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Behind the Business of Mardi Gras: How to Get a Whole Lot Done in Very Little Time

When you’re coming to the end of a project and the deadline is fast approaching, it can seem like there are a million things to do and only five minutes to do them. Of course, it helps if you plan your time well, but some things are simply out of your hands. Business leaders need to keep themselves and their employees calm and efficient during the storm.

YPO member Barry Kern knows there’s no time for panic when time is of the essence. He is the third generation of the Kern family to run Mardi Gras World, Kern Studios and River City Venues, a company that has grown to become the world’s leading maker of floats, sculpture, and props. So Kern knows well that the Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans waits for no one.

That’s why for the past year, Kern has been preparing for this year’s Mardi Gras. And the moment this year’s Carnival is over, he and his team will start preparing for next year’s celebration. As the date draws closer every year, time becomes more precious. With floats to finish and logistics to coordinate, Kern had to develop techniques to deal with the pressure.

Here is Kern’s advice on finishing the job when time is tight:

1. Develop a Trusted Team

“As the leader of a company, you’re responsible for everything, but that doesn’t mean you have to do it all,” advises Kern. Leaders need to develop a team they can count on through thick and thin. Kern knows this takes time, explaining, “Many of my employees have worked here for decades, and we’ve built strong relationships.” But it’s played a critical role in his success. He says, “I can focus on my job knowing that they’ve got theirs covered.”Remember that effective use of your team also requires that the leader not be a micro-manager.

2. Maintain the Big Picture

Kern is involved in Mardi Gras parades all over the country, plus other projects around the world that don’t necessarily sync up with Mardi Gras. With all that going on, Kern warns, “It’s important not to get lost in the details. It just eats up valuable time on the back end.” He knows what’s at stake: “Mardi Gras is going to happen whether you’re ready for it or not. So we’ve made it a practice to always be ready.” This high-level organization is critical at any company.

3. Reassess and Question

Kern is not afraid to change processes. He says, “We constantly reassess and question ourselves throughout each project to ensure we’re being efficient while also delivering the best product.” A regular review is an opportunity to optimize. “Be sure that everything you do is moving the ball forward,” Kern advises. You might be surprised by what you find.

4. Know Your Craft and Your Company

“I started out as a child literally sweeping the floors here. I went on to study float making in Europe. I’ve worked just about every job in our company,” Kern says. This experience has served him well. He explains, “This foundational knowledge helps me with planning because I know what goes into all the parts and pieces needed to complete any job.” While not everyone has the advantage of growing up in a family business, this doesn’t mean you can’t learn your business just as intimately.

5. Set Clear Expectations

With the enhanced knowledge you have of your company, you know exactly what you are capable of producing. “Perhaps my most successful marketing tool has been that we always deliver,” Kern asserts. This means laying out clear goals for employees and achievable promises to clients. “My clients know that if we agree on something, it will get done. I’ve never let them down,” Kern says. Strive to be the best, but don’t bite off more than you can chew.

6. Predict Your Needs and Plan for the Unknown

This is another aspect where knowledge of your business is key. “You have to know in advance what resources you will need for each project,” Kern says. “Every year, as we get closer to Mardi Gras, we hire seasonal employees who have worked with us each carnival for years.” But prediction is always an imperfect art. Kern advises, “Thinking ahead means you’ll rarely, if ever, get caught off guard. But always build in cushion to your timeline to be able to address hurdles as they pop up – and they always do.” You will never regret this extra planning.

7. Make It a Science

While our product is art, we are a business,” Kern explains. “We have systems and protocols in place to know what we need to do and when we need to do it in order to meet deadlines.” So Kern sprinkles some business into his art, explaining, “While our art is made by masters at their crafts, there is an assembly line aspect to some of what we do. Our artists can focus on the big show pieces while less experienced employees apply glitter to thousands of individual paper mâché flowers.” This is another important way to question and refine your business practices.

8. Train Your Employees

You cannot produce your product if your employees are unprepared. Kern says, “We’ve established processes over decades, and we’re quite good at managing workflow.” This starts from the day an employee arrives: “When new employees join our company, we take a lot of time to train them on how to best do their jobs and to inform them of how they fit into the overall process.” Once they have mastered the job, your employees will be useful resources on how to refine your procedures.

9. Renew, Reuse, Recycle

Kern is always looking for untapped efficiencies. “The theme of each of the dozens of parades we work with changes annually. Over the years we have amassed a large inventory that can be altered to meet our clients’ needs, saving time and money.” This is an advantage for customers, Kern says: “Our clients appreciate that we’re able to extend this value to them.” But it’s also great for your employees, who can spend more time working on more difficult projects, refining their skills, and training.

Each week Kevin explores exclusive stories inside YPO, the world’s premiere peer-to-peer organization for chief executives, eligible at age 45 or younger.


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Kevin Daum is an award winning and bestselling author of 5 books. He is a marketer, speaker, and columnist for Inc.com and Smart Business Magazine. As an Inc. 500 entrepreneur, his sales and marketing techniques resulted in more than $1 billion in sales. Drawing on his background in theatre and business, Kevin is a compelling speaker who has engaged and inspired audiences around the globe. Kevin is a graduate of the MIT Entrepreneurial Masters program and has received the Global Learning Award 3 times from the Entrepreneur’s Organization, where he held several board positions. Kevin has designed, produced, and led award-winning executive training programs and events for C-level executives and entrepreneurs on four continents. Previously, Kevin was named one of the 40 people to watch under 40 in San Francisco by the Business Times and in 2006 was named Distinguished Alum of the Year by his alma mater, Humboldt State University.