Management Week in Review for March 18, 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 why you need to know more about Baldrige, rethinking your ideas on measuring marketing ROI and the powerful impact of Social Business on your firm’s reputation and ultimate success.

-From Steve George at Baldrige.com, Baldrige Benefits the U.S. While not the official website for Baldrige, Steve George has developed a remarkable treasure trove of information, services and helpful resources for this important and grossly under-marketed program.

In this time of remarkable challenge for businesses in the U.S. and around the world, Baldrige offers a powerful framework for planning, leading and managing your business. It’s not a silver bullet, but unless you’ve read the latest Criteria for Performance Excellence and looked at the free tools and studied how others are applying this program, you are ill informed, like much/most of the population. The piss-poor marketing of this program by our government actually makes me angry. (I’ve offered to help fix it.)  OK, off my soapbox on this one. Check out Steve’s site and check out the Criteria and other info at the official site.

From the post: “Interest in Baldrige has remained consistent for twenty years, with bumps in attention when healthcare and education criteria and awards were added, but it has never really caught on in executive suites and boardrooms across America. Those organizations that have integrated Baldrige know how well it works, but they remain a small minority in a country that could truly benefit from the Baldrige model.”

-From David Meerman Scott at WebInkNow, Marketing ROI and What You Should Measure. David just keeps cranking out remarkable and remarkably helpful material for all of us as we experiment with the many new tools of marketing. In this one, David suggests that it’s time to rethink our traditional approaches to measuring marketing performance. There’s a bit of Deming’s “unknown and unknowable” in his observations on why this is not as simple as counting followers or likes on Facebook. I always read David’s posts for the main course and then loop back for the comments with dessert.

From the post: “Now we can earn attention by creating and publishing online for free something interesting and valuable: a YouTube video, a blog, a research report, photos, a Twitter stream, an e-book, a Facebook page. But how should we measure the success of this new kind of marketing? The answer is that we need new metrics. I’m critical of applying old forms of offline measurement to online marketing.

From Bret L. Simmons at Positive Organizational Behavior: Ugly Customer Service is Bad Social Business. Bret is quickly becoming a major voice in the Social Business arena, and he’s someone I learn from daily. One of the things I love about many of his posts is his propensity to connect social media/social business with how we live, learn and choose. In the example here, Bret showcases how dumb-ass marketing and stupid comments from poorly trained representatives can turn into bad outcomes for the business at the speed of  a tweet…or at least a post.

From the post: “As I’ve said before, service providers will fail from time to time. I’m fine with that. But when a paying customer – especially a loyal one – gives you the opportunity to address what they think was a service failure, you better provide impressive service recovery. If you don’t recover in the eyes of the customer, you earned both the loss of their business and the bad word of mouth marketing they will spread about your business in their increasingly connected social networks. Ugly customer service is very bad for social business.”

Ok, that’s it for the week. I’ll be back on Monday with a new Leadership Caffeine to help you jump-start your week.

And I’m excited to be releasing my new Decision-Making workshop program next week. I’ve run the early versions with great success in association and organizational settings and I’m looking for teams and groups interested in improving performance immediately with this critical and often highly flawed process.  You can reach me on this or any other of my workshop, consulting or speaking offerings via e-mail. I look forward to helping!


At Least 3 Reasons We’re Still Raving About Lousy Leaders

Businessman meditatingNote from Art: As I approach my 500th post here at Management Excellence in the next few weeks (that’s in the neighborhood of half-a-million words on management and leadership) my writing mood is shifting to one of, “let’s get this leadership thing right people.”  The blueprint for effective leadership is not carefully guarded like the secret formula to Coca Cola. It’s on display for all of us to see and to apply. Why then are there so many exceptions?  Read on for my wildly speculative and hopefully provocative thoughts.

Spend any amount of time reading or engaging with the many remarkable individuals that write, speak, teach and coach leaders, and you’re to be excused if you quickly conclude that we’re all in violent agreement with each other.

The principles behind what a reasonable person would agree represents effective leadership are practically universal truths that support an unarguable argument.

I’ll wager a month’s worth of coffee that if you asked everyone that you know to generate a list on what makes an effective leader, the output would be nearly identical. While preferences in styles might vary, (and there would certainly be differences across cultures,) core attributes and behaviors generally remain constant. The only differences will likely be due to memory lapses such as, “Oh, I forgot that one, but you’re right,” versus true differences of opinion.

