Thursday, November 25, 2010

Seeking Perfection

I consider Seattle, WA one of my favorite cities and have visited nearly a dozen times over the years.  I recently visited a close friend who lives in Seattle and was able to experience new adventures and visit establishments that I have never been to before.  One of my standout experiences was visiting the Zig Zag Cafe.

A little history on the Zig Zag Cafe before I share my experience.  The Zig Zag is regarded as having the best bartenders in the Seattle area.  Becoming a head bartender is really an apprenticeship that comes to age with mentoring and patience - not rushed and no shortcuts.  In fact, rumor has it that the #2 bartender in Seattle who worked at a competing bar and was revered by local cocktail connoisseurs, quit to join the team at Zig Zag.  He did not pour a cocktail the first year he worked there.  If you are familiar with Zig Zag you likely recognize the name Murray.  Murray has earned the recognition as one of America's Top 10 Bartenders.  Unfortunately I was not able to meet Murray or observe his craft.  Instead, Eric was bar tending the evening I visited.  Eric is one of Murray's apprentices and like any Jedi in training, eventually the Jedi becomes a master.

From the moment we entered the cafe, Eric became aware of our presence while he was preparing someones drink.  A quick look up to acknowledge me and my friend.  As the host escorted us to the bar my friend mentioned to me that it had been over a year since he had stopped into the Zig Zag.  The moment we sat down Eric had placed a glass of ice water with napkin in front of each of us and said, "Good evening gentlemen.  It's been a while since we've seen you Mr. Gates [referring to my friend]."  Eric and my friend exchanged pleasantries and I was introduced.  Eric asked, "What would you like this evening?"  My friend replied, "I'll have the usual." - testing Eric's memory.  Eric did not miss a beat and confirmed, "Ketel One straight up."  While this impressive display of memory was playing out, the wait staff were coming up to the bar from three different locations and placing orders with Eric for the dozens of tables they were serving.  The coming and going of the wait staff was like watching bees arrive at their hive, make a deposit, then depart to search for more pollen.  Eric was also calmly looking to his left and right to ensure the patrons sitting at the bar were satisfied.

As we sat enjoying our martini's and took in the ambiance, Eric prepared dozens and dozens of drinks with a precision I have never witnessed before.  Every, literally every, drink prepared was tested at least once before leaving the bar.  Eric would use a cocktail straw and his finger tip to cap the end of the straw (this traps the liquid in the straw), remove it from the cocktail and drink the contents of the straw.  He would then approve the drink and pass it to the waiter for delivery or he would make an adjustment to the drink so it tasted perfect.  Most of the time the adjustment was a drop, or two, of one of the ingredients that was required to make the perfect balance.  After each adjustment he would place a new cocktail straw into the drink and test it again.  On rare occasion (of the 100+ drinks I watched him make he did this once) he would pour the drink out and start over.  Again, as Eric's attention to the smallest detail would appear all consuming he still would engage with the patrons.  Looking up at us, "Mr. Gates, I don't think any one's order Louis since you last visited."  At this moment someone from behind the bar needed Eric's attention and pulled him away for a brief conversation.  When Eric returned my buddy said, "My friend's visiting from out of town so let's have two."  Eric grabbed two cognac snifters and began preparing our glasses that would contain the cognac.  First he filled two tumbler glasses with hot water and then set the snifters of cognac on their side on top of the tumbler so the Louis would warm up.  As he was doing this my friend asked Eric if they have any Port Ellen and in a blink Eric had grabbed a bottle (8th Release) from the shelf and placed it in front of us while continuing to prepare our drinks.  Eric asked if I had tried the Port Ellen and I answered no to which he poured me a complimentary taste of the $400 bottle of scotch.  As I enjoyed the Port Ellen I watched Eric complete the heating ritual and present our glasses of cognac.

What inspired me the most about Eric was watching someone who is dedicated to their craft and seeks perfection.  His awareness, memory, precision, attention to detail, multitasking, focus and passion were astonishing to watch.  It truly was like watching a professional athlete do their thing.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Customer Relationships

Have you ever struggled with the issue of professional contact with customers from a previous job?  If you have, you are not alone.  Over the past 16 years of my career, I have worked directly with a customer base or managed others who have a customer base.  I have witnessed employees voluntarily and involuntarily resign and then struggle with how to professionally stay in touch with their customer base.  This becomes a challenge if your prior employer views your interest of wanting to stay in touch with old clients as an attempt to solicit them to follow you to the new company, often a competitor, that you are working for.

