ZingTrain’s Impact on Zingerman’s and Beyond
Celebrating Maggie and What's Ahead
I’m writing this at the start of the summer, which happens to be Maggie Bayless’s favorite time of the year. Maggie’s passion for training, commitment to community and collaboration, and love for learning, have led the way to creating what the world now knows as ZingTrain.
By the time you read what I’ve written, Maggie will be off, somewhere out West, on a long-planned, two-month vacation with her husband. At the end July, Maggie will have formally pulled back from her role as managing partner of ZingTrain. I’ll say that again, as much to help myself make peace with the proposition as for anything else. Twenty-six years after Maggie, Paul, and I started our little training business in 1994, Maggie will significantly reduce her day-to-day role in our organization.
What began with her working from a small desk in her attic at home, a trifold brochure, her pre-existing computer and a fax modem, is now one of the leading small training companies in the country. And while the problems of the pandemic have unexpectedly pushed ZingTrain way back from where it was when we celebrated Zingerman’s 38th anniversary on March 15, ZingTrain continues on apace. In the spirit of all we do, and in the way that Maggie has consistently worked so caringly and effectively for all these years, everyone inside the training business she started has doubled down. The folks on the team have embraced the reality of what’s happening. They’ve worked together to get through the loss and grief and frustration and anger. They’ve rethought things and creatively come up with new programs and set out to make a more workable financial model and to build a strong online presence. Maggie, true to form, has continued to give 100 percent throughout the months of this crazy and unplanned for pandemic, working passionately and professionally, right through all of the ups and downs of the last eight months.
To be honest, I really don’t like departures. And on a strictly selfish level, I really, really don’t like this one. But I should tell you that I’m smiling as I say that. Why smile? Well, first because this transition is not a surprise. It has nothing to do with the pandemic. It’s not a product of exasperation or frustration. In fact, it’s anything but. Using the visioning process that is such a huge part of what ZingTrain teaches—and of what we do here at Zingerman’s—Maggie described this transition and shared it with all of us in a vision she wrote over five years ago. And, other than the pandemic, it’s playing out pretty much as she wrote it. By writing her vision out in an inspiring and strategically sound way, Maggie is, marvelously, making this move in a way that’s completely congruent with what we teach. I’m also smiling because, even though she won’t be a managing partner, Maggie and I will continue to work together through ZingTrain and the Zingerman’s Community of Businesses—albeit in a less out-front way—as we have for the last 41 years now. She’s actually developed some new products, one of which is a series of online Master Classes that she and I have started co-teaching and will continue with later this fall.
Why is Maggie simultaneously enthused about leaving and yet equally excited about still staying here and working at the same time? Many reasons that, I’d guess, have a lot to do with her long years of work and effective effort trying to master self-management. And in adding, I’ll suggest that her energy and her positive path forward are a testament to the inspirational visioning process (which we learned from Stas’ Kazmierski, who learned it from Ron Lippitt) that Maggie has so meaningfully taught for over 20 years now. As the Irish philosopher John O’Donohue wrote, “The heart of vision is shaped by the state of the soul. When the soul is alive to beauty, we begin to see life in a fresh and vital way.” Maggie has been doing that for a long time. Her soul, I would suggest, is alive to beauty. And she continually sees life in fresh and vital ways. Just this morning, in a conversation about the Master Class we’ve been developing together, Maggie said, “I’m trying to be open to new approaches,” just two weeks before she finishes her formal role as managing partner.
Maggie has been a prominent—“essential,” you might say in the language of the pandemic—part of my life since we first met back in 1979. Forty years later, we’re more committed to each other’s growth, success, and happiness than ever. Anarchist geographer Elisée Reclus wrote a century and a half or so ago: “Someday the quest for friendship will replace the quest for material well-being.” Meeting Maggie all those years ago was a treasure that will surpass whatever financial benefit either of us will end up with from our long years of work here. If friendship were a country and Reclus were doing his geographic map making, he would surely have discovered Maggie and me, sitting close together in meaningful conversation. And the map would be marked accordingly.
Speaking of maps, one of the things Maggie and I have learned about in the last few years is the idea of Care Mapping. It comes from our friends and colleagues Rajiv Mehta and Gabriel Acosta. It’s a terrific tool, one that we’re only early in the process of building into our own work here. It’s a way to visually show—and in the process, learn about—the relationships in our lives; the ones in which we care, care for, energize, ideate, and inspire. We each have our own. Mine has Tammie and our dogs in the day-to-day center. But if you count caring phone calls; conversations in response to intellectual, emotional, and organizational help; meaningful meetings; and team teaching, Maggie’s mark on my map is an extremely significant one.
