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Archive for December, 2006

Rules for Managing

Friday, December 29th, 2006

Management has always been a difficult topic to wrap your arms around. The available information is lengthy, involved, and often contradictory.

After conversations with hundreds of CEOs, executives and managers, RampUp developed a set of basic rules for managing. They are my gift to you and if you do nothing else but follow these rules this coming year, I guarantee that you’ll improve your productivity and retention.

Finally, I want wish each of you health, wealth, success and happiness throughout 2007. May your dreams come true and may you see the magic happening all around you.

Have a safe and wonderful New Year,


The Top Five Things To Remember If You’re A CEO

1. Foremost, you are guardian of the big picture. You must clearly identify the goals of the company, then work with your people to turn them into specifics. Get their buy-in by making sure they understand how their goals, the company’s, and others’ interact. The biggest rewards at all levels should go to those who understand the company’s goals, and ethically do whatever is necessary to achieve them—especially when it takes precedence over their personal goals.

2. You set the tone of the organization. If you’re political, secretive, nitpicking, or querulous, that is how your organization will be. No matter what—your people will do as you do, not as you say.

3. People produce best if they know, and help determine, the range of their control. (I call it Management by Box) Their decisions inside the box are final, decisions outside it require approval. Through discussion of their performance, the box will grow or shrink. Your company’s strength will increase in direct

proportion to your people’s growth, so make their boxes as big as possible.

4. Never criticize an employee in the presence of others. Praise in public, criticize in private.

5. Every successful company must have a competitive edge. Enhance your people’s ability to do their jobs by clearly defining and communicating what it is.

Five Golden Rules For Managers

1. The day you decided to be a manager you chose to be judged by the accomplishments of your group instead of your own. Even if you work hands-on or 24-hours a day, your own work can’t offset a poorly performing group. You will excel further and faster if you improve communications, enhance motivation, strengthen staffing, and encourage training.

2. Be the manager you always wanted! Assign valid tasks— be sure of the need, think it through, and supply all the necessary information. Admit your mistakes. Praise in public— criticize in private. Encourage and take pride in your people’s growth. Don’t block promotions. Hire the best. Be approachable.

3. You’re the boss, the one in charge. Keep your cool. Shut your mouth when you lose your temper. Assess the situation—then be angry, reserved, or whatever you think is needed.

4. People produce best if they know, and help determine, the range of their control (I call it Management by Box) Their decisions inside the box are final, decisions outside it require approval. Through discussion of their performance, the box will grow or shrink. To encourage growth, always make their box as big as possible.

5. Want to get promoted? Then understand your boss’ job. Ask yourself: “Why did she do that?” “What can I learn from his decision?” “What would I have done differently?” Later ask, “Would my way have worked?”

Solving stubborn problems

Wednesday, December 27th, 2006

Christmas is over the final push to organize for the new year is upon us. CEOs are finalizing revenue, and non-revenue, goals and putting the finishing touches on next year’s operating plan, in order to achieve them. They’ve spent time analyzing this year’s achievements, misses and errors, and their plans for the new year include ways to turn around negative situations and mitigate possible flaws.

How do you identify the less-than-obvious sources of difficulties, particularly those that are long standing and not responsive to previous efforts?

Too often, those sources involve core infrastructure, approaches and cherished beliefs stemming directly from the CEO or senior staff.


  • the CEO who ignored the growing political infighting between his engineering and marketing VPs that was polarizing their departments. Because he, himself, was completely nonpolitical he didn’t actively intervene, believing that they would stop when their manipulations had no effect on him.


  • the company that was seeking substantial revenue growth by increasing its sales force. The pattern of all sales hires was to generate a small number of sales, but ultimately fail—resulting in 100% annual turnover. Because the senior sales executive believed she was good at hiring and reference checking, and utilized a training and support system in which she had complete faith, she refused to consider those areas when analyzing why no one was succeeding.

The solutions to both these scenarios seem obvious, but when it’s actually happening it’s not nearly so clear. Company size and dynamics play a huge role, and, even though advisors, peers and subordinates recognize the problem, it may be difficult for them to say anything that will actually sway the situation.

One practice that does help is a constant reassessment that allows no sacred cows, whether they are part of the company or your/your managers’ individual MAP.

It’s not about neat, it’s about control

Tuesday, December 26th, 2006

When did it happen? The idea that neat and tidy was the only way to go.

It probably started the minimalist movement, increased as organizing became a full time profession, and was seriously enhanced with the embracing of Feng Shui.

Minimalist is fine—if you have a minimalist mindset. But if your mindset is Baroque, like mine, minimalist will drive you crazy—and vice versa.

