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Golden Oldies: When Execution is an Anagram of the Act

Monday, November 30th, 2015

http://www.flickr.com/photos/rebeccabarray/8985496669/It’s amazing to me, but looking back over nearly a decade of writing I find posts that still impress, with information that is as useful now as when it was written. Golden Oldies is a collection of what I consider some of the best posts during that time. Read other Golden Oldies here

When Execution is an Anagram of the Act

An executive once asked me what the single most import thing he should do and how best to do it.

I told him the answer was simple and the key to execution was found in an anagram of the act.

Can you guess the action and anagram?

The action is to LISTEN.

The anagram is SILENT.

The first is impossible without doing the second.

Flickr image credit: RebeccaBarray

Weeds in Your Garden

Monday, November 9th, 2015


This post first appeared in 2012, but I believe both its premise and its point deserve another airing.

Managing Weeds

As companies grow and managers build their organizations they frequently talk about “weeding out” low performing employees—Jack Welch was a ninja weeder.

If that thought has crossed your mind you might take a moment to think about James Russell Lowell’s comment, “A weed is no more than a flower in disguise.”

As with weeds, there are better ways to look at under-performing employees.

Seeing a weed as food changes everything, just as seeing people’s potential does.

95% of the time it’s management failures that create weeds and those failures run the gamut from benign neglect to malicious abuse and everything in-between.

Weeds can come from outside your company, inter-departmental transfers and even from peers in your own backyard.

What is amazing is how quickly a weed will change with a little TLC.

“Weeds can grow quickly and flower early, producing vast numbers of genetically diverse seed.”

People grow quickly, too, and often produce innovative ideas — just because someone listened instead of shutting them down.

And while trust that your attitude won’t change takes longer to build, the productivity benefits happen fairly rapidly.

So before you even think about weeding look in the mirror and be sure that the person looking back is a gardener and not a weed producer.

Flickr image credit: Clare Bell

If the Shoe Fits: Who are you?

Friday, October 23rd, 2015

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mHow would you respond to what works best?

Do you agree with Carlos Brito, Brazilian chief of Anheuser-Busch InBev NV?

“If you want the best out of people you have to put pressure on them all the time.”

Or are you more like Shamsheer Vayalil, founder and managing director of VPS Healthcare, founded in 2007; today it has 650 physicians and 7,500 employees and serves some 2 million patients a year?

I was a good listener. I would listen to people. I would accept that I didn’t have any experience. So I hired the best people on the job.

If you’ve read much of what I write you’ll know I support Shamsheer’s attitude far more than Brito.

As do Marc Benioff and Jeff Bezos.

Different approaches, both yielding success.

Either way the message is clear: the best CEOs in the world listen more, whether it’s to customers, employees, or business partners — and doing so can go a long way.

Yet another reason to make sure you know yourself.

Flickr Image credit: HikingArtist

How Well Do You Hear?

Monday, October 19th, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/caninest/4394678079/Bosses at all levels waste their human resources every day.

How? By only listening to those at X level or higher.

Common sense should tell you 

  • Nobody suddenly develops a brain as a result of being promoted.
  • If they were good enough to promote then they should have been good enough to listen to in their previous positions.
  • If they can’t contribute in the position for which they were hired, why hire them at all?
  • Even new grads hired for their potential need to be heard; they are like eggs and like eggs they must be cared for if they are to hatch.

Bosses afflicted by “positional deafness” often experience high turnover and lament the lack of loyalty, especially in “more junior workers.”

But the term ‘junior’ is very subjective; for some managers it refers to those with just a couple of years of experience, for others it’s a level within the company and for still others it’s relative, with the baseline how long it took them to finally be heard by their boss.

How do you know if you suffer from positional deafness?

Simple; just consider the sources of your input over the last quarter and what you did with it.

Better yet, ask the people you trust to tell you the truth, not the ones who tell you what you want to hear.

Flickr image credit: Caninest

Entrepreneurs: Basic Choice

Thursday, April 30th, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/126369362@N04/14693029044Fact: culture stems from manager MAP (mindset, attitude, philosophy™).

Fact: there are two basic, unconscious attitudes that underlie MAP.

  • “TaIk to me, I don’t know everything;” or
  • “Shut up and do what I say; my vision, my way.”

Know which you are — brutally honest inside your head.

If you are the first then it should be a critical factor when hiring (easy to confirm when checking references).

If the second applies be prepared for higher attrition.

It’s your choice.

Image credit: Grace Keogh

Dan Amos’ Simple Sync Solution

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014

Dan Amos-Aflac

I said yesterday I’d provide a simple way to get back in sync with your people.

It’s not rocket science and certainly not new.

In fact, I’ve been telling managers for decades that if they want to know what someone thinks or wants to ask, instead of assuming or “figuring it out.”

