High Chair Hijinks and Forecasting Forays


On Track November 2013

I have a nine month old son. He has a high chair. Nothing fancy. A chair. A food tray/table. Two restraining straps – one for his lap, one for his shoulders. The first few times I put him in the chair, I ignored the straps with a sigh about the litigious world we live in. Then one day I walked into the kitchen where I had left him for less than a minute to find him sitting on the food tray, facing the back of the chair with a big grin on his face. Look what I can do, Mama. I was terrified and secretly proud of his creativity. My little Houdini. He’s been diligently strapped in ever since. This weekend, I had friends visiting and wanted to show off his escape artist skills. I put him in the chair. No straps. All of us watching expectantly. Nothing. It wasn’t until I stood behind him and lured him with his favorite toy that he realized he was unrestrained and got around to demonstrating his skills. In a mere 10 days of being strapped in, he had stopped trying to escape.


Well, the whole episode had me thinking about leadership, creativity, rules and restraints, particularly in the context of an organization going Open Book. Not that I think leadership is like parenting at all, even though you may find yourself feeling like a parent sometimes. It’s more that up until the moment your organization decides to go Open Book, the covert or overt message that the employees have been getting through their entire careers, whether at your business or another, is this : It’s not their job to think like an owner. And then one day your business decides to go Open Book and suddenly it is their job to think like an owner. As a leader in your organization, it is important for you to know that it’s going to take some coaxing, some coaching, some teaching and a little rewarding to help your employees break the habit of not being expected to think or act like an owner.

It’s hard work – on both sides, the leaders and the staff. And it takes patience. A lot of patience. When I was a manager at Zingerman’s Deli and had just started a huddle, I mapped out what I saw as the developmental stages of our huddle. As the leader of the huddle, having the stages helped me with the patience bit – it was a way to mark our progress on the way to becoming a successful huddle.


Here are the stages I came up with. As you read through them, I’d love to hear what stages you’ve seen in your huddle or if any of these stages particularly resonate with you:

Stage 1.
Line owners overcome their fear and make a forecast, any forecast.
If you think about it from a line owners point of view, and keep in mind that they’ve been discouraged from thinking like an owner for years, you’ll realize that making a forecast at all is a pretty big step. How on earth am I supposed to know how many dollars worth of bread we’re going to sell next week? To sit in the presence of their team and have the courage to forecast at all is a great, great beginning. In the first few huddles, as a leader, it’s your role to gently coax line owners into making forecasts, to create a safe environment and to reinforce the idea that it’s not about being right, it’s about participating. And learning together.

Stage 2.
Line owners make forecasts using historical data, experience and current events.
The next stage is where the line owner gets into making the forecasts and starts looking for data to support the number. What did we do this week, last year? Was there a football game on that Saturday? What was the weather like? Have we raised our prices since then? This is progress!

Stage 3.
Line owners answer your questions about their forecasts (you being the leader).
This is more of a stage for the huddle leader than the line owners. When you realize that some line owners have started doing their homework before coming to the huddle, start asking leading questions in the huddle. Why did you make the forecast you did? What’s going on in the city this week? It’s a way of encouraging line owners to really think through and stand behind their forecasts and to set an example for other line owners who are stuck in Stages 1 and 2.

Stage 4.
Line owners ask and answer questions about their own and each other’s forecasts.
When just about every line owner gets to the point where they’re thinking about and getting data to support their forecasts before they come to the huddle, you’re at stage 4. At this point, they’ll be asking each other questions. And giving each other ideas and suggestions. They’re discovering that becoming a competent line owner is contagious!

forecasting-expertStage 5.
Line owners realize that they can affect the forecast and are responsible for achieving it.
For me, this was the most exhilarating stage. It’s when line owners realize it’s not just about historical data and events and weather and schedules – they can affect the forecast. They can rally the team to push a particular product. Change retail displays. Make extra signage. Create a special promotion. The leaders role at this stage is to help with the tie out (are we ordering more bread if you’re forecasting that we’re going to sell more? does the increased forecast in dollars tie out with the forecasted increase in loaves sold?) and to follow up during the week and help the line owners execute the ideas they came up with during the huddle.

Stage 6.
Everyone participates in the forecasting work and helps the line owners achieve the planned targets.
The huddle, at this stage, takes on a life of its own. And the business is truly being run in the huddle. The leader’s role at this point primarily becomes sharing information and perspective that the front line staff may not have and helping to keep the huddle focused on the ultimate goal of the year end targets.

There’s the six stages, then. As I review them and reminisce about those heady times when we started a Bread huddle at the Deli, I have a word of caution for you. The work is never really done. The stages are not really linear. The line owners in the huddle don’t actually move in tandem – even as one line owner is reaching Stage 6, another line is transitioning to a new owner who is barely at Stage 1.


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Stick with it. Create markers for your progress. And remember, it’s going to take some coaxing, some coaching, some teaching and a little rewarding to help the line owners break through their habitual restraints.

Stick with it. And even though the team won’t move in lock step when you first start huddling, the overall progress of the group as a whole will be palpable, and inspiring!

Stick with it. And soon the group will be coming up with and executing ideas that blow your mind and take your business to a whole new level. Within a few minutes of realizing he was restraint-free, my son was trying to step up and stand on the food tray! What will your team do?

– Gauri Thergaonkar,
Community Builder at ZingTrain