Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Treadmill Thoughts

"The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one's time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all." H.L. Mencken

I suppose I am not unlike most other Americans in that I undoubtedly take the freedoms that I have pretty much for granted. Not that I'm proud of it, but when I look in the mirror I have to admit that it isn't something that I go to bed at night or wake up in the morning thinking about.

That said, as I was on the treadmill at the gym this morning and watching the news and listening to the commentary surrounding our latest poster children for ego driven greed (i.e. Bernie Madoff and Allen Stanford) two thoughts kept surfacing in my mind and as they did, I kept getting madder, going faster and sweating more.

The first thought as I've already said was the anger I felt at listening yet once again to the how these two guys had betrayed the trust of others.

The second, however, was about how they had thrown away the opportunity that living in this country had given to them.

Maybe the second thought came because the 4th is this weekend when we are all reminded of just how fortunate we are to live in this country. It was this second thought that led me to the Mencken quote up top of this post.

Since I have spent my entire career in the business world, and most of that interacting with senior level business leaders, I have had my share of experience in dealing with the "scoundrels" on a personal level as well as reading and hearing about the all too many others (i.e. Ebbers, Lay et al.)

But as I was "cooling down" from my workout, and thinking about these SOBs and what they had elected to do with the freedom and opportunities that living here had given them, I thought to myself that as bad as they were and are, in terms of those who lead businesses in this country (both large and small) the over-whelming majority of them don't really need to be "regulated."

As I think the Mencken quote suggests, laws are written to try and protect the rest of us from the few who choose to use the freedom we enjoy to satisfy their own greed as opposed to using the opportunity they have been given to give back in a way that helps us to grow as a society and country.

Maybe all this sounds rediculously idealistic, however, I have certainly been around long enough to know that like it or not, we actually do need the laws and regs to protect us from the preditors. Caveat emptor hasn't been around as long as it has just because back in the day someone thought it was a clever phrase.

But even with all this "evil" surrounding us why am I optimistic? Because I really do believe that there are far more leaders out there (even lots whose first name might be Bernie or Ken) who lead their departments, divisions, SBUs and companies who have taken advantage of the freedoms we enjoy to lead in a way that make us proud to not just be part of their organization but proud as well to be a citizen of the greatest country on earth.

Enjoy your holiday.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Successful Leaders List

HSM is an organization that has a richly deserved reputation for putting together conferences that rank among the very top tier of executive education for C-Level leadership.

Last year's World Innovation Forum held in New York featured any number of A-List names, one of which was Andrew Zolli who was the closing keynote. Zolli is the founder of Z + Partners, a futures research and strategy consultancy. He also is the force behind an annual conference called Pop!Tech whose focus is on thinking, science, and technology.

To say that the business world has been searching for the Holy Grail of leadership traits, chacteristics or themes is an understatement of the first order, so when someone of Zolli's stature is willing to share some of his thoughts of the subject, it is a list worth sharing.

In his remarks, he offered up the following as the most common behaviors of successful leaders:
• Making the top of the organization accountable
• Embracing user-centered design everywhere
• Treating employees and consumers the same
• Constantly placing a lot of small bets in small increments, then managing and collapsing them
• Leveraging ambient, unused architecture
• Finding and embracing lead users
• Investing and incenting with cash
• Investing in employees before consultants and customers
• Copying existing best practices, but sparingly
• Leveraging innovations outside the company
• Embracing a portfolio management approach
• Systematically scanning for weak signals – the fringe things today that are important tomorrow
Certainly is as good as any list I've seen lately. How does it stack up against your own feelings and experience?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Work Matters

I am a fan of Robert Sutton which hardly makes me unique in that I am sure his fan base runs well into the thousands if not tens of thousands. Sutton's own blog is called Work Matters. He also writes for The Huffington Post when he is not writing books.

