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Is Your Business' Glass 'Half Full' or 'Half Empty'?

By Ed Bernacki |

I stood in front of an employee at a service business recently and expressed my total frustration over how bland the service was.

It was not terrible but it lacked any sense of commitment in serving me, the paying customer. This person then judged my attitude and said, "I prefer to see the glass at half full, not half empty like you."

I have faced this type of judgment before. It's one-upmanship to claim that they have a better attitude than you. It took a while to reflect on why they missed the point.

Seeing the glass as 'half full' and feeling smug is accepting the status quo as the acceptable norm. I then summed up my feeling by saying, "The issue is not whether the glass is half full or half empty. Perhaps the issue is that I can see twice as much opportunity to serve customers as you."

Here are some questions that you can consider based on deconstructing this cliché:

Why is the glass only half full?

I see two reasons why the glass is only half full: complacency or challenge.

Complacency is about protecting the status quo. In a year when we are being challenged by major financial pressures from around the world, can you afford complacency? Challenge is about seeing the potential for more growth or development and setting big goals.

Is the glass slowly filling or draining?

Nothing is static. Water evaporates. We must keep investing to top it up. In business this can reflect the level of training you provide staff, their ability to work together effectively to achieve the goals of the business, the value you create for your customers and so on. Yesterday's standards will not likely be tomorrow's standards.

What is potential size of the glass?

What's better, a full small glass or a half-full big glass?

I suppose it depends on your goals for the business. This is one of the problems with traditional goal setting. To define a goal is much like defining the size of the glass you want to fill. Will the filled glass be big enough to support your business vision in the long term?

What's in the glass?

What's better, a half glass of beer or champagne (or a good sparkling wine)? Clearly there is a need for a full range of products and services on the market, but you can always adopt a champagne attitude even if you sell a 'beer' priced product.

In the café world, I can see a simple distinction between my experiences in cafes in Canada and those of New Zealand where I spend a lot of time.

The vast majority of Kiwi cafes will take your order and deliver it to you. In Canada I have yet to see a café that will deliver your coffee.

I recently went to my favourite café in Ottawa and suggested that delivering coffee to patrons would be a great way to differentiate their service. "We're too busy to do that," I was told. I tried to be polite and suggested that many cafes already do this. My effort was futile and the person gave me that smug look.

The cliché does provide an interesting idea that you can use to guide your plans to innovate.

At your next planning meeting draw a picture of a half full glass. Define what is in the glass at present, the tangible and intangible assets that made you successful. Then consider what could go into the 'empty' part of the glass. Consider:

  • What are you not doing that could add value? This can include product or service enhancements, new products, and so on.
  • What are others doing that you are not doing?
  • What would enhance the value of what you present to your customers?

Then consider how you could fill the glass faster in the future. This includes the internal systems and processes that create value.

How effectively do people work together to solve the challenges of your organisation? Are you missing any skill sets within the business? Tough times often create extra capacity in staff - time that could be invested in growing your capacity to innovate new solutions.

A half empty glass is an idea that you should relish. Perhaps someone sees more opportunity than you.

Turn this cliché on its head: what could you do to fill the glass faster than your competitors? Use it as a catalyst to prompt some new thinking. Then you can toast to your future and enjoy emptying some glasses of champagne!

Canadian, Eh!

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