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Archive for May, 2007

A question about cultural teeth

Thursday, May 17th, 2007

A CEO called after yesterday’s post to say that she appreciated it because she is actively working on her company’s corporate culture. She said that although she thought that she understood what constituted policy IBBs, she wasn’t as sure about the specifics of philosophy and attitude/style. Actually, she knew exactly what she wanted there, just wasn’t sure how to phrase them, so I went through our list—

Philosophy IBBs

  • Fairness
  • Open communications
  • Business 101
  • No surprises
  • Pragmatism

Attitude/style IBBs

  • Manager vigilance
  • Management-by-walking-around
  • Open-door

And for good measure, I added our Policy IBBs

  • Mission Statement (business and cultural)
  • Hiring process
  • Stock bonus plan (or similar)
  • Sales incentives
  • Reviews
  • Surveys

I went on to say that by mixing these broad concepts with plenty of common sense, she could create a culture that, while avoiding the pitfalls, would encourage the strongest and broadest growth in her people.

Much of this blog is written around these IBBs, e.g., Reviews, so they make excellent search terms, both here and in the broader context.

Sustaining culture

Wednesday, May 16th, 2007

I had a call this morning about Cultural teeth from the CEO of a two-year-old company. He was looking for a way to define the teeth that would sustain his company’s culture, because he already saw it slipping away. He wanted a term, something that would act as bullets in a conversation and would also work when written.

I suggested he use the same term I use—Infrastructure Building Block or IBB.

I explained that IBBs must be implemented from the top, and then supported by the senior staff on down, but what he needed to keep uppermost in his mind was to lead by example. Managers are people and people do as you do, not as you say.

IBBs fall in three categories: philosophy, attitude/style, and policy—involving process, so use it with a light hand to avoid it turning into bureaucracy.

I also suggested that he concentrate on eliminating whatever negatives he’s noticed.

Interestingly, when a company actively eliminates negatives, positives rush in to fill the void. Even better, by concentrating on eliminating negatives you create a flexible framework so that your culture can grow and change as your company grows and changes.

But to eliminate negatives takes more than lip-service. It’s not enough for the CEO to say, “I hate politics!” to eliminate politics. It is necessary to have infrastructure in place that short-circuits politics at its inception—not at some future time when it’s well entrenched and causing havoc.

In other words, IBBs.

How wired are you?

Tuesday, May 15th, 2007

I’ve written in the past about the benefits of unplugging from the wired world. I, along with most of the people I know, believe the media stories about the rise of the Internet/technology, in spite of other stories such as, Why The Web Is Hitting A Wall (Business Week, March 2006).

But an article about a new survey by the Pew Research Center really drives home the point. Here it is in it’s entirety.

Are you an Internet “omnivore” or merely a “connector”?
A surprising new survey by the Pew Research Center found that half of Americans log on only occasionally — and even many avid Internet users are content to surf the Web the same way they did 10 years ago.

That’s not what researchers were expecting.

Reality versus hype
“We were struck by a couple of things in the survey,” says Lee Rainie,director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

For starters, only 8 percent of respondents are what Pew calls technology“omnivores,” or people who express themselves creatively online — whether by blogging, uploadsing homemade videos or helping others build Web sites.
These are people who tend to keep their cell phones on all the time and look at media on gadgets other than their TV or computer — and 8 percent “is a surprisingly low number” given all the business hype there has been about user-generated content, he says.

By the numbers
Behind the omnivores are:
“Connectors,” at 7 percent, who see the Internet and cell phones as communication tools and might use their gadgets more if they were easier to use.
“Lackluster veterans,” at 8 percent, who use technology but the thrill is gone. They are content to surf the ‘Net and send e-mails, but show little interest in using the Web to express themselves or in adopting mobile media.
“Productivity enhancers,” at 8 percent, who mostly use technology to keep up with their jobs and day-to-day life. For them, the blogosphere is just not important.

