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Archive for March, 2006

Dilbert-like Talk

Friday, March 31st, 2006

Lots of stuff makes the rounds on the Net. In honor of frivolous Friday, and to give examples of what not to do as a manager. Several years ago a contest was run for the best “Dilbert Quotes,” i.e., quotes from real life Dilbert-type managers. One can only hope that the managers quoted have either changed their approach or retired!

Here are the contest finalists:

  • “As of tomorrow, employees will only be able to access the building using individual security cards. Pictures will be taken next Wednesday and employees will receive their cards in two weeks.” (This was the winning quote from F. D. at Microsoft Corp. in Redmond, WA.)
  • “What I need is a list of specific unknown problems we will encounter.” (Lykes Lines Shipping)
  • “E-mail is not to be used to pass on information or data. It should be used only for company business.” (Accounting manager, Electric Boat Company)
  • “This project is so important, we can’t let things that are more important interfere with it.” (Advertising/Marketing manager, United Parcel Service)
  • “Doing it right is no excuse for not meeting the schedule.”
  • “No one will believe you solved this problem in one day! We’ve been working on it for months. Now, go act busy for a few weeks and I’ll let you know when it’s time to tell them.” (R&D supervisor, 3M Corp.)
  • “My boss spent the entire weekend retyping a 25-page proposal that only needed corrections. She claims the disk I gave her was damaged and she couldn’t edit it. The disk I gave her was write-protected.” (CIO of Dell Computers)
  • “Teamwork is a lot of people doing what I say.” (Marketing executive, Citrix Corporation)
  • My sister passed away and her funeral was scheduled for Monday. When I told my Boss, he said she died on purpose so that I would have to miss work on the busiest day of the year. He then asked if we could change her burial to Friday. He said, “That would be better for me.” (Shipping executive, FTD Florists)
  • “We know that communication is a problem, but the company is not going to discuss it with the employees.” (Switching supervisor, AT&T Long Lines Division)
  • We recently received a memo from senior management saying: “This is to inform you that a memo will be issued today regarding the memo mentioned above.” (Microsoft, Legal Affairs Division)
  • One day my Boss asked me to submit a status report to him concerning a project I was working on. I asked him if tomorrow would be soon enough. He said, “If I wanted it tomorrow, I would have waited until tomorrow to ask for it!” (New business manager, Hallmark Greeting Cards.)
  • Closing paragraph of a nationally circulated memo from a large communications company: “Lucent is endeavorily determined to promote constant attention on current procedures of transacting business focusing emphasis on innovative ways to better, if not supersede, the expectations of quality!” (Lucent Technologies)

Motivation Isn’t About Money

Thursday, March 30th, 2006

Yesterday talked about the three most important desires most people have (To make a difference; to be treated fairly; and to matter [to boss and colleagues].

What else can a manager do to motivate people without killing the budget? There are lots of tangible ways to show appreciation, reward effort, lighten the deadline-induced stress and just have fun.

Here’s a starter list to get you thinking

  • Chocolate—in any form.
  • Beyond chocolate use any/all kinds of food, fruit, cheese, etc.
  • Buy annual family memberships to various museums, zoos, etc. (several to each). Most offer special visitation nights to special member-only exhibits and holiday showings. (The memberships may even be tax deductible.) Use the specials as rewards along with loaning out the memberships.
  • Create company money worth $X that can be added together and redeemed for cash to use as they choose. You can have different denominations that add up over time with a max of ten bucks. Remember, it’s not about money it’s about fun.
  • Check out custom fortune cookies and fill them with prizes ranging from candy to meals out.
  • Plants (and their good for the office air and good Feng Shui, too:)
  • Buy stuff that can be taken apart so that each part becomes a prize. People can trade and swap parts with each other to complete their thing faster. (Stuff like small fountains, gadgets, etc.)
  • Coupons to music and book stores. (New/used stores are better since the $$ buy more; online stores use up the money in shipping.)
  • Take the team to lunch for hitting deadlines.
  • Have one or more daily hero awards with a special trophy or cap to wear the following day.
  • Give annual Hero Awards (like the Oscars) at an awards dinner (maybe combine with your Holiday party). Projects and sales worked on could be like movies with various categories. Employees do the voting. This balances the instant gratification with longer term rewards.

Whatever you do, don’t forget your admin and support staff. They usually get left out of rewards/motivation programs, but they shouldn’t—they are the oil that keeps that machinery humming and things sure don’t run smoothly without them!

This post is meant to get your own creative juices flowing, and I hope you’ll take the time to share your ideas by commenting.

