October 31, 2008

Procrastination: Getting Things Done!

The world is full of human lobsters; men stranded on the rocks of indecision and procrastination, who, instead of putting forth their own energies, are waiting for some grand billow of good fortune to set them afloat."

Orison Swett Marden

19th century language talking about the evils of procrastination. Whether it be starting a diet, an exercise program, reading a book we know we should read or cutting the grass, to most of us putting things off is as natural as breathing.

Doing so in our personal lives leaves us fat, less informed with unattractive yards but the consequences in business of not doing today what should be done can be more severe as well as exponentially bad because our lack of action affects others.

One of the hallmarks of a good plan is due dates; a key performance metric along with detailed description of what will be done, by who at what cost. Without that we simply wait to be "set afloat" the only remaining question being, to what fate?

(I would have posted this sooner but I've been really, really busy.)

October 30, 2008

Meetings: The Cost of Time

"Unfaithfulness in the keeping of an appointment is an act of clear dishonesty. You may as well borrow a person's money as his time."

Horace Mann

As one who sells consulting services to others I am used to clients being late for our meetings and calls . Not sure but I think there is some federal law that says they must; the same law that says consultants like me have to be on time.

So I adjust but what about the rest of you who just work together? Is everyone always on time or as I suspect often late? What is the cost in terms of inefficiency and lost production?

What works and what doesn't in terms of minimizing the problem?

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October 29, 2008

Planning: What Yogi Thinks

"It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future."

Yogi Berra Philosopher, Baseball Player

Actually Yogi, making predictions is easy; the hard part is making ones that come true and for that reason most managers don't like to be asked what they think will happen.


They live at the heart of every business plan which in terms of outcome is, from the day it is completed, a failed attempt to see the future. Managers are asked to commit to what they will do, timing, cost and expected outcome and because they assume someone will look at how things turn out, they don't want to do it.

So change what people think the business plan is about.

Let them know that their commitments are expected to evolve and that the ultimate review of their performance will be based on their ability to react and change as conditions around them change.

Do you plan for the future or are you simply a part of it?

October 28, 2008

Young and Older Workers: Getting the Best of Both

"The first forty years of life give us the text; the next thirty supply the commentary on it."

Arthur Schopenhauer
19th Century German Philosopher

There is much truth in this. Moreover it is this "commentary" that has tremendous value for organizations.

It is the rare (young) individual who can put their knowledge in useful context. Almost all and certainly all the smart ones provide the greatest value only if they learn to learn from those older than them.

How (does?) your company combine the new knowledge and energy of youth with the irreplaceable experience of its older employees?

October 27, 2008

Motivation: Action Speaks Louder Than Words

"Believing in people before they have proved themselves is the key to motivating them to reach their potential."

John C. Maxwell

Believing is one thing but demonstrating that you do seals the deal.

I'm a Big Brother in the Big Brother program and work with two brothers ages 14 and 12. Telling them I believe they can succeed in school, athletics, their relationships with others, etc., is fine but acting as though they already have, is far more important.

Banks do this when they loan money, adults when entering personal relationships, parents when giving the car keys to their new driver son or daughter. To a point employers do when promoting someone but is that enough? Are the people we promote the only employees we believe in?

Businesses succeed or fail depending on what their employees do and there must be ways to demonstrate our belief in those who deserve our trust. What are they?

October 26, 2008

Answering Unasked Questions: The Key to Success

"My greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and ask a few questions."

Peter Drucker

Once again a quote from Drucker; one that illustrates not only why so many of his quotes are on this site but as well why he was so successful as both an educator and a consultant. He understood that it was his students and clients who would answer the questions that often only he knew to ask.

Note to management: First thing Monday morning get your team to list the questions they need to answer in order to improve business. If they can't do it to your satisfaction get outside help.

October 25, 2008

Improvement: The Quest to be Best

"It is not by muscle, speed, or physical dexterity that great things are achieved, but by reflection, force of character, and judgment."

Marcus Tullius Cicero
First Century BC Roman Statesman

Well I have to think that being a world class sprinter does require muscle, speed and at least some physical dexterity; however I also believe that the business equivalents (most money, best people, best product) can and often are trumped by smaller, more nimble companies with greater desire, focus and energy.

It comes down to continually looking for ways to improve and never is that more necessary than when you are the leader.

October 24, 2008

Instinctive Management: Listening to Yourself

"Ideas pull the trigger, but instinct loads the gun."

Don Marquis

Instinct, "gut hunch"; same thing?

I haven't thought about either in awhile maybe because other phrases and words are in greater use. Things like creativity, innovative and/or entrepreneurial. All good and probably more current than "instinct" and it's old school cousin "gut hunch". However there is a place in management for just "feeling" something is or is not right.

Can you cultivate "instinct"? For what it's worth, Ingrid Bergman thought so:

"You must train your intuition--you must trust the small voice inside you which tell you exactly what to say, what to decide."

Decisions based on data but not without listening to that inner voice.

October 23, 2008

Ethical Management: Negotiable?

