Curious to hear what people think.. What is the most valuable asset of a business?
After thinking about it, give a read 👈👇👉
A week ago a client texted me. Said she’d be 15 minutes late to our appointment.
I said sure, no problem. I’d start at the appointment time & see her tomorrow 15 minutes later.
She said, “No, the appointment is today, right?”
I double checked my calendar. It said tomorrow. That meant she picked that time while booking.
I then went back to my text message confirmation. I send each client a confirmation so there are no mess ups. That too said tomorrow. The client saw the confirmation text as she followed up with more information.
The client pointed out that she made a mistake but was desperate. She wanted to list the property the next day.
The problem was I needed to watch my daughter at that time.
I had a few options:
A) Give the client back her money and tell her not to make that mistake again. I’d lose out on revenue. More importantly, I’d show my client that I am inflexible and could impair my reputation.
B) I could give the client a hard time for making a mistake. No one wins.
C) could drag my daughter along to the shoot, force her to stay in the car and wait for daddy. My daughter would lose and I’d signal to her that work is more important than her.
D) I could tell the client everyone makes mistakes and try to right the client’s mistake and leave for the shoot immediately as I’d just have enough time to do the shoot and pick up my daughter. Everyone wins, although my personal time takes a hit.
I happily chose option D. My clients are hugely important; they are my venture capitalists and my sales department. Treat them well and they’ll reciprocate. And my daughter is the most important person (aside from my wife) in my life that deserves as much of my undivided attention as possible.
So I told my client I’d go at that instant. My client was absolutely floored. I did the shoot and finished just in time to pick up my daughter. My client got to list her property the next day as she intended.
Now imagine this: someone comes along with cheaper prices and exactly the same service. Will my client switch? I guarantee she will not. She’ll remember how I turned lemons into lemonade.
And what happens if I want to raise my prices? I think she’ll be okay with it as long as it allows my company to keep delivering the same kind of service.
That is how you create sticky business relationships.
My story conveys the tone of my business. Bend over backwards for clients. No exceptions. It is my culture. It can’t be valued by accounting measures, but it is HUGELY valuable.
Culture, I believe, is the most valuable asset in business.
A great culture is important, durable and overlooked by most operators.
What the hell is culture?
Same Ingredients - Wildly Different Results
A company is like a restaurant.
A restaurant hires people. The people buy ingredients. They mix and cook the raw materials together using tools and machines. The resultant dish is served to customers.
A company hires people too. The people use machines and processes to combine some raw materials into new forms - a product or service. Sometimes the raw material is physical, digital or esoteric like the employees experience/knowledge/time. Whatever it is, a company serves a complete “dish” to customers.
In the case of both restaurant and company, many of the raw materials each use are available to everyone.
But the finished dishes can be wildly different in style, quality and “taste” or perceived value from one competitor to the next. One can serve dog shit, the other a masterpiece. Same input, different output.
What’s the magic?
The difference lies in the vision of the leader, the skill of the people and the way the team works together.
An example that encapsulates my metaphor was found in the Iraq War. Most military food is terrible. The purpose is to fuel soldiers with as much food as cost effectively and efficiently as possible. In doing so, the food is typically overcooked, bland and drab.
Floyd Lee, a retired Marine and Army cook, thought differently. When he got the opportunity to run the Pegasus Mess Hall in Iraq he leaped at the chance.
Pegasus Mess Hall became an oasis in the middle of the desert. The prime rib was always perfectly cooked, the fruit platter was never less than magnificent and the cakes were described by patrons as sexual and sensual. The cook staff was happy and the ambiance felt like home, a much different experience than the sterile clean cafeteria-like atmosphere of other mess halls.
Floyd Lee’s team sourced ingredients from the same sources as other mess halls. They also stuck to the same standard 21-day Army menu. But the end result wasn’t the same ol’ shit, it was a masterpiece made and served with love.
Lee bragged that soldiers traversed the most dangerous route in Iraq to dine at Pegasus. One soldier, who frequently walked a mile and a half to come for Sunday dinner, said, “The time you are in here, you forget you are in Iraq.”
What did Floyd Lee do differently?
Floyd Lee got the air of the room just right.
A great leader is like an architect of a greenhouse. They assemble the conditions (get the air just right) so all of their people can thrive.
Lee didn’t see his role as merely serving food. He said, “I am in charge of morale”.
