“How’s was your oatmeal?” asked my friend Dave, observing the empty container on my table at Starbucks as he walked by.
Now, as those who know me will attest, sometimes rather than getting the usual “fine,” you get a whole lot more than you bargained for.
“You know, it’s funny you ask, Dave. I was just thinking about the oatmeal. Today it was a little thick, but the other day it was really soupy. Considering everything else in this place is so measured and checked for consistency, it seems like one area they missed,” I said.
Starbucks, you see, relies on its baristas to add hot water to a prepackaged amount of oatmeal, but doesn’t seem to offer them the standard “fill to” line, such as the one I find in my kids’ mac and cheese cups. And so, depending on the barista in question (and perhaps their particular oatmeal preferences) they fill the container to whatever level they want. Once, my barista was either not paying attention, playing a joke, or likes her oatmeal with the consistency of Poland Spring, as she filled me right to the brim.
“You’re right,” said Dave after some reflection. “It’s all over the place.”
In fact, it’s one of the central tenants of good service — the quest to provide a consistent experience. For franchises, it’s their raison d’etre — it’s what you buy when you buy in. You get their messaging, recipes, information about how far this piece of equipment should be from that, how often you need to get a fresh washcloth, and at what temperature the ice cream machine needs to remain. You get (or are supposed to get) information about how much water to put in the oatmeal.
A scene in the movie Casino illustrates the point. Robert DeNiro’s character notices his muffin contains far less blueberries than another. As the leader (and someone dead set on providing his customers a consistent experience), he bursts into the kitchen and accosts the chef.
“From now on I want you to put an equal amount of blueberries in each muffin. An equal amount of blueberries in each muffin.”
“Do you know how long that’s going to take?” asks the incredulous chef in horror.
“I don’t care how long it takes. Put an equal amount in each muffin.” repeats DeNiro.
Some might call this OCD a quixotic quest for perfection, but I don’t think so. In fact, while the expectation of attaining perfection may be fanciful, the quest for it is essential. In everything we do — whether establishing protocols for a multi-store franchise or simply looking to deliver consistent service at one location — the goal should be to, for example, first figure out the optimal amount of blueberries in each muffin (DeNiro’s character skipped this important step) and then make sure that’s the amount which goes into each muffin. After that, figure how to do this efficiently and develop post-production testing to ensure those quality standards are being met.
You are not dealing with oatmeal, blueberry muffins, or ice cream, but human lives, and so the quest for consistency in everything under your purview is even more paramount. How do you deal with service calls; unhappy users; vendors who may not be delivering on their SLAs? And when I say ‘you,’ I don’t just mean you personally, but what are the processes and procedures (your franchise handbook) that your team relies upon in determining their courses of action.
You want this handbook and you need it. You must ensure that everything in it is right and that all those who should rely upon it actually use it. And remember to consider this workplace bible a living document, as those recipes within it must be continually refined and updated with an evolving set of best practices. This, in fact, is one of the most important aspects of your job. This is the tactical part of leadership — you’ve figured out where you need to go (strategy), but you must also put down the tactics that will allow your team to get there.
Getting everyone on the same page when you’re leading a large team isn’t easy, but there’s often some overlooked low-hanging fruit, like establishing a fill-to line.