Monday, 06 June 2011 16:20

Make your company work for you

Considering the substantial amount of time that the average person spends at work, one would assume that a person would join a company whose professional values echo the employee’s personal beliefs. The truth is far removed from this notion. Author and international consultant Stan Slap believes that gaining the emotional commitment of a company’s managers is, as he puts it, “worth more than financial, intellectual and physical commitment combined.” In this interview, he discusses his book “Bury My Heart at Conference Room B,” why managers fall victim to a herd mentality and how a company can best get out of its own way.

You write about the herd mentality that causes managers to ‘legislate against themselves.’ What causes this to occur?

If you take any couple managers, pull them aside and talk to them about how they want to live and work and live at work … they’ll at least say that they want to bring the best of what their lives give them to work.

Yet, if you take those couple managers and put them back into a room filled with a lot of other managers, some bizarre herd mentality takes over and the managers start legislating against themselves. There is no evil brain in a jar behind the curtain. The conditions that managers deplore the most about managing, those were created, maintained and enforced by managers acting as “management,” the honor guard of the corporate organism.

As management, those managers perceive that the idea of prioritizing their personal values over company priorities is the stuff of organizational chaos and is very dangerous. In fact, this book is about proving that the truth is the complete opposite.

Creating an environment where managers can give emotional commitment is something where, as you put it, ‘enforcing or reinforcing it isn’t as important as getting out of the way and letting it happen.’ How can a company get out of its own way?

It requires some fierce truths about management. If you’re betting your company’s life on the next strategy and the next performance goal being attained, can you afford to take the chance of doing things the old way? Can you afford to not gain the most hard-core commitment possible from your management team? Can you afford to take the chance that things will work out? That’s really the ultimate argument for a company. The new truth is that a company cannot always be the first cause. Managers’ ability to get deepest fulfillment within the company must also be a cause.

To help a leader’s employees get to a better place, you write about four key steps: understanding your own values, taking the team to the bitter place, showing it the better place, and giving the team something for the trip. Tell us more about the last step and how it confirms employees’ sense of belonging.

The source of all of this is to understand your own values as a human being and to translate those into the promised better working conditions for your people.

If you’re going to define that value, you then have to contrast it by saying, ‘Well, we could go here, but we can’t stay where we are now and here’s the current definition of where we are based upon the meaning of my personal values.’ You’re giving people in an organization a very clear choice. They’d have to be clinically insane to ignore it.

The problem with that is that between where people are now and where they want to go lies 40 miles of bad road called ‘real life as a company.’ Unless you’re able to not just give them a vision of a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow but instead give them some self-motivational concept to keep moving along the way between bitter and better, they’re not going to go.

Published in Akron/Canton
Tuesday, 03 May 2011 12:42

Listen Up

Do you care what your customers think? Do you actively seek out their opinions on the product or service you provide? If you answered no to either or both of these questions, you’re running a big risk. In the era of real-time mass communication, companies should never pass up an opportunity for customer interaction. As author David Meerman Scott reminds readers in his book “Real-Time Marketing & PR,” the moment to capitalize on engaging one’s customer arrives and disappears in an instant.

In this interview with Smart Business, Scott discusses the best ways to answer one’s critics, the impact of a viral video and the advantages of connecting with your customers in real time.

You kick off the book with the ‘United Breaks Guitars’ story. Tell us why this is the ultimate cautionary tale for businesses.

What happened is Dave Carroll, who is a singer/songwriter for a band called Sons of Maxwell, was traveling from his home in Halifax, Nova Scotia, to a gig in Nebraska, and he had to change planes in Chicago’s O’Hare airport. He was traveling on United Airlines and they broke his guitar. He spent a full year trying to get compensation, [but] United refused. Since he’s a singer/songwriter, he told them, ‘I’m going to write three songs and post them on YouTube,’ which he did.

One of the songs has more than 10 million views to date on YouTube, and in just the first week, it generated 2 million views. Now the whole world is talking about and watching this video about how United Airlines breaks guitars. When something like this happens, your organization needs to respond. You need to be a part of what’s going on. You need to act like a human and not like a corporate drone.

Can you offer any advice for businesses that find themselves getting swept away in a wave of online criticism? Should they use the same Web methods to answer their critics?

