Monday, May 31, 2010

More facts and findings.

Post 499 - Here are some more facts and findings about the way we live:

Almost all the economic news in America is good at the moment: the economy is growing again; company profits are up and mortgage rates down; retailers’ first-quarter profits are 26% above last year’s level, and banks have the best quarterly profits in two years; home building is up and property developers are snapping up land that already has infrastructure in place; inflation is at a 44-year low; and the Chinese are buying US government IOUs again.

Thirty-seven percent of eighteen-to-twenty-nine-year-olds are currently unemployed, the highest figure among this age group in more than thirty years.

In February, the number of employees voluntarily quitting surpassed the number being fired or discharged for the first time since October 2008.

In a poll conducted by Right Management at the end of 2009, 60% of the employees polled said they intended to leave their jobs when the market got better.

25% of Americans have no bank account and 70 percent of Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck.

The financial sector’s influence in Washington reflects its enormous donations and lobbying. Over the past two decades, it’s given $2.3 billion to federal candidates. It’s outdone every other industry in lobbying since 1998, having spent $3.8 billion.

The average annual cost of keeping a convict in the California prison system has risen from under $1,000 in 1970 to more than $52,000 today.

Los Angeles County jails are the largest mental health provider in the country.

Babies can receive up to 26 vaccines in their first year of life, a number which has doubled since the mid-1980s.

50% of your health is related to your behavior, 20% is related to your environment, 20% is related to your genetics and 10% is related to your access to healthcare.

The U.S. currently has a sick-care system, not a healthcare system.

Guinness World Records says a Minnesota man is the tallest in U.S., measuring 7 feet, 8.33 inches.

Today, a cheap cellphone has more computing power than NASA's mainframes had in 1969.

Five years ago, 19-year-old Stefani Germanotta was working as a waitress during the day and singing in dingy New York clubs at night. Today, as Lady Gaga, she has 3.8 million followers on Twitter and 6.4 million Facebook friends. Her music video, Bad Romance, has been viewed over 200 million times on YouTube, and is the site’s number one clip of all time. And she’s sold over 15 million albums and over 40 million singles worldwide.

A video on YouTube gets 50% of its views in the first six days it’s on the site, according to data from analytics firm TubeMogul. After 20 days, a YouTube video has had 75% of its total views.

Right now as you read this, you're moving at 660,000 mph. That's the speed of the ground you’re standing on as it moves through space.

A recent survey found that more than 520,000 people in England go to work hung-over every day. The average Briton turns up with a hang-over three times a month. As a result, they report making more mistakes and struggling to keep up with their workload.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Let Evening Come, a poem by Jane Kenyon.

Post 498 - Born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1947, Jane Kenyon spent her first two decades in the Midwest, attending the University of Michigan in her hometown through completion of her master's degree in 1972. It was while she was a student there that Kenyon met her future husband, the poet Donald Hall. After her marriage, Kenyon moved with Hall to Eagle Pond Farm, a New Hampshire farm that had been in Hall's family for generations and where she would spend the remainder of her life before her untimely death from cancer at age forty-seven in 1995.

About this poem, she said, "I went upstairs one day with the purpose of writing something redeeming, which is not the way to write, but this just fell out. I didn't have to struggle with it." It's my favorite poem of hers.

Let Evening Come by Jane Kenyon

Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.

Let the cricket take up chafing
as a woman takes up her needles
and her yarn. Let evening come.

Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned
in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down. Let the shed
go black inside. Let evening come.

To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
in the oats, to air in the lung
let evening come.

Let it come, as it will, and don’t
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.

How to coach star performers.

Post 497 - Among the people at Bell Labs and its competitors, Kelley and Caplan found that 85 to 90 percent of the extremely talented people hired never rose beyond average when it came to productivity. They also found that the 10 to 15 percent of hires who rose to “star performance” status were eight times more productive than the average or mediocre performers. The key to converting average or mediocre people to star status lies in determining and then coaching their competencies in nine areas. According to a Bell Labs study, here are the nine strategies of highly productive workers:

- Taking initiative.
Star performers go beyond just informing someone of an error, they correct it. The mediocre don’t.

- Networking.
Star performers establish their anticipated needs for outside input prior to beginning a project. The mediocre wait until there’s a need, and then look for help.

- Self-management.
Stars know that self-management goes beyond time management and includes management of effort and knowledge. The mediocre feel that time management is all that’s needed.

- Teamwork effectiveness.
Star performers are comfortable with being either a follower or a leader. The mediocre tend to push too hard for leadership roles.

- Leadership.
Star performers know that small leadership roles are as important as the bigger, more visible ones. The mediocre are often disappointed with smaller, less viable leadership assignments and, as a result, perform at that level while expressing their displeasure.

- Followership.
Star performers are aware of the value of following as well as leading and understand the need to contribute to the leader’s and the team’s performance. The mediocre are often difficult to work with in a team setting and focus more on getting credit for themselves.

- Perspective.
Superior performers are able to see how their immediate work factors into the big picture. The star performer seeks out other view points, like those of the customer, manager or other team members. Mediocre workers often seem to live in a world defined by the length of their own reach. They tend to have difficulty accepting thoughts and ideas from anyone other than themselves.

- Show-and-Tell.
Star performers are master presenters. The mediocre are PowerPoint specialists.

- Organizational savvy.
Star performers understand how they contribute to the overall performance of the firm and are able to navigate through the competing interests of an organization. The mediocre are often perplexed with organization politics and hide behind the mantra of not being a “political person.”

When coaching someone, start by asking four questions:
- What do I need to know about you and your role in order to be helpful?
- What do you need to know about me, and about my role?
- How should we best keep in contact with one another?
- How shall we address obstacles and challenges with one another when they occur?

Look for these three signs that someone is "uncoachable":

- He has no problem. If he doesn't want to change, he won't be able to. Don't waste your time trying to persuade him to see the error of his ways.

