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Archive for November, 2007

Are you smarter than a 6 month old?

Friday, November 30th, 2007

We choose whom to hire/follow/marry/date/befriend—or not.

Some of those choices work out and some don’t, but it’s when we choose someone who’s flawed, who just isn’t nice, that often bothers us the most. How could we have missed it—it always seems so obvious after the fact—and we end up wondering why our social judgment is so faulty.

It doesn’t help that new research is showing that you don’t need to be Santa to tell the difference between naughty and nice, even infants can spot it.

Babies as young as 6 to 10 months old showed crucial social judging skills before they could talk, according to a study by researchers at Yale University’s Infant Cognition Center published in Thursday’s journal Nature…the Yale team has other preliminary research that shows similar responses even in 3-month-olds.

Ouch.

So what happens between 6 months and the future? Why do we hire/follow/marry/date/befriend the oh-so-obviously wrong people? Why do we make so many poor choices?

What do you think?

Of time, management skill and… handshakes?

Thursday, November 29th, 2007

Three goodies recently in Business Week’s BTW section.

The first turns you on to just how much money meetings and other time-users/wasters are costing via

Meeting Miser, a widget just launched at PayScale.com, uses the Web site’s database of 10 million income profiles from 4,000 companies to estimate meeting participants’ salaries. A user enters attendees’ job titles and the company’s regional location, and the electronic meter calculates (roughly) the cost per second. The widget can be loaded onto a laptop or mobile device, with results exported to a spreadsheet. As it ticks, the meter can also be projected alongside PowerPoint slides–an element sure to startle some life into a ho-hum presentation.

Try running it the next time you log on to Second Life, Facebook or the myriad of other time-eating social media apps.

Number two ranks managerial skill across 4,000 midsize companies in 12 countries.

The U.S., partly because a mobile labor market makes such a skill necessary, says John Van Reenen, director of the center. Japan, birthplace of “lean,” led in the performance area. And Swedes were the top operations managers, thanks, probably, to a skilled workforce, Van Reenen says. The researchers’ advice to managers? Be self-critical. Some 85% of those surveyed rated their own firm’s management above average.

No surprise in the final sentence considering research done in 2000 by Cornell psych professor David A. Dunning who says, “most incompetent people do not know that they are incompetent. On the contrary. People who do things badly are usually supremely confident of their abilities…”

The third is new research done on evaluating handshakes. We’ve all been told to “shake hands firmly,” but what does it convey to the shakee?

The firmer it is, the more socially dominant he’s likely to be, concludes a small study led by psychologist Gordon Gallup of the State University of New York at Albany. The study, which analyzed the handshakes–and the sexual, social, and physical histories–of 140 college students, found no correlation for females between a strong grip and behavioral competitiveness or body type. (As with men, there was a link to good health.) But males with firm grips reported more aggressive behavior and were more likely to have broad shoulders and narrow hips. (They were also about 10% more promiscuous.) Gallup says a grip’s strength is 35% environmental, 65% genetic–and that a strong clasp may have evolved from humans’ deep past, when tree-swinging monkeys with weak grips fell to earth more often. — Catherine Arnst

Heh, heh, why am I sooooo not surprised.

It's not what you DO it's what you say that counts

Thursday, November 29th, 2007

A minor political drama being played out in Yakima (where I don’t live), Washington is being covered in the state news section of my newspaper. My reaction as a person is ‘ho hum, business as usual’, while my reaction as a blogger is pure disgust.

In short, here’s what’s happened

The Republican Party endorsed the candidate who won election to the nonpartisan Yakima city council.

An anonymous blogger throughout the campaign repeatedly criticized Bonlender on an Internet site. The blogger also referred to “rumors” that Bonlender had been arrested several times for investigation of drunken driving and that the arrest reports had been covered up by the police, city manager and local newspaper.

The blogger offered no evidence and a review of state records by the Yakima Herald-Republic found nothing to back up the claims.

