What is the 'Toast Question' and why does it matter?

January 30, 2023 | BankingFocus-Banking Focus

Security Bank would like to wish you a happy and prosperous New Year in 2023! This month’s article caught our eye because it presents the idea of getting your employees on the same page regarding your business processes and why things are done a certain way. A lot can be learned. Hopefully, this article provides some new ideas to start off the new year.



How Smart Leaders Use the 'Toast Question' to Turn Their Business Into a Well-Oiled Machine

By: Nick Sonnenberg, INC. Magazine

Documenting and optimizing processes is the only way to scale a business--otherwise you'll always be limited by you and your team's bandwidth. When things are documented, you can rapidly onboard new hires and start getting exponentially more done. 

However, documenting everything you do is not easy or fun, and getting your team on board is even harder. Ultimately, there's a fundamental mindset shift that needs to occur where people instinctively know to document their work. In consulting for thousands of organizations, I've found that once peoples' eyes are opened to the "why" behind process documentation, that becomes much easier. 

Our VP of Efficiency Consulting at Leverage, Marquis Murray, came up with a simple exercise that perfectly illustrates the "why" behind process documentation. We've used it with our own team and with our clients, and you can practically see the gears turning in their heads as it unfolds. 

It's called the "toast question." Here's how it works.

Start by asking everyone on your team a simple question: "How do you make toast?" Have them write down their answers, then share with the group.

The answers tend to be far more varied than you'd imagine. Some consider the first step to be putting a slice of bread in the toaster, while others start with taking the bread out of the cabinet and opening the bag. Some people use butter, others use peanut butter. Once, someone responded by explaining how they first cook bacon in a pan and then fry their toast in the grease!

You get the picture. There is no wrong way to make toast; it's just toast. The point of this exercise is to show that even seemingly straightforward processes can be interpreted differently from person to person. When you're making toast for yourself, that's no big deal. But what if the stakes were higher? 

What if that same team worked at a Michelin-Starred restaurant known for making exceptional toast? Would they succeed in delivering the same quality of toast day in and day out with their wildly different preparation methods? Would their kitchen run like a well-oiled machine, pumping out toast as efficiently as possible?

Most likely not. For them to succeed, the kitchen staff would have to agree on a set of ingredients and a process to deliver a dish with the right amount of crunch and flavor. They'd need to document the process so everyone (including new hires) is clear on how to make toast in that kitchen, and they'd need to optimize the process to get toast out to their hungry customers as quickly as possible.

The same concept applies to nearly every business. As a leader, you can't just assume individuals are going to operate in the same way--even if what you're asking them to do seems simple. If you want to deliver a consistent product or service to your clients, you need to have your processes documented to ensure everyone is operating in the same way. 

Most leaders know that operational processes are necessary for growth, but individual employees often don't have the same perspective. The reality, however, is that they're equally important for individuals. 

Documented processes make employees' lives easier by helping them get work done faster, plus they open up opportunities for growth. If an employee's role is well-documented they can easily hand their responsibilities off to someone else, freeing them up to take on higher-level responsibilities.

As a leader, the best way to get things documented is to get your team on board. If you can cultivate a mindset where employees understand the importance of documenting processes and why it matters, then it naturally works itself out over time.

Here's how you can get started:


 1. Identify differences: Ask your team how they each perform a certain process (AKA, the toast question). Compare results, and share the differences--it will be eye-opening.

2. Align on a consistent process: Sit with your team and align on the best way to complete that process. Some people may have found efficient ways to do certain parts of it, so this is a chance to combine them all into one hyper-efficient system for everyone.

3. Document everything: Document the step-by-step instructions. 

If you can incorporate this type of mindset into your company culture, you'll find your processes getting documented practically by themselves.