Well, it’s Thanksgiving week. With Thanksgiving my mind turns to family, friends, floats (the kind you ride on in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, not the kind made with soda and ice cream- although those are good too, just not what I think of at this time of the year… anyway, back to my list…), football, and food. For the purposes of this post, I’m going to focus on the last word there: food. When my mind turns to food, I think of restaurants. When my mind turns to restaurants, I think of my new favorite TV show: Food Network’s Restaurant: Impossible with Robert Irvine.
For those of you not familiar with the concept:
“Robert attempts to save America’s most desperate restaurants from impending failure in just two days with only $10,000. Over the course of each extreme mission, Robert assesses all of the restaurant’s facets and then overhauls its weakest spots with updates to menus, retraining staff and implementing aesthetic changes with the help of his design team, before hitting the streets to tell the community about the improved restaurant.”
Now, before you start saying, “Jay, I know you like food, but you’re not a food blogger. This is not why I come to your blog, etc. etc.”, bear with me, and I think you’ll see where I’m going with this.
Having watched quite a few episodes now, themes start to emerge. So, let’s focus on what you and your organization can learn from these themes.
Management- These restaurants are family-owned and managed. Many times they went into the restaurant business for what I would call the wrong reasons and with little to no restaurant experience. Other problems arise when management is absent, when they try to do too many of the daily tasks, when they are too permissive or lax with staff, and/or when the lines of responsibility are not clearly defined. Does your management team have a clearly defined vision for the organization? Are they (or you) providing the right kind of support for employees?
Product Quality- Robert always gets feedback from customers on the food before the transformation begins, and he tries it himself. At best the menu items are uninspired and bland and at worst they are unappetizing. Generally, Robert points to the lack of fresh ingredients as the restaurants are using frozen foods or dishes that are mass produced or prepared in advance of when they’re ordered. Did your organization have good ideas in the past that have simply grown stale? Are you trying to do too many things for too many people and not doing them the right way?
Ambiance- Many of these restaurants have an outdated look and/or are incohesive in their feel. It’s amazing to me what can be done on a limited budget with a little creativity and knocking down a wall or two. Often they use some of the same chairs or tables but refurbish them in some way. A fresh coat of paint and a good cleaning can also do wonders. Is it time for your organization to get a new look to your web site, publications, or events? What message are these vehicles sending about the organization?
Staff Morale– Staff morale can be down in these restaurants because they don’t know what’s expected of them or sometimes who to take their cues from. Also, as the restaurant begins to fail, the wait staff loses income. Within the family management team, they’re worn down due to long hours with little to show for it. Does the staff in your organization understand who’s in charge and what needs to be done to meet objectives?
The lessons are plentiful from Restaurant: Impossible and go beyond changing the look of the dining area, adding new items to the menu, or giving the management and staff tips on running the restaurant.
Teachability- The owners of the restaurants have applied to be on the show because they’re failing. Often though they’re resistant to change, insisting that their way, their choices, their entrees will work. Even on the brink of disaster, they still have a hard time admitting failure. Lesson 1: Being teachable and getting new ideas is a great way to get out of a rut and avoid failure.
Time Management- Story after story focuses on an owner who’s worn down from working 80 hours each week. Robert has them make a list of what they do, and sometimes it’s everything from cleaning the restrooms to clearing tables to placing food orders. Robert helps them to understand priorities for an owner/manager, what can be delegated, and which responsibilites lay with the kitchen or wait staff, and then he secures buy-in from the entire staff for this direction. Lesson 2: It’s not about working harder; it’s about working smarter. Utilize teammates for their strengths and expertise. Most will want to contribute more when they realize what it will mean for the success of the organization.
Money- Often these owners are operating with little knowledge of their expenses. Robert helps them to understand what items cost and where they can save money. More than once I’ve seen a restaurant owner on the show who’s operating under the premise that their catering business is keeping them afloat. Robert shows them that it’s actually costing them money to run the catering side the way they were doing it. Another restaurant had an unofficial coffee club. People sitting in the restaurant for hours drinking free refill after free refill was not helping their business. Lesson 3: You have to know the numbers. Avoiding looking at these could be costing you money and effectiveness.
What are the lessons you’ve learned from Restaurant: Impossible? What would an unbiased expert find in your organization? What recommendations would they make?
Well, it’s the final week of the NFL regular season, and playoffs are just around the corner (Go Packers!). College football bowls are going into high gear as well (Go Wake Forest!).
Just recently I read an article on the “Top 10 Play Innovations” in the NFL so I thought it would be a good time to explore what innovation lessons are held there for us.
First, let’s talk about what they didn’t do in pro football. It may be obvious, but teams didn’t diversify into baseball or basketball or any other sport. They also didn’t expand their footprint by using the sidelines, stands, or concession areas for certain plays. Coaches didn’t suddenly start playing 12 or 13 players at a time to gain the upper hand. Teams also didn’t elect to use an object other than a football like keys, a shoe, or a pineapple (Sorry, Southwest Airlines!) on their possessions.
So, what did coaches and teams do to create competitive advantages while staying within the confines of the rules of the game? Just how did they create innovation in what might be perceived to be limiting circumstances?
This is not a lesson on football (I wouldn’t be the right one to give it), and I’m not going to go into great detail about schemes, formations, and defenses. Here are, however, a few themes I noticed that have lessons in innovation for all of us:
Placement- Most innovation in offensive or defensive schemes starts with the placement of the players. Use of more running backs, more wide receivers, or an extra defensive back created options and changed the game. Words like “pressure” and “neutralize” are used to describe the effects of these inventive formations. Does your organization have people assigned to the right positions? Do you need to shift areas of responsibility? Would putting more emphasis on a given facet of your “game” create a competitive advantage?
Motion- The movement of players at the onset of a play also was a means of bringing innovation to football. Words like “mismatches” and “uncertainty” are key. Do your employees, members, prospects, customers, and/or competitors always know your next move with communications, marketing, public relations, branding, etc.? Are they certain of your tactics at conferences and trade shows with exhibits, sponsorships, advertising, etc.? Do your constituents already have you classified, pegged, nailed? What can you do to create a mismatch, to make them have to respond accordingly and not think of your organization in the same way? What can you do to develop new efficiencies (wins) and at the same time make it more exciting for your “fans”?
Time Management- At times innovation in football has focused on the management of the clock. Terms like the “no-huddle offense” and “2-minute offense” have become universally known. Looking at the clock and play calling differently has led to long-term success for some franchises. How does your organizations approach project management and deadlines? Are you effective at the division of responsibilities? We’re all dealing with tasks that need to be done that need to be finished by a certain date or time. Does your organization procrastinate until you’re woefully behind and then try to scramble in the last two minutes of the game? How can you create an organizational culture that addresses the need for purposeful time management from start to successful completion?
Intent- Teams have found success when they took a step back and stopped doing what the rest of the pack was doing. They embraced a different approach. These teams stopped settling for what was tried-and-true; and, instead, they innovated. They stopped going with limited opportunities with defined results and forged a new paradigm. In short, they took a risk, a gamble. They could have looked like idiots if their new methods failed. Instead, they developed options for running backs, trick plays, short passes, deep passes, and schemes for linebackers to get sacks. And, these franchises came up big! What are the ways you see that you could approach problems and issues differently? What large opportunities await but haven’t been addressed because the organization is too focused on the tasks at hand? Where has dynamic leadership simply become adequate management? How do you take time to reflect and plan strategically, to truly innovate in your field?
What are the innovation lessons you see in football or from another sport? How are these being applied in your organization? What more can be done to take these examples from the field to the office?