In his terrific book, Small is Beautiful, E.F. Schumacher wrote about the community-minded and very successful English businessperson Scott Bader. Bader, he said, “never forgot that his success and prosperity were the achievements not of himself alone but of all his collaborators and decidedly also of the society within which he was privileged to operate.” I feel the same way. While Paul and I are very often put out front in national interviews and newspaper headlines, the reality is that neither of us would have created what exists as the Zingerman’s Community without all of the amazing people who’ve been part of this organization for all these years now. I have no illusions—we all depend on each other, we learn from each other, we’ve all helped each other through. All the partners, everyone who works here, our hundreds of intellectual mentors, our colleagues, our community, our suppliers . . . all have contributed mightily to the ecosystem you experience—even when you’re wearing a mask—as the Zingerman’s Community. Maggie has been there from the beginning. Her positive, insightful, and generous contributions have radically enhanced the quality of our cultural soil.
This newsletter includes a wealth of writing about Maggie, her work, and her extensive contribution to both our community at Zingerman’s and to the progressive work community around the world. There’s more from me. There are a bunch of thoughts from her in an interview. And then a good bit of other writing that Maggie didn’t know was going to be in here from folks who work here at Zingerman’s, and from ZingTrain clients around the country. As much as there is in this newsletter, please know that there’s nowhere near enough room to include all of the positive comments and stories that we could have collected. Multiply what you see on these pages by hundreds upon hundreds and you’ll start to have some idea of how big an impact Maggie has had on our ecosystem.
Some of you know Maggie personally. But even if you don’t know her, you definitely know her work. If you’ve worked here, shopped here, or dined here, you have benefitted from Maggie’s work. If you’ve eaten our food. If you were impacted by the smile of the staff member who waited on you. If you’ve learned about our approaches to visioning, training, and customer service. If you’ve read any of the books I’ve written (which wouldn’t have come together as they have without her insight). If you’ve learned Bottom-Line Training®, Bottom-Line Change®, or written a vision. If you’ve voiced concern about something we did wrong. In fact, if you’ve shopped or eaten at Neal’s Yard Dairy in London, Muddy’s Bakery in Memphis, Biscuit Love in Nashville, or Frontera Grill in Chicago. If you’ve been treated at the U of M Pain Clinic, or if you’ve shopped at Mast Shoes. Since ZingTrain has taught to progressive organizations and creative thinkers in almost every industry and in every state, Maggie’s work is all over the country. Actually, her influence is international— we’ve taught in a dozen different countries over the years. And the business books and newsletters have been in many more than that. In fact, this past spring we taught an online visioning class to a company in Costa Rica during the pandemic. It’s in all of these, and a few thousand other places, that Maggie’s work has worked its way, quietly and meaningfully, into your life.
The fact that most of you didn’t even know it is a testament to the way Maggie works. Quietly, consistently, collaboratively, caringly. Some people say they’re “in it to win it.” I think Maggie’s always been in it, more than anything else, to help others around her come out ahead. Both she and I grew up in academically-oriented families. Given what we’ve both learned, and of late taught, about beliefs, it’s clear to each of us that we grew up she in Wilmington, Ohio, me in Chicago—with very negative beliefs about business. Through her good work, her generous spirit, and daily commitment to community, she’s completely reversed those beliefs, for herself, and even more importantly, I’d argue, for so many others. Maggie’s work at ZingTrain and in the Zingerman’s Community of Businesses has reframed what business can be about—it can be generative, sustainable, creative, caring, community minded, fiscally responsible, in a way that benefits all involved and the community of which it’s a part.
Maggie and I met at Maude’s back in 1979. She started there as a cocktail server. Paul was the general manager. Frank from Zingerman’s Bakehouse was the manager. I’d been a dishwasher and line cook and was about to be promoted to an assistant manager’s position. Maggie had moved here from Chicago where she’d worked in a big bank. She’d gone there after studying German literature at Oberlin College in Ohio (where her parents also went). A few years later, not long before we opened the Deli in 1982, Maggie decided to get an MBA at the University of Michigan. She graduated and got a job at GM, the existential opposite of the small, community-based business she went on to found a few years later. But as she always says, she figured if she were going to try working in that world, right out of school was the time to do it. After a few years, she knew it wasn’t for her. She left and went to work for a small consulting company here in town. The business wasn’t, ultimately, the best fit. But it’s there that Maggie found her passion for training. For which we all can thank our lucky stars.