After the election, the winning candidate admitted that his wife was the anonymous blogger

Now, local Republican Party chairman Jim Keightley says Ensey’s tacit support for his wife’s anonymous blog exposed character flaws that violate precepts valued by Republicans.

“Mr. Ensey’s campaign failed to abide by the values and principles we hold dear; values of honesty, openness, and integrity,” Keightley wrote in a guest commentary that appeared on the Yakima Herald-Republic’s opinion page Tuesday. “We extend a sincere and heartfelt apology to those individuals who, because of our endorsement, voted for Mr. Ensey.”

The losing candidate has sued Ensey’s wife for defamation and the mayor has asked Ensey to resign (he refuses).

Hopefully the blogger will be found guilty. I say this because blogging is a powerful tool that gets stronger by the day and that kind of power needs to be used responsibly.

And what about the stance of the Republican party ‘leadership’? They “continue to endorse Ensey’s conservative rhetoric and regret only that he did not run an “above-board” campaign.”

See folks, rhetoric trumps ethics any day.

What Leaders DO: Chip Heath’s Sticky Communications

Wednesday, November 28th, 2007

What differentiates the best from the rest in all walks of life? What one single action provides a giant ‘wow’ factor not just to the mighty, but to people at any level?

Communications.

That’s right; no matter how they choose to do it, communicating is the hallmark of every great leader/manager/artist/parent/et al.

Communications need to be clear, concise and sticky.

Never minimize the importance of sticky, no matter the clarity and brevity if your message isn’t sticky it won’t be remembered when it’s needed.

I read a fascinating McKinsey interview (requires free registration) with Stanford Chip Heath, Professor of Organizational Behavior, an expert on sticky communications who has written several books on the subject.

Three comments really stood out for me, the first because it strikes to the heart of much of the poor communications I see:

The Quarterly: What’s the hardest thing for leaders to learn about making their messages stick?

Chip Heath: I think simplicity is the hardest. Leaders know lots of things about their organization and business and want to share them all. But effective leaders are masters of simplicity. I’m not talking about dumbing down a message or turning it into a sound bite; I’m talking about identifying the most central, core elements of strategies and highlighting them…

The second because it’s important for people to understand and believe that these skills are learnable and that even people revered for their sticky communications still work at it.

The Quarterly: Is the ability to design sticky messages learnable?

Chip Heath: Yes, it is. Steve Jobs looks like a natural, but he’s known in Silicon Valley for the obsessive amounts of time he spends working on his new-product introductions. He thinks systematically about his messages and most of them work. But few other leaders are as deliberate.

And the third because it really strikes home considering all the talk about how Web 2.0 affects communication is the solution to most, if not all, business and social woes.

The Quarterly: What does Marshall McLuhan’s famous phrase “the medium is the message” mean today? How important is the medium in all this?

Chip Heath: I admire McLuhan for coming up with a sticky slogan, but with all due respect his slogan is wrong. In truth, the message is the message. People who think too much about the medium—opt-in newsletters, the Internet, Web 2.0—are making the same mistake that people have made for years in education. Remember how the 8-millimeter film was going to revolutionize education? Then the VCR? Then the personal computer? The medium can certainly help, but an 8-millimeter film didn’t salvage a bad math lesson.

There are the six basic traits that sticky ideas share, based on Heath’s research.

  1. Simplicity. Messages are most memorable if they are short and deep. Glib sound bites are short, but they don’t last. Proverbs such as the golden rule are short but also deep enough to guide the behavior of people over generations.
  2. Unexpectedness. Something that sounds like common sense won’t stick. Look for the parts of your message that are uncommon sense. Such messages generate interest and curiosity.
  3. Concreteness. Abstract language and ideas don’t leave sensory impressions; concrete images do. Compare “get an American on the moon in this decade” with “seize leadership in the space race through targeted technology initiatives and enhanced team-based routines.”
  4. Credibility. Will the audience buy the message? Can a case be made for the message or is it a confabulation of spin? Very often, a person trying to convey a message cites outside experts when the most credible source is the person listening to the message. Questions—“Have you experienced this?”—are often more credible than outside experts.
  5. Emotions. Case studies that involve people also move them. “We are wired,” Heath writes, “to feel things for people, not abstractions.”
  6. Stories. We all tell stories every day. Why? “Research shows that mentally rehearsing a situation helps us perform better when we encounter that situation,” Heath writes. “Stories act as a kind of mental flight simulator, preparing us to respond more quickly and effectively.”

