Aesop’s The Ass and his Purchaser*

Posted by jlubans on September 20, 2022  •  Leave comment (0)

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A man wished to purchase an Ass, and agreed with its owner that he should try him before he bought him.
He took the Ass home, and put him in the straw-yard with his other Asses, upon which he left all the others, and joined himself at once to the most idle and the greatest eater of them all. The man put a halter on him, and led him back to his owner, saying: "I do not need a trial; I know that he will be just such another as the one whom he chose for his companion."
A man is known by the company he keeps.
________
Organizationally, I would be disappointed if a new hire gravitates to the least productive member of the organization.
When I was a bus boy and a golf caddy – the hotel and the golf course each had the equivalent of a “caddy shack” - I was always keen to to figure out how things worked.
Usually, there was an “old boy” (in some cases an "old guy", a "lifer") who had figured out how to work the system.
Not that I would follow his example, but it did help me to understand the “culture”, who to watch for, who to avoid and how to stay out of trouble.
More disappointing in this age of “double dipping" (working two jobs during the 40 hours of one full time job), “quiet quitting”, the Great Resignation, and “quiet firing”, is learning that the least productive are still in the office.
Who’s really not doing his/her job?

*SOURCE: Aesop's Fables: A New Revised Version From Original Sources” WITH ILLUSTRATIONS
BY HARRISON WEIR, JOHN TENNIEL, ERNEST GRISET
AND OTHERS” New York : Frank F. Lovell & Company, c1884

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My book, Fables for Leaders is available. Click on the image and order up!

And, don’t forget Lubans' book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle

© Copyright text by John Lubans 2022

Phaedrus’ THE EAGLE, THE CROW, AND THE TORTOISE*

Posted by jlubans on September 11, 2022  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: “It’s Raining Turtles!” Illustration by Gherardo di Giovanni di Miniato del Fora, Florence, 1480.

No one is sufficiently armed against the powerful; but if a wicked adviser joins them, nothing can withstand such a combination of violence and unscrupulousness.

An Eagle carried a Tortoise aloft, who had hidden her body in her horny abode, and in her concealment could not, while thus sheltered, be injured in any way.
A Crow came through the air, and flying near, exclaimed: “You really have carried off a rich prize in your talons; but if I don’t instruct you what you must do, in vain will you tire yourself with the heavy weight.”
A share being promised her, she persuades the Eagle to dash the hard shell from the lofty stars upon a rock, that, it being broken to pieces, she may easily feed upon the meat.
Induced by her words, the Eagle attends to her suggestion, and at the same time gives a large share of the banquet to her instructress.

Thus she who had been protected by the bounty of nature, being an unequal match for the two, perished by an unhappy fate.

___________
This fable is being played out in the news right now - with unintended results. The Ukrainian “turtle” bounces, not shatters, when dropped from on high. And there’s a deadly price paid by the Russian eagle and Belarusian crow for each of those “drops”.


*Source: THE COMEDIES OF TERENCE AND THE FABLES OF PHÆDRUS.
TRANSLATED By HENRY THOMAS RILEY, B.A.
TO WHICH IS ADDED A METRICAL TRANSLATION OF PHÆDRUS,
By CHRISTOPHER SMART.
LONDON: GEORGE BELL & SONS, 1887.

© Copyright text by John Lubans 2022

Pronouns and Other Workplace Fads and Filosofies

Posted by jlubans on September 05, 2022  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: The infamous pamper pole

