When Convenience Gets Under Your Skin

Whether it is Amazon planning on stores without cash registers, or being able to buy drinks in a club without your wallet, to tracking the movement of just about any goods you can think of, RFID (Radio-frequency identification) is part of lives. But, what if your CEO or CTO came to you and said, “What if our employees had an RFID chip implanted in them?”

As with a lot of tech, the argument in favor of it is about convenience. Employees could access buildings, rooms, computers, vending machines, etc just by walking past an RFID reader. No more reaching for or losing key cards.

So, a company in Wisconsin is trying it out. The non-squeamish volunteers will get the chip (about the size of a grain of rice) put into their hand between the thumb and forefinger.

I will avoid making ominous comparisons to 1984. But, I am curious as to what are the real productivity or engagement benefits of doing this. How much time is being wasted fumbling for security cards? Does this help prevent any security breaches? I am just not seeing the ROI, so I doubt that many companies will adopt this.

I am not anti-technology or else this blog would show up on a piece of paper. Nor do I expect that every tech idea to be a good or bad one. However, business decisions that affect employees should be made on something beyond, “This would be cool!” Someone at the companies adopting this technology did just that (probably after an amazing sales pitch). Does it establish them as having a forward thinking tech-enable culture? Sure. Does it also show them as favoring style over substance? I think again, the answer is, “Yes.”

We can help companies establish a culture of good decision making by facilitating data-driven discussions. Questions like, “What are our goals?” and “How do we determine if this innovation is successful?” is a good way to separate a fad from effective organizational initiatives.

Our Love/Hate Relationship With Meetings

Coming across this today, I can only imagine that every editor of a business section of any published content has a yearly reminder to put in an article about meetings.

What it comes down to are several sometimes contradictory feelings that employees have:

  1. I want to have lots of communication in my organization.
  2. I get too much e-mail.
  3. I go to too many meetings.
  4. I hate meetings because:
    • They are hopelessly inefficient.
    • I have other more pressing things to do.

The articles are usually written from the point of view of the put upon employee and focus on how to eliminate meetings.  I’d like to take a different take.  What can a leader do to execute better meetings?

Be Thoughtful of Who to Invite.  Meeting invites should not be about status. Rather, they should include those who can provide useful ideas and insights to the rest of the group.  If someone comes and does not think he can contribute, don’t invite him to the next one.  If someone else hears about the meeting and thinks she can contribute, invite her to the next one.

Set a Good Agenda.  Sending out an agenda before a meeting is a no brainer (and can help people determine if they should attend, per above). Better agendas include action words (e.g., Discuss project X; Decide on project Y) to help guide the conversation.  Also, they estimate how much time will be allocated for each topic.  This ensures that all important topics are addressed in the meeting.

Be the Best Facilitator Possible.  Meetings can be inefficient (or worse) because they go off on tangents, one person dominates the conversation, decisions don’t get made, etc.  Meeting leaders who can manage the process better get the most out of their groups.  These skills are not hard to acquire. Extra tip: Rotate which of the group members facilitates the meeting. It provides a different perspective of the group’s processes.

Get All Ideas on the Table. Some people choose to defer to others in meetings for a variety of reasons.  Good meeting leaders set the expectation that everyone with relevant ideas participates and draws out those who are not sharing.

Summarize Decisions and Action Steps.  No one should ever leave a meeting wondering, “So what’s next?”  Meeting leaders should be clear in their language about what has been decided.  This allows others to either object or agree.

We cannot say we have to have better communications AND fewer meetings.  However, we can have better meetings and better communications.

When the People in High Potential Programs Aren’t

At a recent professional conference I attended there was a lot of talk about high potentials.  Specifically, how to best measure potential versus actual performance (good luck getting managers to understand the difference).  The idea of identifying high potentials (HiPos) is critical for a couple of reasons:

  • If you are going to do good succession planning, you need to look at people based on their potential to be leaders at the next level (or for the first time) and not just how well they are doing in the current position.
  • Investing training dollars in HiPos will give you a much better return than the investment in lower performers. High performers got that way because they are continuous learners who welcome feedback.

But, do companies really do a good job of identifying HiPos?  This article suggests that they do not.  Using 360 feedback as a metric, the authors conclude that many of those selected into HiPo programs are not rated well on important leadership dimensions.  How does this happen?

