9.30.2014

The Sad State of Truth in Organizations

Truth is evidently in short supply these days - both from political and business leaders. Here's how I know.

Ben Horowitz wrote:
"Once I stopped being CEO, I was granted a freedom that I did not have before. As a venture capitalist, I have had the freedom to say what I want and what I really think without worrying about what everybody else thinks. As a CEO, there is no such luxury. As CEO, I had to worry about what everybody else thought. In particular, I could not show weakness in public. It would not have been fair to the employees, the executives, or the public company shareholders. Unrelenting confidence was necessary." (The Hard Thing About Hard Things, page 274).
Bob Spink, former Member of the UK Parliament, said:
"I'm not a politician. I'm not up for election anymore so I can speak honestly." (BBC Radio 4 interview, September 6, 2014)
Not a pretty picture. And you wonder why your employees don't believe you when you tell them things - whether about their jobs, the company, its direction or how they can impact and benefit from doing more and better for the enterprise?

Frankly, they have no reason to believe you. They're surrounded by people showing them - over and over again - that the truth isn't out there. At least not anyplace that they can get their hands on it.

And that takes us to yet a different form of truth: "Your" truth versus "My" truth.

Too often, the response to arguments is, "Well that may be your truth, but it isn't mine."

That doesn't work. Truth is truth.

Facts change or can be interpreted differently over time with more information. Beliefs change all the time based on new and different experiences.

Truth doesn't change. Truth is truth.

On a survival level, we're told, trained and experience that truth isn't convenient or easy. Our business and political leaders even say so. You have to be fearful of the truth...or at least of speaking it.

That's wrong. Truth is clear and simple. It's not obtuse or veiled or difficult. Just ask Seth Godin. He wrote:
"A common form of complexity is the sophistication of fear....I'm more interested in the sophistication required to deliver the truth. Simplicity. Awareness. Beauty. These take fearlessness. This is, "here it is, I made this, I know you can understand it, does it work for you?" Our work doesn't have to be obtuse to be important or brave." (Seth's Blog, September 30, 2014).
Be fearless. Speak the truth. More important, live, demonstrate and model it in every aspect of your life every day.

That's when the truth really does set you free.

9.27.2014

The He/She Question - Sexism in Business

I'm not sure, but I think it started with Seth Godin's writings (which I love). Unfortunately his decision to use the feminine when he talks about achievements is actually not a good thing. Or at least it turned out that way.

Somewhere along the line, it became a near-requirement by editors that business writers use "she" as the generic - rather than what had come to be considered the sexist "he."

I'm not sure if anyone realizes that they've done the same thing - only in the pejorative - by 'standardizing' the "she." Now "she" is the sexist term.

Read business blogs, books, magazine articles and you'll find the same thing: When something 'good' is done, it's done by a "she." When it's a bad thing, it's the 'he' who did it.

Neither is right - but having standardized to "she" is the worst thing of all. Just as the generic "he" wasn't actually (or meant to be) descriptive, it's the meaning that's assigned that's the problem.

This is a socialization thing. For men, it becomes an unconscious competition. For women, it's the pressure of expectation.

Granted, everyone wanted to get away from the ungainly "he/she," "him/her," "his/hers" or the next stage "she/he," "her/him," "hers/his" that had been adopted - but at least that was trying to create a balance. No one's even trying anymore.

It's a funny thing. Fifteen years ago when I wrote my book, Executive Thinking*, I used what I considered to be the generic throughout. That meant I used "he."

The editors and sales folks had a fit. They hated it. They told me that I had written a sexist book, that women wouldn't buy it and that men would use it as an example and excuse to continue their sexist ways. (They were all women.)

Their solution was that they wanted every "he" to be turned into a "he/she" or its necessary equivalent.

I said no. As I explained to them, all the he/she did was break up the reading experience. It didn't send a message either way - except to their bosses that a lot of extra paper and ink was going to be needed and that that would up the cost.

Instead, they allowed me to edit the book for sexism myself. (Does it occur to any of you - as it did to me - that the fact that they were accusing a successful woman of being a male chauvinist is far off the mark?) As a result, the book is evenly divided. The key executive role described shifts back and forth between the sexes so that, ultimately, equality is created.

Interestingly, the first question I always receive from anyone who reads it is whether that was intentional. It was and it still is.

As a result, as you see in my writings for this blog and other pieces of mine that are published, I don't do either the 'old' generic "he" or the 'new' generic "she." That's because I think they're both self-indulgent and affected.