- He's in the wrong job. Ask him, "If the company shut down today, would you be relieved, surprised, or sad?" If he says "relieved," help him to figure out what's next. There's no use coaching someone who's truly unhappy about his job.

- Everyone else is the problem. It's impossible to help someone who blames everyone else for his problems. Move on — find someone who's ready to admit his problematic behaviors and accept your help.

Just before his retirement, the late Alabama football coach, Paul “Bear” Bryant, observed: “I’m just a plowhand from Arkansas, but I’ve learned how to put and hold a team together. I’ve learned how to lift some individuals up and how to calm others down, until finally they’ve got one heartbeat, together, as a team. To do that, there are just three things I’d ever have to say: If anything went wrong, I did it. If it went semi-good, then we did it. If anything went real good, then you did it! That’s really all it takes to get other people to win for you.”

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

How to manage virtual teams.

Post 496 - Success in business increasingly depends on the ability to manage a team of people who come from different disciplines, who aren't at the same location or from the same culture, don't necessarily report to you, and may not even work for your company. So there's a growing body of research on virtual management. Here are some of the lessons being learned:

- Be able to walk before you can run.
Someone who can't manage a conventional team probably can't handle a virtual one either. Success in a virtual world means making the needs of team members a top priority. In our technological age, paradoxically, you have to spend more time managing people than in the past.

- Get everyone involved.
Teams that fail usually do so because they lack a clear purpose. So it's crucial that team members know and agree on exactly what they're trying to accomplish together and how they plan to do so. Experience shows that it's good practice for geographically dispersed people to come together and discuss these issues in person during a kickoff meeting.

- Spell everything out.
Take nothing for granted and test all assumptions. As my daughter reminds me on occasion, "Assume puts an ass between you and me." For example, at the beginning, test assumptions about how the team will communicate, what the term "quality" actually means in practice, whether meeting the schedule means the same thing to different team members. Check on what exactly people are signing up for when they make agreements.

- You can't over-communicate.
Once the work gets started, make sure team members don't become isolated. It's good practice for the team manager to stay in touch with the members every day and to encourage the members to keep in touch with one another. Familiarity builds trust and people who trust each other are always more productive.

- Learn to manage up.
Virtual team members often work on more than one team at a time, so the manager is often competing with others for an individual's time. It helps to have a relationship with someone higher up who can approach the right people and ask for help on your behalf. Look for an executive sponsor who's really committed to the team's success.

- Be careful about compensation.
Monetary compensation usually works best if it's tied to the success of the project and to personal performance. However, virtual team members are likely to receive different benefits from their different employers and it helps to make this explicit from the beginning. That way, team members can say what's important to them during the project in order to protect their benefit status.

- Manage conflict.
Since conflict is inevitable, keep a constant eye out for it and make every effort to nip it in the bud when it appears. Check email archives daily for signs of disagreements and if they appear to be surfacing, call the parties involved and talk with them in person rather than relying on email. As an early warning system, consider designating one employee to regularly go from site to site listening to gripes from team members and making these explicit so they can be dealt with.

And finally, managers and team members should bear in mind Oscar Wilde's observation that, "To expect the unexpected shows a thoroughly modern intellect."

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

How to think smarter.

Post 495 - Since the days of Descartes, the 17th century mathematician, Western science has followed the belief that the mind and the body are separate. Although we now know that emotions and the mind play a critical role in our physical responses, many doctors still practice medicine as if this were not so. And scientists know surprisingly little about how to apply the new knowledge of the neurosciences in real life situations. However, current research is shedding light on a number of areas: the unreliability of memory, our capacity to keep learning as we age, the good that exercise does, and the harm caused by stress. Here are some more details:

- Accurately recorded memory is a very rare thing because the brain isn't interested in reality but is interested in survival instead. So it changes the perception of reality in order to stay in the survival mode. The moment of fixing a memory is so complex that we have little understanding of what exactly happens. We do know that our memory, such as it is, can be very easily modified by traces of earlier memories. So, it appears that our understanding of reality is approximate at best. Memory isn't fixed at the moment of learning, but repetition improves the odds of retrieval.

You can produce more reliable long-term memories by consistency re-exposing yourself to the information, and by a phenomenon known as "elaborative rehearsal." Elaborative rehearsal is relating new material to material that's already familiar so it can be more easily remembered. For example, if you're presented with a list of digits for later recall (4968214), grouping the digits together to form a phone number transforms them from a meaningless string of digits to something that has meaning. You can also improve your chances of remembering something if you can reproduce the environment in which you first put it into your brain. If you learned something when you were sad, you're likely to recall it better if you're also sad when you try to remember it.

- A lot of research findings connect exercise - especially aerobic exercise - with brain health. Since exercise is good for the cardiovascular system, it follows that it keeps the blood vessels in the brain healthy as well. There's a growing body of scientific opinion that a many Alzheimer's cases are vascular rather than genetic in origin. Research shows that people who exercise regularly are 50% less likely to contract the disease compared to those who don't.

- Stress causes the body to produce a set of hormones called glucocortoids (cortisol or hydrocortisone is the most important one in humans). These are good for short-term responses to stress but in the longer-term, they damage the body, including the brain. People suffering from depression, anxiety, panic disorder, malnutrition, and alcohol abuse are often found to have elevated glucocortoid levels in their bloodstream.

Stress hormones seem to congregate in the hippocampus, a part of the brain that's deeply involved in many aspects of human learning. As a result, people who are stressed don't do well at math. They don't process language very efficiently either and they have poorer short- and long-term memories. These are often the skills needed in business so stress causes people to be less efficient at work. Some studies conservatively estimate the financial costs in the U.S. of the lost productivity that results at more than $200 billion a year.

Now you know why 70% of us don't handle conflict or stress effectively. The decisions we make today for ease and lowered stress charge high interest rates. There’s no thirty-year fixed option on the price of reality. It’s a balloon note which always come due when we’re least able to pay.