  • Companies use the wrong data to identify HiPos. Our tendency is to use current performance to determine future performance.  And, if looking at a person’s potential in that job, this would be the best predictor.  But, it is not a good predictor if you’re trying to determine if a great individual contributor will be a good manager, or if a good manager will be a good executive.  The skill sets are too different.
  • I allude to it above, but companies place too much weight on factors that are not related to potential. I understand that it is hard to put blinders on and only focus on those attributes that would indicate success in another role (e.g., strategic thinking), but it is critical to do so in identifying HiPos.

The best way to combat this is to identify future success factors, such as strategic thinking and developing effective followers, in your organization.  If succession planners are presented with only this type of relevant data (as opposed to everything that might come out of a 360 or assessment center), it is more likely that those with the highest potential will be put into the HiPo pool.

CEO Accountability…Really!

I could fill up this post with examples of CEOs that got raises when the performance of the company they were running got worse.  But, that’s too depressing.

Rather, here’s a story about Tim Cook and other Apple executives getting their pay cut because the company did not hit its numbers.  Sure, Cook and the others are not going to start clipping coupons any time soon, but it is an all-too-rare example of executive compensation being linked to actual company performance.  In this instance, profit was down 16%, so pay got cut 15% (though I doubt whatever formula was used was quite that simple).  In this case, the cut is not receiving 100% of a cash incentive, which had been paid out in full previously.

Cynics will say that the cut amounts to change in the cushions for the Apple executive team, which I guess is true.  However, it does send a message to employees (and shareholders) that if executives are accountable for the overall performance of the company.  And this type of message is important in establishing a culture of accountability.

What this step also does is establish the purpose of executive variable compensation—to reward provide a reward based on recent company performance.  This is separate from any gains/losses in the stock price, which is supposed to be a forward looking metric.  Is this going to make Tim Cook work any harder?  Probably not.  Does it tell Apple employees that senior executives are accountable for the development and execution of business strategies?  Absolutely.

Why Clarity in Family Succession Planning Matters

I have some family owned businesses as clients.  They do have an extra critical dynamic which makes them different from other businesses.  As one owner said to me when trying to make a difficult retain/fire decision about a family member, “If Pat goes and then works for a competitor that would make Thanksgivings very awkward.”

showbox iosThough the extra layer of family issues can be seen as a detriment, businesses that want to stay family owned and/or operated have the advantage of being able to plan succession well into the future (assuming commitment by younger family members).  This can include education, cross-training assignments, and working for other companies.  The important point is that family owned businesses should focus on succession planning in management as part of the ownership transition.gmail Login  Sure, deciding what it takes to be the next Director of Midwest Regional Sales isn’t as sexy as the next CEO, but it is a necessary step.

When I read about how family businesses conduct succession planning well, what strikes me is that additional role definition is a key.  This article provides some good examples.  The lesson is that governance and individual responsibilities need to be even clearer for family members in the succession path than for employees.  Besides giving confidence to investors and other stakeholders, this really tells brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, etc. not to make assumptions about when they get to run the business, but rather what milestones to hit so they can earn the opportunity to run the business.

Of course, clear role definition and long term succession planning are great tools for any business.  Being clear about selection criteria, knowledge and skill acquisition, and experience set standards for all employees who want to advance in a company.  But, for family-owned businesses, they can mean the difference between transitioning a business to future generations or having them stop with the founder.

Learning to Manage

I cannot tell you how many times I have worked with a client who has told me some sort of story about how they promote from within, but have a problem with the supervisors and/or managers not being able to let go of wanting to do the technical work instead of managing the technical work.  It is not hard to understand.  People get into a field because of their interests or passion, rarely for their desire to manage others.

An organization’s challenge is to either create technical career opportunities or help those who are technically proficient to successfully move into management.  But how?  Here are some tips:

  • Clearly identify the skill sets required of managers and note how different they are from those required of technical workers. One of the places I would start is with Delegation and Holding People Accountable.
  • Make the management skill sets part of your internal recruitment AND learning and development process.
  • Require internal candidates to demonstrate management skills before being promoted through an assessment center or other valid selection process.
  • Start people at an appropriate management level, regardless of how technically proficient they are.

