Thoughts on an 8 Year Opening Day Missive Ritual

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One of the most exciting parts of business is building a culture with a team.  Taking part in events, and some of those turn into traditions.

Before I acquired LM Foods, I was lucky to be part of a great little Memphis based company, Monogram Foods for over 8 years.  When I started there were no more than 12 people in the company (today they have over 1,300!).

Every year I decided to write an annual Baseball Opening Day “Missive.”  I will admit they were obnoxious and probably annoyed more than a handful of people.  I would try to convert southerners to not only become a baseball fan (try that in the South!), but also to become a YANKEE fan.

For the appropriate context, Yankees are not a baseball team to southerners, they are a Species, and many would prefer that they were the endangered type!  Bless their heart…..

I felt bad for my fellow Memphians.  You see, they did not have their own baseball team.  And this didn’t bother them.  But it should have.    

Sure, they can get in the car and drive 3+ hours to claim the St. Louis Cards as their home team, but what a pain, and built in factor not to fall in love with baseball.

PS:  If you ever want to REALLY experience life, I recommend signing a 1 year lease no more than 10 blocks away from 2 stadiums:  Fenway Park or Wrigley Field.  Life will be forever changed, to the good.

Enter the solution to a modern day sports/city/complex crisis……the Yankee is in the house!

I needed to at least TRY to enlighten them to the greatness of the game AND the greatness of the worlds best sport franchises despite their geographical challenges and built in sports biases.  I cared too much for my brothers and sisters in Memphis and in the plant locations to let these things continue.  So I tried.  For 8 years I put my best case forward.

For the record, if the goal was to convert one person from a passive fan to more active, AND to adopt the Yankees, I was an outright failure!   Can’t win them all, especially in baseball.

The Opening Day Missive gave a platform to unsuspecting talent in far away places outside of our headquarters.  One that comes to mind is my dear friend in Accounting in one of our plants, affectionately known as “brother Dave.”  Dave is a pro.  He’s also a character.  A technical whiz in a lumberjacks body. He’s also a sniper behind the bushes waiting for my annual Opening Day Missive so he could destroy me and leave his buddy bleeding in the streets.  He did it well.

As it turns out, and much to the risk of my fragile ego, more people looked forward to Brother Dave’s counter argument and dismantling of everything Yankees than they did to the missive itself.  The rant became the avenue for bloodshed in the airwaves.  His replies were painful to read, but hysterical.  Hysterical to everyone.  Except me.

Small things define cultures in business.  Many times they don’t cost a ton of money.  It could be a cook-out celebrating great results, or even a simple recognition publicly for a small victory.  As long as they are authentic and not overly scripted, traditions matter.

Old School? Maybe.  But it matters.  Just like Baseball.

On a slow Sunday morning, I was curious to see how many times I wrote about America’s past time on Hustle or Bust.  Out of the 173 posts as of this date, 11 of them sprinkle in Baseball (below are the links).  Hustle is not confined too business, it cuts through all of life.  In fact, it probably originated in sports.

Yankees & A-Rod:  I Didn’t Charge The Yanks for this Advice

And perhaps the deepest, most important one?

An email I sent to my former team (with their heartfelt thoughts attached as well) on one of the country’s defining days.  What does that have to do with baseball?  Simple.  Baseball is what brought the country back together, when it needed it the most.

What is important about opening day is revealed in the Remembrances post.  Any opportunity to bring people together on a human level is one worth capturing.  

Happy Opening Day.  Where everyone starts in first place and anything can happen on the long road ahead.

Best of luck to your team!

baseball opening day

image credit: baseballism.com

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The Most Under-Rated of All Holidays? Labor Day

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If I were to think of all the nationally recognized holidays that define the USA “idea,” Independence Day is probably number one.

A VERY close #2?

LABOR DAY.

la·bor
noun
work, especially hard physical work
verb
work hard; make great effort
Capitalism is about many things.  
  • Innovation
  • Risk Taking
  • Leadership
  • Competition
  • Teamwork

At the heart of capitalism is flat out, pain-staking, grind away, roll up your sleeves WORK.  LABOR.  I think of it as HUSTLE.

