Archive for the ‘strategy’ category

Compensation Revisited

December 8, 2011

Not unlike a car wreck on the other side of the highway, I can’t stop myself from slowing down just a little and gawking at the latest “better motivations than money for your employees” article.  And it’s not that I don’t believe any of that, but somehow the articles never quite nail the real question in my mind.   Here’s the latest list of things you can do instead of paying your employees more money:

  1. Be generous with praise
  2. Get rid of the managers
  3. Make your ideas theirs
  4. Never criticize or correct
  5. Make everyone a leader
  6. Take an employee to lunch every week
  7. Give recognition and small rewards
  8. Throw company parties
  9. Share the rewards and the pain

Although it might be great sport, I am not even going to pick at each recommendation.  Each could be be useful at times, though I would be reluctant to universally apply any of them.  I am also going to restrain from pointing out the obvious conundrum between #2 and #5 (oops, I guess I just did… dang.)

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I do want to offer one constructive thought, since we are all banned from criticizing or correcting by #4.

Compensation and motivation/morale are two vastly different things.

If you don’t believe me, find a company that has the highest morale and the most motivated employees you’ve ever seen.   Then have the CEO announce that the company is bankrupt and that anyone who wants to stay and work for free can do so starting Monday.  I am not saying no one would show up, but I doubt it’d be business as usual.

Most employees need to work to live, sustain their families, and otherwise pursue their personal version of the American Dream.  That’s why the size of their paycheck matters to them.   They also want to feel good about where they work, who they work with, and what they do.   Here’s a news flash though:  the latter is, to a large extent, out of your control as a company leader/exec for two reasons:

1) you can’t possibly predict or control the complex interpersonal relationships that develop in the workplace.

2) in many organizations (though I am sure not yours) there is an innate skepticism from employees around all new management initiatives.  The “real” reason you’re taking me to lunch, throwing a party, or praising me is always lurking in the back of some of your folks’ minds.

And if anyone even mildly suspects that any of these parties, praise or changes is intended to be a “replacement” for a raise or bonus, you will be well on your way to the exact opposite outcome of what you set out to do.

Instead, just try being Fair, Honest, Transparent and Unflappable.   That’s five less things you have to remember to do, and none of them require you to go to the Olive Garden six times a month…

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A second opinion

November 17, 2011

I have no idea what the inside of my body looks like and I have only a vague notion of what each of the pieces-parts are doing at any given moment.  Like most of us, I do have suspicions about when something might be wrong, but that’s when I typically turn to a pro and his or her tools and knowledge (like MRI’s, stethoscopes, etc.) to help figure out what’s going on in there.   It’s the only body I have and I plan to put it to continued good use well into the future.

And if I suspected that something was seriously wrong, I might even get ‘a second opinion.’  Depending on my insurance, I might have to pay out of my own pocket for that opinion, and there’s also a good chance I might hear the same feedback I got from the first physician, but hey, this could be serious and I can’t afford to take chances!

I work with a lot of organizations who rely on software and information technology about as heavily as I rely on my body.   In many cases, software runs their business and gives them a competitive advantage.   And many of these business users know as much about their software’s inner workings as I do about my body’s.    After all, it’s not their field of expertise.  They have IT professionals who are working ‘under the covers’ to make their software do what it’s supposed to do.

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But I’ve noticed they rarely, if ever, seek a second opinion.  Sometimes that takes the form of a “software audit” or a “code review.”   Usually, it’s done by an independent third party who, like a medical second opinion, may completely agree with what their IT pros are telling them.  On the other hand, if something is not being done according to best practices or industry standards, that’s about the only way they are ever going to find out.

Health Care has second opinions.  Construction has building inspectors.  Even elevators have to be routinely inspected.  Isn’t it about time the software industry grew up and realized that even though you may not always get a ‘clean bill of health’ from your audit, that’s better than waiting til they break out the scalpels…?

