August 16, 2006

Big Mac Theory

What does it take to put a Big Mac together? How many different people must a Big Mac be exchanged with before it reaches the customer? How many different processes and elements are added into getting a Big Mac?

You probably don't think about that when you're hanging out at McDonald's ordering a delicious, greasy, tastey, mouth watering hamburger with two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame seed bun. You're probably thinking about how fantastic it will take. And how little time it will take to get to you.

Thankfully, we're still surprised by things which are immediately served to us. However, the youngest generation's expectation of customer service are way higher than the previous two generations. Since technology makes many other things immediately accessible to the average young adult, it's no wonder why they are hard nosed consumers.

Of course, for anyone of any generation, what happens when we get that "spider sense" feeling that something is wrong...that our Big Mac is taking a little too long to get to us? As I see it our frustration is cultivated between our lack of control and our natural sense of calculated risk at every stage of ordering a Big Mac. Here's the breakdown:

Pre-restaurant Visit: Control Level at 100%
When we approach a McDonald's and enter a McDonald's we definitely gather a sense of how busy it will be. This also allows us to make an uneducated and completely powerful decision to stay or leave. There are easy signs to read at this point: how many customers are waiting, or how many cars are waiting; how many workers behind the counter; what condition the workers are in (ie frantic or calm); what it is that we are ordering.

If we determine that this is time for us to jet, then we do so, with no regret (save realizing that we may have to eat at Burger King). But once we make that commitment to wait in line, we start to think if we made the right decision. The point of no return at that point is of course when we place our order.

Ordering & Waiting: Control Level 20%
Notice the massive drop in control. We still have the same decision, whether or not to leave, however, now we start to feel powerless because of conflicting thoughts ("well I ordered so I should really wait; I'd be cheating them out of money if I just left; etc.").

But if the order is taking TOO long to complete we start to get agitated. We start ask ourselves deeper questions that find fault in our own actions ("why didn't I see this coming") or others ("why are they so incompetent"). This waiting period culminates with how we will react when the food is ready.

Picking Up Our Order: Control Level 100%
Really the transaction is done but now we feel back in full control. Some folks will try to get their money back if the food wasn't done on time. I, personally, have a tendency just to leave, not even checking my order (which at times has caused additional problems). Sometimes we'll just whip a nasty comment at the person, which by the way solves tons of problems (not really, considering that you've now just doubled the amount of people who probably are having a bad day ie you and the worker).

That dip in control can be extended out to many things. At a formal restaurant there's probably an additional moment between when you're seated and the waiter/waitress comes over to take your order (and smaller moments when your glass is refilled with a tasty bev). A sit down restaurant also adds the social stigma of abruptly leaving as well as the "illegal" act of not paying.

But there are many other areas where Big Mac Theory comes into play...many other times where we can't see the whole process or the steps of the process. Higher Education has tons of those Big Mac processes. And, as I mentioned earlier, the customer, the students, are currently the holders of high expectations of service.

For your department, academic or student services, what are you doing to accommodate this? Do you involve students on departmental decisions that affect them directly? Do you breakdown your processes step by step to see if they are value added for the student? Are your processes in place to defend against other problems?

Let's return to the McDonald's crew for a second. Let's assume that to make a Big Mac you need at least three folks. You need the Cashier to take the order and inform two food prep people. One food prep person is "cooking" the food, the other is gathering the items and putting on the final touches to the order.

Does the food "cooker" and food prep people care about what the cashier could go through if they don't prepare the food properly? The food prep person is probably closer to the front line but has the freedom to move away if things get heated. The food prep person probably also has to worry about other things like running out of supplies or being the communicator between the "cook" and the cashier. In the end, it's the cashier that is on the front line and is most likely to get yelled at or confronted if something goes wrong.

So the cashier probably takes the time to go over the order with the customer..."so you ordered two Happy Meals, three Big Macs, one with no onions, and 5 twenty piece chicken McNuggets." Good step, probably makes the customer feel better, but I'll bet that if the order is not filled properly the customer has completely forgot about that step.

