The Choice to Build Something Great: On Purpose

If your company disappeared, would it leave a gaping hole that could not easily be filled by any other enterprise on the planet?

When I first heard this question, it really resonated with me.  It got me thinking in a way I had never thought of before.   It helped me discover my passion for building with the relization that, in a way, I have always been in the “building” industry.  I used to build custom homes as a carpenter… And now I am building a great company that has a positive impact on humanity that is sustainable by developing (or building) our team.   Sure I aspire to be like Richard Branson, and I realize it doesn’t mean I have to build something THAT huge to have a positive impact.   We could all start right in our own community. 

Which is why I have been drawn to Jim Collins books.  Although sometimes he is speaking to the really big corporations, I always find some really key take aways. This interview article with Bo Burlingham captures those take aways.

Let me know which of his 12 points make sense for you… or don’t.

Building a Compelling Company: On Purpose

As I learn more about why what we do at Nick’s is not so typical in the world of business, I grow more interested in ways I can share more of what we do.  Then I met Jon Goldman, a marketing guru, and we started talking about what differentiates our companies.  After a tour of the whole restaurant including our training systems that we have built out over the years,  he shared his amazement by excitedly stating, “Nick, you have to share this with the world!” His statement didn’t just disperse into the universe.  It evolved into the Compelling Company Seminar.  This became our first step into this journey and an exciting one!

I have to admit though. Growing personally and professionally doesn’t always unfold as you would or could have predicted. The opportunity is for each of us to have an open mind, an open heart, and an open will. 


Philanthropy: On Purpose

What is philanthropy and with all the great causes and people that need help out there, how can we choose a cause to support and how much can we give?

This Thursday, April 26th is the 8th year we are hosting one of our benefits, wherein 100% net proceeds benefit the Children’s Autism Center, which is now formally under the umbrella of the Pioneer Center in Crystal Lake. I started my company on a shoestring budget, and as I became profitable I realized that I wanted to find something positive to do with my profit, and that I wanted to show my gratitude to the people who were supporting the success of my company. So in the beginning, I didn’t have a clear system, I would just write checks. Which was fine to an extent, but it meant that I would always need to be there and make the final decision. Then we defined who we are. Once we articulated our purpose and our values, it allowed our whole team to understand the process and have a common goal to work towards. Additionally, I didn’t have to be there to make every decision and cut every check.

What unfolded over the next year was that we also developed a budget (5% of annual net sales) and integrated our giving back to our community into our business model. As we looked to mesh who we are into an advertising system, we realized that advertising was not us. We decided that if we needed to get the word out about Nick’s Pizza & Pub, we would do that through the community and with the community. We would open our doors to the families in need and the organizations that needed to raise money for a cause in our community. The result is that we have an effective way for us to be in alignment with who we are. The crazy unexpected part was that the community was there for us when we needed support.

Yes, I have a special place in my heart for children with autism and the all the challenges families face on a day-to-day basis. I feel blessed to have found a way to make a positive impact and give our community an easy way to support this cause.

If you are interested in Marketing 101 Through Purpose and Values let me know or check out our Nick’s U.

Business Reading: On Purpose

What is the value of all these recent business books?  I am almost finished with the new Jim Collins book, Great by Choice and although I am finding that it gets better as I get further along, I can’t help thinking about the positive impact of Built to Last and how much I still love that book.


Maybe it’s because my college education only lasted one semester, but I love and value the business books that give me something that I could use or inspire me in building a great, lasting company.  By great I mean a company that has a positive impact in multiple ways, a company that has a positive impact with the culture and with the team, a company that gives back to the community, and a company that is profitable and sustainable for multiple generations.