The divided view on this topic can be generalized as such:
Company's Position: The customers belong to the company.  The reason an individual was able to have a successful business partnership with their customers was due to resources provided by the company and the delivery of any services or products was the result of the company - not an individual.  i.e. the company's brand in the market place has value and the company's business tools (brochures, business cards, website, etc...) aided in capturing the customer's business.  If the individual employee resigns - the company will replace them and service continues uninterrupted.
Employee's Position: The customers have a relationship with the individual employee and that is a result of personality, commitment, and ability to gain the customer's trust.  If the customer chooses to stay in touch or follow the employee to another business - that is the customer's choice.  Some employees feel it is appropriate to directly contact their customer's and inform them of where they will be going to work.

Often there are non-solicit agreements between employees and employers that spell out the "do's" and "dont's" of interacting with previous customers over a specific period of time (typically 12 months).

My recommendation is to be ethical and adhere to any contract you agreed to.  At all costs do not burn a bridge, even if you completely disagree with the former employer.  At the same time, I recognize business contacts (former customers) are a crucial component to success and starting over can be time consuming.  I recommend using a business social media tool to establish a neutral connection that gives you access to your contacts without having to solicit them.  For example;
I suggest choosing one.  I have accounts with all three and although there are differences, basically they are all the same.  I find I use LinkedIn the most.  In my opinion this is a neutral meeting point for people that want to network.  Although your relationship may have initiated through a previous employer, you have something new to offer an old customer.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Signature Strengths

One of my favorite books is Now Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham & Donald Clifton. I agree with the authors' theme of focusing on your strengths and managing your weaknesses.  I was impressed with their online "Strengths Finder" test and found it quite accurate in identifying "Signature Themes".

My top five themes are:
1) Strategic
2) Competition
3) Individualization
4) Command
5) Focus

One of the most significant self-realizations in my life occurred to me after I began paying attention to my signature themes. I noticed when I executed my signature themes in various daily situations. After a while, I began to notice more. When I experienced a deep feeling of satisfaction about my work or in giving advice to a friend, I realized that I was exhibiting one or more of my signature themes.  To use a sports analogy, it felt like catching a long pass or throwing a hard strike; doing what you intended to do and being appreciated for it.

As my self awareness grew, I recognized that my most successful moments and my most successful roles within a company were a direct result of utilizing more than one of my signature themes on a regular basis. The combination of being in the right role, with appropriately matched responsibilities, plus being surrounded by an environment that provided challenging opportunities was ideal for me.

The purpose of this post is to encourage people to identify what they are good at and look for opportunities to execute their talents on a regular basis. If you have hit a dead end in your current job, perhaps you should talk to your manager about taking on a new role, a role that matches your strengths to the opportunity.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Bob Young

I had the opportunity to hear Bob Young speak this morning. Bob is the former CEO of Red Hat and the current CEO of LuLu. He did a great job of mixing in his successful business experiences with a sense of humility and humor.

Bob's advice to everyone was simply stated as A - B - C.

Alignment - pick one thing and be good at it. He used the metaphor from the movie City Slickers to elaborate his point. In the movie when Mitch asked Curly what the meaning of life was and Curly said its "one" thing. Curly died before he could tell Mitch what it was but later on Mitch realizes it does not matter what the "one" thing is as long as it is your "one" thing.
Better - Be a little better each day - the compound interest concept. Every day teach yourself a little more about your industry and as time passes you will become competent or intermediate and eventually expert.
Customer - All about the customer - make them successful. If your focus is to make your customer successful they will stick with you. Be careful because the customer is not always right. When they are wrong our job is to help them realize the difference between "Needs vs Wants". Help them achieve their "Needs" and you will have a business partnership for life. If you get caught up in focusing on their "Wants", you fail more than succeed and may eventually be viewed as ineffective.

Saturday, February 28, 2009


I learned of behavior based interviewing about 10 years ago. The goal of this type of interview is to learn how the candidate behaves in situations that they are likely to encounter in a professional environment. Most questions begin with "tell me about a situation you were in when..." The interviewer is not looking for a "best answer" but rather trying to understand what the interviewee learned from the situation - even if the experience was not positive/successful.

A successful strategy to structure your reply to these types of questions is using the S.T.A.R. approach. Your answer should be focused on the the Situation you were in, what your Task/s were, the course of Action you took and the Result. Again, even if the result was not ideal you can explain how you learned from it.

Practicing the S.T.A.R approach with someone before you go to an interview is extremely beneficial. Just like the interviewer is not looking for a specific answer, you should not be trying to come up with a specific response. The purpose of practicing is to help you to discover "your" answer so it flows naturally from you during the interview.