Make Something Special

August 4th, 2017 by jtubbs

If you want to have a really special business, well . . . I know it’s obvious, but I’ll state it anyway: the product has to be really special, too. I’m not saying it has to be expensive. Just special. Exceptional. Engaging. Interesting. Better still, unique. (Or at least unique to your part of the world—pimento cheese is found in just about every kitchen in the South, but in Ann Arbor you won’t find it anywhere but Zingerman’s . . . at least not yet!) Put something out there that people will get excited about, take note of, talk about, and want to actively get behind, through good times and bad. I’m sure there are exceptions to this rule, but almost any great company that comes to mind was built around a special product or service.

Keep in mind that even products that now seem unremarkable were once unique. Offering drive-in restaurant service was something special back when the McDonald brothers got going, and the burgers probably weren’t all that bad, either. Parking outside the Golden Arches back in the day was a cool thing to do—not just something you did for convenience or to keep your kids quiet. Sears was once a huge innovator in catalog sales and service, not just a department store struggling to survive in the 21st century mall. (They were social innovators, too: check out the Rosenwald schools, started by part owner and president, Julius Rosenwald, back in the early years of the 20th century.)

Excerpt from Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading, Part 1: A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Building a Great Business

Secret #18


Find the Positives

July 14th, 2017 by jtubbs

An excerpt from Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading, Part 4: A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to The Power of Beliefs in Business, Secret #41.

It’s not easy to stay positive in a world in which we’re surrounded by cynicism, knocked down by tragedy in the news, trying to work through illness and uncertainty in our personal lives. But even a mindful and imperfect effort to keep moving in the right direction makes a difference. We feel better when we’re walking the path we chose to be on, regardless of how hard it may be in the moment. Emotional resilience gains respect, which builds inner strength.

I’m all about win-win, but emotion is essentially a zero sum game. When a culture is filled with harsh criticism, naysaying, blaming, and behind-the-back baloney, there’s not much room left for the light and upbeat. An environment like that is very vulnerable to disaster. The best way to move out the negative is to fill the ecosystem with affirmative and appreciative approaches. Weeds may still grow, but they’re peripheral. The more we fill our spaces and our spirits with appreciation—the real thing, not inauthentic superficial sweetness that sends nice sentiments that we clearly don’t mean—the better things are going to go. As Henri Matisse said, “There are always flowers for those who want to see them.”

It’s certainly proven true for us at Zingerman’s. It’s right there in the 12th Natural Law of Business: “Great organizations are appreciative, and the people in them have more fun.” To quote positive-psychology professor Martin Seligman, “Positive mood produces broader attention, more creative thinking, and more holistic thinking. This, in contrast to negative mood, which produces narrowed attention, more critical thinking, and more analytic thinking.” Data show a connection in positive work environments to lower staff turnover, better mental health, higher immune-system function, and fewer sick days taken. (If you don’t believe all that, maybe skip to Secret #43 and explore whether you might want to change that belief.)

If you believe, as I do, that there’s some good and some not so good in most situations, it can be challenging to quickly identify the upside. I was raised to focus on finding the flaws first, then argue about the right answer, and finally fix what was wrong. I know I’m not alone in that. Rebecca Solnit notes, “Yiddish can describe defects of character with the precision that Inuit describe ice or Japanese rain.” American Jews swapped Yiddish for English, but the thinking process didn’t change. I learned how to argue, how to think quickly, how to push forward through adversity, how to have emotional resilience.

But, still, I’m glad I moved on. Finding the flaws first—other than in an emergency where urgent action is the point—almost always leads to failure. Even in the darkest of days, there are plenty of positive things happening. Everything we know about our minds says that the more we focus on those positive things, the more positive things are going to happen. Wendell Berry suggests, “Maybe the answer is to fight always for what you particularly love, not for abstractions and not against anything: don’t fight against even the devil, and don’t fight to ‘save the world.’”

