Today I filled out a survey for Automattic; it was about how I liked working here, and our company culture, and what I thought about leadership. I’m very curious to see what comes out of it, but after a day’s worth of perseverating on it, I keep returning to Ten Bullets, a sort-of training video by NYC based artist Tom Sachs. Here’s a little blast from the past, a piece I wrote about Ten Bullets and how it applied to working in hospitality – I think much of it still applies, since, after all, what is customer service but hospitality? I’ll put the video in the comments if you’d rather not click through.
I had the great opportunity to lead a Webinar with Cuvee Coffee’s Lorenzo Perkins this last Friday evening. It was an official session of the BGA Level One classwork CP 103: Customer Service. I’ve been involved in a few web-based educational projects before, but this was the first time I’d actually lead a class in a full-online environment.
The BGA makes use of the GoToTraining software, which has many applications to different fields and types of education – for our purposes, it served us well, though if I were to make this a regular thing, I’d have to invest in a headset. Using my phone was a bit awkward and cumbersome, especially when simultaneously trying to interact with the class or utilize the UI.
Making use of online educational tools is key for the future of an organization like the BGA – at the moment, the BGA is reliant on highly skilled educators being present at industry events across the country (and sometimes globe). If the BGA Certification program is to grow and flourish as the membership grows, this system will become increasing unsustainable, requiring full-time traveling trainers, as well as straining the resources and patience of students, given the relative infrequency of classwork in their particular region.
Moving forward with the Webinar format is a feather in the BGA’s cap: while many of the class offerings are very hands-on, and would not lend themselves well to online education (any preparation classes, cupping, etc), recognizing that CP 103 is a great candidate for the Webinar format allows the BGA to reach out and engage with students who they may have otherwise lost in the spans of time between Expos and Barista Camps.
From the point of view of the educator, I really enjoyed the Webinar format: it allowed me to contribute to a community that I care about, to speak at length about a topic that is close to my heart, and I didn’t have to fly to Seattle. It was a low-cost way for me to make a meaningful impact.
The sooner we are able to move our appropriate educational formatting to the Webinar format, the sooner we will be able to handle membership growth and demand for education in a sustainable way. Introduction to Espresso will probably never be an online class – but Seed to Cup could be, as well as Efficiency & Workflow, and even Preventative Maintenance, with some creative use of videography.
Good on the BGA for choosing an educational path that will work to grow with the membership, as well as reward the educational volunteers.
Tom Sachs is an artist living in NYC – he does some really interesting stuff, and he and I share a perhaps unhealthy obsession with outer space. ‘Ten Bullets’ is a trip through the rules that employees and visitors to his work space have to follow. Take a look:
Here’s what we in hospitality can learn from Tom and his Ten Bullets; whether or not you would ever want to work for Tom, it is totally transparent as to how you would work. His expectations are laid out clearly and without ambiguity – not just expectations but also how to make amends when expectations are not met – you pay the box!
I think as leaders, we can do a much better job setting expectations with our employees. When something goes wrong at your place of work, your first reflection should be back on your own expectations. If we do not clearly communicate what we want done and how we want it done, then we can’t reasonably be irritated when those expectations aren’t met.
Tom communicates his basic expectations in twenty minutes. I have worked places for months without anything like as clear a picture as he provides here. There is a certain duality to his phrase ‘working to code’ – while his code is a code of conduct, clearly stated and ready to be followed, many managers in hospitality really do encode their expectations: their real desires are hidden behind a complicated network of miscues and secret rules. This is bad for the manager, bad for the employee, and bad for the customer.
The Ten Bullets show you how to work, and how to make it right when you work incorrectly. Every business should have a video like this.
Previously, I discussed why I see CPAS as an event which presents value for anyone working on the retail end of coffee, and how we can think of that value in a meaningful way. That post is here.
My personal experience with Camp Pull-a-Shot (and BGA programming more generally) in the past has been largely one of skepticism; Living in the northeast, I was a dues-paying member, I personally bought into the mission and future of the BGA, but it was mostly through a desire to invest in the long vision of the Guild – after all, the programming was predominantly offered in places that your workaday barista would find geographically or financially inaccessible, and while the Certifications and educational programs were visible and exciting, it was hard to find a value in them outside of personal satisfaction.
That being said, spending time at CPAS, along with the discussions I had there and elsewhere, I think I am starting to get it. The Barista Guild is an organization truly in its infancy, and any apparent regional shortfalls are due not to intentional favoritism, but rather simply to scarce resources; there are only so many instructors, there are only so many regional representatives. The idea which I had failed to grasp before seems now as plain as the nose on my face; the BGA exists to serve its members. There are very, very few members working in the northeast, so why would a young organization spend its limited resources holding events there? Far better to fulfill and grow areas where there already exists a dedicated base of dues-paying members.
