Advocacy: The act or process of supporting a cause or proposal. —Merriam Webster Dictionary.
The act of pleading for, supporting, or recommending. — Dictionary.com
My first career was in food and beverage, and it was tough. A lot of work for not much income, at least back in the ’80’s. The great thing about hard work, however, is that it usually nets the best life lessons. The consequences of bad decisions are amplified when you have no money to start with, and the restaurant business is known for delicate profit margins. This is the premise for an unwritten rule that I’ve carried forward to today: If you’re not confident that you have the best food in the business, why in the world would you ask people to come to your restaurant? Better yet, why even open one in the first place?
There’s a running joke in the food and beverage world: “Wanna know how to end up with a million dollars in the restaurant business? Start with TWO million.” Few owners run on tighter budgets and are more impacted by outside forces than restaurateurs. The average profit margin of a successful restaurant is between 5% and 15%, but every day, managers are forced to deal with varying prices from their suppliers, customer counts, new competitors, and now, wage and salary challenges that all impact their bottom lines.
The most valuable lesson gleaned from the restaurant experience is that people vote with their feet. In other words, serve them a bad meal, fail to listen to their complaints and suggestions, or do just do some little thing they don’t like on any given day and they’re gone…FOREVER. No goodbyes, no second chances, no nothing. Just GONE. Not only that, they tell their friends and relatives about their miserable experience. Before the Internet, they could tell 10-20 in a week. Today, one mouse click can reach 100-2000 people in a millisecond without anyone ever knowing what happened. What used to be the cloud of dust from customers speeding out of the parking lot is now a vapor trail.
Here’s the side of the advocacy debate that nobody seems to want to discuss: A large number of organizations are still not willing to accept that change is no longer an option…it’s mandatory… yet influencers and other experts are trying to sell them on advocacy programs. On one hand, that’s fine: Just do your competitors a favor: Keep doing what you’ve always done and get it over with. Encourage everyone inside and outside the organization to spread the “word”, non-verbally…actions and processes speak the loudest…about how they aren’t aligned with customers’ preferences. Then the doors and windows can get boarded up faster to make room for others who DO pay attention. On the other hand, there are people who truly are passionate about their careers. They want to invoke changes that build their brand’s reputation, even if it means doing it from the ground up because the organizational culture isn’t evolving as rapidly as their personal brand.
Perhaps the advocacy programs should be directed at individual change agents, no matter what their position or role.