Instead, when I'm telling a story about a person, that person is going to be a person - without assigned gender - unless absolutely necessary. You get to use your imagination.

On the other hand, if I'm giving direct advice, I'm going to be talking to you. Yes, you.

Why? Because you know who you are. You don't need me to tell you whether your gender is going to impact your success. You're creating it for yourself.
________
*Executive Thinking is currently out of print but you can still get copies here.

9.23.2014

What Do You Do When the Answer is No? 5 Steps to a Global Win.

So Scotland voted. Or at least the registered Scottish voters got their chance to weigh in on their future. Happily, well over 80% of them did. Unhappily for 45% of those who voted, they lost.

The country they wanted to establish as an independent, self-determining entity will stay part of the United Kingdom.

Now what? What are the leaders across the UK doing to make this into a win for everyone? Even the ones who lost?

Nothing. Frankly, as was to be expected, they're doing a different version of making the same mistakes they made that led up to what was, to all intents and purposes, a Scottish Revolution.

As a result, even though for the moment they're going through various motions, the long term effect will be an even greater distrust, disconnect and undermining of Government than before. All thanks to the country's 'leaders.'

It's sad but true that in most cases leaders lose the opportunities they've just gained through mismanagement of what comes after a win. They underestimate the damage they're doing by taking their 'win' and leaving the losers behind...because they can.

That's a very big, very costly, always-to-be-remembered mistake...which makes the supposedly winning leaders the real losers.

Interestingly, while not on a world-map-changing level, this is a not uncommon occurrence in organizations every day. For example:
An employee brings forward an idea in a team meeting to solve a problem while their colleagues are nodding in agreement. You listen with, you hope, an interested expression on your face, while you think of all the reasons why not...
or
You have an open-door policy that one of your people takes advantage of to bring you new thinking. Even as you listen, you're thinking of the reports you have to finish or the emails you need to respond to from your colleagues or your customers or your spouse...
or
Your organization has adopted a lean/six sigma/quality improvement initiative that has teams forming and storming and norming all over the place, generating ideas, implementing pilot projects, presenting results to you in an approved format. As you give them the t-shirts, coffee cups and certificates in reward for work well done, you've decided to kill their suggested plans to expand upon their successes for time, cost or productivity reasons you're convinced will apply.
In every case, you had a win. You had ideas, innovation and participation. You had exactly what the business books - as well as business owners, executive teams, Boards and shareholders - want and expect you to create.

Yet, too many managers, executives and business owners mishandle what happens next after any number of forms of a win. As a result, they miss out on the opportunity to create success on a far greater scale than they otherwise imagined.

For you, that stops now.

Here are the 5 steps - in order - that you take when you're presented with the opportunity to create a global win:

1. Don't just listen. Hear.

One of the most valuable commodities you have - and compliments you can give - is the ability to really hear what your people are saying. To give them your full attention. Your focus. To let them know that you're fully present both with them and for them.

By doing so, you not only gain far more information than you previously had access to - now and in the future - but, without saying a word, you build a collegiality that takes the pretty-words concept of 'team' and turns it into an action.

2. Ask penetrating questions. Find out What and Why.

Your people have reasons for the information they're sharing. Whether it's a problem or a solution - or both - they have a logic to which they're operating that, most likely, is outside of or goes beyond your understanding of what they do. You want to know that reasoning. You want to ask questions about their logic. Instead of defaulting to "How?" you want to spend time and attention on the key, more penetrating questions: "What?" and "Why?"

By asking about the specifics that led to identification of the problem and/or solution, you're getting insight into exactly what they're dealing with on a regular basis. You go even further by asking them why those things are happening. Not with blame or finger-pointing - but, purely, as information gathering.

Think of it as a mystery that needs to be solved - with you and your people the ones who will solve it.

3. Make it a conversation. Create a shared outcome.

By truly hearing what your people have to say and getting at the more penetrating information, you've created a conversation. Now it's time to create a shared outcome.

That's where your position of power comes into play. You know things and have access to people and information that go far beyond what your team members have available. At the same time, they know things about how your organization really works - including the obstacles they confront and end-run every day - that you need.

Now's the time to take all the information and figure out - together - how to use it to its best advantage...for you and for them.

4. Determine how to generate as big a win for everyone as possible.

It's time to kick in your value chain thinking.

The biggest and best wins - no matter the size of the problem or solution or, for that matter, from how deep in the organization it comes - create a veritable tidal wave of success. But only when you consciously work your solutions as part of your value chain.