One way to keep abreast of the many exciting findings emerging in brain research is to subscribe to the Scripps Research Institute newsletter at:

Monday, May 24, 2010

Facts and figures.

Post 494 - Here are some current facts and figures about the way we're living and the choices we're making - and not making! Go figure....

1970 federal deficit, as a percentage of GDP was 0.3% - today it's 9.9%.

U.S. unemployment rate for ages 20-24 in 1970 was 7.5% - now it's 17.2%.

Estimated cost to taxpayers of TARP, adjusted for inflation, $117 billion.

Amount that U.S. banks charged in 2009 for overdraft fees - $38.9 billion.

Estimate of underfunding for state government employee pension funds across the US – currently greater than $3 trillion.

A recent Rasmussen Poll asked Americans: “Would you prefer smaller government with fewer services and lower taxes or more active government with more services and higher taxes?” By a margin of 64% to just 22%, Americans said they’d prefer a smaller government.

A few weeks ago the latest right-track-wrong-track numbers came out, and about 70% of respondents said they thought the U.S. was on the wrong track.

Estimated combined salaries of the top ten actor nominees at the 2010 Oscars, including winner Jeff Bridges for Crazy Heart - $20 million.

Salary paid best acreess Julia Roberts in 2001 for Erin Brokovich - $20 million.

Rank of U.S. among nations in internet connection speed – 18th.

Number of works of art by Picasso that have been stolen – 660.

Fine DOT can levy against a Boeing 737 full of passengers that’s stuck on the runway for three hours at $27,500 per passenger - $4,097,500.

With 73 closures so far this year, the pace of bank failures is more than double that of 2009, which was itself quite a brisk year for shutdowns.

Twenty years ago, the U.S. ranked 29th in the child mortality rate (the percentage of children younger than 5 who die each year). Today, it ranks 42nd globally, behind much of Europe as well as the United Arab Emirates, Cuba and Chile. The U.S., which is projected to have 6.7 deaths per 1,000 children in 2010, saw a 42% decline, a pace that’s on par with Kazakhstan, Sierra Leone and Angola.

In 2002, only 10% of multinational companies had software development and other IT work performed abroad. By 2008, 70% of multinationals had joined the outsourcing parade.

According to the European Commission, by 2050 the percentage of Europeans older than 65 will nearly double. In the 1950s there were seven workers for every retiree in advanced economies. By 2050, the ratio in the European Union will drop to 1.3 to 1.

Gross public social expenditures in the European Union increased from 16 percent of gross domestic product in 1980 to 21 percent in 2005, compared with 15.9 percent in the U. S. In France, the figure now is 31 percent, the highest in Europe, with state pensions making up more than 44 percent of the total and health care, 30 percent.

And finally, here's something I bet you didn't know:

The number of people the Bible says were killed in the name of God, not including Noah’s flood, Sodom & Gomorrah, or plagues and famines, adds up to 2,391,421.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Insomnia, a poem by Matthew Sweeney.

Post 493 - Here is another delightful poem by Matthew Sweeney and I dedicate it to all of you who have trouble sleeping. Maybe you believe Dr. Seuss's observation: “When you’re in love, you can’t fall asleep because reality is better than your dreams.” Now, that's a good reason to stay awake if ever I heard one ....

Insomnia by Matthew Sweeney

Everywhere it’s raining except here
where the mosquitoes thrive
and the car alarms wail at each other
all through the dog-moaning night,
and just before dawn that smell
of onions frying brings the image
of a fat ghost chef whose insomnia
is dealt with like this, making me
rush to the kitchen to catch him
but he and the smell are always gone.
And sleep has no chance at all then,
so rather than ride the toss-&-turning
horse I go naked onto the balcony
to count the lights left on in the flats,
trying to imagine who is up early
and who is late to bed, and soon
the night train will arrive from the north
to rest and be fed, the woken crows
will start the feral cats, and I will add
my wolf howl, then wait for the shouts.

How to create learning conversations.

Post 492 - As Abigail Adams once said, “Learning is not attained by chance. It must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.” It’s the learning speed of the slowest many, not the brightest few, that counts. To encourage people to learn from each other, here are some ideas to improve the quality of conversations throughout the firm:

- Remember good conversations.
“Learning is using what we already know” according to Plato. So ask people who work together to remember a time in their lives when they had a really good conversation and to note what made it so memorable. By remembering what they already know, they'll be more likely to generate mutual respect, practice care-full listening, and capture collective insights in their ongoing interactions.

- Find the right setting.
The typical conference room is cold, impersonal and sterile. People usually find it difficult to think creatively in spaces like this. Consider creating informal living room settings with comfortable seating and natural light instead. Create a hospitable environment where people can function socially as well as conceptually. Think in terms of "hosting a gathering" rather than "chairing a meeting."

- Create a visual space.
People are more likely to discover shared meanings together when they can literally see what they mean. That's why they scribble on napkins or write on white boards when they're working together - it helps them clarify their thinking. So creating space where visual images and common data can be explored together usually helps to encourage breakthrough thinking.

- Slow down so you can speed up.
It's difficult to think when everyone keeps interrupting the conversation. Try using a "talking stick" which is passed to each member so each has an opportunity to share their questions or conclusions as the conversation progresses. This allows many voices to be heard in a respectful way and encourages people to pay attention and listen.

- Honor unique contributions.
People are naturally curious, especially about the things they care about. Encourage those participating in the conversation to share why the exploration matters to them and how they can contribute to each other's learning. Look at diverse points of view as unique contributions to a common journey.

- Build and sustain communities of practice.
Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly. The Impressionists, for instance, used to meet in cafes and studios to discuss the style of painting they were inventing together. These interactions were essential to making them into a community of practice even though they often painted alone. Membership implies a commitment to a common field of interest, and therefore a shared competence that distinguishes the members from other people. Members are practitioners who meet regularly to engage in joint activities and discussions, help each other, and share information. Over the course of time, they build relationships that enable them to learn from each other.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Peter Drucker gives advice about hiring.

