How to See It, Say It, and Make It Stick: From Vision to Execution

“Vision is what some people claim they have when they find out they guessed correctly.” Alfred E. Neuman-in Mad magazine

By Jim Sullivan

Vision is what some people claim they have when they find out they guessed correctly.Alfred E. Neuman in Mad magazine

As friends, colleagues, and readers know, every year I like to spend the month of July in Door County, Wisconsin, for a little R ‘n R ‘n R (restaurants, research and relaxation). Every day up here involves some combination of either getting out the Bomber Slick Jigs in search of bass, chugging an ice cold Dos Equis or three at JJ’s in Sister Bay, or still marveling at the marketing prowess of a local operator who puts four goats on the grass roof of his namesake restaurant and lines up tourists from 6 am to 9 pm to plunk down $9.50 for a plate of Swedish pancakes with lingonberries. Ya gotta love it.

The restaurateurs up here have both a singular focus and a sense of fun predicated on the notion that the season is short, staffing is critical, and you make hay while the sun shines. Which brings me to one of my favorite topics: vision, focus, and execution.

I get to work with a lot of successful restaurant chains in a consulting capacity. And one area of expertise of mine that’s repeatedly tapped is how to transfer executive vision into front line execution. Maybe that’s a concern for you too, especially as you plan your annual sales goals. So may I suggest that you start at square one: detail your goals, objectives, vision, or mission statement in a way that the entire team can clearly picture it.

For instance, the Honda Motor Company recently issued a corporate U.S. sales goal that—at first glance—was confusing to many of its team members: Six Hondas in Every Garage by the Year 2010.

The challenge is that Honda’s sales managers are apparently too narrowly focused on their best-selling automobile line instead of the breadth of the Honda product catalog—motorcycles, generators, lawn mowers, snow throwers, air compressors, ATVs, boats, and farm equipment. So they detailed a clearly visual goal instead of the basic “increase sales by 20% across all lines”. Now no doubt, each brand manager at Honda will be providing annual incremental sales targets based on the objective of 6 Honda products in every U.S. garage by 2010, but the point is that the executive team first painted a picture that every team member can clearly see. Will it succeed? Only time will tell, but it begs the question of whether or not your team members can see your company’s goals as clearly.

Rather than cobbling together a wordy and vague “mission statement”, begin by formulating a distinctly visual approach to an ideal operation. If you try to be everything to everybody, you end up being nothing to no one, so be specific and detailed. Ask yourself: “if my restaurant was ideal…what would it look like?” Here’s how your reply might look, based on a casual theme operation:

At every minute we’re open, we have a line of people who want to eat or drink at our restaurant. The front doors are held open by a smiling and gracious hostess for every entering or exiting guest. Every table is greeted warmly within 2 minutes by a smiling server. Every guest orders an appetizer and there is a bottle of wine on every third table, each of which was suggested by a server. Each glass is spotless. Each entrée is prepared perfectly and the manager, servers and bartenders know, use and remember every guest’s name. There are zero mistakes in the kitchen, and every customer compliments their server on the quality of the food. Servers recommend—and every guest orders—a dessert. When they visit the bathroom, each guest notices how clean it looks and fresh it smells. Managers introduce themselves to every table and hospitality is flowing in both the front and back of the house. After dinner, each guest orders a cappuccino, a liqueur or a dessert wine. No glasses or dishes are broken, and nothing is wasted or accidentally thrown away. Within 24 hours of visiting us, each guest is either phoning or e-mailing two friends, telling them that they must come to our restaurant to experience the best service and food in the city. Those friends call two more friends each and invite them to lunch or dinner the next day at our place. It is so fun and rewarding to work here that our hourly turnover is less than 20% and our manager turnover is zero.

Now obviously, readers who run QSR operations would modify the specifics, but the response should be equally detailed. It seems to paint a pretty clear picture of where you want to be, and offers a good contrast to where you currently are. How far off from the ideal are you? Is the food perfect, bathrooms clean, guests names remembered, waste minimal, communication clear, an appetizer on every table, and a bottle of wine on every third table? If not, a second, simple question will help transform “vision” to execution:

What kind of training is necessary to get you there?

There is a direct link between providing effective training and achieving sales, service, cleanliness, retention, waste-watching, or team-building goals. The bridge between vision and reality is constant training, customer-focus, obsessive commitment to skills improvement and providing team members with respect, recognition, and rewards.

In summary, let me share the words of Chuck Juidice, a manager of ours at Caldonia’s in Denver back in 1985 who once said: Vision without action is daydreaming, but action without vision is just killing time.