For years I’ve tried to organize my office/work space the way “everyone” kept telling me it should be done, i.e., the only thing on your desk is that on which you’re currently working; put each thing away as you finish with it, etc. It never worked, because that’s not my mindset—for me, out-of-site is out-of-mind.

On top of that, I love stuff and own a lot of it (stuff is fine as long as you own it and it doesn’t own you).

The result of my mindset meant listening to every boss I had tell me how much more productive I’d be if I organized my work space and eliminated the clutter; and to my friends telling me how much happier I would be if I got rid of my stuff.

They believed it would work for me because it worked for them, but it didn’t. In the office it depressed me and ruined my productivity; personally, it cost me things that, years later, I still regret giving up because of someone elses perception that it was clutter.

Eventually, I made myself strong enough to stand up to the bosses who bugged me about my “messy” desk—I’d quote Albert Einstein at them, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk?” It’s been far more difficult to ignore my friends’ get-rid-of-it helpfulness.

Then, on December 21st, I was vindicated in an article on the anti-anticlutter movement, wherein, Jerrold Pollak, a neuropsychologist at Seacoast Mental Health Center in Portsmouth, N.H., whose work involves helping people tolerate the inherent disorder in their lives, says “Total organization is a futile attempt to deny and control the unpredictability of life.”

Make no mistake about it, it’s definitely a control issue, especially in the workplace. No matter how it’s dressed up—from impressing clients to Feng Shui energy flow—it’s really about the boss’ my-way-or-the-highway MAP.

So, if you truly want to goose innovation and productivity this coming year, instead of upping your turnover, whether you’re a neat freak or a slob, you need to stop forcing your mindset onto the organization and, instead, embrace the differences in your people while encouraging them to be themselves.

And if your receptionist has papers on her desk, remember the words of David H. Freedman, co-author of A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder, “Almost anything looks pretty neat if it’s shuffled into a pile.”

Holiday wisdom

Friday, December 22nd, 2006

In honor of all the holidays that are celebrated in December and January I thought I’d dispense some needed words of wisdom, so I looked through my wisdom file and found some that I thought would be the most use over this Christmas weekend and the next few weeks.

The Truth About Chocolate

1. Chocolate is a Vegetable: Chocolate is derived from cocoa beans. Bean = vegetable.

2. Sugar is derived from either sugar CANE or sugar BEETS. Both are plants, which places them in the vegetable category. Thus, chocolate is a vegetable.

3. To go one step further, chocolate candy bars also contain milk, which is dairy. So candy bars are a health food.

4. Chocolate-covered raisins, cherries, orange slices and strawberries all count as fruit, so eat as many as you want.

5. If you’ve got melted chocolate all over your hands, you’re eating it too slowly.

6. The problem: How to get 2 pounds of chocolate home from the store in a hot car. The solution: Eat it in the parking lot.

7. Diet tip: Eat a chocolate bar before each meal. It’ll take the edge off your appetite, and you’ll eat less.

8. If I eat equal amounts of dark chocolate and white chocolate, is that a balanced diet? Don’t they actually counteract each other?

9. Chocolate has many preservatives. Preservatives make you look younger.

10. Put ‘eat chocolate‘ at the top of your list of things to do today. That way, at least you’ll get one thing done.

11. A nice box of chocolates can provide your total daily intake of calories in one place. Now, isn’t that handy?

12. If not for chocolate, there would be no need for control top pantyhose. An entire garment industry would be devastated. You can’t let that happen, can you?

REMEMBER: ‘Stressed’ spelled backward is ‘desserts’

Have a wonderful holiday—in whatever way that makes you most happy.

It’s what your people do, not when, where or how that matters

Thursday, December 21st, 2006

Company culture is a reflection of the MAP (mindset, attitude, philosophy™) of the CEO, or the founding team in a startup. It typically isn’t a product of HR, and it certainly isn’t created and implemented by a couple of HR types in stealth mode—until now.

But that’s just what’s been happening at giant Best Buy since 2003.

The program is called ROWE (results-only work environment) and was conceived of, and developed by, HR mangers Jody Thompson and Cali Ressler, who recognized that the main thing that “presence” and “productivity” have in common is that they both start with a “p.”

Since the idea of telecommuting surfaced, nearly 25 years ago, there has always been tremendous resistance by managers, based in fear, to the idea that people can be productive outside of the boss’ sight. This is well summed up by the attitude of the general manager of BestBuy.com, senior vice-president J. T. Thompson, “who was privately terrified about the loss of control” when he first heard about ROWE. The difference is that Thompson dealt with his fear, took the risk, and is reaping the reward.

