“Ideas are easy to come by; reduction to practice is an arduous but inspirationally rewarding matter.” — Richard Buckminster Fuller
The award for best two-layer play on words in a book title goes to How to Feed Friends and Influence People: The Carnegie Deli (Milton Parker and Allyn Freeman, 2005).
It’s the tale of the best deli in New York — a place that makes its own corned beef and pastrami and turns them into sandwiches the size of your head.
It’s a nice little book, and valuable besides, since interspersed with the deli’s history are recipes — including the formulas for knishes, stuffed cabbage, and of course matzoh balls.
And, it describes the ten business principles that have made the Carnegie Deli a huge success. Regular readers of Keep the Joint Running know the difference between running IT as a business (bad idea) and running IT in a businesslike way (great idea). That being the case I have an excuse for: Listing the ten principles, offering my own comments, and counting the cost of the book as a business expense.
1. Keep it simple. The Carnegie Deli sells delicatessen food. That’s it.
That isn’t it, of course. There’s a lot of complexity supporting that simplicity. As CIO your organization has a lot of moving parts, too (138 — we’ve counted them). See if you can develop a formulation as simple as the Carnegie’s for what you do.
2. Do one thing better than anyone else. The Carnegie Deli sells customers phenomenal food in generous portions at a great price. It’s why, with lots of New York delis to choose from, they eat at the Carnegie.
You run IT, not an independent business. You still need to give your boss and your peers a reason to work with you and your department instead of ignoring you, or wishing you were someone different. What is it?
3. Create a family atmosphere among the staff. This isn’t fake. As I watched Sol Levine, the Carnegie Deli’s manager, schmoozing with his customers our server told me, unasked, “We love that guy!”
When employees trust each other … and you … it’s easy to make great things happen. When they don’t you have no chance.
4. Promote from within. Sometimes you’ll need new blood, especially when your old ideas have run out of steam. More often, managers hire from the outside because they failed to prepare anyone on the inside.
5. Have an open ear to staff and customer comments. The twenty-buck term is “organizational listening.” Managers who don’t listen to everyone they can don’t know What’s Going On Out There. That makes them ignorant — poor preparation for making good decisions.
6. Make it yourself. This is far easier when your products are corned beef, pastrami and pickled tongue than when your products are software and data repositories. Few IT shops can build everything internally. What you can do, though, is make it all your own. Once you select (for example) SAP and implement it in your company, it’s your unique implementation. You’d better have gurus who know it inside and out.
7. Own the premises. The Carnegie Deli owns its own building. As CIO, this principle should make you think hard about the consequences of, for example, rented data center space in a co-location facility. The benefits are well-known. The hazards are all related to loss of control, and you shouldn’t take them lightly.
8. Management is always responsible. The book says it best: “There’s no finger-pointing. If something goes wrong or is mishandled, management is at fault.”
More to the point: If something goes wrong or is mishandled, the manager in charge should be asking, “How could I have prevented this, and how am I going to prevent it from happening again.”
Blame is for schmucks.
9. Do not be greedy. Greed is a strategy that works in the short term but almost always crashes and burns in the long term. Greed makes managers adopt unsustainable business practices. This is true of the company you serve. It’s also true for departments with grandiose plans. Make it one step at a time, and do each step well.
10. Have fun working. Some CIOs have problems with absenteeism, and with employees who hide in their cubicles, uninterested in doing their jobs.
They should ask themselves what it is about the department they lead that makes employees want to be somewhere else.
The last time I ate at the Carnegie Deli Sol Levine told me, “We’ve been doing this for 75 years and we still don’t know what we’re doing.”
If I didn’t know what I was doing as well as Sol and his colleagues don’t know what they’re doing, I’d be a much better consultant than I am today.
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