They rarely listen, so I thought that if it came from Dan Amos, chairman and chief executive of Aflac, the giant insurance company it would carry more weight.

Aflac chief Amos admits his solution sounds obvious: If you want to know what would keep someone from quitting, ask. “It sounds like common sense, but not many companies really do it.”

I’ve also been saying that money is around five on most people’s list; making a difference, recognition, challenge and opportunities to learn and grow come first.

Employers often assume, Amos says, that everyone will just want more money. But most people’s wish lists are more complicated — and more realistic — than that. Amos started polling Aflac’s employees when he became CEO in 1990. The top requests: More recognition for their work and day care for their kids.

Many companies survey their people.

The difference is that Amos acts on the results of the survey—both requests were implemented — not just in the home office, but across the country (read the article).

Amos says that “the survey rules” and the proof is found in ease of recruiting and turnover numbers.

That willingness to listen has helped Aflac — the only insurance company to show up in Fortune’s Best Companies ranking for 13 years running — to successfully recruit talented women from all over the U.S. and from as far away as India.

It also, apparently, builds loyalty: Aflac’s annual employee turnover is pretty close to zero.

Flickr image credit: Aflac

If the Shoe Fits: How Well do You Listen?

Friday, February 7th, 2014


A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

I’ve cited Harvard Business School’s James Heskett’s insightful questions and the discussions they foster many times.  

This time he asks if listening is becoming a lost art.

In his new book Quick and Nimble, based on more than 200 interviews, Adam Bryant concludes, that, among other things, managers need to have more “adult conversations” —conversations needed to work through “inevitable disagreements and misunderstandings” —with our direct reports. Such conversations require careful listening.

In the same book he reports that CEOs expressed major concerns about the misuse and overuse of e-mail, something that they feel encourages disputes to escalate more rapidly than if face-to-face conversations had taken place instead. The latter, however, would require people to listen.

As to the concerns about email, I would add abuse to the misuse and overuse, as well as adding texting, instant messaging and, although not as obvious, cell phones. (Nobody is really listening while navigating rush hour, zipping down the highway at 70 or listening to the GPS when they are late to a meeting.)

Listening is both skill and art, but it’s also a revenue generator—just ask Tony Hsieh, whose own willingness to listen helped create a culture that’s the envy of corporations everywhere, while the listening skills he encourages in his CSRs have sold millions of pairs of shoes, or the Asana founders, who built the company on mindfulness, a philosophy grounded in listening.

Incorporating listening into your cultural DNA requires it to be universally manifested starting with you.

If you aren’t willing to put down your phone, discuss stuff in person, facilitate and carefully listen to disagreement then don’t expect anyone else to do so.

Image credit: HikingArtist

When Execution is an Anagram of the Act

Wednesday, July 17th, 2013

http://www.flickr.com/photos/rebeccabarray/8985496669/An executive once asked me what the single most import thing he should do and how best to do it.
I told him the answer was simple and the key to execution was found in an anagram of the act.
Can you guess the action and anagram?
The action is to LISTEN.
The anagram is SILENT.
The first is impossible without doing the second.
Flickr image credit: RebeccaBarray

Ducks in a Row: The Old is New Again

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013

http://www.flickr.com/photos/smallbox/127555069/If you are a manager at any level I suggest you take time to read the results of research on managing from the London School of Economics.

“…concentrate on putting into practice things that we know work but somehow never do — less Management 2.0, more making Management 1.0 work properly. At least on the face of it, a surprising amount can be altered for the better, with little investment and to significant effect. (…) focus on why we don’t put into practice principles of good management that aren’t rocket science and have been known about for years.”

Management by walking around, spending time with your team; listening; coaching; cross-training—definitely not rocket science!

Your approach need not be as tightly structured as described in the article, because that was done in order to rigorously evaluate and measure the results for publication.

Basically the study proves what the best managers already know and practice—it’s people that make the difference and the difference is measurable.

You can achieve similar results in your group, whether your company uses the same approach or not.

Set your own goal to practice Management 1.0 actions consistently and authentically.

Then (as Nike says) just do it.

Flickr image credit: Ol.v!er [H2vPk]

Entrepreneurs: Not Always What It Seems

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

We all know that things are not always as they seem and people certainly aren’t.

Brilliant ideas can come from any individual and are not dependent on their level or even their expertise.

By the same token, investors that sound great may not be, while those who are off-putting could be your salvation.

There are no hard and fast rules for evaluating whether what you see is what you’ll get, because each case is different—but that doesn’t matter.

The important thing to remember is that most stuff and people come with multiple layers and they may not be what they seem.

So while I can’t offer a multipurpose evaluation tool I can provide you with an unforgettable visual to remind you to look past the obvious.


Be the Thursday feature – Entrepreneurs: [your company name]
Share the story of your startup today.
Send it along with your contact information and I’ll be in touch.
Questions? Email or call me at 360.335.8054 Pacific time.

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