Articles by Steve

You are currently browsing Steve’s articles.

BeanFest

Over the last few years a lot of research has been done on the science of political thought. Recently psychologists Russell Fazio and Natalie Shook had a group of self identified liberals and conservatives play BeanFest. BeanFest is a simple video game where the player sees a variety of cartoon beans in different shapes and sizes. Each bean has different numbers of dots on it. The player must choose whether to accept or not to accept each new type of bean when it is presented…without knowing what will happen.

Some beans give points while others take them away. You don’t know which will occur until you pick one.

Liberals tried out all sorts of beans racking up lots of points…but also losing lots of points. In the process they learned about a lot of different types of beans. Conservatives tried out fewer beans. They lost fewer points but gathered less information about different beans.

In other research using personality tests, liberals tend to score higher on openness…the desire to explore, try new things, meet new people. Conservatives score higher on conscientiousness…the desire for order, structure, stability.

A third collection of research has shown that conservatives have a greater focus on the alarming, things that are threatening. The world is a more dangerous place to them.

All this research has been a search to explain the different and often incompatible worldviews of political differences. People on opposite sides of the political spectrum truly do view the world in completely different ways. They live in different worlds and view problems and possible solutions in totally incompatible ways. This difference seems to occur around the world.

While this research is aimed at the political differences we see demonstrated daily, it has major implications for running a successful business and for those in business management and leadership positions. Except for the smallest businesses, most businesses employ people with both these political worldviews. Beyond that, most businesses have suppliers, customers, and prospects that span this divide.

The good news is that mixing people with these disparate ways of viewing the world and acting on these views can lead to more comprehensive corporate thinking that considers all options. Clever managers can align style of thinking with tasks to be done, create teams that come up solutions that are better than those found by a group composed of those who think alike.

The bad news is…you need to figure out how to communicate and operate in ways that accept and engage difference. You need to understand that this difference in worldview and ways of thinking is not good or bad…it’s just different. And through difference fully respected often comes greater strength.

It’s a difficult balancing act for any manager. Balancing the need to get things done in a coordinated and consistent way with the need to allow input from a diverse collection of people who view things through completely different lenses. Those who figure this out come to be leaders rather than managers.

Leadership is a much overused term these days. Too many think it comes from position, but many in supposed positions of leadership aren’t remotely leaders. They’re just managers with the fanciest title.

True leadership comes from painting a vision that pulls in and values all viewpoints. It comes with a certain humility and willingness to listen and hear while staying true to the values and beliefs that underlie everything. True leadership is being able to communicate in ways that both the liberals and conservatives can hear, understand, believe, and follow. True leadership is a rare thing indeed.

 

 

 

Do you check your business email before you go to bed? Multiple times over weekends and holidays? In the middle of your daughter’s wedding?

Does it make you crazy when you find yourself in a place where there is no signal? So crazy that you check every few minutes just in case a signal has somehow managed to find you?

If so, you’re not alone.

A 2012 survey by the Center for Creative Leadership discovered that 60% of professionals kept in touch with work for  13.5 hours every work day and spent an addition 5 hours dealing with email on weekends.  That adds up to 72 hours of work a week.

The higher you go in an organization, the worse it gets. Pew Research found that people who make over $75,000 a year fret that their phone makes it impossible for them to turn off work…ever.

Some of you are no doubt smiling and thinking how wonderful this is. Such dedicated workers. And without giving anyone a raise.

But there is a cost. Decreased attention span. Loss of focus. Stress.

Boston Consulting Group became so concerned by this that they allowed Harvard professor Leslie Perlow to do some research on this issue on one of their consulting teams. As part of the research they carved out regular time when team members would be left along…totally.

The result? Immediate reduction in stress levels. Job satisfaction increased. Hours worked weekly decreased by 11% without any loss in productivity.  Most amazingly, clients reported either no change in work product or that the consultants’ work had actually improved.

Before you think this study is an outlier, do a Google search and you’ll find there are many studies showing the same thing.

It seems that constant interruptions, the stress of always being connected to work, the disconnect from your family, friends, and non-work life in general…really do decrease your results while increasing the time you work. And more importantly, it does the same thing for your employees.

Burned out, stressed out, exhausted employees are not good for your business. Give Them A Rest.

