Good companies should be close to the customer and fanatical about customer service. But this doesn’t mean that they should let the customer lead. Joseph Morone, President of Bentley College, notes that if you only follow the voice of the customer, “you’ll get only incremental advances.”
Doug Atkin, a partner at Merkley Newman Harty, rightly puts it this way:
These days, you can’t succeed as a company if you’re consumer-led — because, in a world so full of so much constant change, consumers can’t anticipate the next big thing. Companies should be idea-led and consumer-informed.” (Quoted in Re-Imagine!: Business Excellence in a Disruptive Age, 297).
That is an excellent insight:
Be consumer-informed, but idea-led.
Great discussion on exercise habits in the previous post.
It sounds like most people exercise in the morning and that a lot of people are early risers. Which leads to another question that would be great to hear people’s thoughts on: How much sleep do you tend to get each night? In your opinion, what is the best time to get up in the morning and the best time to go to bed at night?
Great perspective from Tom Peters on HR, once again from Re-Imagine!: Business Excellence in a Disruptive Age (pp 256-257; as before, all the punctuation like the “…” is his, with the exception of any brackets):
I have long believed that human resources people should sit at the Head Table. I’m a fan of “HR.” It is … after all … an age of talent.
Problem [big problem, IMO]: All too often “HR folks” are viewed (all too) correctly as “mechanics.” Not as … Master Architects … who aim to … Quarterback the Great War for Talent.
I’ve devoted my career to the “people thing.” I desperately want “HR” to “WIN.”
Why doesn’t it happen?
Simple: A FAILURE OF IMAGINATION.
I wasn’t born yesterday. I understand there are thousands upon thousands of pages of petty laws and regulations that HR “must administer.” But that still does not excuse HR from … Re-imagining itself.
As … THE … leaders. [I don't know if I would go that far.]
So work to “deserve it.” [There's a stunning indictment.]
His next point is “Forge a Bold HR Strategy!,” where he goes on to say:
If you work for a big company, it no doubt has a “strategic plan,” a voluminous document that is the offspring of ceaseless deliberation.
Question: HOW BIG A “CHAPTER” (AND WHICH CHAPTER?) OF THAT “STRATEGIC PLAN” IS DEVOTED … EXPLICITLY … TO THE “HR STRATEGY”?
Maybe I’m out of touch. But most “strategic plans” I’ve seen don’t even have an “HR Strategy.”
There needs to be one.
Our “strategic approach” to tackling the “talent thing” is more important than our market analysis. (Or surely as important, eh?) (Forget that: MORE IMPORTANT!)
HR … I … WANT YOU … at … the … Head Table.
Tom Peters is well-known as a proponent of doing WOW projects. Here’s how he describes them in Re-Imagine!: Business Excellence in a Disruptive Age:
The road to success is paved with … WOW Projects. Project: a task that has a beginning and an end, as well as deliverables along the way. WOW Project: one that has “goals and objectives” that inspire.
WOW Projects are:
- Projects that Matter.
- Projects that Make a Difference.
- Projects that you can Brag About … forever. [I really, really, really dislike bragging, but you see the point. Very interesting spin if you interpret this in a God-centered way and take "forever" literally...]
- Projects that Transform the Enterprise.
- Projects that Take Your Breath Away.
- Projects that make you/me/us/”them” Smile.
- Projects that Highlight the Value that You Add … and Why … You Are Here on Earth. (Yes. That Big.)
- WOW Projects are … not hype.
- WOW Projects are … a necessity. (New necessity.)
I’d be interested in hearing from you on when you exercise. What time of day works best for you?
For years I would jog and lift weights right when getting home from work. For the last year or so I’ve been getting up early to exercise.
Both have their drawbacks — when I exercise in the morning, it feels like it delays the start of my day; when I exercise after work, it feels like it delays the start of my evening with my family.
What works best for you?
Yesterday I posted on Tom Peters list of how to attract talent to your organization from his book Re-Imagine!: Business Excellence in a Disruptive Age. But how do you identify talent? Peters covers that as well. He argues that a “true exemplar of talent:
- Displays passion.
