I dropped off my car for service this morning and there was a really nice 6 Series BMW in the service bay. Tim, the service manager, noticing that I was looking at it, told me the following:
Turns out the car was brand new. The couple was out shopping, Wal-Mart I think, and they parked in the far corner of the lot. Well, someones shopping cart got away from them and hit this car. The couple with the wandering cart stood outside for 30 minutes waiting for the cars owner to emerge from the store. When the owner came out, they told the him what happened and offered to pay for the damages.
How is that for nice?
I really do think that deep down most people are good and decent and a vast majority of people will do the right thing.
Do you ever find yourself second-guessing a decision you've made?
I've gotten several calls since I started my new job... including one this morning from a global electronics manufacturer. Long story short; if I were currently in that position I'd be flying to Switzerland today...
I really think that who we are as people is a direct result of the people we've met and the experiences we've had. Along those lines, I can trace so many of my opportunities to specific things that occurred or people that I've met. A chance encounter really started my professional career (a LONG story for another day).
But, do you ever wonder where you'd be if you had chosen something different at some point in your life? What are some of the decisions you've made that have had a major impact on your life where you could have done something else??? I'd love to hear!!!
...Maybe it was Ren McPherson, who made it into Fortune's Business Hall of Fame for his pioneering, people-first approach to the 1970's auto-parts maker Dana Corporation. He liked his plants small, he told me when I was doing my initial research for In Search of Excellence in 1979. If they're over a couple of hundred folks, he said, they tend to lose their spirit.
People-first is probably the wrong description for Emerson Electric's Chuck Knight, a hardheaded, no-nonsense efficiency nut. Yet Chuck, too, likes to keep energy high - and, therefore, unit size low (Emerson was another In Search of Excellence stop).
Though I gradually became more and more interested in the disproportionate success of middle-sized businesses and business units, the size bug didn't really become a preoccupation with me for another 10 years. Then, with competition getting hotter and hotter (and hotter) in the late 80's, I started stumbling over more and more (and more) examples of folks and enterprises that swore by moderate size.
ABB Asea Brown Boveri's Percy Barnevik (Global Strategies: Insights from the World's Leading Thinkers ) blasted a 200,000-person enterprise into 5,000 units averaging just 40 people each. Though Barnevik is engineering trained, his logic was as unconventional (by engineering standards) as McPherson's or Knight's: Constant innovation and customer concern, musts in every crowded market in which he competes, come only from a "spirited, obssesed, energetic" unit, he told me. Hence, the tiny unit size.
What are the upper and lower boundaries of these inchoate musings? Richard Branson (Virgin Group) is another small-unit, split-em-when-they-grow-big-guy; he says that if you get above 50 or 60, folks get "lost in the corridors of power." So there's one peg: 50, give or take.
Mike Walsh, when leading a remarkable turnaround at the Union Pacific Railroad, defined intimacy as 600. Though Walsh was logical to a fault, his reason for cracking the huge railroad into 600-person bits had a strictly personal basis: Unit Managers (Top Guns, as UPRR called them) must know all their employees and major customers by name.
About 50 on the low end, 600 on the high. But is there more to this "size thing" than gut feeling (even if it's from some very wise guts)?
Recent research pegs the magic number at 150 (153 on the dot, according to one analysis). "Groups of 100 to 230 turn up everywhere," Britian's New Scientist magazine reported:
"In modest modern armies... the smallest independent unit normally [numbers] 130 to 200... Sociologists have known since the 1950's that there is a critical threshold in the region of 150 to 200, with larger companies suffering a disproportionate amount of absenteeism and sickness. In 1989, Tony Becher of the University of Sussex published a survey of 12 disciplines in both the sciences and humanities... Once a discipline becomes larger than 200 [researchers] it fragments into two or more subdisciplines... Neolithic villages from the Middle East around 600 BC typically seem to have contained 120 to 150 people... The Hutterites, a group of contemporary North of America religious fundamentalists who live and farm communally, regard 150 as the maximum size for their communities... they find that when there are more than about 150 individuals, they cannot control the behavior of the members by peer pressure alone"
Bedrock beneath these wide-ranging observations comes from research labeled as "social intelligence hypothesis." Primate groups max out at 55. The reason: "Social Grooming," the main mechanism used to cement relations between individual monkeys, can only be done one on one. Thus, according to New Scientist, the upper limit to the number of monkeys in a close-knit group is a function of the finite time available for mutual licking, fussing, and bug-picking. Social grooming, via language, preoccupies humans. "Conventional wisdom has always supposed that language evolved to enable humans to exchange information about food sources and... hunting." New Scientist continues. "But it is difficult to see why humans should be any more in need of this than other primates... A more plausible suggestion is that language evolved to enable humans to integrate a larger number of individuals into their social groups." And language, the research suggests with precision, is three times more efficient than nonverbal grooming: "The sizes of conversation groups in a student dormitory, for example, consist of an average of three to four individuals... larger groups fragment into smaller subconversation subgroups... thus the characteristics of speech seem to be closely tied to the size of the interaction group required to maintain cohesion."
Arguably, we got away with violating this limit during the age of mass production and hyperspecialization, when the traditional craftsmen's imagination was subordinated to machine logic. Now, brains, imagination, craft, and whole jobs are once again the order of the day and 150 people, give or take, may again be the right group size. McPherson, Barnevik, Lytle, and Branson think so. And Microsoft's Bill Gates, wrestling with dramatic growth, has latched on to 200 as an ideal unit size.
My apologies for the lengthy copy and paste job here, but, this is something that I've been thinking about a lot and discussing with a number of people.
