Detroit Hustle

 

This memoir is a quick read; Detroit Hustle: A Memoir of Love, Life & Home by Amy Haimerl. She writes about her dad’s advice on contractors. Below is an excerpt from the book:

Detroit HustleDetroit Hustle.jpg

Contractors, he said, have a right to feed their families. Don’t look for cheap; seek quality work at a fair price. That is so important that Dad had this bit of philosophy inscribed on the back of his Bear Excavating business cards: “The bitterness of poor quality and workmanship remains long after the sweetness of the low bid is forgotten.” I remember reading that as a kid, and it’s always stuck with me. Be direct and decisive, he added. Know your budget and be honest about it. Pay on time. Look for someone who is a partner, who asks good questions and seems to care about the answers. Look for someone who can make suggestions and offer alternatives. Go with your gut and understand that your contractor is worth every dime because that’s the person who will make the project either a dream or a nightmare. You’re going to be more married to them, he tells me, than to Karl. Finally, make sure they are bonded and insured

How to Conduct a Business Meeting

Business meetings are often unproductive. The following outlines some tips to help ensure a productive meeting. There are three importance things to determine before scheduling a meeting: purpose, agenda, and people.

Purpose

The purpose of the meeting should be clearly stated and communicated to participants. Both the agenda and materials should be sent to all members before the meeting. Let everyone know that the materials should be reviewed prior to the meeting and to come prepared to discuss the topics at hand. Discussions at meetings are important and silence may denote that you’re in agreement with the topic. Ground rules should be made clear.  These may include things such as no cellphones or laptops allowed in the meeting. Also, the meeting should start on time, so arrive 5 to 10 minutes early to network beforehand.

Agenda

The agenda is used to guide the meeting. Each agenda item should have a designated amount of time noted on the agenda either written in minutes or beginning time (3:15pm). An alternative approach is to use a shot-clock which is a timer used to countdown the minutes.

You may want to assign someone to take notes for the meeting. These notes can be either formally typed up and distributed after the meeting or simply make a copy or take a picture of the handwritten notes and email them to the group.

The notes should include the agreed upon action items and assignment of those task s to a responsible party. As a group leader you will need to follow up with the individual responsible for all action items before the next meeting.

People

The last item, but perhaps the most important is deciding who should attend the meeting. There isn’t any magic number on the number of attendees. However, many recommend no more than 6-8 people or you can use Jeff Bezos’s two pizza rule; limit participants to the number two pizzas would feed. Involve those who have a stake in the agenda and will add value. Finally, at the end of the meeting there should be a recap of the results of the meeting, next time steps to be taken, and the responsible party for those actions.

A little extra planning can go a long way to increasing the productivity of any meeting.

Discovery-Driven Planning

Disrupt Yourself: Putting the Power of Disruptive Innovation to Work by Whitney Johnson is a book about personal development. We are living in an era of disruption. Are you using disruptive innovation to your competitive advantage? Below is an excerpt from the book.

Disrupt Yourself.jpgDiscovery-Driven Planning

With discovery-driven planning, you begin with the premise that little is known and much is assumed. That is not to say that you don’t have a plan: you do. lt’s just a different kind of plan. Instead of declaring, “These are the results that I expect,” you ask, “What has to prove true for my plan to work?” According to McGrath and MacMillan, this type of plan includes four steps:

