Management Week in Review for March 4, 2011

Note from Art: every week, I share three thought-provoking management posts for the week. Fair warning: I take a broad view of management, so my selections will range from leadership to innovation to finance and personal development and beyond.

This week’s selections feature content on reinventing management, the strategic and practical implications of upgrade plans for consumer electronics products and some guidance on improving our decision-making by better utilizing outside advisors. Enjoy!

From Gary Hamel’s Management 2.0 blog at the WSJ, “Inventing Management 2.0.” I’m making up for lost time by having missed this mid-February post. Dr. Hamel consistently beats the drums on the need for a revolution in the practice of management, and both his article and the comments here are guaranteed to get the blood of practitioners and students of management pumping a bit faster.

From the post: “Like millions of other would-be leaders around the world, you are being held hostage by Management 1.0—a dense matrix of bureaucratic practices that were invented to minimize variances from plan by maximizing adherence to policy. Despite a lot of high-minded rhetoric to the contrary (often found on laminated cards that begin with “Our Values”), the management model found in your organization most likely over-weights the views of senior executives, undervalues unconventional thinking, discourages full transparency, deters initiative, frustrates experimentation and encourages an entirely unwarranted reverence for precedence.”

From Joshua Gans at the HBR Blogs, “Best Buy’s Buy Back.” Who hasn’t felt the slight (or major) buyer’s remorse as your still new technology gadget is rendered obsolete by the market with a seemingly overnight feature upgrade. Of course, your device still works, and it still offers the same features that excited you when you purchased it in the first place. Enter an interesting discussion and a controversial approach on dealing with this, courtesy of the mega-retailer, Best Buy. And somehow, Apple figures into this mix as well. Good discussion with personal and corporate strategic implications.

From the post: “The strategic question is why Apple doesn’t solve this and work out a hard-headed way to buy hearts. Unlike Best Buy, who has to try their hand at high-priced insurance because they are operating in a highly competitive environment, Apple has some market power, particularly over serial upgraders. Why can’t I subscribe to a plan that allows me to have the latest iPhone? Or, perhaps a cleaner example (free of AT&T and Verizon contracts), to the latest iPad?”

At Fast Company Expert Blogs, Robert Sutton, Ph.D., offers: “Report: We are More Creative When We Help Others, Not Ourselves. Bob Sutton (Good Boss, Bad Boss) shares some of the findings from recent studies on decision-making and the power of outside advisors. An interesting reminder that by nature, we tend to over-estimate our own capabilities by a considerable margin, setting the stage for all sorts of follow-on problems.

From the post: “The implication of these diverse studies are quite instructive. If we want to make better decisions, make faster decisions, have a more realistic picture of our strengths and weaknesses, and now, apparently, be more creative, we need to ask others for their opinions and assistance. There is even a kind of weird implication that rather than working on our own problems, we should always be working on others.”

That’s it for this week’s update. Enjoy your reading and don’t forget to catch up on the latest Leadership Caffeine posts here at Management Excellence.

Art Petty coaches and trains emerging leaders and consults with B2B firms on strategy and marketing. You can reach Art via e-mail to discuss your needs for coaching, speaking or consulting.

Marketers: 4 Ideas to Avoid Falling Victim to The Felt Need

A Better MousetrapThe article, “The Felt Need” by Dan and Chip Heath in the November, 2010 issue of Fast Company is worth the price of the annual subscription for it’s reminder value alone.

The Heaths tackle a topic that just about all of us involved in selling, marketing or strategy have succumbed to at some point in our careers: the felt need versus the burning need.

If entrepreneurs want to succeed…they’d better be selling aspirin rather than vitamins. Vitamins are nice; they’re healthy. But aspirin cures your pain; it’s not a nice-to-have, it’s a must have.”

The article speaks to our tendency to become enamored with our own ideas and offerings, and to make the leap that because everyone can benefit from this (a vitamin), they will jump at the opportunity to buy.  They provide a number of great examples from the publishing and technology arenas.

In my own experience, technology businesses do this all of the time, often as they race to either out-feature competitors or to blindly reflect the input of customers. Not that beating competitors or listening to customers are bad ideas, but both can lead you down blind trails if you’re not careful.

I know better than to fall victim to “The Felt Need,” yet, I’ve produced a number of vitamins during the past few years. On several occasions, I’ve invested considerable time in creating programs that I would take a bullet for as offering career-critical content.  While no one disagreed with me on the importance of the programs or the value of the content, they responded to them much like people respond to their gym membership in February.

4 Ideas to Avoid Falling Victim to The Felt Need:

1. Measure and monitor the success of your new offerings. Are they selling like vitamins or, are they selling like aspirins. If you’re listening to your clients properly, they will tell you loud and clear what level of pain that you are addressing.