I’m glad you used that word ‘criticism’ because I think the person who is worthy of a response is a thoughtful critic. In this case, Dave Carroll was a thoughtful critic. However, it doesn’t mean that you have to respond to every single thing that happens on the Web. There are cases, and in some industries there could be frequent cases, where people are just trying to be bullies. They’re trying to beat you up for the sake of trying to beat you up. In that case, that behavior does not necessarily deserve a response. But let’s assume it’s a thoughtful critic; you should be responding in the same media.

The ‘United Breaks Guitars’ story was a YouTube video. If I were United Airlines, what I would have done is post a YouTube video in response. What I would have done is have the chief baggage handler from United Airlines in Chicago where the incident occurred talk about what it’s like to process hundreds of thousands of bags every day. He wouldn’t even have to mention ‘United Breaks Guitars.’ Everyone would make that connection, and then all of a sudden, [United] is humanizing their organization. They’re seen as an organization who is paying attention and who cares.

Some companies believe real-time interaction with customers exposes a company to unnecessary risk. How can individuals in a traditional organization prove that it’s safe to connect with one’s customers?

I actually did a little research to find out the percentage of companies that do engage in real time. I measured the Fortune 100 and it turns out that 28 percent of the Fortune 100 are engaging in the ways that we just talked about and the ways that are in the book. Those 28 companies stock prices were up 3 percent during the period that I measured. The companies that did not engage had stock prices that went down 2 percent. So that 5 percent swing is the ROI of doing this kind of engagement.

Real-Time Marketing & PR: How to Instantly Engage Your Market, Connect with Customers and Create Products That Grow Your Business Now

>> By David Meerman Scott

>> Wiley, 244 pages, $24.95

About the book: “Real-Time Marketing & PR” puts to pasture traditional marketing plans that were worked out months in advance. In the era of instant communication, your customers can make an interaction with your company, and whether it’s good or bad, it can go viral in a matter of moments. This book helps companies leave behind old marketing and public relations models and seize the sudden opportunities that define this era of business.

The author: David Meerman Scott is the author of the best-seller “The New Rules of Marketing & PR” and “Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead.” He served as marketing director for Knight-Ridder in Asia. He is a popular blogger and speaker, focusing on how businesses implement new strategies to reach buyers.

Why you should read it: Scott makes one of the most valid arguments to date for the positive business impact of engaging one’s customers in real time. As he points out, organizations are letting incredible opportunities pass them by for reasons that are not entirely justified. A good experience should be promoted and a bad experience should be addressed. The longer a company waits to do either, the more it decreases the benefits. Scott’s examples highlight a variety of ways in which companies have successfully implemented real-time strategies.

Why it’s different: Scott doesn’t spend much time on the various methods of communication. Instead, he dives directly into situations and case studies. Readers will also appreciate the fact that he uses himself as an example of someone who lost an opportunity for failing to follow his own strategy.

Can’t miss: “Too Big to Succeed?” In this chapter, Scott gives a vote of confidence to small companies who wonder if their size limits their ability to compete in real time. He details a study that he conducted with the Fortune 100. Scott contacted each business in an attempt to see how it engaged its customers in real time. The results are shocking, particularly when readers discover how the proactive companies performed on Wall Street in the aftermath of Scott’s study.

To share or not to share: This book should be given to anyone in an executive’s marketing department. It should then be shared with readers in various executive positions throughout the company. As Scott points out, everyone has a role to play in engaging customers in real time.

Soundview Executive Book Summaries:

Concentrated Knowledge Corp. now offers a new, online executive education tool: CKC’s Executive Edge. This monthly skill-building resource features insights from top business books, notable authors and world-leading business executives. For a closer look and to sign up, visit Summary.com/xe.

Published in Atlanta

Do nice guys always finish last? Jeffrey Pfeffer, author and Stanford University professor, has a strong hunch that they do. He argues that an agreeable, modest demeanor puts one at a serious disadvantage when it comes to reaching the upper echelon of the corporate world. Part of the problem is people worry too much about what everyone else thinks.

In his book, “Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don’t,” Pfeffer presents a plainspoken set of principles to ensure that a business professional gets noticed, connected and promoted in rapid succession. In this interview, he discusses why caring what others think is a recipe for disaster and why readers should seek to stand out from others.

You offer the advice that getting noticed is a key step on the path to obtaining power. Is there a right way to go about promoting oneself?

One thing that people often fail to do correctly is get other people to sing their praises for them. Even if you know that the person who is singing your praises has been hired by you to do it, it’s still better than doing it yourself. Do a favor for your colleagues and your organization; sing their praises and, in return, have them sing yours. Having other people tout you is a very good thing that some people don’t do enough of.