The irony is that the cashier will probably get yelled at for something he didn't do.

No one likes to get "yelled at" (I put this phrase in quotes because I have both been on the receiving and giving end where I've actually done yelling or just simply said something but the feeling is sadly the same no matter how presented). First of all there's the initial shock of conflict. Once that wears off we ask ourselves what went wrong. Did I do something? If not, we look to the team (again blaming others). Sometimes we "yell at" the other members of our team.

How do we avoid this on both sides of the coin?

For starters if you're supervising or creating a process took a long look at what you're doing and why. Are you adding steps to protect yourself from inevitable phone calls? Are you afraid of screwing up and creating things to shift blame immediately to someone else? You and your team can control and maintain your own processes. But as exceptional moments come up, you must learn how to roll with them and possibly even change roles temporarily to accommodate the conflict.

If you're the customer, as tricky as this may be, find a way to understand the inner workings of the process. Additionally, communicate your concerns with the process but do so respectfully. E-mail or fill out a comment card if you don't want to go face to face with someone. Most of the time, management just doesn't know that someone didn't get their big mac on time. Otherwise realize that your control dips when you put your trust and faith in an outside party and be patient.

Customers and producers can work together to eliminate the fat of the process while also maintaining an understanding and respect to accomplish the task at hand. Good luck with your next Big Mac.


August 14, 2006


This is a little weird, but imagine yourself in the warmest, most comfortable confines that you've ever known. You've been constantly fed, and safe. There's been no outside distractions, just the pure bliss of living and contentment. Surprisingly, you're pushed out of that warmth into a world of unknowns, new sights and sounds, and most importantly strange people.

These people are all gathered around you. Ooos and Ahhs immediately follow. Soon you're wrapped in warmth again and go from person to person. You see the warm smiles on their faces. You smile back, bringing more smiles and pleasant laughter from those around you. As you grow older you realize that those faces and smiles will be a central part of your life. They'll be there when you fall. They'll be there when you succeed. And sometimes, no matter what the circumstance, they're just there, in your heart.

I would hope that in some strange metaphysical way, these thoughts have been transposed to my new nephew, Vincent Jeffery Bronk. Born only a few days ago, he entered a world of a loving family, with two great parents, my sister and her husband; and two charming sisters, my other two neices Stephanie and Annika. Vince, at this point, is only aware of the unsaid love that is shared from your new family...and one day will be aware of the love he can receive from other "family" as well.

In the ongoing series about priorities (first article was on Hobbied and appropriately titled "Guilty Pleasures") the hardest priority to get your head around can be, what I refer to as, the Friends and Family priority. The other priorities, as you will see in the next coming months, focus way more on these tangible things you can plan for, or purchase, or dedicate other tangible things to, or time, and see clear results.

People are not like that.

People in your life can go from warm to cold based upon one incident. They can bring you to tears one day, and choke you down with laughter the next. They can surprise you or sometimes be so mundane that it is comforting. But beyond anything else they are important to you and your life. We need people. We need to have that outside factor in our life whether they throw a mirror up to us and help us reflect the good (and the not so good) in our lives. They are there to give consoling words, or a warm hug, when tragedy strikes.

As unpredictable as people can be, of all the priorities, they can offer a feeling and warmth the others get close to, but do not achieve.

To clarify: Friends and Family are so named to give a broad range and scope. Afterall, I would consider my parents family, however as I've gotten older, they're great friends. I have no issue speaking to them candidly about life matters. Likewise, since my brother and sister are much older than I am, I had friends since High School who have been like "little sisters" to me or "twin brothers". I would consider many of those folks family.

Whatever nomenclature you wish to use...the concept is the have people in your life whom you spend time with regularly (even once a year regularly) who can contribute something ethereal to your life that causes you to feel rejvuinated and validated.

