November 28, 2008

Management: One Thing More Than Any Other

"Quiet minds cannot be perplexed or frightened, but go on in fortune or misfortune at their own private pace, like a clock during a thunderstorm."

Robert Louis Stevenson

Were I to pick one trait I value most in a manager it is the ability to stay calm during times of upheaval.

Few great leaders lose control for long if at all. They are as Stevenson said, "like a clock during a thunderstorm", able to function while others around them cannot.

What about you? What is the one managerial trait at the top of your list?

November 27, 2008

Problem Solving: Can We or Can't We?

"The greatest and most important problems in life are all in a certain sense insoluble. They can never be solved, but only outgrown."

Carl Jung

In other words forget the really big stuff; you can't do anything about it and/or maybe you can but only a little.

Do you think this includes significant cash flow, personnel and/or declining sales problems? Certainly in the extreme these are big, important issues to any company experiencing them but would they have made Jung's list?

I've been through all of these finding some to be "solvable" but rarely as I had hoped. Also a few went away before I could or did try to fix them

Did I "outgrow" them?
I don't believe so.

I think Jung's "certain sense" reference applied to business is a suggestion that we need to look for alternatives other than the one we originally expected and hoped to find.

What do you think?

Happy Thanksgiving!

November 26, 2008

Praise: The Role in Management

"We increase whatever we praise. The whole creation responds to praise, and is glad."

Charles Fillmore
19th Century Religious Philosopher

"The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism."

Norman Vincent Peale
20th Century Preacher/Author

Another case of seemingly dueling quotes; this time regarding the role of praise, both coming from religious people.

I've struggled with this in my career sometimes criticized by those who worked for me as not giving enough praise. In each case I thought a lot about the situation sometimes agreeing that I could have done more but more often than not feeling as Mr. Peale apparently did. Circumstances simply did not justify what would have at best been a false compliment.

How do you handle this?

November 25, 2008

Alliance Management: Strength in Numbers

"In this new wave of technology, you can't do it all yourself, you have to form alliances."

Carlos Slim Helu
Mexican Businessman

When it comes to alliances there appears to be a limit beyond which business is loath to go.

We understand we literally cannot do "it" by ourselves and form companies; which are alliances among individuals. And in some cases we do align with other companies when we see common benefit being the result, but not as often as could be true.

Every so often circumstances dictate the need for alliances. The "circumstances" today for many banks, auto manufacturers and retailers suggest they align or go out of business. But this is back up against the wall, gun against the temple sort of alignment. Defensive rather than offensive alignment.

Do you
look for opportunity to align with others in the normal course of business ?

November 24, 2008

Public Relations: To What End?

"Regardless of how you feel inside, always try to look like a winner. Even if you are behind, a sustained look of control and confidence can give you a mental edge that results in victory."
Arthur Ashe

"In designated cleanup areas of certain offices, the company has changed the type of wipe-up towels it buys. In a memo to employees, a staffer explained this will lower GM's "cost per wipe."

Wall Street Journal, November 24, 2008

Article discussing the cost saving measures being employed by GM (Click here for article)

Arthur's quote suggests the importance of appearing as though you are winning even when you're not. Is that "spin" and if it is, is that a bad thing? And if you read the WSJ article I think you'll agree they've "spun" the efforts of GM to control costs (you decide whether they did so positively or negatively.)

What is the role of PR? To get the facts out or is it to create the facts? Is there a difference?

November 23, 2008

Motivation: What Role Does Management Play?

"Nobody motivates today's workers. If it doesn't come from within, it doesn't come."

Herman Cain

Few will question the benefit, possibly even the need to have motivated employees particularly in sales but I wonder if Cain is right when he says they must be that way on their own.

Can management create motivation and enthusiasm and if they can is it true by corollary they can take it away?

November 22, 2008

Managing Imagination: Turning Ideas Into Action

"Imagination gallops; judgment merely walks."


I had a meeting today with an individual whose mind syncs well with mine. Whenever we discuss what his business could be our imaginations feed off of each other with ideas flowing like water.

And like (too much) water, too much imagination can be harmful. We now need to put structure to the best of our thoughts, slowing down our imaginations to let judgment review each; discarding the bad, keeping the good.