Post 491 - This is from an article published in Marriott's Portfolio magazine in 1986. Peter Drucker was the greatest management thinker of the last century; yet he was able to speak in plain language that was understood by ordinary managers. Consequently, simple statements from him have influenced untold numbers of people; they certainly influenced me over the decades we worked together at Claremont Graduate University. Drucker believed that talented people were the essential ingredient of every successful enterprise and he taught generations of managers the importance of picking the best people. Here's a summary of his ideas:

- Think through the assignment.
Job descriptions may last a long time. Indeed, the job description for bishops in the Roman Catholic church hasn't changed at all since canon law was first codified in the thirteenth century. But assignments change all the time, and unpredictably. When choosing a division commander, General George Marshall always looked at the nature of the assignment for the next two years. To form a division and train it is one assignment. To lead it into battle is quite another. To take command of a division that's been mauled in battle and restore its morale and fighting strength is another still. Each of these is a different assignment and requires a different kind of person.

- Look at three to five qualified candidates.
Formal qualifications are a minimum for consideration; their absence disqualifies a candidate automatically. Equally important, the person and the assignment need to fit each other.

- Think hard about how to look at these candidates.
Studying the assignment helps you understand what a new person needs to do with high priority and concentrated effort. The central question isn't, "What can this or that candidate do or not do." Rather, it's "What strengths does each candidate have and are these the right strengths for the assignment." For example, when General Marshall was hiring for a training assignment, he looked for people who could turn recruits into soldiers. He knew that anyone who was good at that was likely to have serious weaknesses in other areas. But if he was the best for the assignment, he got the job. Marshall figured the army could always supply what was needed to compensate for the candidate's deficiencies.

- Discuss each of the candidates with several people who've worked with them.
One opinion is worthless. We all have first impressions, prejudices, likes and dislikes, so it's important to listen to what other people think. And it's best to do this informally. When the military picks general officers, this kind of extensive discussion is a formal step in the selection process.

- Make sure the appointee understands the job.
It's not immediately obvious to most people that a new and different job requires new and different behavior. So after the person has been in the job for a few months, call him or her in and say, "You've now been in this job now for several months. What do you have to do to be a success in this assignment? Think it through and get back to me in writing in a week or ten days. And remember, the things you did to get the promotion are almost certainly the wrong things to be doing now."

- Final thoughts.
If someone gets promoted because of politics, everybody will know it. And they'll say to themselves, "Okay, that's the way to get ahead in this company." People in organizations tend to behave as they see others being rewarded. Also, whenever a job defeats several people in a row who had performed well in previous assignments, it's time to abolish the job. Any job that ordinarily competent people can't perform is a job that can't be staffed.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Low-cost promotion ideas.

Post 490 - Ninety percent of the success of any product or service is its promotion and marketing. For small business owners, many promotion ideas can bring publicity without costing very much. Here are some examples:

- Advertise in high-school yearbooks, theater programs and other local directories. This helps build awareness about your business with local residents.

- Stay active and visible in your school and college alumni groups.

- Get involved in community activities. If you join the committee for your town's Fourth of July celebration, you'll meet many new people. When they get to know you better, they'll then feel more comfortable referring your products and services to others.

- Set a goal to call a specific number of customers, prospects and referral sources each week. When I first started my consulting business, I lived in Los Angeles and didn't have a lot of money. Most of my clients were big companies back east or in Canada at that time. So I spent several hours on the phone every morning between 5am and 8am when phone charges were still inexpensive. These calls were relatively brief, but they let people know that I was thinking of them. Most of the conversations were about what they were doing or were interested in. However, I'd always ask in the course of the conversation if they knew about any new business opportunities coming up or could suggest other people for me to call.

- Take at least one customer, prospect or referral source to breakfast, lunch or dinner each week.

- Invite customers and potential customers to cultural and sporting events and other local activities. Don't ask for business during these events but work at getting to know them better and on building a good relationship. Listen for clues about their families, businesses and interests that may give you a reason for follow-up mailings.

- Then forward any articles or items that might interest them, together with a personal note. No press clipping is too small to be sent.

- Write articles for papers, magazines and websites that will be read by potential customers. Make yourself into an expert. Start a regular blog about your area of interest and expertise.

- Send out press releases sharing good news about your business and your industry.

- Remember, the key to any successful marketing program is consistency. In its simplest form, marketing is about making you and your product known and selling is about making it wanted. “Your marketing efforts have to be ongoing, consistent and relentless. Hi-Tech, Low-Tech, No Tech and sometimes totally shameless.” according to Patricia Fripp.

Monday, May 17, 2010

How to deal with dilemmas.

Post 489 - As F. Scott Fitzgerald has pointed out, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” This is the essence of the problem many managers face today when dealing with dilemmas. A dilemma is a pair of apparently contradictory goals both of which are valuable to the organization. These goals are in tension in that moving one goal ‘up’ tends to move the other goal ‘down.’

Many dilemmas are improperly characterized as problems. Geoff Ball and Jerry Talley at Edgewise Consulting suggest that some 25-50% of all organizational conflict is caused by unacknowledged and unmanaged dilemmas. The results is blaming, whining, finger pointing, and threats, but no positive acknowledgement of how these conflicting goals are connected together. So, unmanaged dilemmas fuel interpersonal conflicts and heighten interdepartmental friction. People caught up in dilemmas are likely to feel that some other group in the firm routinely undermines their best efforts. Yet, they’re unaware that their own efforts also often lead to someone else's setback and pain.

People tend to believe they must choose one goal or the other, as if they’re polar opposites. Yet, since both sides of a dilemma are potentially valuable and necessary, it’s a mistake to sacrifice one for the other. For example, what company can continuously avoid longer-term investments in order to assure short-term profits? Or visa-versa?

When dilemmas are managed poorly, some of the costs are:
* Time spent arguing with other departments with no useful outcome.
* Employees feel unappreciated.
* Productivity is reduced because of lowered morale.
* Departments take unilateral action leading to confusion and resentment.
* The company appears disorganized to customers.
* Lost sales and lost referrals.

