3 Crazy Business Lessons from B’s Barbecue

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“If I was on death row their BBQ plate would be my final meal.” ~ John Dillanger, B’s Barbecue review on Google +

Located in Greenville, NC, in an old country store that almost looks abandoned, lies one of the greatest Eastern-style barbecue joints in North Carolina. How do I know? Partly because it has been featured in newspapersbooksmagazines, andtelevision programs for years; partly because of the line out the door every day at lunch; and partly because, like many others, I go out of my way to get their barbecue.

The food at B’s Barbecue is amazing but don’t expect any extras from this hole-in-the-wall restaurant. The have no phone, no website, no air conditioning, and no posted hours of operation except an old, hand-painted sign that says, “Closed Sun and Mon.” B’s opens “generally” at 9:00 AM and customers know to get there early because B’s shuts its’ doors when the food runs out. Their famous Eastern-style barbecue sauce is not sold in stores and not available on the Internet. You can only find it in the old Crown Royal bottles located on the tables.

What makes B’s Barbecue famous is its’ great tasting barbecue and unique, original charm. B’s opened in the late 1970’s when then farmer, Bill McLawhorn, decided to turn his hobby into a business. He had barbecued pigs and chickens for years and thought he had a pretty good sauce recipe, so he decided to start a barbecue business. Every week he prepared 40 hogs and 240 chickens for a simple menu that included barbecue, slaw, potatoes, green beans, and fries. Today, B’s is run by his three daughters, Judy, Tammy, and Donna, who continue to run the restaurant exactly as their father did.

As a leader who has worked hard to improve businesses over the past 20 years, I’ve always been impressed with the success of B’s and a little curious as to why they don’t make any changes. I’ve often thought of ways they could improve their business. They could paint the building, add a new sign, pave the parking lot, add air-conditioning, create a website, add a phone line, expand their menu, or even open a new location. So why not make a few improvements to boost sales? The answer lies in the owner’s desire to keep B’s simple, original, authentic, and true to its’ roots. The real question is…what’s wrong with that? We can learn a lot from B’s business approach:

The customer isn’t always right – One thing you don’t get at B’s is a lot of choices. Their simple menu is posted on the wall and you better be ready to order when you finally make it to the front of the line. If you try to order something special or something that is not on the menu, you’ll hear it from the people behind the counter and those behind you in line. This simple approach is refreshing. How often do we hear of products or companies that fail because they are trying to be all things for all customers? Stick to the principles of what makes your company unique. Remember, not all customers have your best interest in mind.

Do what you love and do it your way – Daughter Judy credits B’s success to the importance of family and being true to her father’s vision for the restaurant. In an interview she once said, “We’d like to have a nice new fancy building and eight or ten more people working… but, to us, when you start doing all that, then it’s like any other restaurant and that’s not what we wanted it to be. That’s not what my dad wanted it to be; he wanted it to be ours.” Again, this is very refreshing. Too often we hear of companies changing business models for the wrong reasons. You need to be careful not to let others define success for your businesses. It’s your business. Do it your way.

Word-of-mouth trumps the Internet – Conventional wisdom says you must have a well designed website and be active on social media. The long line at B’s Barbecue tells a different story. With nothing more than word-of-mouth, B’s continues to get new customers to come and eat their barbecue. Many companies work hard to get their website and social media strategy right while their product or service performance is poor. The lesson of B’s is to get your product right first. Be excellent at what you do first then add your marketing plan.

In a time where every business seems to be following the same formula for success and there seems to be little differentiation between companies and brands, it is refreshing to go to a place like B’s. It’s a place where they focus on doing the things that matter very well. The great food and simple charm leaves you with the feeling you are experiencing Eastern-style North Carolina barbecue exactly the way Bill McLawhorn would have wanted you to. You also get a sense that his daughters love what they do and don’t plan on changing a thing…and there’s nothing wrong with that at all.

[Photo Credit – BBQ Jew]

Why is Starbucks Hiring 10,000 Veterans?

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If you are looking for boots-on-the-ground, look no further than your local Starbucks. Last week, Starbucks announced plans to hire more than 10,000 veterans in the next five years. Starbucks has joined the ranks of many other high-profile companies like Amazon, General Electric, Uber, General Motors, Toyota, Dow, Merck, and Wal-Mart who see the unique value in hiring military veterans.

What these companies are recognizing is they are gaining higher quality employees by seeking out candidates with military experience. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz explained, “This is just good business. This is not charity. This is not pity. This is the right thing to do for them and for us.” Amazon, who hired 1,900 veterans in 2013, says that veterans bring much needed “leadership skills and problem-solving abilities” to their fulfillment centers. They found hiring veterans is a “great match.”

These companies are validating exactly what I have observed over the past 20 years as a business leader. Hiring veterans is simply good for business. In my experience, military veterans make outstanding employees. They possess numerous traits like loyalty, dependability, resiliency, adaptability, integrity and discipline that are needed in the workplace. Their extensive training, leadership experiences, mission-focus and team orientation allow them to add immediate value to any organization.

So why aren’t more companies seeking out veterans? The biggest challenge hiring managers face is figuring out how military experience translates to needed skills in the civilian workforce. Many employers, looking for candidates with specific work experience, overlook military veterans. Corporate recruiters often don’t understand the unusual work history and military terminology on veteran’s resumes. Unfortunately, they are missing out on landing top-notch talent because of it.