Internal and external to the organization, every action and decision has a ripple effect. From your choice of suppliers to your hiring/on-boarding/training processes to the IT systems you adopt, everyone who touches your organization from within or outside is impacted.

As you look at not only the problem and/or solution that's been brought forward - but, particularly, the what's and why's - begin to figure out what you can do to create a positive tsunami of impact for and with your senior-level counterparts within the enterprise. Don't forget to include your team members. They can positively work things cross-organizationally in ways that you can only dream.

5. Generate a plan with timelines, metrics and responsible parties - including you. Execute it.

You've got the right thinking. Now you take the right actions.

It's all well and good to talk pretty and make promises. The problem is, whether you know it or not, no one believes you when you do. That's because, whether from you or others, they've been taught that unless there's action - and your skin in the game, too - it's just a bunch of pretty words.

To make sure that that doesn't happen, figure out - together - how to create the win you've identified for everyone. Just as with any other project plan you put together, start asking questions like:
  • What are the steps? 
  • In what order? 
  • Who needs to be involved - within and outside our team? 
  • At what point?
  • How do we bring them in?
  • How will we know how we're doing at every stage?
  • What are the metrics we'll be using? 
  • Are they in place...or do we need new metrics and measurement systems?
  • Who will be responsible for ensuring that the data are up-to-date? 
  • What's the reporting structure?
  • When/How often do we meet to discuss how we're doing and next steps?
...and those are just the starter questions.

The key to this step is to make sure you're prominently involved - as first line of defense, creator of new relationships and possibilities, sounding board and more. The more they see you taking the right actions on your own and their behalf - so that they see you have skin in the game, too - the more and better they'll do for you. Now and in the future.

9.17.2014

How @JPGaultier Wins by Adopting the Steve Jobs Strategy of Less is More

Jean Paul Gaultier will be showing his final prêt-à-porter (ready-to-wear) line of clothing in just a few days during Paris Fashion Week - and the response among the fashionistas and the business community has been fascinating.

C'est tragique!

C'est incroyable!!

C'est fou!!!

In fact, it's neither tragic, incredible nor crazy. It's brilliant. And it's courageous.

Jean Paul Gaultier is going all in on the Less is More strategy - one of the bravest and smartest decisions anyone in business can make.

Business and finance types - executives, owners, investors, analysts - often talk about Less is More as a strategy. They talk specialization. Niches. Verticals.

But as much as they talk about them and the value they bring, they rarely act on them. Why? Because, by definition, 'less is more' is self-limiting. It's exclusionary.

It's a decision and a commitment to focus on a few things - sometimes a very few things - in which you and your business excel. It's putting your name and skills and reputation on the line, saying that you can create global market success within parameters others would find stifling and impossible.

It's easy to expand. Locations. Products. Services. More is better. The more the merrier. More, more, more.

Yet, look, on the other hand, at Apple. Even as it expands its products and services, it imposes limitations on itself that other technology companies would never consider. That's because Steve Jobs was brave, too, even though for different reasons than Gaultier.

M. Gaultier decided that he no longer wanted - nor needed - the rough and tumble world of creating a complete fashion line every six months. That the fashion industry - particularly on the luxury side - had changed to such a degree that it simply wasn't worth it to him any longer.

In fact, because more really is more, the time and the pressures involved led him to realize that he wasn't being as creative as he wanted to and could be. Not within the strictures of the fashion year.

So he's out. What will he do instead?

That's the secret to making Less is More work. The challenge becomes to unrelentingly look for, find or create means of expanding opportunities within those self-imposed walls.

That's why the Apple Store works. And that's why Gaultier has nothing to worry about.

By making himself particularly exclusive in that oh-so-exclusive world of haute couture, he will undoubtedly find the number of his high end, personalized clients will grow. After all, they'll want - and want to show that they have - what others can't have.

At the same time, he will build out his mass market offerings in fragrances and, it's rumored, makeup and skin care - all high margin and highly aspirational. "Maybe one day haute couture," they'll think. "Maybe one day."

And the profits will roll in.

It takes a particular kind of bravery - and brilliance - to adopt and stick to Less is More. That's why so few ever do. And that's why the opportunities within that strategy are and remain exquisite.

9.16.2014

5 Key Takeaways for Business Leaders from #indyref

In less than 48 hours, an expected 90+% of Scotland's population will decide whether 24 hours later, they will be part of the United Kingdom or have independence for the first time in a few centuries.

And, just as with the celebrity culture, there's nothing like a good breakup to get lots of media attention...at least when the fights go public.