Many leaders, from Fortune 50 corporations to pastors and parents may incorporate some, if not all, of these in what they say, but seeing them defined and then consciously making sure that all six are present will take anybody’s communications to a higher level.

Shake up your company

Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

Anyone who reads the current business press knows that corporate culture has been recognized as not only real, but also something that has enormous impact on all parts of the company. In short, your culture can send you to the heights or kill you.

How accommodating should your culture be? How far backwards should you be willing to bend?

Although I need to keep this story anonymous, I’m sure that it’s neither the first nor the last time that it or something similar has happened.

Jim was development vp for a small, 35 person/$25M manufacturer that makes its own designs and occasionally manufactures for others. The company enjoys solid revenue, is very stable and with little turnover.

Three years ago, Jim had an opening for a designer and interviewed four people; all were good candidates and three fit the mold of the current staff, except Arnie. He had similar credentials and experience, but his perspective was more than slightly off the wall. The other people, including the president and manufacturing vp, who interviewed liked him—but… Although they’re comments were all different, Jim heard the fear of change that underlay them.

But change was what Jim believed was needed and with little turnover this was his chance. After personally checking references, he cut an offer letter for Arnie and personally took it to Ted, his boss, for approval—and well-prepared for a fight.

Ted wasn’t happy, he felt that another candidate was better because he was “just like the guy who’s retiring” and would do a good job.

Rather than allowing the argument to escalate, Jim turned it by mentioning the recent product homeruns hit by a couple of their competitors. He said that he felt that they had just as much talent, but they needed to shake it up a bit. Nothing drastic, but Jim said he thought Arnie could help by inspiring others to more creativity.

In fact, Jim was sure that Arnie would do more than inspire, based on his interview and the reference checks he thought that new product ideas would pour out of Arnie, shaking up the entire company. He also knew that it would take all his skill to manage Arnie and avoid overwhelming the others.

Jim prevailed, Arnie was hired and he indeed shook up the company. Jim’s still there and to date four new products have hit the market adding nearly $12M in revenue, with three more in development. Of the seven, four are Arnie’s, while the other three are from the skyrocketing creativity in the rest of the staff. All of which is causing an innovation ripple effect across the entire company.

So the next time you have an opening look past what is comfortable and remember that it’s often the cracked who let in the light!

What Leaders DO: use their clout

Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

Let’s pretend that you head an organization that fights women’s stereotypes and you apply to various companies who market to women for funding to develop campaigns on beauty and age or beauty and skin color. How responsive (read: generous) do you think companies would be in funding those efforts?

Now let’s say that you’re the head of marketing in what’s essentially a commodity market. You’re not a top rated brand, so you want to identify a nitch that, handled correctly, you could own—at least for a while.

So you look around and notice that, demographically speaking, the market composed of women over 50 is not only set for explosive growth, but it also has substantial income at its disposal. You know that it’s not only underserved, but that most of the products are marketed as a way to look younger, as opposed to celebrating being over 50. Hmm, so what do you do?

Blow away the competition by creating a Campaign for Real Beauty. According to Jupiter Research analyst Nate Elliott

Dove has accomplished something amazing: it’s taken ownership of the topic of women’s self-esteem, and somehow repositioned itself from being part of the beauty industry (which it irrefutably is) to being one of the beauty industry’s harshest critics — and in the process, they’ve sold millions of pounds of beauty products.

Visit the site and watch all four videos, look around, they have great value.

