The Wisdom of Leadership: Shaping Events

I’ve been blessed to work alongside many leaders. Mitchell Myers is one of those individuals. In his semester at DCTC, Mitchell wrote two great reflections on leadership. I am honored to share the first of these here.

                 Mitchell Myers, guest author               Myers

Change is a key challenge for the 21st-century business leader. The adaptive skills necessary to achieve success in a shifting culture and marketplace rely on an increasingly comprehensive knowledge base. Leadership, risk management, inventory management, and the development and training of employees –all of these are things that can make or break a business, as well as a guest’s experience. Whether it be in a hotel, a grocery store, your local bakery, or even your local pizza shop, these controllables are universal in nature. What does it take to be successful as a 21st-century business person? Knowing your market is one of the many keys to success, but does it end there? If one knows the market, price points, as well as the culture, the journey has only just begun. There must be new, bold ideas for the future workforce. While numbers, calculations, and measurements of success are written in stone; the changing dynamics of culture, population, sociopolitical aspects, “acts of God,” and “acts of nature” have an overwhelming force on success.

As leaders, learners, and experiencers, how do we face these change factors in business and in our personal lives? This is not a black or white issue. As we fight for success and influence our way to prosperity, we must not only be accepting of change, but also agents of it.

Agents of change and business success are all around us. One simply needs to strike up a conversation to learn more. In this article, there will be stories across different industries. We will take a look a suburban hotel that I returned to visit after their remodeling, and in follow-up, to an interview I performed there during my first year of college. Then we will visit with local grocery store managers about satisfied customers and employee development. We will glimpse wisdom gleaned in my interview with the CEO of a theater corporation. Lastly, we will explore how to apply these lessons learned in everyday situations to achieve leadership success.

The first step in leadership is to not only know yourself and the people you will be leading. After we figure out how to apply these lessons learned, we will consider how to measure results, and success, as well as define it. In the end, we will bring all of these pieces together to form a vision and roadmap to success for any organization.

Our first story comes from a suburban hotel I originally visited when they were in the process of getting new carpet, renovating rooms, and hiring new staff. I recently had the opportunity to meet with the day manager.The first thing I asked her was, “What made you realize that you wanted to work in the hotel business?” She said that she started working at a local grocery store chain. Through customer interactions and doing sales projects, she decided that her calling was working at a hotel. I asked her if she likes her job as well as and what makes her feel secure about working in the industry? She stated there are certain standards just as any restaurant or business would have, but most of all there is a push for consistent service. When you go to any of this hotel chain’s locations, guests expect the same service and consistency of their room product. The hotel chain is known for uniformity of their brand standard.

She was very busy answering phones, and greeting guests when I was there. At the next opportunity, I was able to ask a few more questions so I inquired about her next career move and asked if she would like to advance to another position in the hotel or continue her work at the front desk. She replied that she wants to be a general manager one day, or run a small hotel of her own in the southwest. Now that she had stated her goal, I wanted to know how she measures her success. She said that as long as she keeps her job, and is at the same level, or running her property- she is successful. She said she would achieve success if she were, “able to save more money than I spend, if I can feed my kids and send them off to college, and retire happily.” About job satisfaction, she said it is what you make of it. “It is all about if the customers are happy, and the company is making money. You have to be clear about standards to the customers and the employees. If any issues arise, such as somebody not enjoying their stay, you have to get to what they really want specifically.”

“What alternatives can you suggest to the guest to make them happy?” I asked. She replied, “An advantage, for example, to giving a dissatisfied customer a free stay, would be that of not losing a customer. The disadvantage would be not making a profit on the room.” I then asked her about the challenges of her career. She stated that the biggest challenge was the hours of work, and being on call many times during the week. She said while that is a big problem, the money she earns makes up for it. It’s always a challenge being away from family, she said. “The biggest problem with being a single mother and working at a hotel is that the time I spend working overtime is time away from my family.” She also stated, “The money is good, so it overshadows the fact that you’re away from your family a big chunk of the time.” I ended our conversation with a question about industry trends. She thinks the huge jump in technology over the last ten years or so for lower-end hotels like hers will start to snowball. She said she had seen other hotels with touchscreen pads, and self-check-in systems, as well as the “ICloud”, and very advanced property management systems. She believes technology will be a huge factor in guest experience during the coming years.

What I learned during my visit at the hotel is that this is a constant, living, and breathing company. The management is very business-oriented, and to my surprise, very educated on aspects of clarity, precision, and consistency. For these reasons, lessons learned from this hotel chain model will be important to my success in the future. The service this location provides and the integrity of the management made my day. And, I wasn’t even a customer! I learned that just being honest and specific in regards to the outcome of the stay, and how the guests can expect consistency no matter what day, year, or location, makes the community a better place to live. Other important “take-aways” from this visit include:

Treat customers with honesty and respect.
Be upfront and specific.
Do everything possible to ensure the customer will return one day.