The thing about Labor that is fascinating?

It is so different person to person.  And much of it is attitude driven, with choices made daily about how it is approached.

Think of the major league ball player that busts it down the line on a routine grounder, while another guy jogs.  I’m convinced that a ball player like Robinson Cano cost himself over $100mm for one simple fact:  He had  a tendency to NOT Hustle.  But I digress.

I also believe that EVERYBODY working….

  • Has value

  • Builds their dignity, self-respect with each passing work day successfuly completed.

  • Builds wealth, both for themselves (if managed properly) and that wealth creates more wealth.  A great circle of prosperity when money gets earned, spent, invested.

  • There’s a work opportunity for all humans, regardless of skill level, education, race, gender or ethnicity.  This is a massive world.

Rarely do things come easy.  Labor, could also be known as Labor “Pains.”  Some think work is a 4-letter word.
Some LOVE to work, and take it to extremes.  I personally have always struggled with striking a work-life balance, especially with young kids.  But I’d be lying to say I don’t get a massive adrenaline rush from being exhausted after a long hard days work.  Old-school pleasure in its rawest form.  

Some people are blessed to not only work in jobs that support themselves and their families, but that they actually would do for FREE they love it so much.  Those are probably few and far between, but they are out there.

Regardless of where you stand in life:  Labor Day is worth celebrating.  It’s worth exhaling, sitting back and appreciating how food makes its way to your table.  And it’s also worth taking a moment and recognizing that all Jobs, and the people that work them have value.

Happy Labor Day.

And if you happen to be in the NY/NJ area for Labor Day weekend, consider visiting one of NJ’s best kept secrets, the St. Bart’s 40th annual Italian Festival.  Mangia!

http://www.sbuitalianfestival.com/

 

American Flag

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The Crazy One’s: “Retail Negotiating”

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This picture seems innocent enough right?  A customer (who is also a colleague of mine) contemplating their order at the Golden Arches.

While working the graveyard shift (2:30pm – 5am) we made an 11pm run to Dunkin Donuts and Mcd’s to keep the troops fueled, productive and a very small thank you.

Negotiating at Mcd's

This is a fun little drill I subject select people too…..

“Retail Negotiating:”

Trying to get a deal for basic things, where deals are never cut.  It will drive 99% of the population crazy, and create a fair amount of embarrassment.  

And of course, I love it.  

Your looking to engage.  And Score.  And make a little life moment.  

  • A free donut.
  • A cheaper price on the $ menu.
  • Throw in something extra.
  • See what your server is made out of.

Here’s the Negotiating Drill in action:

  • $80 of Mcd’s is a ton of food.  What’s the average ring, $7?  Time to have some fun.
  • Shouldn’t they give us 4 large cups of ice for free?
  • Shouldn’t they throw in apple pies for free?
  • Wouldn’t walking away with just our $80 purchase put us in the rest of the 99% of America, the sane?

I put my colleague to the task, providing nice “encouragement” while she assessed me as borderline pathological.  But she was game to try….and here’s what we learned.

  • She needed to pull out her Spanish on the manager.
  • She also found out they do $10k in revenue per day, a number I would not have guessed (and I’m skeptical of).  And we were the largest sale of the day.
  • She got 4 extra large cups of ice thrown in for free.  And about 5 free apple pies.  But this was after being told we would be charged for the Ice.

To borrow an expression from the New School? BOOM!  She got something done.  We laughed.  We learned a couple of things we didn’t know.  

  • Dunkin Donuts was tougher.  Elmo was our server, and how can you not like a server named Elmo?  He said he’d lose his job.  I told him our people are working with heavy machinery and the caffeine he’s providing is an enormous safety issue, he won’t lose his job.  He laughed to himself.  He thought we were crazy.  He may be right.
  • We worked hard to get 4 coffee rolls put into our 2 dozen donuts without paying the incremental charge.  Maybe a $.75 win.  But a win nonetheless.

