unity and diversity – part 2

September 23, 2008 at 3:10 pm | Posted in Business, Professional Development | Leave a comment
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Continuing on some earlier thoughts on trying to be diverse and maintain unity…

With college football now in full swing, I can’t help but turn to my beloved sport for yet another analogy.  Football, to me, is the greatest example in sports of unity and diversity.  One team, one objective, but many different sub-teams, each with their own unique battles, all working together for a win. I think it’s pretty clear why diversity is imperative to success.  Having one person try to run everything just doesn’t work in a fast moving game — or fast moving business for that matter.  You’ve got to trust the people you put in place to make good choices.

But what of unity?  Unity avoids anarchy, inefficiency, and unhealthy internal competition by getting all those parts moving toward a common direction.  When they *know* the common direction, it actually adds a ton of morale to the individual efforts.  I’m not a big fan of hidden objectives unless they are absolutely necessary.  So the head coach needs to inform, inspire, and evaluate each of the individual units to ensure the overall objectives are being met, then work with the position coaches to make the necessary changes.

This stuff sounds so easy, but it’s anything but.  Take it for granted and odds are you will end up with inefficiencies all over the place.  Moreover, internal competitions can shred morale.  Here again, I think we’re back to people.  Communication, cooperation, energy, passion, teamwork.  These are the things that are incredibly difficult to sustain at maximum levels.  Throw in a distributed team and it can get even more challenging.  But like most things that are difficult to do, the rewards are great.

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unity and diversity

September 11, 2008 at 4:54 pm | Posted in Business | 2 Comments
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Being someone who takes a passionate (albeit EXTREMELY novice) interest in philosophy, I recognize that the relationship of unity and diversity is an age old philosophical question.  Science, too, with its search for a unifying theory wrestles engages it as well.  But one of the books I’m currently reading, D-Day by Stephen Ambrose, also has me thinking about it from a business perspective.

In one chapter, Ambrose juxtaposes two of the main leaders surrounding D-Day, Eisenhower and Rommel.  For all of the alleged “order” imposed by the Nazi’s, according to Ambrose, their command and control structure was one of “divide and rule”.  Hitler never wanted any of his commanders to be too powerful, or to have too much knowledge.  Conversely, it was stated the Eisenhower was given far more comprehensive control, which meant that he didn’t have to face many of the logistical and coordination challenges that Rommel did.  OK, made plenty of sense to me and seems rather intuitive.  Then I got to the part about how the Allied forces were planning the actual invasion.

At higher levels, the temptation to reach down to solve lower echelons’ problems was great, but it was overcome.  General de Guingand explained, “At first we tried to discover a school solution to the composition of the assault waves … but after the first training rehearsal we decided the notion of a single formula was nonsense and we let the particular assault section solve its own problem.” -p.108

So when given total control, Eisenhower and his team were smart enough to realize it was necessary to have independently running divisions making their own decisions based on their own challenges to achieve their own objectives.  In business, we face this strategical problem over and over and over again.  A lot to unpack here, but too much for a single post.  More later…

it’s not what you know… it’s what they know

August 29, 2008 at 1:16 pm | Posted in Business, Professional Development | Leave a comment
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There is a great temptation in coaching to come up with a dream playbook.  You sit for hours and hours and hours that turn into weeks that turn into months, pouring over the perfect strategies.  And in the end, you come up with some humdingers.  You put it all in the playbook, then you go to camp and intro to the kids.

The kids are talking about their girlfriends, classes, summer jobs, girlfriends, cards, and girlfriends.  And suddenly you realize that two weeks into practice, they haven’t mastered the first couple of pages. Sigh.

Over the years I started to realize I needed to spend more time figuring out what the kids could grasp versus what perfect strategies I could create.  I spent time thinking about where and why they struggle with learning certain things.  I spent a lot of time cutting and cutting and cutting anything that I didn’t think would help them win games within their physical and mental capabilities.

Just past this midyear mark, I’m starting to realize business is no different.  I need to spend more time figuring out what our teams can absorb, what they care about, why they care about it, and tailor as much strategy to fit their capabilities as possible.

CEO compensation — another perspective

August 19, 2008 at 9:49 am | Posted in Business | 1 Comment
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In a recent post, I talked about how high CEO pay looks to most non-CEOs.  But what about another point of view (though several commenters have already given some insights on the last post)?