When the choice is between being noticed even if you’ve done it on your own versus not being noticed, it’s important for people to be noticed and be willing to stand out. Again, that goes back to this notion of not being liked. Some people say to themselves, ‘If I stand out, other people will envy me.’ That is certainly correct. People will envy you to the extent that you start out with a group of people and you rise up the organization faster than them. Get over what your peers are thinking about you because your peers are also your competitors.

You wrote that some tactics that would be considered workplace bullying are actually effective for the perpetrator. Are there cases where it can prevent someone from achieving power?

Leadership literature is very normative in its orientation. It describes a world that would not only be a nicer world, but one in which organizations would actually be more effective if people didn’t engage in bullying and abusive behaviors. But one of the questions people need to ask is, ‘If this is the case, why are there so many bad bosses in the world? Why are there so many bullies?’

People obviously prefer to deal with nice individuals. But above and beyond being nice, they’d like to deal with strong individuals and competent individuals. They like to believe that they’re associating with winners. The interesting thing is that, empirically, in many instances, niceness and competence are negatively correlated in people’s perceptions. [This is] not in reality but in how people perceive others.

Teresa Amabile [Edsel Bryant Ford Professor of Business Administration in the Entrepreneurial Management Unit at Harvard Business School] wrote an article several years ago (titled) ‘Brilliant but Cruel’ in which she found that people who gave negative book reviews were perceived as less nice but smarter and more competent.

What can you offer people who feel as though they’ve reached a dead end on the path to power?

Bernie Marcus, who wrote this wonderful book about his founding of The Home Depot [‘Built From Scratch,’ co-authored with co-founder Arthur Blank], says in the preface that the founding of The Home Depot began with the words, ‘You’re fired.’ He had been fired from Handy Dan Home Improvement Center. There is almost no career that I know of that does not have setbacks and adversity and opposition. The thing that makes people successful is the willingness to say, ‘OK, I’ve had a setback. What can I learn from this? I’m going to persist until I succeed.’

Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don’t

>> By Jeffrey Pfeffer

>> Harper Business, 288 pages, $27.99

About the book: “Power” is Stanford University professor Jeffrey Pfeffer’s examination of what it takes to successfully play the game of office politics. He suggests that many individuals fail to ascend to higher ranks in an organization because they mistakenly believe that the world is a fair and just place. Pfeffer offers insights into the accumulation and maintenance of power and the reasons why individuals who possess it lose their way.

The author: Jeffrey Pfeffer is the Thomas D. Dee II Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Graduate School of Business, Stanford University. He is the author of 13 books including, “What Were They Thinking?” and “Managing with Power: Politics and Influence in Organizations.”

Why you should read it: “Power” is unapologetic in its portrayal of the modern workplace. While the latter half of the first decade of the 21st century was a time in which the title of CEO became vilified, little has been done to change the traditional methods of asserting dominance in the work environment. After years of observation, Pfeffer provides the tactical means to navigate one’s way to the upper levels of an organization. Anyone in management who feels as if his or her efforts to quietly deliver good results are going unrewarded should read “Power.” It’s less a flirtation with the dark side than it is an accurate picture of what it takes to succeed in today’s ultra-competitive work environment.

Why it’s different: There are numerous management books that, as Pfeffer stated in the interview, offer an idealistic vision of what the workplace should be. Pfeffer goes against the grain and gives readers the ugly truth about success. He accepts and promotes the fact that his book will make some readers uncomfortable.

Can’t miss: “Getting In: Standing Out and Breaking Some Rules.” In this chapter, Pfeffer covers one of the more difficult skills for readers to master: the art of self-promotion. It is a delicate art that is rife with opportunities for heavy-handedness. Pfeffer does an excellent job of providing examples of the right ways to ensure that the most important people in an organization notice a reader’s stand-out achievements.

To share or not to share: This is not a book that is likely to be shared. People who oppose Pfeffer’s ideas would not want “Power” to fall into the wrong hands. Readers who agree with Pfeffer’s insights would prefer to keep his wisdom to themselves.

Soundview Executive Book Summaries:

Concentrated Knowledge Corp. now offers a new, online executive education tool: CKC’s Executive Edge. This monthly skill-building resource features insights from top business books, notable authors and world-leading business executives. For a closer look and to sign up, visit Summary.com/xe.