Start small and see what happens. Tell your people to turn off their business phones at 8 in the evening and not look again until 8 in the morning. Maybe take a look Saturday morning but not again until Monday morning. See what happens. If you get the same results as Boston Consulting Group, expand the free from phone time until you get to a good balance between work and non working.

Remember, it has to come from you. And you have to follow the same rules. No sending emails to employees during phone off time and then being aggravated they didn’t immediately respond. No checking your phone every ten minutes all weekend. Who knows, you might find your own stress reduced and your productivity increased…just like your people’s.

It seems the cold war has been revived. Or, perhaps it’s not exactly the cold war as real fighting is going on and territory is being annexed. The world is watching as the verbal battle between Putin and Obama plays out around the actual ground game taking place.

Just now they announced that a Russian fighter jet made numerous close passes to a US warship. Seems the risk of a conflagration is rising.

As we all watch the ineffective response of those trying to encourage Russia to stop its territorial acquisition, I’m reminded of the what a client who was a master negotiator once shared. Pex Muldoon, among other things CEO of Lavino Shipping Company, often was in negotiations with unions: longshoreman and teamsters. Yet as tough as these unions are in negotiations, Pex would wind up with deal he could live with…and so could the unions.

Without strikes and great animosity.

I once asked him how he managed to keep things running smoothly during contract negotiations. He shared how he always tried to be fair…and the unions knew this. More importantly, the unions knew that when his negotiators came back to the table after conferring with him and said, “Pex said this is the last offer”, the unions knew he meant it.

He then shared the real secret. He was willing to take a strike for as long as it took…and the unions knew this too. He had a red line. When you reached that line, he followed through with his threat. Actually, threat is too strong a word. He merely shared the response that you would get if you crossed the line. The ball was now in your court. You controlled what would happen…good or bad.

He always followed through. And everyone knew it.

Wandering around a wild and remote island clears the mind and leaves it free to ruminate. Throw in some reading ranging from Abraham Lincoln to the Booz & Company journal “strategy + business” to a wonderful crime thriller by the Swedish author Owen Laukkanen…and a few ideas surface.

Amazingly Lincoln, Booz strategy writers, and FBI Agent Windemere agree on the basics of leading others and achieving excellent results in the face of overwhelming odds.

Principles: it is critical to have a few, 4 or 5 at most, core principles that guide everything you do. Principles that are inviolate and are at the core of your being and provide the base on which all of your ideas and actions build.

Simplicity: the simpler you can explain things, the more effective your message. As you add complexity you increase the chances for misunderstanding, confusion, and incomprehension. Take the time to reduce your messages to the simplest way possible to express your idea.

Emotion: humans are both emotional and rational but how we feel about something guides the decision. Ideas expressed simply with emotional triggers grab people and connect them to you and the idea you’re expressing. Facts fill in the details but emotion binds them to you.

Put Yourself Out There: show yourself often, include everyone, listen and learn, do all the things that show people you understand them and their needs and worries. Exhibit your principles, speak simply, and show them you care and want them to be successful.

Humility: as the Ugandan proverb says, “when the moon is not full, the stars shine more brightly.”

 

 

 

…for me! Off clearing my head and thinking deep thoughts while hiking around Whidbey Island. Time for you to do the same?Deception Pass 5

For some time I’ve told people that my theory on punching time clocks is that in companies with an engaged, enthusiastic, passionate workforce you need them to make sure people leave.

At a big meeting recently someone repeated the thought a business owner shared with him: “If you need an alarm clock you shouldn’t work here.”

Make your life easier: build an organization filled with the right people in the right seats doing things they love to do…and everything gets better.

 

Lucchese

Ever since I spent time in Houston consulting to the energy industry I have worn Lucchese boots. After visiting the CEO of a large pipeline company a few times he decided he needed to buy me a pair of boots and took me over to a store that sold Lucchese boots. From the minute I put them on I loved them. Beautiful workmanship, extremely comfortable, and…being of a normal height…they made me 2 inches taller.

I have worn them ever since. Currently I have a couple of newer pairs and a few pairs that are worn out and only usable for non-business occasions. I almost always buy the same kind: Classic goatskin with the most pointed toes in a dark mahogany color. They go great when I have to wear a suit or other formal attire and yet are perfect with jeans.