On the other hand, if dilemmas are managed well, companies experience:
* Synergy of efforts between departments.
* They beat the competition with breakthrough ideas and products.
* There’s high customer satisfaction for quality work delivered on time.

Here are some typical business dilemmas:

- Innovate or Conserve.
If you don’t invest in innovation, current business will eventually decline. However, if you invest too much too soon, this may endanger the continuity of your current business.

- Do It Yourself or Outsource.
Do you handle production by yourself or do you leverage the capability of third parties? Internet marketplaces are successful examples of the latter. Both approaches require different competencies. If you choose to focus on your core business, where could you benefit from outsourcing to third parties?

- Support or Lead.
You could choose to be the leader of the market or you could be happy supporting others. And there are many possibilities for each.

- Cooperate or Compete.
Many companies value teamwork, but they organize people’s activities in a competitive way by setting individual goals and targets. Can you find a way that balances both?

- External or Internal Focus.
This dilemma is present in most organizations. Marketing and sales tend to be externally focused, while IT and administration concentrate on streamlining the company’s internal activities.

- Consumer or Specialized Company.
This dilemma is less important for managers if their context is already set. It’s more important for startup entrepreneurs. Dealing with twenty clients is very different than attracting 20.000 demanding consumers to your business. It’s important to make this choice upfront.

It’s best to be open about the way you manage dilemmas. Therefore, some companies have issued statements that clarify their position in a number of difficult areas to provide guidance in dealing with these situations.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Frog-Taming, a poem by Matthew Sweeney.

Post 488 - Matthew Sweeney was born in Donegal, Ireland in 1952. He moved to London in 1973 and studied at the Polytechnic of North London and the University of Freiburg. His poetry collections include A Dream of Maps (1981), A Round House (1983), Blue Shoes (1989), Cacti (1992), The Bridal Suite (1997), A Smell of Fish (2000), Sanctuary (2004) and Black Moon (2007). Selected Poems, representing the best of 10 books and 20 years' work, was published in 2002. He won a Cholmondeley Award in 1987 and an Arts Council Writers' Award in 1999. He was shortlisted for the T. S. Eliot Prize in 2008. He’s also published poetry for children including The Flying Spring Onion (1992), Fatso in the Red Suit (1995) and Up on the Roof: New and Selected Poems (2001). His novels for children include The Snow Vulture (1992) and Fox (2002).

Sweeney says, “I have always been drawn to poetry. I found the noise of it attractive, the mystery of it – the way it leaves so much to the reader (a student put it to me once that the reader of a poem must, as it were, finish the writing of the poem) – and how it can tell a story in a short space. When one is used to operating so sparely, the sprawl of prose is not attractive.”

Frog-Taming by Matthew Sweeney.

Any fool can learn to catch a frog –
the trick is to do it blindfolded,
lying there, in the wet grass,
listening for the hop and croak.

And the real trick is to keep it alive,
not strangle it, or squeeze it dead –
that way you can take it home
and tame it, make it your pet.

But early on, keep the cat locked up.
Soon she’ll get used to her odd sibling –
meanwhile put a bit of time into
picking a suitable name for the frog.

And research a frog’s ideal diet,
and also the best sleeping arrangements –
water somewhere nearby, of course,
and plenty of air, plenty of air.

Be sure to play the frog the right music
so it can learn hopping tricks –
ones it can reproduce on the cleared table
when you have dinner guests around,

while you find your blindfold and put it on,
holding your hands out and grasping
the air the frog has just vacated –
making it clear you’re deliberately missing.

Emerging patterns in employment.

Post 487 - According to Tammy Erickson, a member of the Concours Group, expect to see these five characteristics of the way we work becoming ever more prominent in the near future:

- Two-job norm.
More people will have two sources of income. Instead of relying on a salaried job with full benefits, employees will create a series of backup options. For many, especially those in creative or knowledge-based work, this is likely to include becoming an entrepreneur. A second job or even a small entrepreneurial venture will provide a safety net, giving people a small measure of control over their fate in an increasingly unstable world.

- Less "off hours" work.
Recession-management approaches that made full-time employees take a-day-a-week "off" raised some new questions in the minds of employees who'd been working virtually 24x7. What is a "day?" Eight hours? Twenty percent of the time normally worked each week? For many, these questions lead inevitably to: If they only want me to work four days a week, why am I working more than 32 hours? Many companies have come to rely on very long work-weeks as staffing cuts lead to more work for the remaining individuals and technology facilitates round-the-clock work. Expect to see more push-back about this - in part because many individuals will be spending time advancing their second work option.

- Competition for discretionary energy.
“Engagement” has been a hot topic in talent management circles for the past decade. But its benefits have focused primarily on attracting and retaining employees. Increasingly, managers' focus is shifting to competing for the employee's discretionary energy, competing with other priorities in the employee's life, including other options for work. This may mean replacing employees who're only "going through the motions." More and more of the work in today's economy can’t be done routinely by just unthinkingly going through the motions. Instead, success requires the spark of extra effort, creativity, collaboration, and innovation.

- More diverse arrangements.
Today, many companies utilize a variety of flexwork options. In the near future, these kinds of arrangements will begin to take hold in more significant ways, driven by employee preferences, facilitated by new technologies, and supported by new managers who are themselves more comfortable dealing with virtual work.

- Transparent or "adult" arrangements.
This change involves the growth in "communities of adults" - a philosophy of recasting the employment relationship from one of paternalistic care to one of adult choice. A simple example is offering a menu of benefit options and letting employees choose those that work best for them. More advanced practices encourage employees to "own" their own feedback processes and even set their own compensation levels. These sorts of changes won't be in widespread use this year or next, but they're already used by the many progressive companies. More of this kind of innovation is on the way, so keep your eyes open for examples.