I’ve always been for anything – fads included - to shake up the fuddy-duddy hierarchy with which we are inexorably stuck.
But, the promised outcome has to be a visible and quantifiable improvement.
Those last two qualifications always tempered my zest to try out new ideas. Any idea which ignored results and improvements, was not worth trying.
If a good idea failed to improve our work, it was time to abandon the effort.
Fads are not all the same. Some have substance (like TQM, MBO, Theories X & Y), others lack it and strut around with an enticing, if mystifying name, like “holocracy” or “mindfulness”.
So, one man’s fancy may be another man’s revulsion. If a staff is closed to an idea – regardless of merit – then the idea will falter and shrivel.
Most of the fads I list below I’ve been party to, as they say. If any, with hindsight, look patently foolish, well, count me among the fools.
I will try to highlight the good and the bad of each.
Changing names of departments. For example, HR to Happiness Engineering. There’s zero improvement and may add confusion both inside and outside the organization. More, there’s the time wasted in deciding on that new name.
Re-organizing. Much like strategic planning, re-organizing is a favorite administrative stratagem to camouflage not changing.
Unless the gain is quantifiable, there is usually zero improvement. Perhaps a particularly odious individual is laterally transferred. And, negatives may result from the large investment of time and energy for the re-org instead of dealing directly with the toxic individual.
Other costs include the staff’s cynical realization of administrative cowardice.
Teams. If there are capable team members and leaders, there’s a huge, quantifiable, improvement over top-down leadership, over the hierarchy.
There are other gains, such as the buy-in from participants realizing they are valued, that they indeed matter.
A downside, fake teams. There’s often someone who wants to be the captain (an autocrat) and seeks to dominate. Unless confronted and resolved, the team can quickly become ineffective.
Pronouns. Like the re-org, this is window dressing or as some call it, “virtue signaling”. What’s the virtue?
There’s no gain but for a few, I dare say, who get off on making others comply.
I’d not seen the pronoun fixation until I got an email from a young colleague. He listed, for my edification, all of his preferred pronouns.
His first name was Herman (not Lynn, Gale, Jordan, Taylor or Ashley) so I was never confused about his gender. What motivated the list?
Permissive management. The permissive manager claims he/she is a progressive manager, yet ninety percent of their actions are permissive and merely 10% may be regarded as progressive and focused on improving workplace productivity.
Here’s a recent quote from a permissive manager, now in denial:
“A lot of staff that work for me, they expect the organization to be all the things: a movement, OK, get out the vote, OK, healing, OK, take care of you when you’re sick, OK. It’s all the things,” said one executive director (of an NGO).
“Can you get your love and healing at home, please? But I can’t say that, they would crucify me.”
So mind your Ps and Qs, or else.
Suppressed speech leads to zero improvement and wastes time.
Incidentally, permissiveness suggests a marked lack of urgency.
Diversity. I support diversity of all kinds but I am most for intellectual and cultural diversity, anything to give us different viewpoints from our own.
As mentioned above, I lose interest in something that results in little, if any, gain for how the organization does its work.
One study about effective teams does provide significant insights into work team diversity.
“C”, as in Factor C, is a predictor of group failure or success and includes three elements: participant emotional or social IQ; the number of engaged participants; and, interestingly, the number of women on the team.
Now that’s my kind of diversity, a diversity that gets results.
Inclusion. Like pronouns and other things labeled woke, we sometimes go to extremes to appear inclusive.
It takes me back to the 70s when I was at the University of Colorado in Boulder and someone’s asking the Executive group to rename the end of year Christmas gathering to Holiday party. Supposedly someone – unidentified – had (or potentially might) objected to the Christ designation.
None of my dozen direct reports, of various creeds, ever spoke to me about being offended and/or feeling excluded.
Regardless, the Executive group, anticipating that there might be someone - anyone - offended by the term, and we, then and there, deep-sixed the Christmas designation and vowed, forever more, to call it, Holiday Party.
Who benefited? Why did we waste our time?
Letting go. It’s the centuries old concept of subsidiarity. In my interpretation, subsidiarity is permitting decision making to occur among the people closest to or doing the actual work.
It is a part of being valued as a human being. It eschews central planning.
Never an actual fad and long resisted by many managers, I found my “letting go” among the most effective ways to get intelligent, thinking workers to improve how they did the organization’s work.
Why is this so difficult for many managers? For me it’s a natural.
As a child I had the reputation of resisting anyone’s help. I’d flip them off with, “I’ll do it myself”.
Once a presumed grown up, that sensibility may have carried over into an expectation that a competent staffer is able to figure things out for themselves. The last thing they need is direction from me.
Some of my successes have come on the heels of departing top-down managers who clung to their making all - and I mean all - decisions and refusing or otherwise suppressing staff inspired innovation.
For them, innovation and decision making was management’s exclusive purview.
When I was delegated to take on a major change initiative – in which many previously had failed - I soon realized I did not know much about the work.
I met with the so called “entrenched” staff and asked for help.
They gave me a long list of previously denied changes. I scanned it and said, “Do it!” We moved from last to first among our peers.
Obviously, I trusted the staff.
Of course, letting go is risky. If you do it often enough you are needed less and less (actually, more and more) by an organization, but a threatened boss will see your success as diminishing your value to the organization.
Experiential learning. “A Day in the Woods” was the phrase I used for taking teams out of the office for adventure-based learning. Making these events voluntary resulted in some valuable personal and professional growth.
Yes, there was time taken from the work place but that time was often an investment that paid off. Challenges (risks) confronted and overcome in the woods encouraged - indeed emboldened - participants to apply those learnings to the workplace.
While I value my personal growth from adventure-based learning, I realize that it is not for everyone.
Making an entire department take a leap off the depicted Pamper Pole (named after the diaper) may result in corporate PTSD.
Now, I may see the correlation between leaping into space to catch a trapeze as akin to a leap of faith in my own ability and capacity. But, it can be a traumatizing experience with zero improvement for some, all too similar to scorching one’s footsies doing a corporate Firewalk.