- Inspires others.
- Loves pressure.
- Craves action.
- Knows how to finish the job.
- Thrives on WOW.
- Exhibits curiosity.
- Embodies “weird.”
- Exudes a sense of fun.
- Thinks at a high level.
- “Gets” talent.
A good point from Tom Peters’ Re-Imagine!: Business Excellence in a Disruptive Age:
To attract, retain, and obtain the most from Awesome Talent, organizations will need to offer up … an Awesome Place to Work: A place where people not only get paid “their due,” but also … get to initiate and execute great things.
Peters then offers up his “Talent 25″ for how to do this (he expands on each of these points; I won’t do that here, but do recommending getting the whole book):
- Put people first! (For Real.)
- Be obsessed!
- Pursue the best!
- Weed out the rest!
- Focus on intangibles!
- Change the profile of HR!
- Forge a bold HR strategy!
- Take reviews seriously!
- Pay up!
- Set sky-high standards!
- Train! Train! Train!
- Cultivate leadership aspirations from the get go!
- Foster open communication!
- Lead by “winning people over”!
- Reward “people skills”!
- Show respect!
- Embrace the whole individual!
- Measure for uniqueness!
- Honor youth!
- Create opportunities to lead!
- Relish diversity!
- Liberate women! (There is a talent shortage — do not overlook 50% of the population.)
- Celebrate the weird ones!
- Provide a setting for adventure!
- Revealing the big secret! (Although Malcolm Gladwell might want to nuance this [see his Outliers: The Story of Success], Peters puts it this way: some people are more talented than others in an area, and some are way more talented in that areas.)
From Gary Hamel’s The Future of Management:
There is no surer way to undermine a new business venture than to measure it by the profits generated, rather than by the learning accumulated.
He gives IBM as an example of a company that has learned this lesson:
IBM’s top-level growth team understood that when it comes to building a new business, you have to learn before you earn. Given this, they wanted to counter the debilitating assumption that if you’re not holding a new venture accountable for profits, you’re not holding it accountable for anything. Many of IBM’s past growth efforts had stalled when an early push for profits limited a venture’s potential upside by prematurely truncating the learning and experimentation that would have, in time, yielded a more powerful, and better targeted, business model.
After studying a number of organizational leaders at close range, I discovered that they operate in a highly distinctive mental realm when it comes to organization and time management.
In my opinion, what CEOs are really doing in this different realm — the real focus of their time, their core and ongoing project — is what I call managing influence. I first started to understand this phenomenon during an interview with a CEO in which I repeatedly pressed him to describe his “tasks.” Finally he got a bit testy and replied, “Look, there’s just one traditional task I do: I edit drafts of speeches prepared by my speechwriter — and I do that mostly when I’m on a plane. Otherwise, no tasks.”
His retort brought me up short. I finally got it. No tasks.
But in the next breath, I asked myself, “These guys aren’t sitting around watching the flowers grow. So if they’re not doing tasks, then what exactly are they doing?”
Because virtually all their time is spent with others, I deduced that their work had to be conducted in some way through these contacts. By shadowing them, I had discovered, as described earlier, that these contacts were very free-form, consisting mostly of suggestions, questions, observations, and eliciting their direct reports’ views, interwoven with occasional chat about golf, family activities, etc.
What the CEOs were doing, I concluded, was not primarily ordering others, but influencing them through constant contact. So that became my focus: how CEOs use their time to guide their company by influencing others.
We’ve all experienced it: you call your credit card company or some other such company, and are prompted to enter your account number into the keypad. Then, when a real person comes on, they ask you for your account number again.
This is a poor customer experience. Why ask the first time if they are simply going to ask again? I can understand that, for security reasons, they might want the live person to get the number from you. But what possible benefit can it be to them to have you key it into the pad initially if they are only going to ask for it again later?