  1. Create a reverse income statement. If you are launching a new product, rather than forecasting how much revenue you will generate and what your costs will be and then solving for the profit, you build the income statement in reverse. You decide on your required income, and then solve for how much revenue will deliver those profits, and how much cost can be allowed. With personal disruption, the question you ask is: To achieve my baseline level of happiness, what do I need to accomplish and what am I willing to give up in order to make this happen?
  2. Calculate the cost. With this step, you estimate what the cost will be to produce, sell, and deliver the product or service to a customer. Combined, these are the allowable costs that permit the business model to hold together. As an individual, the question is what kind of time, expertise, money, and buy-in will you need to make your plan operational? Is the personal cost of being on this curve one you can afford and want to incur?
  3. Compile an assumption checklist. This checklist allows you to flag and discuss each assumption as the venture unfolds. For example, what assumptions are you making about how much you will sell and at what price? How many sales calls will you need to make to get a single order? How many salespeople will you need to make that many calls, etc? As an individual, if you decide you want to earn $100,000 a year consulting, and last year you earned $100,000 consulting, then conventional planning works. If you’ve never consulted, then you’d want to think about the assumptions behind your ability to earn that $100,000. How many clients will you need? How many hours per day will you need to bill, and at what price point? Do you enjoy the work, and will it be emotionally satisfying?
  4. Prepare a milestone chart. This chart specifies which assumptions need to be tested and what you are going to learn by each milestone. In discovery- driven planning, learning is the essential unit of progress, so a course correction isn’t equivalent to failure, as it would be in conventional planning. Rather, it’s an opportunity to recalibrate so you can move more effectively up the curve.

 

HBR: Treat Employees Like Business Owners

Are you teaching your employees what it means to run a lumberyard? And are your employees committed to reducing your cost of goods sold (COGS). Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by John Case.

Treat Employees Like Business Owners

Employee loyalty and engagement are hot topics, and for good reason. Companies want to attract and retain talented people who really dig into their work. But most employers ignore two of the most powerful tools for making that happen.

Tool #1 is enabling employees to build real ownership in the business.

Of course, many public corporations offer stock-purchase plans or the like as part of their retirement benefit. And everyone knows about the options collected by a select few in Silicon Valley and other tech centers. But meaningful ownership — sizable grants of stock to rank-and-file employees year after year, to help them acquire a significant stake in the company — is all too rare.

It doesn’t have to be. Many large corporations manage to find big bundles of shares (and huge amounts of cash) for executive compensation, even though there’s little relationship between senior-management pay and financial results. A portion of those assets can be redirected to regular stock grants for employees. And companies — except for the very smallest — can implement an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP), often funded through borrowing. So long as it’s sufficiently generous, either approach gives employees the kind of stake that makes them feel like true owners.

Just look at the supermarket industry to see such ownership in action. H-E-B, the big Texas-based chain, recently announced that it would give up to 15% of company shares over time to 55,000 of its employees, distributed according to a formula based on salary and seniority. That’s a chunk of stock estimated at more than $1 billion. Publix, a large chain headquartered in Florida, is majority owned by its employees and regularly makes the annual “best companies to work for” lists. And there’s WinCo, a grocery retailer based in Boise, Idaho, with 14,000 employees and 86 stores spread across eight western states. Every WinCo employee is an owner. Cathy Burch, who has worked there for 20-some years as an hourly employee, now has close to $1 million in her retirement account.

You don’t think that kind of generosity builds commitment and passion? “We work our tails off,” an employee with 28 years at WinCo told Forbes. “We’re more of a team than just working for a typical company. There’s a carrot out there you’re working for, for the rest of your life.”

Tool #2 goes by different names: open-book management, economic transparency, ownership culture. Whatever you call it, it means encouraging employees to think and act like businesspeople rather than like hired hands.

If you work for a conventional organization, your job is to show up at the appointed time and perform certain tasks. At open-book companies, it’s part of everyone’s job to contribute to the success of the business. Managers help employees understand, track, and forecast key numbers. They welcome ideas for improvement. They reinforce the ownership mindset by sharing profit increases with everyone, usually through bonuses funded by the increase itself. Many of these businesses also have a stock plan in place.

The approach is easiest to understand in a small company. The Paris Creperie, a Boston-area restaurant that’s about the size of a McDonald’s outlet, recently adopted open-book management. Creperie employees learned the basics of the restaurant business, including determinants of profit such as cost of goods sold (COGS). Then, last summer, they launched an initiative to reduce COGS, cutting food waste, reconfiguring some dishes, and coming up with ways to operate more efficiently. COGS dropped from roughly 30% of revenue to 26.5% over a four-week period, and continued to hold in the mid-20s. Operating profit rose by more than 10 percentage points in just four months and has stayed in the 18% to 20% range, compared with a restaurant-industry average of less than 4%.

