Archive for the ‘Measurement’ category

I think I need an alignment

April 15, 2010

I am pretty confident that if any of us saw Osama Bin Laden walking down the street, we’d do our best to immediately drop everything we’re doing, and take him down.  No questions asked; no incentives needed.  And I also suspect that, at the hero’s receptions later, we’d say, as most real heroes do, that they didn’t do anything anyone else wouldn’t do if they found themselves in the same situation.  And yet, the reward right now for information leading to the capture of Osama is 25 million bucks and I understand the State Department is actually kicking around the idea of doubling it to fifty.  

I have been struggling for quite some time to reconcile the results of studies I often see that say employees are more motivated by recognition than they are by compensation.  I struggle with this because most employees that I talk to would really like to make more money, or at least have the opportunity to do so.

And I think many companies and their leadership must struggle with this as well, based on the compensation and recognition systems that they put in place.  In fact, I think a new term, “compognition” might be the best way to label their confused strategy.  Because they confuse intrinsic behaviors with the desire to make more money, and then make it worse by misaligning the rewards.


Imagine this:

  • a company or manager notices someone working extra hours to learn a new technology or skill.  The company does not make any more money, at least in the short run, from this intrinsically good behavior that the manager not only wishes to reward, but wishes others would emulate.  So she decides to give the employee a $50 gift certificate to Best Buy, which she leaves in his cubicle with a nice note.
  • a company or manager demands that a team work overtime to meet a deadline.  The company stands to make a $25,000 incentive bonus if the project is delivered on time.  The team works really hard, including long hours and weekends.  They make the deadline.  The company throws them a pizza party and invites the rest of the department to it.
  • a company or manager institutes a new program to get their more senior employees to pursue new business.  They offer a 0.5% “commission” to these selected employees, who did not volunteer for the role; they were just told that this was part of their responsibilities.  One of the employees manages, through her network, to close a $150,000 deal.  She receives a check for $750.00.

In all three cases, I would suggest there is serious misalignment between compensation and recognition.  In the first example, although a nice gesture, I think a more public recognition of the efforts, quite possibly with no monetary reward, would be far more appropriate.  Praise in public, criticize in private.  And don’t attach a dollar value to intrinsic behavior.

In the second and third examples, the reverse is true.  The employees are well aware, in both cases, of the value of their efforts to the company.  If you, as a manager, cannot find an effective way to share that additional revenue with the team or employee primarily responsible for that financial gain, you assign little or no value to something that is not intrinsic behavior.   Congrats – you are officially well on your way to a de-motivated and resentful staff.

Anyone got any “compognition” stories they’d like to share?


Until further notice, we are all the same

March 22, 2010

There are two interesting things about the New York Yankees. The first is that most people who care even just the tiniest bit about baseball either love them or hate them. They bring out passion in fans. The second is that they are committed to winning, as an organization, and they are willing to do just about anything to accomplish that. And they hold their leadership accountable for that.


But here’s another tidbit that I find interesting, too. The total 2009 payroll for their players was $208 million dollars. And the difference between their highest paid player, Alex Rodriguez, and their lowest paid player, Ramiro Pena, was about 32.5 million dollars. In other words, Alex got 33M and Ramiro got 400k.

Check it our here

And, in spite of overwhelmingly different compensation packages for players who essentially all do the same thing, they are expected, at least on the field, to behave as teammates and play together to win.

Now think about your team and the messages your organization sends out about expectations, compensation and “fairness.” Here’s a sampling I’ve heard over the years:

  • · Annual pay increases this year will range from 3-5 %, based on the performance review conducted by your manager and approval by people who almost never work directly with you or see the precise results of your efforts (ok, I added that last part, but you can’t tell me that many organizations would at least get “honesty points” if they actually said that…)
  • · Everyone is expected to work 40 hours per week and account for their time on daily timesheets.
  • · Everyone will sit in equal sized offices/cubicles/desks and will be issued the exact same equipment regardless of what they actually need to get their work done.

All this is done under the guise of “fairness.” And in some respects, it works. If you treat everyone the same, it’s hard for anyone to complain about inequities.

But think about the other messages this approach might send:

  • · Don’t try to stand out. It won’t be worth your while.
  • · See if you can figure out how to do the minimum to get by.
  • · Make sure you account for all your time, regardless of what you were actually doing.
  • · Do whatever you think will please your manager – he or she will be the deciding factor in whether you get a 3% increase, or 5%.

Here’s the last thing to consider. The reason it’s a little easier for the Yankees to justify paying one team member almost 100 times as much as another is they have the statistics to back it up. Home runs, defense, RBI’s, etc.

So is your compensation “strategy” a consequence of your inability or unwillingness to measure real results, or the other way around?

But it’s MY digital landfill!

February 19, 2010

I remember getting my first office PC.  It had, and I am not making this up, a 40 megabyte hard drive.  Probably around 1993.  And I thought to myself, I can’t imagine ever filling that up.  That’s a lot of space!  And in some respects, it was.  But we outgrew it, didn’t we?   And then we outgrew it again.  And again, and again, and again.  And now, we make up words for all that vast space that takes up no physical room – terabytes, gigabytes, mongobytes.  It’s SO important to quantify all that space.