Published in Akron/Canton
Tuesday, 01 March 2011 12:06

Finding innovation in chaos

The global financial crisis that began in 2008 brought a sudden end to a number of businesses. However, according to Jeremy Gutsche, author and founder of TrendHunter.com, history suggests that a great business of the future will trace its roots back to the darkest days of the past three years. The reason is that many companies that struggle do so because they get too caught up with the day-to-day routine of getting through the crisis and forget the importance of really understanding the changes that are taking place. In this interview, Gutsche discusses his book, “Exploiting Chaos,” why Fortune magazine was able to succeed during the Great Depression and the reason that culture beats strategy.

You profile Fortune magazine in ‘Exploiting Chaos.’ Why was it able to succeed despite being launched during the Great Depression?

Fortune magazine is particularly interesting to me because the magazine was launched just four months after the 1929 Wall Street crash. It was priced at $1 an issue, which in that day made it the same price as a wool sweater. A price of $1 an issue made it more expensive than any magazine that had been on the scene at that point. But during the Great Depression, it grew its subscriber base to half a million people. They made about $7 million in modern-day profit.

Why that’s interesting is not that it was a luxury publication during such a difficult time, but rather that Fortune followed a new consumer need. If you put yourself in the mindset of people during the 1930s, they were trying to figure out what happened to our economies. For the first time, the decisions that put people in economic hardship were caused by corporations that were operating behind boardroom doors. Fortune offered a glimpse into what was happening behind those boardroom doors. How did we get here and when would we emerge? Like many of these other success stories, [Fortune’s story] is simply an example of a company that was able to spot new opportunities and consumer needs and, thereby, reinvent.

At one point, you discuss your own experience as head of Capital One Canada’s up-market lending business. You were given an odd goal: Don’t let profits decline by more than 20 percent. What did this crisis teach you, and how did you turn this business around?

This period of crisis really enabled us to cut through the red tape. Instead of having a couple of weeks to get legal or compliance approval, now suddenly, you could get it a little bit quicker because they had to cut out the unnecessary steps. This need to change can be used by companies when you’re trying to think about how to really compel people to move and try new things. You can use that external economic motivator, that crisis flag, as a way to really create a sense of urgency.

I got my entire team to set up booths across Canada where, if you went to the Capital One booth, you were actually talking to a marketer or an ad agency rep or a finance person. Their purpose was to work the booth so we could just talk to customers and really understand how consumer needs had evolved. As a result, we ended up launching new products and with that red tape cut, we could get them out a little faster. Instead of shrinking the business by only 20 percent, we tripled our monthly bookings and that business went on to become a billion-dollar business.

For me, the interesting takeaway wasn’t the general idea of how you should reinvent a product. It was the idea that the sense of urgency, the customer obsession and that crisis can actually help you to create miraculous things.

Exploiting Chaos: 150 Ways to Spark Innovation During Times of Change

By Jeremy Gutsche

©2009 HarperCollins, 272 pages, $20

About the book: “Exploiting Chaos” offers readers 150 strategies to spark innovation and reinvention during difficult economic times. Author Jeremy Gutsche argues that turbulent economic periods present windows of opportunity. He examines historical examples of companies that successfully innovate during crisis periods and provides a detailed four-part plan to accomplish the seemingly impossible.

The author: Jeremy Gutsche is an innovation expert and the founder of TrendHunter.com, the world’s largest network for trend spotting and innovation. Gutsche has appeared in the pages of The Economist and The Financial Times as well as on “Entertainment Tonight” and Fox News.

Why you should read it: Gutsche presents information in a rapid-fire fashion, but the accompanying stories are so memorable that a reader won’t need a notepad. His focus on customer obsession is a much-needed message for businesses looking to distinguish themselves in today’s global economy. Gutsche’s expertise on innovation means readers receive a comprehensive set of ideas delivered with unparalleled authority.

Why it’s different: The book’s design stands out against the majority of business books available in today’s market. Its large type and eye-catching use of photographs make it instantly engaging. Gutsche offers one of the most powerful arguments for a shift from strategy to culture. This idea is gaining ground, and “Exploiting Chaos” will no doubt help the movement. Businesses that want to improve their innovation strength would do well to heed Gutsche’s revolutionary call.

Can’t miss: “Observe in the Zone” — In this example, Gutsche writes about the experiences of John Manoogian, Cadillac’s head of external design. Cadillac was taken by surprise when the Escalade, an SUV designed for older, affluent males, became the dominant symbol of hip-hop culture. What Manoogian did to learn more about this audience will leave some readers in disbelief. It’s a powerful lesson in customer obsession.