What happened next? The competition took notice and and looked for another powerful market to address and, hopefully, own and found it in African-American women. My Black is Beautiful is the campaign described in with a movement and it includes a minfestothe company is P&G

There’s a little-girl memory that Najoh Tita-Reid recounts, as a way of explaining what’s behind a new campaign by the nation’s biggest advertiser.

A young child in suburban Pittsburgh, she goes to play dolls with her neighbors, all of them white. Her doll stands out with its black color and features, and one girl says pointedly: “Najoh, our dolls can’t play with yours.”

Why not? “Because your doll is ugly,” comes the reply.

It may be 30 years since that comment, but attitudes haven’t changed all that much.

My Black is Beautiful is getting noticed—and generating controversy.

Personally, I was disappointed at first glance, because the women represented on My Black is Beautiful are celebrities and no way are they typical, whereas the Dove women seem to be more like “us.” There is a slightly surreal aspect at Dove in that the women are dominantly Caucasian, but on the other hand, Dove may have been smart to avoid that controversy.

Both companies took major risks and spent big bucks on the campaigns and they certainly deserve credit for leading the way into the minefields surrounding these topics. Sure, they have a commercial goal, but that doesn’t dull the importance of the topics or the dialogs they’re enabling. Not long ago I wrote about the motivational value of VSI (vested self-interest) as applies to individuals—obviously it applies to companies as well.

Gifts for your team—swag or something really valuable?

Monday, November 26th, 2007

It’s that time of year and managers are thinking about what to give their people and still stay within their budget.

  • Really good company pens – $2.50+/person
  • Company tees or hats – $3.50 to $5.00/person
  • Department party – $300+
  • Your time and interest – priceless

And if you’re the CEO think about this—

  • Company party – $500 – $X-thousand
  • Walking the talk of a world-class culture – priceless

I’m not suggesting that you eliminate the parties and other material gestures, but that you give serious thought to adding intangibles, the kind that improve innovation, productivity, retention and morale.

Leadership by team or ream?

Monday, November 26th, 2007

Compare these two statements:

Has the time come for CEO Version 3.0?

The first iteration made its mark in the 1990s, as chief executives like Sanford Weill, Gerald Levin, John Welch Jr. and Michael Eisner built empires, and their profiles, at the companies they ran: Citigroup, Time Warner, GE and Disney.

When their shares deflated earlier this decade after the tech bubble burst and various corporate scandals unfolded, a new cadre moved in: the Fix-it Men. They were less charismatic leaders like Charles Prince 3rd of Citigroup and Richard Parsons of Time Warner, whose job it was to repair the excesses and mistakes of their predecessors.

Now, management experts and longtime observers of corporate America say, the current environment demands, and is attracting, yet another kind of chief executive: the team-builder.

“It’s someone who can assemble a team that functions as smoothly as a jazz sextet,” said Warren Bennis, a professor of management at the University of Southern California.
International Herald Tribune, November 9, 2007

 

The clock is ticking faster for private equity CEOs—and their millions of employees—all over the world. Coming soon to business pages and water coolers near you: tales of quick and brutal corporate breakups, rollups, and reorgs, an onslaught that could rival the downsizing binge of the early 1990s. “There will be radical internal restructurings,” predicts Colin C. Blaydon, director of the center for private equity at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business….

With financial conditions so tight, buyout chiefs’ best shot at generating strong returns in the U.S. lies in their ability to make the companies they control more profitable—slashing costs, boosting sales in global markets, and paying down debt….

For the minions at these companies, meanwhile, the career options may be dismayingly limited in coming years: get with the new, gut-wrenching program or get out.
Business Week, November 5, 2007

In juxtaposition to these two opposing views of corporate culture is that oh-so-minor-but-necessary ingredient of success—people. And not just workers, but people at all levels from executives to janitors.

Granted, I have an extreme bias for cultures predicated on CEO v3.0 MAP (mindset, attitude, philosophy)™, but that’s because no one has ever managed to convince me that people enjoy spending 10± hours a day running as fast as they can with fear as their prime motivating factor.

