Back to Basics – the film

This is the post that inspired our film, Back to Basics. Check it out at http://www.backtobasicsthefilm.com

I originally wrote this entry about 8 months ago. It was inspired through a visit that I made to a very large public company in the restaurant community. I left the name of the organization off the post, so as not to make anyone feel bad. But truth be told, I left their facilities feeling very sad. I hope you enjoy the post below:

Journal Entry – August, 2011

I am so fortunate to have been provided the opportunity to serve as CEO at MonkeyMedia Software.

It’s my job to provide direction for the company, to help steer it to a hopeful but uncertain victory.

I get to meet great leaders and the people they serve. In each case, in companies both large and small, there are fantastic people trying so hard to please their customers, their managers and their owners. Everyone is working hard.

As I travel to boardrooms, I am amazed at the cultural differences that differ from company to company.

Many of these companies have been hit hard during these recessionary times. Yes, the food business has suffered in recent times.

I find it so interesting, that when a business is in decline, and cost cutting continues to be one of the main initiatives, the fear that is cultivated for the surviving members of the team is overbearing. Devastating, scary and quite frightening really. Emotions run high, work is piled on, and projects are under-resourced. Hiring freezes paralyze them; is anything getting done?

You can walk down the hallowed halls of these buildings, that were once filled with entrepreneurial spirit, the culture of growth and a true belief system. As the years have passed, Wall Street has stepped in. Although we should also feel grateful to Wall Street for providing us with financial vehicles for growth, I feel that at the same time, it is appropriate for us to be angry with them for killing the entrepreneurial spirit while focused on shareholder value.

After all, during these last 6 or 7 decades of growth our ancestors had to believe, right? Otherwise, how did they get up in the morning and go to work? Their passion was alive! Where else do you get the fuel from if not from believing? Wasn’t it hard times for them too? Hasn’t it always been hard?

For me, it is sad to see the “ghosts in the walls.” The words and images of a growing culture. One that had direction, hope and prospects for the “sky is the limit”.

As I walk down some of these halls, the once vibrant philosophical management style, has now turned over 3 times in recent years. You can sense that the mission statement so proudly displayed on the walls during the building years, are now just empty words in this time of decline. Nobody even reads the words. They are just invisible and part of the background noise. The words are not relevant, not being lived. The management teams in their ivory towers have stopped walking the talk. They have simply focused on share price, with no sense of any real higher purpose. It’s not their fault really because they too are just trying to feed their families. They are people too. Victims of Wall Street as well. They are forced to abandon suffering markets and focus on new growth opportunities overseas. Shouldn’t they fix their challenges at home first? Don’t they have a responsibility to their adoring brand fans? Their employees and franchisees? The people who have mortgaged their homes and depend on the success of these businesses? Where is their moral compass?

I feel as if the words I am reading on the walls, were written by past leaders who are now just “Ghosts in the Walls.” Just ghosts. Not the haunted kind; just the forgotten kind.

Well, I can tell you, there are companies that are trying hard to fix themselves. Leadership with new blood. Even so the battle is uphill as the future remains so uncertain. But hasn’t it always been uncertain? Isn’t that just the way it is? After all, nothing good can last just as nothing bad can last. It is forever changing.

One thing that worries me. We are forgetting all the good people who came before us in these workplaces. The people who experienced the early years. The entrepreneurial years. The exciting years.

And so, now that times are tougher, we sometimes remain disrespectful to our ancestors. The ghosts in the wall, as I see it. These people of the past made great contributions. They were relevant in their time. They worked hard, just like you and I. Their stories were bought by Wall Street who used their brand equity to grow bigger. But at what expense?

So why is it that instead of setting market trends, we don’t have the guts? We accept that the economy is bad and that there is nothing we can do about it. So, we show up to work, hoping it will change on its own, or even worse, we think new leadership will know what to do. We watch as they run for the hills and open new stores in emerging markets because Wall Street demands it. We follow them because we believe they know what to do.

Well guess what? They don’t know what to do! When a business is sick, it is sick. To bring it back to health, you have to change it; and quickly.

Well, it’s tough for anyone to fix broken companies, with broken promises. Distrust runs high.

I urge you to listen to the voices of the ghosts in the walls. That’s where the answers are. The ones that were there before you.

Our company ancestors have seen it all. They too rode the wild roller coaster of business. So, honor them. Tomorrow when you go to work, try and connect to your company ancestors. Ask THEM the hard questions.

I promise you they will tell you the answers. Just look on your walls. Read the old signs, the aging clippings and the wins and milestones that were celebrated over the years. Also, make sure you refer to the failures, there is alot to learn there. Reconnect with the culture, the passion, the spirit. The early days. Go back to the basics. It always works.

Now is the time for change. To get smarter, more committed, retrenched. How else do we manoever through the mired complexities?

