4 SmallBiz Keys to Success From Fieri

If you are a successful small business owner, chances are high that you didn’t get to that place without some setbacks. Rare is the one who never experiences setbacks–in business or life. However, in the sentiment of “turning lemons into lemonade,” it is important that we never allow the setbacks to keep us under. Guy Fieri of Food Network fame certainly has attained some notoriety. We love to watch his show Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives and have visited several of the restaurants featured on the show.

Guy has a certain flair about him–he of the big hair, fancy sports car, and distinctive gotee. Years ago, he and a friend, Steve Gruber, launched their successful food careers with Johnny Garlic’s, two California-style restaurants. The original location in Santa Rosa caught fire one night in 2001. Undeterred, the pair launched another restaurant in 2003, Tex Wasabi’s, which also developed a loyal following. A year later, Russell Ramsay’s Chop House replaced the first Johnny Garlic and the due felt they had come full circle. However, Russell Ramsay’s was slow to get off the ground. Tinkering with the menu and trying to woo former customers back were unsuccessful in helping turn things around.

Gwen Moran, writing for Entrepreneur, shares Guy’s journey:

…one day, Fieri was sitting at a traffic light, when a guy in the car next to him called over and asked, “Hey, why didn’t you reopen Johnny Garlic’s?” Fieri replied, “I did. It’s the Chop House.” His former customer said he couldn’t afford to eat at the Chop House, and he missed the original restaurant.

That was Fieri’s light-bulb moment. Customers wanted the familiar place they had grown to love. The Chop House gave off a too-rich-for-our-blood vibe—not a good fit for the eatery’s largely blue-collar following. Within a year, the Chop House closed and reopened Johnny Garlic’s, business was up 25 percent within the first month.

Moran says that Fieri learned four lessons from his experience:

1. Listen to feedback from your customers. If Fieri hadn’t paid attention to the guy who spoke to him at the red light, he might have continued trying to get customers to accept something they just didn’t want.

2. Understand your customers’ perception of your business. The Chop House menu wasn’t significantly more expensive than Johnny Garlic’s, but people thought it was. That’s what mattered — and what kept them away.

3. Check your ego at the door. Fieri could easily have let his track record as a successful restaurateur go to his head instead of admitting that the Chop House wasn’t the best fit. Really listen when you get feedback from customers and employees, he says. They’re telling you how you can be better.

4. Don’t give up on your dream. Find a way to make your dream work, even if you have to keep experimenting with new ideas and approaches until something sticks. “Surround yourself with good people who are dedicated and have good ideas, and can help you see what you’re missing. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water [when times get tough],” he says.

These are four watchwords for any business owner. After we’ve been in business a while, it is so easy to forget what/who helped bring you to that point. Without competitive advantage, a business is not successful. Without customers, there can be no competitive advantage. Inattention to input and thoughts about your business leads to a lack of customers. A willingness to adapt to what the market needs is key to business success. Finally, as Fieri suggests, perseverance is the “glue” that holds it all together.


Entrepreneur, Not CEO

Everybody (entrepreneur) calling himself or herself a CEO—listen up, this is for you: stop it. Calling yourself the CEO will label you as either an egoist or someone with confidence compensation issues. That will make people less willing to work with you or help you. Taking the top title in a company also suggests a limited vision of what your company can become. Ask yourself: would you still be CEO if it were a $100 billion business or would you require what’s euphemistically called “adult supervision?”

So stop pretending to have attained a title you didn’t earn and start doing what you need to do to get to where you want to be. Here’s how:

Attract Awesome People

Jobs had Wozniak and later, Markkula. Clark had Andreessen. McNeally had Bechtolsheim, Joy and Khosla. A remarkable CEO should be like the moon, illuminated by the reflected light of all the stars he or she has brought into orbit. Awesome people act as accelerants to whatever you’re doing. They push ideas forward, execute with aplomb and challenge you to new heights.

If you can hire, hire. If you can’t hire, bring them into your orbit as advisors, friends and fellow travelers. Get them to invest their creativity and energy. To get the true benefits of awesome people, focus on diversity. You want to have as many different perspectives on a problem as you possibly can, so bring on the best people from as wide array of backgrounds and from different generations. They’ll learn from each other and the confluence of their experiences will be the basis of company creativity for years to come.