2. Evaluate new offerings and investment ideas with the filter of “The Felt Need.” It’s not difficult to assess if your marketer, developer or product manager can substantiate true audience pain. Ask tough questions. I love people that are passionate about their ideas, however, I still advocate a “trust but verify before investing” approach.

3. Quality-check your “Voice of the Customer” processes. Many a well-intentioned firm or product manager has listened carefully to customers only to find out that the requests, while valid, were not material. Too much blind followership leads to a bad case of The Innovator’s Dilemma.

4. Cultivate the practice of social anthropology. Ensure that your people are out in the market and in customers’ businesses observing. Ask someone a question and you will get an answer, but watch them in their own environment and you will learn something about them.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Read the article and spend some time looking at your own mix of current and planned offerings. While as the article indicates, you might end up with some vitamins, you better have a good number of aspirins to address burning pain points.  Make certain that your primary strategy is not “follow the competitor” or, “the customer’s need is our command.” You need good systems and great people to observe, translate and mostly uncover true pain points that merit a cure.  And remember the Heath’s warning about building a better mousetrap. Most people aren’t interested in a better mousetrap. They simply want a dead mouse.

New Leaders, Twitter and the Volunteer Management Conundrum

A collection of sound bites and developmental suggestions for busy professionals: 

The Challenges of New Leaders: Feedback on Practical Lessons In Leadership:

Thanks to Dan McCarthy at Great Leadership for featuring my book with Rich Petro, Practical Lessons in Leadership, on his blog today.  Dan features material from the book focusing on: The Top Ten Challenges of the New Leader.  Please click over to Dan’s site to remind yourself of these challenges and importantly, check out his consistently outstanding blog content.

Networking, Collaborating & My Twitter Experience

What started out as a bit of marketing curiosity has turned into a great and productive networking experience for me on Twitter.  I continue to meet new and talented professionals on a daily basis and to share ideas and even identify opportunities to collaborate.  Share a good idea or thought and watch it spread like wildfire.  Have something new to offer in your business, as long as you are genuine and credible, watch the community jump on your idea and spread the news.

I know a number of marketers that I really respect that don’t have a seat at the Twitter Table yet.  Fair warning, that this is a potent tool for professional networking, research and brand building.  It’s time to pull up a chair and join the discussion.

Managing Volunteers: A Non Profit Management Conundrum

One of the more rewarding activities that I am involved with, includes working with a great group of professionals to help change the shape of volunteering in our community. 

Volunteerism is certainly popular in our culture thanks to the encouragement of our leaders in Washington and in response to the many societal challenges that we face.  The fact that more people have time on their hands due to a sudden outbreak of unemployment is a factor as well.

A paradox that I find fascinating is the fact that so many nonprofits truly need the help of volunteers in pursuit of their mission, yet it is fairly common for volunteers to report having had a poor experience.  It seems that many non profit organizations struggle to create the processes and infrastructure that allow for effective selection, on-boarding and management of volunteers. 

In a Fast Company article titled: Why Volunteers Don’t Come Back, the author highlights research suggesting that as many as one-third of the volunteers from a prior year don’t return—a loss of labor worth an equivalent of $40 billion.  The biggest competitor to volunteering?  According to the author, studies indicate that watching television is the number one alternative use of time.  

At a high level, it seems like there are two issues.  As part of our local community efforts, we need to help our community nonprofits develop efficient and effective systems for managing the volunteer process and improving the overall experience and outcome for all parties. This is an eminently solvable management task!

The second issue is a fundamental reality check on how we prioritize our time.  The advent of low cost DVRs makes it pretty hard to explain why people need to sit at home at night glued to the tv screen.  It’s time to get out into the community and help solve some problems.  

The Bottom-Line for Now:

I’ve offered three suggestions here for you to help make a difference. No charge!  

1. Pay attention to the developmental needs of new leaders

2. Get started on Twitter and figure out what it can mean to you and your organization

3. Become part of the solution in your community and volunteer. 

In particular on the last point, let’s put our heads together and help our non profits do a better job managing their talented and enthusiastic volunteer resources, before they lose them to the latest episode of Lost.

 

 

Inspiration and Hope: Encouraging Sound Bites in a Challenging World

There’s enough negative going around.  Here’s a few worth reading that will leave you thinking and maybe even feeling a bit more upbeat.

I’ll Have Fries with that Strategy and Please Pass the Data

Students of strategy and performance excellence might want to take a closer look at how McDonald’s is using leadership, strategy, customer relations and information to successfully beat back the economic doldrums.