The key for employers and employees is defining a win-win; a compromise that maximizes the employees' contributions and efficiency, while also respecting their values about life style and work balance. In the longer term, employers must become more creative and flexible in order to recruit and retain Gen X and, in particular, Gen Y employees. These younger workers, who have many valuable skills and lots of new knowledge, are quickly becoming the largest part of the recruiting pool.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Harnessing the talent of Millennial employees.

Post 486 - A recent worldwide survey of high-school students ranked Americans 25th in the world in math, 21st in science, and 1st in confidence - not exactly an encouraging combination! So just who are these Generation Y or Millennial employees?

They can truly be called the “technological generation.” They grew up comfortable using sophisticated devices and this has come to define many aspects of their lives. They're accustomed to using the latest technology and expect it to be engaging and fast-paced, filled with energy, excitement and surprises. Plus they've spent, on average, more hours in the classroom and more days in school than previous generations. They've also participated in after-school tutoring classes and untold numbers of enrichment and private-tutoring programs. They're the products of the most over-involved parents in the history of parenting! Their Baby Boomer mothers and fathers have become famous for a parenting style that included lots of praise and support with plenty of parental hovering, for which they’ve come to be known as “helicopter” parents.

To many Boomer managers, it often seems that the Millennials have little to no work ethic. But I don't think this is true. As well educated and technologically savvy as they are, Millennials simply don’t look at the requirements of getting a job done in the same way. They expect a workplace that caters to their needs and their sense of time. It isn’t that they’re not adaptable. It’s just that they see the world of work in very different terms. Rather than accepting the need to work long hours, they ask, “Why does it take you so long to get the job done?”

According to Ashley Grayson, VP Business Development at Criteria. "The Millennials are a self-absorbed community who can only talk incessantly about themselves in 'shrt msgs.' As a result they have low comprehension and low retention of abstract material. They've been exposed to a lot, but have mastered little. As one software manager told me, 'They think they know a lot, but they have no clue what they don't know.'" That said, there's a lot of them and outstanding individuals can be found in every generation ... The big challenge in getting them to do useful work is getting them to see where their favorite methods fail to deliver answers. We can't just tell them because they never listen."

The recession doesn’t seem to have changed young people’s attitudes very much, according to San Diego State University professor, Jean Twenge. “They may be thinking by the time they hit the job market, things will have smoothed out. But, considering the depth of this recession, their attitudes haven’t shifted much.” These younger workers as a group like informality and want to have a good work/life balance. However, not every young employee can work for Google, whose on-site perks — doctors, laundry facilities, volleyball courts and more — have young people clamoring to work there. The Millenials need to learn they can’t have it all — the status, the salary and the paid time off. They’ll have to learn to compromise.

And as for companies, they risk losing relevance or hurting the bottom line if they don’t recruit and retain young talent. That means they’ll have to adapt to attract and keep the Gen X and Gen Y workforce. That doesn’t mean that every company has to turn into a Google — but they’ll lose out on a lot of new knowledge if they don’t adapt. So, consistently rated top companies have worked to accommodate younger people's values and preferences. For example, eBay has set aside two rooms for meditation. SAS has an in-house gym. KPMG gives workers five weeks vacation on day one when they join the company. “At some point during that year, we ask our employees to work overtime, so they may end up working 60-hours a week,” according to Lionel Deschamps a partner in San Diego’s KPMG office. “So other times, we really want people to get away from the office and take some time to recharge their batteries. We want them to have a life away from work."

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Assumptions, issues and challenges in today's workplace.

Post 485 - "Our youth now love luxury, they have bad manners, contempt for authority, they show disrespect for their elders, and they love to chatter instead of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers." Sound familiar? This however was written by Socrates in 440 B.C.

I hear and read lots of complaints about the skills and drive of today's younger workers. However, during a recent day-long visit to the aircraft carrier, Ronald Regan, I was extremely impressed by the energy, dedication and achievement of it's 6,000 sailors, most of whom are under 20 years of age. So I thought I'd spend the week writing about the younger generation and comparing it with my own generation and those in between.

Today's American workforce is more complicated and diverse than ever before. Four generations with different values and character-shaping experiences are being asked to coexist and cooperate together. They are:

• Traditionalists:
- Born 1928 - 1945.
- Teen years 1942 - 1963.
- Raised with homogeneous families and neighbors.
- Are respectful of authority.
- Hierarchical.
- Loyal to institutions.
- Rule makers and conformists.
- Motivated by financial rewards and security.

• Boomers:
- Born 1946 - 1965.
- Teen years 1960 - 1982.
- Children of causes and revolutions.
- Anti-authoritarian.
- Idealistic.
- Motivated to change the world.
- Competitive.

• Generation X:
- Born 1965 - 1976.
- Teen years 1980 - 1998.
- A diverse group of "friends."
- Self reliant.
- Anti-institution.
- Rule morphing.
- Tribal.
- Information-rich.

• Generation Y - Millennials:
- Born 1980 - 2000.
- Teen years 1994 - 2018.
- Largest consumer group in the history of the US, 70-million plus.
- Upbeat and determined.
- Confident and full of self-esteem.
- Pro-education and goal-oriented.
- Socially conscious and highly tolerant.
- Family-centric - parents are role models and heroes.
- Plugged-in and parallel thinkers.
- Work is one of multiple priorities.

Young workers seem to want it all — a sizable salary, generous vacation time, flextime or shorter work weeks, and it’d be nice for a prospective employer to have an on-site doctor, or install laundry machines in the office - for the sake of work-life balance! Twenty years ago, work-life balance was hardly considered. Employees lived to work, not worked to live. Today, all that’s changed.....

More tomorrow,

Monday, May 10, 2010

Some random pictures of America.

Post 484 - Here are some random facts about who we are and how we behave as Americans:

In 1970, 21% of 25-year-olds were unmarried; by 2005, the percentage had jumped to 60%.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately 27% of people ages 18 to 34 were uninsured in 2008, the highest of any age group.