Imagine you walked past one of your employees’ desks [let’s call him Jerry] and it was filled from floor to ceiling with old newspapers, five copies of the same magazine – same issue, books, notepads, old scraps of paper, clipboards, binders!    At first, being the tolerant manager that you are, you would assume that each worker has their own method of organization and that this seemingly disastrous pile of randomness and duplication was really just a unique filing system.  Then, as time went by, doubt would creep in, because it’s just too hard to imagine.  So you decide to test your theory and ask Jerry to find a memo that you knew was in the pile, because you looked after he left and ‘stacked the deck’ as it were.  He says, “I’ll get back to you” and starts moving papers and piles around.  You check back in 3 hours, and he’s still at it…

You’d have two reactions, wouldn’t you?

  1. you’d be appalled that you let this go on as long as you did, and you’d vow to stop it immediately
  2. you’d wonder how much productivity had been lost over the past several years due to this mind-boggling inefficiency

Why?  Because you can see the piles of paper…

Now imagine that happening every day on your laptops, desktops, file servers, databases and collaboration platforms.  No big deal, right?  It’s a lot of space, and a lot of stuff, but it’s in tiny little hard drives and disk arrays that don’t take up any “real” space.  So there’s really no problem, is there?

I realize you probably believe you have bigger, more pressing problems to tackle than your employees’ digital landfills.  But if you’re up for an experiment and you don’t mind killing a tree or two, print the contents of one of your employees’ hard drives and stack the papers on their desk.  Then ask them to find something.  It wouldn’t surprise me if you suddenly think Jerry is the most organized person in the company…

Just because it’s a tough problem to take on doesn’t mean you shouldn’t at least start to evangelize organization, document management, and archiving.  Productivity-wise, what you can’t see CAN hurt you…


Asleep at the wheel

February 4, 2010

I read a few weeks back that General Motors has acknowledged that they “may have been too internally focused” during a period that, near as I can tell, lasted 25 years or so. They “may have lost sight” of what the market was looking for in transportation and become too obsessed with internal performance and quality metrics.  The exact quote, I believe, is “”For the first time in a long time, we’re listening to our customers again,” he said. ‘The hard truth is that we haven’t always done a great job at this in recent years. Today, we’re listening well,’ Reuss said.”  I wish “duh” had more letters in it, because it seems too succinct a way to comment on that.

I think we can all imagine how this happens in a behemoth like GM. Heck, I saw a similar mentality when I worked at Xerox in their global services division. We desperately wanted to be relevant to our clients; to offer products and solutions that they would snap up like cheese curls at a Marijuana Growers Convention.   But in spite of that desire, we missed the boat.  I think it comes down to gravity. Well, really distance, but it’s all in the same formula, according to Newton or Einstein or whoever came up with the formula for the gravitational attraction between two bodies.

I won’t bore you with the actual formula, but suffice to say that the attraction between two bodies exponentially declines as they get farther apart. In other words, the pull between two bodies that are 10 feet apart is 4 times greater than when they are 20 feet apart and so on. As the distance increases, soon you don’t feel the pull of the other body at all.

So back to Xerox… or GM for that matter. In most large organizations, one effect that management hierarchies and bureaucracy has is that they increase the distance between what customers want and what the leaders deciding what they will offer in the market and where they will invest deliver.  That same hierarchy and bureacracy also distorts what their real reputation among their customers is.  Mix in some “internally focused metrics” that incent the wrong behaviors, a little politics and jostling among peers that can quickly degenerate into “if you look bad, I must look good” and you’ve got yourself a Pontiac Aztec…

But here’s the real question: In your ten employee company, your 15 person team, your 150 consultant division or your 15,000 person organization, are you following in the footsteps of those behemoths? Remember! Xerox and General Motors, to name just two iconic brands, had stellar reputations for quality and innovation. I could make an argument that Microsoft may be on its way into that group as well. And that journey may become more insidious than ever. Because now that all this social media is available so you can listen to your ‘groundswell’ you must be thinking “I am in lockstep with my customers. I see what they post on my fan page. I know what they want and expect from me and my organization.”   But do you really? Or are you just taking that market intelligence as gospel?

It took Domino’s too long to figure out what people thought of their pizza, though it seems they got it right in the end, at least according to my daughter, who knows pizza. The faster you find out and fix what’s broken, the easier it will be to stay relevant for as long as you like…


Rear View Mirror

January 7, 2010

Today, it seems everyone wants to be a “futurist.”  Or maybe that should be, TOMORROW everyone wants to be a futurist.  I never did get verb tenses very well.  In any case, I have decided that yesterday, I am a Pastist.  That’s the opposite of futurist, right?  I mean, it’s easy to prognosticate about what might happen in 5 or 10 years.  Even with Facebook making it so easy to find people you had the good fortune to lose touch with, who’s really gonna track you down to tell you how wrong you were?  But the past, that’s indisputable.  Much tougher!  That’s why there are so many futurists and so few pastists.  In fact, the annoying squiggles under the word itself tell me that Microsoft doesn’t even think it’s a word.  Clearly there’s no higher authority than that!

