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Archive for June, 2007

Choices

Friday, June 29th, 2007

I write a lot about MAP (mindset, attitude, philosophy)TM—how it underlies and drives all your thoughts and actions; its effect on other people; why you might want to modify or change it; and, most importantly, that it’s always your choice, yours and no one else’s.

Choice is the most valuable thing that any of us have and it’s the most painful to lose.

As Dumbledore says, “It is our choices that show us what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, p 333)

Think about it.

And may you always choose wisely and well.

Too much time

Thursday, June 28th, 2007

A client sent me to a commentary on CEOs who work hundred-hour weeks and asked me what I thought. I said that I was far more familiar with the workplace view than the parenting angle, although I pretty much agreed with it.

For years, various studies have shown that Americans work more hours and get less vacation time (around ten days, and even that small amount isn’t completely used) than any other comparable industrial nation-and for years I’ve been counseling against it.

A CEO, who’s run both public companies and startups, once told me that he accepted the prevalence of 50-hour weeks, knew that they occasionally stretched to 60 and that a crisis, such as a glitch in a product launch, a recall, etc., could require a superhuman effort crunched out in an 80 hour week.

But, he stressed, anytime 60-plus hours became the accepted norm he considered it poor management.

Smart guy—ran several very successful companies with high productivity and retention.

Of course, I have a very irreverent opinion on those 100-hour weeks.

Productivity is at its highest when you’re fresh and well rested and goes down from there; by the time you’ve worked 50 hours productivity is pretty much dead and after the 60-hour mark your brain starts to shut down.

That means that the amount of work cranked out in the next 40 hours is not only at a no-productivity level, but also of questionable value, so you’ll have to review everything done during that period when you’re fresh—essentially doing it twice.

Plus, if you don’t provide your body with high-grade fuel, not just caffeine and sugar, you’ll shut down sooner and have even lower productivity with more errors/bad decisions.

Once again, we’re back to your MAP, your decisions, and your choice.

Improving management skill

Wednesday, June 27th, 2007

Honing “CEO skills” isn’t just for CEOs-it’s for every manager who wants to do a better job.

Sure, you may not know as much, or have access to, the same information as the boss, but that don’t let that stop you.

It’s kind of like managing a fantasy sports team, you know all the easy information and a little research usually gives you a lot more with which to work.

Whatever level you’re at, you know a lot about your company and a lot more is in the public domain. What’s most important in running a company? Obviously, the list below isn’t everything, but it does offer ten of the most important to get you started.

  • You may not be a CFO, but you better know your numbers: where they come from, how they interact, and where they’re going. This includes knowing/learning to read financial statements, annual reports, etc.
  • No matter what your career path, know about your market (no matter how cool and cutting-edge your product or e-concept is) so know who will buy it and why, what the competition offers and how yours differs.
  • Every successful company must have a competitive edge, whether it’s unique products/services or lower prices. Learn how to define your competitive edge, and understand how to communicate it clearly to the whole company so that everyone is focused on making it happen.
  • Clearly identify the goals of the company, then work to turn them into specifics. Assure buy-in by making sure employees understand the interaction among their goals, the company’s goals, and those of other people.
  • Hire the smartest people available and give them an environment that enables them to produce; then watch your company’s strengths increase in direct proportion to your people’s growth. Remember, people are most productive if they know, and help determine, their work and the range of their control.
  • Make sure that there’s an obvious and direct relationship between the rewards people receives-salary, stock, bonuses, medals, whatever-and the success of the company. The biggest rewards should go to those who understand the company’s goals and ethically do whatever it takes to achieve them.
  • Create a culture in which the messenger is never shot; that way you’ll always get the earliest possible warning of potential problems.
  • You set the tone of the organization. If you’re political, secretive, nitpicking, or querulous, then that’s how your organization will be, because no matter what-employees will always do as you do, not as you say.
  • Never criticize an employee in the presence of others. Praise in public, criticize in private.
  • Companies are like tripods, with customers, investors, and employees each representing a leg. If you don’t pay equal attention to each the company will tip over.

Track your choices, decisions and actions against the reality. Give yourself a high five when your ideas pan out, and learn when they don’t.

You’ll be amazed at how fast the learning from your fantasy work pays off in your real work!

Communicating takes care—the value of one letter

Tuesday, June 26th, 2007

How careful are you when you communicate in writing? Not just running spell check, but also taking time to reread what you wrote? How important is it? Can a small typo really make that much difference to the meaning of your words? Can it actually reverse them from positive to negative?

The answer is a resounding yes!

Concrete example. The final line of my post yesterday was,

“Read the article. Take the ideas. Tweak them to fit your company. Watch it take off and then cheer as it soars.”