Motivation, Retention and Money

Wednesday, March 29th, 2006

Although “money can’t buy happiness” may be debatable, it’s a fact that it can’t buy a strong, motivated workforce. For over 30 years I’ve been telling managers that people who join [the company] for money, will leave for more money.

Having listened to thousands of candidates during more than 20 years of headhunting, about 85% have the same top three desires—although not necessarily in the same order:

  • To make a difference.
  • To be treated fairly.
  • To matter [to boss and colleagues].

My clients know this and their interaction with their people shows it—and they don’t have to be high-level execs for it to be valuable. Nii (I love coaching Nii:) is project manager at TeraTech, a small custom software company:

Hi folks;
I just delivered the project a day ahead of the projected delivery date in spite of the tight deadline.
The first phase of the project has been a huge success thanks to the development.

You did an excellent job gathering requirements and the prototype you developed was very professional and easy to use for development. Thanks.

You completed almost 80% of the development tasks including the database design. At one point you spent most part of the night in the office just to make sure that tasks were completed in order to meet the deadline. You were willing to take on additional tasks assigned to you. Thanks.

I liked your enthusiasm when the project started. When I asked you to set up the development site, you jumped on it and finished it even though I could tell it was well pass the time for you to leave for home. Come tomorrow, you and Ajay will be at [the client] to install the website. Thanks.

The simplicity of your architecture was a major reason this project was done in record time and well within the budget. You served as a valuable resource helping other team members think through issues and come up with solutions. Forgive me but I lost count of the number of days you also had to stay up late to complete tasks. Hope you understand because I’m not that good with numbers. :-) Thanks.

Frank, Cecile:
Your testing was awesome. You can count on me to be knocking on your cubicles to help with projects. I hope you enjoyed riding through the application and have learnt a lot as a result.

Thanks to you Michael and Beth for your various contributions.

I will need the help of all of you again for the phase 2.
Thanks once again.

This kind of public communication (the email was sent via a list that goes to everybody in the company) goes a long way to making people feel valued and that they really are making a difference.

Not a big deal, you say, but how many managers take the time to do it, and how many include everybody? Too many managers only take time to thank their “stars” or senior people; almost none take time to thank “the rest.”

In 1978 when I was headhunting for MRI in San Francisco our receptionist quit with no notice. Back then phones were our life blood (no voicemail); she answered six incoming lines transferring calls and taking messages (using a pen and message pad) for 15 headhunters. So while the boss interviewed we fell back on temps—who didn’t last more than a day or so because they couldn’t handle the call volume, couldn’t handle the egos, or we couldn’t read the messages—and everyone complained long and loudly.

Finally we got a temp who could not only deal with us, the phones and write legibly, but thought it was fun (unfortunately she didn’t want to work permenently for anybody). Sure, people stopped complaining, but few of them thought to say anything to the temp�because she was just a temp!

Not me, I brought her a giant bouquet of flowers and a colleague brought her champagne. The others didn’t notice, except for a one who noticed, but couldn’t understand why we spent the money for a temp. Talk about ego and blinders!

Ask IBM—culture matters!

Monday, March 27th, 2006

In an interview about what moves innovation, IBM’s CEO Sam Palmisano says, “…the biggest breakthroughs are a result of changing the business model and the processes and the culture.”

Convincing CEOs that culture is not an accident, but a reflection of their own MAP (mindset, attitude and philosophy) and requires active effort on their part is often an uphill battle. I have to prove that the payoff can be huge, therefore it’s worth their time and effort—time and effort they feel pressured to put to “critical” tasks, i.e., those with a quicker payoff.

For that reason, when a CEO of Palmisano’s stature says culture matters I get excited; and when it’s IBM, with an historical roster of CEOs whose actions are absolute proof that CEOs must walk their talk if it is to succeed within the organization I want to bring out the champagne.

I like digging around IBM’s website, partly because they have the money to do great studies and partly because when Lou Gerstner took over he didn’t just recognize the need for a cultural change, he made one happen, and the culture is continuing to change under Palmisano!

For some interesting reading, check out how IBM decided on it’s values and think about the courage it takes to ask 319,000 employees to brainstorm openly, i.e., unedited, on the subject for three days. Also, check out the take on Corporate Responsibility.

The CEOs I work with are running much smaller companies and you might argue that they don’t have the time/money/staff to do the same things, but what it really takes is the right MAP to make it happen.

Retention questions? Get answers!

