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Joe Knows


A lesson in problem solving that I learned while working as the food service director at a large, very successful, larger-budget-than-you-can-imagine company has served me well over the years.

One day Joe told me,

“Don’t tell me you can’t do it, tell me what you need to make it happen.”

I was the director of food services operations at a leadership training facility for a large corporation. The food service operations had no budget. No revenue, our guests ate for free. Costs were not tracked, money did not matter, and the only thing that mattered is that our customers were blown away by the quality of food, the variety of selections and the customer service.

And when there is no budget, money is no concern, 99% customer satisfaction ain’t so hard to achieve.

We had CIA grads working the salad bar. To the un-initiated, that is very similar to having a MLB MVP work as a bat boy. We had fresh yellow fin tuna delivered daily and when I say fresh, I mean caught that morning. Fresh pasta, fresh mozzarella, there were no canned goods, no leftovers turned into tomorrow’s special soup. We kept a local food pantry very satisfied.

Word got out. Departments would choose our location for their next meeting, just because of the food. Enrollment in training programs held onsite went through the roof, because of the food. And then dinner meetings began. Before we knew it, we were booked every day for lunch and every night for dinner.

And then came the last straw. A request for a dinner meeting when all of our dining space was booked. And that’s when I said to Joe, “We can’t do this dinner request.” And his response, “Don’t tell me you can’t do it, tell me what you need to make it happen.”

How’s that for a perspective changer?

At times we are telling ourselves we can’t do something when we should be asking ourselves what do I need to make this happen? A discussion about possibilities and innovation. And until we have the discussion with ourselves, our co-workers and most scary of all, our managers, we are set up to stagnant, possibly fail and look pretty dumb as I did on the day with Joe.

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