Some individuals can do one but not the other. What do you think?

November 21, 2008

Learning: The Silver Lining of Failure

"In great attempts it is glorious even to fail."

Vince Lombardi
Football Coach

There are hundreds if not thousands of quotes regarding failure but none I've read so far that speaks to one critical aspect of the experience. The idea that even in failure there can be victory.

That we will often fail is a given; however what we do when we do is not. Because failures large and small are so much a part of our lives can we really afford not to learn from them; not to look for the cloud's silver lining?

What have you learned?

November 20, 2008

Strategic Advantage: The Reason I Should Buy From You Is . . .?

"He (Jerry Yang, ex Yahoo CEO) has never even given a convincing answer to the question of what Yahoo!’s strategy should be in an ideal world. To be a “starting point” for half a billion web surfers, Mr Yang likes to say. But how is that different from the old “portal” idea which stopped working long ago, or the search box that Google in effect controls?"

The Economist
November 15, 2008

At its core, a company's strategy statement is a declaration of why the company exists; the reason customers should consider buying what it sells. It is the foundation upon which all business plans are built.

If a potential customer walked into your office and asked you why they should consider buying from you, what would you say? If you have a clearly defined strategic statement that unequivocally separates you from the competition, you know.

And if you don't . . .

November 19, 2008

Decision Making: Swimming in Circles

"The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education."

"We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them."

Albert Einstein

These two quotes allude to the same thing: the need to continually review the process that leads to the decisions we make.

It is very easy to fall into a pattern of circular thinking. I think it therefore it is. But the obvious danger in doing this is self-fulfilling prophecy.

That would be OK if all our decisions were good ones but when they're not . . .

How (do) you challenge your decision making process?

November 18, 2008

Management: Influence IS Authority!

"The key to successful leadership is influence, not authority."

Kenneth Blanchard
"One Minute Manager"

In many respects a bad analogy but I'll go with it anyway.

Long ago I learned that the best approach to parenting my now two young adult sons was to try to influence them to reach the conclusion I thought was best as opposed to just telling them what I wanted done.

It doesn't always work, they don't always listen but they do more than not, particularly the older they get. And they certainly do more than when I just told them "Do what I say!"

In my experience the boss/employee relationship is similar. You can order an employee to do whatever you want and most will . . . at least until they find a new job.

But your way isn't necessarily the best way all the time. Better to make clear the goal, step back and let the employee achieve the desired result.

How do I know? I've learned a lot from my boys.

What do you think?

November 17, 2008

Recession Management: Take Action Now!

"You recover from a recession with tomorrow's products, not today's."

Sean Maloney
Intel EVP and Chief Sales and Marketing Officer

This quote was in today's Wall Street Journal and no doubt numerous other business dailies discussing Intel's introduction of a new family of high speed chips formerly called i7; hence forth code name Nehalem.

What we will be in the future depends on what we do in the present. If we do nothing we will at best be what we have been but only at best. More likely we will be something less because others will have moved forward while we stood still.

Do you have an i7 in the works? What are you doing to proactively change your future?

November 16, 2008


"Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful."

Joshua J. Marine

Those who lost their homes in tonight's Southern California fires don't see these events as "challenging" or certainly "interesting"; only one word applies and that is devastating.

But nights like this puts our business challenges in perspective. What may have seemed too much to deal with no longer is and in that there is hope for us all.

November 15, 2008

Hard Times Management: The Time to Change

"The greatest inspiration is often born of desperation."

Comer Cottrell

When all goes well some people, myself included, sometimes get comfortable not looking to change things. It's only when challenged that we are forced to look for alternatives.

Well we're certainly not comfortable now and because we are not there are a growing number of us searching for "alternatives."

On the one hand I wish things were better economically but precisely because they are not I see in myself a re-energized examination of all things in my professional life.

Already I am making changes in both me and my business I wish I had thought to make before things got ugly. But of greater importance I look around and see I am not alone and that others are as well.

How about you?

November 14, 2008

Independence in Groups: All For One and One For All?