While I’m not one to think that sports are necessarily a good analogy for the business world, I found this article to be an exception.  It describes how John Elway,

a multiple Super Bowl winning quarterback with the Denver Broncos, learned management skills from the ground up.  He wasn’t made a Vice President of the team after he retired.  Rather, he honed his business skills in another field and then transferred them to a low level of football.  It wasn’t until he demonstrated success there that he was giving the big opportunity.  The time spent out of the spotlight clearly led to many learning experiences.

What makes the story powerful is the understanding that while there were some technical skills which would translate for him from the field to the front office, Elway (and his bosses) understood that others would have to be learned.  The organization was willing to let him take the time to learn how to manage and lead in a non-technical role.

The lessons for the rest of us are that:

  • Management skills are different from technical ones (e.g., the best sales person is not necessarily the best sales manager). We can use valid tools to identify which of our technical experts possess them.
  • Management development is a journey, as is the acquisition of any skill set.

Leadership, Strategy, and Championships

Like many other businesses, baseball has undergone a significant change in how it uses data to evaluate talent (see Moneyball).  As with all paradigm changes, this has encountered a fair amount of resistance, but now every team in the league uses some form of analytics to better understand their players’ strengths and weaknesses.

Sports teams in the U.S. are somewhat unusual in the business world in that success with the product (wins and losses) does not exclusively determine whether the franchise is viable.  This is due to a variety of factors, including shared revenue from national TV contracts, caps on salaries (with the notable exception of baseball), and the emotional bond that teams have built with their fans over many years that leads to consistent revenue from game attendance and the sale of merchandise.  For many years, the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs benefited most from the latter.  Now, both are also winning on the field after decades of futility.  What changed?

One could argue that the biggest factor for both teams was Theo Epstein.  Mr. Epstein became an executive with the Red Sox when they broke their championship drought in 2004.  He then moved on to the Cubs in 2011 in a similar role and they just won their first World Series in 108 years.  The cultures of the two teams were very different.  The Red Sox were forever chasing their rivals the New York Yankees and had some World Series heart breaks.  The Cubs were forever chasing a good time and were OK perpetually being bad on the field because they were making money.

Epstein made the case to both teams that they needed to spend their resources in different places (identify and invest in upcoming talent and less on purchasing experience), identify the most critical resource on the team (“Find Pitching” has been his mantra with the Cubs), and apply other resources more wisely (change the batters’ approaches to hitting).  He is not the first baseball executive to preach these things.  But baseball organizations are bigger than the 25 players on a major league team.  They are made up of managers, coaches, talent scouts, analysts, front office staff and hundreds of players competing to make the team in the minor leagues.  In that sense, changing a culture in a sports organization is not that different than doing it in other industries.  He managed to do it twice.

The lesson is one that we may know but sometimes fail to internalize: The best ideas need both good execution and the buy-in from the organization to be meaningful and successful.  Or, as was attributed to Peter Drucker, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

What Do We Really Want From CEOs?

There is a parlor game in some circles which asks whether any organization would hire Steve Jobs using “traditional” selection tools to run a company. The conversation can be held for any person who is seen as an outsider who succeeds. Part of this discussion is moot as founders of companies don’t get “selected” and the skill sets required for a founder and a CEO of an established company are totally different.

For me, it begs the question of what do we really want from our CEOs? After all, we can’t really discuss what we would measure in a candidate until we know what the job entails. This came to mind while I was reading a story about Larry Page this weekend and how he fulfills his role at Alphabet, Inc. (holding company of Google). This is not to say that his role as CEO is typical, but it is instructive.

According the article, Page sees his role as the innovator-in-chief who looks for new opportunities for his company, or existing ones that can be purchased. Just as importantly, he is charged with finding the people to run Alphabet’s innovative businesses. Note that none of this relates to his ability budget, lead and motivate others, manager capital, etc. Of course, the article simplifies what Page does and this blog entry simplifies it even more. However, if Alphabet were to replace him, at least this provides a road map of what they would look for:

  • Openness to New Experiences
  • Curiosity
  • Strategic Thinking
  • Persuasiveness
  • Evaluation of Talent

And it would be very different for hiring a CEO of a financial services company, or a hospital, or a non-profit, etc.

