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Archive for September, 2006

Miki’s Rules for Living 6

Friday, September 29th, 2006

I’ve always been grateful that I’m not a Boomer. The Boomers have done many things, some good, some not so good, and some downright silly (to my way of thinking). But the one thing for which I find it hard to forgive them is an attitude, summed up in the catch phrase “life is a challenge to be overcome.”

What a depressing attitude towards life and living, ugh!

But I dearly love another slogan, invented to counter it and adopted as my sixth rule.

Life is a mystery to be lived, not a challenge to be overcome!

Take some time, and live the mystery this weekend.

Most Can’t Do It All

Thursday, September 28th, 2006

Leaders can envision and inspire, but that doesn’t mean they can manage. Managers can motivate and lead, but that doesn’t make them visionaries. Visionaries can inspire, but not manage. Rarely can one person do it all—and that’s OK.

The solution starts when you shove your ego in your back pocket and it’s the same at every management level, be it Microsoft (think Gates and Ballmer) or the local copy shop.

Hire someone who compliments your skills, give them the correct title and status, shower them with public and private recognition, valid compensation, and sincere appreciation.

ROI on personal change

Wednesday, September 27th, 2006

How many times have you said something like, “I’m not very good at X.” only to be told not to be so hard on yourself, not to put yourself down, or some variation of that theme?

I grant you that sometimes these comments are accurate and that the person is under-rating herself, but, just as often it’s a valid statement of fact.

Maybe it’s partly a function of age, but, it’s mainly a function of knowing one’s self and knowing when a viable ROI on the time/energy investment to change/create/fix something in ourselves just isn’t there.

For example, All my life I’ve been a procrastinator. I was about an 8 on a scale of 10, with ten being the worst. Over the years I invested a tremendous amount of time and energy in changing that—and I did change it, to a 4. When I hit four, I realized that the effort it was taking me to move to 3.8 was larger than when I moved from eight to seven.

That meant the change wasn’t particularly productive, in other words, bad ROI. So I stopped investing in change and learned to compensate instead, meaning I channeled my remaining procrastination into areas that don’t really impact the important parts of my world.

The point of all this is two fold

  1. Know yourself well enough to know what you really want to change—change is a very personal decision—because to change successfully, it must be your idea.
  2. Recognize when the return on your time/energy being spent is too low to warrant the investment and develop work-arounds to deal with the remnants of the change-item.

Finally, don’t let those pesky don’t-be-so-hard-on-yourself comments push you into actions that aren’t in your best interest. After all, they don’t know me as well as I know me, or as well as you know you.

Do it—or else

Tuesday, September 26th, 2006

It’s a sad commentary on the business world, but thousands of times a day, day after day, bosses in every industry, in companies large and small, issue “or else” ultimatums, whether intentionally or not, to their subordinates. These threats aren’t always direct (Do it or start looking.), more often, they are subtle (I expect employees who work here to be team players.), but the threat is there: Do X if you want to keep your job.

Obviously, this is atrocious management, since

  • threats are tremendously debilitating to those receiving them, often costing them the confidence to do their job—each time a manager sells out he loses more of his effectiveness as a manager; but
  • it is the manger who threatens who loses the most—the credibility to run the organization.

Beyond the direct effect of the threats, there is a ripple effect that is far worse—the seeding of a self-propagating culture of intimidation, i.e., I’ll do it to you because the person above does it to me [and I want to get even]. It kills creativity, innovation, motivation, caring, ownership, in fact, everything that it takes to compete in today’s economy.

The good news is that, as with most management practices, the choice of using or not using ultimatums, no matter the form, is yours, and yours alone.

For Bosses, No Such Thing as “Casual”

Monday, September 25th, 2006

Bosses can’t make casual comments because nothing is casual when it’s coming from “the boss.” In fact, “casual comment” in juxtaposition with “boss” is positively oxymoronic!

This is especially true when the boss in question is the CEO/president/owner. Quick story:

A CEO, who started as an engineer, casually remarked to a group of designers that he didn’t think the circuit design they were doing would work.

He said this while taking a shortcut though the department, and with no in-depth knowledge of the project or previous discussions. Just an off-the-cuff comment based on his own design experience—which was a couple of decades old.

The design group then told the engineering VP that they needed to rethink the entire design because the CEO had said it wouldn’t work.

The engineering VP first convinced her team that the design was fine and to go ahead (not an easy sell); she then told her boss (the CEO) to quit talking to the engineers and stay out of the department, since this wasn’t the first time this had happened.

The CEO agreed, although he couldn’t understand the problem, all he’d made was a casual comment. Obviously, he couldn’t know as much as the design team since he’s been out of engineering for many years and they should have understood that.

Stories such as this happen in every industry, every day. The unusual parts here are that, one, the VP said something and, two, the CEO actually listened.

The no casual comment rule applies at all levels in any company. If you have leverage, your comments carry weight to those below you—the more leverage, the more weight.