That’s a rhetorical question. I’m sure the companies have lots of good reasons. But, there are good reasons behind every poor customer experience. We need to get beyond allowing “good reasons” to complicate the customer’s life. And if we say “what’s the big deal with requiring the customer to do another 30 second action,” we aren’t truly thinking of the customer first.
I’ve posted a lot off and on about multi-tasking. The other day I came across another superb article on why multi-tasking doesn’t work. Here are some of the key points and excerpts.
First, when we talk about multitasking, we are talking about paying attention. Sure, you can walk and chew gum at the same time. But you cannot pay attention to two things at once. The article quotes from the book Brain Rules:
Multitasking, when it comes to paying attention, is a myth. The brain naturally focuses on concepts sequentially, one at a time. At first that might sound confusing; at one level the brain does multitask. You can walk and talk at the same time. Your brain controls your heartbeat while you read a book. A pianist can play a piece with left hand and right hand simultaneously. Surely this is multitasking. But I am talking about the brain’s ability to pay attention… To put it bluntly, research shows that we can’t multitask. We are biologically incapable of processing attention-rich inputs simultaneously.
Second, one reason multi-tasking is so costly is because it prevents you from getting into the zone. (And, by the way, if you don’t see the need to get into the zone, your work is too easy.)
The reason we get into the zone in the first place is because of our limited bandwidth. When you are truly engaged in something there is not room to pay attention to anything else. The result is that you get beyond yourself, completely involved in what you are doing, which research has found is one of the key components of satisfaction in our work and lives. The article quotes from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s TED talk about creative flow:
When you are really involved in this completely engaging process of creating something new — as this man does [he is describing a composer in the act of writing music] — he doesn’t have enough attention left over to monitor how his body feels or his problems at home. He can’t feel even that he’s hungry or tired, his body disappears, his identity disappears from his consciousness because he doesn’t have enough attention, like none of us do, to really do well something that requires a lot of concentration and at the same time to feel that he exists.
If you think “well, that’s important for someone like a composer, not me,” you are short-changing yourself.
Finally, it is true that there is something to be said for distractions and interruptions. They play a role in stimulating creativity and are simply “part of what makes us human.” You can’t — and shouldn’t — design your day to be completely free of interruptions. Interruptions are part of your job, and part of serving others; they also are a good opportunity for interaction and they make your day more interesting.
The issue is simply that you can’t make yourself available for interruptions all day long. You have to designate specific, focused time to plug away on your high-concentration tasks and get into the zone. If you continually try to mix high-concentration tasks with ongoing interruptibility and interaction, both will be undermined.
Defining the mission and primary outcome of a non-profit can be difficult. For there is no universal, specifically measurable bottom-line such as profit.
In his Managing the Nonprofit Organization, Peter Drucker actually provides a good measure of clarity to help overcome this challenge:
[The distinguishing feature common to nonprofits] is not that these institutions are “non-profit,” that is, that they are not businesses. It is also not that they are “non-governmental.” It is that they do something very different from either business or government. Business supplies, either goods or services. Government controls.
A business has has discharged its task when the customer buys the product, pays for it, and is satisfied with it. Government has discharged its function when its policies are effective. The “non-profit” institution neither supplies goods or services or controls. Its “product” is neither a pair of shoes nor an effective regulation. Its product is a changed human being. The non-profit institutions are human-change agents. Their “product” is a cured patient, a child that learns, a young man or woman grown into a self-respecting adult; a changed human life altogether.
From Peter Drucker’s Managing the Nonprofit Organization:
The most common question asked me by non-profit executives is: What are the qualities of a leader? The question seems to assume that leadership is something you learn in charm school. But it also assumes that leadership by itself is enough, that it’s an end. And that’s misleadership.
The leader who basically focuses on himself or herself is going to mislead. The three most charismatic leaders in this century inflicted more suffering on the human race than almost any other trio in history: Hitler, Stalin, Mao. What matters is not the leaders charisma. What matters is the leader’s mission.
Therefore, the first job of the leader is to think through and define the mission of the institution.
