Leaders Drive Culture

Interesting how much I tend to focus on culture and team building both in my blog posts as well as at Culver’s.  The entire debacle at United Airlines is proof positive that the leaders in any company are the ones that must drive the culture.  If the leaders of United drove a positive, guest focused culture these situations this past week would have never happened.  The two main situations were the doctor that got dragged out of the plane because an employee needed the seat and also the couple on their way to a wedding that moved into open seats that were just a little larger.  Then you have the CEO after seeing the online video have the audacity to say that the doctor was unruly so that is why they took him off the plane.  If this is the attitude of the CEO it is not surprising that the rest of the team follows his lead.  I guess no one reminded United lately that they are really in the people business, not the airline business.  This is why some may argue that Southwest has become the gold standard in customer relations.  Remember as leaders our team members will watch and listen to how we treat our guests and they will follow our lead.    As Jon Gordon points out in his new book “The Power of Positive Leadership”, once you know what you stand for decisions are easy to make. 

  • Another related point to remember is that we are always on stage.  In the day of social media and smart phones chances are good that someone is watching you.  Not only other team members, but other guests will also watch how you handle certain situations.  Not only situations with other guests but guests will even comment on how we interact with team members.  In a small confined area like a restaurant chances are good that someone can hear or see you at any given time.  People tend to make most decisions based on emotion which can help or hurt us as a company.  If we can build the relationship and have a positive emotion associated with our business they will become loyal, raving fans. 
  • The actions of United also shows us that merely having a great mission statement isn’t worth anything if your company doesn’t live and breathe its mission statement.  “Fly the Friendly Skies” is the United slogan.  What does this exactly mean?  The United Airlines skies don’t seem very friendly these days.  If United lived and breathed this slogan, the CEO would have come out and condemned the actions taken by the crew and made immediate change.  Remember our mission statement, every guest that chooses Culver’s leaves happy.  When making a decision in the heat of the moment we need to ask ourselves if what we are doing or saying will help us achieve this goal.  We also need to remember that my guest is anyone that isn’t me.    
  • In closing we need to remember that there are three basic things that every customer of any business wants.
    • 1.  The items / service to be defect free.  In our case complete and accurate.  In the case of an airline they want the plane and luggage to go where they paid for it to go.
    • 2.  They want this in timely manner.  If it will be late people want to know as soon as possible that it will be late.  In our case this is our speed of service.  In the case of an airline they want to arrive on time and not be delayed.
    • 3.  They want people to be nice.  In both cases this means that they want to have a pleasant interaction with the company.  People want to do business with companies that they know, like and trust. 
  • It is our responsibility as leaders of our company to make sure that we provide a culture that can achieve the three items listed above.  Remember that our goal is to create loyal, raving fans every single day!  We cannot simply talk about culture, we must act accordingly. 

What Level Leader Am I?

Below is a summary of the 5 levels of leadership by John Maxwell along with a leadership challenge at the end of the page.  John Maxwell has written so many great books that are all available on Amazon.  He also has some great videos posted on youtube about leadership.   