I hope bosses everywhere take this to heart, since few underlings are comfortable telling the person who can fire them to, essentially, shut up.

Closing the candidate

Friday, September 22nd, 2006

Joe M., President of a company in Virginia, called me yesterday. His company is doing a lot of recruiting and interviewing, but he said that their successful close rate with the candidates they wanted was too low. H asked if I had any ideas or suggestions. (Smart CEO, he already understood that hiring is akin to selling.)

I asked Joe how good his people were at asking the tough questions. Joe said that he wasn’t sure, but if I wouldn’t mind sharing them with him he would definitely follow up.

I had to laugh, because, as I told Joe, that’s the same question that new hires always asked us old-timers at the recruiting conferences I used to attend. The rookies, with notebooks in hand, were prepared to write down a long list—when, in fact, one sentence covers the subject:A tough question is any question to which you don’t want to hear the answer.

Simply stated, it means asking something that will bring a negative answer when you want a positive one and vice versa—in effect killing the deal.

Here are some sample tough questions and their potentially deal-killing answers:

  • Q: Does the project turn you on?
    A: Not particularly.
  • Q: Do you feel this is a good career move for you?
    A: Actually, I did something similar two years ago.
  • Q: What made you decide to interview with us?
    A: The headhunter said that you you’d take me out for a great lunch.
  • Q: Do you like our location?
    A: Well, it’s about an hour from where I live.
  • Q: How soon after accepting can you start?
    A: I’m in the middle of a project and would have to finish, and I’d like to take a couple of weeks off—say, about three or four months.
  • Q: What kind of compensation package do you want?
    A: Well, I just got a raise, a promotion, and a large stock grant and currently I have six weeks of vacation, and I’d like to improve on that.
  • Q: Our salary range goes to $80,000.
    A: Oh, I’m currently making 95 and have a review due in a couple of weeks.

The important thing to keep in mind about tough questions is that if the response is going to kill the deal you might as well do it sooner rather than later. It will kill the deal just as quickly after all the interviewing is done and an offer put together, but you will have wasted a lot more time.

Just as important, by getting these problems out in the open, often they can be solved. Your company may have policies in place already or the flexibility to address a certain problem creatively, but this can only happen if you know about it! Further, the discussion itself is valuable. You learn more about a person’s priorities, ethical structure, style, and personality when discussing difficulties, and solving them is the beginning of the bond that is the basis for the most productive relationships.

Top dogs shouldn’t be cowboys

Thursday, September 21st, 2006

One of the hardest things that growing companies face is the need to stop shooting from the hip.

I hear the reasons not to all the time, from startups, small biz, entrepreneurs, et al: It’ll ruin our culture. It stifles creativity. It’s for larger companies. It’s bureaucratic. It’s too time consuming.

“It” is the underpinnings of all successful companies. “It” includes the following in order of importance:

  • Financial controls that include
    • monthly statements of revenues by product;
    • discounts;
    • costs by department;
    • costs of goods sold;
    • inventory;
    • receivables aging;
    • stock issuance;
    • cash flow;
    • manufacturing yields;
    • hiring by department
  • Annual operating plan covering the above financial measures
  • Organization charts and definitions of responsibilities
  • Hiring process
  • Long-term planning
  • Centralized information technology implementation and planning

Whether it’s just you, or one, ten, fifty, or more employees, whether full time, part time or virtual, you need viable processes to keep you focused—think of it as coloring inside the lines.

Everything on this list can, and should, be scaled for applicability, but all are important to every business endeavor. Those that don’t directly apply may be tweaked, e.g., manufacturing yields can change to productivity measures; a very few, such as “stock issuance” may be completely discarded if the action is truly warranted.

Sure, they can’t all be implemented at once, but none of them will happen as long as your MAP rejects or begrudges them—after all, you’re the boss (CEO/president/managing partner/owner) and people will follow your lead.

Finally, don’t confuse process with bureaucracy. Process is like MAP, it gets you where you want to go, whereas bureaucracy can stifle whatever it touches; process, like MAP, is ever-growing, bureaucracy is carved in stone.

Internal company communications and Bletchley Park

Wednesday, September 20th, 2006

Back in 1998, when I left headhunting to start a company that coached managers on retention and hiring, ex client/retired CEO Al Negrin was the angel present at its [RampUp Solutions] founding. Since then, he’s served as Chairman and is an active contributor to PMC (and other products).

Since his retirement, in addition to RampUp, he plays golf (Tiger need not worry), takes Spanish classes, travels, and reads history (he’s a real history buff). He also occasionally sends really interesting comments stemming form something he’s read. Some are general, others specifically tie to RampUp’s MAP and I thought I would share them when apropos to this blog.

BTW, when he was working, Al frequently signed with his initials, when he retired he continued to do so, but changed them, he said, to reflect his new status. I leave it to the reader to figure them out.