Everything spell checked correctly. Then I reread the entire post and that’s when I caught it. What I had actually written was,

“Read the article. Take the ideas. Tweak them to fit your company. Watch it take off and then cheer as it sours.”

Just one letter—think about it. Weigh the time spent proofing against the time (and money) that would be spent undoing the aftermath of that one little letter.

Good management works anywhere

Monday, June 25th, 2007

I really enjoy stories of how great managers turn around complex, sometimes mind-numbing, situations; who make really tough decisions, instead of taking the easy route (layoffs); believe in being open to customers by giving them 24/7 access and fast responses—not just feel-good talk; communicate clearly, avoiding ambiguity and obfuscation and who keep moving forward—even when they don’t win a battle.

Any names come to mind?

How about the CEO Mayor of New York City—Mike Bloomberg.

‘Bloomberg sees New York City as a corporation, its citizens as customers, its sanitation workers, police officers, clerks, and deputy commissioners as talent. He is the chief executive. Call him a technocrat all you want; he’s O.K. with that. ‘I hear a disparaging tone, like there’s something wrong with accountability and results,’ he says. ‘What was I hired for?’

 

‘Bloomberg had three options: cut services, raise taxes, or both. He did what no mayor had dared to do in more than a decade: He jacked up property taxes. And he didn’t agonize over the decision a bit. ‘It [was] easy to make that choice,’he recalls.’

‘Where most politicians would have seen only a fiscal solution to the budget gap, he spotted a marketing opportunity. He was protecting the New York City ‘brand.’ Bloomberg saw a low crime rate, good public transportation, and clean streets as indispensable to selling New York. Cutting back on services, he felt, would send the wrong message to the business community and the outside world.’

 

‘Bloomberg the executive was obsessive about catering to his customers, establishing 24-hour call lines, collecting data to help develop new products, and sending his executives out into the field to solicit feedback directly from clients. ‘Good companies listen to their customers, No. 1,’ he says. ‘Then they try to satisfy their needs, No. 2. But don’t let [them] drive the internal decisions of the company.’

 

‘Bloomberg himself each year makes three budget presentations in the same day: one to city council, another for other elected officials, and one to the press. He uses easy-to-follow charts and table…The approach has not only helped him in budget negotiations with city council but also fostered a smoother relationship with civic and advocacy groups…’

‘The semiannual mayor’s management report once exceeded 1,000 pages in three printed volumes. Today, the report…is 186 pages, available online…that allow New Yorkers to compare past and present. …the city plans and budget, once convoluted fiscal documents with only summaries available online, are now fully accessible on the city’s Web site. Before…agency’s overhead costs…were pooled as a single number. Now each agency breaks them out.’

 

And a final quote from Bloomberg that really says it all,

 

 

‘In business, you reward people for taking risks. When it doesn’t work out, you promote them because they were willing to try new things. If people come back and tell me they skied all day and never fell down, I tell them to try a different mountain.’ He adds: ‘I have always joked that [the difference between] having the courage of your convictions and being pigheaded is in the results.’

 

‘The real world, whether in business or government, requires that you don’t jump to the endgame [or] to success right away. ‘You do it piece by piece. Some people get immobilized when they come to a roadblock. My answer is, ‘you know, it’s a shame it’s there, but now where else can we go? Let’s just do it.’

Miki’s Rules to Live by 11

Friday, June 22nd, 2007

It’s hard for those who know me as the Queen of Procrastination to believe that I actually coined this rule

Do it when you think about it—
Don’t think about doing it.

Of course, I’ve also spent the 30+ years since trying to implement it.

The result of my ongoing efforts is what would (kindly) be called a spotty record of success.

I have no doubts that my readers will do/have done much better!

Evaluating rules for company cultures

Thursday, June 21st, 2007

A CEO commented to me that he tries to run his company based on the Golden Rule. He was surprised when I responded that that wasn’t always a good idea and wanted to know why I thought that.

Since Carl Sagan had helped shape my attitude in his The Rules of the Game, I sent him the PDF to read.

The rules were garnered through living and they’re the best enticement I can think of to get you to read the essay. (all eight pages).

TABLE OF PROPOSED RULES TO LIVE BY

The Golden Rule Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
The Silver Rule Do not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you.
The Brazen Rule Do unto others as they do unto you.
The Iron Rule Do unto others as you like, before they do it unto you.
The Tit-for-Tat Rule Cooperate with others first, then do unto them as they do unto you.

My CEO was delighted, because the rule evaluation results—Tit-for-Tat was the big winner—made so much sense. Now he’s putting together a presentation for his company explaining it—along with copies of the essay for everyone—so the concepts can be woven into the company culture.