After 5 years of coaching high school football, I knew I wanted to be a head coach someday.  I couldn’t get around the thoughts of what I would do different if it were my team.  Three seasons later, that became a reality.  A good friend who coached with me once commented, “I wouldn’t do your job for 10x the salary I get now.”  To him, the thought of parent calls, meetings, administration, legal responsibilities, mean-spirited attacks, physical threats, etc., etc., just wasn’t even remotely appealing.  To me, they were just prices that needed to be paid to perform a role that I loved.

How much more so in business, often with millions of dollars on the line?  Yes, we read about all the posh sides of the compensation, but we rarely read of the pressure, loneliness, isolation, and constant scrutiny that comes with the job.  A couple of those may surprise you, but I know from coaching and from business, that you can’t confuse phony “friendships” with real relationships, and often trying to distinguish between the two is a full-time job when you’re in power.  It is draining and full of disappointments.  After a point, the money is a way to keep score more than a means to live, so “real life” sneaks in regardless of the size of your bank account.

I know enough wealthy people, several from playing in the NFL or coaching at high levels of college or pros, to know that the old saying is true: money can’t buy happiness.  So they still face tons of pressures associated with being held ultimately responsible.  Maybe some get golden parachutes that leave them fat, dumb, and happy regardless of the companies success, but I think most do not.  And a good one — a REALLY good one — how much are they worth?  I believe it’s a mighty big number.

That said, I think the biggest concern today is that too many, effective or not, are collecting mighty big numbers without mighty big results and without having truly earned it with a proven track record.

CEO compensation

August 18, 2008 at 7:14 pm | Posted in Business | 3 Comments
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You read an article like this, and it likely will cause some sort of strong reaction. I mean, if you are not a CEO, then it is really hard to not feel a big of anger and righteous indignation creeping in. But here’s the thing, what if you ARE a CEO, or about to be a CEO? My guess is that you will feel things are just fine. And, once you are in that circle, most everyone else thinks that way as well because, by and large, they are all generally in the same tax bracket. And CEO’s are hired by boards, who are likely comprised of former or current CEOs, or at least those that run in the same circles

Mark Cuban, the iconoclastic owner of the Dallas Mavericks, has some interesting thoughts on this one. Most business folks I know think Cuban is an idiot, and liken him to a spoiled kid who fell bass ackwards into a lot of money. Even if that’s true, we should not commit the logical fallacy of Argumentum ad Hominem, which is basically a rejection of an argument by assaulting someone’s character. As I read his post, I think he has an interesting take when he basically says the gap in compensation exists between CEO and “regular worker” because they are of a different type altogether.

The problem is, the self-feeding machine is now running and many companies have CEO’s with almost no tie to corporate disaster (as seen in the mortgage industry collapse where many CEO’s walked away with 10’s of millions while shareholders and employee 401K’s became worthless). But how do you stop it? Which Board of a high profile company is going to say, “Nah, we’ll go hire on the cheap” and not pay the going rate with the same conditions? Are we going to try and legislate it? I sure hope not, because I just don’t think that has ever worked well in a free-market economy.

More thoughts on this one later, with maybe some perspective from the other side.

be ready to walk alone

August 14, 2008 at 7:33 am | Posted in Business, Professional Development | 2 Comments
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Having friends and a support network is great. The benefits are too many to list in simple blog post. But today I was thinking about the opposite situation. The times when you simply need to be prepared to walk alone.

I’ve often heard folks get very disappointed when nobody “has their back” during a controversial decision or discussion. Just recently, I sent out an email in response to something from our CEO. He initially sent it to about 20 people. I responded to the entire list with my thoughts, and five people supported me. Privately. That is, they responded to me directly with things like, “Way to go, big man!” or “I couldn’t agree more” but nobody posted that to the group. Within a day, I had the exact same thing happen to me again.

My first thoughts on them not backing me publicly were probably pretty typical, but then I realized, hey, it’s OK. In fact, it’s an opportunity. Along with the 1,304,102 other cliche’s coaches use is the one that says “Great accomplishments never come without great adversity.” It is risky to walk alone sometimes, but like most things, that risk can bring great reward — or great failure. Either way, if your convictions are strong, sometimes you can’t worry about who’s willing to do step out there with you.