A few weeks ago I noticed my newest pair, worn so little that they still had the original heal pads, were tearing where the leather met the sole. I don’t know much about making boots so after much perusal realized that I needed to send them to the experts.

I called Lucchese and spoke with the pleasant fellow who answered the phone. He listened for a minute and then sent me right to a wonderful man, Albert Resendez. I shared my story with Albert who without any hemming or hawing immediately asked for my email and told me he would send me information on how to send the boots to Lucchese and would include a UPS label I could print out and put on the box. He told me it would only take a few days after they arrived to decide what to do and then he would let me know.

So calm, so clear, so ready to help.

I send off the boots hoping that perhaps they will fix them for free but expecting to hear the damage was due to something I did or perhaps the salt that has been used so much this ridiculously snowy and icy year in my part of the world and I will have to pay a repair charge.

UPS tells me my boots will take 5 or 6 days to get to the hospital so imagine my surprise when 8 days after sending them I get a note from Albert saying:

“Good News.

Your boots have arrived at our Lucchese warehouse.

They will be sent to our production floor to get repaired.

I have an estimated shipping date of 3/03/14

I will try to get these to you as soon as possible.”

Such responsiveness. But even beyond this, imagine my amazement when I received another email from Albert a week later that reads:

“Great News!

Your new Lucchese’s boots have been shipped.”

You read that correctly. With these few words Albert told me that Lucchese had decided my boots had a defect that was their fault and they were sending me a brand new pair.

I sit here typing this wearing my new Lucchese boots. I have shared this story with quite a few people I have run into since they arrived some days ago…well ahead of the day I was first given. And now I share the story about a great company with the mass of my readers and the readers of those who re-post my missives. I imagine thousands will hear it in talks I give or read it through the passing along of this missive.

I’ve been thinking quite a bit…and spreading the word…about those who lead Lucchese and the culture they set. Highest quality product, highest quality service, and most importantly…highest quality people.

 

Help or Hinder?

Some leaders set the stage for everyone to do their best work while others consistently make it harder for their folks to do their best. According to research by Kannan Ramaswamy and William Youngdahl  “your employees are more likely to view you as an obstacle to their effectiveness than as an enabler of it.”

To make it even worse, they found this is true whether your company is successful or having problems. In either case, the likelihood is that you are making things worse than they could be. What an indictment of organization leaders.

In Are You Your Employees’ Worst Enemy? they share their research which found four main issues employees have with most leaders:

  • 51% of employees say their leader hinders more than helps
  • 44% say their leader doesn’t communicate purpose and direction
  • 77% say their leader doesn’t consider organizational capacity when rolling out new iniatiatives
  • 64% say their leader doesn’t set and maintain useful policies

Worst of all it comes from the culture the leader sets. A culture where the leader fails to encourage honest, open, ongoing feedback on what’s going on.  A culture where people think the leader doesn’t want to hear from them, or worse, where they fear retribution. A culture where the ideas of the leader are disconnected from the realities of the business and the capabilities of the employees.

But all is not lost. Take heed of the words of the former BP CEO John Browne who said “I wish someone had challenged me and been brave enough to say: ‘we need to ask more disagreeable questions.’”

Take a look around. Do a self evaluation. Talk to a trusted advisor who will tell you the truth…if you don’t have such a person, find one immediately. Get off the leader high horse and experience humility in all you do. After all, everything good that happens really isn’t all due to you.

But most of all, open your door and mean it. Encourage open and honest comments. Walk around and really talk to people. No, walk around and really listen to everyone.

Intense listening, the most important skill of all.

 

 

 

Microsoft has a new CEO. Oddly, at the same time the Microsoft Founder and first CEO, Bill Gates, has given up his Chairman seat to become something called ‘technology advisor’ to Nadella. I say oddly because it seems that Gates is descending from the mount of Chairman to the trenches and actually go back to work at Microsoft on a regular basis…regular being a commitment to spend at least a third of his time there and pull back from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which has been filling up most of his time.