These are fun little moments in life.  Chances to interact with people and push them out of their comfort zone.  

Little moments make days stand out, for the negotiatOR and the negotiatEE.  

Opportunities are everywhere to learn something.  To make an impact.  To attack life with energy.  And maybe…. create a few smiles along the way.  

Hustle knows no off days.

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The Best $25 Investment In Business?

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A CAKE.  To Celebrate Birthdays.  Or ANYTHING for that matter.

There is something universally acknowledged about CAKE.  It’s what you eat when you are celebrating something special, usually a birthday.  Some things come to mind when I think about a birthday cake….

  • The first impression of seeing the cake:  Is it chocolate?  Strawberry?  Ice cream?  Anticipation…
  • The flame of the candle and the drip of the wax.  Always a skill seeing how many you can light and the Hustle/bustle of rounding people into the room in time
  • The Singing.  I can’t sing to save my life, but I enjoy watching everyone sing Happy Birthday.  Someone is bound to ham it up
  • The blow out of the candles, and the occasional struggle to leave a couple burning.  And the ridicule that follows
  • The slicing ritual, a little different each time.  I enjoy critiquing the slicer, although some call it “ball breaking!’
  • The funny stories that usually flow while eating the cake.

One of the first of many happy memories I have at LM Foods was our first birthday celebration.

I struggle to remember the specific stories, the flavor of the cake, the time of day.  But I DO remember how my stomach felt.  Sore.  Not from the cake, from the laughter.  Better than 100 crunches.  And the knot in my shoulders loosened up for the rest of the day.  I suspect it did for my fellow team members too.  

Some businesses have more to celebrate than others.  But every business has people, and every person has a birthday.  Spend the $25.  Let them eat cake.  Enjoy the laughter.  

  • Celebrate Business with Cake!

    An LM Foods Birthday Celebration!

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HUSTLE or BUST: Not Just a Blog Name Anymore!

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Sometimes the walk up to the starting line takes a while….4+ months that started with a series of exploratory conversations with some accomplished pro’s turned into an acquisition of a Food Company.

Buying a business is a bit like training for a marathon.  Lots of preparation, long runs, and the lead up to a massive test of endurance.  Not an easy process, and one that requires skill, and like most things in business, a great team is critical.  

I have been privileged to work with a great Private Equity team that worked tirelessly on the deal and will continue to add value over the years ahead.  In life, who you surround yourself with is one of the life’s greatest difference makers, and the team I worked with are nothing short of life’s A-Players.  Can’t say enough good things about my partners at Salt Creek Capital.

With this acquisition comes a series of life events

  • Moving back home to NJ after 8+ great years in Memphis
  • A transition of company and roles:  From CMO of Monogram Foods, to the new role of President/CEO for a niche manufacturing company.
    • More to follow on specifics and how this business will continue to do great things and new things in months ahead….

What else comes with acquiring a business and assuming the top role?

RISK.  Putting your name and every financial resource you have on the line.  The banks call it a Personal Guarantee (of the debt).

Over a year ago I started Hustle or Bust.  I loved the name, and it came to me quickly.  

If forced to describe my career, and maybe life in ONE word, HUSTLE would be that word.

Hustle is 100% controllable, it’s a choice.  I’ve always believed that you either Hustle, or BUST.  Unless you’re an absolute genius, lucky, or born with a silver spoon, Hustle is mandatory.

Now for the BUST part:  Back to guaranteeing debt, RISK.

First, RISK is present in everyday life whether you sign your name to it or not.  It’s why we have emergency funds.

What’s the worst thing that can happen to someone in a job?  You get fired.

That’s risk, you just didn’t sign your name to it.  It happens to very talented people, sometimes without cause.

Is risk scary?  Yes.  Is it manageable?  Usually.  