The bottom two-thirds

The next 20 percent are middle-of-the-road tech users, many of whom find connectivity to be intrusive, Pew found.
And then, a whopping 49 percent are “not weaving Internet use into their daily life,” Rainie says. These include people who don’t check their e-mail every day– or aren’t online at all.

What it means

The implications for technology providers are far-reaching. For starters,gadgets need to be easier to use, Rainie says. Also, many Web users are looking for help in navigating the ever-larger pool of information — or they may start feeling even more overloaded.


The telephone survey of 4,001 adults has a margin of error of plus or minus2 percentage points.
Where do you fit in the tech spectrum? Take Pew’s quiz at: http://www.pewinternet.org/quiz/
Stephanie Hoo, Associated Press writer

I took the quiz, but found that it didn’t allow for the idea of what I call “use under protest,” i.e., using the Net the same way I drive a car—out of necessity and ignoring it the rest of the time. I don’t find that overwhelming, but the two choices are “Feel overloaded” and “Like having so much information available” and neither fits at all.

I don’t think that I’m the only one who feels this way, and it’s nice to know that “everybody is wired, but me” isn’t true, I have lots of company in spite my functioning among a pack of omnivores.

What about you? Go ahead. Take the quiz and then decide, first, if it fits, and second, if that’s where you want to be.

Evaluate or judge, that is the question

Monday, May 14th, 2007

No matter your corporate culture, you want to lead a group that is turned on, productive and happy.

One item to check is whether you evaluate or judge. Their meanings may seem similar, but they aren’t—especially in terms of emotional impact.

What you need is a quick and easy way to check and here it is,

Carefully watch people’s body language (or voice tone) when you’re giving feedback.

If you’re truly evaluating, the tone of your comments will feel positive—even if the content isn’t—and they’ll respond accordingly with

  • head up and eyes focused on you,
  • shoulders erect,
  • listening intently,
  • displaying eagerness.

But if you’re judging (intentionally or not), the body language will be much different, with

  • head lowered and eyes downcast
  • shoulders slumped,
  • listening resignedly,
  • displaying dejection

Some people have been beaten down for so long that they’ve learned to fake their obvious reactions, but the dejection will still show when they turn and walk away.

If you see the former, great, but if it’s the latter then it’s time for a MAP adjustment—your MAP.

Don’t kid yourself that your people are “misreading you” or that you’re “doing it for their own good.”

Get it through your head once and for all that your people aren’t dumb. In fact, they’re so smart that they’re willing to help you change and are working on it right now—by dusting off their resumes and finding managers who know the difference between evaluating and judging.

In business, anything goes—except sex

Friday, May 11th, 2007

Sex. The one word guaranteed to get people’s attention. Sex is used, directly or indirectly, to sell almost everything, even marriage; it swirls through all forms of entertainment and is the basis of most celebrity watching and general gossip.

But in the business world, sex is cause for firing, especially in the executive suite—unlike poor performance, financial shenanigans, outright lies and other ethical lapses.

I was reminded of just how blatantly true this while reading an opinion piece by Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, senior associate dean at the Yale School Of Management, and co-author of Firing Back: How Great Leaders Rebound from Career Disasters.

It centers on the firing of BP’s Lord John Browne for his life style choices, whereas his previous ethical failings were ignored—even though people died as a result of them.

Why is it that so many Boards tolerate all kinds of scandals—but are quick to terminate the minute that sex rears its ugly(?) head?

As I once said when this subject came up, you can safely diddle a what, but you’re in big trouble if you diddle a who.

Have a wonderful weekend and, to all those celebrating Mother’s Day, my best wishes to the mom(s) in your life!

Is it age, or is it insecurity?

Thursday, May 10th, 2007

Cultural changes come and go, whether driven by technology or the guru du jour, and are often resisted by incumbent management. Janet Lee Johnson, cites Dion Hinchcliffe’s post at ZDNet, and comments on the resistance she’s personally seen to incorporating Web 2.0 and its impact on corporate culture—both see it as a generational problem (management is over 40).