It’s very strange times at Microsoft. The media is filled with doom and gloom stories about Microsoft’s coming fall and yet in the six months to December their revenues were $43 Billion, up 15% from the previous year while net was $11.8 Billion, up 8.8%. Not to mention the company is sitting on $84 Billion in cash. Kind of hard to feel sorry for them.

Although he gave up his Chairmanship, Gates will remain on the board as will the Steve Balmer who Nadella replaces. Hardly the break with the current situation that many had looked for. The founder and his successor as CEO both looking over your shoulder at everything you do while the founder actually gets to “give you advice” 15 hours a week…with the entire world watching.

Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?

Nadella has more than 22 years at Microsoft. Apparently after interviewing more than 100 top executives, many CEOs of major corporations, the best was hanging around inside running the cloud and enterprise group. It does cause you to wonder. What was the critical factor in the selection?

Would a well known CEO of a global company really want to go to work with Gates and Ballmer watching over him and Gates showing up to give advice every few hours? Was the selection committee worried about hiring someone who really expected to run things without those guys hovering over him? Did they discover that Nadella has a vision for future success he kept hidden until he knew he was a possibility for the Big Job?

Who knows? Not me.

The most interesting thing is that it opens up a whole collection of issues and questions about finding the right person to become CEO…and what to do with the previous ones. A collection of issues and questions that many face and yet few seem to fully evaluate and think through.

It is so hard to be objective when your own future is at stake in the decision…and your own past will be evaluated against the results of the new person.

The fun thing for all of us on the outside looking in is…we get to predict how they did and what will happen with no particular effect on ourselves. Unless I suppose, you own Microsoft stock or happen to be tied to their products and services in some way.

 

 

 

 

 

As the extreme damage is repaired from the most recent storm that hit where I live, I’ve been listening to the pronouncements about return of electricity and such from PECO, my local electric company. It has been a mastery of nice sounding words devoid of information about what people asked: when will my power be restored?

It got me thinking about the years I spent working quite a bit in Japan. I was intrigued by how non-Japanese so often misunderstood what was being said and what was going on. The language was English, generally quite good English, but the way the words were used by the Japanese was so culturally based that they were often devoid of meaning to Americans. Worse, the Americans gave meaning based on their cultural background and thus often greatly misinterpreted. My Japanese partner and I used to talk about this, he laughing at the silly Americans, me being embarrassed for the oblivious Americans.

Then, one day he shared an old Japanese story.

There was a town drunk who claimed to be enlightened. A group of people at the bar decided to find out how enlightened he really was by inviting a famous Zen monk to test him. The monk comes to the bar and initiates a conversation with the drunk with a large gesture of both arms. No words are spoken. The drunk, using two fingers, responds with a tiny gesture. They continue in this way, a silent conversation of gestures.

After a time the drunk retires to attend to a pressing need. As soon as he’s gone, the group asks the monk if the drunk passed the test. To their amazement, the monk proclaims the drunk to be enlightened indeed. The monk starts by explaining how he began with a gesture meaning all the world is one. The drunk perfectly responded with a gesture meaning everything is contained in a microcosm of the smallest object.

The Zen monk goes on to explain each of his gestures and the drunk’s responses in terms of his theology, then leaves shaking his head in amazement.

The drunk staggers back into the bar. The group asks what he thought of the monk and he responds how great a guy the monk is. Explaining further, the drunk shares how the monk started the conversation with a gesture meaning that sake comes in very large barrels…to which he pointed out that we drink it in tiny cups.

 

Snowstorm

Today where I sit writing this, we’re having another snowstorm. There have been an unending series of them leading to all kinds of difficult situations.  Closed schools and businesses, tens of thousands of cancelled flights, people stranded everywhere or even worse…in accidents and injured or killed. The cost to individuals, companies, and the country as a whole is enormous.

And yet, with the exception of a few unable to grasp that this is beyond their, or anyone else’s control, everyone takes it in stride. There are some frayed tempers and irritated would be flyers but also happy children and lots of new snowpeople.

In a day or two all will be back to normal and this will become just another story to share over a beer. People are very resilient, able to overcome quite an array of difficult things and get on with life.

I left my house before the storm hit to attend a very early meeting, at 6:30 in the morning. By the time I left the meeting at 10:30 the roads were horrendous. Luckily most people had stayed home so there wasn’t too much traffic. Still, it took me several times as long as it normally does to get home.