Two years later, when Paul and I put out the Zingerman’s 2009 vision that detailed the kind of locally-based Community of Businesses we were going to build, Maggie came to us to ask about the idea of starting a training business. That was 1994. Twenty-six years and a few months later, ZingTrain is known all over the country and around the world. As per Maggie’s (and our) original ZingTrain vision, it was never meant to be gigantic. Just really great. Maggie’s work to develop what we came to call (at her suggestion) Bottom-Line Training® has changed beliefs about training in businesses and non-profit organizations all over the world. I believe it’s a timeless approach, one that’s designed to be adapted regularly to shifts in the ecosystem. Even pandemics. Which is why it is my very strong belief that, in the same way Ron Lippitt’s work on visioning has continued to make such an enormous impact long after he left the planet (in 1986), Maggie’s innovative approaches to training will still play a prominent role in progressive thinkers’ training work long after she, Paul, and I have entered some otherworldly, ethereal, post-planetary space.
Without Maggie’s good work and exceptional insight, we would be a very different place as an organization. We might not even be here. Which means that Ann Arbor would be a pretty different place. Not only that, but the lives of everyone who works—and has worked—at Zingerman’s would be very different. The lives of people in the many organizations ZingTrain has worked with would be different. Those organizations might not still be here, which would mean their communities would be different. It’s a group effort, always. And Maggie—in spirit, mind and body—has been a big, big part of it all. As Steven Slocum and Philip Fernbach write in The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone, “Intelligence resides in the community and not in any individual. So decision-making processes that elicit the wisdom of the community are likely to produce better outcomes than procedures that depend on the relative ignorance of lone individuals.” Maggie, I know, believes that. And, probably more importantly, she’s made it a meaningful reality. We are all, very literally, better off for it. Having spent the last few years writing about humility, I’m realizing as I write that Maggie is a pretty darned good model for it. Of course, she won’t say that. Over the last 41 years that we’ve known each other, I will say with confidence that almost every situation we’ve faced—including this year’s epic craziness—Maggie comes at things with the big picture perspective. Humility is a virtue that’s very much a part of everything Maggie has done.
Wherever she and Fred are on the road right now, I send serious kudos to Maggie for moving forward with the same grace, thoughtfulness, collaboration, and caring that she’s brought to the ZCoB and the world for so many decades. Let me be real—it totally sucks that the pandemic has happened in what seemed sure to be a smooth and positive path towards a lovely and long planned soft landing for Maggie. (The same goes for my friend Frank who’s similarly stepping back from his partner role at the Bakehouse this coming winter.) After 26 years of doing good work in business, you’re within six months of getting to the vision you wrote five years ago; you have a vibrant, creative, hard-working team; you have Katie Frank, a great co-managing partner; your training work is recognized and applauded all over the country. And then in under a week, your healthy and happy little training business is turned completely upside down and inside out. The earthquake you didn’t have any inkling was coming hit you hard. Your work on meaningful, effective, in-person training is made almost completely impossible. This is not the way any of us imagined this would go.
But maybe the pandemic is the icing on the institutional cake, the exclamation point on her work here, the exception to everything we’ve lived through that will ultimately prove the point about Maggie’s work. Because through the last few months, Maggie has again demonstrated her mettle—where many would understandably be morose about their drop in share value, and of the unfairness of it all, slide into victim mode and start blaming, Maggie has taken a lot of deep breaths and then gotten down to work to help create new courses, and online training to help lead the ZCoB through this challenging time. Positive psychologist Martin Seligman says that “People who live well, die well. The more peace you cultivate in your life, the more peaceful your death is likely to be.” Happily, we’re not at that point here. But I’ll extrapolate in a positive way from Dr. Seligman’s well taken point. To paraphrase Dr. Seligman, “The more peace and purpose you cultivate in your life, the more peaceful and interesting your retirement and the rest of your life is likely to be.” People who work with passion, people who have purpose, who live their values and envision their lives as they want them to be, people who are generous of spirit and driven to keep learning and make a meaningful difference for the world around them, will likely exit their work roles well. Maggie seems, to me, the poster child for that point of view.
Maybe a good way to think about all of this for me would be to go back to something I learned from Dawna Markova, the author of about 18 good books I would recommend. Our connection came through our mutual pursuit of the intellectual and ethical legacy that Emma Goldman, her great aunt, who J. Edgar Hoover once called “The most dangerous woman in America,” left to the world. Dawna agreed to write the Foreword for Part 2 of the Guide to Good Leading. In the process, I started to study Dawna’s work and learn from the lessons she shared.