Saturday, March 25th, 2006

Did you know that in England advice columns are referred to as agony columns? Which seems a pretty accurate description when dealing with the often painful issues of management and leadership (which aren’t always connected—more’s the pity). I frequently get emails looking for some guidance or a quick fix to a small problem and I enjoy answering them and I thought I’d share them with you occasionally. BTW, feel free to write me directly if you have a question.

From January, 2005

Miki, I just took over as head of a 15 person engineering group. I joined this company because I liked the President and felt that our approaches to business and people were compatible. The problem is that the former VP created a negative subculture of fear and distrust that’s wreaking havoc on our productivity. How do I change it? Jim T, San Jose, CA

Dear Jim, The good news is that you don’t have to fight your boss to change it. The bad news is that there’s no quick fix. No proclamations saying, “It’s going to be different.” will make it different. The foremost thing for you to do is always is walk your talk. If you say something is changing or being done differently or going to happen, then it must happen. Try to avoid it, but you may have to clean house, too. It’s possible that some of your people really do think like your predecessor, but if you move too quickly you’ll lose good talent who adopted his ways for survival and will gladly change back. So get to know your people before judging them, gain their trust by open, honest, complete communication, walk your talk, and keep it public. Fear and distrust flourish in the dark, but lose their power when forced into the light.

Have a terrific weekend!

Retaining Stars

Friday, March 24th, 2006

There is a subject that makes me crazy whenever it comes up, as it did today in a meeting when the a senior manager started talking about “retaining stars.” To be honest, I get pretty hot, because I find not just the concept, but the way it’s so often done, offensive.

To start with, there’s the whole idea of “stars.” From the vantage point of my 25 years of headhunting I know that this is true: people work to the quality of their management. “Star” is a strictly subjective definition—one manager’s star is another manager’s pain in the behind.

In my experience the workforce breaks down into three segments.

  • At the top you have the so-called stars, the 10% who succeed on their own no matter what;
  • at the other end are the 3% I call destroyers—because that’s how they get their kicks.

Both these groups do their thing in spite of how they’re managed.

What of the rest?

  • 87% are neither stars nor destroyers on their own, but can become either because of how they’re managed!

Aside from its being mathematically impossible to hire nothing but stars, would you really want to? Stars may be creative, but they also do it their own way. Because they’re leaders, they need constant advancement, if not in your company then in another. Don’t get me wrong, stars can be team players, but they play better if it’s their team. Sayings such as, “Too many cooks spoil that soup.” and “You can’t fight a war with nothing but generals.” have been around for decades because they are true.

What’s more, singling out a few people for special treatment turns off the rest of your organization. Let’s say you have a 30 person group out of which you identify seven stars. To retain them you create a program of special mentoring, training and development, and make sure that they have access to extra opportunities and they stay with the company for four years.

Around 30% of your other 27 people will spend six months to a year trying to gain entree to the program and will usually leave if they don’t. 10-12% will get angry over what they see as favoritism and start looking immediately. Over the next few years, the rest usually experience a drop in confidence, lower self-esteem, declining productivity, growing frustration and dissatisfaction culminating in a call from a headhunter or ex-colleague. By the end of the four years you still have your stars, but have experienced turnover in excess of 100%, since the same sequence of events will effect the replacements.

A far better approach, from CEO down, is to recognize that it’s your responsibility to provide the environment, opportunity, encouragement and support that inspires people to achieve all that they can and become a star in their own right.

Retention And Perks

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2006

My March 17 posts talk abut the cost of attrition, i.e., the value of retention, but who would have thought that that retention could have a global impact, moving inflation and economies?

How Rising Wages Are Changing The Game In China in the March 27 issue of Business Week discusses at length the efforts multinationals are going to retain their people and hold down salary inflation, and although the salary figures mentioned may seem paltry compared to salaries elsewhere, the percentage increases certainly don’t!

Sure, the companies are spending major money to add perks, but much of what they are adding is in their infrastructure, so the pay-off is higher. And unlike higher salaries (remember, people who join your company for money, will leave for more money), matching them is more difficult for the companies on the prowl for employees.

Closer to home, how do small companies match the perks offered by large ones, especially since, for many employees, stock options don’t hold the allure they once did.

Guess what? We’re back to the intangibles offered by culture (i.e. MAP), which is good, since intangibles are the hardest perks with which to compete. In over 25 years of headhunting, the desire to work for a specific manager, not company, was the primary reason for lack of interest in changing, no matter what opportunity presented itself.

By the same token, if a manager, who had created a positive mini-culture in a company that didn’t support it (a more common occurrence than you might think), left the turnover could easily hit over 70+% during the next 12 months.