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My book, Fables for Leaders is available. Click on the image and order up!

And, don’t forget Lubans' book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle

© Copyright text by John Lubans 2022



Aesop’s THE MADMAN WHO SOLD WISDOM*

Posted by jlubans on August 26, 2022  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Ouch! (lower left) Illustration by Jean Jacques Grandville (1803-1847) from a collection of fables by Jean de La Fontaine (1621-1695) published during 1838-1840.

A Madman once set himself up in the market place, and with loud cries announced that he would sell Wisdom.
The people at once crowded about him, and some gave him gold for his wares, but they each got only a blow on the ear and a bunch of thread, and were well laughed at by their companions.
One of them, however, took it more seriously than the others, and asked a wise sage what it meant.
"It means," said the sage, "that if one would not be hurt by a Madman, he must put a bunch of thread over his ears."
So the Madman was really selling Wisdom.”
________________
LaFontaine’s retelling provides
a clue as to the inherited Wisdom:
“People of sense infallibly
Between themselves and madmen place
At least some fathoms of this lace;
Or else they will a buffet gain.”
Those of us less sagacious, may ask: How many fathoms of thread or lace?
“Some” we are told; another, “two” and a third – having endured a drubbing, no doubt, - prescribes “forty yards of common thread”.
In brief, keep your distance from the deranged.
Am I referring to cable news and all their “mad men” (and women)?
Maybe, but a “blow upon the ear” for the viewer/listener rarely leads to wisdom other to avoid cable news.

*SOURCE: Aesop's Fables: A New Revised Version From Original Sources” WITH ILLUSTRATIONS
BY HARRISON WEIR, JOHN TENNIEL, ERNEST GRISET
AND OTHERS” New York : Frank F. Lovell & Company, c1884

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My book, Fables for Leaders is available. Click on the image and order up!

And, don’t forget Lubans' book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle

© Copyright text by John Lubans 2022

Aesop’s The Oxen and the Axle-Trees*

Posted by jlubans on August 20, 2022  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Illustration by Fulvio Bianconi, 1946.

A HEAVY WAGON was being dragged along a country lane by a team of Oxen.
The axle-trees groaned and creaked terribly, when the oxen, turning round, thus addressed the wheels:
Hallo there!
Why do you make so much noise?
We bear all the labor, and we, not you, ought to cry out.
Moral: Those who suffer most, cry out the least.
_________
Why is that? Is martyrdom preferable to getting your grievances taken care of?
If it is true that “the squeaky wheel gets the grease”, maybe the oxen need to heed that folksy saying.
Or is there virtue in suffering quietly?
In the workplace, my suffering in silence was unlikely to receive attention or help from any of my bosses.
Of course, you can over-do the martyr bit.
One department head with whom I met monthly would invariably list out all the bad things being done to her department. For her, our meeting was an opportunity to vent about seemingly insurmountable problems.
Not once did she comment on the good things done for her unit.
While I was annoyed - eventually to distraction by her belly-aching - I should have intervened early on but failed to do so.
I remember one of my bosses – Leo Cabell, a great guy - when I was an assistant director at the University of Colorado’s Norlin Library telling me: “Don’t bring problems to me without solutions.”
That was among the best advice I’ve been given by anyone and I should have shared it with my whining department head.
Well, time to go. Let’s trundle on down the road.
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*SOURCE: Aesop's Fables: A New Revised Version From Original Sources” WITH ILLUSTRATIONS
BY HARRISON WEIR, JOHN TENNIEL, ERNEST GRISET
AND OTHERS” New York : Frank F. Lovell & Company, c1884