He thinks that his people (most are technically trained) will jump on it, since prisoner’s dilemma (game theory) was applied by another scientist in evaluating the rules. He says that will prevent them from, “holding their collective noses and chanting fuzzy, fuzzy.”

Thank you (again) Carl Sagan.

An Employee Dilemma—What Would You Do?

Wednesday, June 20th, 2007

I had an early call this morning from a troubled executive I’ll call Ron. He recently learned that one of his senior-level managers, “Terry” relieves his frustrations, both physically and verbally, on his family. He only learned about it because Terry’s wife filed for divorce citing ongoing abuse. Terry has no idea that anyone, let alone Ron, knows.

Ron’s horrified, but there’s no valid work-related reason to terminate the guy. He’s not contesting the divorce and no criminal charges are being filed. As a manager, Terry does a great job, treats his people well, is a good motivator, and always has excellent performance reviews.

Ron’s in a major quandary; knowing this colors all his interactions with Terry and it’s almost certain that the information will become common knowledge among their 200 employees over time.

At that point, he feels that people will wonder why Terry is still there, since his personal actions violate both acceptable social behavior and everything in the company’s culture. As they lose respect for him, his ability to motivate will plummet as will productivity.

When his performance deteriorates there’ll be valid reasons to terminate him, but by then the tremendous damage done to employee trust and morale will need to be repaired at considerable cost in both time and money.

Ron’s spoken to several HR people and employment lawyers looking for a way to finesse the situation with no results.

In all honesty, I wasn’t much help, either, but Ron did give me permission to post this in the hope that it will generate constructive suggestions.

Change the culture before implementing the technology

Tuesday, June 19th, 2007

What country springs to mind as having some of the most rigid and closed corporate cultures in the industrialized world? Many people would say Germany, but more and more frequently, I find a German company as the poster child for open communications and four-star culture, e.g., BMW.

So I found it interesting that some of them most salient comments I’ve heard regarding how to incorporate Web 2.0 technology into a corporate culture came from a German.

Sharon Gaudin attended the Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston and posted this at InformationWeek.

In response to a debate by two academics,

“Willms Buhse, executive director of CoreMedia, a software company based in Germany, stood up and said that changing the corporate culture is more important than changing the technology. The cultural shift — from the traditional hierarchy of follow-the-leader to an open exchange of ideas — needs to come before even the coolest new technologies can make a real difference.”

I really appreciate Sharon, because she followed up and talked with Buhse after the debate. Here are a couple of very salient points he made,

“For us, the organization was the important thing. It’s about the corporate culture.”

“I would rather have a negative comment on my Web site, rather than people talking about it without us knowing it.”

I suggest that you take a minute to read the entire post because Buhse talks about what/how CoreMedia did/is doing (it’s a multi-year process) it. The post is short and well worth your time.

Is it faux or is it wrong?

Monday, June 18th, 2007

More than two thousand years ago, a Chinese philosopher named Mencius said, “Never has a man who has bent himself been able to make others straight.”

I was reminded of this when I read an article about a new book, “Faking It: How to Seem Like a Better Person Without Actually Improving Yourself,” by Amir Blumenfeld, Neel Shah and Ethan Trex.

It was written as humor, but brings up a disturbing trend, where faking it, i.e., fudging, i.e., lying, is OK.

“As the authors point out, it’s not who you are, it’s who other people think you are.

 

To his surprise, Trex, who is 24, found out that “everyone is very comfortable saying they do these things. It’s more common than people realize. In reality, our parents and friends say they do this stuff, too. Especially the older ones in their late 50s.”

 

“Sometimes being OK with faking it slides over into something a little more disturbing. Take CollegeHumor.com’s recently released survey on cheating, which polled more than 30,000 students. More than half (61 percent) admitted to some form of cheating, while only 16.5 percent felt bad about it. Surprisingly, technology, which has made so much of today’s finest examples of faking it possible, didn’t play a huge part. The most popular form of cheating was looking over someone’s shoulder.” (Survey questions)

CollegeHumor comments that whereas 61% admitted cheating, 39% lied on the survey—more humor or a disturbing possibility?

In today’s world, does cheating still qualify as bent? Does faking it? Or are they the norm?

Where are the lines drawn when everybody does it?

These are the faux people you’re hiring,

Everybody knows that “Do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t work, so how will they lead?

How can people who faked their way to popularity and cheated their way through college condemn the salesperson who fudges her numbers, or the researcher who fiddles his results?

People aren’t water faucets, ten-plus years of behavior isn’t turned off because they don a cap and gown.

Meet the business/political/social/religious leaders of today and tomorrow.

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