Becoming an entrepreneur is not for everyone.  When you sign personal guarantees you are basically saying that you are comfortable with the worst possible financial outcome.  Not many can stomach that kind of risk.

Life and careers are about a series of choices.  Weighing the scales of what is important, understanding risk, and how that risk compares to reward.  And a host of intangibles always factor into the process.

Today marks a turning point in this blog.  When a life event or transition happens, it fundamentally changes your point of view, outlook and perspective on things.  Having the good fortune to lead a company, the responsibility, risk and opportunity to build something great……I would say that qualifies as a defining “life event” that is sure to change my outlook and view on the world.  

I hope you join me on this journey and share your insights and comments as well.

Here’s wishing all of you success on YOUR journey.

Life is short.  May you always live each day with HUSTLE…..or Bust.

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Loaded Question: Does Employee Morale Matter?

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Of course Morale Matters!

Ask 100 people in business this question and how many would you think would answer with a resounding YES?

90? 95?  Maybe even 100?

So here’s the real question, if you agree that YES, Morale matters.

What % of business leaders truly keep their finger on the “Morale Pulse?”  

I guarantee this % would be lower than the answer to the first question.  Wouldn’t shock me if the gap was greater than 30 points.  You don’t need to be a statistician to call this gap “significant.”

Morale is a byproduct of organizational culture.  Some cultures inject oxygen and energy, others deplete it.  Oxygen is not just life sustaining, it’s business sustaining.

Morale is also highly INDIVIDUAL.  One person may be highly energized, while another person is down in the dumps.  Morale at its core is a function of attitude, a person’s general “optimism level.”  Like simple tests can be applied to asses culture, same for someone’s individual level of Optimism.  My favorite is my Wake-Up test, which I learned from my 6 year old.

So back to the leaders, who have a key role in all things culture……

If Morale matters, what are you doing to at least UNDERSTAND the level of morale among the people running your business?

Observing?  Taking a “climate” survey?

Wandering the halls?  Tom Peters explains MBWA:  Management by Wandering Around

I love simple tools like MBWA.

Here’s another one, I’ve recently started:

THE MORALE METER.

It’s simple.  It forces people to take a stand and give their own opinion.  And that process alone is sometimes motivating for the troops.  Here’s how it works:

  • Ask them to score the organizational morale, give it a number from 0 to 10, 0 being “organizational death” to 10 being “couldn’t imagine any place better.”  Make them assign a number.  Thank them.
  • Then probe and ask them to add some color as to why.  Shut up and listen.  Then ask them to “tell me more.”
  • Repeat the shut up and listen step.
  • Go back to your office and write the name, number and date down, and a couple of take-aways.  Invest the minute to put something on paper.  Or a cocktail napkin if you’re having drinks.

This is now a baseline for the individual.  Don’t try and solve the world’s problems in this conversation, just listen and get a number.  Do this with multiple people in different functional areas and you will start to paint an organizational picture.  You can keep track of this over time, which is even more enlightening.

But measuring for measuring sake is pointless, measure to understand impact of some future CHANGE.

The Morale Meter only works if you keep a couple of “WATCHOUTS” in mind….

WATCHOUT #1:  Put your BS meter on high alert.

Not everyone will be candid, some people don’t “tell it like it is” and may give a score that is a lot higher than they really feel.  If your BS meter goes up, challenge it.  Ask them how many people they have referred to come work at your organization?  Someone that rates the place >7 should feel pretty good about their job and want their friends to come along right?  If not, why?  It only takes a couple of these challenges and people will know you’re serious about getting honest feedback.

WATCHOUT #2:  Understand THEIR BS meter is on high too.  

Never under-estimate people’s BS meter.  Having people answer a question like this, by definition raises the stakes.  They will expect you NOT to just listen, but not waste their time.  They will expect SOME action.  If you are NOT prepared to do SOMETHING with the info, don’t start the process.

Leadership at its core is about Caring.  Caring is about listening & learning.  But that’s not enough.  

Leadership is a contact sport.