Post Script:
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A voice raised!
Unlike the frequent, often national, strikes in western Europe – think of work stoppages in Italy, France, UK - Latvians in the north rarely protest or strike.
They (we) are a bit like Aesop’s oxen.
My sculptor friend, Antons Rancāns, recently posted his wood sculpture from 2004 to promote teachers striking in Latvia; too long a time suffering in silence.
Here is his caption along with a translation.
Pietiek vergot! Jāstreiko!
"Latvijas skolotājs", koks, 2004.
(Enough of the slaving! We must strike!
"Teacher of Latvia", wood, 2004)

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My book, Fables for Leaders is available. Click on the image and order up!

And, don’t forget Lubans' book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle

© Copyright text by John Lubans 2022


Aesop’s “The Fox and the Turkeys*

Posted by jlubans on August 18, 2022  •  Leave comment (0)

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A Fox spied some turkeys roosting in a tree. He managed to attract their attention and then ran about the tree, pretended to climb, walked on his hind legs, and did all sorts of tricks. Filled with fear, the Turkeys watched every one of his movements until they became dizzy, and, one by one, fell from their safe perch.
By too much attention to danger, we may fall victims to it.”
______________
La Fontaine, in his version, sets forth the moral:
“A foe, by being over-heeded,
Has often in his plan succeeded.”
While Reynard the Fox may claim he can charm birds out of the trees as he “Walk’d on his hinder legs sublime” this is more about the turkeys’ willingly being bamboozled than about Mr. Fox’s deadly charms.
There’s recent research about the debilitating effect on one’s brain when in the willing throes of social media.
Or, many have found out that if you want to make yourself less miserable, stop watching cable news.
Social media, like Don Cuervo tequila, is not your friend, whatever the Don tells you.
So don’t get zuckered in and fall off your perch, shutter that iPhone and enjoy your personal world view.

*SOURCE: Aesop's Fables: A New Revised Version From Original Sources” WITH ILLUSTRATIONS
BY HARRISON WEIR, JOHN TENNIEL, ERNEST GRISET
AND OTHERS” New York : Frank F. Lovell & Company, c1884

© Copyright text by John Lubans 2022

The PATS VAINĪGS (“It's your own fault!”) Model of Customer Service

Posted by jlubans on August 11, 2022  •  Leave comment (0)

