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Golden Oldies: Process vs. Bureaucracy

Monday, April 24th, 2017

It’s amazing to me, but looking back over more than a decade of writing I find posts that still impress, with information that is as useful now as when it was written.

Golden Oldies are a collection of what I consider some of the best posts during that time.

The interest in some subjects is eternal — like avoiding bureaucracy. This post dates to 2006 (before I added pictures) and the subject is still a hot topic.

Too many bosses and founders confuse organizing business segments with becoming bureaucratic and everyone hates bureaucracy.

In reality, not organizing and developing a process to accomplish each function facilitates a wild west mentality, which usually results in a bullet in the foot or worse.

Read other Golden Oldies here.

People sometimes confuse process and bureaucracy. Process is good—it helps to get things done smoothly and efficiently; bureaucracy is bad—it’s process calcified, convoluted, politically corrupted, or just plain unnecessary.

Good process is an easy-to-use and flexible method of accomplishing various business functions. It is informal without being haphazard, and neither ambiguous or confusing.

Occasional surveys (internally asking staff and externally asking vendors and customers how things are working) alert you to when processes start to mutate.

By creating a skeletal process and a corresponding graphic in areas where it is needed (financial controls, hiring, purchasing, etc.), you lay the framework for your growth in the future, no matter how hectic.

Bureaucracy may stem from a manager, whether CEO or first level supervisor, who believes that his staff is so incompetent that it is necessary for him to spell out exactly how every individual action needs to be done. To correct this, the manager responsible must

  • reduce his own insecurity,
  • increase his belief in his current staff, or
  • hire people he thinks are smart!

Bureaucracy is often fed by people’s fear of change, “We’ve always done it like that.” and similar comments are dead giveaways.

Another significant factor that contributes to unnecessary bureaucracy is the failure to align responsibility and authority.

If a person has the responsibility to get something done (design a product, create a Human Resources department, meet a sales quota), she should have enough authority (spend money, hire people, negotiate with outside vendors) to get the job done.

Giving people responsibility without concomitant authority forces them to constantly ask their superiors for permission, thus reducing productivity, and lowering moral.

The final, and most important difference between process and bureaucracy is that people like working for companies with good process in place, and hate working for those mired in bureaucracy, but not for long—they leave—making bureaucracy-eradication a major tool in the retention game.

Golden Oldies: Insanely Smart Retention and Stars

Monday, April 3rd, 2017

It’s amazing to me, but looking back over more than a decade of writing I find posts that still impress, with information that is as useful now as when it was written.

Jerks. Turks. Stars. Bro culture. Definitely insanely stupid. I wrote this exactly six years ago and nothing has changed; if anything, it’s gotten worse and the post is yet more applicable.

Golden Oldies are a collection of what I consider some of the best posts during that time.

Read other Golden Oldies here.

3937284735_35e9f47fb3_mAre you already a devotee of insanely smart hiring, in the process of changing after reading insanely stupid hiring or somewhere in-between?

Wherever your MAP is on the subject there is one thing about hiring that you need to wrap your head around if you want your career to flourish.

You can not hire stars, but you can create and maintain them.

This is as true of executives and management as it is of workers at all levels.

Think of hiring in terms of planting a garden—only these plants have feet.

You’re at the nursery and find a magnificent rose. It’s large, because it’s several years old, has dozens of blooms and buds and is exactly what you wanted for a particular space in your yard.

The directions say that the rose needs full sun to thrive, while the space in your yard only gets four to five hours of morning sun. But the rose is so gorgeous you can’t resist, convincing yourself that those hours from sunrise to 11 will be enough, so you take it home and plant it.

It seems to do OK at first, but as time goes by it gets more straggly and has fewer and fewer blooms.

Finally, you give it to your friend who plants it in a place that gets sun from early morning to sunset.

By the end of the next summer the rose is enormous, covered in blooms and has sprouted three new canes.

One of the things that insanely smart hiring does is ensure that people are planted where they will flourish, whether they are already thriving or are leaving an inhospitable environment.

I said earlier that people are like plants with feet. Abuse a plant, whether intentionally or through neglect, and it will wither and eventually die; abuse your people and sooner or later they will walk.

Insanely smart hiring also gives you a giant edge whether the people market is hot or cold.

By knowing exactly what you need, your culture, management style and the environment you have to offer you are in a position to find hidden and unpolished jewels, as well as those that have lost their luster by being in the wrong place. (Pardon the mixed metaphors.)

These are often candidates that other managers pass on, but who will become your stars—stars with no interest in seeking out something else.

They recognize insanely smart opportunities when they see them.