Most importantly, attracting awesome people to your company precludes retreat. You carry too valuable a cargo of energy and confidence invested by others to turn back.

Build an Experience, Not a Product

Eric Ries has put the concept of the minimally viable product (MVP) front and center in the minds of Silicon Valley startups. But this focus is somewhat misguided. Products give you utility and then may be discarded. Products are the one-night stands of business. Experiences give you memories and good experiences will bring you back for more, it engenders a long-term relationship. The best CEOs know this instinctively and do all that they can to create and cultivate an attractive experience for their customers.

Once you’ve got a good experience, cement it with the bond of buying..That price tag is valuable to you too. It focuses the mind tremendously and forces you to deliver a unique and memorable experience of real value. When you offer a product for free, you aren’t forced to justify your existence to customers or show a useful benefit..

Learn Finance

If you wanted to be a rock star, you’d have to learn to read music and if you wanted to be an award-winning novelist, you’d have to learn basic grammar. It should not come as a surprise that if you want to be the CEO of a business you should learn finance. Yet we regularly see founders blowing off finance or outsourcing major financial decisions to hired guns..

For startups, there’s one important financial metric that matters more than any other: months left to live given your current burn rate. Real CEOs know this number and manage it religiously.

Define a Big Goal and Take Small Steps

Plenty of wannabe Silicon Valley CEOs have read Jim Collins and will tell you about their BHAG (That’s their Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal). They’ll tell you that they want to revolutionize the datacenter, or change the face of mobile payments, or create a new paradigm for social sharing, or something equally nebulous. That’s great. But it’s the ability to both set that goal and show how you’re going to achieve it that marks a real CEO.

Successful CEOs balance aspirations with operations. They focus on things that can be done today to secure customers and growth over time—not on the title they put on their business cards.

The quoted text above is from a post by Alexander Haislip that appeared on TechCrunch recently. Thanks to blogger Beverly J. Conquest for posting an excerpt on her blog, Accounting & Small Business|Beverly Shares.

Better Feedback Models

Traditionally feedback has been seen as occurring externally between a customer and a provider and internally as flowing from a manager to a direct report. Many changes in the work environment, including self-directed project teams, matrix management, flat organizational structures, and doing more with less resources, lead employees to work more closely with one another and become less dependent on management to provide them with feedback.

The Feedback Cycle graphic below illustrates that, these days, we must recognize that feedback – from project team members, peers, and direct reports – is the primary way to give and provide information and suggestions to each other to improve work output and performance. We must also be certain to listen for emotions and feelings as part of the feedback process. Whether your role is within a multinational corporation or a small start-up, the need to look around you 360 degrees and see yourself and your work product as others see it is critical to charting your own and team success.

Within the field of emotional intelligence, there’s a best practice of trying to see matters from another’s perspective. It is in this ability to “be on the outside looking in,” observing our decisions as a series of choices based on information we have processed, that we gain insight, perspective, and mutually desirable outcomes. Intentionally studying how our actions will affect others, asking for their input, and incorporating a “win-win” scenario into our decisions makes for better management of self, projects, and others.

In the start-up world, the Feedback Model can be used to test and validate “fit” with co-founders, employees, strategic vendors, investors, professional services providers, and so on. If the other party is not incorporating your input into their communication, planning, and execution, they are not a good fit. Likewise, if we are not able to receive feedback from others, we will not be successful in executing our business/departmental/project strategy.

Reverse the Mentoring Stereotype

In its most common context, mentoring is understood as someone with experience (and a few grey hairs!) showing someone younger how to perform key job functions. Yet, one of the hottest trends in human resources is termed “reverse mentoring.” Whether due to job loss and the need for new training, or “Second Act” entrepreneurship, or simply the precipitous amount of change being introduced in organizations trying to compete globally, there has arisen a need for this practice where younger workers are now showing the older ones “the ropes.”

While the concept is that exposure to those outside the corporate suite may be good for staying in touch with the values held by newer workers, there are several other benefits. Higher employee retention rates among younger workers are cited as an unexpected, but welcome outcome. Exposure to management issues and how decisions are made are additional upsides.

