Saturday, March 31, 2007

Knowing When to Engage

A major question for any manager is, "How much?"

How much detail is needed from an associate?

How much time should be spent on a project?

How much money should be allocated?

The question is important because managers - in contrast to specialists - have to know enough of a wide range of subjects in order to facilitate the operation of the work unit. Former specialists who become managers often make the mistake of devoting so much time to a favorite subject that their work is imbalanced and other topics are neglected.

I don't mean to criticize "neglect." That word has a negative connotation but, when applied to management, it also has a positive side. Some tasks have to be neglected at certain times. The manager who tries to do everything well at all moments will soon resemble the person who jumped on a horse and rode off in all directions.

Experienced managers develop a talent for sensing when something requires additional attention. They hear some hesitation in a subordinate's voice when the person describes the progress on a project. They notice a silence when a worker's name is mentioned. They can walk through a factory and, by observing body language, quickly deduce the morale. And then they engage.

This balancing between engagement and - to steal Daniel Moynihan's term - benign neglect is why management is more art than science. Sure, we can put together dashboard reports in which key determinants of progress are routinely shown. Those are certainly helpful. But I've never seen a report that didn't have some gaps and within those gaps, disaster can fester. That's why the manager is daily wondering, "How much is too much and how much is too little?"

True Believers at Starbucks

The story behind the Dulce de Leche Latte: Starbucks is going back to its roots. An excerpt from the Business Week article:

Somewhere along the way that disconnect began to gnaw at Schultz. Most recently it manifested itself in a note he wrote to his senior team. The Valentine's Day memo, which leaked to the Web, cut to the heart of what he sees as the company's dilemma. "We have had to make a series of decisions," Schultz wrote, "that, in retrospect, have led to the watering down of the Starbucks experience, and what some might call the commoditization of our brand."

Now, Schultz is asking his lieutenants to redouble their efforts to return to their roots. "We're constantly—I don't want to say battling—but we don't want to be that big company that's corporate and slick," says Michelle Gass, senior vice-president and chief merchant for global products. "We don't. We still think about ourselves as a small entrepreneurial company." That's a tricky business when you have 150,000 employees in 39 countries. But keeping that coffee joie de vivre alive inside Starbucks is crucial to Schultz' entire philosophy. Who better to sell something than a true believer?

Real Work: Books on Baseball

Fay Vincent, former commissioner of baseball, give his top five list of books on The Game.

[A friend of mine once offered his theory on the popularity of baseball in the United States: Every American boy has, deep within, the feeling that if he'd just practiced a little harder or received a bit more coaching, he could have become a professional baseball player.]

Quote of the Day

Success is that old ABC - ability, breaks, and courage.

- Charles Luckman

Friday, March 30, 2007

Honoring Your Quiet Time

You seem to find time for every joker who wanders down the turnpike.

Why not find time for yourself?

Fortify Your Oasis shows how it's done.

Thoughts at the End of a Week

How much of my work simply put out a fire and restored the status quo instead of making serious progress toward the mission?

How many times was I initiating and how often was I reacting?

How many people did I plan to contact and yet failed to do so?

How many commitments have I overlooked?

Where has my best become the enemy of the good?

Have I gotten enough rest? (Why not?)

Have I gotten enough exercise? (Why not?)

What have I kept postponing?
Have I acted as if happiness is a sin?

Novels for Executives

Here's a topic that pops up occasionally:
Which novels would you suggest that executives, or would-be executives, read?

A quick and partial list:

What Makes Sammy Run? by Budd Schulberg

[To illustrate the cost of unbridled ambition.]

The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk

[For reflections on loyalty, conspiracy, and incompetence.]

Bleak House by Charles Dickens

[Please read before entering the meat grinder known as litigation.]

The Warden by Anthony Trollope

[A good person, trapped by an organization's policies.]

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

[When insanity seems sane.]

The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe

[For an amusing take on interest group politics.]

How to Get Out of Touch

  • Let your associates filter all of the people and memos that get near your desk.
  • To the greatest degree possible, use tightly controlled meetings as the sole venue for contact with lower level employees.
  • Pop in on farewell ceremonies for no more than 15 minutes of chit chat and only attend events for white collar employees.
  • Be better known by community movers and shakers than by the employees in the adjoining department.
  • Revise the organization chart every eight months.
  • Be more interested in preventing a union than in addressing the issues that may create a union.
  • Exile or fire independent thinkers.
  • Schedule, then cancel, feedback meetings.
  • Scoff at employee attitude surveys.
  • Regard complaints as a sign of disloyalty.
  • Always travel with a retinue of the ambitious and the compliant.

Quote of the Day

Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are. Let me learn from you, love you, savor you, bless you before you depart. Let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow. Let me hold you while I may, for it will not always be so. One day I shall dig my nails into the earth, or bury my face in the pillow, or stretch myself taut, or raise my hands to the sky, and want, more than all the world, your return.

- Mary Jean Irion

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Bad Career Advice

Recently, I was struck by the extent to which people are the recipients/victims of wacky career advice so I assembled this list from a variety of personal contacts.

"If you are going to law school, you should study Latin in high school and college."

"If you are going to study medicine, your foreign language should be German. It's the new Latin."

"You should stay at least five years with an employer or people will think you are a job-hopper."

"This is the era of globalization. Service in an overseas assignment will definitely boost your promotion chances."

"You're too old to go back to school."

"They'd never bring in someone from outside of the company."

"They carefully monitor the talent bank in most of these large companies."

"If your background doesn't exactly match what the employer is asking for, don't bother applying."

"The company is not going to promote someone who can't produce results."

"To get a PhD, you have to be fluent in a foreign language."

"They won't even look at you if you don't have a graduate degree."

"They don't care about your appearance. They're interested in what you can do."

"Don't toot your own horn. Just keep cranking out the work. Some day it will be recognized."

"They are only looking for someone with a degree in that subject."

"Don't worry. Nobody checks references."

"If your resume is unclear, they'll ask you about it."

"Specialists don't get promoted."

"What are you worrying about? He won't hold that against you. That was ten years ago!"

