Colonel Sanders – The Devil’s in the Details

The Colonel had a reputation for being “difficult”…especially if the quality wasn’t there. in And I mean down to every box of chicken that went out the door.  I learned a lot from him as we toured the world, walking in and out of hundreds of KFC stores. And let me tell you, 20 seconds after his boots hit the door kick, Colonel Harland Sanders could tell you whether everything was ok – or not ok --in any franchise store he visited.

He had a routine. Once he was satisfied that things were in the right places, and the look of the store passed quick-look muster, he’d walk over to the corner of the kitchen and dip his pinky into the gravy. He would sip the gravy off his finger and he could tell you in a New York second the temperature, how long it had been cooked, and whether or not it was acceptable – kid you not. Because everything came down to the quality of the gravy for him. He ran that company for many, many years just dipping his finger into the gravy…judging the store “temperature” from a quick taste of the wares. The gravy told all.

The Devil is in the Details. It’s the small, seemingly minor things…the little things that tell you whether or not the big things are OK.

Case in point: It’s about 10:45  in the morning. We’re driving from Toronto to Ottawa and we’re somewhere in between. We’ve been on the highway for awhile, passing through intermittent pockets of civilization, when the Colonel spies a KFC sign on the horizon. He turns to me and says, “Let’s stop in and see our buddies, Frank.”

Never one to disobey a direct order from the man in charge, I take the off-ramp and pull into the almost-empty parking lot. Opening time in Canada is 11 am. It was officially about 10:50 at this point. In the parking lot: a pickup truck, 3 kids, a mom and a dad -- waiting to get some chicken.

The Colonel gets out of the car and trudges over to the truck, shakes hands with the father, the mother. Pats the kids on the heads and gives them each his card  with a signature. The kids kept doing a double take to the sign with the little man’s picture on it and back. They were excited…and hungry.

“What are you folks doing out here in the parking lot, then?”

“Well, Colonel, they don’t open for another 10 minutes.”

“We’ll just see about that.”

The Colonel walks up to the door and peers in. His eyes find the manager of the store and his two employees standing in the kitchen, their backs to the door. They were smoking. In the kitchen.

The Colonel had no use for any one smoking under any circumstances, let alone in the kitchen of his restaurant prior to serving food.

He lifts his cane and slams it – BAMBAMBAM -- against the door. The three delinquent smokers jump up as if struck by lightning and turn to the source of the racket, “ready for bear” as they say… to discover the little guy on the big sign outside banging on the door with his cane.

What are the chances???

They dumped the cigarettes…fast. Then ran to the door, opened up and as they were greeting the icon that paid their salaries, the icon brushed them aside and called the kids in. He went into the kitchen, grabbed a bucket and started filling it with chicken, then another, then another…then gravy, biscuits, mashed potatoes…serving up a veritable feast for the family he had just met in the parking lot.

The Colonel finished his task, whistling, cheerful and happy all the while. He thanked the family for coming, helped them load the chicken and fixins into the truck and waved goodbye as they drove off down the road. Then he walked over to the main entrance, stepped inside and locked the door behind him.

The Colonel made it very clear that they were never, EVER to assume that he wasn’t looking at them. They were NEVER to assume that his eyes were not in every corner of that store at all times.  He ended his “chat” with

“Gettin’ away with something is not the service we offer. It’s not the quality we offer. It’s not the attitude we offer.”

And then he turned to me and said “C’mon, Frank. We got work to do.”

And we hit the road to make more people happy.

As you do what it is you do, don’t make the assumption that because nobody’s looking or their eyes are focused on "weightier" concerns, you don’t have to be worried about the small stuff. So many of us think that if nobody sees us, we can do whatever we want to do. I’ve lived by that philosophy myself from time to time. Let me tell you… Sweat the small stuff, because that’s the big stuff.


                           Colonel Sanders – The Secret Recipe

Secret Recipe…hmmmmn.

Seems there are a lot of companies out there with closely guarded “secret recipes” for success or fulfillment or… gastronomic exclusivity. Kentucky Fried Chicken is famous for its “11 herbs and spices” – the ingredients that make the Colonel’s recipe significant and unique.

Here’s the back story: KFC was acquired by a big industrial company up in Hartford -- The Hueblein Corporation. That meant a new boss, a new CEO, a new Chairman of the Board. Colonel Sanders was still very much a part of the company; he was the face, the icon, the heart and soul if you will, of Kentucky Fried Chicken. From the outset, because he was very much the “brand graphic” of this company which the new owners wanted to, as they say, “keep on keeping on” the owners made a point of treating him very gently. That changed…and it changed as a result of the story I’m about to tell. 

It was an afternoon reception, Friday afternoon as I recall -- and one of many receptions we attended at the invitation of the new owners. Heublein makes Smirnoff Vodka, so “refreshments” were free flowing…and served by a bevy of lovely young ladies in crisp crinoline skirts

The new CEO was there to toast the colonel, and when the superlatives and hurrahs were winding down, the CEO closed with an aside to Colonel Sanders…

“And Colonel, when you come to work on Monday, would you please be sure to bring the original 11 herbs and spices recipe so that we can -- for marketing purposes, of course -- ensconce half of the recipe in one bank and the other half in another bank. You know…just like what they do at Coca Cola and other such organizations.”

The colonel looked at him, pausing, the members assembled waiting for his reply, and he finally said, “I don’t know the recipe.”

The new CEO got as white as the colonels suit. He turned around and shook his head. The colonel recognizing the stir that he had caused, arose from his chair and went over to the chagrined CEO, got right up in his face, looked him in the eye and said

“Dammit, Ed. Don’t know what you’re getting so excited about. It’s not the original herbs and spices that made this company great, it’s the 12th  ingredient…the secret ingredient. The CEO blinked, swallowed…and said cautiously “What. Secret. Ingredient?”

The colonel huffed, “You’re lookin’ at it. It’s not the herbs and spices or the chicken or the gravy  or the biscuits that made this company great. It’s ME.”

You could have heard a pin drop.

Because he was right.

The Colonel was the senior executive and president of PEOPLE. It was his behavior, his judgement, his drive and commitment that brought millions of other people into the store – and would continue to do so.

So it is with your business. You need to connect with your people – both clients and employees. Harness their potential, their power…and forge the relationships and the trust and the bond that ensure success.

Bottom Line: Whether you’re selling chicken in a box or chicken shit, whether you’re in manufacturing or transportation or pork bellies or customer service…CEO of a corner mom & pop or a global empire…you are in the PEOPLE business and the secret ingredient is YOU.