To share or not to share: The format of “Exploiting Chaos” makes the book perfect for sharing. In fact, Gutsche’s short, explosive chapters could easily be adapted into blog posts or a page-per-day calendar.

Soundview Executive Book Summaries:

Concentrated Knowledge Corp. is proud to announce the debut of its newest executive education tool: CKC’s Executive Edge. This e-newsletter is a monthly skill-building resource that features insights from top business books, notable authors and world-leading business executives. For a closer look and to sign up, visit www.summary.com/xe.

Published in Cincinnati
Sunday, 26 December 2010 19:00

Nothing but the truth

During the course of a career that has spanned three decades, authors and leadership experts James Kouzes and Barry Posner have interacted with leaders at organizations of all sizes and disciplines. More than 1 million individuals have responded to the pair’s leadership assessment exercises. Drawing on this seemingly bottomless pool of information, the pair examined the common threads that help the best leaders take their organizations to the pinnacle of success. The result is their latest book, “The Truth About Leadership: The No-Fads, Heart-of-the-Matter Facts You Need to Know.” In an interview with Soundview Executive Book Summaries, the authors discuss who most employees believe is the most important leader in their organization.

One fact that may surprise readers is who has the most impact on employees. People immediately think this must be the head of a company or other C-level executive. Who really is the most important leader?

James Kouzes: The most important leader is your immediate manager. So, if your most immediate manager is the chief executive officer, then that person will have the most impact on you. However, if he or she is not your immediate manager, it’s unlikely that that person will have as much of an impact on your performance on a day-to-day basis as your first-line supervisor. While we often make heroes of people who make the covers of Fortune and Forbes and BusinessWeek and The New York Times, those people don’t have the most impact on the day-to-day behavior of the majority of people in organizations.

When you discuss the Eighth Truth — You Either Lead By Example Or You Don’t Lead At All — you point out the need for the honest admission of mistakes or wrongdoing. What would you say to help people take the first step toward being more honest about their mistakes?

Barry Posner: Leadership is personal. It’s a human connection, a personal connection, between leaders and constituents. The basis of that relationship is built upon a sense of honesty. So, behaviorally, when we ask the question, ‘How do you demonstrate if someone is honest?’ the glib response is that they tell the truth. When we then ask, ‘How can you tell if the person is telling the truth?’ the response is usually based on if the person can admit that they made a mistake.

One of the things that makes admitting a mistake easier to do is based in another truth we talk about. It’s based in the realization that you can’t do it alone. You have to be honest with people because, in the end, you’re not going to be successful all by yourself. Moreover, people will tell you that when somebody’s made a mistake, other people know it. Now they’re just waiting for you to acknowledge it, learn from it and maybe move on.

The final truth — Leadership Is An Affair Of The Heart — steps away from the old logic of ‘Hey, it’s just business.’ Why is it crucial for leaders to engage with their hearts?

Kouzes: We have this perception of a leader as being tough and aggressive and assertive, throwing chairs across a basketball court to get people to follow him. That image is not what the data suggests makes the most effective leader. It’s by putting other people first and yourself second and remembering that your job is to enlarge the lives of others. When you put your heart into that, into the people you lead and in the business and in the people who do you the service of buying your products and services, you can get extraordinary things done.

Posner: Leadership is hard work. It’s hard to imagine that anyone would be willing to do all the things that you need to do as a leader and make the sacrifices that are required to get extraordinary things done if his or her heart wasn’t in it.

Published in National
Monday, 26 July 2010 20:00

What do you want?

What is it that causes the average executive to plant his or her feet on the floor and get out of bed in the morning? The root cause of this action can be applied to many aspects of that executive’s life. Perhaps more importantly for a leader is figuring out what motivates your employees to get out of bed in the morning and coming up with a way to make that step easier to take. Author Daniel H. Pink (“A Whole New Mind,” “Free Agent Nation”) examines motivation in his latest book, “Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us.” In this interview, Pink discusses Type X and Type I personalities as well as the problems with traditional “carrot-and-stick” motivation.

You give ample evidence that carrot-and-stick isn’t effective, yet it continues to persist. Why are we stuck on Motivation 2.0?

It works very well for short-term tasks and it works very well for simple, routine, algorithmic tasks, whether it’s stuffing envelopes, adding up columns of figures or turning a screw on an assembly line. If it doesn’t demonstrably work for everything, why do we keep using it for everything? I’m not sure. I think part of the answer is that these external motivators, carrot-and-stick motivators are fairly easy.

