ATTENTION TO DETAIL
ATD – “attention to detail” — are three words said over and over when working in kitchens. The cookie needs to be 2” x 2”. The cake needs to be 6 tiers each tier 4“. The plate gets 5 dots of sauce. Fold the napkin properly. Polish the glass with steam and a clean service towel. Change the sanitation water. Log the temperatures of the freezer and refrigerator every hour. Cook the crème brulee in a water bath. The temperature is 400 degrees Fahrenheit for puff pastry. Order the Golden Delicious apples not the Granny Smith. Wipe those fingerprints off the plate before it goes out. Little did I know that Steven Schussler feels as strongly about sweating the small stuff as I do. In his book, It’s a Jungle In There, Schussler claims that attention to detail is the difference maker. (Shussler)
As a chef, there are so many details to attend to every day that it is amazing the food ever gets made and delivered. Amazing because whether I am in the kitchen at school or a kitchen in a restaurant or hotel we are constantly being interrupted while working. In the teaching environment, it is usually a simple phone call or a request from another kitchen for some product while nineteen students are yelling: Chef over here, Chef when you have a minute, chef-chef-chef. Out in the industry it is a myriad of interruptions, from answering the telephones, handling deliveries, taking orders from guests, writing a new menu, recipe testing, attending a meeting, visiting an offsite, waiting for equipment to be repaired and creating a dessert in 30 minutes for the VIP that just came in for lunch.
I never would have thought my years in kitchens will be so beneficial to my entrepreneurial pursuits. It is challenging to be a big picture thinker when in that type of environment, yet attending to all the details is one of the most required skills that an entrepreneur needs to have. Michael Levine suggests to succeed; business owners must monitor the tiny details or risk failure. (Levine)
Think about the hospitality industry and how they pride themselves on “attention to detail” which translates into repeat customers. When was the last time you went to your favorite breakfast spot, coffee shop, brewery, hotel, restaurant or spa? Do you notice anything different? Last night I was at a brewery for a going away party, we were sitting outside which is a self-service area for food and beverage ordering and disposal. As the beverage glasses were piling up, one of the employees came up and asked if he could clear them away — that’s ATD. Attention to detail is the hostess that knows there is a wait, but sees someone in your party needs a chair and goes and gets one. I have done many road trips across the USA and have found Starbucks my backup in between rest stops when I need a clean bathroom — that’s ATD.
Attention to detail is not always the grand idea. It may be the tiniest of details that keeps the idea in the manner in which it was first created. For instance, the Four Seasons Hotel and Resorts have properties that allow guests to bring their dog. Years ago, when I arrived at the Santa Barbara property with my poodle, in the room was a tray for the dog which included: a placemat, a bottle of water, dog bowls, a treat and bags for picking up waste, discreetly disguised in a small plastic container. My sister kiddingly asked where was her tray. That’s ATD. The big view of the Four Seasons Hotel and Resorts is to offer an experience of exceptional quality. Just visit their website and you can choose from a vast array of hotels and resorts. They have not wavered in offering that experience and it is as good today as it was in 1960 when they opened their first hotel. It did not start out as a luxury brand, but evolved into one; Isadore Sharp, the founder, could see a different type of experience for travelers and the attention to details which has linked that brand with exceptional service for 66 years.
Entrepreneurs may often say “I’m the big picture person. I think globally. I have the overview. Someone else will worry about the small details.” Think about firemen. If they were called to your home, you would want that truck properly loaded with all the right tools, you want the firemen wearing their huge coats and big hats, with oxygen on their backs, axes in one hand and radios to communicate. Although the big picture is the ability to rescue people from any situation, if they do not take the time to do the small details of checking the engines, equipment or gear before they go out on a call, it could lead to an unfortunate situation down the road.
For those big picture people, it may not be easy to be immersed in the details. Bruna Martinuzzi, Founder of Clarion Enterprises has “9 Ways to Improve Your Attention to Detail”. (Martinuzzi) I’ve added some thoughts that might jar your thinking.
- Learn to Plan Effectively: Use a flow charting software to manage your project details. Contractors use these all the time to manage projects.
- Keep Your Eye on Your Cash Flow: Do a Break-Even Analysis to know your margin of safety.
- Be Courteous: It pays to be courteous. To be civil is a small gesture and it can go a long way on making an impression.
- Mind the Little Things: You have created a brand and it is necessary to check on it. Is the reception area welcoming? Are the bathrooms clean? (my favorite one to check at companies).
- Fine Tune Your Communication Style: Be specific when communicating your vision to others. Provide documentation or handouts. Do not speak in abstract terms. Know your audience. Some people want numbers and others want the whole backstory.
- Raise Your Tolerance For Routine: Be involved in routine business practices. It is not all glitz and glamour. Some business tasks are mundane and necessary. Be aware of creating chaos within the organization while taking the nonconformist path.
- Learn to Love Checklists: Martinuzzi states that nothing improves your attention to detail like creating checklists. (Martinuzzi) A habit that will lead to dividends. If you are creative, have some cool checklists made at Staples, Fed Ex or Office Depot.
- Remember People’s Names: People pay more attention when they hear their name and they appreciate it. The Four Season’s employees are known for using the guest’s name in their guest interactions. It is part of their service culture.
- Make Quality a Non-Negotiable: Don’t rush to market if the product or service is not ready. Quality is the competitive advantage. Think about the Samsung Galaxy Note 7. It was a great phone from all the write ups it received, yet clearly not tested enough.
Whatever entrepreneurial dream one has, remember to sweat the details along with sweating the big picture, along with sweating the fundraising, along with sweating the who, where, why, what and when. At the end of it you will have accomplished the dream you first had and you may even have lost a pound or two from all the sweating.
Resources and Links:
Schussler, Steven It’s A Jungle In There. New York: Sterling Publishing, 2010.
“9 Ways to Improve Your Attention to Detail.”, Americanexpress.com, 2014.
Web. 14 Jan. 2014.
“Be Obsessive About Details.” Bloomberg.com, 2005.
Web. 12 Oct. 2005.
“What Makes an Entrepreneur (8/11)-Detail Orientation.” Bothsidesofthetable.com, 2010.
Web. 26 Jan. 2010.
“Do Details Matter? Veterans Know the Answer.”, Commandyourbusiness.com, 2013
Web. 22 Nov. 2013.