My first real close friend ever was Marc Anewenter, co-creator of Kick Butt Productions. The meeting of how I met Marc is still mythical and unfathomable to even myself. My first day of seventh grade, as I started over a new chapter in my life with no close friends or accquaintences, we actually did not go outside for recess. Stuck in our big gym, I entered, alone, slightly afraid, and worried about what would happen next.

Sitting by himself in the middle of the bleachers, at least the length of the gym away from me, was this kid. Again, I cannot explain to you what possessed me to muster up the courage to just walk over to him and begin a conversation with him (think about it to this often do you walk up to a complete stranger and start talking to them just to do it?).

What happened from there was not only amazing, but entertaining. I thought that the gym period would never end. We joked the entire hour. Soon after learning his name was Marc we talked at length about many things we had in common. Marc was my closest friend for the longest time. He was like a brother at times, being able to hear out the tragedies and triumphs of my life, as well as a reflective friend who trusted me enough with his own worries and wishes.

Friends and Family, like Hobbies, are priority that is important because like the others lack of that humanistic warmth can cause disruptions in the other areas. Thus, you need to spend time with folks, you need to e-mail, call, write, etc. even if it's just to say "Hey!" Go and visit people. Call others over and host a get-together. Even the occasional person whom you haven't heard from in years, drop them a line.

My last thought on Friends and Family is probably one of the most challenging to deal with when it comes to people. As much as you can invest in someone in your life, you most also show the strength and compassion to be able to walk away from someone. Not in a rude or mean way, but remember what I said earlier: we are unpredictable creatures. We all change. Sometimes unexpectedly.

In the 12 Steps to Recovery, often used by Alcoholics Anonymous and other related organizations, one of the steps is to refrain from being around those people who remind you of your compulsion/additiction/unhealthy behaviors. This is hard for us to do. Likewise, it's hard to confront a friend when they are hurting you. But that is exactly the moment when you need to say something. Friendships aren't all picnics. Ask any married couple. You've got to work at it. Sometimes that means you eat crow from having said or done something stupid. Sometimes it means you may find a way to change and grow yourself. And, sadly, sometimes it means you walk away until you can find the peace to regrow that connection.

It took me a while to also realize that sometimes even the closest of friendships and relationships can just whither away as time goes on. It's inevitable. Right now you're probably thinking of a Mike Syrakos or a Perry Washington, people whom you wish you knew where they were or wonder how both you of lost contact with each other. For this I reccomend two things:

1. Obviously, if you have a way of finding that friend or family member who you used to connect with, go find them.

2. Sometimes, you can't. That's when you gotta turn to what you got. About three years ago I started a "Friends Only" scrapbook. It doesn't represent any specific time of my life, just a scrapbook of pictures and anecdotes that remind me of my pals throughout my life.

There are always folks out there who are rooting for you. From day one, when you popped out into that cold waiting room, to the day you pass away. Folks smiling when you smile. Take time to be grateful and let them know you will be grateful. Because their love and compassion for you can lift you up to the heavens.


August 05, 2006

Angels Part 4: Jen

I have had the benefit of learning from many great Residence Hall Directors (RHDs) and housing professionals thoughout my time working in Residence Life as a student and a professional. My friends and I who were students "growing up in the biz" would all describe the same phenomena:

There were a group of mentors we learned from, not just one or two.

These mentors could easily be listed and given a sound tribute here on this blog. And although I'm not in the market of a Top listing of mentors, or showing who my favorite advisors were/are, I will say that there is one advisor whom I've only had the chance of working with for one year closely, whose lessons and mantras seem to keep coming back more than others.

My last year as a student at UW Oshkosh, I was the National Communications Coordinator/Wisconsin Communications Coordinator (NCC/WCC and for reference and love for my own hands, let's just call me an NCC).

It was the coolest position on the planet. I got to travel to different schools for conferences, meet students from other schools, talk about leadership issues and plan leadership initiatives, and choose a team of folks to attend conferences to have fun and learn. And I got paid for it! I had fortunate timing with my election into the position. I followed two great NCCs:

Jason McKean who did a good job laying a foundation of organizing delegations and opening the experience up to many new leaders.