"The difference between "Leaders" and "Managers": Managers do things right; Leaders do the right things."
Peter Drucker
Suggested by Sharyl Pyrdol
Carrington Garrett

For me this ties to the last post about rules and ethics although Drucker could have been thinking of something other than ethical behavior when he talked about the "right things". What is and is not "right" depends on management's philosophy.

What do you think Ken Lay was thinking when he said:

"I have faith in the market when we get the rules right."

Or maybe he meant "the right rules".

(Thanks Sharyl)

October 22, 2008

Ethical Management: Rules, Ethics or Both?

"Live one day at a time emphasizing ethics rather than rules."

Wayne Dyer


This reminds me of things relating to the spirit of the law versus letter of the law. "I followed the rules" is not the same as being able to say "I did what was right."

We don't hear much about ethics in business until we come across cases where a lack of ethics can no longer be ignored.
Is it enough that business follow established rules or should management and employees be encouraged to apply some ethics test to all they do?

October 21, 2008

Management: Office Politics, the 5th Column

"A politician is a statesman who approaches every question with an open mouth."

Adlai Stevenson

We all know the double meaning of "politician". One who holds public office or attempts to as well as someone who will say and do what they need to to get elected no matter what is best for the electorate. And when we use this term in business ("office politics") we are talking about much the same; a person who will do and say what is necessary to advance their agenda no matter what is best for the company.

I work with dozens of companies each year and based on that I have to say that office politics is the single most debilitating issue affecting corporate performance bar none. However, while extremely bad for the company, it is relative easy to spot and address presuming senior management is willing to do so.

How is it in your company and what (if anything) is done to keep it to a minimum?

October 20, 2008

Management: Building in Evolution

"An ambitious horse will never return to its old stable."

Chinese Proverb

This relates to many of the earlier posts having to do with motivating employees, their morale, the need for people to reinvent themselves and the company they work for in the process.

The central theme seems to be that change is not only inevitable but desirable and without it stagnation and likely even death (of the company) will occur. Those who are ambitious will simply leave before suffering (will not return to the old stable.)

If true why don't more companies institutionalize a process to foster change?

October 19, 2008

Planning: The Need to Reinvent

"A corporation is a living organism; it has to continue to shed its skin. Methods have to change. Focus has to change. Values have to change. The sum total of those changes is transformation."

Andrew Grove
Founder of Intel

Does the corporation exist if there are no employees? Legally possibly but in reality? I don't think so and if not then the "living organism" Grove refers to is people; individuals who must continually evolve if they are to survive.

In my experience the successful ones, both the people and by extension the corporations, are those who constantly reassess themselves; what they do, where they are headed and how they will get there.

Unfortunately too few do this and over time either fall to the side plodding along or go away altogether. Demanding change and planning how you want it to happen is the key to success.

October 18, 2008

Technology: Saving Time

"Information and communications technology unlocks the value of time."

Li Ka Shing
Hutchison Whampoa Chairman

This is likely the definition of value for more things than anything else isn't it? The one absolute certainty we all live with is that time is a limited resource.

Anything we can do to scrounge more of it will, to varying degrees, be of value to us and those companies and products that create more time for their customers will succeed over those that don't.

But how many companies view their products from the standpoint of time to use? Not likely many.

October 17, 2008

Conflict Resolution: Ban Email

"The greatest remedy for anger is delay."
Roman Philosopher

Senaca's thoughts on anger came just prior to the birth of Christ so I think we can safely rule out the possibility that he was talking about the internet. But I will and specifically my opinion about expressing anger in email.

Don't do it.

Make a corporate law that says any words that can in any way be interpreted negatively must be spoken rather than written.
Senaca had something else in mind when he said the best remedy for anger is delay but in this day of instant communication, forcing verbal communication coupled with the delay that comes from not sending an email is remedy for all.

October 16, 2008

Fear: Making Employees More Comfortable

"Knowledge is the antidote to fear."
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Fear negatively affects performance whether it be concern about business matters or personal issues outside the company. In either case fearful employees are not as productive as those not afraid. I have reservation about intruding in the personal lives of those who work for me but do try to share as much as possible,
both good and bad regarding the business.

Today personal and business overlap considerably given the state of the economy. How far will you go attempting to make your employees feel more comfortable? What will you
not do?

October 15, 2008

Planning: The Path Through the Forest

You are surrounded by simple, obvious solutions that can dramatically increase your income, power, influence and success. The problem is, you just don't see them."

Jay Abraham

There is no shortage of good ideas in most of the companies I work with; but there are barriers preventing management from clearly seeing which are worth pursuing made worse by a lack of planning to determine the best course of action. Address these problems and the forest path becomes clear.

October 14, 2008

Laziness: What Would Monty Burns Do?

"Look at them, Smithers. Goldbrickers.. Layabouts.. Slug-a-beds! Little do they realize their days of suckling at my teat are numbered."

Montgomery Burns
The Simpsons

Being a cartoon character Mr. Burns can simply fire those he feels are lazy "Slug-a-beds" but what about the rest of us? How do you determine what is acceptable performance and when you have an employee that does not meet that standard what do you do? I understand the need to document behavior prior to termination presuming it comes to that but I'm more interested in what (if?) you do to remedy the situation.