How big a reward? “Best Buy notes that productivity is up an average 35% in departments that have switched to ROWE. Employee engagement, which measures employee satisfaction and is often a barometer for retention, is way up too, according to the Gallup Organization, which audits corporate cultures.”

In fact, ROWE is a subculture, possible only because of the overall culture fostered by CEO Brad Anderson, who encourages “bottom-up, stealth innovation.” Anderson and his team believe in ROWE so much that “they have formed a subsidiary called CultureRx, to help other companies go clockless.”

If you want, or are developing, a remote work function in your own company, remember that you can adopt best practices, tweak them for your company, announce and promote them, but if your MAP doesn’t support them the results will range from blah to dismal.

To avoid that, first answer these questions

  • Can you deal with the fear of letting go/loss of control?
  • Is your self esteem tied to the visible number of your reports or to what they accomplish?
  • Do you believe that what’s important is that the work gets done well, not where or how it happens?
  • Do you equate visible body count to your power within the company.
  • Do you believe that people are intelligent, motivated and really care about their company’s success, OR that they are stupid, lazy, don’t care and that you need to watch them every minute if anything is going to get done?
  • Being brutally honest with yourself—How much of a micromanager are you?

Next, modify your MAP as desired. However, when considering the rest of the management team, remember that although MAP can be changed, those changes must originate internally and can’t be forced on someone else.

Then lay out your plan and go for it!

Four rules for a hot hiring edge

Friday, December 15th, 2006

Can you, as a start-up or small company, compete for people in today’s overheated labor market?


Best of all, it won’t cost you more dollars or time—it actually saves on both—and significantly improves your retention rate. ,

To compete, you need to implement RampUp’s four basic hiring rules:

  1. Complete Req Rule,
  2. Minimum Hiring Rule,
  3. 70% Rule, and
  4. Five-to-Seven Rule

described, including real-life examples, below.

1. Complete Req Rule Too often managers “figure out” what they are looking for through interviewing trial and error. Writing a viable req provides you with better screened candidates to interview and helps you identify all the neat things you have to sell. Finally, to guarantee success (yours, the candidate’s, the team’s, and the company’s), remember: You are not hiring a skill-set suspended in time and space or a cyborg that can be reprogrammed if needs be; you are hiring a living, breathing human being with all the pluses and minuses that entails. Once you know the process involved in writing a good, i.e., fillable, req and adhere to it, you will find that the entire hiring process becomes easier and faster. Here’s what you need to know:

The 12 ingredients of a fillable req

Company culture — If you are not conscious of, or don’t understand in depth, your company’s culture, it will be difficult to use the information as a selling tool during the interview.

2. Management style — Whatever your management style, it is critical to accurately describe and discuss it with a candidate. If your style turns off that specific candidate, then you are ahead—you found out before hiring.

3. Job description — This is a comprehensive description of what the job entails

4. Responsibilities — This is a detailed explanation of what is required of the person in the position.

5. Team synergy — Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of the other people on the team allows you to define the new position in a way that will best complement and strengthen your team

6. Department interaction — People no longer work in a vacuum. You need to evaluate your department’s culture and be aware of the personal characteristics of your people.

7. Interdepartmental interaction — In today’s environment, no department can successfully function completely on its own; you must know how the interactions affect the position and to have agreement among all managers, direct and matrixed, as to the skills and personality needed.

8. Other managers/people to interview — For whatever reason these people are included, they must understand exactly what is in the req or they will be unable to contribute effectively to the project.

9. Trade-offs — There are trade-offs in any req and it is important to think them through ahead of time. The most fillable req is the one with the fewest absolutes.

10. Reality check — A good yardstick in assessing your req is whether you yourself would have wanted the job (making allowances for the difference between then and today) at the corresponding point in your own career.

11. Experience — The reason this is last on the list—instead of number one where most managers put it—is that knowing all of the prior information allows you to be both more specific about the experience needed as well as more creative about how to get it.

12. Minimum needs — The final and most crucial point, not only in the req but also in all of hiring: What are the absolute minimum requirements, from skills to personality, needed for the job? Boil down all your previous work and, since hiring should involve more than one interviewing manager, be sure that all of them are in agreement on the minimum acceptable experience and skill level for the position.

2. Minimum Hiring Rule: Hire the first person you interview who meets your minimum requirements. Short and to the point, there’s no hidden agenda and it’s not open to interpretation. It does require that you should put significant thought into number 12 of the req.

3. 70% Rule: You should be 70% sure that you want the candidate should be 70% sure that they want you before the first on-site interview happens.