The other problem is that there’s a certain amount of inertia. This is how we’ve always done things and that’s very hard to scrub out of the system. These kinds of motivators have persisted for longer than the evidence suggests that they ought to have.

The research suggests that Type I behavior also leads to better physical and mental well-being. Can you tell us a little about these findings?

That’s actually a really interesting part of the research. Typically, I use Type I and Type X as a shorthand for describing different orientations. Someone who is Type I is more intrinsically motivated than extrinsically motivated. Again, that doesn’t mean that they don’t cash their paychecks.

But their central source of motivation energy is intrinsic desires, the desire to get better at stuff, the desire to do the things that they want to do. Someone who is Type X is typically driven more by external rewards: the acclaim, the money, those sorts of things. But again, it doesn’t mean that they hate everything that they do. It’s just sort of an orientation.

What’s pretty clear is that people who have that more intrinsic motivation are happier. They have greater levels of what psychologists call ‘subjective well-being.’ It’s a pathway to overall life satisfaction. If you’re doing something you like to do because you want to do it, if you’re doing it and you’re connected to something larger than yourself, then that does have a powerful effect on your subjective wellbeing.

The three elements of this new form of motivation, you list as autonomy, mastery and purpose. Can you explain why autonomy is actually the secret to higher performance?

Management is simply a way to organize people into productive capacities. It’s a technology, in a sense, and it’s a technology designed to get people to comply. But I think that in this work force, a work force where more and more people are not doing simple, routine work, but are doing more complex, conceptual kind of work, you don’t want compliance. You want engagement.

The pathway to engagement is not management; it is self-direction. You have these examples of a lot of companies around the world giving what seems to be radical amounts of autonomy to individuals in their organizations. [It’s] autonomy over when they do what they do, their time, how they do it, their technique, their team, who they do it with and even what they actually do, their tasks. That [level of] self-direction is a pathway to engagement in much the same way that management is a gateway to compliance.

Published in National
Tuesday, 23 February 2010 19:00

Going for the green

When it comes to consumer products, there is new meaning to the phrase, “global implications.” A product’s impact on the planet, as well as the person, is now a part of the shopping process for a growing number of consumers. More and more people want to feel like they are doing their part to make the earth a better and cleaner place.

Companies that are able to address the needs of these eco-savvy consumers by having a positive impact on the environment could position themselves for success in the coming decade.

Daniel Goleman, author of “Ecological Intelligence: How Knowing the Hidden Impacts of What We Buy Can Change Everything,” spoke with Smart Business about this new marketplace and the companies and consumers that populate it.

Businesses are finding that more customers are no longer tolerant of companies using any means necessary to produce a product. What brought us to this point?

I think it’s a conjunction of two mega-trends. One is the growing sense of anxiety and unease about the state of the planet, and I’m talking not just about global warming. People are seeing just a steady drumbeat of headlines about toxic chemicals in products they’ve used for years. We’re using up nonrenewable resources all because of, basically, our individual decisions when we go shopping.

The other massive trend is that transparency is coming to the marketplace and it’s coming in the form of new information systems that make it possible for a company or a consumer to track the specific downside or ecological impact of industrial processes and the products that drive them. A new consumer awareness is merging with a consumer anxiety and it’s creating a new marketplace reality.

Why will a business save money later by investing in better ecological practices now?

Instead of looking at an ecological improvement as a cost-saver, people are looking at it as a money-maker. It’s a top-line advantage. It’s going to be competitive in the marketplace. You gain or lose market share in the day-to-day marketplace of the future on the basis of your brand’s reputation in this domain.

That means if you can get a top-line advantage, you can manage more development costs in the beginning because it’s a smart R&D investment. Also, as these market pressures go through the supply chain, it means you can take these innovations to scale much more quickly.

It’s a ‘two-for’ really. It resolves the old tension between voices for social responsibility in business that say, ‘We should do it because it’s the right thing,’ and other voices that say, ‘No, we can’t do it unless you can show a strong business case for it because our first duty is to shareholder profits.’ Now those two things align going into the future.

Are smaller businesses better able to make these changes or is this the domain of big business due to a large company’s profit margins?

You can do this on any scale. What Wal-Mart is doing as a giant company is asking smaller companies, which, in turn, ask smaller companies and so on, to get better at looking at how they make their respective products. What this does is create a fantastic entrepreneurial opportunity particularly for small companies.