So, the question in the title isn’t meant to be a broad generalization. Rather, for your organization, it should read, “What Do We Want from Our CEO?” Using that thinking, perhaps you would hire Steve Jobs. Or, someone better for your business.

For a deeper conversation about selecting executives, contact Warren Bobrow.

Is It Better to Lead Apart or Within?

Happy New Year!

Today I came across a specialized leadership development program for LGBT executives. It’s offered at Stanford, and it ain’t cheap, so I’m thinking it’s not a fly-by-night kind of thing. But, it did get me thinking about the wisdom of leading by identity.

If nothing else, leaders need to be authentic. I never bought into the idea that women needed to be more like men (whatever that means) in order to be effective executives. Rather, leadership effectiveness is a combination of desire and developed talent, regardless of (fill in the demographic variable).

White men have had their own networking group since the beginning of the industrial age, so I don’t see specific groups for LGBT, women, Asian, etc executives as any sort of reverse discrimination. There’s great comfort and learning to be had from sharing with those who have had similar experiences to you. And just because Tim Cook of Apple came out doesn’t mean that challenges facing LGBT executives have disappeared any more than President Obama’s election eliminated racism in the U.S.

But, I would caution against leaders overly “branding” themselves in a category other than that of their organization. It is almost like when you hear someone in your organization refer to “you” rather than “us” when describing an issue. Aren’t we all in this together?

I support leaders developing their skills where they can and universities making extra money. But, consider this: Wouldn’t there be more benefit of these programs if the attendees were 50% LGBT and 50% straight? I’d like to hear your thoughts about this, or similar programs.

For more information on leadership development, please contact Warren Bobrow.


Why Change is Hard and How To Make it Easier

Organizational development specialists always tell us that change is difficult. They say that people are resistant to new things, are too comfortable in existing processes, and that we really need to be pushed or coddled to leap into the new. Others feel that change is natural and welcome and that it’s “fake change” that we resist. So, which is it?

This article leads us to believe that it is the former. It describes how there are many people who want to buy electric cars, but that many dealerships are reluctant to sell them. There seems to be a choice here: Dig in your heels against change and continue to reap short-term profits or invest in some training and embrace a new market.

The automobile was one of the most disruptive technologies of modern history. Yet, the automobile business is one of the most reluctant to change, whether through a history of fighting federal fuel efficiency standards Download DraStic DS Emulator For PC (which the industry always meets after whining and crying) or suing to prevent new distribution models. Resisting change when the consumer wants it is futile—electric cars will be sold through dealers and new distribution channels. It’s just a matter of when.

So, how do we get our organizations to embrace disruptive change? Here are a few (not exhaustive) useful guidelines:

  • Gather meaningful input. Big changes should not be implemented until you know the potential impacts on all shareholders. Not everyone will be happy with change, but it should be a cultural imperative that you hear from those affected before making a decision. People are more likely to embrace change that they author. So, if you are a dealership, how can we make the sales cycle for electric cars closer to that of existing ones? How can we quickly educate ourselves and consumers about them?
  • Show firm leadership. Once a decision has been made, top management needs to be clear in its resolve and describe the benefits of the change, while acknowledging any negative affects. Management needs to be open to small tweaks, but committed to the direction. The dealers are afraid that more electric cars will lead to less profit in the service department. That should be acknowledged as well as the benefits of change (we can be the go-to dealer for this new technology; this gives us the opportunity to develop lifetime relationships with people who are eager to try new things, etc.).
  • Make the people part of the change the first priority, not the last one. Whatever your great new process or technology, it has to be implemented by employees. Have your communication and training in place before the change is implemented. Part of resistance to change is that people are afraid that they won’t be as good at their jobs anymore. You can alleviate that by putting employees before technology. This could be realized by providing the sales and repair staffs with training about the new technology before being asked to sell or work on it. Build their confidence rather than making them frustrated.

Organizational change is complicated and messy. I’m sure several of you have other tips and experiences with it besides what’s listed above. I’d love to hear your ideas!

Are we receptive or resistant to change? That all depends on the change and what we think is in it for us. As change agents, we need to embrace the person dynamic of accepting the new in order to be effective.



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