"Do you really think they'll have you reporting to that kid?"

"This place would shut down without you."

"Don't waste a lot of time preparing for the interview. Just think of it as a conversation."

"You'll get a chance to apply. They won't fill an important job without recruiting."

Is Your Problem a Solution?

Are you failing to resolve a problem because the problem also serves as a solution?

Most of us are familiar with solutions that become problems - the infamous cure that is worse than the disease - but we may be less aware of times when the problem is the solution.

Some examples:

The person who micromanages (a problem) in order to prevent mistakes (a solution).

The person who overeats (a problem) in order to avoid romantic entanglements (a solution).

The person who attacks the motives of others (a problem) in order to deflect attention from his own motives (a solution).

The person who makes rash decisions (a problem) in order to hide her analytical weaknesses (a solution).

The person who pesters the staff with worthless assignments (a problem) in order to create the impression that things are getting done (a solution).

The person who repeatedly fumbles promotion interviews (a problem) out of fear that more responsibility will bring impossible challenges (a solution).

If a problem is persistent, it makes sense to consider what is gained by the existence of the problem. Many problems are not unmitigated negatives; they also carry benefits. The benefits may be the real reason why the problem seemingly defies solution.

In the back of the mind, the problem may be a solution.

Quote of the Day

Data are not information. Information is not meaning. Just as data require processing to become informational, so information requires processing to become meaningful.

Yet the more abundant the information, the less meaning it seems to yield. All seems, instead, congestion and confusion. The surest way to destroy a person's capacity for discrimination and good judgment is to bombard him or her with an enormous abundance of data, even if it's incontestably relevant. The greater the variety of good food consumed at a meal, the less you appreciate each dish. The louder the noise, the less clear the message.

- Theodore Levitt

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Religion in Minnesota

A workplace accommodation issue? Muslim cashiers refusing to scan pork products.

In many situations, the employers should be able to show that this will create an undue hardship on their operations.

As for the cab drivers refusing to pick up passengers who are carrying alcohol, doesn't that refusal constitute discrimination against the customer because of the customer's religious beliefs?

Incidental Benefits

I recall hearing that the Mormons gain very few converts from their missionary program. One of its biggest benefits, however, is the personal growth gained by for the young people who participate.

That's not surprising. The journey often produces more insight than the destination. As Dwight Eisenhower noted, "Plans aren't important. Planning is." We see the wisdom of that every time we watch weather pictures produced by space satellites or use the collection of other products that came in the wake of putting man on the moon.

Although we realize the importance of incidental benefits, when a decision is evaluated the traditional approach is to assess whether of not the goal was achieved. To do otherwise is mocked as the equivalent of "The operation was a success but the patient died." That line sounds clever, but its wisdom evaporates upon reflection. We frequently learn more from failure than from success and the person who has been punched in the stomach a few times probably has a keener view of reality than those who've glided from success to success. Thomas Edison denied that any of his experiments were failures. He viewed them as revelations of what wouldn't work.

Should we evaluate whether the efforts achieved the goal? Sure. But while we are doing so, why not also consider what was learned and strengthened in the process? Ultimately, those incidental benefits may produce far greater results.

Quote of the Day

It is not enough to be busy; so are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?

- Henry David Thoreau

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Time Out: A Lying Prevention Technique

As ethicist Michael Josephson puts it, "How many times do you have to lie to be a liar?"

I imagine that many of us would reply, "More than I have!" but that's hardly an objective standard. Josephson and many others have noted the extent to which we justify lying, which is probably the most common ethical infraction. Do these lines sound familiar?

I didn't lie. I just didn't tell the whole truth. [In other words, I deceived.]

I didn't lie. I just told a fib. [Which is what I call a small lie; a.k.a. a lie that I tell.]

I didn't lie. I just "fudged" the facts a bit. [See the above.]

Some lies are justified. If the Nazis ask you where Anne Frank is hiding, they don't deserve the truth, but then that's an easy call. A more difficult one is what to say when your spouse, friend, or significant other asks you if you like the new jacket that is obviously a treasured purchase. Honesty then collides with caring and while many would say, "It looks nice," the safer - and more honest - approach is to say, "I'm sorry but I really don't think it is right for you."

Diplomacy can involve holding your tongue but it can also require telling the truth with sugar on it because not to be candid is unfair, unethical, and harmful. When we lie for the sake of kindness, we frequently justify it by pretending that being brutally honest and insensitive is the only available alternative.

In our defense, there is a factor that is seldom considered: Time.

When pressed for a response, we may blurt out falsehoods or tired phrases that are the equivalent of lies because we have not had the chance to formulate an honest but caring response.
Since assembling the right words can take time, we need to stall by saying, "Please give me a few minutes. I need to sort out how I feel about this." Those are not weasel words. We do need to organize our feelings and the way we'll describe them.
It is sad to say, but many a lie has been told - and credibility subsequently lost - because a good person didn't take a few minutes out to word the truth.

Quote of the Day

Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.

- John Wooden

Monday, March 26, 2007

Language Update: He, She, They

The box office of the Broadway musical, "Grey Gardens," sat me in a pitilessly horrid seat the other day.

So I asked the usher what I could do. He said to see the house manager, and I asked, "And what will they say?"

I said "they" in order to cover the possibility that the manager might be a woman, which, in fact, it turned out to be.

I didn't want to say "And what will he say?" because all house managers are not men, and we all know deep down that "he" really does not cover both men and women. The word "he" brings a man to mind. I sure wasn't going to say, "And what will he or she say?" And I presume no one would expect me to spin out, "And what answer shall I expect?"

Yet, even as a linguist, it is hard to convince someone that I did not commit a "grammatical error." "They" is plural, you say, but allowed authors like Chaucer and William Thackeray were using "they" in the singular, centuries ago. I was also using "they" in the singular sense at the theater, but more so because I thought I was being culturally sensitive toward women.

Read the rest of John McWhorter’s article here.

Reverse Assimilation and Creeping Sharia

Be prepared to read a lot more about Pakistan in the years ahead.