Also, I'm in the process of writing Part 2 of The Origins of Unengaged Employees and this information is part of my thought process and I wanted to be able to refer to it in the post - without totally deluting that post with this information.
For now, a question: Does your organization take into account a optimum size of the organization? Has your company ever reorganized to decrease the size of the organization - going from one large entity into several smaller business units?
Many, many years ago I was a corporate trainer for a national restaurant chain. I trained “front of the house” employees, like waiters and waitresses. The owner of a local restaurant, recognizing that he could improve the service at his establishment, enticed me to leave my employer and come to work for him. The goal was to put in place quality service levels equal to that of my current employer.
It was a cool challenge, so I decided to give it a try. Also, I really dug his restaurant and as we all know, you have to believe in what you’re selling, and I believed in what he was doing.
The reason that the owner wanted me to come on board was because he was getting numerous complaints about the service, and he was feeling the effects. The poor/slow service was affecting the cash register and he noticed.
It took me all of 2 minutes to diagnose the problem.
The wait-staff had too many tables. A "wait person" can only provide great service to so many people at a time. The optimum number is about 4 tables, 5 maximum. These folks were handling about 8 tables. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the problem here, right?
My immediate suggestion was to reduce the number of tables assigned to the staff. This would increase the level of service (which would increase the tips) and the restaurant would go back to being crowded. The more table turns (the more guests), the more tips. Simple math. The existing wait staff didn’t see it like that and they hated me – with a passion!
They wanted nothing to do with a reduction in the number of tables assigned to them. To them, the more tables, the more tips. I could’ve talked until I was blue in the face, it wouldn’t have made a bit of difference to them. Several of them even threatened to quit if I wasn’t fired.
The owner knew I was right, in fact, he knew it before I got there – he was just hoping that I would have another answer for him. I didn’t. There was nothing else to do – the silver bullet, the only bullet – was a reduction in the number of assigned tables (busboys and expediters were already being used).
The entire wait staff made my life miserable and I ended up leaving shortly after I started.
However, I’ve never forgotten the lessons I learned from that experience. The main lesson is something that is true in ANY business: Your employees have to care more about people than profits.
My wife, the owner of a small business (a hair salon) always says: you get what you give. Treat people well, and they’ll treat you in kind (she's a smart cookie, that one).
Last night we were talking about this. In her salon, several of the stylists are like the folks who worked for that restaurant; they view customers as a way to get money. My wife, on the other hand, does more "business" than any of the next two combined. Her mantra of getting what you give is proven with every new referral and every name on her cancellation list (people wanting to get in sooner if an appointment becomes available - She’s the Harley Davidson of Hair Stylists).
The point in this, as most of you know, is that if you focus on people first, profits follow.
I think most businesses today focus more on the money than on people; and they’re easy to spot. Everything about them is driven by sales, from the way the employees treat you to the store layout and advertisements, the mail they send you and the phone calls you get during dinner.
Why don’t we focus on people before profits? Think about your own life, you know when someone is just trying to sell you something, that turns you off, doesn’t it?
Jon … for years Starbucks only brewed two coffees -- one regular and one decaf. It wasn’t until Starbucks introduced Milder Dimensions (a selection of milder coffees) in 1998-ish that they reconfigured their systems to offer three coffees of the day: traditional, decaf, and mild.
As you know … when it comes to making coffee, Starbucks is operationally efficient. Unfortunately, brewing small batches of coffee would disrupt the efficiency of servicing customers. This opens up an opportunity for smaller coffee competitors, who are not so reliant on maintaining efficient customer flow, to offer a variety of freshly pressed coffees. It would serve a point-of-difference for them against Starbucks. (I’m not sure if it would be a compelling and wide-appealing point-of-difference as only real coffee freaks enjoy coffee brewed in a press pot.)
There is a complex coffee inventory management system at work behind what customers experience as “coffee-of-the-day.” It takes a lot of coffee to supply all Starbucks locations with enough coffee to serve as coffee-of-the-day. To better manage the company’s coffee inventory, there is a coffee-of-the-day calendar schedule that stores are to follow. (Not all stores strictly follow the calendar as situations arise where they deviate from the calendar.)
Next time your are faced with choosing a milder coffee at Starbucks like Breakfast Blend or LightNote Blend … ask for an Americano (espresso shots and hot water). It’ll cost you about the same as a cup of brewed coffee but it will have a much richer, intense flavor. If you like flavorful and fresh coffee, one can never go wrong ordering an Americano (hot or iced) at Starbucks.
All this from a former Starbucks barista and marketing guy...
That is just fantastic! Thank you for taking the time to share that John!
Okay, without focusing on Starbucks too much here... I have an idea for them (tis better to have an idea than just complain)
Why only two blends of coffee at any one time (three if you count decaf)? This whole week the traditional blend has been Ethiopan Sidoma, until they finally changed it this morning... to Breakfast Blend. All well and good, but they were out of Breakfast blend. I like the darker, richer coffee and that meant waiting for my coffee or take Lightnote.
As a patron you can order 3,274 (my guesstimation skills) different combinations of custom prepared espresso drinks... but I've only got two choices for caffinated coffee. My favorite two blends are Verona & Sumatra (I'm sure there are a couple of others that I would like equal to those). Anyway, why can't they brew small pots of lot's of flavors? I'm spending nearly $2 a day there ($3 total if you count the tip). Perhaps have several french presses set up and brew pots for people. I'd probably pay an extra $0.50 cents for a freshly brewed (or french pressed) cup of my favorite blend, wouldn't you?
At the very least, they should conduct a poll of all the people that come in during the week and order plain old coffee - "what is your favorite blend?". I can't begin to tell you how many cups of coffee I've purchased and no one has ever asked me what I like.