Dawna has long publicly listed her profession as “thought partner.” In her books I Will Not Die an Unlived Life and Collaborative Intelligence, she shares the story of how she played that role for her father, even when she was a young girl. He was quite successful in business and eventually became the CEO of a major Chicago company, but was secretly unable to read. The man was clearly highly intelligent, but almost completely illiterate. His young daughter Dawna helped him through by reading all his papers aloud for him onto a tape recording he could listen to. After he listened, he would talk things through with her. She was ten at the time that started. Over the years, she became, she said, his “thinking partner.” And then she went on to do the same—the thinking, not the reading—for her leadership clients around the world. When we were starting to talk about her writing the Foreword for Part 2, Dawna shared that, “I’ve been a professional thinking partner to leaders since Peter Senge [author of The 5th Discipline] wrangled me away from research and into working with organizational leaders 15 years ago. My training was as a cognitive neuroscientist.”
So, in the spirit of Dawna’s good work, I want to pause for a minute to appreciate one of the most important—probably the primary—thinking partner of my life. We’re business partners, too, for sure. We like teaching together. We enjoy each other’s company. We’ve spent far more hours talking, in meetings, and traveling to teach than I can come close to being able to count. Some longtime friends build their relationships around hiking, tennis, politics, or bicycling. Maggie and I have built ours by thinking together, and then working together to put our thoughts into effective, on the ground, meaningful action.
Dawna Markova wrote, “I know I need to learn to observe with passion, to think with patience, and to live with care.” I think that sums up a good bit of my experience of having Maggie as a major part of my life, for the majority of my life. We’ve been part of each other’s lives since we were in our early 20s! And here we are. Still smiling. In our 60s. Feeling more love and appreciation, respect, and admiration for each other than ever. Still sharing thoughts. Still thinking of new ways to make work better for those who come to ZingTrain and for those who work in the ZCoB.
Dawna Markova says that, “If your purpose is only about you, it has no branches. If it is only about the rest of the world, it has no roots.” The point is to study and care for yourself, and at the same time, to do the same for the world around you. For me, Maggie epitomizes all of that. Without her help, I honestly might have cracked up or quit. Through her patient insightful input, support, love, and commitment, I have been helped enormously to get where I am. And so too have hundreds of others around the organization and the world. The woman has made a big, big difference.
Peter Senge, who mentored Dawna Markova, and whose work inspired us here at Zingerman’s, wrote about the importance of creating what he called “Learning Organizations.” The name came from Senge and he certainly added fuel to our intellectual fire, but the work to make the ZCoB the learning organization that it is came, to a great extent, from Maggie’s work and contribution at ZingTrain. Her passion for training—and yes, our willingness to put her passion and insights to work—has been a huge part of making Zingerman’s what it is.
Active learning of the sort Maggie has helped lead, I’ve come to believe, is like working out for the brain. What happens when we don’t work out? We get out of shape. Our life expectancy goes down. Our energy decreases. The odds of depression go up. People—and organizations—who aren’t actively learning, don’t last. I could make a pretty solid case that had we not started ZingTrain in 1994 with Maggie’s lead and managing partner work, I will say again, we probably would not be here
Which reminds me of something that Bo Burlingham, the nationally-known author of Small Giants, The Great Game of Business, A Stake in the Outcome, Street Smarts, and Finish Big told me nearly 20 years ago. He and I were chatting on one of his many visits to Ann Arbor—for a number of years after Small Giants came out, he was coming here a couple times a year to co-teach the Small Giants seminar that Maggie designed for us based on the book and our work here in the ZCoB with visioning. (It later evolved into the Creating a Vision of Greatness seminar that has long been one of the cornerstones of ZingTrain’s curriculum.) ZingTrain wasn’t the main topic of our conversation, but somehow it came up. “You know,” Bo said, “most of the ZCoB will never fully appreciate the value that ZingTrain has contributed to what you do here at Zingerman’s. ZingTrain’s impact on the way you work is so big, and so deeply embedded in how you approach your work every single day, that most of you will take it for granted much of the time.” And he added, “You’re very fortunate to have ZingTrain—it’s really had a big, big impact on Zingerman’s.”
You likely know the great, oft-referenced line from the ancient Chinese sage, Lao Tzu: “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” This is what has happened with the work Maggie details in the following pages. While much of it will be new, innovative, interesting, and inspiring to you, it’s so woven into our daily work at Zingerman’s that almost everyone here takes it for granted. To Lao Tzu’s well-taken point, they may even think they came up with it on their own. Which, I would imagine, would make Maggie very happy. While most of the world is caught up in self-aggrandizement, Maggie is focused on figuring out simple—as in simply radical—ways to change the work we all do through more effective training. She is, I would imagine, happy to have others assume the innovation is theirs. The point is not to take credit, but rather to improve training, help the organization run better and make the training experience more rewarding for all involved.