Now let us take a look at the local grocery store. This particular store is part of a large grocery chain. In a previous job, I worked at a competitive grocery chain. I started as a grocery bagger and then worked my way up to being scheduled in every department, as well as in sales. When that store closed, many staff members were hired by the grocery store discussed here. It was nice to talk to my previous managers and leaders about growth, customer loyalty, as well as training and developing employees. I asked my previous deli manager what it takes to satisfy customers in this industry. He stated, “To satisfy customers you must attract them first.” He continued, “It starts with pricing and product promotion. Once you have a new product, you must find the price point. What are people willing to pay based on their perception of its value? It is about creating a high demand for a product at a higher price of the actual value.” This made me connect the dots from when I was working in his deli as a teenager. In that position I was slicing the meat, putting it in the trays, keeping it fluffed, and adding a piece of wet lettuce to the front of it by the price tag to create a feeling of value and freshness.

Next, I asked both the deli manager and the store director their thoughts on training and developing employees. For them, it all starts with knowing how to make sandwiches, measuring prep amounts, and learning how to price by weight. They stated that food safety is “number one,” and pointed out that sick customers do not come back. I had to get both managers back on track to discuss new training programs, and I was surprised when they indicated there wasn’t one. There are no manuals, training videos, or laminates that allow for training. The corporation relies on the management team of each store to guide employees through expectations by talking and showing. This raised a big red flag for me. Why do they not have a variety of training tools based on the learning styles of trainees? This method lacks consistency. Every manager at each store will have their way of doing things, and they may very well have blinders on.

I believe that new methods of training are needed for the future workforce. Corporations must have a diverse strategy in place to allow all learners to succeed. While I am a newly “minted” management college graduate, it is my opinion that these managers have been clowning around too long with training. Years ago when I was a teenage trainee supervised by these managers, they relied on visual learning; i.e. fluffing the meat to see if it looks right. They continue to use the same ideas they used at the failed store they were at before.

These grocery managers may be able to take advantage of a new training program if they wish to create one. I shared a training outline I created and use at Papa John’s Pizza:

What do customers value?
a.) What we offer is more than pizza, it is an experience.
b.) Customer perceptions ( group discussion on perceptions and reality)
c.) Discussion: Ways we used previously to resolve customer complaints ( transition to LAST)
1.) LAST
a.) Group think: What does it mean to listen, apologize, solve and thank? (Show customer email from corporate showing how it really does work)
b.) Explanation of LAST when dealing with angry or upset customers. (role play in groups of 2)
2.) The new and improved TOOL KIT
a.) Vote on what is most needed during shifts based on experiences (coupons, online promo codes, word lists to use when on the phone)
b.) Show results, and hand team members items voted on to put in the toolkit.) Have team members choose an accessible place for it to be at all times, with a document sheet on which team members write down what they took from the kit with date and initials
c.) Have team members choose an accessible place for it to be at all times, with a document sheet on which team members write down what they took from the kit with date and initials
3.) Retaining business- why it is important
a.) 9 out of 10 people do not let us know when they are upset or unsatisfied ( show figures)
b.) If one person is upset, they will tell others ( show the pyramid diagram)
c.) Discuss why it is important to have a secure customer base ( a.k.a. “Regulars”)
d.) Questions? Concerns? How can I help you all to make this a more fun and enjoyable place of work?

We discussed that this type of training outline would give the grocery store managers an opportunity to inspire, train, and develop their team based on individual learning styles. This meeting was a learning experience for me. The managers received my ideas well and may consider a program like this in the future. Overall, I accept that people can be resistant to change.

To move toward real 21st-century leadership, we must have a strategy and vision. A look back at my interview with the theater corporation CEO gives us this needed guidance. In a previous paper, I wrote about his advice regarding training staff, growing management skills and developing leadership when the time is right. His ideas are sound, and his business is successful, so I was honored when he called me to assist me with this paper. He had a few more ideas for me to share here. They involve how to become a leader within an organization, as well as staff. He made the point that “The biggest thing that impacts leadership of teams for me was never to ask anybody to do anything that you are not willing to do yourself.” He went on to explain that leaders of today must be different from those of yesterday. They must throw away the “eyes wide shut” philosophy of problem-solving, and see a problem before it arises. He always uses the following when looking at a problem:

Assess the situation to determine if there really is a crisis or problem
Identify the steps to make it right
Respond with conviction, and attract positive results