Today is the anniversary of the first walk on the moon. In honor of that, here is a great segment from the fantastic book A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts, summarizing Kennedy in a 1962 speech on why we were going:
In the past sixteen months, as Kennedy’s vision had materialized, so had the clarity of his purpose. To those who questioned this audacious venture, he would now give his answer.
“Why choose this as our goal?” Kennedy asked his audience. “And they may well ask, Why climb the highest mountain? Why, thirty-five years ago, fly the Atlantic?”
“Why,” he added without missing a beat, “does Rice play Texas?”
The crowd sat quietly in the heat, fanning themselves, mopping their brows, as Kennedy spelled out the technological hurdles that would have to be cleared to build the Apollo spacecraft and its Saturn V booster. … The effort would spawn new jobs, new knowledge, new technology, Kennedy said, but ultimately, the first voyages to another world would be “in some measure an act of faith and vision, for we do not know what benefits await us.”
“We choose to go to the moon! We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things–not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” His voice rang with energy and confidence; his words soared above the sound of applause. “Because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our abilities and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win…”
A good analogy of this fact from the Wall Street Journal:
Mr. Rangel and House Democrats are also banking on the idea that raising tax rates by 20% will raise 20% more tax revenue, but that’s like telling Wal-Mart it can raise prices by 20% and get 20% more profit. When taxes on the rich rise, their reported income tends to decline. The last time the top federal income tax rate was 50%, the richest 1% paid only about 25% of all income taxes. Today, at a 35% rate they pay nearly 40%.
Here is an excellent series of Apollo 11 pictures that were sent my way. They cover before the launch, to the launch, to the return. Really well done.
Following up on a post yesterday which made the point that too much of a concern for efficiency can undermine effectiveness, here is a tragic example where efficiency destroyed effectiveness.
Apparently there are some “lost tapes” which preserve the highest-quality raw feed from the moon landing in July 1969. Recently there were rumors that the tapes may have been found. But when NASA recently released some restored footage of the landing, the lost tapes were not among them.
Turns out that the tapes with this footage were most likely erased. Why? From an article on the moon landings on Fox News:
The original videos beamed to earth were stored on giant reels of tapes that each contained 15 minutes of video, along with 13 other channels of live data from the moon.
In the 1970s and 1980s, NASA had a shortage of the tapes and erased about 200,000 and reused them. That’s apparently what happened to the famous moon landing footage.
So in an effort to conserve tapes, the clearest footage of one of the most significant cultural achievements in history was accidentally erased.
Clearly the tapes were not erased on purpose. But that’s the damage often wreaked by the mindset of over-efficiency (even when justified by apparently significant factors, such as a shortage of tapes in this case): mistakes get made and critical, important things are often sacrificed in the charge.
It is still incredible that we went to the moon — and returned our people safely home. This is an achievement to be celebrated both in itself and for what it represents — that we are a society that is willing to do big, bold things.
On July 16, 1969, the Saturn V rocket carrying the Apollo 11 crew, capsule and lunar lander lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center at 9:32 a.m. EDT.
Millions of people watched the event live on television, including President Nixon in the Oval Office.
Twelve minutes later, the spacecraft entered orbit around the Earth. It circled our planet one and a half times, then got one last boost from the Saturn V’s third stage and was set off on its way to the moon.
Here are a few more random thoughts on the moon landing:
- President Kennedy’s initial charter is still a model of effective goal setting. It was bold, clear, specific, time-bound, and inspiring. “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”
- We should go back.
- We should go to Mars.
- Why not just go straight to Mars? I thought this over a few weeks ago and read some things online. Apparently, we will be more effective in getting to Mars if we go first to the moon again and establish it as a base along the way. I would imagine that it would also be good preparation for the much more difficult task of getting to Mars.