Flickr image credit: Ryan Somma

The Necessity Of Fools

Tuesday, February 21st, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/francescaromanacorreale/8162774877/

Yesterday’s Golden Oldie provided links to a variety of fools, most of which you can do without.

That said, there is one variety of fool that every company should have — and that is the wise fool, as described in King Lear.

Cloaked in the form of discourteous comments or unfiltered remarks, King Lear’s fool was able to express the thoughts that others were reluctant to express. Through the mask of comedy, he would remind the monarch of his own folly and humanity. As George Bernard Shaw once said, “every despot must have one disloyal subject to keep him sane.

Look around; does your company have at least one fool? Or, better yet, one fool in each department?

As Manfred Kets De Vries, the Distinguished Clinical Professor of Leadership Development & Organizational Change at INSEAD, points out.

All in all, fools are honest and loyal protectors, who allow society to reflect on and laugh at its own complex power relations. They can act as our “conscience” by helping us question our perceptions of wisdom and truth and their relationship to everyday experience. Through humor and frank communication, the “fool” and the “king” or “queen” engage in a form of deep play that deals with fundamental issues of human nature, such as control, rivalry, passivity, and action.

As such, fools contribute to group cohesion and an atmosphere of trust by providing an opportunity to humorously and critically review our values and judgments as the powerful socio-cultural structures of power pull, push, and shape our identity.

And, beyond all that, fools are a repository of wisdom — based on strong critical thinking coupled with extensive experience — which makes them excellent role models and a great source from which to learn.

Finally, whether a boss can hire, let alone keep, a fool is an accurate reflection of their MAP (mindset, attitude, philosophy™) and a good indicator of the prevailing culture.

Flickr image credit: Francesca Romana Correale

John Wooden On Stars

Wednesday, February 15th, 2017

https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/John_Wooden

In spite of being severely overloaded, KG still finds time to send me stuff he finds interesting and/or inspirational.

Over the years, we’ve had many discussions about culture and its importance in hiring.

He recently mentioned a quote from basketball player and Coach John Wooden.

“The main ingredient of stardom is the rest of the team.”

KG: In any high performing organization, there are lots of systems and processes that make the organization successful.

When you look at people considered stars, they are almost never part of second or third rate teams; they are almost always in organizations performing at the highest levels.

This doesn’t mean that there aren’t truly high performing people in lesser teams, it’s just that they are not defined as stars in general (sometimes they may be local stars, but generally don’t get the full recognition).

So a star, per definition, is a member of an organization that performs at the top.

Me: So true. I’d add that in most cases people become stars as a result of the culture and their manager, or so I’ve found.

KG: Exactly. Look at all the people who leave Goldman Sachs or Google who were stars there (e.g. Marissa Meyer) but are unable to maintain their level of performance outside the culture & systems of that environment.

That’s why it’s always dangerous to hire stars — more than anything else they are a product of their environment.

Me: Absolutely, and the poster child is GE’s Bob Nardelli!

(Click for more Wooden wisdom. For more information about stars and Nardelli use use the tags below.)

Image credit: Wikipedia

Golden Oldies: Bullies And Performance

Monday, February 6th, 2017

https://twitter.com/goldenoldiesbnnIt’s amazing to me, but looking back over more than 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.

I hate bullies. The biggest changes in the decade since I wrote this post are that there are more bullies, many using the anonymity of the internet to morph into trolls, more hand-wringing, that accomplishes nothing, and a rising tide less willing to be bullied that responds loudly and displays its disgust actively with its wit and its feet. Hopefully that tide will turn into a tsunami.

Read other Golden Oldies here.

Does your newspaper carry The Born Loser by Chip Sansom? Actually, I don’t find Brutus, the main character, to be a loser—just a slightly naive guy who works for an arrogant bully who constantly belittles him.

In the July 26 panel the dialog is as follows:

Boss: I am looking for a unique spin to put on our new ad campaign—do you have any ideas?

Brutus: Gee, Chief, I’m not sure—are there any ideas you think I should think of?

Boss: Brutus Thornapple, master of thinking inside the box.

It reminded me of managers I’ve known, who, no matter what happened or what feedback they received, never could understand that it was their MAP and their actions, not their people’s, that was the root cause of their under-performing groups.

After all, if you

  • ask for input and ridicule those who offer it, why be surprised when you stop receiving input;
  • claim that you want to solve problems while they’re still molehills, yet kill the messengers who bring the news, you should expect to grapple with mountainous problems requiring substantially more resources;
  • tell people their ideas are stupid, whether directly or circumspectly, or, worse, that they are for thinking of them, why should they offer themselves up for another smack with the verbal two-by-four?