And yet, it’s very safe to say that Zingerman’s would not be Zingerman’s without her ideas, her work, the conversations she’s led, and the quiet commitment to values and vision that she lives every day. Some people talk loudly about what others should do, but actually do very little in the day-to-day to implement their ideas other than advising others. A few folks speak quietly but convert their words into meaningful real-life action that really matters. More than most of the world will ever realize or understand. The notes that have come flooding in from folks in the ZCoB (and externally, too) about Maggie and her work at ZingTrain for this newsletter also tell me that her contributions have clearly not gone unnoticed.
Training rarely wins headlines but it sure does make things work. As Peter Senge said, “The only sustainable competitive advantage is an organization’s ability to learn faster than the competition.” While we try to work our way through the wackiness of the world’s current state, I’m thankful—incredibly thankful—that while the pandemic has wreaked havoc on other parts of our daily routines, the discipline of learning continues to sustain us and help us grow and get to the vision we’ve written together for 2032.
Senge said, “Through learning we re-create ourselves. Through learning we become able to do something we never were able to do. Through learning we reperceive the world and our relationship to it. Through learning we extend our capacity to create, to be part of the generative process of life.” I think Senge’s statement is solid. And true of the organization of which Maggie and I are small parts. Without Maggie’s work, I’m not sure it would have happened. The beauty of the way Maggie works is that her work will go on long, long after she stops being the managing partner. If beliefs are metaphorically the root systems of our lives, then our organizational beliefs about training are very deep and strong.
There aren’t all that many things I’ll suggest are particularly positive about the pandemic. I’m sure later I’ll be able to share good lessons. One of the things that I think is helpful, though, is what happens when we don’t have what we’re used to every day. One thing we’ve been without is the regular regimen of classes that we’ve run for decades now. Social distancing, cash crunches, social chaos, and a crazy amount of sudden uncertainty led us to temporarily cut out in-person class training sessions. If the pandemic is like an earthquake hitting our ecosystem, one of the things that fell into the cracks was training. The good news is that our training and learning roots are deep and strong. We’re starting to organize ourselves to train again. ZingTrain has put a ton of stuff online. We’re starting to figure out how to restart our internal classes. The work Maggie has done will carry on. E.F. Schumacher says, “It is the individual, personal example that counts.” Maggie has given us all of that, every day.
Let’s be real. The pandemic has had a very negative impact on the balance sheet and short term valuation of Maggie’s shares in ZingTrain. Which, succinctly, sucks. I’m only bringing it up here because while that reality is unavoidably true and completely not what any of us imagined would be the case after ZingTrain’s many years of solid steady sustainable growth and Maggie’s good leadership work, if you turn the financial balance sheet over, the spiritual balance sheet of ZingTrain remains as solid as ever. Maybe even more so, because the work that ZingTrain has initiated and led here at Zingerman’s, and with literally hundreds and hundreds of businesses around the country, is as strong as ever. Or stronger than ever—because the organizations that have incorporated ZingTrain’s ideas and Maggie’s methods are generally healthier. And they’re more resilient. And they have tools that, while they don’t guarantee anything, increase the odds of getting through the craziness of the current state of the country. Maggie is leaving us as better people.
As we’ve grown over the years, many things have changed. E.F. Schumacher says, “The fundamental task is to achieve smallness within the large organization.” That thought is deeply embedded in the way we’ve tried to design our organization. He also said, “An organization has to strive continuously for the orderliness of order and the disorderliness of creative freedom.” Without getting into all the details of the approaches to training Maggie has led the work to do here, I will argue pretty adamantly that it all supports those two insightful suppositions from Dr. Schumacher. They interlay natural order and disorder in mutually beneficial ways—the natural disorder is honored for what it is; the way of ordering and thinking about things that she’s shared with the rest of us, allow us to embrace that disorder, while thinking about it in orderly and highly effective ways.
The other piece of good news, for me personally at least, is that although Maggie is stepping back from her role as managing partner, she’s staying in her role as thinking partner. E.F. Schumacher said that, “. . . the whole essence of education is that it should proceed in freedom, that the end product should be persons and not puppets.” Because of Maggie’s good work and commitment to those around her, more people are proceeding in positively framed, conscious freedom to pursue the life of their dreams. That’s a pretty darned good legacy to leave.