As my friend Tom Feltenstein often says, change is good, you go first!

Only the entrepreneurial companies will survive. Just look at our great brands that are succeeding today. Behind each of them, is a great entrepreneurial leader. For them, there never was a “recession”. For them, it’s just a time of change, just like any other day at work. They don’t focus on share price. Just on their passion and beliefs.

They listen to and consult the ghosts in their walls.

Thanks for stopping by today.

Let’s Raise Kids to Be Entrepreneurs – Back To Basics

Well, as many of you know, my team at MonkeyMedia Software is working on a film called Back To Basics.  It started as a simple idea really.  Inspired by my learning as an entrepreneur navigating the complex boardrooms of America’s largest restaurant corporations.

The story line is real.  It comes from personal experience.  Lucky for me, the storytellers in our film agreed.

The premise of the story is compelling.  Really compelling.  Because as our restaurant corporations are focused on increasing short-term share value, our managers have boxed themselves in.  A focus on short-term share price forces short-term thinking because the financial markets always respond positively to short-term profits.

And so, because our boardrooms are populated with highly trained business sharpshooters who are great at applying formal business academics, we may be creating a “disconnect” in our organizations.

This “disconnect” is causing an imbalance in our boardrooms.  The entrepreneurship that lives at our restaurant unit level must be recognized and nurtured.  Our restaurant community must hold responsibility to make sure that as we pursue emerging markets in other parts of the world, we in fact invest in our people at home, at the restaurant level, so that they can join tomorrow’s leaders at the highest level of our corporations.

This will result in a healthier perspective in our boardrooms of the future.  The reason we need that is to make sure we compete fiercely at home in our mature markets as we expand globally in emerging markets.  We cannot do both without putting a plan in place for our young entrepreneurs who simply have not had the opportunity to be formally trained in business.

If you would like to read the long version of the film’s premise, please visit the website for the film.  All the net proceeds from this project will be donated to the NRAEF.

I saw the video below and it really inspired me today.   I hope you enjoy it too!

Great advice from some great leaders

I am really lucky!  I mean, really lucky!  I get to work with the best in the business.  This summer, at MonkeyMedia Software we have set up our Industry Advisory Council to help guide us responsibly as our restaurant industry legitimizes the catering revenue channel, especially for multi-unit restaurant operators.  We need a lot of advice as we navigate the complex landscape of growing a world-class company.

We will be making a more formal announcement later in the year.  So watch the press for that news!

The following leaders in our community have accepted roles on our IAC and we will be adding more quality people as it makes sense for us to do so.

I am so excited to have this kind of mentorship and experience.  Talk about adding depth to the bench!  I am looking forward to serving these force-multipliers in my career.

So, these developments got me thinking.  Again.  Not about anything in particular really.  Just thinking.  How can I do my best to really tap into the experience of the people around me? These wonderful, experienced, smart and generous people? I mean, if I don’t ask the right questions, how am I going to learn from them?  Sure, they have offered to help.  But, to what end?

Then I realized, quite suddenly really, that I continue to hold the responsibility.  The responsibility of continuing to “sell and market” my vision.  Then I started reconsidering my methodology.  After all, I have been “selling” for years.  Trying to stand on a soap box bringing prospects to my side of the playground.  Always trying to make noise about new features or point out the obvious benefits.  Why is “my” product or service better than someone else’s?  There are so many great companies with great products and truth is we all have to dig down deep to differentiate.  Well, I am tired of that.  As one of the key sales resources in my organization, I cannot sell unless I believe.  That means that I have to be able to present the proper value proposition to all my stakeholders.  I could not sleep at night if I had to sell vapour.  No way.  Not a chance.

As I struggled with this concept of “selling”, it dawned on me that in today’s world, we have to do it differently.  Find better ways.  So as I asked my Industry Advisory Council for advice, lucky for me, Tom Feltenstein had these powerful words to share.  Very powerful indeed.  He sent it to me in the context of my question to him of how do we get better at sales?  Here is his response:

“….. instead, here is the much smarter, more sophisticated question:  How can I set up a system of attraction that brings a steady, reliable stream of ideal potential customers to me, asking for my advice or assistance as a trusted authority or provider in their category of interest, or even better, who are predetermined to be my customers if accepted?”

Well.  Tom got me thinking about this.  I don’t have a clear response for him yet but I am working on one.  I’ll continue to work on it.  What I can say is that as a person who believes deeply that the catering revenue channel will change the landscape of the future for the US restaurant industry, I owe all of you a “system of attraction”. I think I have started down that path.  If I hadn’t would I be where I am? Unlikely.  Saying that, how do you put it in a bottle?  One that you can carry with you all the time.

I will work on just doing a good job today and serve my stakeholders well.  I hope you do too!

Enjoy your day!