To accomplish this it’s important to remember that interviewing doesn’t mean eyeball-to-eyeball. Your interviewing team can use in-depth phone interviews to make sure that you never invite candidates in to interview who don’t meet all your minimum hiring requirements—they won’t grow new skills between the time you set up the interview and the time it happens. If a critical interviewer is traveling, use additional phone interviews rather than lose the candidate by waiting.

The team had identified a potentially hot candidate but was unsure whether certain esoteric minimum skills wanted by the Joe, the CTO, were present. Bringing Katy in wouldn’t help because Joe was traveling; they couldn’t wait because she was interviewing with another company and due to get an offer. After explaining their concern to Katy they arranged an on-site interview for Thursday conditional on a phone interview with Joe Wednesday night. They the web to mimic Joe’s normal whiteboard interview style. The interview results were positive on both sides. By then the team was pretty sure they wanted her and Katy was so excited she brought her references with her on Thursday. The in-person interview confirmed what the team had felt—Katy was the right choice. By the end of Friday the references were checked, an offer was extended and it was accepted on the spot.

4. Five-to-Seven Rule: From first contact through resolution takes no more than five-to-seven business days (less is better).

Impressive doesn’t mean expensive. Speed is the most impressive action you can use to affect candidates’ decisions. People hate not knowing. They hate waiting. They hate bureaucracy. Create a hiring process in which all screening, interviewing (including multiple phone interviews), negotiating, reference checking, etc. gets done in five-to-seven working days and you will run rings around your competition.

Tracy had gone through three rounds of interviews when he read about a start-up that sounded interesting. He emailed his resume and was surprised when Jody, the CEO, called him back almost immediately and said they would like to interview him. Tracy was willing but leveled with Jody that he was due to get an offer from the other company that week so there wasn’t much time. Jody said fine and was he free to talk? Their conversation lasted about 40 minutes and Jody asked Tracy if he could talk to Kent, the engineering VP. Tracy said sure. Jody put him on hold, and a minute later Kent came on the line. That conversation lasted 30 minutes, and Kent asked if Tracey still had time. Fascinated, Tracey said yes. Over the next hour and a half Tracey talked to the team leader and two other engineers, then he was transferred back to Jody. She asked him if he could interview that evening around six and would he mind sending his references immediately. Still more amazed Tracey said he would be there and set the email. That evening Tracey interviewed with two other managers as well as all the people he had talked with earlier, then found himself back in Jody’s office. He waited nearly 10 minutes before Jody came back. She apologized but said she had wanted to get feedback from the others before seeing him. Based on the feedback she had gotten after the phone interviews Jody had already checked his references and now everybody had confirmed that they wanted him so she would like to work out an acceptable offer before he left if he didn’t mind staying a little longer. The offer was cut and Tracey accepted on the spot, saying that any company that could move that fast was where he wanted to be.

Staffing is a science—just like engineering—that can be learned. When competing head-to-head for people in any labor market, let alone a hot one, you need to use every advantage possible. Many managers see staffing as a chore and perform it grudgingly. By treating it as a chance to shine—taking time to think through your reqs, streamlining your hiring process and becoming a speed demon—you create an environment that attracts the best people at all levels.

Men Want A Life, Too

Thursday, December 14th, 2006

I’ve another disagreement with a comment in Business Week’s The Welch Way column, written by Jack and Suzy Welch. In response to a question about work/life balance they say that they think that work-life choices is a more accurate term. They say that “balance” is a personal choice and doesn’t necessarily mean a 50-50 split between personal and professional.

Great, I’m in total agreement.

Then they took what, to me, was a giant step backwards and said, “That said, we do acknowledge that work-life balance is usually a much harder goal for women with children. For them, there is about a 15-year period in their careers in which the choices they make are not about what they want from life professionally and personally but about what is right for their kids. It can be a fraught time, since choices and consequences are more complex. That, however, is a topic for another column.”

This statement seems to say that men aren’t facing the same choices.

Interesting, since all my reading says that men are increasingly looking for the same thing, “The New Workforce Reality, a study by the Simmons School of Management in Boston and Bright Horizons Family Solutions Inc. reports that 95 percent of more than 2,000 adults surveyed across the country say that life outside of work is just as important as–or even more important than–their work. There were no statistically significant differences in priorities between men and women, researchers found.”

In medicine, men, as well as women, are choosing their specialty based on having a controllable lifestyle.

Wall Street is known for its grueling 70+ hour weeks, yet “A majority of women (57%) said they don’t want to work at this pace for more than another year; 48% of men agreed.”