When Jack Welch was the CEO of General Electric, he  was mentored on how to use the internet by a young employee in her 20s. He saw such promise from the process that he mandated that 500 of his top executives reach out to younger employees to do likewise. These days, mentees are learning how to use social media effectively from their younger mentors. Even at top ad agencies like Ogilvy & Mather, a worldwide managing director admitted that his more youthful mentors had shown him how to enhance his Twitter posts to be less boring. His eyes have been opened to new possibilities and he now plans to utilize Skype and videoconferencing to facilitate distance mentoring across the firm’s 450 offices. HP & Cisco also have reverse mentoring programs in place.

Michelle Rafter, in a blog post entitled “8 Ways to Make a Reverse Mentorship Work For You,” suggests the following guidelines:

1. Find a compatible partner –someone with skills in areas you’re lacking

2. Set expectations- create ground rules for what you want out of a partnership, such as how often you’ll meet and what both parties will get out of it

3. Get your boss’s OK- A lot of reciprocal mentoring can happen on an informal basis. But if you want or need to set up a formal program, you’ll need your manager’s or company’s approval.

4. Be open to suggestions and criticism- learn in days from someone else what one could take decades otherwise by having a thick skin

5. Make it more than just about tech- maybe a younger person could help you learn about sushi, Chinese, popular music, or even how to lead the next generation more effectively

6. Give as much as you get-the relationship should be mutually beneficial

7. Experiment with approaches– a single department, a program that crosses departments, and a multitude of variations

8. Don’t stereotype- not every 45-year-old has the same knowledge or expertise, so don’t assume every Gen Y worker does, either.

Using EQ to Plan Management Succession

How to go about preparing a privately owned business for management succession… 

GDF Professional Services had been a successful company for over 10 years in the business of providing organizational development consulting. Located in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina, the firm had capitalized on the local economic growth and availability of talented human capital. Over the past few years, the platform included leadership, change management & organizational psychology services for local companies. While most clients had 30-100 employees, some were smaller, and others were considered “middle market.”

The two primary owners, “G” & “D”, had determined that they desired to cut back on their hours at work and aimed to eventually hand the business over to a strong management team. However, management group members, while strong in their individual disciplines, had not coalesced into a cohesive team and were unprepared to succeed the founders in running the company on a daily basis.

The challenge was to help the managers prepare to take over and prepare the owners to begin to step aside. To do so would require innovation in the business model, systems, processes, and offerings of the Firm. In order to introduce innovation, a baseline needed to be established and performance measured. One of the best predictors of decision-making habits among managers is a behavioral assessment that measures one’s Emotional Quotient (EQ). Scheduling mentoring sessions to discuss competencies followed the administration of the EQ assessment.

     As the management team members began to share not just facts, but heartfelt emotions, dreams, and recommendations, it was necessary to have a process to capture and assimilate all the content. Each mentee meeting, each owner meeting, each team meeting was captured in detailed notes. Additionally, consultative questions in the individual sessions regarding assigned EQ worksheet exercises yielded additional insights. The information was culled weekly for follow-up items on the individual and team level, as well as combed for items to take up within strategy sessions with the owners. A rudimentary knowledge management system was put in place for this purpose.

Nearing the six month mark, the group was becoming anxious as to what was to follow. Someone suggested that the EQ mentoring continue at the staff level so that staff members could benefit from the same body of knowledge and practice that the leadership team had. Simultaneously, the owners agreed to undergo EQ mentoring themselves in order to enhance credibility with their key reports.

The other signs of progress were:

  • The weekly management team meetings were supplemented with weekly departmental meetings that did not require the presence of the owners
  • The weekly individual mentoring sessions were replaced with monthly sessions, but weekly exercises continued
  • The weekly group educational sessions were replaced with bi-weekly ones
  • The owners agreed to hold a year-end retreat to discuss drafting a succession plan

More work needed to be done in terms of clarifying roles and responsibilities, the funding source for the succession plan, selecting a leader from within the management team or from the outside, and insisting that the owners go on record as to what they will hand off when and to whom. However, all were very encouraged at the likelihood of success based on the transformation of the culture experienced during the process.