Friday, March 28, 2008

What You Are Is Where You Were When

Even with all the doom, gloom, and general depression surrounding the state of education in this country, one of the the things that helps me to feel there may still be some hope is the quality of the writing that I continue to stumble upon in many of the blogs I come across.

One of these that I have followed with admiration for quite a while is What Would Dad Say? which is the domain of GL Hoffman, who describes himself as follows:

A baby boomer dad rambles on about the workplace, recruiting, jobs, startups and anything else mildly amusing.
I know I am probably well behind the learning curve here in terms of those who have already discovered Hoffman's musings, but in case you haven't, add me to those who would suggest you are missing something if you haven't check him out.

It was in reading one of GL's recent posts that he sang the praises of a twentysomething blogger named Jacqui Tom whose blog is called The OfficeNewb. Jacqui describes herself thusly:

Jacqui Tom (aka “The Office Newb”) is a young professional working her way up the corporate ladder. A graduate of the University of Washington - Seattle, Jacqui launched her career with internships at AOL (America Online) and, Inc. Currently a web editor at an internet publisher, Jacqui has been moving steadily through the ranks to become the company’s youngest supervisor.

Typing furiously from her cubicle, she shares lessons about life, business and everything in between.
This young lady has a way with words as well, and "listening" to her and "Dad" exchange views on the differences between the boomers and the Gen Y world I found interesting as well as entertaining; two things that don't always come packaged together.

It reminded me of a guy named Morris Massey who in the 80s (I think) produced a series of videos called What You Are Is Where You Were When. In the age of PPT and streaming video, etc., watching Morris make magic with his white board marker was still pretty effective as he helped people understand why your parents might not see things quite the way you do. Of course the fact that one really couldn't relate to the differences until you were an "adult" yourself was a bit of a bummer, but still it was good info to have.

As a manager, all of this also reminded me an answer that I gave in an interview some years ago when I was asked what area of the HR function did I think was the most important? My answer was something like "Well, if you told me I only had a $1 to spend and I could only spend it on one thing, I would spend it on communications."

I haven't changed my mind.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Talk About Teamwork

I usually post on business and leadership related topics, and maybe this is a bit of a stretch, but when you think about it, the ability of the rider and horse to communicate team up with each other as they clearly do here speaks volumes about the power of communication and the building of trust. When those two things come together, excellence results.

As business leaders I think each of us knows on an intellectual level the degree to which it takes commitment and discipline to get to and achieve our goals. We also know how important it is for us to be able to communicate both plan and execution to our teams. And when we are able to accomplish this well, we all have a vision of what the outcome will look and feel like.

When a friend sent me this video it made me think that this was as good a way to visualize the result of teamwork as anything I had seen in a long time.

To be honest, I really don't know what the name of this sort of competition is, but the fact that the announcers are Brits suggests that it is certainly something that is popular in the UK and probably in Europe as well, but whatever it's called, it's impressive to say the least.

Check it out:

Where Have You Gone Joe DiMaggio?

I guess with the title of this post I am showing my age, but what the heck, if you didn't see the movie (i.e. The Graduate for those who might not recognize the line) , it's well worth it no matter what your age.

I picked the line from the Simon and Garfunkel song because it is a line that laments the loss of ideals and values and seeks guideance from a "leader." Even in the context of the movie, it isn't that much of a stretch to translate the message to the corporate and/or political arena and the headlines we unfortunately see all too often.

If you asked around our office here at ExecuNet, anyone will tell you that I am not a Yankee fan, but when our days become as filled with Bear Stearns and Spitizer as they have recently, it is understandable that there are indeed lots of folks who are wondering where Joe D went.

With all that in mind, maybe that is part of the reason I was so struck by a quote attributed to Jeff Immelt of GE that I have had tacked up on my bulletin board ever since I found it.

When I see it, especially after hearing about some other CEO taking a "perp" walk, it helps to remind me that as disappointing as all that stuff is, there are far more leaders who understand what Immelt is saying and do all they can to build organizations where what he suggests represents the cultures they believe in.

If you have not seen this quote before, if it resonates with your value system, maybe you'll find a spot for it on your bulletin board too.

Manage by setting boundaries with freedom in the middle.