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I returned to Latvia a few months ago.
One of the observable changes on Riga’s sidewalks from 2019 is the increase in E-scooters.
Pre-Covid (PC) Riga sidewalks made for pedestrians were already congested with bikes. Now, sidewalks are shared with bikes, e-scooters, skate boards, and even Vespas.
As every large city has discovered, pedestrians and wheeled contraptions do not mix well. Numerous collisions occur from excessive speeds, two riders wobbling along on a one person scooter, drunk driving, and food delivery scooters hurrying to pick up or drop off, all the while swerving in and out around pedestrians.
After you are brushed back or run over, would you not expect the e-scooter driver to apologize?
Not in Latvia.
Instead of an apology the riders’ go-to phrase is in the title, “It’s your own fault! You got in my way!”
While I experienced this in Latvia, blame-shifting is not somehow unique to nations still hung over from decades of totalitarian rule. Back then, passing the buck was one way to survive.
But, such behavior is not limited to scooter/pedestrian interactions. I'm thinking I could develop a customer service training session with the “PATS VAINĪGS” theme.
After my summer travels I (and thousands of other stranded fliers) received letters from the CEOs of Delta, KLM and AirBaltic. Each CEO profusely apologized and expressed deep regret for the current international travel mess.
All three admit their business was not ready for the unexpected surge in holiday and summer travel.
Inexplicably, not one of the three refers to why - with generous governmental support – most, if not all, airlines chose to reduce payrolls.
They opted to reduce staffing during covid (DC) not just through normal attrition but through lay-offs, furloughs and by encouraging retirement and early retirements.
Instead of retaining staff - repurposing them, retraining and recruiting for the future - each of the CEOs took draconian steps to cut staff.
When travel demand returned sooner than expected, they raised prices and canceled flights, but they’d already sold too many tickets.
So, while my CEO letters do not explicitly claim it’s the travelers fault, they do claim that the sooner-than-expected-demand exacerbated staffing shortage.
No one fesses up:
“I made a big mistake. I, along with every other CEO in the airline industry, reduced staffing far too drastically.
As a leader, I should have been skeptical of industry projections and not signed on with the “gradual return” theory.
My decision to protect the bottom line caused this mess.”
Instead of an honest admission, it’s the traveler’s fault for wanting to travel sooner than airlines guessed.
Get it?
Nor is there any mention, in these contrite letters, of monetary compensation. Ever-mindful of the bottom line they are not about to take a loss.
It’s much cheaper to offer words of apology for this summer’s missing baggage, missed connections, scrambled reservations, and all the other high anxiety situations found at most airports.
But, they add, we want you to know we are working as hard as we can to remedy matters!
Here's a personal example of the “It’s your fault” style of customer service.
I was at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam on July 20th. My flight from Riga was on time for my connecting flight to the USA, but I did not yet have a boarding pass.
I went directly to KLMs Gate C7, the gate for my USA plane.
The blue uniformed staff at C7 told me to return in an hour and a half; they were leaving and made no effort to find out what I wanted.
Ninety minutes later I returned to C7; then I got a jolt. They said I had no reservation and that I had missed an earlier plane!
Worse, the KLM staff were adamant there was nothing they could/would do."It's your problem, deal with it!" (PATS VAINĪGS all over again!)
When I persisted, they directed me to a Transfer station (presumably a variety of a customer service counter), back in the concourse.
Arriving there I explained my situation to one of the KLM staff, a tall woman who seemed to be the lead person among a group of 4 or 5 blue-uniformed minions.
After hearing my brief explanation she asked me, “What is your question?” as if she were working a mall’s information desk.
Perhaps it was the sweltering temperatures inside the terminal that made her passive/aggressive?
She could/would do nothing and the only people to help were those back at, you guessed it, gate C7!
So, I trudged back.
This time C7 was more accommodating and said I could wait to see if a seat came open on the next flight to the USA.
I sat down.
As sometimes happens, it all worked out.
Out of the blue, a young man in a red jacket (and wings) appeared and told me there was a 1PM plane to Portland with a seat for me.
Did I want it?.
PS. Travel hassles to continue, as reported August 13-14, 2022 in the WSJ, "Travel Woes in Europe Won’t End This Summer" and shows that July was the peak month for disruptions. One Airline CEO says that "some of these disruptions will continue to surface for many years." The story makes no mention of the airlines colossal miscalculation about traveller demand and their subsequent reduction-in-force.

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And, don’t forget Lubans' book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle

© Copyright text by John Lubans 2022

KEEPERS

Posted by jlubans on July 04, 2022  •  Leave comment (0)