He uses this method when solving crises at his theaters. While this “AIR” method is simple, it really can be used universally to keep any team or leader grounded when issues arise. He also reiterated a point he made in the last talk I had with him, which involves being a leader during trainee development. “The biggest thing is to give people good direction and then leave them alone; do not micro-manage. Never second guess your team; they will notice if you do. Always correct mistakes after, not during the training.” Leadership requires time, flexibility, commitment to the cause, and knowledge. I prompted him about what the most difficult part of training a management team was. He stated, “The biggest hill to climb with managers in training is the aspect of controlling costs and inventory management. Most of us are not number-oriented. It is a learned skill. Most people tend to be idea- and big picture-oriented. Numbers help you measure success and plan financial security within a business. The good thing about most business owners I know is that they have the ability to purchase numerous information systems that allow for numeric analysis.” I find this to be very true, because, at Papa John’s Pizza, our labor %, sales, and projected sales are computed by a focus system. The numbers are continuously being calculated. You just have to know what they mean in the big picture.

Many people, like myself, see math and anything related to it as a burden. Through my college experience, I have been able to relate to numbers and how they are applied in the business world. Fear of mathematics was only a phobia and a lack of understanding. The more I learned, the more numbers made sense. Being able to use numbers to calculate items such as ADR, RevPAR, labor costs, and revenue per square foot allows the bigger ideas to settle in my mind. With numbers, I have to be able to relate them to something in the business world so I can understand them. To me, the idea of mathematics seemed too abstract and distant. Now that I am over that fear I have confidence and security with numeric measures. In fact, I rely on them.

After learning about the struggles of everyday business people such as a hotel day manager, grocery store director, deli manager, and even a President and CEO, I find it is time to come up with an idea for a business. I believe this research exercise helped me move toward that goal with knowledge and creativity.

To be a leader; one must know every aspect of his or her industry. Right now, I am working at Papa John’s, and learning more every day about making big purchasing decisions. The business idea is “Mitch’s Pizza and Wings.” In planning the business, I wrote a purchasing manual that I believe could get a purchasing manager started and is an example of what I might choose to use at a restaurant. Aside from hiring a cohesive team, purchasing decisions are the biggest decisions a new businessperson can make. From choosing suppliers to product specifications, and even storage, creative leadership must be shown during purchasing to ensure a unique and thriving business. All suppliers are real, and prices and weights are accurate in Mitch’s Pizza and Wings purchasing manual.

Leadership is many things, including leading, training and developing employees, purchasing, and more. How is success measured? What is success? Is success measured by personal wealth or the wealth of people within an organization? In my opinion, success is measured by completion of the specified strategy. Did each member of the team do their best to fulfill their designated part, and express their talents? What if each member of the team did their best, followed assigned tasks by the leader, and yet still failed? I have learned that this is a successful failure. A successful failure is when a team did their best to complete that project or objective, did all the right things, and yet the result wasn’t what was intended. They learned from that failure and will apply those lessons in the future. Education is a lifelong journey, so a team that failed can pick up the pieces, learn from their mistakes, and gives it another shot, is ultimately a success.

Success is also measured by not only meeting marks with numbers but by emotions. Do the team members find satisfaction in the results, and do they find satisfaction in the leader? Success is defined many ways by many cultures and societies, but there is one universal norm: Community. Does the success of a business or project ripple out and make an impact on the lives of the community? Your family? Your neighbors? This term may be too broad for some, but it is universally the norm.

Community is the center of our lives and our businesses. Everything we do as individuals affects every person around us, either directly or indirectly. Decisions made at the corporate level trickle down and affect the lives of each worker. The same goes for smaller groups, such as a 12 person corporate team or even teams at the small business down the street. I have learned that if I am to be an executive leading an organization one day, I must be just as involved as the front desk representative, or the brand manager. All levels of a company that I would run would see me every day, working the floor. Managers “lead” from behind a desk, leaders make a call to action, walk the floor to observe operations, and pitch in to show solidarity. We are all connected in big and small ways. A 21st-century leader must know this, and be there for her or his team 24/7 if prosperity and vitality are to be achieved. A teacher told me one time, “Those who run the world, always show up.” This is so true. A leader must take a stand, not sit behind a desk and hope success falls into place.

Citations
http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/, USDA standards for Poultry, and Fresh Vegetables.
http://www.rochestercheese.com/ , Rochester Cheese Company, amounts and measures
Patt Patterson, “Single Source of Supply: Does it really work?” Nation’s restaurant news, July 19th 1993 p. 109
Aaron Prather, “Inventory Management— The principles of effective implementation”, retrieved 12/14/2013 from ezinarticles.com
http://www.retrieversetc.com/Anderson.htm, Anderson Produce Co. Inc, facts and figures on portion size and weight.
http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/freshvegforprocessingstandards, Standard for vegetables
Kreitner, Robert. Foundations of Management: Basics and Best Practices. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2005. Print.

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