Mark Steyn looks at murder, cricket, and creeping sharia. An except:

If you had to draw one of those organizational charts of the world's problems, Pakistan would be at the center of them. We speak of the northwestern tribal lands as some of the most remote places on Earth. But, in fact, when they wanted to, the Saudis had no problem getting to them, spreading a ton of walking-around money, and utterly transforming those villages. From the North-West Frontier Province, the Saudi money and Wahhabist ideology seeped through the country, into the mosques of the cities, radicalizing a generation of young Muslim men. From there it moved on to new outposts of the jihad, to Indonesia, Thailand and beyond. The flight routes from Pakistan to the United Kingdom are now the most important ideological conduit for radical Islam. The London bombers last summer were British subjects of Pakistani origin. Last week, two more were arrested in connection with the Tube bombings at Manchester Airport as they prepared to board a plane to Karachi.

Meanwhile, flying back from Karachi and Islamabad to Heathrow and Manchester are cousins, lots and lots of them. In his detailed study of the Mirpur district in Pakistan, Roger Ballard estimates that at least half and maybe up to two-thirds of those living in Britain of Mirpuri descent marry first cousins. This is a critical tool of reverse-assimilation: instead of being diluted over the generations, tribal identity is reinforced; in effect, Pakistani tribal lands are now being established in parts of northern England.

Bring Money

The ten most expensive cities in the world.

And neither Tokyo nor London takes first place!

[HT: kottke ]

What We Take for Granted

It can be tempting to measure societal progress against a utopian standard instead of considering reality. There are exceptions, of course, but, lest we always consider the glass to be half empty, I've assembled some assumptions that people living in free and developed nations can safely make. They are reminders of the vast amount of care and work that goes into an advanced society.
  • The police are not criminals and are subject to various legal restraints and independent oversight. They are also trained professionals.
  • There is an independent judiciary that strives to be impartial.
  • If the fire department comes to your house, the firefighters do not walk away with your possessions.
  • If you need emergency medical care, you can use a reliable telephone service to summon it and help will arrive within minutes.
  • If you turn on the tap, water will emerge and it will be safe to drink.
  • You can have electricity 24 hours a day.
  • State-of-the-art in-door plumbing is not unusual.
  • City officials will not require bribes before issuing permits and you don't need to be a relative or supporter of the mayor in order to get a city job.
  • You can travel without having to bribe a collection of airport and customs employees to perform their basic duties.
  • Public sanitation needs are routinely and effectively handled and people don't have to burn trash in the streets.
  • Your local hospital has a highly educated medical staff that doesn't supplement its salary by selling the hospital's drugs.
  • Large segments of the population are not automatically excluded from employment because of sex, race, religion, color, national origin, or disability.
  • You can own private property and pass it on to your children. If you develop the land, it will not be seized by some greedy tribal or national leader.
  • A huge pothole on the highway will be repaired within hours and not within months or years.
  • You can safely drive between most of the major cities in your country.
  • Money allocated for a public project cannot be stolen and the project never completed without anyone uttering a word of protest.
  • If you go to a hospital, once you have recovered you will not be held prisoner there until you or your friends or relatives have paid your bill.
  • The press is not controlled by the government.
  • Food is so inexpensive that obesity is even a problem for the poor.
  • You can speak out against government policies without fearing a midnight visit from the secret police.
  • If you are arrested for a crime your relatives and friends will not be subject to arrest simply because they are your relatives and friends.
  • You can practice any religion - or your choice not to believe - without retribution.
  • If a train schedule says the train will depart on Tuesday at 9:00 AM, it will usually leave at that time and not days later when the crew decides to go.
  • Your local restaurant receives thorough health inspections.
  • The military is under civilian control and is respectful of the citizens.
  • You have the right to travel.
  • You can listen to radio and television broadcasts and watch films and read books that are critical of the government.
  • You have a substantial opportunity to succeed or fail depending upon your own efforts.

Quote of the Day

I gave him an unlimited budget and he exceeded it.

- Edward Bennett Williams

Sunday, March 25, 2007

How Old Do You Feel Now?

This is damn frightening.

[HT: The evil genius at Eclecticity]

Interviewing Strategies

Before you go in for your next job interview, regardless of which side of the desk you'll be on, read Rowan Manahan's insights on the interview process.

I wish I'd read it years ago.

Ideas and Power

A great challenge for large organizations is how to build a bridge between those who have the ideas and those who have the power.

The two groups, of course, are not mutually exclusive, but those in power are often so absorbed with its exercise and preservation that they can miss things which are be obvious to those on the outside.

Conversely, those without the power may fail to understand the full range of constraints surrounding those within the inner circle but they have the advantage of time and curiosity. Their schedules, which are generally less pressing, can make them more open to ideas that contain real opportunity. They have an ability to specialize and explore that is no longer available to the powerful.

Those with the power have to devise ways to break through the comfortable but limited circle of advisors and entertain new ideas. Those without the power have to adjust their ideas to fit the realities faced by the powerful or else they'll be too easily dismissed as impractical.

Each camp has its prejudices and the wisest members, knowing their inherent limitations, will maintain some humility.

Quote of the Day

No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.

- Charles Dickens

Saturday, March 24, 2007

One-Way Conversation

He folded his hands and leaned forward on his desk.

"We're different from other organizations," he said.

[I cannot tell you how often I've heard that one.]

"The lessons learned elsewhere cannot be applied here."

[Why not? Do you employ Martians?]

"In fact, I'm not sure if my managers will even talk with an outsider."

[I've never had any trouble getting them to talk. The difficulty has been getting them to shut up.]

"Frankly, we are suspicious of anyone who hasn't worked in our industry."

[That must be how you get all of those new ideas.]

"And if the employees had any problems, I'm sure that they'd talk to our HR director."

[You mean they'll talk to that person seated over there who flinches whenever you make a sudden gesture?]

"But we'll give it a try anyway. If you want, I'll explain everything to the team in advance."

[That's okay. I think I'll handle that part.]

Five Novels with Food

Tunku Varadarajan gives an eclectic list of novels that contain compelling descriptions of food.

