Kitchens and Communicators: Same Knives

A food critic friend of mine posted this piece from the site Fine Dining Lovers and I thought it was excellent. I also thought that it’s not necessarily only germane to commercial kitchens. I think it’s also quite relevant to practitioners of both the culinary and the communication arts.

Here’s a short version with my take. Read the entire piece at the link above.

INADEQUATE MISE EN PLACE
There is no excuse for this. It does happen and the finger should be pointed at both the individual line cook and the chef. Well-designed prep sheets based on sound projections, a sense of urgency on the part of the line cook, and chef oversight throughout the prep window will all help to rectify this problem.
MRB: Yep. If you don’t have all of your planning done; if you don’t have all the tools you need, the likelihood of  project failure increases exponentially.
LACK OF TRAINING
MRB: Fairly self-evident, this. Always train your staff. And, if you can, always hire smarter than yourself. You’ll be glad you did.
EQUIPMENT MALFUNCTIONS
Cooks depend on their tools working well. Ovens must be calibrated, burners must work well, fryer temperatures must be true, pans must be seasoned …
MRB: I learned this wisdom a long time ago from a boss who always insisted that the communications staff have the latest equipment possible and put the office on a strict replacement schedule. We also all had machines that were the same so that we could all talk to one another whenever we needed to. This is smart stuff — and hard to get past the bean-counters in lean years — but it’s absolutely essential. I swear by it.
Chef-knivesPOOR DOOR MANAGEMENT
Even the best prep and mental preparedness will fail if the front of the house fails to manage and pace the door and door reservations for smooth service.
MRB: Your jobs are not “one-offs.” You have to be cognizant of what else you have on your plate when you assign deadlines and due dates. If you don’t factor in “the other,” you’re always going to be scrambling, always going to be behind and you’ll end up with a poor reputation — and that’s something much harder to fix than learning how to calendarize projects.
LACK OF MENTAL PREPAREDNESS
Cooks need to be in the right mental state to function at peak efficiency. Chefs need to help to manage this.
MRB: Yes, a thousand times, yes! Make sure your staff is operating as best as they can. You can help them by providing them with an invigorating, well-run workplace or simply a shoulder to cry on. Give staff a chance to stretch in their roles and turn mistakes into learning experiences, not opportunities to always rebuke and belittle. Helping them focus will increase creativity across the board.
AN INDEPENDENT APPROACH VS. A TEAM PREPARATION
It is never sufficient to be satisfied that you are ready for the rush if the rest of the team is not. Every cook’s readiness is every cook’s responsibility. Observation and communication will help teams survive and thrive.
MRB: Nothing to add here. Build a team that helps one another thrive.
OVERALL WEAK COMMUNICATION
Constant communication between cooks, between the chef and cooks, between the dining room manager and the chef, and effective dialogue between service staff and cooks will keep everyone on track and will help to minimise the surprises that bring a restaurant down.
MRB: Ditto the above. Always keep talking. Let managers know of potential impending crises and let management assist in easing pressure in certain areas in order to get things done. Sometimes it’s as simple as someone feeling that they can say to their supervisor, “I’m swamped. I have three projects due today and I can’t get them all done,” and having the supervisor answer, “That’s okay. I’ll give one to Mary. Thanks for letting me know.”
AN ILL-CONCEIVED MENU WITHOUT STATION BALANCE
The menu is the key control device in a kitchen. Planning a menu is certainly an art, but it is also a science.
MRB: And ultimately, this is the foundation upon which all of the above is built. If you promise to be all things to all people, you’re not going to make it. Tighten your offerings, limit your services to those that you know your staff are capable of and make sure you can deliver the goods on time and on budget.
It’s not rocket science, but it is good management — and no matter what your industry, good management is good management. 
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Branding and Other Nonsense

As the Quakers say, “My friend speaks my mind.” In this case, my friend is Gerry McGovern. And he’s never wrong.

Here’s the full text of is latest New Thinking E-Newsletter. It’s absolutely worth a read and a ponder.