This year, employees there are on track to get bonuses averaging $6,000. “Any other restaurant, I would just be scraping by,” shift supervisor Amanda Norton told the Boston Globe. “Seeing those bonuses really helps me breathe easier, knowing that it’s not the end of the world when I have to pay bills.”

You can imagine what all this does for employee loyalty and commitment. “Actually,” says Harvard Business School professor Leonard A. Schlesinger, “when employees know more about the business and have an economic stake in the outcome, there’s a high probability that turnover rates would go down exponentially.”

These tools also address two fundamental challenges of today’s free-enterprise system. An ownership nest egg helps mitigate inequality by putting more money in the hands of rank-and-file employees. And open-book management teaches people the basics of business, so they can thrive when they have to change jobs, as most inevitably will in our fast-changing economy. “People are learning what it means to run a business,” says Joe Grafton, a consultant who works with the Creperie. “That’s something they can take with them as they move forward with their careers.”

Both measures give people a stake in the system and the wherewithal to live a more secure life. A company that puts these tools to work helps its community while helping itself.

 

Book Reveiw: The Fish That Ate the Whale

The Fish That Ate the Whale: The Life and Times of America’s Banana King by Rich Cohen is about building a business empire. His empire includes banana cowboys, mercenary soldiers, Honduran peasants, CIA agents, and American statesmen. Below is an excerpt from the book.

 

United Fruit CompanyFish that ate the whale.jpg

Zemurray employed hundreds of workers on the north coast. In the first weeks, they lived in tents, then moved into cabins, barrack, and bungalows. They worked from four a.m. till noon, after which It was too hot to linger outdoors. They wore sandals when they worked, shirts opened to the belly, straw hats, and pants with a machete hooked to the waist. The most popular machete, made in Connecticut, was a six-inch crescent-shaped blade embossed near the wood handle with the name of the maker: COLLINS. Now and then, when two or more workers got into a fight someone would flash a machete and say, “I’ll stick you all the way to the Collins.” Over time, this phrase “to the Collins” came stand for every kind of death that awaited a man in the Torrid Zone.

Three weeks after sowing, the shoots would break through the soil. A few days later, the fields were covered with banana plants. The machete men went through the rows, cutting away the weeds that were forever returning. On a banana plantation, clearing weeds are breathing. Without it, the plantation dies.

Once the plants had reached the height of small children-fourth graders, say, green and promising-the engineers would go back to work, mapping out the train tracks that would wander through the rows, so the fruit, when harvested, could be carried to the warehouse, selected, counted, and stacked into boxcars. The railroads were simple, with grass growing between the ties. (“From the day I was born I had heard it said, over and over again, that the rail lines and camps of the United Fruit Company had been built at night because during the day the sun made the tools too hot to pick up,” Garda Marquez wrote in Living to Tell the Tale.) The tracks were indeed laid in the cool before dawn. It took a few weeks, no more. The rails were torn up and reused if a particular field went feral or fallow. You can still see the remnants of many such lines in Honduras: an overgrown field in the Sula Valley, a storybook jungle of snakes and macaws, a glint of iron beneath the tall grass.

Zemurray worked in the fields beside his engineers, planters, and machete men. He was deep in the muck, sweat covered, swinging a blade. He helped map the plantations, plant the rhizomes, clear the weeds, lay the track. He was a proficient snake killer. Taller than most of his workers, as strong and thin as a railroad spike, he shouted orders in dog Spanish. He believed in the transcendent power of physical labor-that a man can free his soul only by exhausting his body. A life in an office, deskbound, was for the feeble and weak who cut themselves off from the actual. He ate outside-shark’s fin soup, plantains, crab gumbo, sour wine. His years in the jungle gave him experience rare in the trade. Unlike most of his competitors, he understood every part of the business, from the executive suite where the stock was manipulated to the ripening room where the green fruit turned yellow. He was contemptuous of banana men who spent their lives in the North, far from the plantations. Those schmucks, what do they know? They’re there, we’re here!

