbitt about their new book A World Gone Social: How Companies Must Adapt to Survive.

They are both social media experts who help leaders and companies understand and thrive in the new social age.  Ted Coiné is co-founder of one of my favorite leadership communities, Switch & Shift and he was named a Forbes Top 10 Social Media Power Influencer.  Mark Babbitt is CEO and founder of YouTern, a social community for college students and young professionals.

 

“Social is not a campaign. Social is a commitment.” -Stan Phelps

 

Talk to the corporate leader who really is not online; the executive who maybe has a Twitter account but hasn’t signed in for a year.  What does she miss?

Business leaders not active on social are missing an asset that decision-makers in the Social Age desperately need to remain relevant and to spot trends: real-time, unfiltered market intelligence.

Through social listening, we learn what our customers are saying about us as they say it.  We observe how our brand is perceived.  We also see what our competition is up to – and perhaps even opportunities they’re missing because they are NOT listening.

Suggestion boxes?  Focus groups?  Surveys?  Those tools were all great in the Industrial Age – but they can’t begin to compare to the real-time market intelligence available to us for free on social.

 

Downsides of Social Media

Let’s flip to the other side: What are the downsides of social media?

Social media is an equal-opportunity amplifier. It amplifies the good, certainly.  But it also amplifies the bad.  Be insensitive, act unethically, mistreat a customer or employee, kick a dog in an elevator, put short term profits over people – or even this-quarter profits over common sense – and your brand will suffer.  Because today – through what we call the “Social Robin Hood Syndrome,” where the public is more than ready to rally in order to right a wrong – a complaint can very quickly become a tsunami of bad press.

While these downsides of social are very real, the vast majority of social horror stories are caused by ignorance, corporate arrogance, unethical leaders, uninspiring or even abusive employers – all who become easy targets when customers, employees and watchdogs turn to social for justice.

Fortunately, this phenomenon is also a positive; this forced accountability helps leaders realize that we must run our organizations in an ethical, honest fashion.  And if you’ve been leading in a commendable way all along, this amplification feature of social is your company’s best friend.  Over time, you’ll earn the market share of your less-than-exemplary rivals.

 

“If you’re not serving the customer, your job is to be serving someone who is.” -Jan Carlzon

 

 

Adapt to Survive

The subtitle of your book is “How Companies Must Adapt to Survive.” What are some of the dangers of a company largely ignoring social media?

What we learned from trend watching over the last five years is that social isn’t a technology radically affecting how we lead our organizations. Rather, the Social Age is a new era; social has changed business forever. The Industrial Age had a good run, but it’s over.

The business world is already showing us what happens when companies continue to operate under Industrial Age “best practices.” Look at the fate of JCPenney and Sears versus Amazon and its 17 million likes on Facebook. Ford, with its exceptional community building, and to a certain extent, new kid Tesla, are doing amazing work on social compared to competitors General Motors and Chrysler. And think about all the old-school beverage companies that are struggling while Red Bull rocks social media with 36 million likes on Facebook and 1.5 million followers on Twitter.

 

3 Recommendations for a Customer-First Social Strategy

Leading Culture Change Starts At Home

bigstock-Sweet-home-Vector--15404243

It Starts at Home

We talk about corporate and organizational culture every day.  The culture of an organization can make or break a company.  “Culture trumps strategy” is a quote attributed to different people, but the idea is clear.

“The strength of a nation derives from the integrity of the home.” -Confucius

 

If success at work is rooted in culture, why do we ignore it at home?  All homes have unwritten rules, social mores, and patterns of behavior.  In fact, the behavior at home may be much more difficult to change than at work.

How would you define the culture of your home?  Safe, encouraging, and positive?  Or critical, tense, and exhausting?

Take the time to think about your environment at home and whether it is contributing to your family’s success.  And think about how your culture at home impacts your work.

 

“Culture trumps strategy.” -Unknown

 

Assess it.

Sit down with your family or roommates and define the present culture.  This may not be easy.  It requires listening.  In many cases, a third party may be required to gain an objective view.  If it is too challenging, skip this step and focus on what you want it to be.  If you live alone, you’re not excused.  You still have a culture to describe.

Determine what you want it to be.

What type of culture you want to create requires thoughtful planning.  Define it together.  This should be a positive exercise.

Develop plans to close the gap. 

You will immediately see where there are gaps between the current and desired cultures.  Spend time thinking about ways that will move you in the direction you want to go.

Set rules.