A small story from my childhood comes to mind. When my grandmother used to go shopping, she was sure that most shopkeepers were out to cheat her. She was very diligent—watching their work for short weighting, or in case they should try to surreptitiously slip in some subpar product. She’s not the only one—when I go to markets I often see people digging through piles of produce to find just the “right” piece of fruit or ear of corn. If you look up at the vendors while their customers are doing this, sometimes you’ll see them smirking slightly and biting their tongues. My own approach is the opposite of my grandmother’s. Instead of treating the farmers as potential antagonists, I appeal to the farmer’s expertise and integrity. When they ask me which pint of peaches I want, I ask them to just give me the one they think is best. I can’t prove that what I get is any better than what my grandmother got. But I’m confident that my life is less stressful and that going to the market is a much more enjoyable experience for me.

Practical Tips

• Use the Three and Out Rule. This is a little self-management mechanism I made up a few years back and wrote about in Part 1 (on page 214, if you want to see it in the original). It’s such an eminently effective tool that I couldn’t stand to leave it out of this piece just because I’d already put it in print earlier. It goes like this: When I feel my energy sliding into the negative realm, I find someone around me—whether in person, on the phone, or via email—and I thank them. Sincerely. For something that they’ve done that I honestly appreciate. I always get back positive energy from doing this.

Then I immediately find someone else and do it again. Bingo. I get back more positive energy. Within a matter of minutes, I repeat my act of appreciation a third time. Voil.! More good energy comes my way. In the face of all that positivity, I simply cannot stay in a bad mood. The smiles, the warmth, and the wealth of good feeling that others give me for having unexpectedly appreciated them always turns my day around. And, if my mood gets better, consider the impact on the rest of our organization. Talk about time as an investment. What better use of 10 minutes can you imagine than doing the Three and Out Rule? Try it out. Three and Out is great stuff!

• Try the Three Good Things exercise. I learned this one from positive psychologist Martin Seligman. Every day write down three good things that happened to you. Then, for each, answer these questions: Why did this thing happen to me? What does it mean to me? How can I have more of it in the future? I’ve used the technique myself and taught it to others, too. It works. Over time, people build the habit of seeing more of the good things that were there all along. And guess what? More good things start to happen all the time.

• Flood with positivity. Noting three good things daily works well over a period of weeks. But sometimes, when I’m in a dark space, I don’t have time to wait. This technique can turn my day around in a matter of minutes. I just pull out my journal and start listing all the good things I have around me and in my life. It’s the emotional equivalent of flooding rice fields. The water kills off the weeds. By the time I’ve listed like 20 or 30 great things, I’m usually back to a more centered place. The whole process generally takes me less than five minutes.

• Offer appreciations at the end of meetings. When you’re getting ready to wrap up any formal group meeting, pause for four or five minutes of appreciations. Anyone in the room can appreciate anyone or anything they want. It’s informal and no one is required to speak. Most people usually do, though. It’s a great way to get ourselves focused on all the good around us before we head back into the day-to-day work world. (For more on how we do it, see Secret #13, in Part 1.) We’ve been doing this for 20 years now, and I swear by it. It’s simple; it’s free; it requires no software license; and other than possible awkwardness the first few times you do it, it can’t fail.

Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading: The Power of Beliefs in Business

Secret #41 Leading with Positive Beliefs


Effective Organizational Change

June 21st, 2017 by jtubbs

Step#1: Write Up the Clear and Compelling Purpose for Change

BLC begins with getting clear on the why behind the change. We want to get everyone on the same page—if we all agree on good reasons for the change, the odds that it will succeed increase greatly. As Detroit-based anarchist Jo Labadie said a century ago, “Discontent is the mother of progress.” Sharing our purpose for change:

a. Helps the change leader get really clear about why they believe the change is beneficial and how badly it’s needed. More often than not, I find that when I start to compile my case, the need for change looks even more compelling than I thought it was. On occasion, though, it isn’t as compelling. Either way, I’m clearer in my own head about why I’m after the change and why the course of action we’re embarking on is the right one. This clarity means I’m better able to explain my interests and am more likely to hold my ground when I meet with resistance en route.

b. Gets others clear on why the change is a good idea. Left to our own don’t-rock-the-boat devices, most of us aren’t usually all that bothered by the status quo … which means that pretty much everyone except the change leaders are likely to see the change at hand as a bother. If we want to get everyone to move forward with us toward a better future, we need to start by selling them on the process. This step is really as simple as that: tell the people who are going to be impacted why the change is worthwhile. Just list all the reasons why the change is a good one. (Note that “Because I said so!” should not be on the list. That’s only likely to send everyone in the direction opposite the one you want to take them. Royal edicts almost always elicit additional resistance.)