I don’t think it’s an age thing, I think it’s about power and insecurity.

In any company, there is only one true source of power and that’s control.

And the only two things worth controlling are money and information.

It’s obvious that anyone who controls money has power, whereas information control power is more subtle.

However, when seen in action, there is little question that there are people who control the flow of information as a powerbase within their organization, whether or not they are managers. These people believe that not sharing information

  • strengthens their political muscle,
  • makes their position more secure, or
  • allows them to evade responsibility for decisions.

Insecurity shows up when we’re young and often continues with us through our adulthood, what changes is our skill at either mastering or hiding it.

Insecurity is usually why managers

  • hire weaker candidates, instead of people smarter than themselves;
  • don’t like distance working; and
  • aren’t big on empowering their people.

Sure, wikis, blogs, social networks, and other collaborative software may scare workers who aren’t tech-oriented, but many people consider having to write a cohesive, dynamic white paper or make a crucial presentation to their company’s biggest customer just as scary. Fear of needing to learn something new is intergenerational and depends more on what you’re good at than on your age—I think all of us fear looking silly or dumb.

If you look at companies with innovative cultures, you’ll see that they are open, empowering, share information, never kill the messenger—and contain dozens/hundreds/thousands of people over 40.

What they have in common are CEOs whose MAP is in tune with these values and who use technology to support and enhance the culture they’re building.

Feedback on (not) firing

Wednesday, May 9th, 2007

On April 17, I commented on the ongoing feedback/review responsibility managers had if they were going to avoid the scenarios described in a BW cover story.

In the follow-up, (see all the comments) some comments cited the need for employee access to the courts, which I don’t dispute; but many of the comments them were from the colleagues of non/underperformers.

These are the people who really bear the brunt of the difficulties and extra work created when poorly performing employees are retained out of fear [of the legal repercussions of firing them]—a problem fostered by lazy, incompetent, ignorant, insecure, or confrontation-phobic managers, in not providing frequent, honest, accurate feedback and the regularly scheduled, written performance reviews needed for professional growth and, incidentally, that create an accurate work history.

The key word is accurate, since any review, or no review, but continued employment, creates a work history. The difference is whether it supports

  • the company’s contention that the person’s performance is unacceptable; or
  • the employee’s contention of wrongful termination.

Two other comments that caught my eye keyed on the differences between workers and execs.

“Twenty years ago, an underperformer could be fired—end of story. Today that same underperformer has reason to believe that he, too, is entitled to be rewarded on the way out, just as the worst CEOs are rewarded on their way out.
There is no difference between the underperforming slob at the bottom [and] the underperforming slob at the top except that the guy at the top doesn’t need the legal system. He has already been rewarded handsomely for his shortcomings”.
G. Placencia
Chino Hills, Calif.

You mention briefly that laws are in place to protect workers from illegal firings. I compare this to our justice system. It’s not perfect, [but] it’s the best we have. For all the underperformers who file frivolous lawsuits, there are those with legitimate grievances and valid lawsuits. I also wonder why I’ve never heard of a CEO filing such lawsuits. Oh, yes—probably because they have protections that pay them tens of millions whether they perform or not”.
James Eustis
Panama City, Fla

How true. Check out the links in How to succeed in business without really performing if you have any doubts.

Communications must transcend everything

Tuesday, May 8th, 2007

Anyone who listens to the news, reads newspapers or magazines, surfs the web, or talks to another person who does, knows that (for better or worse, depending upon who you ask) there is a power shift happening between companies and their customers.

No longer do customers suffer difficulties, whether real, imagined, or made up, in silence. As a result, today’s customer service stars know, and others are learning, that they need to communicate clearly and accurately if they want to succeed.