361px-Branding_iron_from_Texas

Image: Andreas Praefcke/Wikimedia Commons

BRANDING IS BULL

The origin of the word branding comes from the branding of cattle. Let’s travel back in time 100 years and listen in to a branding conversation by two cattlemen.

“Very impressive brand, Tom. It has a wonderful aesthetic feel to it.”
“Do you think so, John? We did think very deeply about the colors to choose. And we did have an intense debate about whether to use Athelas or Freight Text Pro. We decided to go with Athelas. It has that certain je ne sais quoi.”

“Absolutely! Superb choice. It will bring the customer on an emotional journey. Listen, the reason for my visit, Tom, is that I’d like your advice. We’re thinking of doing a rebranding.”

“Why is that, John?”

“Well, you know, the last couple of years have not been so good for the brand. We’ve had a drought, got hit by some diseases. The meat quality on the cattle is not great. So, I thought that if we refreshed the brand we could capture back some of our old market share.”

“What a fantastic idea, John! I know just the branding agency for you. They understand bull better than anyone I know.

“It’s amazing, Tom, isn’t it. Take the same old scrawny tough-as-nails meat, put some nice packaging and branding on it, and it just flies out of the store.”
“Those branding guys are magicians, John. They truly understand human emotion and are so brilliant at manipulating it. With the right brand you can sell any sort of bull.”

“And to think, Tom, when I was a kid we had such a limited understanding of what branding was. We thought it was just a unique mark we made on the cattle so that we would know who owned what. When I was a young, foolish teenager, I was under the mistaken impression that what mattered was the meat itself.”

At this stage John laughed. Tom laughed too. They both found the idea that the meat was more important than the brand absolutely hilarious.

“Some idiots say, Tom,” John said in between gushes of laughter, “that the meat is the brand!” Tom looked at him for a moment and then literally rolled around the floor laughing.

Where do people get these crazy ideas from? Don’t they know that coming up with meaningless, interchangeable taglines like: “Live life at a faster pace” is much more important than the quality of the product or service? Haven’t they learned from the magicians of marketing and branding that it’s all about coming up with a compelling story? That the right font and the right color are the quickest way to a customer’s credit card?

Branding is bull, and that’s a fact. Branding in practice is the manipulation of human emotion, the targeting of human weaknesses, the wrapping of the product in an image that has got nothing to do with the product itself. The gushing, smiling faces of actors pretending to be customers. Branding is the mark of the establishment. The opposite of authenticity.

Yes, we humans are fools and we have long fallen for branding and the whole school of psychological manipulation that goes behind it. But there is a reaction underway. Many of us are getting tired of being fools and being fooled. We go to the Web now, to search, to research, to check the facts, to read up on what people like us who have bought the product have experienced.

Gerry McGovern

I encourage you to follow McGovern. On Twitter, he’s @gerrymcgovern.

Subscribe to his newsletter at: http://www.gerrymcgovern.com/new-thinking

College Changes Name Again: I Told You This Was a Mistake!

Do you ever have those days when you feel vindicated and can say to the world, “I told you so?” I’m having one of those days today!

Back in August, 2012, I first weighed in on a controversial name change of a university in Georgia. The short version is that two schools were merging, branding recommendations were made and the regents of the university system discounted the facts and renamed the university what they wanted it to be called.

At the time, I said, “I’ll be interested to see how this plays out. If, in fact, the Georgia regents did go against research when choosing the name of the combined university, they’ll be in trouble. This never works out well.” [emphasis added]

And guess what? They are now changing the name again. To what the top choice was then.

Millions of dollars were spent on this campaign before they surrendered to the inevitable. When will they ever learn, eh?

Monkey See

monkee

Image|monkees.net

This was my visual aid at today’s staff meeting.

In case you are not familiar with Polish, it translates to “Not my circus, not my monkey.”

I’ve been working my fingers to the bone for the last six months to try to get a group of very capable, creative, intelligent people to coalesce as a team and it occurred to me that part of the problem is this “not my circus, not my monkey” syndrome. In other words: not doing that, it’s not my job.