  • Level 1: Position.  People follow you because they have to. We get to shape and define who we are as a leader.  This is when the team members give you the least effort.  In a level one culture if the end time is 5:00 people are mentally clocked out at 4:30.  All you have is a title.
  • Level 2: Permission.  People follow you because they want to.  Easiest way to go from level 1 to level 2 is to be liked by connecting with your people.  Get to know each other.  It is hard to be in the people business if people don’t like you.  Relationships are the foundation to build your leadership style.  Three things level 2 leaders do well: listen, observe (where and what) and learn.  In these 3 areas they have an attitude of servant leadership.  If you are going to grow as a leader you need to grow out of position based leadership.
  • Level 3: Production or Results.  This is where you help the bottom line and produce.  These people produce by example.  Greatest motivational principle is that people do what people see.  Too many leaders are travel agents vs. tour guides.  Travel agents send people where they have never been.  Tour guides walk along side their people.  Time to act as a “real model” and lead the way.  You will also start to attract productive people at this point.  We attract who we are as a leader, not who we want to be.  This is where you can get momentum.  Momentum is a great catalyst.  If you can create momentum it can become a problem solver.  A moving train can bust through a five foot concrete wall vs. a non moving train that cannot even get over a five inch block.  Many times the problem is not really the problem.  80% of all problems are gone in Level 3 simply by having the momentum to make the little problems disappear.    
  • Level 4: People Development.  The way to grow a company is to grow your people.  1. The key to developing starts with recruiting. 80% of success is who comes in the front door.  What are we looking for?  Paint a clear picture of what the ideal team member looks like.  Hire for attitude.  2. Positioning.  After the right person is in the door you need to get them in the right position to help them find their sweet spot.  Successful leaders see where other people are best.  Team members will never reach their full potential if they are out of position.  3.  Develop and train.  Step 1, I do it.  Step 2, I do it and you are with me. Step 3, you do it and I am with you.  Step 4, you do it and you do it well.  Step 5, You do it and someone is with you.  Others need to reproduce themselves.  We should focus our leadership training on people that commit to train others.  The real key to this stage is constant communication and feedback along the way.  Try to have at least 1 five minute conversation per day with one of your leaders or potential leaders.  Remember that people don’t care about what you know until they know that you care.  Do you want others to succeed?
  • Level 5: Pinnacle, Respect.  You have done it so well and so long that people have so much respect for you that they simply follow you because it is you and your process.  Very few leaders ever get here. 
  • Time for the leadership challenge.  Take the people that you lead and write their names down and then write down what level you are on with each on of them and why.  Most of the time our leadership level changes person by person.  Once written down focus on trying to reach a new leadership level with someone on your list over the next 30 days. 

10 Action Steps To Add One Extra Degree

How can we make add that one extra degree in our business? 

  • 1. Think serve, not lead.  Ask yourself, how you can help and serve others?  
    • Our goal is loyal raving fans.  Not only customers but employees as well. 
  • 2. Companies don’t succeed, people do.
    • The focus is always on retaining customers but we also need to work on retaining team members.  
    • You can’t teach a smile or teach a personality but you can hire those items.
    • As Jim Collins always talks about, we need to get the right people on the bus, then get right people in the right seat and if needed ask the wrong people to leave our bus.   
    • People go where they are invited but stay where they are appreciated.
    • 5/1 rule.  For every one time you need to coach someone you should praise that person 5 times.
  • 3. Simplify the vision for success.
    • Jump start sheet.  What are the goals for each shift?
    • The “why” can personalize the task.  Give people the “why.” 
    • Give a line of sight from vision to success.
  • 4. When you are part of a team you are stronger than being alone.
    • Be excited about being busy
    • Have a can do attitude, attitudes are contagious.
  • 5. Communication, communication, communication.
    • Share what’s happening, share what’s coming up & share how we are doing. 
    • Set specific goals & coach / praise both positives and opportunities.
  • 6. Set the stage for innovation
    • Encourage new ideas.  Ask what others think.  
    • Ask team members what one thing could we do to make this a better place to work?
  • 7. Commit to excellence
    • Focus on the details and pay attention to the little things.
    • Chase consistency.
    • Praise specifically, out loud, what was done right.
  • 8. Take full responsibility for what we do
    • Don’t use the word “they” when complaining.
    • Our company coat of arms shouldn’t point at each other.
    • A great leader takes more than their share of the blame and less than their share of the success.  
  • 9. Measure results
    • What gets measured gets results.   
    • Feedback is absolutely critical for our success. 
  • 10. Example is the most important.
    • Everyone is a leader, someone is always watching what you do or what you allow others to do.
    • We teach others how to treat ourselves. 
    • We want to help people think better about themselves.

Can 1 Degree Really Make a Difference?