When you listen and score and don’t like what your seeing, but fail to ACT, you’re not a leader.  You may be a shrink.  You may be a numbers geek.

Leaders Listen.  They Measure.  But most importantly, Leaders ACT.

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The Oxygen Test on Culture

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In Assessing Organizational Culture, I proposed the Relationship Churn Test to start to add rigor to one of the most critical areas of a business.  Nothing is harder, and at the same time, more critical than figuring out a businesse’s culture.
While the Relationship Churn test was meant to add structure and quantify culture, here’s another method.

The Oxygen Test

When you walk through the business, do you get a sense that oxygen is being injected, at a constant level, or at dangerously low levels?

Oxygen is an appropriate metaphor.  It’s odorless, colorless, and critical to life.  You rarely think about it, unless you were short of it.  Culture can be thought of the same way.
Let’s Deal with The Extremes, businesses with abundant oxygen and one’s that are short of it.  Here’s some of the traits:
A Business ABUNDANT with Oxygen, here’s what you’ll see….
  • A vibe of positive energy.  Smiles.  Laughter.  LOUD laughter that could be heard way down the hall
  • Optimism rules the day.  Today may not be great, but there is universal belief that tomorrow is bright.
  • Results and “good work” matter more than who is performing it.
  • A feeling of “Stature” does not permeate the air….
  • The pace feels faster, not slower.  Sometimes even frantic.
  • The break room and the people in it are enjoying each other’s company
  • There is a vibe of a game, kind of like a pickup basketball game where there is score being kept.
  • A feeling that people have each other’s back.  Helping hands, positive vibes, small gestures.
  • Meetings:  Tend to be lively.  Debate.  White boarding.  Active discussion and listening.  No feeling of dread…
  • If there are mantra’s on the wall, the oxygen level supports the mantra (it’s not just a slogan)
  • More doors are open than shut.
  • If there are NO doors and it’s an open environment, than the people actually look like they are happy it’s that way.
  • There’s a scoreboard of results.  Somewhere, simple to understand.  If it works for sports, it works for business too.
Businesses WITHOUT oxygen?
Basically are missing the above.  In some cases, you can reverse each of the above and you have your business in desperate need of an OXYGEN INJECTION.

Business is no different than life.  Oxygen is life sustaining to a culture.  Make sure yours has an abundant supply.  

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Motivational Shorts: What’s Your Theme Song?

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Remember Ally Mcbeal?  The quirky comedy show in the late ’90’s that featured an interesting cast of characters.  The most quirky of them all was “The Biscuit,” whose personal theme song became his entire office’s theme song as you’ll see in the video.

Something simple like someone’s “motivational kick” can be turned into a culture building tool for entire organization, as you’ll see here.  

Music has a way of connecting to memories and emotion.  How many times have you heard a song and immediately it flashes a “mind’s eye” picture of a day from many years ago?

I-Pods make it easy to create playlists for various uses: workouts, unwinding, entertaining, etc.

The daily grind can throw you many rough patches where you productive zone can hit roadblocks. Keep you tunes on stand-by for an easy snap back into the productive streak.

Work-outs tend to be my catch-all motivational playlist.  A couple of my personal favorites are below.   

Prior to jumping on a plane to NJ I often get “in the zone” with Jay Z’s Empire State of Mind.  My wife, the constant “NY is better than NJ” antagonist reminds me of this.  For more on our banter, see “Where are you from? The Question that Matters.”

A merge of the Old School & The New School:  Eminem + Rocky  # ROCKMINEM MASHUP.  Something about The Grit of Eminem and the classic orchestra of Rocky.  Musical Fusion at its best.  

[Continue Reading…]

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Your Life Partner Choice: Make it a Secret Weapon

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Life Lesson #2 from my 40 Lessons @ 40 post.

  • Key life decisions matter.  Take the time to get them right, with the information you have, but you’ll never have ALL the pieces.

Key life decisions are obvious, and a bunch pop into my mind.  