As a pastist, though, I want to point out three trends from the PAST 10 years  that I find particularly disturbing:

1) Outsourcing – who’s idea was that anyway?  My guess is some CFO under a lot of pressure to find the last semi-legal way to satisfy his or her ravenous shareholders and who had no respect for the real work that IT professionals do.  And more importantly, the irreplaceable intellectual capital (that’s right, as opposed to the “real” capital that the CFO cares so deeply about) that you just glibly shipped outside your company without realizing it’s the same as if you had shredded your precious financial documents from the past 3 filing years.  Oh wait, you did that too!

2) Client/Server – nothing says organization and synergy like taking your corporate data and chopping it up into little pieces, hiding it in all your departments, and then later spend literally millions of dollars trying to reassemble into something meaningful.  Seriously, that’s what most Business Intelligence and Data Warehousing projects are.   Sad attempts to glue back together your mom’s favorite china plate that you dropped on the tile floor.   But don’t worry, once all the pieces are reassembled, you can put them in “the cloud…”

3) SAP – I guess, in many ways, this was the best alternative to client/server.  Buy a single, all-encompassing and hopelessly complex, “best practice”-based combination business process/software/workflow, stop everything else you are doing for 5 years to try to implement it, and then wait for either the promised ROI to magically appear or the phone call to come to the CEO’s office and explain yourself before your exit interview…

What does all this have to do with being a better leader? 

In the next ten years (or if you’re into New Year’s Resolutions, the next 3 months) buck a trend.  Do what your instincts tell you are right, instead of what “everyone else is doing.”  Focus on your customers or, God-forbid, your employees and ignore the folks whispering that if you just put your whole business on an iPhone app, build a Facebook fan page, and Twitter all day long you’re guaranteed to succeed…  Damn futurists…

You think you have it tough???

November 6, 2009

I am sure everyone has their own opinion about what a really tough job might be.  Cop, fireman, Shoe Disinfector at a bowling alley… Here’s mine:  How would you like to be responsible for making LeBron James a better basketball player?   And, oh yeah, what if you were a 38 year old former lawyer with a Russian dad and an Israeli mom?  And what if you never played competitive basketball or coached above the junior high level?  That’s a tough job.

And yet, that’s exactly what Idan Ravin does for a living.  A damn good living too, from what I can gather from Sports Illustrated (see, I do read other mags besides PM Network and Bowling Weekly…)  And how does he do it?  Among other things, he points out LeBron’s faults.  What???  Yup – he tells him he can’t dribble and makes him do drills to be better at it.  AND, LeBron pays him for this!!

So riddle me this…  Why is it so hard for managers to sit an employee down and find constructive ways to point out areas where they are weak and need to improve?  Is it because they haven’t earned the respect of the employee?  Is it because they’re afraid of “hurting the employees feelings?”  Or is it because they’re not trained to detect those weaknesses and see the connection to growth, productivity, effectiveness, or that company’s equivalent of winning an NBA championship??

Whatever the reasons, just recognize that you’re not doing yourself or your employee a favor by avoiding a conversati0n where you have to tell them they really don’t dribble very well.  It’s not easy.  It’s not fun.  But if Idan Ravin can do it to LeBron James, you can do it to your star player too…


The Invention of Lying

October 9, 2009

I went to see The Invention of Lying last weekend.  Clever little movie from Ricky Gervais who “discovers” that he is the only person, in a world otherwise just like ours, who is capable of not telling the truth.  As you can imagine, he proceeds down a slippery slope from some “whitish” lies to get some extra money and a few dates to some whoppers.

That got me thinking about a lot of things but two specifically come to mind.  The first is that it seems telling that our linguists have created so MANY words for that slippery slope.  Mistruth, misconstrue, exaggerate, embellish, fabricate, fiction…  I could go on.   And that’s without consulting a thesaurus!  The second is, unlike in Ricky’s world, how our human nature seems to lend itself quite readily to “modify the facts” when the stakes are high.  And ironically, when the stakes are high, the truth is often at its most valuable.

I have recently come across several “management dashboards” that use the standard Green, Yellow, Red symbols to indicate the “health” of a project.  You know, whether it’s ahead or behind schedule, whether it’s over or under budget, whether the scope is wildly out of control, etc.  And it seems that, for many managers, their objective is for everything to be green.  And when it is – you get a cookie.

Now add all this up…  A slippery slope that makes it easy to justify altering facts, compensation tied to “good” performance (aka lots of green dots = lots of cookies). the well-founded statistic that most projects fall behind and/or end up over budget, and pressure to present the most favorable possible status from your superiors.  Is it any wonder that it’s hard to get the real status of a project??

When I was managing lots of project managers, I toyed with the idea of rewarding them for telling me things were bad.  I never quite figured out how to do it effectively, but I always suspected that rewarding people to tell me everything was green was “bad form.”

So do yourself a favor.  Create a measurement system that encourages and rewards accurate reporting, and makes it more difficult to justify why something is green than why it’s red.  You’ll get some pretty funny looks, but you might also get some truth…