Our recent monthly manager training was based off the book 212 Degrees of Leadership by Mac Anderson.  The concept is as simple yet as brilliant as it sounds.  At 211 degrees water is hot but once you get the one extra degree and get to 212 degrees, water boils.  When water boils it creates steam and steam can power large machinery.  Just 1 extra degree can make the difference. 

  • Think about how many Olympic races are won or lost in less than 1 second.  That one second isn’t even always made or lost during the race.  Most of the time that 1 second is created during the training process.  Athletes train for years and years to simply improve by 1 second.  This little bit can make the difference between an athlete and an Olympian. 
  • I know we have touched on the idea of a boat or airplane that takes off and goes just 1 degree off course.  After a few hours, the boat or plane is miles off course.  Who would think that just 1 degree can make such an impact in the long term? 
  • For a long time I had a quote on my email signature that read “there is a remarkable difference between 99% and 100% commitment.”  We touched on last week about seizing the moment; we cannot seize the moment if we are not 100% committed and all in.  If we can teach ourselves to give 100% when it doesn’t matter, we will always be able to give 100% when it does. 
  • There is also the age old riddle that asks if you would like to have $1,000,000 today or a penny that doubles every day for 30 days.  Most people say the million dollars without hesitation.  If you chose the penny that doubles every day, you would have over $5,000,000. 
  • Ask yourself what you can do to give that 1% extra.  What can you do at home or at work to simply improve by 1 degree?  One statement I start my day with is, I try to be better person today than I was yesterday.  The only person I try to compare myself with is myself yesterday.  When it comes to Culver’s, that one extra degree is the essence of what sets us apart from the competition.  The neat thing about the one extra degree is that most of the time it isn’t even very noticeable at first but long term it can make a 10X difference.   
  • Next week I will post a list of action items to help add that 1 extra degree in our business.


I often seem to get inspiration from all kinds of places and today is no different.  I often wonder why the world is so fascinated with zombies.  They seem to just wander through life with no real purpose or sense of being.  It is amazing to see how many people seem to imitate this action in their own lives.  So many people seem to be on auto pilot and just seem to let life happen as it may along the way.  Very few seem hungry enough to attack life.   

  • I believe that there are 5 or 6 really big decisions that most of us will make in our lifetime that will forever change the course of our lives.  It isn’t apparent at the time but as you look back 5, 10 or even 20 years you can see how your life was altered based on a certain decision.  One of my favorite songs is “Lose Yourself” by Eminem.  The very first line is “Look, if you had one shot, one opportunity to seize everything you ever wanted, one moment, would you capture it or just let it slip.”  This is the attitude that I try to maintain as I approach new situations.  You will never know if a certain opportunity was that one opportunity if you didn’t give it 100% and see where it takes you.  I try to approach every new opportunity and every new relationship as it could potentially be life altering.  The first time I ever met my current business partner was when I was working for free.  I was at a new store opening in Surprise, AZ and I approached that opening (not even being paid to be there) as if I was a partner in the business.  I treated every minute of my time there and made every decision as if it were my own restaurant.  I would be among the first people to arrive every morning and then I would be among the last people to leave at night.  It was those few crazy weeks that led to the start of an amazing business partnership.       
  • Sometimes the decisions we make are based out of fear and we tend to make those decisions from a defensive mindset.  Decisions made from a defensive mindset are usually very limiting decisions.  They tend to limit the risk but at the same time they limit the potential upside.  I find it much more challenging, yet potentially more rewarding, to make offensive minded decisions.  So many great things can happen when we step outside of our comfort zone.  One thing I have found to be true is that you cannot change people.  As much as you may like to or think that you can, it is really up to that person to change.  For people to really make a monumental change they must be to the point where the pain is finally to the point where they decide to change.  They play defense and wander through life until they finally get knocked out. 
  • Challenge yourself to look back and see if you have made some life altering decisions in the past.  Look at your current situation and ask yourself, what if this is your opportunity?  What will you do moving forward to go all-in?  Five years from now you may look back and say that it wasn’t but that is a lot easier to live with than saying it could have been.  I never want to look in the mirror and think that I let something slip by. 