- Why should we do these things? My son asked me last night why we went to the moon. It was extra-easy to answer him, because he wants to be a “discovery person” when he grows up (his term). I said: “Because God made us in such a way that we want to discover new things and explore.” That’s enough justification. It’s like art. You don’t first say “what’s the use of this?” It is valuable and enriching in its own right. Bold explorations to the moon, Mars, and elsewhere are the same. Beyond that, there is much practical use because of all the new technologies that come out of these endeavors.
- Teach your kids about the moon landings. I’m going through Mission to the Moon by Alan Dyerwith my son. There is greater significance in doing this than simply celebrating this cultural achievement. It is also an opportunity to teach the value of doing hard things.
Why are people so concerned about overhead?
The first question many people ask me, truly, is, “How much do you spend on overhead?” That means expenses not directly related to a group’s programs, including office rent and the electric bill. Givers want to know that we’re not spending much money on this stuff, that most of their donations go to “program-related activity.”
The assumption is that when 99% of your expenses go to programs, you are fantastic. Not-for-profits proudly proclaim, “95% of our expenses go to programs fighting poverty!” as if they’re a gazillion times more effective than those that spend a pathetic 85%. Web sites that track not-for-profit financials perpetuate the “overhead is evil” myth by lauding groups that curtail it. Perhaps they think overhead is an espresso machine. Or a new jet. Or art on our walls. (Whoops! Then we’d be a bank.)
Why does overhead taken by itself lead to a distorted picture?
Low overhead doesn’t necessarily mean an organization is awesome at fighting poverty, or that its turnover is low and its people productive. And it certainly doesn’t guarantee that the group is spending wisely.
What are examples of good overhead expenditures?
Let’s take an example from the for-profit world, which isn’t so squeamish about overhead. According to Apple’s Q4 2008 report, 78% of its expenses were sales, general, and administrative — the corporate equivalent of overhead. Seventy-eight percent! Yet nobody flinches. Keep spending, Steve Jobs! Your products rock!
Here’s a case study from my own organization. Last year, we spent nearly $200,000 overhauling our Web site, from the content-management system to the architecture to the design. No one likes such expenses on the books: They smell like overhead. But our site no longer crashes, traffic has doubled, and we even won a Webby Award.
But some overhead is bad, right?
Obviously, not all overhead is good. I know one not-for-profit executive who flies only first class, stays in suites at the W, and has a car service schlep him around New York whenever he’s there. This guy has an overhead problem.
So what’s your main point? What should we be concerned about more than overhead?
My point: Stop obsessing about overhead. You can’t assess an organization on one statistic. Instead, focus on effectiveness. That’s a harder story to tell and a trickier thing to measure. But that effort is what everyone ultimately wants — a good investment.
In sum: There is indeed such a thing as bad overhead, and organizations should be as efficient as possible. But efficiency does not equal effectiveness. We should be concerned first and foremost about effectiveness. Focusing too much on “overhead expense” too easily rewards behaviors which may appear efficient on the surface but in actuality decrease effectiveness because they undermine the engines of growth and bold action.
From David Allen’s book Ready for Anything: 52 Productivity Principles for Work and Life:
I’ve given numerous “drive-by” radio and TV interviews, the type that give you about fifty-three seconds…. They’ve forced me to distill my message to the bare essentials. A typical question is, “David, what’s the one thing we do that gets in the way of being productive?” Here’s my answer:
“It’s not one thing but five things all wrapped together: People keep stuff in their head. They don’t decide what they need to do about stuff they know they need to do something about. They don’t organize action reminders and support materials in functional categories. They don’t maintain and review a complete and objective inventory of their commitments. Then they waste energy and burn out, allowing their busyness to be driven by what’s latest and loudest, hoping it’s the right thing to do but never feeling the relief that it is.”
Thomas Sowell’s new book, The Housing Boom and Bust, would be worth a read by those wanting to learn more about the housing bust and its role in the current financial crisis. From the Amazon product description:
This is a plain-English explanation of how we got into the current economic disaster that developed out of the economics and politics of the housing boom and bust. The “creative” financing of home mortgages and the even more “creative” marketing of financial securities based on American mortgages to countries around the world, are part of the story of how a financial house of cards was built up—and then suddenly collapsed.