So, before you start ranting or whining about your group’s lack of initiative and innovation, try really listening to yourself and the feedback you get and then look in the mirror—chances are the real culprit will be looking straight back at you.

If the Shoe Fits: Answer 5 Questions To Boost Your Management Skills

Friday, January 20th, 2017

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mDid you start this year with a promise to yourself to be a better boss?

If you didn’t you should have , because no matter how good you are you can always improve — but that’s true for everything.

In December I gave you 56 words that would change your life and at the start of the year three steps to being a better boss.

Today I’m providing five questions to ask yourself.

  1. How well do you delegate, AKA letting go/loss of control.
  2. Is your self esteem tied to your Klout score or your team’s accomplishments?
  3. Are you so tied to your vision that you’re blind to your market’s response?
  4. Do you practice culture by design or by accident?
  5. Do you want to get things done or just done your way.

Next, query five trusted colleagues for objective, outside input.

Compare the responses.

Depending on you’re your goals, adjust your attitudes and actions accordingly.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Role Models: Yuchun Lee

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017

Two old adages, “don’t waste time reinventing the wheel” and “profit from the mistakes of others, you don’t have time to make them all yourself” gave rise to a new series for 2017. Role Models is my effort to help you adhere to both, always remembering to tweak their ideas to fit your MAP.  

Yuchun LeeYuchun Lee was a member of the famous MIT blackjack team (the basis for the movie 21) and a serial entrepreneur since childhood. Unica, his first “real” startup, which went public in 2005 and sold for around $500 million to IBM in 2010 . He is currently co-founder/CEO of sales training startup Allego.

Lee learned early on that telling, let alone ordering, people to do whatever didn’t work and radically changed his approach.

But then you very soon realize that human beings have free will and you’ve got to persuade them.

He runs his company based on three core philosophies.

The first is the ability of the company to know what is true, what is not true, and what’s real and what’s not real. (…) The foundation is all about truth.

The second is how you behave as a team to solve problems. (…) Everybody’s trying to figure out how to look smart in front of the C.E.O. (…)  it’s actually O.K. if you sit there. If you’ve got nothing to say, don’t say it.

The third is about mistakes. We tell people you’ve got to love your mistake. If you go through a whole day without making a mistake, you just wasted a whole day because you probably haven’t pushed yourself. (…) You need to see mistakes as opportunities to improve.

Image credit: Allego

Golden Oldies: Deck the halls with honest feedback

Monday, December 19th, 2016

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.

It’s that time of year again and and my best advice hasn’t changed since 1977 or as I wrote it in 2007. The only difference is that now it’s the same advice you can find in dozens of places. Done right (as described below) reviews are the greatest gift you can give your people. So give it to them, even if you don’t get the same from your boss. After all, it is said that it’s better to give than receive and, as I tell clients, you can control the former, not the latter.

Read other Golden Oldies here.

performance-review-1I’ve written on and off about the importance of, and how to do, performance reviews and it’s that time of year again.So in yet another effort to convince you doubters out there that honesty is the best policy and your people really don’t want to hear feel-good fudging, prevarications or outright lies, especially around Christmas.

Social psychologist William B. Swann in a new study published in the Academy of Management Journal… People don’t like to be treated positively if they know it is not heartfelt. If people are coming across as inauthentic and forcing you to come across as inauthentic in return, that can be enormously stressful… His work has centered on an idea known as self-verification theory. All people carry around an image of themselves that tells them who they are, whether they are good-looking or average-looking, for example, or clever at math, or kind and thoughtful or largely self-centered. Inasmuch as people want to be recognized for the things they are good at, Swann’s work suggests many people also want honest acknowledgments of their flaws, and that when these flaws are minimized or wished away, people end up feeling worse rather than better.

Just remember, honest and authentic don’t mean abusive or destructive. Offering recognition of what the person does well and being candid about areas that need improvement are two hallmarks of a good review.

The third is no surprises, which means that you’ve been giving candid feedback throughout the year.

What kind of reviews do you give? Receive?

Golden Oldies: Vested Self-interest In Action

Monday, December 12th, 2016

It’s amazing to me, but looking back over more than 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.

To truly understand this post, you need to click the link and read the original explanation of VSI. VSI isn’t particularly original, but it is rarely called that — people prefer nicer or more professional sounding euphemisms. And that’s OK; I just prefer to opt for clarity and simplicity — which is why I’m considered too blunt.

Read other Golden Oldies here.

vsi-successTuesday I shared my version of VSI, the main ingredient in motivational sauce, and today I want to tell you a story about how it works.

Earlier this year I was working with a client, Jim, on various management approaches, such as offering good feedback and open sharing of all information, i.e., not dribbling it out over multiple requests, that he wanted to integrate into the company culture. During the conversation he asked me “What can I do to open the minds of some of my managers?”