One of the key beliefs of anarchist thinking is that the means we use to achieve something need to be congruent with the ends we want to achieve.
It strikes me, as I’m reflecting upon the last 41 years, that part of what’s worked so well about Bottom-Line Training®, ZingTrain, and Maggie’s approaches is that they have been pretty much completely congruent with the kind of food we sell and the philosophies we feel so strongly about. Bottom-Line Training®—I just realized (it only took me 25 years!)—is in line with the same sort of artisan, hand crafted, humanistic sort of food and drink we’ve been making, baking, and brewing for so many years. It reflects the personality of the people who are using it. It’s clearly “of the place”—it’s got Zingerman’s and Ann Arbor all over it. It’s meant to be adapted to any new setting in which it’s set to work. It honors human nature. And its wholly generative—the lives and organizations of those who use it have been made better in the process. In that sense, it doesn’t just solve problems. It puts forward an effective, mindful way to live and work.
Emma Goldman wrote, “The means used to prepare the future become its cornerstone.” Through her thousands of contributions—small and large, overt and covert—over the years, Maggie’s means are a compelling cornerstone on which the rest of us can keep building. A thousand thanks would be nowhere near enough.
Maybe the best news is that, after 41 years of being thinking partners, we’re not finished. Terra Brock, who’s worked at the Deli for years, says in her note about Maggie, “I will always remember her saying, ‘training is never done.’” Terra is right, and so is Maggie. There is, I believe, much more good thinking, good learning, and good training to come.
Ari: Wow. You’ve been a part of the Zingerman’s community informally and formally for nearly 30 years now! Where should we start this conversation?
Maggie: Well, I always tell people that my connection to Zingerman’s goes back to being part of the unpaid friends and family that helped get the Deli’s doors open in 1982, and Zingerman’s has always had a special place in my heart. In particular I remember struggling to recover the seats on some wrought iron cafe chairs (green marbleized vinyl) to go with some tile-topped tables. I think those were all left over from the business that was in the space before? Oh yes, and helping Lori Saginaw hand write chalkboards full of deli meats and cheeses. Not the menus (my handwriting wasn’t good enough for that), but information about the food to put up on the walls—we were trying to make the space feel really full so that you’d walk in and feel like you were surrounded by food.
A: What do you tell people you meet about the Zingerman’s Community of Businesses (ZCoB)?
M: It usually comes up because people ask what I do for a living and I usually start by asking if they’ve ever been to Ann Arbor and if so, if they’ve heard of Zingerman’s. If their answer is yes, then I can explain ZingTrain fairly easily as, “A business-to-business training company that shares Zingerman’s approach to customer service, leadership, open book management, etc.” If I’m describing the ZCoB to someone who doesn’t know Zingerman’s, I say, “We’re a community of businesses all located in Ann Arbor that started as a delicatessen.” If they look interested, then I launch into more details. If they were just asking to be polite, I wrap it up there.
A: What are some of the things that stand out to you about the early years of being around the Deli?
M: The positive energy and how important it was to you and Paul that people would want to work there and that customers would want to shop there. You took nothing for granted in terms of getting people in the door. You set the hours to be open 7 days a week, starting early in the morning and not closing until after dinner. The location had been a local grocery store so you wanted to carry some staples like milk and eggs that people in the neighbourhood might need. The Deli sold cigarettes for heaven’s sake! In my mind, I can hear Paul’s voice saying, “Everyone who smokes [which was a lot more people back in 1982] knows where the best deal on cigarettes is and that will bring people in the door!” Although now people probably think that Zingerman’s success was inevitable, it didn’t seem that way at all back then—and I know that you and Paul never took it for granted.
A: We’ve certainly made many mistakes over the years, but we’ve never taken any of what we have here for granted, and that’s just as true today!
M: Another thing that was huge for me was the way you and Paul worked together. My experience with managers and co-owners in every other organization I worked for was a constant jockeying for power. Some places it was very overt. In other places it was subtler. But it was always there. I remember one time when you came back from vacation and Paul had implemented something. (A new system? A new product? I truly can’t remember.) But he’d done something that you wouldn’t have done if you’d been there. And I asked why you weren’t more upset about it and you said, “I know that Paul and I have the same goals in mind, we just go about it differently sometimes. But since I know we want to end up in the same place, I don’t need to always do it my way.” Or something like that. What I realize now, that I couldn’t have articulated then, is that you had a shared vision. Even though this was in the early years, before we’d even heard of the concept of a business vision!
A: Looking back on it all with the lens you now have—as someone who teaches and trains progressive organizations around the world—what do you notice about those early years that you didn’t see when it was happening?