We do not want satisfied customers!

The term customer satisfaction is an interesting term.  Any company that strives for customer satisfaction will never become great.  All customer satisfaction does is to keep you in business.  A satisfied customer is someone that was able to get the minimum level of service they required to simply be satisfied. 

  • Our goal every day at Culver’s is to create loyal, raving fans.  This is a level way beyond a satisfied customer.  We have talked in previous posts about building a relationship with the guest.  The easiest way to move a guest from the satisfied bucket to a loyal, raving fan lies within our interaction with that guest.  Whether they had a great experience or a not so great experience, the interaction can turn the experience into a relationship.  I love it when I am out in the community and people start to tell me a story about “their” Culver’s.  They actually tell stories and you would almost think that they are part owner of the restaurant by the way the tell the story.  I am continually amazed how many people want to talk to me about Culver’s and those that will stop me just by seeing the name Culver’s on my shirt.  This is a true testament to the power of our brand and the relationships that are built day by day at every store. 
  • In a busy store we can serve over 1,000 guests per day.  What we all need to remember as we serve them is that we need to serve them all 1 at a time as if we only had 1 guest per day.  We need to pay attention to the details for each and every guest.  For us it may be the 100th burger that we are making that day but for the guest it is the one burger that they have chosen to eat.  One thing that Ruth Culver always did was to treat every guest as though they were the single most important guest that came into the restaurant that day.  It was almost like welcoming a long lost friend over and over again. 
  • There are 3 basic things that every customer wants from every business out there:
    • 1.  They want the item they purchase to be defect free.  They want it correct and accurate.
    • 2.  They want to get the item in a timely manner.  If it will not be ready in a timely manner the customer should know as soon as possible that it will arrive late.
    • 3.  They want the people that they are doing business with to be nice. 
  • When we look at the above model we are reminded that the level of the interaction can either improve or damage how well we do in the other two areas.  We should realize that the first and the last interaction are very important.  We should always make of point of making eye contact and engaging any guest within 10 feet of us.  A simple hello, how can I help you, goodbye, thank you for coming in can go a long way.  It doesn’t take a crazy, over the top act to make a connection with a guest, simply knowing and showing that we care and that we appreciate their business can produce a positive feeling. 
  • Loyal, Raving Fans!  That is where we can turn customer service into true hospitality!

It’s Not About The Game


As Culver’s was a sponsor of the Milwaukee Brewers spring training, I was able to attend two games this year.  I went one time each with one of my daughters.  It is very rare for me to be able to spend any time alone with just one of my children, let alone a 4 hour block without multiple distractions.  It helps that they have to watch for a foul ball to come our way so their phones are used very sparingly. 

  • The Brewers play in a small 8,000 seat stadium where you feel like you are almost on the field with the players.  The players are great at signing autographs for fans and tossing multiple baseballs into the stands.  It really seems to be the team’s way to help build the long term ROI (return on investment) with the fans and build a relationship.  The fans would clap and cheer every time a ball got tossed into the stands.  Even the visiting team would take time to interact with all of the fans.  It really is a unique experience that should make it on everyone’s bucket list.   
  • Here is the reveal, I am not even a big baseball fan.  I will watch the world series on TV but the only time I go to a game is for spring training.  This year as I was able to spend time with my daughters, I realized that it isn’t about the game at all, it is about spending that 3-4 hour time block with someone.  Baseball leaves a lot of down time for basic conversation, some coaching time where you can explain what is happening and of course you get to indulge with all kinds of overpriced food.  Food is always a great bonding experience, even when your daughter drops her spoon for her Italian ice twice and you get to go get her another one and another one.  It is these experiences that leave a lasting memory on people’s minds.  Thinking back to when I was young, a baseball game was one of the few times where I had some real alone time with my father.  I didn’t realize it until I was sitting there with my daughters and at the end of the game both of them said how much fun they had.  They created Instagram stories and even took a selfie with dad. 
  • This post isn’t a commercial for spring training, it is a reminder of how important it is to take the time to invest in building relationships with those that are important to us.  Did I have other things that I could have done with 4 hours of my time on a Sunday afternoon?  Yes, but what will have a lasting impact?  We need to remember that children and I believe team members spell love “T-I-M-E”.  I once heard my business partner Brian mention that we need to floss the teeth that we want to keep.  It was a great way to remind us that we need to make a daily effort in connecting with those that are important to us.  Take a few minutes every day or every shift and try to connect and build a relationship with the people that you spend time around.  You never know how much just one simple conversation can mean to someone.  As mentioned earlier food is a great bonding experience.  We are lucky to be in a restaurant every day where we can help create those special moments for others.  If people feel a connection with us they will be life long brand ambassadors.   