The politics behind all this is another story full of strange twists. No punches are pulled when discussing politicians of either party, the financial dangers they created, or the distractions they created later to escape their own responsibility for what happened when the financial house of cards in the financial markets collapsed.
Sowell also wrote a column a few months ago on summarizing some of the main themes of the book. Justin Taylor points out today on his blog that Sowell was recently interviewed on the subject on “Uncommon Knowledge.”
Another helpful book on the financial crisis and the causes of the housing boom is Meltdown: A Free-Market Look at Why the Stock Market Collapsed, the Economy Tanked, and Government Bailouts Will Make Things Worse. Meltdown was a very clear and enlightening book that I would love to summarize sometime (someday/maybe).
Tom Peters writes in his classic In Search of Excellence:
Every excellent company we studied is clear on what it stands for, and takes the process of value shaping seriously. In fact, we wonder whether it is possible to be an excellent company without clarity on values and without having the right sorts of values.
Thomas Watson, Jr., of IBM, wrote an entire book on this long ago in which he summarizes what Peters (and, later, Jim Collins in Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies) found to be true of all excellent companies: in order to be an excellent company (and an enduring one), the company must be founded on a coherent set of foundational beliefs. There must be a “core.”
The core is unchanging. Everything other than the core is open to constant change. As Collins points out, the single guiding principle for managing an organization is therefore this: preserve the core and stimulate progress.
Here is how Watson put it in his classic work A Business and Its Beliefs:
One may speculate at length as to the cause of the decline and fall of a corporation. Technology, changing tastes, changing fashions, all play a part. … No one can dispute their importance. But I question whether they in themselves are decisive.
I believe the real difference between success and failure in a corporation can very often be traced to the question of how well the organization brings out the great energies and talents of its people. What does it do to help these people find common cause with each other? And how can it sustain this common cause and sense of direction through the many changes which take place from one generation to another?
Consider any great organization — one that has lasted over the years — and I think you will find that it owes its resiliency not to its form of organization or administrative skills, but to the power of whqt we call beliefs and the appeal these beliefs have for its people.
This then is my thesis: I firmly believe that any organization, in order to survive and achieve success, must have a sound set of beliefs on which it premises all its policies and actions. Next, I believe that the most important single factor in corporate success is faithful adherence to those beliefs. And, finally, I believe if an organization is to meet the challenge of a changing world, it must be prepared to change everything about itself except those beliefs as it moves through corporate life.
In other words, the basic philosophy, spirit, and drive of an organization have far more to do with its relative achievements than do technological or economic resources, organizational structure, innovation, and timing. All of these things weigh heavily in success. But they are, I think, transcended by how strongly the people in the organization believe in its basic precepts and how faithfully they carry them out. (Cited in In Search of Excellence, 280.)
From Fox News:
The newest trend in Internet fraud is “vacation hacking,” a sinister sort of tourist trap.
Cybercriminals are targeting travelers by creating phony Wi-Fi hot spots in airports, in hotels, and even aboard airliners.
Vacationers on their way to fun in the sun, or already there, think they’re using designated Wi-Fi access points. But instead, they’re signing on to fraudulent networks and hand-delivering everything on their laptops to the crooks.
Fast Company has an article explaning why they don’t see the new Chrome OS being very useful to people.
My attitude is largely a wait and see at this point. I don’t see the Chromse OS becoming very widely used early on. The most interesting question to me is: what will operating systems be like in 5 years and 10 years? They could be very different, and Chrome could be a step helping move us along. We’ll see.
Even in this age of incredible task-management software, when it comes down to your concrete next action list (or daily next action list), there are still advantages to pen and paper. As I’ve blogged before, I use OmniFocus to keep track of my goals, projects, and actions. But when it comes down to the specific actions that I want to do today, sometimes I find a lot of value in pen and paper.
If you create to-do lists, what do you use — software or paper?