Make Work Happy

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On a recent business trip, I was reading Work Happy at breakfast.  A server walking by noticed the book’s title and said, “I’m all for that!  Who doesn’t want to be happy at work?”  Then we started talking about what makes a great workplace.

The author of the book is Jill Geisler.  She leads the management faculty at the Poynter Institute.  She has one of the most popular management podcasts, “What Great Bosses Know,” with over seven million downloads on iTuneU.  When I read her book, Work Happy: What Great Bosses Know, I was thrilled to find so much excellent management advice packed into a single book.

I didn’t just read the book; I put it to immediate use.  For instance, I recently followed some of her advice on giving feedback.  It was remarkably well-received, and I credit Jill for that.  In another example, how do you answer an employee who stops you and says, “Got a minute?” when you truly are swamped and don’t have 20 seconds.  Jill offers tips that I have already used. 

Why didn’t you write this book much earlier in my career?  You could have saved me from making many mistakes!  What inspired you to write it?

Skip, you and I apparently share the same goal: to help managers avoid the mistakes we made as bosses!  Your blog is a great contribution to that end, and for my part, I’ve been teaching, coaching, writing columns and producing podcasts on leadership and management in my faculty role at the Poynter Institute. But the book’s inspiration came from discovering that my “What Great Bosses Know” podcasts on iTunes U have been downloaded millions of times by people all over the world.  It was evidence of an unsatisfied hunger for credible, practical help among men and women on the frontlines of leadership. That’s why I wrote this workshop-in-a-book. 

An Interview With a Capitalist Anarchist

Leadership Lessons Are Everywhere

I’ve always been a believer that leadership principles and examples can be found everywhere.  You can see great leadership at work when you watch a parent interacting with a child.  (I think many of us honed our negotiation skills that way, too.)  I’ve learned great truths from watching a movie.  You can learn great principles from unexpected places if you’re looking for them.

In a previous post, I wrote about Zingerman’s, the Ann Arbor based collection of businesses mostly centered around great food.  One of the founding partners, Ari Weinzweig has written several books about customer service, business practices, and leadership.  You will find leadership principles on display at Zingerman’s.  You will also find that Ari discovered some of these principles in the least likely of places.

An Anarchist Turns Capitalist

As a student at the University of Michigan in the 1970s, Ari was influenced by the writings of 20th century anarchists.  He quotes now obscure names like Mikhail Bakunin, Rudolf Rocker and Nestor Makhno.  (Yes, it is odd that an early anarchist turned into an entrepreneurial capitalist.  If you think that’s strange, it’s just part of many ironies involving Ari.  He grew up in a kosher household and is now the author of The Guide to Better Bacon.  He even runs a Bacon Camp.) Though he obviously abandoned his anarchist roots, he adopted some of the thinking in running a business.  He is also careful to explain the difference between anarchy and anarchism.  Anarchy is a “state of leaderless bedlam” where anarchism is a philosophy based on individual respect and freedom from unnecessary authority.  In any case, it seems that his philosophy led him to a high respect for people, allowing them to pursue their own passions, and giving employees more freedom and choice because they generally will do the right thing.

Macaroni and Cheese With a Side of Leadership

The Scene:

The restaurant is buzzing with conversation.  The clinking of glasses and silverware can be heard above the laughter.  Scents of barbeque and aromatic flavors permeate the room.  Enter a man who moves from table to table, quietly filling the water glasses.

Restaurant Attendant (smiling):  “You like the mac and cheese?”

You (eyes wide open): “Are you kidding?  I didn’t even know you could do this with macaroni and cheese!  Fantastic.”

 

Attendant: “That macaroni is handmade for us by the Martelli family in Tuscany.  Just what we wanted.  The two-year-old Vermont cheddar cheese is caramelized.  We thought the combination was perfect.”

You, thinking, but not saying aloud, “Who is this guy? What type of water boy knows this stuff?”

Attendant, interrupting your thoughts: “Do you want some more bread?  You’re eating the Roadhouse bread, but you may also want to try the Irish Brown Soda bread tonight.”

You: “Is it as good as what we’re eating now?”

Attendant: “Depends on your taste, but it’s good.  We source the oatmeal from the Creedon family, the same family who makes our Irish stone ground oatmeal.  It makes the flavor and texture.  I’ll be right back with some for you to taste.  Oh, and I’d love to give you a taste of our barbeque tonight.”

You (turning to me, shrugging as he leaves):  “Who is THAT?”

Me: “That, my friend, is Ari, the most unusual water boy you will ever meet.  He’s the owner!”

You (feigned choking):  “The owner?!”

It’s true.  Ari Weinzweig is one of the restaurant owners, but he also fills water glasses at the restaurant.  Yes, you read that right.  As a partner in a multi-million dollar conglomerate, he personally walks around filling water glasses in order to stay close to the customers.

Ah, Zingerman’s.

Success by Failing Quickly

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One of the biggest problems in business isn’t failure.  It’s failing too slowly.

The biggest failure of all is never failing at all.  If you never fail, you are playing it too safe.  You are taking zero risk.  A culture with a fear of failure is a culture doomed tofailure.  Others in the marketplace will pass you by, and it may be too late by the time you realize it.

 

“The biggest failure of all is never failing at all.” -Skip Prichard

 

 

Failing quickly is much better than failing slowly.  Have you ever been in a business and known something was going to fail?  For whatever reason, the project marches onward.  Meanwhile, everyone who touches it knows the project is doomed.  Yet on it goes, sometimes for years.  I’ve seen some huge, expensive projects continue when, if someone would just do a reality check, the decision to kill it would be obvious.

The Five C’s of a Successful Turnaround

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5 C’s to Change Direction

A few weeks ago, I spoke at a Distressed Investing Conference in Florida.  It’s really a turnaround conference designed for professionals focused on fixing troubled companies.  Since I’ve had plenty of crisis management experience in turning around troubled businesses, I was asked to share war stories and strategies.  I also enjoyed the opportunity to network and learn from the 200 industry leaders in attendance.

Here are the five major points I shared:

1. Control.  I’m not a big proponent of top-down, autocratic management systems.  I much prefer an entrepreneurial environment with lots of input and a leader with a persuasive style.  In a crisis, though, it’s often necessary to ramp up the control level and increase the speed of decision making.  I tend to move very fast anyway, and I like to seek opinions and then make a decision and move on.  If you are in trouble, you don’t have the luxury of numerous meetings and extensive analysis.