A Leadership Lesson In Lent

Today starts the unique religious tradition of Lent.  To some, lent is simply a 40 day period where they do not eat meat on Friday.  To others, it is a time where they choose to give up something as a sign of sacrifice for 40 days.  The 40 days originates from the time that Jesus spent in the wilderness preparing for his ministry.  The word lent actually comes from the word “lencten” which means spring.  I can still remember going to church as a child and writing down what bad things I did during the year on a piece of paper, taking them to a cross and burning them to signify a clean slate.  Most of us can probably think of a time in our life where we could have used a clean slate from which to start.  As a leader, I try to give everyone a clean slate from which to start.  If someone makes a mistake and we talk through it, I try to move forward without holding a grudge or holding that previous action over their head.  If someone really does want to change I give them the opportunity to do so.   

  • I am very big into journaling and goal setting.  Every month as I look forward to the new month, I write down 1 habit that I would like to stop doing to be a better version of myself.  Lent is always about giving up something or making a sacrifice.  My challenge to others is to also look at the other side of the coin.  Every month I also write down 1 habit that I would like to do more of to be a better version of myself.  I feel that this exercise really makes me self reflect every month as I realize that continual growth is foundation to becoming a better leader.  The other point that this helps solidify is the idea that you should only compare yourself to yourself yesterday.  So many times we look at others and compare ourselves to unattainable targets which leads us into despair.  The more we measure our progress against ourselves, the more momentum I believe we can build.  Challenge yourself by asking yourself the following 2 questions.  What should I stop doing and what should I do more?
  • One other thing that I have just recently started doing that I feel has really helped me focus is OTED.  One thing every day.  Everyday in my journal I write down one thing I need to do today to move myself forward “personally” and I write down one thing I need to do today to move my business forward.  Basically it is writing down the number one priority to accomplish in each of these two areas.  So many times we have a long list of things to do and we try to tackle the easy ones first to get more things crossed off the list.  The real question is if we were able to accomplish the most important task of the day to move towards our goals.  Brian Tracy is famous for saying “eat that frog.”  This leadership tip is to tackle that biggest task first no matter what.  Put the most important thing first. 
  • One final thought as we go through the Lenten season is that it is a time of reflection and a time where we should realize how lucky we are to live in such an amazing time and place.  We need to remember that we all have so much for which to be grateful.  Thank you to everyone that takes a few minutes out of their week to listen to my thoughts.   

It Starts with Heart

Last week I touched on how we need to work on building our relationships to thrive in building and sustaining a great organization.  I am so lucky and blessed to be part of such an organization in Culver’s.  It’s rare to find a billion dollar company in today’s world that still lives and believes in the values which made its very first location so successful.  This week I have been in Chicago meeting with various Culver’s owners.  The theme of the week has been, “it starts with heart.”