As I crawled along avoiding cars abandoned by the roadside or sliding sideways in front of me, I was struck by several things.

First off, everyone was being incredibly polite. People were carefully giving each other lots of room. No one was racing past even though the two highway  lanes going my way had a single lane of cars in the middle reaching a top speed of around 25 miles per hour. I did not hear a single horn blaring in spite of cars sliding all over the place.

Then I got thinking about how employers were doing such a good job of looking out for the welfare of their people. Stay home and be safe rather than come to work in spite of the conditions. Tomorrow is another day and we’ll catch up with what was missed.

It occurred to me how sad it is that it takes a huge storm or similar disaster to bring everyone together working to ensure all are taken care of. How is it that suddenly we become one big family working for the good of all and forget that which separates us.

We talk about business culture quite a bit. Culture: the way we actually do things rather than the way we say we do things.

The saying part always is about good things. Customers come first. People are out most important resource. The highest quality in all we do.

The doing part is a different story. Sometimes the things said are meant and exemplified but all too often they are merely talking points, advertising hype, aspirations rather than actualities.

Perhaps what companies need is to operate as though in the middle of a storm where the only path of safety is for all to work together for the common good. A good storm has a way of focusing your attention on the important things and ensuring that the saying and the doing are aligned. A good storm does have a way of cutting through the verbiage and getting right down to the actions.

Snowstorm 1-20140203-00698

 

 

How is it that the most incompetent so often think they are experts? How can their self assessment of their knowledge and expertise be so at variance with the reality of their incompetence?

According to the research of Cornell University psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger, as reported in Pacific Standard, “when people are incompetent not only do they reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it.”

The Dunning-Kruger Effect is all around us. Politicians unable to understand why nothing they legislate works, inarticulate writers who think their language skills are phenomenal, and, dare we mention it…managers clueless about losses directly attributable to their poor decisions. When we know least we are often most confident in our knowledge.

Conversely, those who truly are experts tend to underrate themselves. They know how much more there is to know and so think they are less competent than they really are. Those too blind to understand their limitations and how little they know are confident while those with great expertise realize there is more to know and so understate their competence.

We are surrounded by both types of people. Pay attention and figure out which are which when getting advice or your car repaired. When you notice those lacking in competence but proclaiming expertise, give them a little negative feedback and help them come to grips with the reality of their knowledge, or lack thereof. Keep them from harming others, or your company, in their euphoria of incompetence.

Those that underplay their talents, encourage them to offer advice and guide decisions. Ensure they are heard and treasured for their unassuming competence is what ultimately will lead to the greatest success.

And you? Where do you fit in this spectrum of expertise?

As W B Yeats wrote, “the best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

 

 

Energy of Africa

I just returned from a project in Benin and Rwanda with a bit of time in Ethiopia. During my 10 day trip we interviewed dozens of people ranging from Ministers and executives to people with booths in the local markets. While there I was able to get out into the rural areas and talk to people. It was an exhilarating experience.

Without exception everyone we talked to was energized about the opportunity in front of them. While cataloguing a variety of problems starting with the need for more electricity, education, and internet infrastructure they invariably ended with stories about good things to come.

I was struck by how it didn’t matter whether they were those with great economic resources or those without, they were excited about the future. On the flight back I got thinking about the difference in mindset between the business people and government officials in these countries from that of so many I meet in the United States.

In Benin and Rwanda I found a feeling of opportunity, an unwillingness to let current conditions or situations cause them to despair. In the United States I so often hear a feeling of defeat, that things are bad and won’t get better.

The culture of opportunity versus the culture of defeat.

Think about the companies you know…and yours. Some are filled with people putting in time and keeping their heads down. It’s a job and nothing else. The energy is low, excitement is non-existence. They can’t wait to leave the place at day’s end.

Other companies are filled with people excited about the future and their place in it. They can’t wait to arrive in the morning and see what the new day will bring.

A culture striving to create a better future versus a culture that sees nothing in the future.

The thing that most intrigued me was how it all came from the top. The leaders of Benin and Rwanda, both government and company, are upbeat, excited, enthusiastic, and paint a picture of a better future. The leaders of the United States too often are depressed, boring, and without any vision of the path to a better future.