“Miki, I recently finished the book Delusions of Intelligence: Enigma, Ultra, and the End of Secure Ciphers, R.A. Ratcliff, Cambridge University Press, 2006, on the famous British codebreaking center, Bletchely Park. During World War II, Bletchely Park was given credit for breaking the output of the famous German Enigma coding machine, and providing secret intelligence to help (some say to enable) the war to be won. This book concentrates more on strategic and organizational concerns (there have been many other books on the exact technical methods employed to break the German ciphers).

Bletchley Park was organized as we [RampUp Solutions] have suggested modern corporations ought to be—with wide dissemination of information and strong delegation of authority. The book offers the opinion that this, as much as the genius employed in cracking the codes, was responsible for the British success. Here’s some quotes from pages 229 – 230:

“The very organization structure and culture increased the probability of [British] success. The insistence that analysts see the big picture fostered cooperation and collaboration. Section heads encouraged the flow of information across service lines . . . They offered everyone a view of how their own work fitted into the big picture and solicited from everyone suggestions for improvement . . .

“Along with knowing one’s position in the big picture came considerable autonomy. Although their financial allocations and external operations did require official approval, the [staff] pursued their attack on enemy codes as they saw fit. [Problems were] defined broadly and staff were given considerable leeway in the attempts at solution . . .

“A remarkable amount of autonomy filtered down even to the lowest ranks . . . [Bletchely’s management] encouraged everyone . . . to collaborate and brainstorm ideas for improvement. Initiative was assumed. This diffusion of autonomy and information produced powerful results. Not just cryptanalysts but log readers learned to [search for clues]. Young recruits produced remarkable solutions and innovations came from unexpected quarters.

“Bletchley Park and its success of World War II have become ideals and models for today’s cryptologic agencies.”

One wonders what it is that prevents so many companies from pursuing something that so obviously worked very well at Bletchley Park—in fact something that worked so well it is often referred to as one of the crowning achievements in human organization and effort. One wonders, why, instead of harnessing the power of informed and motivated employees, today’s management so often keeps employees in the dark and vigorously pursues and punishes any show of initiative.

— OF”

Quality not equal for all tasks

Tuesday, September 19th, 2006

Another interesting “how much is too much” insight for managers looking to increase productivity; who are struggling with workloads that are slightly larger than one person, but a long way from being two; or just not in a position to raise headcount.

Consider the quality needed for each task. That doesn’t mean to accept shoddy work, but it does recognize that the quality level required for external work, i.e., for customers, or when doing the financials, may be different from what’s needed for internal work, i.e., the oil that keeps the internal wheels from squeaking,

Think of quality on a scale of one to ten, with ten being best. Obviously, external work and financials rate a ten, or very close to that; but does an internal company newsletter need to be a ten or is seven acceptable?

There are dozens of tasks that people at all levels perform that don’t really require a ten, yet good people drive themselves, and those around them, do everything at the best level. Doing a task at level X that really only requires level Y wastes precious time and resources—the cumulative total in the course of a year is enormous.

The first, and most important, step in redefining the “in quality” approach by task is communicating the idea. You want to

  • clearly explain what it means;
  • why you believe it will make people’s lives easier; and
  • have an open discussion about it with your people (first your direct reports, then everybody), whether that’s a department or the entire company.

Once the concept is clear in everyone’s mind, have them

  • sort their work using a “required quality” tag (RQT) numbered from one to ten; then
  • discuss the results
    • first with their manager to refine them; then within
    • each department; and then within
    • the entire company, refining the tags at each level.

This is necessary because you need to be sure that everyone’s expectations are the same.

Managers need to adjust the RQT for each individual, since what one person may consider a six, another might see as a five.

It’s a good idea to have people note the RQT on the work in writing when handing it off to avoid confusion.

You know that there is always some confusion when implementing a new process, so the more communication the better!

How right is “right?”

Monday, September 18th, 2006

I mentioned last Friday that I had to fix my leaking garage door and doing it brought an interesting, applicable train of thought.

First, some quick background. I bought this house in March 2003 and learned that winter that when it rained water came under the roll-up door—lots of water. While I’ve always been a jerry-rigger, especially fixing stuff around my home, I thought I would do this “right.” Well, as of Friday, I’d spent around a thousand dollars on drywells, barriers, etc. and was still getting water under the door. So I went back to jerry-rigging using a clear, vinyl shower curtain, tape, and a few bricks. (A major rain squall just came through and no water under the door.)

This got me to thinking, how much is too much? How “right” does a fix need to be? How “fixed” does a challenge/problem need to be to count as solved? Every day you face a myriad of challenges, any number of which may upgrade (downgrade?) to the status of problem in the blink of an eye, so this isn’t a casual question. What do you do?

All managers have their own routine for evaluating and deciding on corrections and fixes, and I’m not suggesting that you change yours. I am suggesting that you give thought to what end results that you really need in order to avoid overkill in your decisions.

In other words: Does it need to be “right” on some cosmic yardstick—or does it just need to work.

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