Speed Racer

November 10, 2011

My daughter ran in the Grand Rapids Marathon a few weeks back.  She finished in 4 hours and 30 minutes, which I believe is a respectable time to run 26 miles if you’re not from Kenya.  One of the things I learned from her preparations is that you have to have a “plan” for your race.  Her plan, apparently, was to use her heart rate to determine how fast to run each mile, striving to keep a relatively steady beats per minute, which may lead to less buildup of lactic acid or other ‘cramp inducers.’  Near as I can tell, she ran the first half of the race just slightly slower than the last half, but kept a pretty steady pace throughout.  Good for her!

I have decided, though, that if I ever run a marathon, I will take a vastly different and obviously superior approach.  I will jog the first 16 miles of the race and then sprint the last ten.   I am pretty confident I can beat her time by doing that.  I can jog 16 miles briskly in about 3 hours, and then sprint the last ten at ten miles per hour, in another 60 minutes, finishing in 4 hours.  Take that!

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I was committed to this plan until a few friends asked some probing questions like, “Bob, have you ever sprinted ten miles?”    Brutally, they followed up with, “Have you ever sprinted even two miles?”  And then, the coup de grace, “Have you ever sprinted even one mile after jogging 16??”

At that point, I realized the flaw in my plan.  Trying to go faster at the end of a long race is no strategy for success especially if:

a) you’re out of shape or

b) you’ve never done it before

So why do so many project teams and project managers think they can get to the halfway point of a project in six months and then finish the other half in two??

It’s gotta be the lactic acid buildup…

Worth Repeating

October 21, 2011

I really do enjoy the “Corner Office” pieces in the NY Times Sunday Business section.  A lot of no-nonsense and inspiration leadership from CEO’s doing Q and A with Adam Bryant or another reporter.  So October 9th’s piece was no exception.  And I know I’ve written about root causes and understanding the real motivations of your teams before but this anecdote is absolutely worth repeating…  And if you can’t relate to this, you have never run a sales team.

Joseph Jimenez, the CEO of Novartis, a BIG pharma company, was responding to the first question, right out of the gate.  The question was about important leadership lessons.  Allow me to summarize and paraphrase:

Joseph said he was appointed to head a division of another company and ‘turn it around.’   One serious problem was that the division missed their sales/revenue forecast every month.  He brought in a consultant and they concluded that they needed a better and more analytical sales process.

So they put the new process in place and the forecasts did not improve.  Hmmmm… 

Then he brought in a behavioral psychologist who reported, after several weeks of study, that the problem wasn’t process, it was “truth.”   Throughout the division, team members would assemble the forecast KNOWING they weren’t going to hit it and that it was, essentially, made up.  Joseph realized that, starting with him, the willingness to hear bad news as a means of getting to the truth was the right next step.

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This week, at the Berlin SharePoint Conference, I had an opportunity to spend some ‘face time’ with the CEO of a successful software company that I admire quite a bit.  He told me they were getting ready to do business reviews, and he had decided that he was going to kick off the meetings by asking everyone to list two or three mistakes they’d made in the last year, and he was going to go first.  Brilliant.

In your organization, would you be comfortable standing up in front of your peers and listing your mistakes from the past twelve months?   Because if you can, you will take a big step toward creating a culture where mistakes are acknowledged as learning opportunities.  That’s the  one time when mistakes are worth repeating…

The Eleven Percent Solution

September 29, 2011

It seems appropriate, on this last day of the major league baseball season, to ponder the difference between success and failure, two terms that get thrown around a lot in sports and business.

The New York Yankees are having a successful season so far.  They are likely to end up winning 98 baseball games this year if they hold on to the lead they have right now.  They lost 64 games.  If you think about it, that’s a lot of games to lose.