I continue to be inspired by Built to Last and I’ve often thought about how could I give back to other entrepreneurs someday in the same way I’ve learned from some of these great business books.  What I have learned over the most past 10 years has been valuable in today’s business landscape.  I began a journey to build a great sustainable organization with a positive, explicit culture.  Perhaps the fact that I had a lopsided focus on the culture and lost sight of some fundamental fiscal disciplines is what almost did my company in last year.  However, it was the strength of the culture we built that saved us. Thankfully, I now understand the critical balance of both. It is important to be and stay profitable, and perhaps most important to keep an eye on the balance sheet and debt.  As Jim Collins says in Great by Choice, some healthy paranoia is a good thing, keeping  some sort of cash reserve on the balance sheet that you don’t sacrifice.  I realize this might be Business Finance 101, but it’s funny how often I hear the optimistic entrepreneurs like myself lose sight of this.


The other valuable lesson I have learned and what I find surprisingly unique is the ability to create an explicit culture and all the elements that support that. To borrow from Jim Collins again, the most important is defining core values for the company and purpose, or the reason for being.  This tenet is what Simon Sinek has declared as starting with the “why”  and also what Tony Hsieh indentified in his book, as a core to Delivering Happiness (check out pages 230-240 in his book). Although all of these writers mention this, none of them are explaining how, or what else supports this model.


At Nick’s, with the support of a slice team of the company, we have defined our purpose and our values.  And most importantly we didn’t just stop with that strategy, we support that model with a structure so that the strategy becomes culture.  The purpose and values are alive and vibrant in the culture of our organization, not just a piece a paper on the wall, or in a drawer somewhere collecting dust.


Whether you are just starting out or have been in business for 10 years, I feel this is a major opportunity for business owners.  Although defining the purpose for your organizations existence is an important first step, that is just the beginning.  The structure and systems in your company and the leadership behavior must support the initial roll out, or it will die.  If done well the result will be a huge amount of trust.

Here is a recent guest blog I wrote for Inc. Well. Please read and let me know what you think. How do you help build corporate culture?

Community Partnerships: On Purpose

Advertising, or marketing?  What’s the difference?  I believe traditional advertising is changing faster for the independent, small and medium sized businesses.  If you happen to have millions of dollars to throw around, then big ads might make sense and be the way to go.  For us smaller guys/or gals, marketing our business alongside and partnering with other local, community organizations, groups or families is much healthier for everyone involved. 

This fact actually became more obvious for me after reading “A Brief History of Everything” by Ken Wilber.  In his book, Ken introduced me to a model he called AQAL.  An integrated, holistic model for life and business which stands for All Quadrants – All Levels and has served as map for how we could integrate the health of our community with the health of our business.  Instead of throwing money into traditional advertising methods like newspaper ads and door hangers that litter the neighborhood, we market with the community.  Here is a summary of how we do it…Not only is this information avaliable to our competitors, we wish more would practice this form of marketing because it ultimately stregnthens the community as a whole.  It’s not just about us, it’s about the big picture. 

As always, we would love to hear your comments.

Company Culture: On Purpose

What about culture?

What does the amazing stuff that goes on inside companies such as Apple, Starbucks, Whole Foods, and Zappo’s have to do with your average dry cleaner, plumbing supply house, local restaurant or corner grocery store?  You don’t need to be a big sexy company in a sexy industry to have a sexy culture.  We can reap all the benefits of a world class work culture, including more enthusiastic teams, lower attrition, more innovation, better customer service and ultimately better financial performance - simply by disciplining ourselves and our organizations to make culture top of mind in every decision we make and every action we take!

Last week I had the opportunity to open the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas, sharing what I believe to be some essential steps and tools to creating this type of culture, in any industry or company. That’s our story, so what about these world-famous companies? While in Las Vegas, I took advantage of the tour Zappos gives of its company and culture. It was a great site to see how Tony Hsieh created a dynamic culture in Zappos. I loved seeing how they took the office environment of a call center and broke all the rules. It truly looked like each person was happy and enjoying being there. I loved that you really couldn’t tell who the boss was, if there even was a “boss.” I learned that the person sitting in the front cubicle of a section of cubicles was the team “lead,” not a “manager.”  There were all kinds of unusual things going on throughout the whole facility.  What I walked away with was even more evidence that if you provide a place for people to be happy and enjoy their work, they will be more productive.  A couple of years ago I read Tony Hsieh’s book “Delivery Happiness” and I recommend this book to anyone who is looking for ideas and examples of this happy place to work. 