Small companies can be far more original in their thinking and far more innovative in coming up with better ways of doing even one thing. But if you do one thing better than anyone else in a marketplace that’s looking for that one thing, you have a tremendous business opportunity.

So, I think that even though this is happening on a mass scale, for smaller companies, whatever your niche is, whatever your product or service is, if you start getting more ecologically intelligent about how you do what you do, it’s going to become a marketplace advantage.

Ecological Intelligence: How Knowing the Hidden Impacts of What We Buy Can Change Everything

By Daniel Goleman

Broadway Books ©2009, 276 pages, $26

Published in National
Saturday, 26 December 2009 19:00

Getting what you want

It’s a reality of business that not every project is going to run flawlessly. Problems are going to crop up. What frustrates executives at every level is the inability to pinpoint these hiccups that threaten to derail a project that is otherwise progressing as expected. Roger Connors and Tom Smith, founders of Partners In Leadership Inc., decided to delve into the complex answer to the obvious question with their book, “How Did That Happen? Holding People Accountable for Results the Positive, Principled Way.”

Connors spoke to Smart Business about why there is a resistance to accountability in today’s workplace and what businesses can do to ensure that holding others accountable is a positive part of the work process.

If accountability is an essential practice, why are businesses so hesitant about implementing it?

There are really two reasons. Accountability really begins by clearly defining results. Organizations today have a hard time clarifying and prioritizing what are the most important results they need to work on. We find that nine out of 10 senior management teams have a very difficult time articulating when we ask them, ‘What are the top three results you need to achieve as a management team?’

The second reason is that management organizations and teams have a very difficult time establishing the right manner in which they create accountability. When you usually ask someone the question, ‘When do you hear about accountability?’ (the answer is) generally, ‘When something has gone wrong.’ So, accountability has become something that happens to you when things go wrong. That’s negative and counterproductive.

The book discusses the ‘inner ring’ and ‘outer ring’ of accountability. How do these help change ineffective practices?

First, you have to understand that what you create accountability for is what you’re going to get. The outer ring is designed to help you be really clear about what you’re creating accountability for. I had an experience early on in my consulting career with a medical device company and the focus of the team was really on creating a quality product. But when you went down to the assembly line, what you found were people producing a product that wasn’t highly rated in terms of quality.

When they explored what was going on, you’d ask an assembly line person what was happening and they’d say, ‘Well, all that management wants is to ship the product.’ What management at this company created accountability for, even though they didn’t realize it, was a clear focus on getting the product shipped, not on quality.

When they understood the expectation that (the production staff) had in their minds, the managers were able to shift that expectation. They were able to move forward with that process and create that kind of clarity so that within two years, they were among the highest scored in customer satisfaction in their particular industry. That happened because they created clarity about the expectations they wanted people to understand they had and they would hold them accountable for what they do.

You discuss the need for the inspection of expectations. How can a leader convey to his or her employees that inspection isn’t negative?

We think that the key behind a real positive, effective inspection is to have a two-way conversation with someone and establish upfront that this is how we’re going to check in and talk about progress along the way. When people have that understanding, our experience has been that people actually look forward to the inspection. People are given an opportunity to talk about what they’ve accomplished, as opposed to what they haven’t accomplished. It also creates periodic opportunities for people to talk about the other support that’s needed and to test boundaries that they might be assuming.

How Did That Happen? Holding People Accountable for Results the Positive, Principled Way

By Roger Connors and Tom Smith

Portfolio ©2009,, 252 pages, $26.95

Published in National
Tuesday, 26 October 2010 20:00

Learning to work together

Predicting the future has never been more difficult. When backed with empirical data, the art of doing so becomes a little less daunting. Jeanne C. Meister and Karie Willyerd attempt to provide a comprehensive look at the talent pool that will populate the workplace of tomorrow in their book, “The 2020 Workplace: How Innovative Companies Attract, Develop, and Keep Tomorrow’s Employees Today.” In this interview provided by Soundview Executive Book Summaries, the authors discuss three trends every company must anticipate as well as IBM’s penchant for getting its employees engaged in giving more.

Why are we on the cusp of a major leap forward in the pursuit of talent?

We created a survey of our own social network of 2,200 global working professionals and a second survey of 300 heads of human resources and learning. We identified three trends that are going to transform the workplace as we enter the workplace in 2020.

The first trend is globalization. Companies will continue to experience tremendous growth in the BRIC part of the world: Brazil, Russia, India and China.