If doctors are choosing their specialty to avoid long hours, and nearly half of the men on Wall Street aren’t willing to sacrifice their lives to work, then it’s pretty certain that that similar numbers of men feel the same way—and their numbers will only increase in the future.

It will be companies that recognize that today’s workers, both men and women, have similar desires, face similar choices and hurdles regarding their work and personal lives, and succeed in building the solutions into their culture, that will in a position to hire, retain and thrive in coming decades.

CEO success sans ego

Wednesday, December 13th, 2006

Want bottom-line proof that changing culture pays? How about nearly doubling the stock price in 12 months and a 387% return to shareholders over the past five years?

That’s what Dan DiMicco accomplished through hard work, including major cultural changes, at Nucor. He was cited in Business Week’s Best & Worst of 2006 – Leaders as quoted here,

“Good luck trying to give Dan DiMicco a compliment. True, the 56-year-old CEO of steel giant Nucor should have every reason to crow these days. Nucor’s stock is up 95% in the past 12 months thanks to hot steel demand, high-grade profitability, and well-performing acquisitions. In the first nine months of 2006 the company earned more–$1.35 billion on $11.3 billion of sales–than it did in all of 2005. And 2005 itself had been a record year. But steel is a cyclical business, and DiMicco is not interested in dwelling on past achievements. He would rather worry about the possible problems to come. “What I get paid for is not looking at yesterday, but looking at the future,” he says. DiMicco’s biggest concern: Beijing’s subsidizing of its own steel industry. The 23-year Nucor veteran, who has been boss for the past six, is more than happy, though, to dole out praise to all those he calls his teammates. Even as Nucor has grown to 11,600 employees (only 66 of them in the Charlotte headquarters), DiMicco has continued the practice of putting everyone’s name on the front and, now, the back covers of the company’s annual report.”

To learn more about Nucor’s enlightened approach to motivation, culture, and compensation be sure to read the profile written last May.

Awesome! Congratulations, Dan!

The value of school

Tuesday, December 12th, 2006

There’s lots of hiring going on and I’m getting lots of calls about it, so I thought I’d post responses to some of the more uncommon questions.

One question that’s surfacing frequently, in various forms, boils down to, “What’s the real value of a college education?”

The answer is that it depends on when it happened, i.e., how long ago—not what most people want to hear.

The best CEOs and managers with whom I’ve worked say that the value diminishes roughly 20% a year, so that at the end of five years it has little meaning when evaluating a candidates skills and abilities.

By that time, the question of what they can do for you should be based on what they’ve already accomplished for someone else, not the renown of their alma mater, or the GPA they carried. We’ve all known people whose career pinnacle was graduating from a name-brand school (whether under-grad or graduate degree(s)), not what they did afterward.

Education is of the most value when it’s freshest, because

  • the technical aspects (software, engineering, finance, chemistry, marketing or some other field) are most relevant;
  • how to learn and where to find information, two of the most important skills acquired, are freshest; and
  • graduating is proof of tenacity, self-discipline, and other positive character traits.
  • Hand in glove with the above question is, “Can experience can really offset formal education?”

Look around at past and current leaders and you’ll see that the answer to this one is a resounding, “Yes!”

And it’s more true today, when it’s difficult to even get in the door without a sheepskin, than is was in the past.

With or without a degree, look at

  • the quality of your candidates;
  • what they’ve already accomplished, at work, personally, professionally, and academically; and
  • what you want them to do

then hire the person who is most likely to accomplish your mission.

You always want to hire the right person, at the right time, and for the right reasons, one of which may be schooling—or not.

Call center culture is (finally) changing

Monday, December 11th, 2006

I’ve said for a long time now, that there are only two things that really send me ballistic. One is my computer when it doesn’t do what I want, but goes merrily along doing what it wants; the other is having to call an 800 support line.

Sure, there are a few I use that are terrific, but most send me screaming into the night—and that’s before I manage to reach a live person.

It’s slow, but, at last, call center culture is moving from equating performance with burning through as many calls as possible to focusing on actually solving the caller’s problem on the first call.

Wow! How’s that for a direct-to-the-bottom-line approach. Maybe all those studies showing that it costs far more to acquire customers than it does to retain them is finally sinking in. Just proves once more that VSI is the best motivator—for companies as well as individuals.

The downside (you knew there was a downside) is that callers (you and me) are supposed to jump through all the automated hoops, since this supposedly gets you to a specialist. That might work once I know that the merchant I’m calling is one of the converted, but, unfortunately, that can’t be assumed since solvers are still a minority.

So I’ll still look to bypass the system—at least until I have an experience that proves that it’s worth working within it.

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