But the flip-side of that is, we work in a highly collaborative industry. Marketing and communications require you to reach across the aisle, to blur barriers, to bring in new voices, to challenge long-held perceptions, so sometimes when you are working on a highly-detailed deadline-driven project, maybe you should step back and ask, “is this my monkey or someone else’s?”

If the answer is someone else’s, then please, for the love of God, let them do their own job. Fixing their problem before they know it’s a problem may seem like a good idea, but it does not allow them to learn to do it right.

Part of working as a team is jumping in when you are needed and knowing when not to.

Good Experience: The Key to Consumer Interaction

Excellent report here from Marketing Charts which shares the results of a global survey of the ideal customer experience. I find the results more than a little intriguing. Also, before you run out and change your customer engagement strategy, I would caution you to note the worldwide nature of the study: only 8% of respondents were from the U.S.

EIU-Elements-Ideal-Customer-Experience-Apr2015Still, that doesn’t mean it’s bad data. What it means is that the numbers might skew a bit differently if these were U.S.-only numbers.

I find this interesting:

Overall, 71% of respondents said their typical response to a bad experience is to stop doing business with the company. A slight majority (55%) typically tell friends and family about it in person or by email, while 42% said they complain to the company and 26% post a comment on social media.

Now, that should tell you something. The impact of bad experiences with your business or organization is a game changer. Or at least it should be. If just under three-quarters of the people who have a bad experience with you leave and don’t come back — and tell a friend about it — you soon won’t have any customers left.

The curious thing is that the numbers for outstanding experiences show that slightly less people will share if they are happy. In other words, you’ll know when someone is pissed!

Last year, I had two online retail experiences of note. I had never dealt with either company before. The first was for a big ticket item. The second was for a very minor purchase. The first experience was the worst experience I have ever had and I will never, ever use this company again. The second was the polar opposite: they sent me a new product, on their dime, with expedited shipping. And then called me to make sure it was okay. I am quite sure that they lost money on that transaction.

But here’s the thing, they had no idea that I would ever be able to share those feelings or encourage others to purchase from them (LampsUSA).

As for the other (Cymax), one can’t say enough bad words. Stay away.

For the survey, H/T Gerry McGovern.

Open E-Mail Much?

I think that I can speak for every single one of us when I say, “We get too damn much e-mail.” And yet, today’s workplace would grind to an absolute halt without it. Sometimes, though, it seems that the workday grinds to a halt because of it.

Don’t you self-filter? Even if you don’t set up folders and filters and tracks and every other slotting and sorting device for your e-mail. What do you choose to open?

Here’s a very interesting piece about personalization and how important it is to boost your open rates. I am ever-frustrated with those in my workplace who don’t see the benefits of electronic communication and even worse, those who don’t understand why it’s important to get people to open the e-mail.

Read this. Experiment. Let me know how your next personalized campaign ran.

Content Marketing: Everything Old is New Again

Content Marketing. What the hell is that? Well, that’s a 2015 buzzword — “content marketing” — but what it really means is engaging your audience by providing interesting and informative content surrounding your particular core brand/institution/performance piece/school/breed of dog/type of frozen juice/political party. What. Ever.

I’m old enough to have lived through several iterations of this being the hot thing. The problem is, people forget and move on to something different and then a new generation, understanding that something is wrong, discovers content again, has a Eureka! moment, and brings it back into the spotlight.

With the exception of platform, i.e., the web, there’s not a damn bit of this that I wasn’t doing *choke* two decades ago. And for the record, most of my peers thought I was NUTS … until I started getting results that they could only dream of.

Here’s a link to a good short bit on Good Monster about content marketing. All the info is good. Use it.

While I was scrolling through the video embedded in that link, another one caught my eye. It’s below. And it’s just bang on the money. Give that man a gold star.

Now, one last word about content marketing. It is not enough to have good content on your site. You must make it easy to access on your easy-to-navigate website. I don’t need to see a beautiful big picture of a tree; just give me the damn story, well told.