Making dough from the right behaviour

Fresh from a breakfast seminar with Tom O’Toole, I wanted to share some of his pearls of wisdom plus some behavioural insights.

Who is Tom O’Toole? Tom O’Toole is known as the Beechworth Baker, a man who started a bakery in a country town in Victoria (population 3,500) which, over the past 28 years, he has grown into a multi-million dollar, multi-site business. He is now sought out by businesses across the globe to learn his recipe for success.

Business is very straightforward for Tom. It’s all about staff and customers. As he says, it’s 5% technology and 95% psychology and attitude.

Here are some of Tom’s pearls.

1. Staff training

“What if we train them and they leave? What if you don’t train them and they stay!”

Tom’s first nugget was in response to small business owners who lament spending money on staff who then leave (loss aversion rears its head). Yes, it’s a hassle if you invest in someone who then leaves, but you don’t really have any other option. Instead, focus on creating an environment that they don’t want to leave.

2. Staff empowerment

“If you wouldn’t buy it, then don’t sell it.”

Tom recalls being torn between anguish and pride whenever he sees goods disposed of for failing to meet the standards of the staff member in charge. Whilst he may have disagreed with their decision, Tom knows it was theirs alone to make. This is where too many owners and managers undermine their own policies when it comes to the marginal, subjective decisions: Overruling means undermining.

3. Customer focus

“You’re not making 200 pies; you’re making one pie 200 times.”

Tom used this when training a baker who was making 200 pies. Known as the “Drop in the bucket effect”, it can be hard to focus on the outcome of our work when we are producing things repetitively and/or en masse. In this case, it was easy to see 200 pies but forget the 200 customers that would each have an individual experience of their pie.

4. Accountability

“Anytime I have a problem in my business, it’s within my four walls.”

In other words, stop blaming external factors: Your competitor, the roadworks out the front, the weather. Known as “actor-observer bias”, we tend to blame negative outcomes on things external to us whilst thinking positive outcomes are always down to us.


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