Even though the date for the Scottish Referendum was scheduled two years ago, it's only been within the last few months that the powers that be in London (specifically, the United Kingdom government and political leaders) have paid real attention to what could happen. Specifically, they could lose.

What took them so long? It never really occurred to them that that was a possibility.

Worse, once they realized that they should probably pay attention to those folks north of the border (that's England's border), they made an amazing set of mistakes that have created more problems for them, increased the possibility of loss and, frankly, play out in organizations every day.

Ever wonder why things don't quite work the way you expect? Why you're not getting the results you should be getting? Or why key people are leaving?

The answers to all of that and more are what make #indyref an excellent learning opportunity for business owners, executives and managers. Think of it as getting insider information on the cheap and without the risks...except, of course, if you keep making the mistakes.

Here's what you need to know in the order you need to know it:

1. Whatever is happening didn't start when you first saw it.

The situation: The Scots have been moving toward secession for about forty (yes, 40) years. So, while the revolving leaders in Westminster have periodically acknowledged that there's been some discontent, they never took the problem seriously enough. That's why, during the last week before the Referendum, they were caught off-guard by poll numbers that showed that they might lose.

The takeaway: Find out what's really going on in your organization on an ongoing basis. Do surveys. Take soundings. Have all-hands meetings. Use different metrics. Recognize and accept that there is discontent fomenting in your organization that needs to be identified - then be ready to take action (see No. 5).

2. Don't focus on individuals. Focus on the problems.

The situation: As the Referendum got closer, David Cameron and his government targeted Alex Salmond, the First Minister of Scotland. Rather than identifying and addressing the problems that opened the door for Mr. Salmond to make his case to his people, the London-based Government and its representatives focused on making Mr. Salmond seem a buffoon.

The takeaway: It's much easier to think that if you just remove one person from the situation, the situation will go away. It won't. In fact, if you target a person or people, it will simultaneously increase the sympathy for the 'cause' (yes, you've now got a 'cause' to deal with) and it will drive it further underground. Instead, focus on the basis of the discontent, specifically, how it began and what's going on now that helps it perpetuate and grow.

3. Fear has a short shelf-life and works against you. 

The situation: When British officials began a more comprehensive campaign, they started and continued by fear-mongering. First it was the currency. Then it was trade. Then it was membership in the EU. Even worse, they got others to join in and add their voices to how scared the Scots should be if independence occurs. Rather than making the case for why it was in the best interests for the Scottish people to remain part of the United Kingdom, they spent all their ammunition on fear. That worked - until it didn't. That's when the poll numbers shifted.

The takeaway: "A little bit of fear is a good thing" is one of those snide executive expressions that make their way around conference tables and venues far too often. It's wrong. In most cases, fear doesn't last. That's because as soon as the ones who've been frightened learn that there's either far less or even nothing to be frightened of, the tactic loses its power and some of the best people start wondering if they want to stay in the organization. Even if they do, the fear-mongering executives have lost the respect of the people on whom they depend for success - and that kills your productivity and results.

4. Don't tantalize with 'carrots.' Make and keep promises.

The situation: Once the British Government realized that the way they were campaigning wasn't working, they decided to shift the argument to what they would do for the Scots if they stay part of the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, it was too late. The same 'solutions' had been offered up in diluted forms in the past - and, worse, the solutions being promised weren't either timely or promises that any current or future Government could ensure it could keep.

The takeaway: Managers, executives and business owners too often talk a good game about what they want to do, are going to do, may do...you get the drift. That's dangerous - not least because those promises have been made before...either by you or at different organizations where your people previously worked...and weren't kept. Or perceived to be kept. Don't set unrealistic expectations. If you make a promise, keep it. If you're taking something under advisement and it comes up for discussion, tell your people exactly that as well as when you'll be able to tell them the outcome.

5. Be clear and consistent in your actions. 

The situation: To a great extent, the British Government brought their Scottish problems on themselves. Sure there was discontent among some of the Scots who wanted greater self-determination, but that was fixable. Unfortunately, through a combination of benign neglect, bad tactics and a patronizing attitude over the decades, what would have remained a small but manageable problem was allowed to escalate into what is now, literally, a world map changing event.

The takeaway: Be very clear and consistent about what you're trying to do and where you're going with your organization. Your people will help...but first they have to know why and what you need from them. Then, when they know they can trust you (see Nos. 2-4), they'll tell you what will keep you from getting there and how to fix it. Make sure you listen and act accordingly.