I’ve had the opportunity to travel abroad on a frequent basis over the last 3 years. During my travels, one thing that amazes me is the consistency found in American fast food. McDonald’s always tastes like McDonalds as does Pizza Hut and Burger King and Kentucky Fried Chicken– you get the idea. It is amazing how these companies can import a product and a service and keep it so consistent! It really is a testament to their brands. How do they do it? And, what can this industry teach me about my industry of architectural design?
Sidebar – The fact that I have been to these restaurants while traveling abroad is for another blog so please don’t judge this red blooded American. After all, what’s the harm for an occasional taste of home?
I began to think about my own international company. And, are we consistent from China to Dubai? Do we provide the same level of expertise and services in Los Angles the same way we do in Brazil? Does it even matter? I would ascertain that brand consistency is probably a struggle for most international organizations; in particular when you don’t really have a product (like a hamburger) and are a service/consulting company. But still, how does TGI Fridays do it? How can they maintain such a consistent product from anywhere in the world? As I began to write down my thoughts and discuss the topics with my peers it seemed to come down to two main categories: ingredients and flavor.
It’s obvious that consistent ingredients are required to maintain the brand. My Old Timer with Cheese hamburger in Doha, Qatar tasted amazingly like the one I eat at the Chili’s in Dallas. The bun was the same. The lettuce tasted the same. The beef tasted the same. The french-fries were the same. But wait, just because they have the same ingredients doesn’t necessarily mean that the burger will taste the same as the real thing. After all, I think we all would agree that the bologna sandwiches that our moms used to make still taste better than our own bologna sandwiches even though we use the same ingredients! So, how do they keep the flavors so consistent?
It has to come down to method – how the hamburger’s ingredients get assembled. I would contend that without consistent cooking technique, timing, assembly order and portions it would be difficult if not impossible to recreate the original product. Your mom had her method and it was the same every time hence the perfect bologna sandwich. There has to be consistency on the way the ingredients are assembled. So how does this translate to my industry? Well, I think there are some practical lessons.
As a service firm (architectural design industry) what are our ingredients? I think the answer to this is simple – it’s our people. To maintain a consistent brand you have to have people that are like-minded and aligned with your company values. Hiring and deploying the right people is critical to maintaining consistency in the way they approach their jobs and to the extent of which they embrace the company values. For reference and a deeper dive into this, I would suggest that you read Jim Collins’ book How the Mighty Fall and Why Some Companies Never Give In. He provides 6 characteristics for the hiring the right people that I think are extremely important to find the right ingredients for any company.
Second, what is our method? This is a more difficult translation. While we have our basic method for project delivery, every project is different and has its own nuances. Yes, there are some proven practice principals but the process typically cannot be a one-size fits all formula. There are too many variables from project to project and from region to region and from country to country and from fee to fee to keep it exactly the same. So, if we have to tweak our method for each project, is it even possible to provide and recreate a consistent architectural hamburger experience?
While the same processes may not always be replicated there is one quality that can remain consistent; one thing that can provide a consistent flavor. That one thing is attitude. Employing people with right attitudes that focus on customer services and project quality will always override and any “process” because they will always find a way to get it done and get it done well. The right attitude will also be the basis for consistency throughout a company but it must be embedded in the DNA of the company – which means it should be part of the company’s culture. I think Southwest Airlines is a good example. First they have realized that leadership doesn’t reside in just one person. This is particularly important for companies that have operations in diverse geographical regions. Second, they employ a culture of customer service and fun and it is reflected by their employees and how they do their jobs. In the book Nuts! By Kevin and Jackie Freiburg, the authors describe a process of hiring at Southwest Airlines that focuses solely on attitude called Targeted Selection. Southwest believes that you hire for attitude first and then train as required. Essentially, this is their way of always keeping the flavor consistent!
So what? Why is consistency in a global company important? Why not just have different flavors for different regions? It’s a fair argument. It might even work, for a while or at least maybe it did in the past. But, I would argue that it’s an old view . The world is shrinking. In an era of social media and instant information it is no longer a guarantee that what we do in Columbus, Georgia will not be known in Lima, Peru. The connections between our employees and our worldwide projects are tighter than they have ever been. Our clients are becoming more sophisticated and are looking for trusted partners that can help them. Our clients are venturing into to new markets and demanding a global view. In my opinion, it is important that we position ourselves to take advantage of this growing market. And, the best way to capture this is to provide a consistent and “known” service – a service that tastes the same no matter where it is provided. I have a hunch that if we can achieve a high level of consistency we can build a stronger trust with our clients. Which if done dependably, there is a higher likelihood of getting more work and building a strong portfolio of repeat clients – no matter where the projects are located. After all, isn’t that what it is all about? Isn’t that why we venture into Papa John’s Pizza while visiting Trinidad? How do you make your hamburger?
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