In a study done by the Economist, the United States ranks #17 in overall democracy among the biggest 29 democracies in the world. We are rated even lower than that in personal civil rights, coming in one step lower than the Czech Republic.

A survey of 120 blue-chip American companies found that a third of employees wrote poorly, a problem businesses are spending more than $3 billion a year to correct.

Apple's iPhone business, which didn't exist three years ago, now represents 40% of the company's revenue.

Recently Harvard researchers learned 25% of American adults have zero trusted friends. Zero.

The Lord’s Prayer is 66 words. The Gettysburg Address is 286 words. The Declaration of Independence has 1,322 words. But federal government regulations on the sale of cabbage totals 26,911 words.

It turns out over 20% of American flags sold in America are imported.

The return on assets for U.S. firms has steadily fallen to almost one quarter of 1965 levels…very few workers (20 percent) are passionate about their jobs…executive turnover is increasing…consumers are becoming less loyal to brands…the rate at which big companies lose their leadership positions is increasing. - The Deloitte Center for the Edge, 2009.

80% of working American adults believe in God.

15% exercise regularly.

65% are overweight.

50% of first-time marriages end in divorce.

65% of second marriages end in divorce.

Less than 3% of Americans have library cards.

Less than 3% have written goals.

36% of recent high school graduates won’t read another book in their lives.

70% didn’t read a book in the last year.

70% of fortune 500 CEOs said Atlas Shrugged was second only to the bible in having the most impact on their lives.

Less than 5% of working American adults have true financial independence.

2% get their primary income from trading other people’s time and money.

Between 1980 and 2005, virtually all net new jobs created in the U.S. were created by firms that were 5 years old or less. That's about 40 million jobs and means that the established firms created no new net jobs during that period.

A 2008 survey at Intel showed employees received 350 emails per week on average; at Morgan Stanley, employees got 625 new messages per week. Executives' incoming email volume was much higher. Some people spent 20 hours a week just dealing with email.

33% of American men don’t wash their hands in public washrooms.

Neither do 12% of women.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

A Letter to My Sons About Mother's Day By Judith Viorst.

Post 483 - May 10th, 1908 was the first celebration of modern American Mother's Day. Anna M. Jarvis, whose mother tried to reunite families splintered by the Civil War, campaigned for an official day set aside to honor mothers in America. That tradition still continues to this day.

For some people, this will be a Mother's Day without a mother. I hope the memories of days gone by and time spent with her comforts you, as it does me. Take a moment on Sunday to reflect on the many ways she's impacted your life. And for all you guys with mothers still alive, this poem is for you.....

A Letter to My Sons About Mother's Day By Judith Viorst

Unlike King Lear I am well aware
That extravagant expressions of affection
Do not necessarily mean that our children adore us,
Or that their failure to write or phone or do lots of
lovely things for us
Means that they don't.
I am, in addition, well aware
That most of the wise, mature, sensible women I know
Have nothing but disdain for Mother's Day,
Which they rightfully declare to be a crass, commercial way
Of getting guilty children to spend money.
Furthermore, I am hoping that I
Will turn into one of those wise, mature, sensible women
Long before this current decade is through.
But meanwhile, if you know what's good for you,
Send flowers.

The politics of success.

Post 482 - All relationships begin with an impression - sometimes good, sometimes bad, sometimes ambivalent. We're never perceived in a neutral way - we're always making an impression. People believe what they see, so dress, posture, poise and personal politics have a powerful influence on career progression. Here are some key beliefs that people use in managing their impressions in order to advance in their careers:

- Merit alone isn't sufficient for advancement. Creating the appearance of being a winner and 'looking promotable' is equally important.

- It's very important to develop social relationships with superiors and co-workers. While these relationships should appear to be social in nature, in reality they're useful for job contacts and getting insider information about what's really going on in the firm.

- Looking like a 'team player' is central to career advancement. However, successful people still pursue their self-interest through 'antagonistic cooperation' - appearing to be cooperative and helpful on the surface while simultaneously gathering information about how to conquer the competition.

- In order to advance, individuals must appear to be loyal and committed to their current employers while at the same time keeping their resumes circulating and otherwise keeping their employment options open.

- If unethical behavior is sometimes necessary in order to get promoted, it's important not to advocate or even acknowledge the existence of such behavior. It also helps to become adept at inconsistency and develop the ability to hold public positions that are either mutually inconsistent or inconsistent with past public positions.

- Win the respect and admiration of superiors by publicizing accomplishments, drawing attention to skills and abilities, and publicly displaying awards.

- Keep a safe distance from negative events, deflect personal responsibility for problems, and always diminish the seriousness of difficulties.

- In many jobs, much of the real work can't be tangibly assessed and as a result, relative success in these jobs can't be easily validated. Therefore it's important to create the illusion of success and power socially through symbols such as dress and office layout. I've seen this include locks on file drawers, positioning visitors so the sun is in their eyes, and having their chairs lower than the office occupant's desk!

Today's post describes some of the political realities I've experienced in a way that may or may not match your own personal values. And, as Brian Tracey reminds us, "Just as your car runs more smoothly and requires less energy to go faster and farther when the wheels are in perfect alignment, you perform better when your thoughts, feelings, emotions, goals, and values are in balance."

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

How to get lucky in life.

Post 481 - I read somewhere that Napoleon would line his generals up before a battle and ask each one if he felt lucky. The ones who said they did were the ones he put in command. That’s because he believed they had confidence. All things are possible to the person who believes they’re possible.

That which you resist, you create, exaggerate, or become.
That which you resist gets worse.
That which you resist eventually owns you.

Accountability is about changing your focus from areas that are outside your control to areas that are in your control.

You can increase success in your life by:
- Acknowledging reality
- Owning it
- Finding solutions
- Taking action to implement them.

Ask yourself:

- How do I feel right now?
- What do I “really” want?
- Am I getting closer to what I want?
- If not, what else could I be doing?
- If not now, when?

Life depends on how you look at it, how you see it, how you believe it to be.