I’ve found it easy to ignore this nearly ubiquitous chain as our family has moved a good decade beyond the Happy Meal phase and as I’ve concluded that my calorie quota cannot afford anything in this class of restaurants.

However, a recent piece in the Wall Street Journal, entitled: McDonald’s Seeks Ways to Keep Sizzling,” has renewed my interest.  The article offers some good insights into doing things right at a time when most competitors are struggling with shrinking consumer purchasing power. 

Highlights:

  • A senior leadership culture that overtly emphasizes finding good people and providing them room to do their thing, the article showcases.
  • The firm’s bold and disruptive (to Starbucks) push into coffee.
  • A relentless focus on cutting operating costs by improving efficiency without adversely impacting quality and customer perceived value.
  • Investments in new store infrastructure at a time when most might hold off. 
  • Effective use of the system-wide investment in automation for business and consumer intelligence to grab data, monitor operations and trends and make appropriate merchandising and cost decisions in near real-time.

Regardless of whether your business involved food of the fast variety (McDonald’s prefers to call it Quick Service), there are some great “nuggets” for you in how this global giant is navigating the downturn. 

Oh, I might just have to stop by and see if the rumors of good coffee are true. 

– 

Innovation Please:

For an extended dose of hope and encouragement, check out the March issue of Fast Company, where the focus is on the world’s most innovative companies. 

I love editor Robert Safian’s “One Hundred and Fifty Nine Reasons (pages) to Cheer” theme and his observation that: “the one incontrovertible truth about this era: only creativity and aggressive innovation in the face of hardship and layoffs and seriously tough choices will fuel a turnaround.”  While I might call that “effective leadership,” I won’t quibble with Mr. Safian’s conclusion. 

My advice, read this one in small sound-bites on a daily basis and let the ideas and examples of the many innovative companies sink-in, rattle around and prompt some thoughts of your own. 

Articles ranging from new product development to fresh perspectives on emerging markets as innovation incubators and the art of setting of modest goals are just a few of the many great and thought-provoking reads here. While it is easy to grow weary of “list” type articles, there are just too many good examples to ignore.

On a side note, I’ve enjoyed Fast Company since its inception in the dot.com boom of the late 90’s, when every issue was jammed full of cutting edge articles and cutting edge ads.  It was cool (best word I can think of) to read and feel like you were a part of the Fast Company community, just like it is to be a part of the Apple community today.  While not attuned to the current financial status of this publication, given the times we are living in and the editorial focus on finding firms and people pushing the envelope, it might just be in vogue to be part of this community once again.

The Bottom Line: 

Take a note from the post today and spread some “can do” and “here’s how they are doing it” wisdom today.  Get people thinking “What if?” and then get them focused on talking and trying and creating.  Safian is right.  Creativity and innovation will fuel the turnaround.  If McDonald’s can get it, so can your firm. 

Managing Your Boss and Death to Slogans: Weekend Reading

Two quick-reads to help wash down a cup of something hot:

Lencioni Offers Help For Managing Your Boss

Author and business consultant, Patrick Lencioni offers some practical guidance for a vexing problem in How to Manage Your Boss in the Management column at the Wall Street Journal.

Almost everyone at one time or another has wondered how to “improve” their boss, and as Lencioni points out, the two most common approaches: launching an attack because you are fed up and going to help the boss see the error of his ways, or ingratiating yourself by sucking up, are both ineffective and risky.  Instead, Lencioni suggests that you win the day with empathy and honesty.

Art’s perspective: dealing with difficult leaders is one of the most common challenges highlighted by mid-level leaders in my workshops and programs.  Lencioni offers cogent guidance.  I’ve used it myself in prior lives, and the empathy and honesty approach can work.  Of course, as the old psychologist/light-bulb joke goes, “first the light bulb has to want to change.”

On the Lighter Side: Authors Encourage Cutting the Budgets of the Slogan Writers

In a lighthearted piece entitled, Kill the Slogans Dead, in the Made to Stick column in the December/January Fast Company, authors Dan and Chip Heath make a strong case for the inanity of most slogans…and by association, most slogan writers. Their bottom line: “When you have a big idea, make it come alive with a story. Make it real, color in some details, let it be something people can care about,” is advice worth heeding.

Art’s perspective: I chuckled through this entire article.  We are bombarded by ridiculous attempts to create something that sticks in our minds, and I’ve caught myself muttering something under my breath like, “What $%$%$% idiot or team of idiots thought that up?”

The Heaths appropriately skewer the executive authors of a slogan to support an attempt at a major cultural change with: “360-Degree Leadership: Because we all matter.” Yep, there’s a  good way to make certain that your employees realize what a half-baked joke your latest initiative is.  Good grief.

Didn’t Deming have an opinion on exhoratations?