The Cleveland Indians will not be in the playoffs and I suspect some of their fans would not consider their season successful.  They won 80 games so far, and lost 81.  Even Steven…

What’s interesting about that to me is that the difference in wins between the Yankees and the Indians is a mere 18 more games won by the Yankees.  Over the course of 162 games and six grueling months, that amounts to eleven percent more games won by a “successful” team over a “failure.”  Not a lot.

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Coincidentally, I was also at a panel discussion last night about innovation.  One of the questions from the audience was “do you celebrate failure?”  Good question!   I was a bit surprised by the answer, which was pretty much “no we don’t.”   I thought perhaps the speaker would wax eloquently about how important it was to coddle your team and accept interim defeats.  But no!    I think the gist of the response was that, although you have to learn from mistakes and continually correct your course, just because you’re innovating doesn’t mean you have to expect, tolerate, or celebrate failure.

So here are my questions:

  1. Do you think the Cleveland Indians are popping champagne tonight?
  2. Do you think the Yankees high-fived each other in the clubhouse after one of their 64 losses?
  3. Does you think that the most successful sports teams get angry when they lose and use it as motivation to go out the next day and kick some butt?
  4. Does your team or organization hate to lose?
  5. Do you think that anyone on your team believes that an 11% improvement in their results, however they are measured, would mean the difference between success and failure?

Answer key:

  1. no
  2. no
  3. yes
  4. you tell me
  5. If not, I think the Indians are looking for a backup catcher…

Put me in, coach!

September 1, 2011

One of the things I love about baseball is the subtle communication that is taking place all over the field.  The signs between the catcher and pitcher, silently communicating the type of pitch and its location.  The signs between the manager in the dugout, the third base coach and the batter, informing the batter whether to bunt, swing away, take the next pitch, or ask for more money in his next contract.  You can imagine that, if a new player showed up on the team and didn’t take the time to find out what all the signs were, he wouldn’t be very effective and would be on the bench, “riding the pine” as they used to say, pretty fast.

So I am always a bit amazed when a vendor that is being  paid handsomely for their efforts introduces a new “player” in a meeting or on a conference call, allegedly with some new expertise that is greatly needed for the project/endeavor to succeed, and the first words out of the new player’s mouth are, “I’m really not familiar with your project or environment.”

Really?  Did the person coordinating the resources from your end not take the time to fill you in on a few key details, like what we’re trying to accomplish, who the team is, what our milestone dates are and what your role will be??  Or did you not bother to ask??

imageWhen you play pickup baseball in a park or schoolyard, there are no signs.  That’s because everyone playing are a bunch of amateurs, not paid professionals.

How do you want YOUR team to be perceived…?

You know you make me want to shout

August 18, 2011

As Raymond said in Rain Man, “I’m a very good driver.”  In order to be so good, I need a lot of information.  I need to know where all the other cars around me are, how fast I am going, how much fuel I have left, what gear I am in, what the speed limit is, and of course, who am I listening to on the sound system.  I have devised a system to deliver all this information to me in real-time, while allowing me to focus my attention on the road in front of me as well.

I have five other people sit in the car with me, each responsible for some key piece of information, and have them all shout it at me, constantly, for the entire trip.

What??  You think this is a bad idea???

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Well, then riddle me this.  Why is it that every time I create a well-crafted dashboard for an important project, program or entire collection of projects and ensure that it is kept current, executives and other “drivers” of the business never look at it, choosing instead to be “shouted at” by the other people in the car?

I am not suggesting that a dashboard is a substitute for genuine and important human interaction, but I do think that humans, as many studies show, are genetically pre-disposed to assembling and interpreting disparate visual information quickly and accurately.

What gives?  Is is the colors on my pie chart?  My far too infrequent use of the term “almost done” and “coming along nicely” in the status narratives??  Or do they simply not care?

I can fix just about anything except the last part…

PS – Here’s an awesome footnote:  If you google “dashboard” on Google Images virtually every image is a Business Intelligence Status dashboard, not the kind behind the wheel of a car…  Go figure.