I saw a sign the other day that I read as “Now Here” whereas someone with me said they saw it as “Nowhere.”


Whether you think you can or you think you can’t … either way, you’re right.

Start each morning by asking yourself:

- What am I happy about right now?

- What am I excited about today?

- What am I most proud of?

- What am I grateful for or blessed by?

- Who do I love?

- Who loves me?

- What do they love about me?

- What am I committed to?

The complete formula for getting lucky in life is:

Preparation (personal growth) + Attitude (belief/mindset) + Opportunity (luck) + Action (doing something about it) = How You Get Lucky

Listen to Jimmy Jones who advises, “Make a bet every day, otherwise you might walk around lucky and never know it.”

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

What are the metaphors for your life?

Post 480 - Metaphors are comparisons that show how two things that aren't alike in most ways are similar in one important way. Authors and speakers use them to make their comments more interesting or entertaining. The hypothetical boiled frog is a useful metaphor for a very real problem: the difficulty of responding to disasters that creep up on us a little bit at a time. Here are some metaphors that have to do with the meaning of life:

- Life is like eating grapefruit. First, you have to break through the skin; then it takes a couple of bites to get used to the taste, and then just as you begin to enjoy it, it squirts in your eye.

- Life is like a banana. You start out green and get soft and mushy with age.

- Life is like cooking. Sometimes you follow the recipe and other times, you make it up as you go along.

- Life is like a jigsaw puzzle but you don't have the picture on the box to know what it's supposed to look like. Sometimes, you're not even sure you have all the pieces.

- Life is like a maze where you're always trying to avoid the exit.

- Life is like riding an elevator. You have lots of ups and downs and someone is always pushing your buttons.

- Life is like a puppy searching for a street full of fire hydrants.

- Life is like a battle. Everything is a competition or a struggle and you're always either winning or losing.

- Life is like a prison. You feel that you don't have any choices and that others have all the power.

- Life is like a classroom where there are always new lessons to learn.

- Life is like a battery. Everything you do drains your energy and you need the weekends to recharge.

Think of your brain as a filing cabinet. In childhood, people open the files and label them. Then they often spend the rest of their lives putting new material in these old files. If they had a good, healthy childhood, they probably have a pretty good filing system. If their early years were a struggle, then they often see things as struggles for the rest of their lives.

I like to think that life is like a journey. I ask what sort of vessel are we traveling in – a car, a ship, or an airplane? And where are we going? We’re on a great journey together, following a path with many twists and curves. Most people around us are on autopilot, but if we can wake up to the reality of things, we have the power to grab the wheel and take control!

What are your metaphors? Try standing back to see the patterns in your life.

Monday, May 3, 2010

How to work a room.

Post 479 - “Networking is not about throwing mud at a fence. Determine what you really want to achieve and who the most important people or types of people are to achieving that, then both go to where they are and invite them to where you are. Again, remember that purposeful does not mean fake. It just means purposeful - like dating - which is very often very systematic and strategic but not fake.” according to Keith Ferrazzi in Who’s Got Your Back.

Some people are natural-born schmoozers. For others, being in a room full of strangers is a frightening experience. However, if you have a plan, working a room can be fun and easy, even if you're a confirmed introvert. Here are some ideas to help you network like a professional:

- Adopt a positive attitude.
Focus on the benefits of the event (e.g. to increase your income).

- Plan and practice your self-introduction.
This has two purposes - to tell people who you are and to leave them with a good impression. So speak clearly. Look people in the eye. Be warm, sincere and friendly. Use humor where appropriate.

- Prepare your small talk.
Small talk should amuse, intrigue, delight and pass the time pleasantly. It aims to make people feel comfortable, not to impress them. Rehearse two or three questions that will draw out other people and get them talking.

- Practice your handshake.
Business handshakes are firm, brisk and brief. Make eye contact and smile. Looking away gives the impression that you're trying to find someone more important.

- Put other people's comfort before your own.
When you care more about the other person's comfort, clumsiness and self-consciousness tend to disappear.

- Rehearse your opening lines.
When in doubt, smile and say hello. Make a positive statement or observation about what's happening in the room. Ask a simple question. Make a positive, but not overly personal self-revelation.

- Cut into ongoing conversations.
Don't interrupt two people if they're having an intense conversation. Approach groups of three or more and give facial feedback to comments being made. When you feel yourself included, either by eye contact or verbal acknowledgment, join in the conversation.

- Move on gracefully.
Don't leave when the other person is talking. Wait until you've finished a comment and then say, "I enjoyed talking with you. Now, please excuse me. I see someone else I want to talk with."

When speaking with someone about what they do for a living, close your conversation by asking, "John, how will I know if someone I'm talking to is a good referral for you?" Doing this leaves a lasting impression since you'll likely be the only one in the room who asked that, and it also gets that person thinking about how you really can be helpful to them. “Networking is simply the cultivating of mutually beneficial, give and take, win-win relationships. It works best, however, when emphasizing the ‘give’ part,” according to Bob Burg in Endless Referrals.

Here are some common mistakes that people make:

- They go to the wrong events.
If they're going to the wrong events, they're probably not meeting the right people or making good connections with the people they meet.

- They leave as soon as the event is officially over - for instance, right after the last round of applause for the speaker. Most people are more relaxed and easier to talk to "after" an event than they are during the official networking time at the beginning.

- They've set goals for how many business cards they want to hand out and collect - this is a common recommendation from the networking gurus. But a focus on the numbers can blind them to opportunities - including the opportunity to have fun.

Neil Senturia offers the following good advice:

- Think that the people you're going to meet at the event are all your friends. That has helped me open up more.

- Don’t think you have to “work the room,” or meet many people. Be with the person you're talking to at the time. The thought has helped control some urges for meeting more people and leaving the one I'm talking to, and allowed for more in-depth conversations.

- Stay a bit afterwards, and talk with the people you found interesting. Leave a “hook” to make sure you stay in contact after the event.