Performance Talks

December 16, 2011

When I was around 18, I worked as a shift manager at McDonald’s Corporation in Tulsa, Oklahoma. One of the assistant managers that helped me get promoted and then trained me was a man named Don Griffin. I admired Don because he cared about the work that he did and he cared about me and the rest of his employees. He was also very focused on producing results for the company. Don had a huge influence on my work ethic and basic management philosophy.

Over the years, I’ve never forgotten Don telling me “Performance talks, bullshit walks.” I could count on hearing it every time I tried to give Don an excuse for poor performance. That simple concept still influences how I interpret almost every interaction I have with people in my various work related roles.

I’m OK with folks dropping the ball and making occasional mistakes, and I’m OK with people not delivering as promised from time to time. We all do it – including me. But I have a very low tolerance for folks that won’t accept responsibility for their mistakes. I’ve never known anyone commit to fixing a problem without first admitting “I screwed up.”

Don still lives in the Tulsa area, and he and his wife have a son named Bret.

What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!

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Comments (16)

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  1. Jesse Stoner says:

    I really enjoyed your post, Bret. Our mentors and those who have helped shape us are so important, and when we share stories about them, we spread their influence. If Don’s son’s name is spelled with only one “T” I’d make a guess that you touched him in some way as well.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    It is indeed spelled with one T, as it should be 🙂 Two t’s is simply one too many. Thanks, Jesse!

  2. Hi Bret. Thanks for the post. It brings back some old memories.

    I also worked as shift manager at McDonald’s as a teenager. You definitely had a better store manager than the ones I reported to. I wish I had learned some leadership best practices. On the other hand, I did learn a few important business lessons.

    I reference McDonald’s as an example of the strength of a big company. At McDonald’s, everything is precisely controlled by process: by timers and buzzers for example. As workers, we did not know why things were done the way they were, we just followed the established procedures.

    This is how McDonald’s is able to make the identical hamburgers using minimum-wage teenagers all over the world. The scale of a large organization requires bureaucratic overhead to manage processes and personnel and to enforce standardization. And, I have no desire to work in a large bureaucratic company!

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    I had a few good ones, Chris, but also my share of lousy ones also. I majored in Industrial Engineering my first four years of college, so McDonald’s fascinated me with the way they used facilities layout and processes to make things so efficient. The early days of the company innovation helped from some owner-operators helped them develop some of the successful products they have today, like the Egg McMuffin and breakfast. Not so today. Thanks for sharing! Bret

  3. Dan says:


    Your post reminds me similarly of early mentors and bosses, and it also reminds me of the ground rules I suggest when a supervisor wonders about “how far to go when enough is enough” with an employee who continues to show lack of performance or conduct issues. There are three rules: 1) Did the person receive clear feedback about the lack of performance or conduct problems? 2) Did the person acknowledge and take responsibility for same; 3) Did the person’s performance and conduct improve? If #1 is not present, fix it. If #2 and #3 are not present thereafter, then enough is enough and it’s time to move from coaching to more serious steps such as a performance plan or disciplinary action.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Welcome back, Dan. I LOVE your ground rules for supervisors. How do you get supervisors to accept full responsibility for #1? We all have such a self-serving bias, my fear would be most supervisors would say they had done #1 well when in reality they had not. Thanks for sharing! Bret

  4. Dan says:

    I’m totally with you on the difficulty for supervisors on #1 (often for managers and executives, too) — they need confidence — which means practice, knowledge, and skilled advice. Most I’ve worked with genuinely want to do the right thing but are worried about lawsuits, making things worse, or making mistakes. In my experience this is a primary area for supervisory reflection, honest self-assessment, good training and confidence building with others facing similar challenges.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Thanks for the reply, Dan. It also helps to for them to have support from the folks they work for. If they are punished for admitting mistakes, they will be more likely to never take responsibility, but ultimately its an issue of personal character was well. Thanks! Bret

  5. Beth says:

    Hi Bret,

    Regarding performance, I have two mottoes:

    1. The key to staying employed is being useful.

    2. Being useful is composed 90% of two things:
    – show up on time
    – pay attention
    If you do those two things, the rest will follow.

    Just my take.

    By the way, I just received my 15 years of service award at a company where I started at the very bottom and three years later was writing policy at corporate headquarters. These past few years I launched initiatives that impacted 20,000 employees, and just last month I collaborated with our international partners who wanted to know all about how I did it.

    All along the way, it was (and still is) all about being useful.

    Big smiles, Beth

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    LOVE the mottos, Beth! It really is not much more difficult than that. Congrats on your 15 years of service – they are lucky to have you! Thanks once again for sharing your thoughts. Bret

  6. Andrea says:

    Mentors are a wonderful gift. Thanks for sharing the inspiring guidance you received. Like yours, my mentors — Jim Bodoh (corporate/university branding consultant, Radley Yeldar UK), Robert Harling (art director/editor, London Times, Financial Times, House & Garden UK), James Reynolds (editor, National Geographic, Medical Economics, Thompson Media Group), Marion Rockefeller Weber (philanthropist), Greg Sundberg (art director, Sundberg Associates NY), Massimo Vignelli (art director, Vignelli Associates NY) — had/have impeccable personal/institutional standards, and voice wisdom to spare when I’m confounded. I have failed them miserably on several occasions over the years, but their examples still ring perfect to me. Five pieces of their journalism/branding/leadership advice and behavior stick with me most:

    1. When referring to people, use “who” rather than “that,” as in “executives who lead…” vs. “executives that lead…”;

    2. When referring to things/companies, use “its” rather than “they/their,” as in “Coca-Cola provides its employees with…” vs. “Coca-Cola provides their employees with…”;

    3. When referring to quantities, use “more than” rather than “over,” as in “more than 20 corporations sold stock” vs. “over 20 corporations…” (Use “over” for spatial relationships like “over the table.”);

    4. When a person’s/company’s performance fails to meet one’s high standards, before deciding how (and/or whether) to call someone out, “choose your battles,” Jim Reynolds says in his take-the-high-road executive fashion. (And when too stressed, “get on your 10-speed and ride 100 miles.”)

    5. We are all benevolent servants/mentors, no more, no less, when it comes to colleagues, peers, superiors, clients, staff.

    Best, A.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Welcome, Andrea, and thanks for sharing this great advice. I must confess I probably violate the advice you list in 1-3 way too often. Totally concur with #5, and while I don’t ride a 10-speed, I’ve certainly found that it’s hard to be too stressed after a 6 mile run. Thanks for sharing. Bret

    Andrea Reply:

    A six-mile run would more than suffice to clear those stressors, I’d say!

    Best, A.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    It does the trick. Most times six is enough, sometimes more is needed. 🙂

  7. davidburkus says:

    Is he still in Tulsa? Still work with McDonald’s?

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Still in T-town, long since left the golden arches. Thanks! Bret