M: So many of the things that I just took for granted, because it was the way you and Paul worked, and because you never seemed like “bosses” even when you were—are actually quite uncommon in the business world at large. And I would say even more so back in the early 80s. Trying to avoid hierarchy while not abdicating responsibility, focusing on giving great customer service to your staff as well as to the paying customers, offering to sample any product in the store, 100 percent money-back guarantee for any reason, giving staff the authority to do whatever it takes to make things right for an unhappy guest, believing that having fun at work was not only possible but desirable! Also that you made decisions by consensus, rather than the person who owned more shares having more say.
A: Backing up, how did you get to Ann Arbor in the first place?
M: I grew up in southern Ohio and went to Oberlin College (in northern Ohio) where I studied German Literature and was very involved with the student dining cooperatives. When I graduated, I moved to Chicago with a college friend who was going to dental school at University of Illinois. I liked Chicago and worked in a few different jobs there, ending up at First National Bank of Chicago. But my college boyfriend had moved to Ann Arbor after graduation and by the summer of 1979 I’d decided to move here too. It seemed like a pretty cool town—and it is! I got a job waiting tables, met you and Frank Carollo at Maude’s—and through you, met Paul. And now, 41 years later, here we are—transitioning into the next stage of what I hope will be friendships that last the rest of our lives.
A: Can you share the ZingTrain origin story with us?
M: When the Deli opened in 1982, I had applied and been admitted to the University of Michigan’s MBA program. I worked in the Deli on Saturdays until I got my degree in the spring of 1984. At that point I took what I now see was a detour—although a very important and necessary one—into the more traditional business world. I worked in a corporate staff position at General Motors, as a regional sales manager for a small start-up beverage company (SoHo Soda), and then as a project manager for a company that developed training for corporate clients. Managing training projects gave me insight into what is involved in creating effective training, especially since I had the luck to work for someone, Sally Findlay, who believed strongly in the importance of training that was engaging, interactive, and that had a positive impact on business results. I’ve always been a planner and take great pleasure in organizing information, so the concepts behind instructional design really resonated with me. When you and Paul published the first “formal” long-term organizational vision, “Zingerman’s 2009: A Food Odyssey,” you sent me a copy and asked me to let you know what I thought. The idea of a Community of Businesses was so exciting to me—and effective training seemed like something that would be crucial to making it happen. By this time, 1994, I was working as a freelance instructional designer and had just helped a friend develop a customer service training program for Ford dealerships. It was a good program, the pilot sessions went well, the client was pleased—but I got very little personal satisfaction from the project. Reading the Zingerman’s vision, I realized that I was way more excited about helping you and Paul create a successful and cool organization than helping sell more cars. Plus, you, Paul, and I had been toying with the idea of working together and you’d been getting requests from other business owners about sharing your customer service approach. So I stayed up all night and wrote a vision for a training company that would both improve the training at the Deli and the Bakehouse (the only two Zingerman’s businesses at that time), and also share Zingerman’s approach to customer service with other organizations. The rest, as they say, is history!
A: What makes you so passionate about training?
M: Helping people to be successful is really gratifying. By organizing information you can make it easier for people to learn. If you let people know what is expected of them, they are much more likely to meet those expectations. I am not an expert at most of the jobs around the ZCoB, but I can help someone who IS an expert think through what someone else needs to learn first—rather than falling back on the idea that the new hire needs to know EVERYTHING, RIGHT AWAY! Which is, of course, impossible. But when someone is unconsciously competent at their job (like so many of the long-time staff in the ZCoB) it can be really hard to pick apart what the foundational skills of a position are. I can do that—and I think it is really fun. Which may just be the definition of “training nerd.”
A: What were some of the first things that you led implementation on at Zingerman’s?
M: I was involved in developing many of the first internal classes—and then the framework within which others could develop classes. Our class, “The Art of Giving Great Service” was already being taught, and was a great class, so it was just a matter of tweaking the design to make it more interactive. That is the thing I remember most about training that was happening around the ZCoB when I started ZingTrain—training wasn’t very interactive, and there was lots of training happening! You and others taught lots of product classes, there was the customer service class, and you and Paul taught an orientation class (the same one you’re still teaching!). In an effort to be as efficient as possible, the approach during that time was basically to share as much information as humanly possible (and you and Paul can both talk really, really fast!) in the time allotted. What I think I brought was the perspective that it was better to focus on what was most important for people to learn and to make sure that they really understood and could use that information. And to assume that the training would be ongoing—not just something that happened in an employee’s first 30 days and then they were done.