[I've never thought of The Wind in the Willows and gotten hungry.]

Two that I'd add:

A Debt to Pleasure by John Lancaster (About a psychotic gourmet);

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole (Ignatius's venture into hot dog vending is too good for words).

Quote of the Day

When you have a number of disagreeable duties to perform always do the most disagreeable first.

- Josiah Quincy

Friday, March 23, 2007

Unexpressed Fears

How many projects are fumbled due to unexpressed fears?

The routine is familiar. You begin to regard the tackling of a task with a certain reluctance. The reason for your concern is unclear but something is not quite right. You consider whether you should turn down or delay the project.

At that point your logical, side begins to scoff: "What are you worried about? This is no big deal. You've done this a thousand times before. Get moving."

So you forge ahead. Later, when your fears materialize, you reproach yourself for not having listened to your intuition.

I have a suggestion: Every time you sense something isn't right, start to jot down some possible reasons for your concern. These suspects may not be the culprit but they may be part of the basis for your worry. (A good exercise is to try describing your worry in one sentence.) Then ask yourself how that worry can be allayed. If possible, buy some time so you can give further consideration to the matter.

This is hardly perfect, but it gives you a fighting chance to spot and head off what may become a major problem. Your mind is trying to tell you something. The signals may be unclear but they are there and I say this from a great deal of experience:
If you ignore those warnings, you'll probably regret it.

The Horse-Holders

In another life, I served as the liaison for a couple of mayors to a community group. It was one of those added responsibilities that could be either a lot of fun or a complete pain but the experience's main virtue was it served as a crash course in juggling egos.

One incident in particular has stayed with me. The mayor held an annual awards luncheon at which various individuals and organizations that had done good things for the community in this particular area (I know I'm being a little cryptic here) were honored. One year, a Fortune 100 company was selected to win one of the awards. It had done great things and clearly deserved the honor.

Then things got strange. The company's CEO decided to fly out from New York to accept the award. That in itself would not have been a big deal - we call the name, the person walks up and gets the award, shakes hands with the mayor, gets a photo taken, and then goes back to chewing rubber chicken - but then the CEO's assistants started in with the demands. This was needed, the CEO liked that, didn't want the other, certain camera angles were important. You can imagine the routine. The list went on and on.

We did our best to accommodate but only within reason. After all, lines had to be drawn or the event would be transformed into a Mayor Genuflects Before CEO ceremony and I somehow sensed that might not be wise. Besides, I'd already encountered such characters when I was in the Army. We called them "horse-holders." (An amusing attitude because in some respects I had the same role.) Their generals were usually pretty decent fellows. The aides were the ones to watch.

Ever since then, I've occasionally wondered how executives can restrain the tendency of their inner circle to make excessive demands in the name of The Great Man or Woman. I've concluded that it's a topic that should be discussed, in Trumanesque language, more than once or the horse-holders can create a lot of enemies for the CEO.

Quote of the Day

No matter where you work, you are not an employee. You are in business with one employer - yourself....Nobody owes you a career - you own it as a sole proprietor.

- Andy Grove

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Hubba Hubba Test

Joshua Zeitz, writing in American Heritage, looks at the progressive hiring processes of the airline industry in the old "Fly Me" days. An excerpt:

Until well into the 1970s, airlines enforced strict physical and age standards on stewardesses. In the 1930s they were expected to be about five-foot-four and weigh no more than 115 pounds; later, these numbers rose to five-foot-eight and 130 pounds, tops. They were also expected to be extraordinarily attractive. In the 1960s, Eastern Air Lines ran an advertisement with the headline “Presenting the Losers.” It showed 19 frowning all-American beauties who were “probably good enough to get a job practically anywhere they want.” But they hadn’t passed muster at Eastern, which demanded the very highest level of poise, intelligence, and good looks. “Sure, we want her to be pretty . . . don’t you? That’s why we look at her face, her make-up, her complexion, her figure, her weight, her legs, her grooming, her nails and her hair.”

In keeping with such standards, the airlines didn’t allow women who were married or older than 32 (35 at a few liberal carriers) to keep working as stewardesses. Therefore the turnover rate among cabin crews was amazingly high. In 1955 the average career of a flight attendant lasted just 27 months.

Dealing with Poor Performance

Some common ways of addressing a performance problem in the workplace:

Ignoring it.

Pretending that it constitutes good performance.

Lowering standards so it is good performance.

Reassigning the employee causing the problem.

Promoting the employee causing the problem.

Calling HR and telling them you want to get rid of the poor performer.

Apologizing to HR for giving the poor performer "Meets Standards" performance evaluations.

Telling hiring managers in other departments that you're worried someone else is going to lure that dynamo away from you.

Insensitivity and Hyper-Sensitivity

An entire consulting specialty has arisen around the subject of insensitivity and, although many of us cringe at the behavior of diversity zealots, the damage that cruel or bigoted comments can do to a team or workplace cannot simply be dismissed.

There is, however, a flip-side to that issue: the hyper-sensitive employees who find offense in mild remarks and the managers who cave in to their demands.

The first type is reminiscent of the paranoid Woody Allen character who interpreted a colleague's question, "D'you eat?" as "Jew eat?" Every intonation is explored and evaluated for possible bad intent and some of the stretches made to find offense are extraordinary. I've heard disabled rights advocates disparage people who use the term "handicapped" on the grounds that the term is derived from an expression, "cap in hand," that was once used in England for beggars following the Boer War. Assuming the word's history is correct, it is also irrelevant. Most people who use "handicapped" are not thinking of the Boer War or beggars nor do they intend to offend. The loud denunciation of the term is, I suspect, more designed to proclaim the innocence and moral superiority of the protester than establish the guilt of the alleged offender.

The managers who cave in to these folks are also into the display of innocence and moral superiority. Rather than seriously considering if there is any reasonable basis for intentional offense, they rush to discipline and condemn. This is their means of demonstrating that they personally do not condone anything that might offend the protesting party or - and this fear is often behind such appeasement - any advocacy groups that might rally behind the hyper-sensitive.