Now I really know it doesn’t matter what business you are in or what your widget is. Ultimately, we are in the people business and making the culture of our organization (from the root word organism) a conscious choice is our opportunity. 

Accounting: On Purpose

Here we are about 30 days after our all-team meeting and I sit with a question of how to keep the team on track and energized. We all agreed on our vision and lined up our energy and set out to accomplish some big, hairy goals.

There probably isn’t a perfect answer to this and I am sure that in many companies with different environments, it might depend on many moving pieces. We for sure have our own challenges within the restaurant business; having so many part time people doing many other careers and being students. We are finding that our discipline with our fiscal huddles is the perfect opportunity to keep the team aligned and on track, or maybe even change tracks if need be.

Put the profit and loss statement on a big board for the team to see all week long. Include the most relevant line items that make up you gross margins. Make sure the critical number is on top and in bold. Have team members own a line item for the period (or month). With each line ownership comes the responsibility to forecast that number, report the number and deliver results on the number.

Keep 25% of the board open for action steps that can be kept public and keep the big goals present on this board and relate the progress back to the goals. Celebrate the behaviors that support great progress, high five the team and get out of the way! Trust the team and the process, keep the discipline and track the results.

We have not perfected this process yet and I bet others have some other ways to stay on track with vision; let me know what works for you!

Working Through Conflict: On Purpose

For years I have been working towards a flat company, which in many ways we have made great strides.  Then in November, Scott, our operating partner in Crystal Lake moved on to work for the Northern Illinois Food Bank and we decided not to replace him with another operating partner and instead support the team to run the restaurant.  This was my big chance to really get flat. 

I could probably write a whole book on how this works.  Oh wait, I did!  A Slice of the Pie will be coming out in September preorder your copy here:

For now I will just share one essential process. 

How does the team work through conflict and problem solve systems and processes?  A Safe Space meeting to herd up the Moose and get ‘em out!

We have a communication tool we call Safe Space (copyright Rudy Miick) that we teach day one in orientation and use every day that has 8 bullet points.  One of those bullet points is “moose in the room”.  Imagine there is a server in our restaurant who has stepped up to the huge responsibility of writing schedules, and as you might guess the transition and new learning for this server isn’t perfect.  Well that is the scenario that happened here (and could happen in any company), and a few of the servers found themselves talking about the misses they were experiencing,  which was now becoming a “moose in the room” (definition of moose in the room is similar to what many call elephant in the room.  It is that big stinky issue that everyone smells and knows its there, but no one wants to address it) for the service team.  In our culture the next step in creating “Safe Space” is to squash that moose!  So the team called a meeting for anyone who wanted to attend, and as the memo said “bring your moose”.   No managers, no bosses, I only showed up to take pictures.  The woman in the white top sitting down on the left is Alex, the schedule writer, and she also facilitated the meeting with great success.

The servers felt heard, they brought out their moose, big and small, and it was done with dignity and respect, through all of our values…and in less than an hour.  Perhaps some people felt uncomfortable to start, and that is ok, because the result is a culture of “Safe Space” .

To me this is what I call success in building a business of business people.  The team has the tools the need to run the company and be their own bosses, holding each other accountable, because they care, and expect to be the best.  It is not perfect, and this is a another great example of why we don’t need managers if we are brave enough to build a flat company and trust the team to be high performers.

My team and I are so happy to have McHenry County Living capture the essence of our Business on Purpose and our values system. It was a pleasure working with everyone there and we are thrilled with the outcome of the article and how well they captured the spirit our Nick’s Pizza & Pub.

My team and I are so happy to have McHenry County Living capture the essence of our Business on Purpose and our values system. It was a pleasure working with everyone there and we are thrilled with the outcome of the article and how well they captured the spirit our Nick’s Pizza & Pub.