Jim Droste who built upon that success and even finessed a lot of procedures and activities so that by the time I came around it was less about learning and more about doing.

The work of those two help bring a lot of street cred to Oshkosh as well as some great recognition. At the time I took the reigns from those two high class gentlemen, I had already attended a total of 9 conferences (which would be three a year for three years, not often done). Needless to say from having seen a lot of conferences and having a good basis for what to do from watching Jim and Jason, there was little guidance or advising necessary.

Enter Jen Cecich. Jen was a 3rd year RHD at the time. She was fairly well known by the general group of leaders at large by being a fair and assertive woman. She was also a great homemaker and her apartment always was a comforting and relaxing (and well decorated) place to be. I'll never forget when Jen and I first talked about working together, I was shocked at what she said:

"Truth is, you know way more about this stuff than I I'm not gonna get in your way, however when you need me I'll be there."

I praise Jen highly because I believe that Jen knew a lot about the people she worked with. I think she took time to watch and observe. I think she was patient enough to let others act they way they needed to, not feeling a slight toward her own style (you don't see much of that these days...many professionals often feel that one natural act of your style is a slight against theirs even if it doesn't affect them).

Jen was patient. Jen knew that despite my confidence and intentness in my experience and knowledge, I would eventually come to her...even if I didn't know it. We didn't have regular one on one meetings, she would shoot me an e-mail asking me how things were...coincidentally they usually came when I needed to chat with her. She was never interrogative. However, and one of the areas I most respect her, she had no problem telling it like it was. She knew my personality could be rambunxious...but when it came to be "normal time" she could get me to slip into it rather uncousciously.

My favorite specific story from here came when we were planning for NACURH 2000 in Colorado. At the time Oshkosh had a tradition of "got ___?" t-shirts starting since GLACURH 1998 when we did "got pirates?" (it was a play off of the themes of conferences where many delegations dressed up and did spirit and unified things based upon the theme). This was to be our 6th "got ___?" t-shirt and our delegation of 18 was pretty excited about it. At a lunch meeting Jen dropped the bomb:

"So I'm just gonna tell you, but you guys can't do those t-shirts anymore. I'm not gonna try to convince you of any philosophy, I'll simply say that the department thinks the theme is outgrown and they're not willing to sponsor the idea." Seeing that I was seething from her information she stated "You're angry aren't you?"

I wanted to rage, I wanted to roar. I thought that the department was out of touch...many schools knew we were the "got ___?" school. I was even sure that many folks were looking forward to be a part of the "got ___?" history. She allowed me to be angry. And I did, in fact I was the one who tried rationalizing and philsophizing. Jen was calm the whole time. She wasn't defiant. She didn't try to talk me out of my frustration. When I was done she did something I wasn't expecting at all.

"I'd be more than happy to tell the delegation and have them be angry at me if you want me to."

This is any student leader's dream. It's hard to face your peers and tell them something that will go against what they are thinking. It's difficult to be the bad guy. And to have an advisor do it, you know that there would be no way of receiving any flack, furthermore, you get to rally on the other side and enjoy the bad news together. But that was not how I wanted it to go down. And I told her I would do it.

Really, once I had thought of what I was going to say, only a couple folks were really pissed. The beauty was that the one person who was so pissed they didn't care what it was that I said went to talk to Jen, who not only backed me up, but also got him to quell down instantly. No yelling, no out-witting each other.

Jen was the ultimate Jedi-Master. What I hadn't realized until later that Jen had set up many transitional learning experiences for me that were preparing me for a life as a graduate professional. She was a teacher who allowed me to be myself and grow naturally while providing opportunities for me to do so.

I've talked about mentoring your jobs mentoring takes two parts: 1. Knowing your "student" 2. Knowing when to mentor and be mentored. It's patient process. Look for those learning moments not as a moment to lecture, but as a moment to allow your mentee to take it upon themselves to learn.

I thank Jen for the patience and understanding she's always exhibited, something for all of us to strive for.