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Training & Business Systems

Training Tool: Business Perspective Chart

Zingerman's Business Perspective Chart

The Business Perspective Chart, or the BPC, is one of our very favorite training tools at Zingerman’s. Why do we love it so much? It gives framing and context for how our business operates and why, and it gives us a common language to use when talking about the business. This is especially helpful when we’re training staff internally, or when we’re teaching our business practices to those outside of Zingermans at our in-person workshops. Created by ZingTrain’s Founder Maggie Bayless in our early days, the BPC is a visual representation of how Zingerman’s operates.

Many businesses we’ve worked with have adapted the Business Perspective Chart to work for them, and you may want to do the same! Let’s walk through it together:

The colorful border around the chart represents the  Zingerman’s Mission Statement. The first line of our mission statement says, “We share the Zingerman’s Experience,” and it is the reason all of us come to work every day. We don’t come to work to cook food, or make coffee, or train people – we come to work to deliver an experience. Providing a Zingerman’s Experience quite literally frames all of the work we do on a daily basis! 

At the top of the chart is Vision, which serves as the starting point for just about everything we do at Zingerman’s.  A vision is a picture of what success looks like at a particular point in time, written with enough richness of detail that you can picture it happening.  As an organization, Zingerman’s has an organizational vision for the year 2032 (the year Zingerman’s Deli turns 50 years old). Each of the 10 businesses in the Zingerman’s Community of Businesses has a vision of success, as do many departments within each of those businesses. We also use visioning whenever we propose a change, big or small, when we roll out a new project, and many of us at Zingerman’s have a personal vision of success. Having a vision gets everyone on the same page, moving in the same direction, and aligns us all around the same definition of success. 

At the bottom of the chart are Bottom-Line Results.  At Zingerman’s, we measure success based on three bottom-lines – food, service and finance. Many organizations choose to measure success on one bottom line – finance. Finance is certainly important to us – without money, we can’t stay in business! But great service and great food are just as important. And we are explicit – we don’t give great service just to get great finance – giving great service is an end in and of itself. The challenge with three bottom-lines, however, is that they can be in conflict with each other. For example, at the Deli, it would be really great service to their customers to add more staff to the retail floor, but finance would suffer from the increase in employee wages. We work hard to make a concerted effort everyday to balance all three bottom-lines!

At the center of the chart are Principles, or our values or ethics. At Zingerman’s, our Guiding Principles define how we behave and interact with those around us as we work toward our long-term vision and mission. We have eight guiding principles, including A Great Place to Work, A Great Place to Shop and Eat, and Strong Relationships

To the right of our Principles are Systems.  Systems are what we say we do – also known as rules, policies or Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). We create systems to get consistent results that are in alignment with our vision of success. Systems aren’t created to get in the way of our work or to make things difficult for our customers.

To the left of Principles is Culture.  There are many definitions of organizational culture, but in this context, if systems are what we say we do, culture is what actually happens. It’s the personality of the organization. Culture is what is happening in the office, or on the floor when the manager isn’t looking. 

Ideally, culture is very much in alignment with the systems, but we know that’s not always the case. The discrepancy is what we call a Systems-Culture Gap. Here’s an example of what it looks like in action: You learn a 4-step process for completing a task, but when you’re following the process, your coworker next to you says, “I know you were told to follow all 4 steps, but no one really does step 4 – just skip it and we can leave early!” The next day, you’re instructed to train someone else and you say, “I know the person yesterday said we can skip step 4, but I think step 4 is important! Step 2 is another story…. Feel free to skip it when I’m here.” This can get worse over time and typically the person who suffers most is the customer who isn’t getting any kind of consistent service! 

The Systems-Culture Gap is also really hard on new employees – they want to do a good job, but have no idea how to do it because success is a moving target. What if two managers are working at the same time, each of whom follows systems differently? How is the new employee supposed to know which system to follow? 

What’s valuable about teaching the Systems-Culture Gap is that it provides neutral language, allowing everyone to identify the gap that exists and then work together to close that gap. Is the system correct and the culture needs to be brought into alignment? If so, we might work on more training or holding people accountable when they don’t use the system. Is the system now obsolete and no longer useful? Then we need to update the system to reflect the current culture.  This is part of what we explicitly teach to every Zingerman’s employee, regardless of their position – it’s incumbent on each of us to help close that gap. It’s not okay to walk away from the gap, hoping that someone else works to close it!

These gaps still exist at Zingerman’s – we certainly aren’t perfect! What sets us apart, however, is that we have a common language to talk about these gaps, as well as the expectation that we’ll call out the gaps and work together to close as many of them as we can.

By using the Business Perspective Chart internally and in our workshops, we’ve found that people better understand the impact their actions have on bottom-line results. They also feel more empowered to call out systems-culture gaps. When people know what to do when they encounter these gaps, we’re able to operate more consistently, ensuring our results are more likely to match our vision of success.