Organizations that reward obnoxious behavior will get a lot of it. Those that reward hyper-sensitive behavior can plan receiving on plenty of complaints. In either case, trust has been damaged and the concept of sensitivity has been tarnished. The very virtues that are supposedly protected are profaned.

Quote of the Day

Your manuscript is both good and original; but the parts that are good are not original and the parts that are original are not good.

- Samuel Johnson

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Food for Thought: Loyalty

Many of the common unspoken questions in the workplace surround the subject of loyalty and a key one is at what point should loyalty to a boss end?

The answer lies in the fact that there are several stakeholders in the matter. There's the boss, of course, but there are also the other employees, the boss's boss, the organization, the community, the employee, and the employee's family. That may well be a partial list.

The idea that the boss alone should command loyalty misses those other stakeholders. During the Iran-Contra Scandal, Oliver North's secretary may have regarded loyalty to her boss as ample excuse to hide or destroy evidence, but doing so missed a higher loyalty to the Constitution and the nation.

Organizations, such as the Mafia and street gangs, that stress loyalty alone are notoriously deficient in the other ethical virtues but those are easy illustrations of loyalty's limits. What about lesser violations, such as:

  • The employee who gossips to co-workers about the boss's personal problems?

  • The employee who jumps the chain of command to report a disagreement over a relatively minor policy decision?

  • The supervisor who sits silently while upper management gives the supervisor the sole credit for the success of an operation that was a team project?

  • The supervisor who foists a poor perfomer off on another department?

Those little disloyalties don't make the front pages and yet they foster mistrust and division. They may thrive because many people don't think of them as acts of disloyalty or, as in the case of the chain of command jumper, they believe that another virtue, such as pursuit of excellence, has trumped the obligation of loyalty.

The presumption, I believe, should be in favor of loyalty and - I'll go out on a limb here - even mildly inept bosses deserve it. If a safety hazard or its equivalent is present, then clearly any loyalty to the boss has expired but if supervisors had to fear that every fumble or policy disagreement could trigger staff disloyalty, then organizations could lapse into chaos.

Frustrated Customers

This is Broken is an interesting site on ads, signs, and offers that frustrate customers.

In other words, it will never run out of material.

[HT: DailyNooz ]

Things To Consider After That Big Speech About Proposed Changes

If the folks on the factory floor seemed less than enthusiastic, it may be because they heard a similar speech three years ago...from your predecessor.

The employees who have been labeled as cranks and Neanderthals because of their resistance to the proposal might be a little nutty on many things, but that doesn't mean they're wrong on this one. By the way, giving them labels may obscure your ability to see the merit of their arguments.

The minor parts of the proposal in which job titles and reporting relationships were changed are not regarded as minor by the people who were affected. They are seen as attacks on their status ...even by those who will lose no money under the change. Technical change is more readily accepted than changes affecting social status.

Your audience wonders why they are only told about the changes after things are set in concrete and not at the beginning when matters were in draft form. That's not a bad question.

If you feel that these changes need to be hammered through, don't be surprised if you are perceived as a hammer.

Quote of the Day

I've got all the money I'll ever need if I die by four o'clock.

- Henny Youngman

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Office Furnishings Opportunity

For those who want to make a statement with their office furniture:

Yes, you can buy Ken Lay's desk.

I don't know why anyone would want it.

(Mussolini's, on the other hand....)

No Quid and No Quo

I really like this post by Seth Godin about not adopting a quid pro quo approach in marketing.

[With regard to a related subject, our firm decided years ago to stay away from referral fees because they inject a financial incentive into a referral. Our view is if we recommend another firm to a client, it is because we believe that firm is a good match for the client's needs. That approach makes things much easier.]

Bosses from Hell

My take: There is no single leadership style that works under all circumstances. Sometimes, being collegial makes sense and then an hour later an autocratic style may be called for. The best bosses have the ability to shift styles.
That said, I see no excuse for being rude and abusive. Aside from the questionable ethics, such behavior is usually counter-productive. Mix in charisma, however, and rudeness can be transformed into part of an act; one that the spell-bound associates know will swiftly pass.

If you're going to be rude, you'd better combine that with charisma and competence. Being rude by itself doesn't cut it.

Error by Omission

I'm convinced that the largest problems in our professional - and perhaps in our personal - lives come from the actions we don't take (errors by omission) and not from the ones we do (errors by commission). Some examples of harmful omissions in the workplace are:

  • Failure to confront a employee who has a performance problem;

  • Failure to set clear goals;

  • Failure to discuss changed priorities;

  • Failure to double-check work;

  • Failure to coordinate projects;

  • Failure to acknowledge good performance; and

  • Failure to create systematic ways of performing frequent responsibilities.

We omit these responsibilities in large part because we are busy and because our failure doesn't require immediate attention. (If it seized us by the throat we would probably be more attentive.) In many instances, however, error by omission evokes a sense of unease that paces in the back of our mind.

Part of our weekly review should include an Unease Analysis; i.e., a listing of what is troubling us. In most cases, it won't be something we've done. It will be a gap in action.

Quote of the Day

We spend our health building our wealth. Then we desperately spend our wealth to hang onto our remaining health.

- Robert T. Kiyosaki

Monday, March 19, 2007

Was the Discrimination Earlier or On-Going?

The Louisiana Employment Law Letter looks at the upcoming US Supreme Court decision on the filing dates on pay discrimination claims.

Click Here to Defame

Elizabeth Wurtzel examines the joys of the modern age at Yale Law School, where future officers of the court and pillars of the community have used the Internet to defame their classmates.

Don't Be Yourself

Some of the worst career moves I've ever seen are by people attempting to "be themselves."

The old advice of "To thine self be true" only works if thine self is a reasonably pleasant and productive person. Unfortunately, that line has been used by many a lout or slug to justify worthless or offensive behavior.

These individuals use "I don't feel like it" as if it is holy writ.

"You don't feel like it?" What does that mean?

You routinely offend your co-workers, but that's no problem because you don't feel like being polite?

You missed the deadline on the project, but it should have been extended until you got in the mood?

