Investing in a Little Roast Beef

Remember the nursery rhyme “This little piggy…”? This oft-quoted counting rhyme has been used to amuse children since the mid-18th century and has pervaded popular media. In one use of the nursery rhyme, a cartoon character hangs by his fingers over a drop to certain death, and his nemesis removes one digit at a time, while chanting the rhyme. Sometimes, it might feel like your company is in the same position, slowly losing its grip. Before you let go, remember the rhyme.

This little piggy went to market
If you have been successful and have a well-established, loyal clientele, you may become a bit complacent about your marketing message. You have to go out to meet the market on its own terms to ensure your message is being received. Ask your existing customers to describe your value as a company, and then decide whether your work reflects your core values. If you are not walking your talk, make changes, or adapt the values to the perceptions. It is fine to be “Cheapo Electric Inc.” but not if your goal is to be the highest quality provider. Customers will give you a wakeup call, but you have to get out from under the security blanket and do the work.

Don’t ignore lost customers or those who have never done business with you. Their perceptions may provide the keys to unlocking a more targeted marketing message or defining an image problem. Then, ensure your company values are reflected in your identity, from logo to the behavior of job site employees.

This little piggy stayed home
What is happening within the walls of your office? Is your culture making you money or eroding it? The working environment can enhance productivity or lower morale, so ask your employees whether they have the tools they need to be more efficient. Is the environment conducive to concentration or replete with interruptions? Are workstations ergonomically designed or cobbled together with outdated, poorly designed furniture and technology? Are there meetings you believe are essential but employees perceive as a waste of time?

Perhaps the incentives you thought were fantastic don’t mean as much to your staff. Instead of free coffee or doughnuts, they may wish for more flexible hours, so the most difficult work can be done when they feel most productive. Benefits and incentives work only if they are tailored to the needs of those they are intended to motivate, so don’t give the NASCAR tickets to someone who prefers the opera.

Most importantly, are your expectations clear and influenced by employee feedback? Those who don’t feel part of the process can easily undermine goals and systems. Take care of your home before you find it empty and crumbling.

This little piggy had roast beef
When budget cuts are mandated, it is difficult to know when you are cutting too deeply, until you see the blood. What is the minimum level of overhead necessary to keep operations functioning without demotivating the staff or removing an essential element in the workflow? The business must be fed, but a crust of bread and contaminated water won’t keep it healthy.

When you evaluate expenditures, find out which items are valuable to your employees and try to keep a few small luxuries. The image of the company will be tarnished if your vehicles are not maintained or your building needs tuckpointing, and buying your employees a lunch occasionally may make a difference when you need them to stay late to meet a bidding deadline. A little roast beef is worth the investment.

This little piggy had none
When there is no “roast beef,” which little piggy goes hungry? If you are paying yourself first, good for you, but know when to reverse the process and take your paycheck last. During lean times, your example will affect the attitudes of employees and customers. You may be surprised to find that some of your employees think of you as a drain on resources at least some of the time. Be willing to sacrifice the new company car or share a windfall, and ensure you put yourself last occasionally. Being the “little piggy who had none” is a great example of the priority you place on the people who make your company successful.

This little piggy went “whee, whee, whee” all the way home
No matter how tough times are, you set the tone of the company. It is especially important to laugh during stressful times, or you become physically debilitated. Research shows that smiling when you don’t feel like it will change your frame of mind within a few minutes, and smiling at others will change their own emotional states.

Sometimes it helps to laugh when you would rather cry, and seeing the humor in the darkest situations brings light, followed by ideas and the energy to implement them. And, if you’re not having fun, why are you in business? This may be the most important piggy of all.

NORBERG-JOHNSON is a former subcontractor and past president of two national construction associations. She may be reached at

About the Author

Denise Norberg-Johnson

Financial Columnist
Denise Norberg-Johnson is a former subcontractor and past president of two national construction associations. She may be reached at .

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