This creates a sort of recruitment Catch-22: we must try to recruit using the equation that more members leads to more programming, avoiding the troublesome fact that there is not yet much of that programming available. We in this region are lucky in that the SCAA Event will be in Boston this year, which is an easy, immediate, and visible example of a way in which BGA membership can be beneficial.
This all ties into the single suggestion I would offer for future organizers of the Camp Pull-a-Shot events. In a very real sense, the folks attending these excellent weeklong retreats are the future leaders of our industry, and likely at the forefront of the coffee scene in their respective hometowns. In recognition of this fact, I would love to see some programming directed toward helping these enthusiasts become organizers.
We could do much both to grow the Guild and grow pockets of progressive coffee passion by creating a toolbox that can be taken home, a guide to putting together throwdowns and hang sessions. This is already happening in Providence and Boston and elsewhere; if we can take the passion that already exists in CPAS attendees and offer them ways to direct it into building a community at home, then we plant the seeds for true leadership. As we grow our memberships ability to organize at home, the better we will be able to extend the reach and resources of the Guild at large. If we could offer a session or two of organizer training alongside the trainings on coffee preparation and production, it would go a long way to invest in our future leaders.
Camp Pull-a-Shot had its first East Coast incarnation earlier this year, and I was lucky enough to be in attendance. It was a valuable experience, and I think it is the kind of experience whose value can be different for different folks in attendance. I want to talk a little about what makes the Camp experience so awesome, I want to talk a little about how it manages to present a diverse array of value, and I want to talk about ways in which it could maybe even be improved.
First, the best thing about Camp Pull-a-Shot, and what I also find to be the crowning achievement of the vast majority of coffee events, be it local throwdowns or the USBC, is the immediate access and admission into the community, and the huge excitement boost that provides. It is easy to lose enthusiasm when you feel like progressive coffee is something you’re experiencing through blogs and Instagram; something someone else is doing, something that is happening somewhere out there. Going to CPAS is a game-changer in this way; you come to see that not only are you not on your own, but it becomes clear that the vast majority of coffee people are living in that same state, pushing the envelope in suburbs and small towns across the country. Working to prove our legitimacy is the norm, not the exception, and that realization for me was invaluable. Having that fire of enthusiasm reignited is a big deal, and is a little surprising, having been doing this for a while now.
Second, the educational opportunities are out of control. Regardless of your current situation w/r/t BGA certification, there is so much for you to learn. The schedule is packed to the gills with Level 1 & 2 programming, and you really can take huge, huge steps toward your Guild Goals in this chunk of time. For the souls willing to brave the West Virginia backcountry a day early, they were able to go from zero to IDP-and-BGA-Proctor Certified within two days. This is a good thing!
If you are considering CPAS for yourself or your employees, there are two major ways in which CPAS can offer value; Education and Access.
Education at CPAS goes far beyond the actual certification, though one should certainly not discount the value of a Level One or Level Two award; they count, and they will only increase in value as time goes on. As a Station Instructor at CPAS, while I did not learn much more about the topics at hand, I did learn a lot about teaching those topics. Station Instructing the Milk Science & Latte Art class (with Lorenzo Perkins Lead Instructing) was a standout in my mind; LP is so informed and excited about getting concepts across, I was taking as many mental notes about his presentation as I was about the material itself. As an educator, watching other educators teach the same material really helped me to broaden my own perspectives on that material, as well as adding numerous tools to my barista trainer toolbox.
There is something for everyone in terms of education at CPAS: beginning baristi can advance through the Level One Coursework. More advanced folks can engage in Level Two programming. Educators can take the IDP and become proctor certified, they can pick the brains of other educators. Roasters can learn from the folks slanging their bean. Shop owners can train their staff, or get an edge in training their staff themselves.
Access is a bit tougher to valuate. In an industry the size of ours (tiny), and the ways in which we are able to connect with one another (which are numerous and growing), means that events like these are excellent opportunities to put faces to names, to reconnect with folks from previous events, and to make yourself part of the network that is specialty coffee. Ours is an industry that is still small enough that you can approach the people whose work you admire, because they come to these events! Unlike the breakneck pace of the regional competitions or the vast busyness that is CoffeeFest, CPAS has plenty of down time, which means you really can sit and have a beer with that same dude whose blog you’ve been reading, or that young lady with the killer Flickr. There is a value there!
If you are reading this, if you are a BGA member, if you’re thinking about being a BGA member: if you have the financial capacity to go to CPAS, you should go. That’s a blanket statement, and I feel comfortable saying it. I put the whole trip on my Buffalo Bills Mastercard, and I will probably do the same thing next year. Now is the time; sock away $20 a week and you’ll have enough to go. It is an investment in yourself, and money spent on travel or education is never wasted.
Next time: Personal reflection re: CPAS & Ways CPAS can Move Forward