I started working at McDonald’s to put myself through college. For a few years it was part-time supplemental work, but I quickly went into full-time management. When I finally left I was overseeing multiple locations for a franchise owner.
My mantra was to leave my store at the end of each day better than it was when I walked in. This is what I asked of my team too. During my time as General Manager, we ended up turning around an underperforming store from bottom of the company ranking to the top, across nearly all measures.
There were times in the controlled chaos of a high volume shift – I would be coaching for faster service times, or improved grill production and I would have this weird moment of awareness about the fact that this was all just about hamburgers and why were we getting so excited about hamburgers.
Now, it really wasn’t just about hamburgers; it was about excellent customer service and a great consumer experience, but that service and experience generally involved how fast people got their hamburgers. My biggest motivator was how to manage my store to deliver consistently high customer service and a positive consumer experience.
Fast forward to late 2013. I had just been appointed Director of the Indiana Division of Aging when I met Debbie Pierson. She had joined the Division about six months earlier after 11 years in an Area Agency on Aging. Debbie had also been a restaurant manager for several years before pivoting into an entirely new career direction.
As restaurant managers, we were taught operations management, people management, leadership, problem solving, finance and, most importantly, customer service. We learned to see our stores as systems, to constantly evaluate and observe, to identify barriers, to problem solve on the fly, to motivate every employee to get the best out of them. Some of this learning took place in classrooms (yes – Hamburger University really exists!), but most of it was on-the-job training. In these roles, we both learned by doing – by making mistakes and fixing them, or by trying things out that got the results that we needed.
Looking back, that experience taught us to put the person being served at the center of the system; and we learned the principles of managing user experience and lean business process. We both carried those lessons on with us through each job and career change on our paths to the Division of Aging.
The timing was serendipitous. Over the next four years, we teamed up to start the modernization of most of Indiana’s service delivery systems for older Hoosiers. We recognized that we were in a position to transform how services were delivered to tens of thousands of people across Indiana impacting people’s health and safety and the quality of their lives.
As Sage Squirrel, our goal is to provide business solutions to meet our clients’ policy objectives. We are experienced in analyzing operations and organizations to create accuracy, consistency and efficiency to support policy goals. We do this by applying the same skills we learned and applied once upon a time as restaurant managers – be systemic; observe and analyze; identify barriers and bottlenecks; and intervene with solutions along the way.
We want to work with partners who, like us, are sincere about putting people at the center of the programs designed to serve them. We want to work with partners who believe that the “customer” is not just the individual receiving services, but also the providers who need to get paid, or the case manager seeking to coordinate services across multiple payer sources, or the community based organizations that need quality training n order to be able to support larger objectives.
The challenges that we all face as we seek to meet the exploding demand for long term services and supports calls for a new approach. No one can just keep doing what they’ve been doing, the way they’ve been doing it and expect to get different results. Good policy solutions need to be supported with good business solutions. It’s worth investing in – it’s not just hamburgers anymore.