What happens? Exactly. People see the energy in the walk or the hunch of the shoulders. They hear the words and notice the actions. And then they follow the culture that these create.

And so goes the company, or country. Moving forward together to build a better future for all or at each others throats’ trying to get their piece of what exists today.

Walk with energy.

commitment

 

Over the years there has been much speculation about the different ways men and women think and what they’re better at doing. Depending on your bias and experience, you believe they think completely differently or there is little difference. Ragini Verma, Associate Professor Radiology at Pereleman School of Medicine at University of Pennsylvania, has now used a new technology, diffusion tensor imaging, for mapping the way the brain works and so has added facts to the debate.

The research she and her colleagues have recently published in the Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences has discovered clear differences in the way brains of men and women function. Below is a picture of the connections, men in blue, women in orange. Visit Brain Connectivity Study for a better view and more information about the study.

It turns out in men the dominant connections are within each of the two brain hemispheres. In women the dominant connections are between hemispheres. The differences in connections have major impact on the way men’s and women’s brains process information and the behavior and skills this leads to. Neither is better or worse, they’re just different. For our purposes, the important thing is to realize that you need both ways of thinking for greatest success.

While there is variation, Verma’s research begins to explain why women tend to have better memories and be more able multitaskers while men tend to be more monomaniacal and have better motor and spatial abilities. Their brains operate in different ways, connecting different parts of the brain more strongly which leads to these differences.

What does this mean for business? All kinds of things. To name a few areas of impact, there are implications for management, team composition, coaching, training, and communication. Think about how advertisers have used these differences to great effect.

Unfortunately this goes against the idea that we all should be treated exactly the same way. It seems we each need different things. Luckily these two ideas of equality and difference can both be accommodated, if you keep them in mind.

As a manager you need to ensure that you accommodate all ways of thinking. Your style, your communication, your actions need to incorporate messages that address all types of people. To the extent that you are able to speak to everyone, that you view variety of style as a strength and use it well, that you accommodate different needs and ways of thinking, you build an engaged passionate organization able to work together to realize your big vision.

As the new year begins, it’s a perfect time to improve your ability to pay attention. As Daniel Goleman says in The Focused Leader in Harvard Business Review, “A primary task of leadership it to direct attention.” But pay attention to what? And why?

Neuroscience tells us that we focus in a variety of ways, to various things, for many different reasons. Ever moment we are focusing on something, the key is to understand the impact and learn how to ensure you’re paying attention to the right things to achieve your goals.

Attention can be divided into three main areas, each with it’s own uses…and failures if used poorly or totally ignored. Together they enable you to pay attention appropriately depending on the outcome you’re aiming for. Oddly, they both work together and against each other depending on the situation. Management excellence requires the effective use of each, independently and together.

Focus on yourself: The ability to be self-aware and understand your inner voice, your body’s signals, your gut feelings.

Focus on others: The ability to be aware of what others need, to understand their perspective, to know what they feel.

Focus on the world: The ability to notice the world around you, to listen well and ask good questions, to project into the future.

Focusing on one to the exclusion of the others blinds you to part of the reality around you. It causes you to be unaware of important information that will lead to better decisions. You lose your ability to accurately read and understand yourself, others, and/or the world around you.

As we rise in power you tend to become more self-referential, our attention develops blinders. We miss more and more of importance and so don’t notice when things begin to deteriorate. Lack of attention sets the stage for our downfall.

At the same time, as we have access to more and more information instantly, we lose the ability to pay attention to anything for long enough to truly absorb and understand it. We take shortcuts that lead to missing things of importance. The volume causes us to overload. We know more and more facts but often have less and less knowledge.

As Herbert Simon, Nobel Laureate Economist said years ago, “a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”

The most important thing about attention is to be aware of it’s impact on all you do. You can’t control all that distracts from focus and attention but you can be aware of it and act accordingly. You can control what you focus on and manage your attention to ensure you balance attention to self, to others, to the world.

To again quote Coleman, “failure to focus inwardly leaves you rudderless, failure to focus on others leaves you clueless, failure to focus outward may leave you blindsided.”

Control your attention…and have better control over the results you achieve.

« Older entries § Newer entries »