Sharing Success

Solving the Right Problem

When I was growing up and faced a challenge, my parents taught me not to give up, but to work extra hard to get through it. But when I got to high school, a wise baseball coach taught me another important lesson. Before jumping to solving a problem, first make sure you identify which problem to solve.

Here is what I mean. Early in my high school baseball days, I was struggling through a hitting slump. So just like my parents taught me, I set out to work even harder by taking extra batting practice. That is when my baseball coach asked a very simple question: “What problem are you trying to solve?” At first, I thought he was kidding because anyone could tell I was in a hitting slump.

My coach explained to me that I had a flaw in my swing. So simply doing more of the same (more batting practice) would just perpetuate the problem. Instead, I first had to work smart to identify the right problem to solve (the flaw) and then work hard to correct it. I took his advice and focused on the fundamentals of hitting a baseball.

This led me to identify my problem and the right approach for correcting it. Then it was time for me to work hard, which is exactly what I did. Working hard on the correct fundamentals paid off as I gradually enjoyed success as a hitter.

That experience taught me some important lessons about overcoming challenges:

1) Start by identifying the right problem.

2) Get back to the fundamentals.

3) Improvement takes time and energy, even if you are working on the right problem.

The reason I bring this up is that today, more than ever, Independent businesses face multiple challenges. While it is tempting to respond to tough times solely by “working harder,” it is smart to first identify what problem you should be trying to solve.

For example, if a restaurant sees fewer patrons coming through the door over time, it is easy to jump to the conclusion that the tough economy is causing people to stay away. Many restaurant owners see the solution to this problem as “tightening the belt” by reducing staff and spending more time on the front lines themselves.

But what if “fewer patrons” is actually a symptom of a problem that is within the restaurant’s control to fix? Perhaps the service is not as consistently upbeat and responsive as it could be. Perhaps food quality has remained pretty good (or even slipped), while competitor quality has gotten better.

In these types of situations, working harder at the same things will likely achieve the same results as my taking extra batting practice without first correcting my swing. (Extra effort without much actual improvement.)

Instead, why not spend some time reviewing the fundamentals which drive your success and then break down how closely your current approach matches those fundamentals?

Most Independent restaurateurs depend on the two fundamentals of: (A) superior food quality; and (B) courteous and reliable service to attract profitable repeat customers.

Therefore, start by identifying what ideal food quality and service look like. In other words, if you had no constraints, what ingredients would you buy? How would you ideally prepare them to produce the most flavorful food possible?

In terms of service, how would you ideally prefer that your employees treat your guests, from the moment they arrive until after they depart?

Once you have clearly identified your fundamentals, you can then objectively break down how well your current operation measures up against those ideals. Then identify, list, and prioritize your opportunities for further improvement.

There is nothing wrong with working harder. But in my book, working smart and hard leads to better results over time. And speaking from personal experience, knowing that your improvement efforts are paying off makes it easier to push yourself even further! Until next time, Ciao!