This opens up all new areas for global talent, access to sourcing and identifying global talent.

The second trend is one of the multigenerational work force. We say in the book that it’s five generations working side by side by the year 2020. Hence, age diversity will be the newest diversity issue for HR executives.

Finally, (the third trend will be) the use of social technologies in the workplace. As the hyper-connected generation that we’ve identified as “Generation 2020” enters the workplace, millennials will be 50 percent of the work force. They will demand and expect a workplace that is as wired, and one that can be as easily connected to their friends and colleagues, as they’ve been used to in their personal lives.

You say the 1990s were the E decade (e-learning, e-books, etc.), but 2010 to 2019 will be the S decade. Tell us what this means and what we can expect over the next 10 years.

The ‘S’ that we refer to in the book stands for ‘social,’ and it represents how much people are going to be socially connected through the ways in which we learn. Right now, it’s estimated that you can keep only 8 to 10 percent of the information you need to do your job in your head.

You need to be able to connect to other people who are, kind of, your ‘guild of experts.’ They connect with you socially so you are able to perform your job. Social collaboration includes things like jointly designing products. We cover a couple examples in the book of companies that are open-sourcing and crowd-sourcing the development of products. So, people who might have been competitors become collaborators in what is sometimes called ‘co-opetition,’ a combination of cooperation and competition.

The Workplace Engagement 2020 (or WE 2020) was a highlight of the book. Can you tell us about a company that demonstrates WE 2020?

IBM is a stellar example throughout the book. They have something called the ‘Corporate Service Corps’ where they are identifying high-potential IBM managers around the world and inviting them to compete to go to a part of the world where IBM is experiencing growth. It could be anywhere from India to Russia to Ghana to Romania and they join a team with a local outfit and the employee brings his or her skills, be it project management or finance or marketing, to live and work in this part of the world. IBM calls this an opportunity to grow each and every employee’s global citizenship skills.

Published in National
Thursday, 26 August 2010 20:00

Are you stuck in the ‘belly’?

The cover of technology columnist Kevin Maney’s book, “Trade-Off: Why Some Things Catch On, and Others Don’t” is the classic picture worth a thousand words. The cover shows a scale with a lemon on one side and an apple on the other. The scale is tipped in favor of the lemon. Maney’s argument is a simple one: Products and services can either be high-fidelity or high-convenience to be successful. The scale must definitely rest on one side or the other. If it doesn’t, your chances at finding success in the business world become pretty slim. In this interview, Maney reveals why companies that attempt to provide fidelity and convenience in the same experience see their offerings fall into the depths of a “fidelity belly.”

The fidelity belly claims its share of victims. Where are companies going wrong?

It varies depending on whether we’re talking about an old business or a new business. Now, I witnessed the fall into the fidelity belly firsthand by working at a newspaper. A newspaper used to be, going back a decade or two, the convenient form of news. It was what landed on your doorstep every morning with a whole package of news.

Pre-Internet, there was no more convenient way to get a wide variety of news. As technology came along, it made other ways to get news more convenient: getting it on a computer screen, getting it on a cell phone screen.

Newspapers eventually fell into this place where they were no longer the convenient form of news for a whole new generation, nor were they particularly a high-fidelity, good form of news that made people desire it enough to seek it out.

When you’re talking about a start-up creating a brand-new product, what seems to happen more often than not is that they try to be too much. They come in and believe, “We’re going to make most convenient product that is also the best thing you’ll ever see.” What ends up happening is that you try to make the compromise between those two things and you wind up being not enough of either. You wind up being in this place that I describe in the book that I call the fidelity belly.

You point out that Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz reached a point where he made the fateful decision to aggressively expand the brand. This led to saturation, but what advantage would come from resisting the temptation to grow?

Starbucks is actually a cautionary tale because it had this very high-fidelity brand and product that, by driving it to such ubiquity, it basically tarnished the brand. By opening so many stores so fast, it had baristas who were not trained properly. It had tried to put in automated coffee machines that made coffee that wasn’t as good. The customers noticed and they started to turn away.

If you’re a high-fidelity company, that means, essentially speaking, you’re a low-volume, high-margin company. The pressure on you as a manager is always going to be to grow, to grow volume, keep the margins high. Of course you want to do that — that’s part of what you do when you’re running a company — but the wise CEOs out there cherish that brand, that image, that fidelity and make sure that whatever growth happens happens while maintaining that fidelity and not overdoing it. There’s a delicate balance at work.

Published in National
Page 2 of 4