October 13, 2008

Management: Learning From Failure

"Failure is the opportunity to begin again, more intelligently."

Henry Ford

There are many quotes addressing the lessons to be learned from failure most taking the "learn from it" road. This one by Ford does too but I like the fact that the overriding message is positive although demanding that we learn from our experience. Within failure are the potential seeds of a new success. Given that failures large and small are inevitable in all our careers I think we should pound this message home every chance we get to those just beginning theirs.

October 12, 2008

Change Management: Business Evolution

"It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change."

Charles Darwin

I couldn't agree more but would add that being open to change is in itself a sign of intelligence. Also because so many people are not comfortable with change it makes it easier being one who is.

October 11, 2008

Employee Morale: What Should Management Do?

"I feel sorry for the person who can't get genuinely excited about his work. Not only will he never be satisfied, but he will never achieve anything worthwhile."

Walter Chrysler

So who's responsibility is it to see that employees are "genuinely excited" about their jobs? I would imagine that in his day Mr. Chrysler would have either said the employee or more likely, he just didn't care. If so is that the right response today? And if you think management should do whatever they can to help the employee enjoy what they do, be specific as to what that is.

October 10, 2008

Outside Forces: The Inevitable, Invisible Hand

"You get recessions, you have stock market declines. If you don't understand that's going to happen, then you're not ready, you won't do well in the markets."

Peter Lynch

Like sailors at sea always watching for the unexpected storm, managers must constantly be aware of the potential impact of stock market fluctuation; the "scorecard" of things beyond their control. Those who don't or who do not see financial turmoil as inevitable are not ready to manage.

Setting Priorities: What's Next?

"I learned that we can do anything, but we can’t do everything ... at least not at the same time. So think of your priorities not in terms of what activities you do, but when you do them. Timing is everything."

Dan Millman Consultant

Time is possibly the most squandered resource even more so than money. All too often I see clients prioritize seemingly by accident. It appears that what gets attention will be that which in some way "bubbles" to the top with little regard for consequence. When was the last time you were in a meeting which began with "We can't do it all so what are we going to do and in what order?"

October 09, 2008

Getting the Best From Employees: Being Wrong is OK

"I have learned the novice can often see things that the expert overlooks. All that is necessary is not to be afraid of making mistakes, or of appearing naive."

Abraham Harold Maslow, Psychologist and Writer

Not sure who Maslow had in mind when he spoke of the "novice" but to me applied to business it is those with limited experience who are intelligent who may or may not be managers. Individuals whose fresh view made lead to things that more senior people would never see. The trick is to create an environment that encourages their input; one that will process rather than just listen to what they have to say and does not penalize them for being wrong.

Unfortunately I haven't seen a lot of companies who do that well.

Planning: The Art of Business

"The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses makes but few calculations beforehand."

Sun Tzu, 6th Century BC

Written almost 600 years prior to the birth of Christ this quote from The Art of War does a better job explaining why planning is necessary, as well as what happens when planning is not done, than does any modern day business management book.

October 08, 2008

Problem Solving: Deal With What You Can

"It makes no sense to worry about things you have no control over because there's nothing you can do about them, and why worry about things you do control? The activity of worrying keeps you immobilized."

Dr. Wayne Dyer
Self Help Motivational Speaker/Author

I'm OK with the first part but not the second. Or maybe I would amend it to say don't worry but do act. For what you can control take the classic three problem solving steps:
  1. Define the problem
  2. Develop a solution
  3. Put the solution in place.
I worry when I know I could do something but haven't. When I do act I worry far less regardless of whether or not my actions ultimately solve the problem.

October 07, 2008

Funding: What It Takes

"Our greatest lack is not money for any undertaking but rather ideas. If the ideas are good, cash will somehow flow to where it is needed.

Robert Schuller

I doubt that Dr. Schuller would see his ministry as a business but in many ways I think it is; one possible exception being when it comes to raising money. In my experience for that to happen three conditions must be met in the following order:
  1. Solid management
  2. A detailed plan
  3. A good idea
Without the first two, no pennies from heaven.

Crisis Management: Seeing What Others Don't

"The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word 'crisis.' One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger - but recognize the opportunity."

John Kennedy, April 12, 1959

We live in a time of financial upheaval when vast fortunes will be made and lost based on the utterance of one of two words; buy sell. The art of crisis management is knowingly doing one when everyone else does the other. Seeing opportunity within dark clouds.

October 02, 2008

Management: Knowing When to Leave the Table

"Many of life's failures are men who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up."

Thomas Edison

True but the hard part is knowing when to quit, knowing when just a little more time, money and effort will result in success. How do you decide which is the best course of action? At what point does the decision itself just become a roll of the dice?

October 01, 2008

Leadership: Earning the Right

"Our mission statement about treating people with respect and dignity is not just words but a creed we live by every day. You can't expect your employees to exceed the expectations of your customers if you don't exceed the employees' expectations of management."

Howard Schultz Starbucks Chairman

What employees expect of management could fill volumes depending on who they are and where they are in their career but details aside Schultz is right. Successful leaders earn their followers and if they have to demand leadership recognition they won't be leaders for long.