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Netflix has gotten some recent notice.
First was the corporation’s rejecting internal censorship of a production deemed offensive to transgenders.
Netflix’s response was notable since it was opposite to what many corporations do when confronted with a social issue campaign: Fold.
Netflix, in keeping with its public stand on what it expects of its “Dream Team” members, offered no abject apology. Instead they said No to the censorship.
Doing so, they referenced their public statement on “Netflix Jobs”:
“As employees we support the principle that Netflix offers a diversity of stories, even if we find some titles counter to our own personal values.
Depending on your role, you may need to work on titles you perceive to be harmful.
If you’d find it hard to support our content breadth, Netflix may not be the best place for you.” (Emphasis added)
It’s the italicized last several words that got attention.
Of more interest to me was their revealing something they call a “Keeper Test”.
“To strengthen our dream team (s), our managers use a “keeper test” …: if a team member was leaving for a similar role at another company, would the manager try to keep them?
Those who do not pass the keeper test (i.e. their manager would not fight to keep them) are given a generous severance package so we can find someone even better for that position—making an even better dream team.”
Well, in the places I’ve worked (large research libraries) more than half of the staff would fail the keeper test.
Now, I understand, research libraries are not for-profit (un-competitive), nor are they centers of innovation.
Many of us appreciate job security and in return make a decent contribution to the well-being of our organizations; but few of us give much thought and effort to being the best.
Also, any of us that have worked in research libraries or any large bureaucracy (education or government) have to deal with the employees we inherit, some good, some not so good.
Whether its our innate kindness or fear of conflict, the “deadwood” employee is rarely told "Adios!"
Netflix’s keeper test reminds me of the much ballyhooed “rank and yank” process at General Electric. Each manager, each year, had to grade his/her team members and the bottom ten percent were shown the door.
GE no longer does this but then GE is a failing dinosaur thrashing about to survive. Did the rank and yank process work? Hard to say. One might say that rank and yank (fear) led GE to its present unhappy state.
Back to the keeper test. I have been known to offer contrarian views:)
One such view is that when a star worker comes to me with a job offer, I shake them by the hand and wish them well.
I would fail Netflix’s keeper test since I would not fight hard for any employee who wants to leave. I am not going to play the game.
Instead, I see a star’s departure as an opportunity to find another star, someone with a new perspective and energy.
Alas, I know this is not how it works.
If you have read this blog you know I detest performance appraisal (PA) systems.
Not a one has been shown to have positive effects on job performance and is largely something endured rather than embraced.
PA gives managers something to do to appear in control; that seems to be the main rationale for why so many organizations have PA.
In reading about Netflix I did come across an idea I wish I had used when I was managing/leading a dozen or so direct reports.
As part of the performance-development role of a manager (in lieu of the dreaded sit-down annual appraisal),
“Ask every manager to check in with each team member for 15 minutes every single week. In the check-in they’ll ask just a couple of questions:
What did you really love doing last week, and what did you loathe?
And,
What are your priorities this week and how can I help?
I may have done some of that with my stars but I should have been doing it with all team members.


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And, don’t forget Lubans' book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle

© Copyright text by John Lubans 2022

Surviving the Epidemic: The Martin’s Bakery Experience

Posted by jlubans on June 28, 2022  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: The Old Riga Martin’s bakery, photo by author, June 2, 2022.

Once I landed in Latvia in April 2022 – after an absence of three years - I wanted to see how one of my favorite places in Riga (Martin’s Bakery) was surviving the virus and its damaging economic effects.
For over a decade, I’ve been a regular, stopping in weekly for tea and my favorite pīrāgi (bread rolls filled or topped with a variety of flavors, some sweet, some savory).
Within a day or two of arrival, I ambled from my apartment over cobble stone streets to their old town shop.
I was dreading some possibly drastic change after a year and a half of shutdowns, quarantines, social distancing, masking, and curfews.
My firsts bite told me little had changed! I smiled and savored the flavor.
Still the best.
My assessment has a baseline: a 2019 interview with two of the three business partners, Martins and his mother, Vija Kalniņš (the founder).
That essay, “We Don’t Make Brownies” (or Cupcakes, or Bagels, or Muffins) explored how Martin’s Bakery kept its consistently high quality and good prices.
On May 25 of this year, I interviewed Dins Kalniņš, the third member of the executive team.
What he told me can be distilled into fundamental business wisdom for when disaster strikes.
“Keep to classical values and don’t change just to change”. In the bakery, those values permeate the organization and are visible daily for survival into the future..
What are some of those values or concepts?
1. Do what you do best, maintain high quality, attractive food at reasonable prices.
Their piragi recipe dates back 30 years, unchanged. So, they’ve stayed with known recipes producing quality items folks want to buy.
Of course, you have to adjust as trends shift. While the epidemic is momentarily in retreat, a recent
consumer study found that “nearly 80% of the (Latvian) population currently stick to food purchasing and eating habits developed in the last two years and only 4% plan to return to their initial behavior.”
Further, the study predicted that as the 2022 winter approaches, (with inflation rising and the Ukrainian war raging) people will spend less on entertainment … because they will have to think about how to pay … heating bills.”
The study’s economist predicts “that people (will) eat less outside their home and buy more food and prepare themselves”.
This would suggest that a return to business as usual is not just around the corner.
Dins has observed behavioral changes among bakery clients; namely, that when there’s money in a person’s pocket, there is a tendency to entertain outside of the home, to go to restaurants more and pick up fewer items at a bakery for home use.
But, when one is counting pennies, then the tendency turns toward entertaining at home. With inflation at 8.5%, buying baked goods for entertainment at home may boost the bakery business. But, “people will consume less processed products with lower prices." In other words, the consumer may have only enough money to buy raw ingredients to prepare in his/her kitchen.
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Caption: As alluring as ever, but not as plentiful as in pre-epidemic times. Photo by author 2022.