Often the issue is one of framing. For instance, the change leaders might have a strong sense that the marketplace is passing them by, that without a significant shift in the services they offer, the company is likely to lose significant sales. At the same time, frontline folks doing the daily work may not be watching social trends in the same way and might feel no need to adjust. Simply sharing a different perspective might be enough to get them on board—it helps show folks that the choice is to make significant and internally driven changes now or painful, market-imposed changes later. Given that choice, nearly everyone will choose the former option. (I should point out that this scenario can happen—and has happened—in reverse: employees see what’s happening, but leaders have their heads stuck in the sand. In that case, BLC can still be effective. The change leader would likely come from the front lines.)

Similarly, new government regulations, bad financing, or product innovations from a competitor all provide compelling reasons to change—but only if you know about them. The way things are might seem wonderful … until you find out that if things don’t change, the business is going to be shut down in six weeks. Then all of a sudden making changes sounds a lot more appealing!

Read more about the recipe in this pamphlet! Bottom Line Change: Zingerman’s Recipe for Effective Organizational Change.


Better Followership

June 15th, 2017 by jtubbs

Without effective followers no leader will get anything of consequence completed. The key is that followership shouldn’t be tied to hierarchy any more than leadership is. Regardless of who’s leading on any given day, others of us will need to follow. Just as frontline staff will be better off for learning to lead, so, too, will I and others at “the top” be better off when we’re learning to be good followers, getting on board and supporting constructive initiatives being led by others in the organization. What’s different in this model is that each of us can lead and each can follow, and we all need to be good at both roles; it’s not always easy, but I think it’s ultimately and infinitely more effective.

As Roadhouse hostess Fionna Gault reminded me, good following is fed by, follows from, and leads to, good leadership. “Being a good leader and a good follower are pretty darn close to the same thing,” she said. I hadn’t thought of it that way, but I think she’s right. I’m going to follow her lead and include her comments here. “I might even say that being a good follower is being a good leader in a way. When you decide to follow someone, to support someone’s idea or initiative, you are helping them reach their full potential. Great leaders create leaders, right? Well, the main thing a new leader needs is followers, so by becoming a follower, you can lead someone to success. Deciding to follow means making a decision about the direction you want to see things go in and taking action to make it happen, even if it is under someone else’s direction.”

Excerpt from Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading Part 2: A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Being a Better Leader


Dandelion Green Salad with Hot Bacon Dressing, Two Ways

May 31st, 2017 by jtubbs

It’s Camp Bacon week! In honor of the book that started it all, here’s an excerpt from our collection of recipes.

This recipe came courtesy of Francois Vecchio, one of the most knowledgeable people on the subject of cured pork I’ve ever met. Once you know his background, you can see why. He grew up in Switzerland in the 1940s (“It was war outside of our little Swiss world,” he recalled). His father’s father was Piemontese, but moved to Geneva where he became a butcher. The roots are equally strong on his mother’s side. “My gran’pa,” he told me, “had the best restaurant in Geneva, Restaurant Chouard. He had learned his trade in London, Aswan, Davos and the Black Forest.”

After years of traveling the world while apprenticing as a butcher, Francois ended up in the family meat business based in Ticino. Eventually he moved to the States, where he has been involved in a wide range of efforts to cure traditional European salamis, hams and, of course, bacon. He’s now retired to Alaska, after living in California for decades. Alaska, Francois says, harkens back to his youth in the Alps—“It’s probably that old addiction, which makes me choose Alaska,” he explained, “the space here was in the mountains, rocks and glaciers…”