“The boundaries are commitment, passion, trust and teamwork. Within those guidelines, there’s plenty of freedom. But no one can cross those four boundaries.”
Jeff Immelt, CEO, General Electric

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Realizing an Organization's Potential

One of the most gratifying things for me in being a part of ExecuNet is the chance I have every day to learn from other members. You can say what you want to about "senior managers" but the fact is that experience is indeed the best teacher and when you get a lot of people willing to share those experiences with their peers, it can be very powerful stuff. It is not only intellectually very stimulating, but on a practical level "learnings" that we all can use as we manage on a day to day basis.

We get these "learnings" from members in a number of different ways but one of the most potent is the online roundtable discussion groups. In the past week or two, we have had a fascinating discussion going on amongt our General Management group on the subject of what one can do to help an organization realize its potential. Pretty important topic since that is usually the charge when management changes are made.

Andy Kankula is one of our members who has been participating in this discussion and in adding his two cents he shared a list of 12 "learnings" that he felt were the keys his succeding. In his case, it was in turning around a major business unit in South America.

If you were looking for a one page list of how to go about managing the kind of change it takes to move an organizaiton forward, what you see below is as good a list as I had seen for a long time. I asked Andy if I could share it here, and I hope that readers here will be as grateful to him as I am for his willingness to let me use it. In doing so, he was quick to point out that his list was not original to him but rather his summary of things that he "learned" from others over the years, all of which just makes me all the more gratified to be part of a group where helping each other is what the roundtable groups are all about in the first place.

Andy's List

1. Brutal honesty and identification of the problems and why the problem exists. This needs to be done without blaming anyone.

2. Simple messages that create a vision and path forward. These messages should define the discipline and should be easy for people to remember.

3. Consistent metrics that relate to tasks that need to be achieved and the goals of the business.

4. Continual feedback about performance expectations.

5. As a leader be confident in your direction and your communication of expectations.

6. Recoginize where and what your peoples capabilities are; define their strengths and exploit them, identify their weaknesses and minimize them. Develop and improve competencies right down to the production floor.

7. Understand your customer and why they buy from you; position your products and services to maximize profitability.

8. Keep asking questions about why we do things the way we do until you get to the point no one can give you a good logical answer. It is at this time people are ready to ask the question " what's the best way to do this...?"

9. Once the discipline is established stick to it and do not waiver unless someone can demonstrate logically why we should detour.

10. At every milestone poor on the praise for the successes and identify what we could have done differently for future revision. And always keep the expectations high.

11. Create good succession plans so that people understand the possible rewards for good performance and development of their capabilities.

12. Plan your own departure to give those that have contributed to the success the opportunity to lead in the future.
Andy closed out his remarks to the other members of the roundtable with this:
After reading all the excellent input its appears very easy to write what makes each of us successful in our own situations. Living it and fighting your doubts and or the doubts of others as they wait for the results of your efforts is the hard part. You always have to ask yourself " am I doing all the right things for the right reasons?..." I think that if you can answer yes to that question you can trust your own direction through many Shakespearean "dark nights".
Any executive knows exactly what he means!

Saturday, March 01, 2008

I Care Therefore I Am?

I have noticed over the past few weeks that Kent Blumberg has started to post more frequently after pausing for a bit as he ramped up his coaching practice. Glad to see it.

Last week he had an entry titled: Teasing out core values in an interview in which he cited Phil Gerbyshak who co-authors a blog called Slacker Manager and Steve Roesler who blogs at All Things Workplace. As Kent said, and I would certainly agree, both are URLs well worth putting on your list of favorites.

In any case, this most recent post caught my attention because it was focused on one of the most if not the most significant challenge facing every hiring manager - how to really try and identify what an individual's value system is all about.

How important is value system when it comes to bringing someone into your organization? In my mind, the word critical only scratches the surface. Skills as they say can be taught, attitude can't, and attitude is driven by value systems instilled in us all by our parents with life experience added for good measure.

So how does one ferret out values? Read Kent’s post and I think you'll pick up a couple of good hints based on the insights that Kent has pulled together.

No time? Okay, then the one word answer is passion. If I am passionate about something the argument is that the passion is tied to my values.

Works for me. Does it work for you?