2. Tread carefully when adjusting prices. Keep in mind that Latvia’s average monthly income is one thousand euros (USD $1058), even while Latvia’s economy has been steadily improving since the 2007 crisis and after 50 years of Soviet/Marxist repression and economic bungling.
Martin’s raised prices twice last year by 10%. Each increase was followed by a 5% drop off in business and then a slow creeping upward, a flattening over all.
So, while prices have risen, the clientele is still there, as the following photo shows.
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Caption: Like old times, a line, not quite out-the-door but almost. Photo by author 2022.

3. Decentralize and empower local decision-making.
Dins travels to all locations, often daily, and meets with the branch managers.
Each branch managers has the authority to make decisions, recruit, retain, discipline, and to solve problems. There are frequent after work meetings to consider what’s good, and what’s been less good during the day.
Adjustments often flow from these meetings.
When necessary, the three partners will make a core decision, top down, that effects all the branches, but that is a rare event. The partners’ preference is for the local manager and his/her team to make decisions that effect the work of the branch.
At the same time, when a corporate decision has to be made among the three partners, they may have differences but manage to reach a conclusion and speak in a single voice.
A footnote from Dins when it comes to policy making: With his mom’s less active leadership, she now has to convince him of a policy change whereas before he was having to convince her!
4. Retain your talented and loyal employees.
Due to historicaly positive people policies, Martin’s is blessed with very low turnover. The most recent manager hire dates from 8 yrs ago.
Half of the 6 managers are from the start of the business, each with 20 years or more experience!
A personal example is one of the counter staff at the old town bakery who has always been patient and pleasant with me, humoring my attempts at the language.
While customer service has improved from the Soviet era, it still has a long way to go in Latvia, so someone with a sense of humor, kindness, and willingness to lean toward the customer is to be treasured.
N.B. I want to thank my cousin, Dace Lubane, for once again providing translating support during this interview just as she did when I interviewed Dins’ brother and mother.

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And, don’t forget Lubans' book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle

© Copyright text and photos by John Lubans 2022

Aesop’s The Boy and the Nettle*

Posted by jlubans on June 13, 2022  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Nettle Bread

A Boy was stung by a Nettle. He ran home and told his mother, saying: "Although it pains me so much, I did but touch it ever so gently."
"That was just it," said his mother, "which caused it to sting you. The next time you touch a Nettle, grasp it boldly, and it will be soft as silk to your hand, and not in the least hurt you."

Whatever you do, do with all your might.

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Well, sure when it comes to nettles.
But, there’s no one way for all “whatever(s) you do”.
The wise person knows when to be gentle and when to be strong and assertive.
It’s situational and it takes experience and skill to know what you are up against and what your approach should be.
Emulating others who have had success (like the mother) and also practicing different techniques will help you build your arsenal.
Be multi-faceted in your dealings.
Unless it’s imperative, it might be best to stay away from nettles.
But, if you are collecting nettles to make nettle bread, then follow what Momma says.
I recently had some nettle-seasoned sourdough bread, baked in the Latvian countryside. I bought it an outdoor crafts fair. How did I know to buy bread at that stand among dozens of other bakers? The long line!
My purchase stayed moist for days and had a subtle, likable flavor to the very end.

*SOURCE: Aesop's Fables: A New Revised Version From Original Sources” WITH ILLUSTRATIONS
BY HARRISON WEIR, JOHN TENNIEL, ERNEST GRISET
AND OTHERS” New York : Frank F. Lovell & Company, c1884

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Copyright. John Lubans. 2022