Great morale started with his workers. Lee treated his workers well directly translating into how his workers treated cooking - with care, skill and great attention to detail.
Furthermore, workers treated patrons with the same affection. Through a process similar to transitive algebra (if a = b & b = c, a = c), morale spreads from leader, to workers, then to customers like a virus.
One Helluva Chicken Sandwich?
In 2019, Chick-fil-A averaged $4.58 million in sales per store. That was 56% higher than McDonald’s sales per store. Keep in mind Chick-fil-A operates 6 out of 7 days a week vs. everyday with the competition.
And from 2010-2018, Chick-fil-A grew sales 15% annually. The restaurant industry as a whole only grew 3.4%.
Chick-fil-A doesn’t use ingredients much different from others. But their results are wildly different.
How do they do it? What separates Chick-fil-A (CFA) from the rest?
Like Floyd Lee, the Cathy family has gotten the air in each of its restaurants just right so everyone can thrive.
You walk into a CFA and it seems like every employee - no matter where you go - is nice, respectful and will do anything for customers.
The culture starts with management. Management gets the air right and everything falls into place.
Take for instance what a former CFA employee wrote on Reddit:
I worked there for almost three years. I think it was just the management. They were always respectful and kept an air of flexibility and friendliness. We didn’t even get trained on it. They never told me to say “my pleasure", it was just the culture of the place. One time I was grumpy at work, so they told me to go be the cow outfit and I had to go run around with kids that all wanted to hug me, so not that bad at all. Just a great experience, and their food isn’t garbage!”
Another former employee with 10 years expanded upon the CFA culture:
I worked for CFA for 10 years, working my way up from a team member to an AGM, including traveling around as a Grand Opening Trainer for new restaurants. It’s really about hiring well, setting standards and expectations for your employees, and representing said standards and meeting said expectations yourself if you’re in management.”
Treating customers well doesn’t stop at smiles. CFA has mastered the art of bending over backwards for clients everywhere, including in the drive-thru.
With most drive-thrus, if there is a long line of cars, you’ll be waiting forever. However, Chick-fil-A stands out. Customers are in and out in half the time because of a much better operation.
Chick-fil-A calls the system “face-to-face ordering”. Rain or shine, employees are out - chipper as ever - waiting to take your order and payment.
These are the lengths CFA goes to make customers happy.
“Face-to-face ordering” is CFA’s way of maintaining guests’ trust. When I say trust, I mean trust that the drive-thru will be quick. And no matter, rain or shine, their employees will maintain that respectful demeanor so rare in the industry.
So you see, CFA’s success isn’t just from good chicken sandwiches. It’s the whole experience. And the experience is only possible because of the culture.
The Smell Of The Place
Smell is a long-distance sense. It’s a way of stretching time and finding out in advance what lies ahead.” - Lyall Watson
In the process of cooking, a restaurant will produce a smell. It’s a signal. Is the food good? Is it crap?
So, too, does a company create a smell.
It’s not literally a smell. But a cloud of feelings, thoughts and experience generated during production & delivery of the product/service.
It’s a signal. It says whether or not love was injected into the product/service. It says if the company truly appreciates each stakeholder. Essentially, it says if the air within the company is just right.
Customers quickly can tell if a company “smells” like shit or is as sweet as roses.
Companies creating great experiences, both internally and externally, build trust.
Floyd Lee’s Pegasus Mess Hall did it.
Chick-fil-A does it, too.
That trust is shouted from the rooftops to others. Like smell, others can tell in advance what great experience lies ahead. And like smell, once people get a whiff of something, they’ll remember it forever.
Quality business cultures magically attract more quality relationships be it customers, employees, partners & investors. They can’t help but grow.
From The Top
A great culture is important, durable and overlooked by most operators.
Culture is what gets the company to turn lemons into lemonade. It is how a group of people can turn the same raw materials everyone else has access to and turn them into a masterpiece.
Great leaders architect great cultures. The air is set just right so everyone can thrive.
Get the air right (culture) and the smell will travel far and wide.
Investors will ask, “How does one smell great cultures?”
You need the right perspective. You need to prepare; know what smells great. Then, just tune in and soak up the signals.
From this perspective, you don’t even need to travel to see a company. The smell is often enough to give you a great sense of the culture and how it is forming.
If you enjoyed this, I occasionally send out a newsletter called the WoodShedd.
Digging hard into the mechanics of business, investing & leadership.
Updates on building my business (like the above).
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