They should also realize that commitment to this level of communication transcends crises, management changes and acquisitions.

Since this revolution was fostered by and on the web, one would expect businesses that owe their actual existence to the web would understand this better than anyone else—especially LinkedIn, a true child of the web.

Often, when I go to see something specific at LinkedIn, I cruise around to see what’s new and interesting.

Just to be very clear, I am a casual user of LinkedIn and not particularly knowledgeable. However, my friends, who are heavy users, have always raved about LinkedIn’s communications with its community, so, you can imagine my surprise when I saw Vincent Wright’s open letter to LinkedIn’s management.

Hmm. I got Vince on the phone (I knew of him from LinkedInBloggers, a must for anybody who has, or is interested in, blogging/social media.) and asked him about it.

As has happened at numerous other companies, it seems that since the management changeover in Dec/Jan, communications have gotten a bit murky and the company hasn’t been walking its talk.

That’s a BIG no-no these days and one that can be crippling, or even fatal, if customers choose to vote with their feet.

Companies, especially those that earn their living through online communities, should know that it doesn’t take a majority walkout to be detrimental, just a few high profile leaders defecting to or even, in this new world, becoming the competition.

Management everywhere needs to remember

Say what you mean,
mean what you say,
always walk your talk.

That’s right. Now print it out and hang it where you’ll see it every day, read it out loud, then be sure to do it!

Your customers, investors and employees will love you for it.

A start on managing “the most praised generation”

Monday, May 7th, 2007

Jeffrey Zaslow’s WSJ article regarding the new generation’s need for praise, and his follow-up comment in Moving On, are generating major reaction in blogs and discussion lists, such as asklizryan.

The general feeling seems to be that the twenty-something need for constant praise is completely out of hand and, based on the articles and comments, to a great extent I tend to agree, however…

Since the child-rearing clock can’t be turned back, it’s managers’ responsibility to reeducate the incoming workforce as to the difference between being accepted, acknowledged, and praised—and that one is entitled to none of them.

You may feel that this isn’t part of your job description, but think again. If your job includes hiring people, building productive teams, and forging results for your company, then you need to hire from the current crop of grads whose MAP was nurtured on constant praise—whether real or faux.

Reeducation starts with these definitions, in hard copy, given to every member of your organization.

  • Acceptance refers to the fact that they were hired and are there to do a specific job with specific duties and responsibilities—if you didn’t think that they could do the job they wouldn’t have been accepted/hired.
  • Acknowledgment refers to recognition of work done and consists of frequent, accurate feedback, so they know how they’re doing—stress that the feedback can be good, bad, or a mixture thereof, on it’s own it’s not praise, although it can contain praise, but it is what’s needed to grow professionally.
  • Praise refers to the comments, actions and rewards given for doing more, or doing it better, than was expected.

I find it ironic that many of the people complaining most bitterly about this generation’s need for praise are the same ones who helped produce them, i.e., the parents who confused self-esteem with a sense of entitlement and produced offspring whose insecurities (low self-esteem) require constant reinforcement (praise). Still more ironic because the “your are special” culture is itself a backlash against the low self-esteem with which many of these same parents were raised.

I suggest that you start this reeducation process immediately at work—and at home.

Backlash 4—Guilt Eradication And MAP

Friday, May 4th, 2007

(Continuing from yesterday)

Have you hugged your MAP today? You probably should, depending on how prone you are to guilt, how severely it affects you, and how receptive your MAP (mindset, attitude, philosophy™) is to change. After all, assuming that you’re following the guilt eradication methods described this week, your MAP must be reeling.

But the great thing about MAP is its flexibility and changeability—it’s not set in stone unless you set it there—MAP is always within your control.

I’ve already written a lot about changing MAP, so rather than rewriting it all, here are links to the most apropos posts.

Finally, read Miki’s Rules to Live by, especially number one, for more great reasons to dump the guilt, improve your MAP, and enjoy your life!

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