Give and Take

I’ve read good book called Give and Take by Adam Grant. The book’s website has this to say: “Give and Take changes drivers of success: passion, hard work, talent, and luck. But in today’s dramatically reconfigured our fundamental ideas about how to succeed—at work and in life. For generations, we have focused on the individual world, success is increasingly dependent on how we interact with others. Give and Take illuminates what effective networking, collaboration, influence, negotiation, and leadership skills have in common.” Below is an excerpt from the book which you might find useful:

ACTIONS FOR IMPACTGive and Take

If you’re interested in applying the principles in this book to your work or your life, I’ve compiled a set of practical actions that you can take. Many of these actions are based on the strategies and habits of successful givers, and in each case, I’ve provided resources and tools for evaluating, organizing, or expanding giving. Some of the steps focus on incorporating more giving into your daily behaviors; others emphasize ways that you can fine-tune your giving, locate fellow givers, or engage others in giving.

  1. Test Your Giver Quotient
  2. Run a Reciprocity Ring
  3. Help Other People Craft Their Jobs-or Craft Yours to Incorporate More Giving
  4. Start a Love Machine.
  5. Embrace the Five-Minute Favor.
  6. Practice Powerless Communication
  7. Join a Community of Givers
  8. Launch a Personal Generosity Experiment
  9. Help Fund a Project
  10. Seek Help More Often

The Business of Love and Passion

Do you know and care for your customer? Below is a blog post from the Brains on Fire.

The Business of Love and Passion The Business of Love and Passion

At Brains on Fire we believe with all our hearts and souls, it is possible to fall madly and passionately in love with the people you serve. And we believe that it’s possible for those folks to fall in love with you, too; and, yes, for you to become famous and grow your organization because of that love.

That’s exactly what we’ve done to grow our own business over the years. Not only have we fallen in love with our customers, we received the permission and indeed the honor to get to know and care for our customers’ customers. It’s our role as marketing matchmakers to help connect our customers with their employees and customers through shared passions.

Every business owner should be wildly romantic and passionate about your advocates; the employees and customers who help fuel your success.

What does it take to fall in love with your advocates, the customers and employees who are ready, willing and happy to fall in love with you? Start by following these Passion Principles.

1. Love people. Never leverage people.
We hate it when we hear companies talk about leveraging fans to tell their story. Think about it: Do you really use people you care about? Absolutely not. You listen to them. You get close to them. You see them frequently. You want to be a meaningful part of their life. You inspire them and in return, they inspire you.

If you want people to be in love with you and talk about you, you must fall in love with them first. Your clients, customers, donors, tribe, employees, advocates—what you call them doesn’t really matter—can and should become beloved heroes in your organizations.

2. Love takes patience.
For real and lasting relationships to take hold, you have to be in it for the long haul and not for a one-night stand (perhaps the marketing equivalent of a one-time purchase).

Loving your customers is not something you do for a limited amount of time. It’s something you do every single day. And the value of that effort grows exponentially stronger and deeper with time.

3. Get people to talk about themselves.
The passion conversation isn’t about getting people to talk about YOU, the brand. It’s about getting people to talk about themselves. Encourage others talk about themselves, their lives, their hopes and their dreams. Create platforms, online and offline, for the people you serve to share their own stories. Give them opportunities to talk and be willing to listen.

At Brains on Fire, we no longer consider ourselves to be in the marketing business. Instead, we’re in the people business. This makes sense for us because marketing nowadays is more about reframing the work you do in the world to inspire your employees and customers. The most successful word-of-mouth–driven businesses in the world have always been in the business of inspiring people.

Good stuff happens when you’re in the people business. We promise.