So if this construct of an effective leader is so readily apparent, why is there a nearly endless supply of disgruntled workers capable of describing lousy leader horror stories to anyone that will listen? Importantly, why doesn’t this intuitive and common understanding of what an effective leader acts like manifest itself with more frequency in our workplaces?

3 Reasons Why We’re Still Raving About Lousy Leaders:

1. As humans and workers, perhaps we’re happy being miserable. While I would be saddened to adopt this viewpoint, it’s easy to see that “the boss” gives us something to work for and rail against and his/her actions and utterances serve as a source of bonding with peers.

Is it possible that we could work for someone with the presence of Washington or the authenticity of Lincoln or Gandhi and be unhappy? You bet! OK, that’s a bit sad, but there’s at least a kernel of truth in there somewhere.

Possible conclusion: we need to accept our own propensity to enjoy our misery. While it’s not as bad as being chased down by a sabre tooth tiger or consumed by the last remaining group of cannibals on the planet, the boss being a jerk gives us something to occupy our minds and mouths.

2. Humans are inherently preoccupied with their own survival and leading effectively requires one to sublimate that core drive. Hmmmm.  Some good psychobabble here, but it’s worth thinking about.  Good campfire fodder when the talk on “are we alone in the universe” runs out.

Possible conclusion: We’re screwed and all of this noble talk is wasting time that could be better spent lamenting our plight and beefing about the boss.

3. Perhaps the predominant management system in use in most of society is horribly flawed in terms of values, motivations, expectations and enabling structures.  OK, I’m warming to this more than the “evil” or “predominantly miserable” theories expressed earlier.

Maybe, just maybe, we’ve not licked this management thing yet. Deming did us a great service in crying B.S. on the Deadly Diseases that he viewed in most organizations. And while his 1980’s view to the purity of the models adopted by Japanese companies may be a bit naïve, listen to the Great Doctor describe these 5 and tell me if they’re fixed in your organization yet. At least a cup of coffee that the real answer is no.

Possible conclusion: Fix the flipping management system. It’s time to move beyond the practices of the industrial revolution and build success, effective leadership and enabling systems into our approach. Oh yeah, and that values part is the foundation to build upon!

The Bottom-Line for Now:

I’ll opt for the fact that it’s time to move management forward and build the new systems around the emerging realities. If innovation, creativity, speed, ability to execute and adaptability are all table-stakes attributes of the new winning organization, then it’s time to move management forward and create systems that breed leaders at all levels and for all types of situations. Note to top leaders: ignore the need to breed and build people that will help you navigate this strange, fast and foreign new world at your own peril. It starts with you at the top creating the right foundation. And hint: the foundation is built upon meaningful, actionable values.

Your thoughts?

Management Lessons Learned While Consuming Too Much Hospital Food

reportcardIf you’ve ever been the parent of the patient in a hospital, you know that you are hypersensitive to everything going on with your child.

Spend a few weeks camping out in the hospital room, and you’ll feel like you’ve earned at least your first semester’s credits for medical school.  I’m now uncomfortably familiar with fluid output levels, white blood cell counts, NG tube placements, bandage changes, wound care and the wonders of all manner of pain killers and various other medicines.

You also become attuned to the flow of information, the conduct and attitudes of the doctors, nurses and technicians. We engage with doctors looking for signs of progress or puzzlement, and we take comfort from the personnel that help the mind and body.

Little things make a big difference when a loved one is ill, and while our filters are tuned to high, doctors and healthcare professionals and hospitals are in the ultimate customer care business, and we as customers are quick to notice great performance as well as the occasional lapses.

The many leadership and customer care observations and lessons are still top-of-mind following our recent experience, and I’ve noted a few below. It’s a fair bet that these lessons apply across disciplines and professions as well.

Leadership Lessons and Other Observations Gained While Consuming Too Much Hospital Food:

1. Leave your ego at the door, please! The doctor that walks in the room and indicates to the patient that during his visit to ICU, HE (the doctor) was the most important person in the room, needs to have his ego and head examined. Frankly, the patient was the most important person in the room.

As the boss, you are never the most important person. First come your customers, then your team members, then your supporting cast…and then everyone else. Then you. Maybe.

2. Initiative wins the day. The nurse that takes the patient’s complaints about the bed seriously and literally scours the hospital on the night shift to find a better bed, and then physically pushes the bed down the hall and makes the change, is someone that I want on my team.  The fact that she checked back the next day (off shift and on her own time) to see if the bed was working out, speaks volumes about this great professional.