You dressed like a slob for the client meeting but they shouldn't mind because you were just being yourself and not a phony.

A large portion of history's advancements was achieved by people who didn't want to be achieving them. They subdued their natural tendencies to sloth, vulgarity, pleasure, or abrasiveness and did what was necessary to establish effective relationships and get the job done. While toiling away, they often encountered challenges and attacks that made their tasks most unpleasant but they kept at it.

In doing so, they made their "selves" better and improved the lot of many others. They put a devotion to duty and higher standards above an "If it feels good, do it" attitude.

They would not have accepted "I don't feel like it" as the final word on how they should behave.

Quote of the Day

He was a bold man that first ate an oyster.

- Jonathan Swift

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Midways Time

On the Moneyed Midways, with its picks from various blog carnivals, is up at Political Calculations blog.

Jungle Longings

I've been reading Ian Thomson's extraordinary but lengthy biography of Primo Levi, the Italian chemist and author who is best known for his accounts of surviving Auschwitz.

Thomson recounts a joke that an associate shared with Levi to the effect that an Italian-run Hell would be better than a German-run one because it would be a less efficient one in which crucifixion nails would be lost and boiling oil not delivered on time. Levi replied that disorganization and humanity are not always unconnected.

There is something to the notion that we distrust organization lest it make us less human and that spontaneous, less considered, behavior can be more attractive and, well, life-like. It is as if we seek to strike a balance between the jungle and the machine, the savage and the automaton. Some of us wind up at either extreme.

We are not naturally inclined to organization. If our lives are left unattended, the jungle begins to creep back. Paper piles up here. Deadlines slide there. Items that are usually monitored are neglected.
What is missed is the jungle often returns at our bidding.

Solve This

Read through this thought-provoking post by Rowan Manahan on management and see if you can guess the mystery CEO.

Hmmm. Sharply defined goal, loyalty, flexible organization, employee engagement. Well, that rules out quite a few.

Quote of the Day

Live in such a way that you would not be ashamed to sell your parrot to the town gossip.

- Will Rogers

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Be Sure to Share the Shovel

Writing in Slate, Emily Bazelon explores the intricacies (and insanity) of the pre-school admissions process.

Insensitivity in the Skies? By Whom?

John McWhorter, who has written extensively on racial issues, is not impressed with the lawsuit against U.S. Airways by the imams.

I think he's far from alone.

Creatively Wild or Just Unwise?

Yesterday, we had another episode in what has been a long-time debate in our office:

When is an ad daring and innovative and when does it cross the line into nutty or silly?

(Subtext: Why is it that most women don't like The Three Stooges?)

We're familiar with Seth Godin's Purple Cow theory and the admonition that playing it safe can be risky, but when you're selling consulting services, there are different expectations than when you're selling tomatoes or hamburgers.

In other words, people like humor but if they don't know you, they may see a humorous ad and assume that funny is all you've got. First and foremost, they want a consultant who will get the job done.

What makes this difficult is the recognition that the safe, stodgy, ads are, well, safe and stodgy and tend to blend into the background. Judging from ones for upscale law firms, the mahogany supply must be endangered and that's pretty much the only thing I recall from any of those ads.

Naturally, the audience must be considered. We pondered that - thanks to the insight of Diane Sanders - and, wisely I think, replaced the humorous ad with a safe one.

The ad may not hit the target but we won't worry about it.

And that's the lesson we learned: The removal of worry trumped a whole lot of other considerations.

We'll save "wild and crazy" for another day. Drat!

Top Performers

Business Week gives its list of the best performing companies.

Google certainly isn't a surprise and I'm always amused when Harley-Davidson is on these lists. As one observer put it, one of the most powerful signs of brand appeal is when customers tattoo your name on their bodies.

Books on Management

Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Ken Roman give his top five list of books on business management.

And it's a very good list indeed. (I've been pushing his first choice on managers for years.)

Quote of the Day

Jack, the python got loose again. Don't go in there alone. It takes two to handle him.

- Sign on front door of hunter's isolated cabin in western United States

[Source: Quotable Business by Louis E. Boone ]

Friday, March 16, 2007

Why We Didn't Hire You

When you said your last boss is "mentally challenged" we wondered what'd you be saying about us.

It took us three days to get the aroma of Old Spice out of the office.

No, I don't think I look like Orson Welles.

Contrary to your resume's assertion, Harvard University is not in Philadelphia.

You might keep in mind that people who call themselves "geniuses" usually aren't.

We learned that your mysterious and vaguely-described job with the State of Montana involved making license plates.

You were a little too friendly with the receptionist.

Your tie contained portions of your lunch.

We really didn't want your uncle to attend the interview.

You might want to change your entries on My Space.

The "babemagnet" portion of your email address raised a few eyebrows.

We've seen less cleavage in a cocktail lounge.

You said you have no weaknesses. We can't have saints like that around here.

Cough, Cough

Office Wars: Bad Actions From Nice People

Volumes have been written on the behavior of jerks. That attention, however, may inadvertently give comfort to people who denounce such behavior and assume that their own conduct is justified because it doesn't stoop to such extremes.

What is missed is how otherwise nice people can slip in the knife. Some common ways are:

Withdrawal. The person no longer fulfills responsibilities. Deadlines, e-mails, and phone calls are not acknowledged. If the person is confronted about the problems, he or she denies any bad intent.

Hiding knowledge. The person knows things that could be of assistance but doesn't volunteer the information.

Slowing down assistance. Help is given, but slowly and reluctantly. The reason for the delay is never admitted.

Spreading partial information. The person spreads information that is technically correct but misleading. For example, a co-worker may be described as having a punctuality problem. what is not mentioned is the person has been named Employee of the Year for the last three years.

"Losing" information. Information that could be of assistance to an adversary just happens to get lost.

Playing "Jailhouse lawyer." The bare minium of cooperation is given in accordance with the organization's policies. Strict adherence to the rules becomes a form of sabotage.

Incremental poisoning. The individual drops occasional negative tidbits about the designated victim into conversations with powerful figures. For example, "Ed has been doing such a good job controlling his temper lately."