"Follow the path of the unsafe, independent thinker. Expose your ideas to the dangers of controversy. Speak your mind and fear less the label of 'crackpot' than the stigma of conformity. And on issues that seem important to you, stand up and be counted at any cost."

Thomas J. Watson, Senior

Always easier for the boss to say than it is for the people who work for him to do. And doesn't it seem like there is often an inverse relationship between a CEO's calls for independent thinking and how much independence the staff actually exhibits?

There can only be two reasons for that. One, staff does not think independently or two, they could but fear showing their independence.

How do we encourage cohesive group action (see previous posts) while at the same time encouraging independent thinking?

November 13, 2008

Inspirational Management: True Leadership

"The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires."

William Arthur Ward

Based on the reaction to previous quotes it appears we have consensus about the importance of team building and the closely related need for managers to help others succeed.

In other words managers are teachers. If so shouldn't the companies they work for look for many of the same qualities in their managers that educational institutions attempt to find in the teacher they hire?

As a minimum teachers must teach, managers manage but if they are to also inspire, how do we find those who stand above the rest?

November 12, 2008

Results: Who Will Take the Fall?

"Remember, people will judge you by your actions, not your intentions."


To which I will add it matters little why something that was supposed to have been done wasn't. As this quote points out the world rewards action rather than intentions and/or for a list of things that prevented one from achieving results.

I totally agree however what responsibility if any does senior management have to make sure their direct reports can succeed? Or is it just a matter of "do it or else"?

November 11, 2008

Recession Management: Now More Than Ever, Out of the Box!

"Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination."

Oscar Wilde

Because Wilde was in the arts I am sure he wasn't thinking about business when he said that. Still with some paraphrasing it does apply particularly in these difficult times.

How about "Anyone who continues to conduct their business as they have in the past suffers from a lack of imagination."

Of course there are those who would say this is no time to be imaginative given all the uncertainty that exists but when hasn't that been true? We have at least mild recession every 5 to 10 years so sooner or later we will have to manage in less than stellar economic conditions.

Since so little is known about where our economy is headed, now may be exactly the right time to rethink all aspects of our business.

November 10, 2008

Rating Managers: What's Your Number?

"People, materials, facilities, money, and time are the resources available to us for conducting our business. By applying our skills, we turn these resources into useful products and services. If we do a good job, customers pay us more for our products than the sum of our costs in producing and distributing them. This difference, our profit, represents the value we add to the resources we utilize."

David Packard
Co Founder Hewlett-Packard

I can't imagine a better way to determine the value of management. If you manage your resources well, including the people who work in your company, including yourself, you make money and if you don't . . .

But I've never seen this done. Typically when a company is in trouble the tendency is to cite all manner of things as the cause, all except management.

What if we developed a universally accepted score that would follow all managers throughout their career; a number that ties them to the performance in their previous positions? Maybe something like a FICA score or a credit rating all fed into some central manager BCS rating computer. The equivalent of GPA's and GMAT or SAT scores in school.

Scary isn't it?

November 09, 2008

The Organization: One or Many?

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself."

Friedrich Nietzsche
German Philosopher

The entrepreneur in me loves this. Rugged individualist to the end standing against the oppression of the group, etc., etc. However as a business owner I know that you go nowhere alone.

Successful organizations are built on the harmonious, integrated contributions of many while at the same time, the best companies are those that can access the inspiration that only comes from each individual.

So how do we do this? How do we celebrate the individual while at the same time integrating them into the "tribe"?

November 08, 2008

Listening: The Active Manager

"In business many a man would rather you heard his story than granted his request."

Philip Dormer Stanhope
18th Century English Lord

This reminds me of something I've followed throughout my career. I didn't need those I worked for to always do what I thought should be done but I felt much better and worked much harder when I knew they understand what that was.

On the surface management is about making decisions, acting and telling others what to do but what about listening and in turn asking questions? Isn't listening also doing?

What percent of a manager's time should be spent telling their subordinates what to do as opposed to listening to what they have to say?

November 07, 2008

Adversity: The Ultimate Leveler

"Adversity has the effect of eliciting talents, which in prosperous circumstances would have lain dormant."