You have decision making control over…

  • College

  • Career Management: Environment, type, location, compensation level you’re satisfied with, autonomy…

  • Friends/who you spend time with, how/if you build relationships

  • Family:  Relationships with your kids,spouse, extended family

  • Financial:  When to save, how much, where to invest

  • Leisure pursuits

  • Location, where you live & play

  • Degree of “risk” in your life

  • Your attitude towards life

  • Your ENERGY LEVEL you apply to various aspects of life

Sometimes a tweet, those powerful little 140 character soundbites can bring it all home.  And this one does.

Life's critical decision, your spouse

As F’ing Perfect states:  

Be with the person that brings out the best in you.  

Is there anything more important, especially for life’s Hustlers than to be with someone that gives you every shot to maximize your potential?  

It would be painful for me to think about NOT having that person in my life.  Sometimes in life, especially in matters of the heart, your decisions are not rational, logical or “pro and con” lists on legal paper.  You just kind of go with them.

BUT, if I were single, this would be my #1 criteria for a Spouse “decision.”  I thank my lucky stars my wife checks this box, 10 times over.

Having a secret weapon in life is not cheating.  It’s smart.

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Optimism and Waking Up: Lessons from a 6 Year Old

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“Outlooks” matter in life, and Optimism is one of those force multipliers.  How do you know if you’re leaning to the glass always being half full, with a brighter future than present?

A simple tool from the Old School to gauge your Outlook:  The wake-up test.

How easy is it for you to drag yourself out of bed?  Hard?  Painless?  Or, “can’t wait!”

My son is generally not an early riser, at least by my standards, waking up at 7 am.

Dominic:  Hustle

On Thanksgiving and Christmas however, all bets are off.  He’ll be up at 5 am, the LATEST.  He won’t just wake up 2 hours early, he JUMPS into my bed and announces the day, says “HAPPY THANKSGIVING” in a mild roar and can barely contain his excitement.

The reasons are pretty simple for him springing out of bed

  • Mom’s “Special french toast,” made a few times a year, certainly not your everyday meal.
  • Salvatore the Elf on the Shelf comes out, signifying no just Christmas around the corner, but daily little surprises where he will show up in odd places.  The excitement of Dominic running around the house looking for Salvatore is hysterical, and fun to watch.
  • Traditions that grow and evolve each year.  Memories that build on memories.  “Daddy, remember last year……”  And his own I-phone that captures and journals the pictures and memories, New School style.

I can acknowledge that life gets more complicated as you grow older.  Bills pile up, relationships get more complex, and various stages of life are arguably more stressful than the life of a 6 year old.

Call me naive, but I will argue the “life gets complicated” argument with age.  Isn’t life all relative?

  • Is the stress of a mortgage payment or difficult boss, worse than the anxiety of getting on a bus where the town bully causes mayhem?

  • Is the difficult boss harder than a teacher that may pay little attention to a struggling student?

  • Are “toxic” co-workers that are forever negative more morale killing than the kids that exclude others from the playground game of tag?

Yes, exaggerated examples to illustrate a point.

The 6 year old finds a way to bounce out of bed, when there is something to look forward too.  Adults do the same, when they focus on similar reasons to look forward to something.

EVERYONE has something to look forward too, to let OPTIMISM take over.

  • A chance for a productive day and great outcomes.  A great sales call you’ve been preparing for.  A presentation to your team.

  • An opportunity to make a positive difference in someone’s life.  Thanking and complementing your local barista.  Asking someone some great questions that allow you to learn something and form a bond.

  • Making that new connection that could open a door to a job if you’re out of work, or an up-lifting conversation which adds a bounce in your step.

  • Another day to move closer to your potential, to get better at your craft, and help others….

In other words, every day is an opportunity to bounce out of bed.  Find the excitement and optimism outside of annual events.  The excitement of the holidays are there for the taking.  EVERYDAY.

Everyday the Sun Comes Up - Optimism

Image credit: http://stratoartblog.wordpress.com/tag/blue-sky/

 

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