(The Pennsylvania Dutch Cookbook, published in 1961, recommends that you “never use dandelion greens that have begun to flower, because they are apt to be bitter.” More on the Pennsylvania Dutch in a minute.) “Washing,” Francois went on, “is a chore and some sand always sticks around to the plate. The miracle occurs when on a first drizzling of balsamic vinegar and some brown mustard, I pour the hot rendering and sizzling and crisp diced bacon.” “My grandmother always claimed that it purges the liver of all the winter miasms,” he added. I don’t have data to support his grandmother’s claim, but I do know the salad is very good…

Interestingly, as we were working to transform Francois’ notes into culinary reality, the woman who was doing our testing—Jean Henry—shared her own experience out of the German tradition here in the U.S., bringing the bacon story full circle. “I grew up with a Pennsylvania Dutch version of this salad,” she emailed the same evening she saw Francois’ version.

“We also went out with our Pennsylvania Dutch babysitter and gathered the greens, before they were too large and bitter. We also gathered up the rosette of new leaves in a bunch and cut to the crown with a paring knife run round it. I always thought this was to prevent the plant from returning and to get all the smallest leaves—the Pennsylvania Dutch are always very efficient. We later cut off the root stalk. We triple washed the greens in the deep sink then spun them dry while the bacon cooked. And we always picked the greens as close to mealtime as possible…”

Ingredients:

8 ounces (about 4 slices) pancetta, diced

8 ounces fresh dandelion greens, stems removed

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Coarse sea salt to taste

Freshly ground Tellicherry black pepper to taste

Procedure:

Fry the pancetta over medium heat until crisp.

While the pancetta is cooking wash the greens, then spin or pat them very dry. Place them in a warm, but not hot, serving bowl.

When the pancetta is done, immediately pour it and all its drippings straight from the skillet over the greens. If you need more fat, you can add a bit of olive oil. Toss immediately so that the hot fat wilts the greens a bit.

Spoon the mustard onto the greens, then sprinkle on the vinegar, then toss again. Add salt and pepper to taste, toss one more time and serve right away.

(Francois adds, “My grandma even tossed a spoon of flour on the greens to soak more of the extra hot fat, it was fabulous but probably hard to convey to today’s consumers.” Feel free to try it at home.)

Serves 2 as a main course, or 4 as a side dish

FOR THE PENNSYLVANIA DUTCH VERSION:

Substitute an American smoked bacon for the pancetta—Jean Henry recommends the Arkansas peppered bacon. For the dressing, whisk together all of the ingredients: 2 teaspoons of a sweet, smooth German-style mustard, 1 egg, a teaspoon or so of sugar, 3 tablespoons of good apple cider vinegar, about 2 teaspoons of the bacon fat, and salt and pepper. Pour the dressing over the dandelion greens immediately.

Zingerman’s Guide to Better Bacon


Six Sayings That Support Stewardship

April 10th, 2017 by jtubbs

Excerpt from Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading, Part 2: Being a Better Leader.

Throughout this work, I’ve adopted a few sayings and techniques that help me to get past my initial desire to be right or run roughshod over the person I’m negotiating with, and that help get the two of us to a quicker and better outcome with a lot less stress en route. While none are guaranteed to work management magic, all six have been hugely helpful to me. On the chance that they might be of value to you, too, here they are.

a. When furious, get curious.

Paul taught me this one twenty-five years ago. I use it all the time, almost always with great results. The more frustrated I get, the more I try to make myself ask questions.

b. Curiosity is the antidote to awkwardness and antipathy.

No matter how uncomfortable things may seem when we start, the more curious I can make myself, the sooner I get past my own problems and am able to hear what the other person is saying.

c. Active listening is essential.

It doesn’t mean I have to agree, but I do need to make sure I’ve heard what they’re saying and actually understand their message as they mean it to be understood.

d. Get on the same side of the problem as the person you’re negotiating with.

If we talk as if we’re at odds, conflict almost always ensues. But when we work together to attack the problem, we can usually come up with a creative solution.

e. When in doubt, take a time out.

They work for kids, and I think they work just as well for everyone else, too.

f. Never act in anger.

You can (and will) certainly be angry. Just don’t make decisions and act on them while you’re angry!

 Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading, Part 2: Being a Better Leader
Secret 24