I started teaching a bunch of classes on how to be a trainer, that eventually got slimmed down into the current 2-hour “Train-the-Trainer” class, which I’m frequently told is one of people’s favorite staff classes. I also worked with the Bread department at the Bakehouse to develop the first Zingerman’s Training Compact (shout out to Frank Carollo for taking a leap of faith!) and as we developed the content for our first seminar for outside clients, we created the Business Perspective Chart and finalized Zingerman’s Training Compact—two cornerstones of our organizational culture.
A: How do you think training has impacted the Zingerman’s community?
M: In just about every way possible. While we have, of course, had lots of people come and go through the years, the key organizational recipes that are part of our internal training have helped keep the focus on our three bottom-lines: food quality, service quality, and financial results.
A: What are some of your key beliefs about training?
M: That if we are clear about expectations and answer the 4 Training Plan Questions for every employee, then we increase the likelihood that both employees—and the organization—will be successful.
A: What do you think holds so many organizations back from doing more training work to help their staff?
M: Ironically, I think often there is a mistaken belief on one hand that the work that needs to be done is so simple that it should be “pretty obvious” and on the other hand that developing training is so difficult or onerous that it’s not worth the effort. I think doing most jobs well can be pretty complicated and that being clearer about expectations can be pretty simple.
A: I love the e-book you did—The ZingTrain Trainer’s Toolkit. Even though I’ve been part of helping to teach and use all of the techniques in it, even I had forgotten about some of the really great down to earth and effective training tools you’ve helped develop. What are some of the highlights for you in the book?
M: For me, the Trainer’s Toolkit (which, by the way will soon be incorporated into a self-paced online course) was a way to present both the philosophical underpinnings of Bottom-Line Training®️ and the specific tools that have been used so effectively in the ZCoB: training passports, “Liked Best/Next Time” as a way to provide feedback, the 5 Steps to Effective On-Shift Training, and more. I guess I worry a little that when I’m no longer around all the time to keep reminding people, that they might forget that all of those tools work in large part because they are based on good instructional design principles. I wanted to document the framework as well as the tools—both for the rest of the ZCoB as well as for ZingTrain’s clients around the world.
A: How has the pandemic impacted you all at ZingTrain?
M: Ooof. Like a punch in the gut. We were a successful in-person, business-to-business training company up until mid-March 2020, when the idea of getting on a plane to fly somewhere and spend 2 days in a room with a bunch of strangers went from a great professional development opportunity to something NO ONE was interested in.
At that time, ZingTrain had a couple of online offerings (the “Trainer’s Toolkit” and our “Art of Giving Great Service” e-learning courses) but 99.99% of our work was in-person training—either at ZingTrain’s offices in Ann Arbor or at our clients’ sites. As soon as we realized that we’d need to cancel all of our scheduled training for the rest of March and all of April, we furloughed all of the ZT staff in order to preserve cash until we could catch our breath and figure out next steps. With the help of a PPP loan, we were later able to bring back all of the trainers and a few other key staff (sadly, not everyone, however) to focus on developing virtual workshops on ZingTrain’s key content (customer service, visioning,
leadership, etc.). I feel incredibly lucky to work with such a strong team–and to have a base of long-term customer relationships—both of which allowed us to make the switch to operating as a 100% virtual business within about 6 weeks. Since offering our first virtual workshop over Zoom on May 7, we’ve held more than 37 virtual “public” workshops (anyone can buy a seat), attended by over 700 people. During that time we’ve also led virtual workshops for 14 different client organizations, hosted one full-day conference (ZingPosium) with over 100 participants, launched a month-long Master Class, and delivered many free webinars. The bottom line is that our sales are only about 30% of what they were pre-Covid, but we have developed some wonderful new products that will continue to be offered even once in-person training is happening again.
A: You’re not actually going to stop working (I’m happy to say!). What’s in the works for the next few years?
M: You’re right! I’m planning to take two full months of vacation in August and September and I am not planning to work full time going forward, but I’ll be back to the ZCoB in October. In addition to continuing to facilitate ZingTrain’s Roundtable #1 (a cohort of small business owners that have been meeting regularly since 2010), I look forward to working with the ZCoB Training Engineers to update our internal Basic Orientation program and internal training systems. And then, of course, you and I are planning to co-teach another session of our Master Class! So it’s not about an ending so much as a new phase in which I work more on a project by project basis in the ZCoB and have big chunks of time in-between for travel, volunteering and my own ongoing education.
**** This piece was featured in the September/October 2020 edition of the Zingerman’s Newsletter. Read the rest of the newsletter here!
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