Fear does not stimulate creativity and innovation, improve street rep, enhance recruitment or improve retention—in fact, it does the exact opposite.

For years, senior execs have jumped through hoops to work for private equity just because it was private and they believed that it shielded them from Wall Street’s unending quarterly pressures. Whoops, guess they should have thought it through a bit more.

That doesn’t mean that v3 CEOs will all be under forty and found in startups. First, being a team-builder is a function of your MAP and MAP comes in all flavors in all ages. Secondly, (and I can already hear the howls of outrage) it takes experience to run a company of any size, but especially a large one. While age doesn’t guarantee experience—you can have ten years of experience or one year ten times—it does guarantee the opportunity to gain it. Team-building CEOs have team-oriented MAP, experience of the been there/done that/let’s-find-a-way-to-do-it-better variety, the confidence and security to surround themselves with the best people possible and a modest ego.

Demographics say that the people-shortage isn’t going away any time soon; tighter money requires doing more with less; you know what I think, but which type of leader do you think will win?

Leadership shock

Wednesday, November 21st, 2007

I commented a few days ago that a politician practicing leadership sounded like an oxymoron, but I may have run into just that situation.

SnoCo sheriff puts political rivals in leadership jobs

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

EVERETT, Wash. — Newly elected Snohomish County Sheriff John Lovick has made two political opponents part of his leadership team.

Two men who ran against him, sheriff’s Chief Tom Green and Lt. Rob Beidler (BY’-dler), have agreed to join his command staff when he takes office in January.

The sheriff says he was impressed by his opponents on the campaign trail.

Greene says he agreed to take the job overseeing special operations and technical support because he wants to keep serving the community. Beidler, who will oversee administrative services, says they’re putting the election behind them.

Just think, three guys who vied for the same political office, with the winner confident enough to want the best talent available and the two who lost willing to put their egos aside for the public good.

All practicing real leadership—just in time for Thanksgiving.

Amazing.

I may faint.

When Leaders Can’t Practice Leadership

Wednesday, November 21st, 2007

Although I haven’t read The Taboos of Leadership, it supposedly “reveals the rarely discussed realities of leadership–the secrets that leaders just cannot admit to publicly for fear of losing power, self-respect, or even their jobs.” However, the author, Dr. Anthony F. Smith, makes a cogent observation when he says in an essay,

Well, unfortunately, there are no magic pills to becoming a Leader, just like there are no magic pills to losing weight, getting fit, making a million dollars, or shaving 10 strokes off your handicap in golf. Simply stated, becoming a Leader occurs when one exercises the arduous process of effective Leadership, day after day, week after week, and year after year….

What I have observed in my years of studying leaders, is that very few have all the gifts and talents themselves; what many of the great ones do have, is a self awareness of what talents they do have, and the self confidence and security to surround themselves with others who can compliment them, and compensate for their own lack of skills.

I have no idea whether Dr. Smith has all the answers, but he sure defines the biggest problem (red) and (unfortunately) the least likely solution (blue) in the second paragraph.

I don’t believe that any person has all the talents, skills, gifts, abilities, etc., to successfully lead across the board in today’s ultra complex world and even if they do have the awareness and self confidence fewer and fewer have the external security to hire the right people to compensate—by external, I mean enough secure time to create a team that can DO it.

We live in a ridiculous world where Boards, in fear of investors, give CEOs six months to turn around multi-billion dollar companies that have been drifting, if not actually plunging, downwards for years; expect them to do it no matter what the situation or economy; where the slightest miss is considered grounds for firing; and long-term is a quarter.

Even when Wall Street recognizes the need to change a deeply entrenched culture they still demand that it be done in a quarter and analysts not only want perfect visions of future direction, but also exact execution plans, preferably grounded in heavy cost-cutting (read layoffs).

So, like the politicians who once elected spend much of their time fund-raising, CEOs and the senior managers below them spend much of their time focused on immediate numbers, which they must produce quarterly by hook or, more and more frequently, by crook.

Under these circumstances, the real practice of leadership becomes a very iffy proposition.

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