Unfortunately, there is really nothing you can do to force a person to change the way they think, but there is much you can do to encourage it. I honestly believe that the fastest, as well as the most potent, way to encourage change is good old VSI.

I used to believe that people had to perceive the need for change before they could change, but based on experience I’ve found that if they see benefits to themselves from doing things differently they will start moving in that direction and the results can be almost surreal.

Jim had a manager who was known for making his people come to him constantly to get the information necessary to do the work they were assigned. His attitude/actions resulted in higher-than-normal turnover in his group, but he insisted that he wasn’t doing anything and people could get the information at any time, so there was no correlation.

Using VSI, Jim and I worked out a two-prong approach to change his behavior.

  • 20% of his annual bonus was tied to reducing his group’s turnover by 30% (which would bring it in line with the company as a whole); and
  • Jim started doing to the manager as he did to his group by forcing him to come and ask and then dribbling out the information he needed to meet his targets.

Part of the manager’s reaction was straightforward—he grumbled a bit about the retention bonus. But the surreal part was in his reaction to the information plug—nothing, not a word or an action to acknowledge what was going on.

However, he must have noticed, because within days of it starting he was giving more complete information to his people.

Not all at once and not very graciously, but he loosened his hold on the information flow, so did Jim. If the manager backtracked Jim tightened up and the manager learned that to get he had to give.

At first, his people were cautious, not really trusting the new openness, but after about a month the results started and after six weeks they took off like a rocket—productivity and retention zoomed north, while grumbling and discontent headed south and on into oblivion.

But the surreal part is that, in spite of his people commenting publicly on how differently he was handling assignments, meetings, etc., to this day the manager claims that nothing changed and certainly not him.

Image credit: Street Sign Generator

Golden Oldies: Mr. Welch, I respectfully disagree…

Monday, November 28th, 2016

It’s amazing to me, but looking back over more than 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.

I’ve changed a lot since I wrote this in 2006, as has the world. For one thing, if I was writing it today I wouldn’t say “respectfully.” I don’t respect Welch or consider him a sterling example of either management or leadership. Under his watch, GE profits soared — generated by the financial engineering employed by GE Financial.

Welch instigated a review system based on forced rankings resulting in a culture of fear and mistrust, which spread through major corporations like the flu, damaging moral and trashing talent. And he believes that careers take precedence over family, marriage and life in general. If you are a boss in the 21st Century he is definitely not a role model.

Read other Golden Oldies here.

Today I take my (professional) life in my hands and disagree with an icon. Jack and Suzy Welch write a column in Business Week called, “Ideas The Welch Way” that I’ve been ambivalent about since its inception. Jack Welch is one of the gods of the business Parthenon and for a “nobody” to publicly disagree with him—well, fools rush in and all that.

The July 17 column is about what HR is and should be. My disagreement is that they seem to feel that HR should orchestrate, and even do, line management’s job. In the second paragraph they say, “Look, HR should be every company’s killer app. What could possibly be more important than who gets hired, developed, promoted, or moved out the door?”

Agreed, nothing is more important; those four actions are critical, but there is no way that the most brilliant HR person can make the call on any of them. They are neither close enough to the day-to-day actions of each department or knowledgeable enough of the work and its technical requirements to determine

  • what skills should be strengthened or what skills-hole needs to be plugged most urgently based on upcoming projects;
  • the subtle competence, latent leadership or intuitive flashes of brilliance that would bloom with effort—or what efforts would produce the best growth;
  • the level and quality of leadership and interpersonal skills in action;
  • whether/when to terminate (unless the company uses some variety of forced ranking, a practice I really detest!)

These are not only the responsibility and decisions of line managers—it’s what they’re paid for!

I’m not saying that top flight HR can’t play a real role in a company’s success. I am saying that it can’t substitute for excellent managers and that the smaller the company the less need for HR talent or, in many cases, any HR beyond benefits administration.

Look, without people there is no such entity as a company (Welch and I agree on that). In my headhunting years I saw stars at all levels change companies and dim under different management; by the same token, I’ve seen people who were terminated for poor performance become internally (and externally) recognized stars under different management.

It’s great line managers at all levels that attract and retain talent.

Managers are the reason that

  • within the same company (or division) one department has high turnover while another doesn’t;
  • within a department one manager promotes from within and fills her openings while another doesn’t.

It’s managers that raise productivity, promote innovation, and set the company on the road to success.

And it’s the CEO, supported by his senior staff, which, as Welch says, should include HR, that is the font of the culture that allows and encourages all this to happen.

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