1st Century BC Poet

Does adversity "elicit dormant talent"? That sounds like the talent just naturally, unstoppably bubbles to the surface. Does it or do we need to purposely identify and eliminate those who don't perform? What happens if we don't?

We are in difficult times. How is your management reacting? Doing nothing, blanket cuts or thoughtful reaction to what for all is the biggest challenge to management in our lifetimes?

In the past poor performers were often referred to as "empty suits". These days it appears we have some wearing nothing at all and they've got to go.

November 06, 2008

Risk Management: How Much is Too Much?

"Make the choice adventurous stranger, strike the bell and bide the danger or wonder 'till it drives you mad what would have happened if you had."

C.S. Lewis

My personal philosophy regarding risk results in me doing some things I later regret. But as Lewis said I don't want to one day sit, shawl over shoulders, wondering what would have happened if I only had . . . So far so good; I have regrets for some of it but many more great memories that never would have happened had I not acted.

Fine for a personal philosophy but what about taking risk in business particularly in a public company? How does management decide what is too risky? Is it ever appropriate to "bet the farm"?

November 05, 2008

Office Politics: Is It Ever a Good Thing?

"To succeed in politics, it is often necessary to rise above your principles."

Greek Philosopher

This day after our national election it seemed appropriate to have a political quote; one that absolutely fits the political scene and whether we want to admit it or not, often office politics
as well.

One person in a company, no politics. Two people, arguably no politics (although I believe it is politics when one tries to manipulate the other.) Three or more; you've got politics with the only questions being, how much?

Is the presence of office politics automatically bad?

November 04, 2008

What Now?: Questions Are the Answers!

"You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions."

Naguib Mahfouz
Egyptian born author

1988 Nobel Prize for Literature

This reminds me of Peter Drucker's quote featured in an earlier post. Wisdom is knowing that you don't know more than you do and that asking (the right) questions is the first step to gaining wisdom.

Both Drucker and Mahfouz are suggesting if not saying that asking questions is a sign of courage because so many of us are afraid to admit all that we don't know.

What do you need to know?

November 03, 2008

Decision Making: Controlling Events, Being Controlled by Events

"Get the habit of analysis-analysis will in time enable synthesis to become your habit of mind."

Frank Lloyd Wright

Mr. Wright was suggesting that developing a framework for reaching decisions is beneficial and once in place, habitual.

I've observed in the companies I've worked with that decision making is based on one of three scenarios:
  1. One way one time, another the next with no discernible pattern.
  2. By default as a result of no decision being reached (the decision is not consciously made and events dictate what happens.)
  3. The result of being subjected to a repeatable process in which facts and assumptions are "processed" with the outcome being a conscious decision.
By far the third option is both the most preferable and least used. As with planning, good processes to make decisions are not readily apparent, don't just happen and need to be purposely created.

Were you told how your company reaches decisions when you joined? Have you ever been in a meeting where the topic was "Develop Process to Make Decisions"?

November 02, 2008

Management: Knowing Enough Never Is

"My experience has shown me that the people who are exceptionally good in business aren’t so because of what they know but because of their insatiable need to know more."

Michael Gerber

Unfortunately business rewards knowledge, penalizing lack of knowledge even in those cases where am attempt is being made to learn. We don't pay for potential; only performance. But if all of us have much to learn, and rest assured we do, isn't this back asswards?

How can we establish a culture that one, recognizes all managers need to continually learn, two, rewards those who admit they do and take steps to learn, while three, still meeting company performance targets?

November 01, 2008

Success: Determination and Focus Trumps Smarts

"The man who succeeds above his fellows is the one who early in life, clearly discerns his object, and towards that object habitually directs his powers."

Edward Bulwer-Lytton
Early 19th Century British Writer/Politician

Translation: Being smart is fine but no substitute for being focused on a goal letting nothing get in your way of achieving it.

Does your company do this? I'm not just talking about words but rather deeds. Have they clearly stated what it is they intend to do, how they will do it and to the extent they have does their actions support these words?

If you are senior management and you feel you have done this, ask your key employees to describe what are to you those well defined goals. If they can't do it you've got work to do.