Don’t wait for someone to tell you the right thing to do to serve your customer.  Seize the moment, serve the customer and job description be damned. The nurse in this example dramatically improved the quality of the patient’s comfort and is now and forever more a hero in our household.

3. Who’s training your team to be great? After marveling at the generally great attitudes of the nursing staff, I finally met the senior team member that had trained everyone on this floor.  After five minutes of discussion, I understood why the care quality was so high. She set the bar high for excellence in care and conduct, and made people want to jump over that bar. For the one bad incident, she took ownership of the problem and provided constructive coaching to the individual in question.

I’ll think of this professional every time I encounter service providers that appear to be pissed about having to serve their customers. This poor attitude is inexcusable and it’s on the shoulders of management that clearly didn’t care enough to ensure that their employees care.  Think: Cashier at Wal-Mart.  When was the last time one of these beaten down souls bothered to look you in the eye and engage with you as a human?

For all of us, building a great customer care culture is much more than metrics and slogans. It starts with management actually deciding that being great at this is important, and then hiring and developing the people to carry it forward.

4. You are only as good as you are able to communicate. Being in the hospital is frightening for most. Leaving the hospital with new hardware and drainage systems is psychologically brutal.  Helping the patient adjust and adapt to their new world by employing genuine empathy, great psychology and a nearly constant stream of dialogue over the days is priceless.

Our customers are all trying to solve problems, and just the very nature of a problem creates stress, frustration and sometimes fear. How well trained are your team members to relate to the client and metaphorically hold their hands through the problem resolution? Do you have systems in place to make this happen? Does your training support this mentality? Are you hiring people that genuinely give a damn and that take pride in helping?

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Caring for sick and wounded people is something that not everyone is capable of. Those that do it and do it well, likely hear it as a calling.  And while making the hyper-jump from human lives and health to business services and products is perhaps a stretch, there’s much to gain from observing the best of the best at giving care and comfort under stressful circumstances.  If you are in business to solve a problem for someone (and who isn’t?), then make it your calling and hire, train and support those that hear it the same way.

Avoiding Another Dumb Management Mania-The Disposable Worker

Don't Fall Off the CliffNote from Art: my rant is dedicated to helping keep what is in some circumstances a reasonable business tactic from becoming the latest value-destroying mania.

I wrote last week on “Thoughts on Leading and Managing in the Era of the Disposable Worker.” The post was prompted by an article in BusinessWeek, outlining this latest gem of management wisdom that has organizations of all types rethinking the need for employees and shifting to contract workers.   Positions from the CEO suite to those types of roles that we’ve become accustomed to outsourcing, and everything in-between, are fair game.

I’m traditionally leery of fads of all sorts, as they tend to be driven by hysteria, causing normally sane and rational people to act in a manner that defies explanation. I’m fearful that we are on the brink of another horrendous, value-destroying mania as we embrace the short-term cost convenient fad of creating disposable workers.

A Few Examples of Manias Gone Horribly Wrong:

It wasn’t’ so long ago, that almost everyone wondered for just a moment whether the laws of economics had been suspended as the internet gold rush began. Those of us on the sidelines were left to wonder why we weren’t as smart as everyone else and still valued profits over clicks and eyeballs.  For a short period of time, our world was one where gobs of money flowed to people with ideas that included losing all of it and then some, and market valuations for firms without a single customer exploded from here to Jupiter.  Anyone that dared to question this environment ended up running away from a bunch of options-toting visionaries lest they be trampled in the stampede of outrage. How dare we not understand that clicks and eyeballs were the new replacement for profits and that anyone that could throw around the phrase “data aggregation” was worth funding.

Eventually, the laws of physics and economics reasserted themselves, the dot come bubble burst and we spent a decade creating a new mania in the housing market.  Once again, the rules of common sense and gravity won out, yet tens of millions of normally rational people succumbed to the mania and many have lost much more than paper options.

As a wise teacher once indicated, “There is no such thing as a money machine.”