To Vista with Caution

One area's reaction to Microsoft Vista.

Note the computer expert's opinion: Proceed cautiously.

Quote of the Day

The successful people are the ones who can think up stuff for the rest of the world to keep busy at.

- Don Marquis

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Outsourcing: We're Only a Continent Away

This humorous video via Eclecticity draws a lot of its punch from reality.
Update: Then again, consider this video via Andrew Sullivan and Homer Simpson on the dangers of company expense policies.

How to Exit

There are three common mistakes that people make when leaving organizations; one is merely an inconvenience but the others can harm a career.

The minor mistake is giving too much notice. In most instances, the departing executive or manager who gives more than a month's notice is going to find how quickly he or she is transformed into a lame duck. Communication dries up, fewer meetings are booked, and people soon begin to give those "Are you still here?" looks.

A more serious mistake is giving too little notice. The problem with this approach is it sows rumors that the departure was less than voluntary. This is compounded if the person fails to send out a farewell notice or permits the employer to issue a cryptic, "Samuel has decided to explore other career options" message. For many skeptics, "other career options" means a park bench.

The most serious mistake is to burn bridges. It may be very tempting to leave with a loud blast at the trolls and weasels who've made your life miserable, but the mysterious ways of life may someday cause you to need those people. Furthermore, leaving in such a manner is unseemly and prone to make outsiders suspect that there was something wrong with you, not the malefactors.

Circumstances may demand otherwise, but as a general rule, give no more than a month's notice (in most cases, two weeks are fine); send a pleasant, nicely-worded, farewell note to your co-workers and friends; and behave in a positive, professional manner that avoids any recriminations.

In short, act in a way that could be a model for future resignations.

Think Differently

Dwight Eisenhower used to urge his cabinet members to slow down their decision making, noting, "Let's not be in a hurry to make our mistakes!"
Reverse Decision Making has been around for a while and yet it is seldom used in many organizations. That's surprising because it can prevent disaster.

The technique is simple: When brainstorming the implementation of a project, take out some time to jot down what you would do if you wanted to create problems. As you and your team start throwing items on the list, it's not unusual to hear a tone of uneasiness.

The reason comes out when the follow-up question is asked: How many of these are we doing or on the verge of doing?

Although an outright screw-up is unusual, being on the verge of one is not. Reverse Decision Making is great for ferreting out vague responsibilities, hidden deadlines, overlooked interest groups, and unaddressed concerns.

Oh yes. It has the added advantage of being fun.

Don't Lowball

Teri Robnett of Teri's Brain gives some nifty reminders of what to think about when you are pricing your services.

As she puts it, if low cost were the sole factor, we'd all be driving Kias.

Quote of the Day

It is no secret that organized crime in America takes in over forty billion dollars a year. This is quite a profitable sum especially when one considers that the Mafia spends very little for office supplies.

- Woody Allen

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Sales Pitch

Homeless Guy: "Come on folks. I ain't askin' for a lot. Just some change. Not dignity. Not respect. I don't even want your pity or sympathy. Nothin' like that. I just want a quarter so I can buy a moccahino. Is that too much to ask?"

From Overheard in Chicago.

Putting the Human in Crisis Management

Bob Bragdon at CSO site analyzes how not to handle a data breach crisis.
After analyzing the lessons learned of the Exxon Valdez spill, the Union Carbide leak, the Tylenol tampering case, and many others, you'd think this would be old hat.

Personal Accountability and Creative Writing

This has been out for a while but I thought I'd pass it along.

Metropolitan Life Insurance Company assembled some of the explanations for accidents that claimants have given over the years. Among them are:

An invisible car came out of nowhere, struck my car, and vanished.

I had been driving my car for 40 years when I fell asleep at the wheel and had an accident.

As I reached the intersection, a hedge sprang up obscuring my vision.

I pulled away from the side of the road, glanced at my mother-in-law, and headed over the embankment.

The pedestrian had no idea which direction to go, so I ran over him.

The telephone pole was approaching fast. I attempted to swerve out of its path when it struck my front end.

The guy was all over the road. I had to swerve a number of times before I hit him.

[Source: Quotable Business by Louis E. Boone ]

Oil and Water

Two executives in a large organization. Both are extremely capable. They've worked well together on several projects and, while doing so, have hidden a central fact of their relationship:

They can't stand one another.

Each could probably list certain things about the other that are objectionable and yet the dislike is almost biological. They can barely stand to be in the same room.

One finds the situation irritating. The other, although equally repulsed, finds it amusing.

They've never spoken to one another about their mutual antipathy. Co-workers can sense some tension. Strangers sometimes pick up on the vibrations but are thrown off by the fact that each man, for the most part, behaves professionally toward the other.

At least in the open. Behind the scenes, the irritated one occasionally tries to undermine his amused "rival." The amused one regards the relationship as a mystery of life.

And perhaps it is.


I once knew a young manager who, steeped in the works of Peters and Deming, started a campaign to stress excellence in his department. The other managers and the department director initially expressed amused interest but over time whittled away at his proposed changes until any change was next to meaningless.

By the time the manager saw me, he was frustrated and demoralized. He thought that once his associates understood the virtues of the changes, they'd embrace them. He blamed himself for not persuasively presenting the ideas.

As he described his approaches, however, it became apparent that there were no major problems in the way he'd suggesed the changes and that the associates knew full well the virtues and drawbacks. These were not stupid people.

His problem boiled down to this: He was selling "excellence" to a group of customers that wanted "comfort." He was pushing "As good as can be" and they wanted "Good enough."

He saw the possible result of his proposals as being so clearly superior that he was stunned that anyone would choose otherwise. His associates, of course, saw the improvements as less than glowing and perhaps as even a threat.

The young manager eventually got beyond the discouragement and went on to do great things. I suspect, however, that he has never forgotten the powerful appeal of "comfort."

Quote of the Day

Expansion means complexity and complexity decay.

C. Northcote Parkinson

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Professional Courtesy?

Neatorama reports that professional courtesy is dead.