  • When the Culver family started their very first store in 1984, Ruth Culver treated everyone that came in as a long lost friend, as if she was welcoming that person into her own home.  She was really the driving force or the secret ingredient if you will to Culver’s reaching the heights it has reached today.  Craig Culver will repeatedly say that we are in the people business and we just happen to serve pretty darn good butter burgers and frozen custard.  When people taste our food with their heart first, it always tastes just a little bit better.  I can still remember the time during my 16 weeks of training in Wisconsin getting ready to open my very first Culver’s when it really hit me and I started to understand what makes Culver’s so special.  This is the day when I quit my job and really went to work.  Culver’s has become part of my life and living these values everyday have completely changed my life.  To really succeed in anything you do you need to have passion.  Passion is what gets you ready to plow through the wall every day.  Passion starts in the heart and passion is what makes your mind tell your body to act.
  • This week we were able to listen to a talk given by Simon T Bailey.  This was one of the most inspiring talks I have heard in quite a while.  He made a comment about hugging people with your words.  When we talk about Culver’s hospitality and the presence that we feel in the dining room with our guests, this statement sums it up perfectly.  He also talked about creating, owning and sustaining the moment.  This was a very powerful concept to learn about as he points out that the average person can have about 19,000 potential moments a day.   Think about our business and how many potential moments that we can “own” when we deal with our guests and our team members every day.  Think about how we choose to react in various situations and how those moments are altered either for good or bad based on our reaction.  Every time we interact with someone there is a potential moment. 
  • As leaders we need to lead by example and actively look for those moments every day that we can create and own.  As leaders it is up to us to not only own the moment, but then do everything we can do every day to sustain the moment.  Sustaining the moment comes back to doing all of the little things perfect every day and “chasing consistency.”  Consistency comes back to our leadership and what we do day in and day out in our locations.  We need to do the little things right ourselves if we expect others to follow suit. 
  • A few final thoughts to remember:
    • 1. Everyone that chooses Culver’s leaves happy.
    • 2. It takes two people to say no but only one person to say yes.
    • 3. Details matter and details are the difference between good and great.
    • 4. Look for ways every day to “create the wow” and own the moment.
  • Here is a link to Simon’s blog for more inspiration:

Team vs. Tribe

As Valentine’s Day was yesterday I think it may be a good time to re touch on relationships.  In the past, building relationships in the workplace were viewed as taboo.  Today, building relationships is a pathway to the top.  A recent survey was done and it found that over 70% of team members are not engaged at work, and only 4% considered themselves highly engaged.  These numbers are down right scary.  Of course the first question we need to ask is if we are highly engaged as leaders.  Chances are that if we are not highly engaged as leaders, our team members will sense that and find it hard to be highly engaged themselves.  If we take the time to build relationships with our fellow team members, I believe that we can increase engagement and overall job satisfaction.  Think about a time when you were highly engaged at work, chances are you were either new to the job or you had a great relationship with a leader in the company.   

  • People want purpose in their life.  Building relationships is a way to turn your team into a tribe.  A team exists as people come together for a common goal, while a tribe lives and breathes those beliefs to a whole new level.  Creating a tribe is a great way to give people purpose.  In a tribe everyone knows why they are here, they are passionate about each other, passionate about the brand and passionate about the guests.  It can define the entire culture of the organization and build a level of trust that far surpasses a team.  Imagine what the engagement level of a tribe would be.  It seems like the 4% would be the disengaged in such a culture.  The other great thing about a tribe is how they help each other in a time of need.  This is where the relationship piece shows itself.  Ask yourself if you are part of a team or if you are part of a tribe. 
  • “People don’t care about how much you know until they know how much you care.”  This is a famous quote by John Maxwell that keeps running around in my head every time I see a manager trying to manage via title and wondering why they are not getting results.  Results are a lot easier to come by if you take time to build a relationship along the way.
  • Try to do one thing every day to build or positively impact at least one relationship.  Write down the names of a few people you would like to have a better relationship with and work on building those relationships.  Ask yourself if you are fully engaged in the task at hand before looking to blame others.  If you can learn to give 100% when it doesn’t matter it will be easy to give 100% when it does!