Opinions, Thoughts and Irreverent Observations on this Potential Next Mania:

All of this brings me back to the latest rage of firing your employees and hiring contract workers to staff your business.  For those of you new Management Messiahs that are leading the charge here, I have a few questions, observations and answers for you:

  • Opinion: Turn core, value-creating roles into contract workers, and you will be selling your soul to pay the number crunchers and analysts.
  • Opinion: You cannot sustain any form of business performance excellence with a transient workforce.
  • Question: How will you replace that invisible but palpable thing called culture and how will you build a high performance culture around nameless, faceless drones?
  • Observation: Once your competitors identify all of the talent that you’ve alienated, it will be open hunting season and you’re what’s for dinner.
  • Observation: your global competitors are not foregoing their futures by emphasizing the numbers in the present.  A short-term time orientation is a powerful dimension of U.S. business culture and thinking, and it is a weakness.
  • Question and Name Calling: Why is this your BEST answer for competing?  Is that all you’ve got?
  • Double-Dog Dare: Study firms that have made a near religion out of valuing the employee.  Start with SAS Institute.  There is another way if you have the courage.
  • You’ve Been Served: in case “maximizing shareholder value” is driving your decisions, consider Drucker’s rebuke of that modern rationalization for the organization: “the purpose of the firm is to acquire and keep customers.”

The Bottom-Line for Now:

The future of business and any company and perhaps of America is based on finding, cultivating and keeping the best talent.  There are no circumstances that I can imagine where shifting core value creation roles to contract workforces will help you succeed in this increasingly complex world.  Resist the urge to follow the herd and challenge yourself and your team to focus on solving vexing customer problems and building value in meaningful ways.

A Fresh Voice and Leadership and the Art of Apology

There’s an excellent post entitled, Sorry is not the final word, just the beginning,” by guest author and Product/Project Management Consultant, Lisa Winter at one of my favorite blogs: The Art of Project Management. hosted by the UCSC-Extension in Silicon Valley.

Ms. Winter describes a situation where she inadvertently upset a valuable but delicate team member on a conference call, and then went to significant lengths to apologize and regain his support. In addition to the happy ending, this fine post prompted some thoughts on a topic that I confess I’ve not spent a lot of time thinking about: the role of the apology as a leadership tool.

I can’t help but feel a little guilty that I’ve not raised this topic in the past, and for that, I apologize. (OK, I had to work it in somewhere…)

I have written extensively here at this blog and in Practical Lessons in Leadership on the need for leaders to not mask their own faults and shortcomings. In the book, I suggest that the point in time where everyone on the team sees the leader’s mistake is a powerful moment of truth. The leader can run, hide, dodge and deflect or she can show the team that she is human and leverage the failure as a teaching tool. Of course, this only works if she practices this same technique in the other direction when groups or individuals face setbacks.

But what about the apology? How many times have you observed someone in a position of authority make a decision that turned out to be horribly wrong and come back with an apology?

What about the leader that responded to you in a curt or less than respectful manner?

Good thing you didn’t hold your breath, waiting.

At least one of our national leaders went to the opposite extreme, seizing the opportunity to apologize for all of the nation’s historic mistakes ad nauseum (in my opinion). Rumor has it however, that he might not have been quite so apologetic for his alleged personal mistakes. Frankly, it was hard to tell when he was being sincere and when he was selling. You can draw your own conclusion, but I think Bill would have been a powerful force on a used car lot. (Sorry to those that I offended and Bill, I’m sorry too! Hey, this is getting easier!)

OK, enough tongue-in-cheek. Here are some of my thoughts on the issue and use of the apology as a leader. I’m looking forward to hearing from you, and again, if I’ve offended…

Leadership and the Apology

  • Learning how to say the words, “I’m sorry” or “I was wrong” should be mandatory training for all leaders. Part of gaining trust and building credibility is showing everyone that you are human. Knowing how and when to use the words is the art of apologizing.
  • You can easily adopt “apologizing” as a tactic and that is as incorrect as avoiding the apology when you’ve erred. Abuse the tool and people will quickly see through your disingenuous approach. I’ve observed early-career and first-time leaders that would assert themselves (appropriately) and then apologize for having had to assert themselves. This destroys the leader’s credibility.
  • As a leader, you have to make tough calls and often those calls result in some pain. There are many, and perhaps most circumstances where an apology is not needed and would horribly derail your credibility.
  • In circumstances where you’ve slipped and truly offended someone, run, don’t walk to apologize to the individual.
  • Too many apologies for program failures or not hitting your goals and targets, and you will find yourself apologizing to your significant other for losing your job. As a subordinate, you might get away with this once, but as soon as it becomes a pattern, your boss will see your apologies as a mask for incompetence.

The Bottom Line for Now

Does leadership mean never having to say you’re sorry? I don’t think so. Nonetheless, I suspect that most leaders rarely utter the words, more out of fear of showing weakness than due to their lack of remorse for their transgressions.

What are your thoughts? I’m interested and suspect many readers are as well on the role and use of the apology as a leader.