About those Dead Fish in your Tank

Do you have any dead fish polluting your business?

Last year, a colleague and I decided to meet for lunch at a local restaurant. The restaurant attracts a sizable lunch crowd, and both of us had enjoyed eating there before on multiple occasions.

We sat in a booth near the front of the restaurant, directly next to a large tank that contained a variety of fish radiating diverse colors. Although most of the fish actively swam around, one particular fish appeared to remain anchored to the bottom of the tank. We initially thought that the inactive fish was feeding off the small rocks that formed the submerged landscape. Or, perhaps the fish was sleeping. (Fish do sleep, right?) But neither theory panned out.

That’s because the fish at the bottom of the tank was dead. Not just comatose. Dead.

Based on information we learned as we were leaving the restaurant, the fish had apparently been in its expired state since the morning. More on that in a moment, though.

The morbid incident reminds me of a story that Lee Cockerell, a former Marriott and Disney executive, routinely shares. When Lee was the Director of Food and Beverage at the Philadelphia Marriott, Bill Marriott — yes, the Bill Marriott — visited the hotel and, during a detailed inspection of the property, noticed flies swarming around the hotel dumpster. At that moment, Bill looked at Lee and told him: “Lee, if you have flies in your operation, it is because you like flies.” In other words, if he really wanted to, Lee could find a way to get rid of the flies. And, as Lee now asserts, a business can have an operation without flies.

Back to the fish story. While paying our bill, we informed the front desk attendant that there was a dead fish in the tank. The response floored us. The attendant explained, “Yes, we know. We called someone this morning about that.” In other words, the restaurant had been aware of the dead fish for several hours — before the restaurant even opened!

Conclusion: the restaurant must like dead fish in its tank.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that removing a large dead fish from a tank is not a pleasant task. Personally, I would rather watch a “Murder, She Wrote” television marathon than reach into a tank to remove a slimy dead fish. That being said, if I operated a restaurant with a fish tank, I wouldn’t actually like dead fish in the tank, either. After all, even the lobster in the tanks at Red Lobster restaurants are alive and well — until you order them, that is!

This week, consider the following three strategies to ensure that dead fish (or flies) don’t permeate your business or organization.

  • First, identify the “dead fish” in your business. In this case, “dead fish” represent anything that might result in customers possessing a negative perception of your business, such as unkempt premises, poor customer service, or a lack of quality.
  • Second, remove the “dead fish” from your tank as soon as possible. As Lee Cockerell explains, “Even if you have to buy 100 fly swatters and issue them to the employees with a quota each day, you can have an operation without flies.” In other words, do whatever it takes to get rid of your dead fish.
  • Third, continuously inspect your business or organization for “dead fish.” Whether you realize it or not, before each airline flight, either the pilot or co-pilot performs a physical, detailed inspection — referred to as a “walk around” — of her or his aircraft to ensure a safe flight; simply put, it is better to discover a problem while the aircraft is still on the ground rather than at 32,000 feet. Likewise, you should do the same for your business or organization in order to identify and remove any “dead fish” as soon as possible.

Truth be told, no one really likes dead fish, so be sure your business or organization has a process to discover, and remove, any dead fish before they contaminate your tank.

Have a “customerific” week!


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