Food for Thought: Pick Your Negotiator

Your company has a firm policy against illegal discrimination. You have personally made it clear to your division that you will not tolerate it.

You have to choose a team to represent the company in some business negotiations with a foreign corporation. You know that the culture of the other country places women in subordinate positions. Samantha is your best negotiator. She knows the deal, the product, and the competition inside-out. Charles is next best, but he is far behind Samantha in knowledge, expertise, and experience.

You are worried that if Samantha leads the team, you might not land the deal and it will be solely because of bias. Leading a successful negotiation team will be a major professional boost.

Which person do you pick? Samantha or Charles?

Doing and Not Doing

A friend of mine once asked her husband what he was doing as he busied about on a project in the yard.

He replied, "I'm not working on a legal brief. That's what I'm doing."

I often think of that story while approaching various tasks. Each one that gets attention means focus is not being placed elsewhere. That can be, of course, a good thing. (When I am on a walk, that means I am not eating cookies. When I am reading, that means I am not watching television.) It helps, however, if we've made a conscious choice, as had the husband, not to be doing certain things.

In many cases, we don't. We drift into activities that we'd not tackle if we were forced to consider a Miranda-like warning:

"You have the right to work on this project, but the time spent may be held against you and will be taken from other projects which may be of higher priority and which, if you gave them a few moments of consideration, might take you away from this one.

"Unless, of course, you just want to goof off, but then why not admit it?"

Avoid the "Napoleon Dynamite" Look

If you are preparing for a job interview, you might want to check out Washington State University's "Dress to Impress" site.

(I'm not sure if I agree with all of their conclusions but some of the examples are truly frightening.)

Quote of the Day

Baseball is the only field of endeavor where a man can succeed three times out of ten and be considered a good performer.

- Ted Williams

Monday, March 12, 2007

On Every Geek's Christmas List

Well, it appears that the United States Post Office, long known for its creativity and cutting edge management practices, is going to celebrate Star Wars with some R2D2 letter boxes.

Geekologie has the details.

Factoid Alert: The Living Outnumber The Dead?

The human population has swelled so much that people alive today outnumber all those who have ever lived, says a factoid whose roots stretch back to the 1970s. Some versions of this widely circulating rumor claim that 75 percent of all people ever born are currently alive. Yet, despite a quadrupling of the population in the past century, the number of people alive today is still dwarfed by the number of people who have ever lived.

Read the rest of the Scientific American article here.

[HT: Arts & Letters Daily]

Creativity Update: Call Me Ishmael

Some old posts neither die nor fade away.

This post on the memorable first lines of novels continues to get nominees from readers and they're pretty good.

Another that I'd add:

"The professor thought that I looked like Lenin."
- Charles McCarry, Lucky Bastard

Learning by Splashing

Although I confess to teaching classes on ethical leadership, I'm not sure if leadership itself can be taught, at least not in a classroom.

The subject is like swimming. You can study treading water and the techniques of certain strokes for weeks, then jump in the lake and drown. Leadership is best learned by leading but as with immersion language training, instruction and monitoring must accompany the practice.

Simple buddy systems can be very helpful if the buddy is a decent leader. Unfortunately, some buddy systems only result in the passing down of bad habits.

With any system, the organization must have a tolerance for mistakes. For example, following major projects with "lessons learned" sessions signals that lessons can indeed be learned from even the most successful of actions. Following projects with "search and blame" inquisitions simply causes people to hunker down or flee.

Another key factor in learning leadership is acknowledging that it is a responsibility, not a caste. All team members have leadership responsibilities at certain times and they either perform them well or not. Treating leadership as a non-caste activity encourages individuals to search out the opportunities for leadership in their jobs. Those opportunities will involve achievements and blunders. The blunders often provide the greatest lessons and every day can become a workshop.


Niall Ferguson analyzes the strange relationship that he calls Chimerica:

Think of the United States and the People's Republic not as two countries, but as one: Chimerica. It's quite a place: just 13 per cent of the world's land surface, but a quarter of its population and fully a third of its economic output. What's more, Chimerica has accounted for around 60 per cent of global growth in the past five years.

Their relationship isn't necessarily unbalanced; more like symbiotic. East Chimericans are savers; West Chimericans are spenders. East Chimericans do manufactures; West Chimericans do services. East Chimericans export; West Chimericans import. East Chimericans pile up reserves; West Chimericans obligingly run deficits, producing the dollar-denominated bonds that the East Chimericans crave. As in all good marriages, the differences between the two halves of Chimerica are complementary.

[HT: The Business of America is Business ]

Quote of the Day

Stupidity has a certain charm. Ignorance does not.

- Frank Zappa

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Pizza Wars: Papa John's Is Thinking Ahead

Nigel Travis, CEO of Papa John’s Pizza, talks to Fortune about the chain’s growth and its inroads with on-line ordering. An excerpt:

How will online ordering change the way you do business?

Well it's already changed the way we do business. We started online ordering in 2001, and when I came here I saw a phenomenal opportunity, so we've cranked it up ever since. In the last two years we have more than doubled it. Last year we did more than $200 million in online orders, out of $2 billion in total systemwide domestic restaurant sales.

We now have plan-ahead ordering - you can order a pizza up to 21 days in advance, like for a birthday party. Last year we did 260,000 of those orders. We also offer "same again" orders, which lets you repeat your last order. And in the next few weeks we will store customers' credit card numbers to make it more convenient. In our tests, over 50 percent of the customers who had the option to use credit card storage used it. We will also customize our e-mails to customers. We've got a long way to go.

Striving for the Corner Cave Office

I can see why an architect or Fred Flintstone might like the Mikimoto Building, but wonder what it's like to work there. Crazy Topics has details on the structure.

Techie Conversation

"I know you're going to want to hear what happened with your computer."

"No, I don't. I don't care if it had lobsters inside of it. I just want it fixed."

"You don't want the details of what went into fixing it?"

"No. I have enough details in my life."

"I assume you want the nitty gritty when you handle other subjects."

"You're right. But those are other things. I have to pick and choose. Don't take it personally."

"I really want to tell you what I did."

"Can you put it in one sentence?"