Based on my experience, here are 5 reasons why veterans make outstanding employees:

Veterans know how to lead and how to follow – Whether serving as a platoon leader, squad leader, junior officer, team leader, tank commander, or hundreds of other military leadership roles, veterans have deep experience leading people, often in tough conditions. They also know how to follow orders. The military is a mission-focused, team-oriented, hierarchical organization that requires precision. Following orders is critical to accomplish the mission.

Veterans are high performers and are results-focused – Kirkland Murray, CEO of Anne Arundel Workforce Development says, “Veterans have a great work ethic; they take on challenges with a singular focus and can be counted on to show-up on time ready to work. Veterans aren’t wasteful; they have honed skills which give them the ability to work with limited available options.”

Veterans are good under pressure – The military provides unique, high stress experiences where soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen must perform at a high level. Whether repairing a vehicle under fire, landing a damaged aircraft, or bringing a submarine to periscope depth in rough seas, veterans are trained to excel in tough situations.

Veterans know how to work as a team – From boot camp to combat, veterans have been trained to work as a team to complete the mission. Military veterans know each member of the team must do their job to perfection for the team to succeed. In the case of combat or dangerous exercises, failure to perform as a team can lead to serious consequences.

Veterans understand self-sacrifice – Many new-hires are focused only on themselves, their careers, and what they can get from a company. Veterans know what it means to put their country, their mission, and their team ahead of themselves and their families. They are willing to fight for a cause that is greater than themselves.

As a leader, your job is to build a strong team, with the best people, who can accomplish big things. Military veterans bring unique attributes, skills, and experiences that can enhance any organization. They are loyal, dependable, hard-working employees who know how to lead, how to follow, and can get things done in tough circumstances. Companies like Starbucks have recognized this and are seeking out veterans in large numbers. If your recruiting strategy does not include adding veterans to your team, you may be missing out on some of the best talent available.

[Photo credit – Public Affairs Office Fort Wainwright]

What Level is your Leadership?

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Lolly Daskal’s article in Inc.com last week was a great reminder of a famous HBR article I read years ago, one that changed my view of leadership completely. Lolly’s article provides excellent insight on leadership qualities and is a good read. In it, she describes 10 important adjustments to make in your leadership style to be a boss who goes from being good to great.

Her article reminded me of the timeless leadership lessons that Jim Collins uncovered while writing his best-selling business book, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t. In that book, Jim and his team researched 1,500 companies and identified 11 that made the leap from being good companies to ones that outpaced the market. The 11 great companies he identified averaged cumulative stock returns nearly 7 times the general stock market for more than 15 years. In working to determine all the factors that led to these remarkable transformations, he discovered something unique in the leadership traits of their CEOs. He called it Level 5 Leadership.

He introduced the world to his discovery in an HBR article called Level 5 Leadership: The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve. What he revealed in that landmark article was something that was counterintuitive, revolutionary, and still true to this day. His findings challenged the age-old, conventional wisdom that the best CEOs had to have large egos, be charismatic, and act like larger-than-life figures. Instead, he discovered the CEOs that built these long-term, sustainable, great companies had a “paradoxical combination of personal humility and professional will.”

According to his research, Level 5 Leadership was a necessary requirement for these companies to transform from good to great. He cites examples of companies like Kimberly-Clark, Gillette, Abbott Laboratories, Walgreens, and Nucor Steel. Each of these companies was transformed into a great organization, one that outpaced the market, under the guidance of a Level 5 Leader.

So what exactly is a Level 5 Leader? According to Jim Collins, the Level 5 Leader sits on top of a hierarchy of 5 different leadership types:

Level 5 – Executive – Builds enduring greatness through a paradoxical combination of personal humility plus professional will.

Level 4 – Effective Leader – Catalyzes commitment to a vigorous pursuit of a clear and compelling vision; stimulates the group to high performance standards.

Level 3 – Competent Manager – Organizes people and resources toward the effective and efficient pursuit of predetermined objectives.

Level 2 – Contributing Team Member – Contributes to the achievement of group objectives; works effectively with others in a group setting.

Level 1 – Highly Capable Individual – Makes productive contributions through talent, knowledge, skills, and good work habits.

Collin’s research showed extensive evidence of Level 4 Leaders who had improved companies in the short-term, but long-term transformation only occurred with a Level 5 Leader at the helm. Level 5 Leaders have two unique leadership characteristics not seen in Level 4 Leaders. Collins describes these qualities, personal humility and professional will, as the “yin and yang” of Level 5 Leadership:

Level 5 Leaders are humble and exhibit personal humility

  • They demonstrate a compelling modesty, shunning public adulation; never boastful.
  • They act with quiet, calm determination; relying principally on inspired standards, not inspiring charisma, to motivate.
  • They channel their ambition into the company, not themselves; they set up successors for even more greatness in the next generation.
  • They look in the mirror, not out the window, to apportion responsibility for poor results, never blaming other people, external factors, or bad luck.

Level 5 Leaders demonstrate relentless professional will

  • They create superb results and are the clear catalyst in the transition from good to great.
  • They demonstrate an unwavering resolve to do whatever must be done to produce the best long-term results, no matter how difficult.
  • They set the standard of building an enduring great company; they will settle for nothing less.
  • They look out the window, not in the mirror, to apportion credit for the success of the company—to other people, external factors, and even good luck.

Jim’s stories of these humble-but-fierce CEOs who led remarkable turnarounds in their organizations, forever changed the way I thought of leadership. His well-researched and compelling arguments changed the minds of many others as well. Much of the thinking on corporate leadership was challenged by his revolutionary findings. Today, you can see evidence of his influence in leadership books, articles and blog posts. If you go back and re-read Lolly Daskal’s article you can see the traces of Level 5 Leadership in her descriptions of a what makes a great boss.