How Do You Stand Out?

Hot dogs. Do you know how to stand out and create “raving fans” when you run a hot dog shop? Or any other business? You do what I saw the other day at Hot Dogs of Santa Cruz in Roseville, CA.

I had 20 minutes to kill before an appointment and hadn’t had lunch so I stopped at this place (my wife’s going to frown on this), I’d never been before because…well–I was hungry and I love hot dogs.


The Greeting…The man greeting the customer before me (an older man) said cheerfully “Hello young man.” Then he greeted me (not that old), with “Hello young man.” Point? It stands out, was humorous, and memorable. How do you greet callers?


Friendliness and Humor…My order: “Two hot dogs with just mustard.”His reply: “One hog dog, extra jalapeños.”  The cash register total: $9.21  His reply:: “That’ll be $921 dollars.” When appropriate, how do you engage with your customer to bring a smile or lighten a routine exchange?


Service…He set my 1st hot dog the counter and said “We’ll bring your second one to you when you’re ready.” By the way (noticing my iPad), do you need WiFi?” It’s the small things that all add up to make a big difference.


Results…You can see in the photo that the place was packed and there was a line at the counter. And for me–I’m now a raving fan.


So if someone can do all this selling hot dogs…don’t you think you and I should put the same effort into our customer touches?

And by the way–he wasn’t selling hot dogs…he was selling me.

Decision-Based Agendas

Has this happened to you?

You’re participating in a group meeting. You come upon an important topic on the very full meeting agenda labeled “Widget Sales Program.” The meeting leader initiates the conversation with an somewhat impressive introduction and overview. He or she then asks for input.

As the input comes from all directions from all the participants–the course of the meeting shifts left–then right, then backwards, then totally off topic–then back to the middle.

Many excellent ideas come out. Some are even written down on the flip chart. After 35 minutes of discussion, sharing of ideas, and even bold proposals for “change,” the meeting organizer realizes she’d only allowed 30 minutes for the discussion and time is running out, and so she’s going to have to move on.

She sums up what she thinks she heard and then moves on to the next topic.

So what was wrong with this? Perhaps nothing–if the group and leader arrived at an important decision or action point based on the discussion.

But more often than not–a meeting agenda prompts a lot of great discussion where many great ideas are shared–but no “goal” was set for the agenda item in the first place. It felt good to the meeting organizer and participants to have the agenda item on the list–but they leave the topic not really feeling as if they did something substantial about it.

How do we make this process better? The answer is through decision-based agendas. The trouble can be–is that these don’t come naturally to us. A decision-based agenda item looks odd on the page, and even if we don’t phrase it properly, the meeting leader must exhibit the discipline to remember to crystallize the goal for the topic in everyone’s mind so that a decision is reached.

One way to enable this process–is to just rewrite the agenda topic. Instead of “Widget Sales Program,” the meeting leader might have listed it as “Widget Sales Program: What Are The #1 and #2 Enhancements Needed to Achieve Our Goals?”

This tells everyone at the outset that their mission for the discussion–is to identify just two components to improve the Widget Sales Program. It’s easy for the meeting leader to come back around in the middle of the discussion and remind the group of the goal. And more importantly, it sets the right tone at the very beginning for the participants, so that they know what is expected during this section.

Other agenda topic examples:

Before: “Customer Service”
After: “Customer Service: Determine Priority and Responsibility List Based on Last Month’s Survey”

Before: “Warranty”
After: “Establish New Warranty Labor Provision: 1 Year or 2 Years”

Before: “Widget Inventory”
After: “Decide What Stock Items Can Be Reduced to Achieve 10% Inventory Reduction”

Obviously, not every topic on an agenda can be expressed as a question. Often, there are important updates and sharing of information that just need to be expressed as such–without any question attached.

But using a Decision-Based Agenda strategy will help ensure more of our meeting topics produce something useful to take away from the discussion, rather than that empty feeling when we’re 30 minutes behind schedule and we just have to “move on because we’re out of time.”

Execute…or be Ex-e-cu-ted

There is no doubt that one of the top five lessons I have learned in business is that of execution. And in fact at times it might be number one.

Having worked for a company in the first half of this decade that was fairly good at execution—I have learned how to spot execution when it exists, and more importantly—when it doesn’t. The CEO of our parent company felt execution was so paramount to successful business that he developed The Execution Award for managers who demonstrated effective focus, clarity of management, and clear speed in getting things done. Unfortunately, he would tell you that he could count on one hand the number of times he gave the award away across the various business that were part of the organization. My company was able to secure the award once. And we thought we were good at it.

Yes, execution is elusive.

When it exists, people explain things simply to one another, they reach clear agreements, and they hold one another accountable for results. You can observe it in those who are successful in gaining clear commitments from others, those who write down steps and dates and ensure everyone knows what they are, and then follows up to see to it what was promised truly gets done.

You can also see when execution is lacking—such as in these examples:

A president asks his team at a meeting when something will be completed, and the answer from one of the vice-presidents is “a couple of weeks.” The president then says, “Good—as long as it’s not going to be six weeks.” No one writes anything down and the conversation moves on.

(The problem here is that the president accepted a vague answer, did not write down a precise commitment date, and let the conversation move on without coming to a clear agreement on who, what, and when)

Or two, a manager sends an email to three recipients and addresses remarks to no one in particular—saying she needs some certain result by sometime next week.

(Here again, the lack of specifics cause each of the three recipients to think “Hmmm, certainly one of the other two will respond to this—since it wasn’t directed at me personally.”)

And so it goes. Each of three recipients all go on thinking ‘someone else’ will handle it—and almost certainly no one will.

Or three, the supervisor of a work group needs to know that a brand new process has been used in 100% of the week’s production schedule to meet a quality guarantee. The ideal question would be something like “Was this new process used from the start of Shift ‘A’ this week—and continuously in every shift since right up through today?” Instead, the supervisor who isn’t practicing a solid discipline of execution attempts to ask the question—but expresses it instead as a statement: “And, the new process has been used from the start of Shift ‘A’ this week? His trailing tone leaves it hanging there as a confusing combination between a weak question and an even weaker statement. Its easy for the employees to silently nod their head, but the real answer is never flushed out.

Execution simply means getting things done. And as you can see, it has a very clear connection with a person’s ability to communicate clearly and with intention. You must use direct language. You must look people in the eye when you ask them questions—and get clear agreement. Assumptions cannot be made. Dates and promises are to be written down. Follow-up is to be consistent. And rewards afforded to those who execute—and withheld with those that do not.

Once you begin understanding and recognizing when good execution is present—and when it is not—you will be more purposeful in your dealings with people, with your communication, with your follow up, and with your attention to results.

It is, after all, what separates those who do—from those who do not.