Sutton's latest book as most know carries the attention getting title of: The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't. If you are among those organization leaders who are always looking for the ways and means to keep moving toward a work environment where the only yelling tends to come when celebrating success, and you haven't checked this book out, put it on your summer reading list!

Anyway, the purpose of this post wasn't to flog Sutton's book but rather to point readers to his blog and a posting titled: The Asshole and Umpire. It was posted on the 15th.

Colorful language aside, it is an interesting commentary on conflict resolution and among other things helps to reinforce the time-honored rule of effective management 101: Praise in Public, Punish in Private.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Poco a poco se crusa el mar

The Fed numbers report that came out today were described by CNN Money.com as "positive signs."

Jobless claims came in at 601,000 which while a big number at least was less than the prior report. In addition, retail sales showed a gain for the first time in three months.

Eveyone has his/her own "touch points" that they watch to try and read the economic tea leaves. One of the ones we have been using since 2003 is what we call the Recruiter Confidence Index.

For those who may not be familiar with the index, it is based on a monthly survey of executive search firms conducted by ExecuNet. Designed to forecast job growth at the executive level, a reading above 50 percent indicates recruiters expect the number of search assignments in the next six months will increase. Independent analysis of the RCI has confirmed it is a leading indicator for the executive employment market.

We post the index on our public website so if you are not a member, you can still check it out by clicking here.

Better still, we have recently twisted Mark Anderson's arm (Mark is ExecuNet's President and Chief Economist) to add some of his own commentary. If that's of interest you can hear what he has to say by clicking here or by doing a search on ExecuNet on YouTube.

All of which is to say, that while things like 600,000+ are still distrubingly a lot bigger than any of us would like, and a gain for retail sales for the first time in three months is hardly the hockey stick we all would wish for, at least it is one more sign that while we have a long, long way to go, maybe we are on the right path.

Let's hope.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Another Chicken & Egg Story

When it comes to the economy it has always been about confidence (or so the talking heads tell us). To hear them tell it, it is almost like a self-fulfilling prophesy. If we as consumers think things are getting better, they get better. If we start to lose confidence, then the charts go the other way.

Every day in the papers (what few are left) or on the crawling headlines on CNBC or MSNBC not to mention tons of tweets, we get the word:

Index on pending housing sales has gone up. (yea)

Oil prices are heading up again. (boo)

Fewer banks failed this month. (yea)

Number of people filing on-going unemployment claims declines for first time since January. (yea)

Unemployment rate jumps to 9.4% (boo)

and on it goes....

So what are we to believe? Beats the hell out of me, but in case you hadn't stumbled across it yet, and since everyone likes to look at employment as a key indicator, check this out:

Recruiter Confidence Climbs To Highest Level In Eleven Months

ExecuNet's Recruiter Confidence Index (RCI) surged 16 points higher in May, as the executive search industry's outlook for the employment market improved for the third consecutive month amid signs that economic conditions are stabilizing. The RCI now stands at its highest level since June 2008.

Introduced in May 2003, the Recruiter Confidence Index is based on a monthly survey of executive search firms conducted by ExecuNet.

Designed to forecast job growth at the executive level, a reading above 50 percent indicates recruiters expect the number of search assignments in the next six months will increase. Independent analysis of the RCI has confirmed it is a leading indicator for the executive employment market
Yes, I know that the unemployment rate hit 9.4% and will likely keep going up for a while, nonetheless I am very encouraged by what our RCI is showing. Not just because it has made it back above 50, but more importantly because we firmly believe that it has proven to be a leading indicator as the copy above states.

I also know, based on our penchant for "instant" fixes, that there are still millions who are struggling to work through these tough times, and that the positive signs that we see (be they home-grown such as our own RCI data or whatever), the "good news" isn't going to happen fast enough.

Those who know me would probably tell you that I tend to be a half-empty type, but that is not my feeling at this point.

Manic? No. Euphoric? No. Feeling better? Yes. Press on, press on, press on!