The best intangibles you can offer consist of public positive strokes, i.e., publicly acknowledging accomplishments, both large and small, and private constructive criticism and guidance, focusing on improvement in order to excel.

Back on the tangible side, don’t under-rate the motivating effects of candy, pizza (sushi in California, NYC and a few other locals) and food in general. They work when used with flair and élan—and a sense of fun:)

Culture: Fuzzy Idea Or Useful Tool?

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2006

Good company culture is not a bunch of fuzzy, feel-good platitudes—unless that description describes your mindset. Make no mistake about it, people accept offers and reject headhunters because of culture.

I’ll never forget talking with a “mature” CEO who told me that he “never hired turkeys;” when I asked what made a turkey and how he avoided hiring them, he blustered a lot, but didn’t really have an answer. (I probably shouldn’t have asked him in public, but we were at an event.)

Bet you’ve figured out the right answer to both recognizing and avoiding turkeys: culture. You see, no candidate is actually a turkey, but you see them through the lens of your culture, which they just don’t fit, so they look like one to you.

To be a useful tool a culture must be specific and have teeth.

  • To do that you start by writing a cultural mission statement that is no longer than one page, preferably less.
  • You write a high level (no micro comments) statement with this thought in mind: If there was no one available to check with, an employee could read the cultural mission and have all the guidance needed to do their job, handle a customer, talk with a vendor or interact with their associates correctly.
  • You then print and frame enough copies for every person who works for you, no matter what their position.

The teeth come not from what you write, but from your living it and making sure that all your managers are living it, too. To quote from an article I wrote years ago, “Some companies try and fake their culture, talking about how great it is in the media and during candidate interviews, but for today’s workforce, what they see and hear better be what they get, or they’ll be gone.”


Tuesday, March 21st, 2006

I ended last week by saying that the solution to retention was a function of CC (culture & communication) and the question that I’m always asked is which comes first, culture or communication?

It’s a good question and may seem similar to the chicken and the egg. Without a culture that insists on, and supports, open, honest, complete communication I doubt that anyone’s going to say much. However, it takes that kind of communication to create and implement that kind of culture. So, what really comes first—or is it also a conundrum?

What comes first is the founder/CEO/department head/etc. It’s what’s in your head that sets the culture and defines the kind of communications the company will have. And that, as I’m fond of saying, is a function of your MAP (mindset, attitude, philosophy™).

The way you communicate is a mindset, grounded in your attitude towards others, which, in turn, is based on your personal philosophy.

Since MAP is learned, not innate, it changes, either passively, through the influence of those around you, or actively, in ways that you consciously choose. Being very opinionated on this subject (well, it is my blog:), I consider that good MAP is (in no particular order) positive, open, flexible, honest, secure, interested, enthusiastic, patient, sincere, encouraging, caring and loves creativity (its own or others).

MAP is everywhere and affects everything—that’s why salespeople familiar with their customers’ MAP sell more. So it’s to your advantage to understand your colleagues’ MAP, no matter your position or theirs. Managers and candidates should evaluate each others’ MAP to be sure, at the least, they’re synergistic; and the best managers not only know their people’s MAP, but also their own.

In the high stakes employee retention game MAP is worth more than money.

How Much Can One Person Cost? (continued)

Friday, March 17th, 2006

This is a continuation of yesterday’s post.

The cost really starts mounting up based on what leaves. Yes, of course, the person in that position matters, s/he was a unique individual with a unique set of skills—that can’t be duplicated, but it can be replaced. But the loss of a certain position at a certain time can wreak corporate havoc costing millions. For example:

  • The engineer whose missing piece of the project delays delivery and launch of the product.
  • The product marketing manager tasked with a new product launch.
  • The admin no one noticed or worried about, who, in actuality, was both the department glue and grease.

Notice there are no senior managers listed. Think about it, if the VP of engineering leaves it may garner comment in the media and create headaches for the CEO, but it won’t delay the product.

But is turnover really as bad as I’m making it out? And if it is, can there really be enough ROI to offset it? I can almost hear the skepticism (and worse) echoing through cyberspace.

Frederick Reichheld, founder of Bain & Company’s Loyalty Practice and author of Loyalty Rules!, and other loyalty books, shows in carefully researched studies that a 5% improvement in employee retention translates to a 25%-100% gain in earnings.

So there’s your proof!

The solution overview I promised can be summed up in two letters, CC—culture and communication—and one guiding principle: People who join your company for money, will leave for more money.

I’ll elaborate on CC next week, but the principle needs no explanation, it speaks for itself.
Have a great weekend!

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