We’ve all heard the admonition to make lemonade when life throws us lemons. Turning adversity into opportunity has great personal appeal.
Acting on that idea in a systematic way when we are an organizational leader requires more than just good attitude. The first step starts with recognition of a pervasive problem that is so common it can seem invisible or trivial.
While it is true that poor service can end up as a YouTube clip that is treated as a one-off PR crisis, your everyday restaurant experience offers an example of pervasive opportunity, revealing another set of insights. Once you are seated and have a menu, the server will typically ask what you and your guests would like to drink. My preference is fresh lemonade, so I ask for that. Well over half the time, the server will tell me some version of, “We don’t have fresh lemonade.” So I calmly ask, “What part of the lemonade don’t we have?” At this point, the usual server looks momentarily like deer in the headlights. He or she was expecting me to simply make another, if less desirable, drink choice. Instead, the poor server is on the receiving end of a quiz and is unprepared to answer.
Not wishing to extend the server’s potential discomfort, I ask if there is water. The answer is yes. Is there sugar available? Yes. I note there are lemon slices put on the lips of glasses and ask if it is possible to get a full lemon simply cut in half. The answer is yes. So I ask if I might have a glass of ice water, some sugar, and the lemon, and I say I’ll squeeze it myself. It never fails to get me what I want. And it’s the best lemonade I could ask for.
When the bill comes after the meal, what has the restaurant charged for the lemonade?
Nothing. It was not on the menu, so there is no charge. Furthermore, there is no tracking of the lemon taken from inventory. If it’s only one lemon, maybe they shouldn’t worry about it. But how often could this happen? No data is collected, so the answer is unknown. No counting of the number of such requests, no accounting for lost inventory, and no accounting for revenue lost by not charging me four dollars or more for the wonderful lemonade. No larger bill to base the tip on. All evidence points to lost opportunity. It gets worse.
One scenario witnessed umpteen times is the request for caffeine-free tea, lactose-free creamer, gluten-free bread and other items. Yet the servers will often volunteer, “We get a lot of those requests…” Yes, and no one is doing anything about it. Wouldn’t this information be valuable for restaurant management to know so they could adjust their menu and product offering, increase revenue and tip size per meal, and simultaneously improve customer experience?
This version of the lemon principle applies to every organization. How many times do searchers fail to find what they were looking for on your website, or in technical manuals, or in policies? Put more broadly, consider answers as products. How many times is a specific question asked where the requestor does not get an accurate, complete answer at the time first sought?
Every unanswered question, like every glass of lemonade requested but not provided, is an out-of-stock condition. Amazon would do poorly if orders could not be fulfilled at the time of order. Filling orders fast at the first request is one of their core competencies. If we don’t plan to count the opportunities to satisfy, we’ve got guaranteed loss in several dimensions.
So a key to the proverbial win-win-win is to capture, count and prioritize all the repeat requests made of every person and function in the organization. The goal is zero out-of-stock conditions. You get to be a learning organization in the bargain. The enterprise wins, employees are empowered to enhance performance and every requestor (let’s call them all customers) wins. And you’ve made lemonade of the lemons you already have on hand.
Robin Lawton is Leadership Strategist at C3Excellence, Inc. and is the author of numerous books and articles on leadership and culture. His C3 leadership system is described at www.C3excellence.com and in his latest book, Mastering Excellence, available now in paperback and ebook at Amazon.com. Reach him at [email protected].
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