5 tips for the dreaded teleconference presentation

August 11, 2008 at 9:24 am | Posted in Business, Professional Development | 2 Comments
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I hate teleconferences because I can’t visually read the audience. Recently we opted for a teleconference on an important meeting. One of my coworkers (who also had to present) IM’d me during the call and said, “I think this is great… keeps us focused.” Good thing he wasn’t in smacking distance.

For me, telepresentations are just about the worst-case scenario. But, as I thought it about it more, he had fairly easy news to deliver, whereas mine involved far more challenging topics. Had the roles been reversed, perhaps our reactions would have been as well.

Regardless, sometimes phone presentations are unavoidable. Here are some tactics I have used in the past that seem to be helpful.

1) Pause. A lot. Give folks time to respond. You can’t believe how often you pause in a normal conversation because of visual cues. Without them, you have to force yourself to do it.

2) Use a headset, or handset, if possible. Speakerphones are a nightmare for presentations. I probably don’t even need to elaborate on this one.

3) Don’t ask “can you hear me OK?” Here’s a better approach. Take a minute up front to talk on your handset, and then use the alternative (headset, speaker, whatever) Let them know what you’re doing, then ask them if it’s OK to use your preferred method. They may say, “oh, dude, you NEED to use the handset.” or they’ll say, “nah, you’re fine either way.” I hate handsets too, but bad audio can KILL your presentation.

4) Use personal names. Jot them down and use them often. Instead of asking, “Does that make sense?”, try saying, “Christian, does that make sense to you?” Hearing your name zaps you back into the conversation (and away from email, or blackberry, or Olympic results on the Internet, or whatever). Do it enough, and folks start paying attention.

5) Ask questions that require a thoughtful response (and use someone’s name!). “Everyone OK with that?” is too vague and can be processed way on the back burner by the listener. But, “Andy, do you prefer we do A, or would you like to try B?” Or, you could say, “Andy, what possible downside do you see if we do A?” That requires the person to focus.

By using some of these techniques, you’ll quickly be able to tell how engaged your audience is, and then adapt accordingly.

when the boss parachutes in

August 6, 2008 at 7:35 am | Posted in Business, Professional Development | Leave a comment
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Here is something that I both do, and hate, depending on which side of the org chart I happen to be on at the time: the parachute mission. I haven’t been involved with the details of a product for several months and then suddenly, for any number of reasons, I want to use it so I download it and dive in. I immediately have about 500 things I would like to see done differently and I can hear the collective sigh of my team from around the globe. Everyone from developers to PM’s to marketing folks are likely muttering, “here we go again.” Why do I think that? Because I often have that same initial reaction when our CEO packs his chute and descends into something I’m working on!

Here is a great one that you may have already seen by Bill Gates. I’ve tried over the last year especially to not let my first reaction be defensive. I try to look at as if it was direct user feedback, but a user who is not in our typical profile. I find that more often than not, there is something really valuable in the parachute mission.

if a tree CHANGES in the forest…?

July 24, 2008 at 5:46 pm | Posted in Business, Professional Development | Leave a comment
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we’ve all heard the question: “If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is around to hear it, does it still make a sound?” Today I was in a discussion with a colleague around some strategic changes we made that reminded me of that old question. (OK, the analogy is going to be a stretch, but it did remind me of it, and it’s a catchy title.) We knew during our planning that the changes made at the start of the year would make year-over-year comparisons pointless on a particular set of metrics — but we all get used to seeing data in patterns and love those tried and true metrics. Especially executives.

Predictably, our metric is down YoY (as planned) but we were challenged: “if the metric is down, you must be doing something worse.” My colleague is frustrated and tired of trying to educate, and reeducate, everyone on the fact that the YoY metrics are NOT going to be meaningful, and oh by the way, that trusted metric might be, in fact, down a lot MORE had we not made a change. And there’s the rub.

Proving what something *would* have done (for better or worse) had a change not been made is an impossible task because it’s too easy to throw one hypothetical after another to either support or refute any reason for the change. How should we prepare for that? What challenges should we be prepared to answer? Sounds like a few good topics for future posts.

the software supermarket

July 22, 2008 at 2:33 pm | Posted in Business, Technology Trends | 1 Comment

I was discussing with a colleague the other day some of the trials and tribulations of modern-day software sales folks. Basically, it ain’t like it was 15 years ago. As my grandmother said — and she has been quoted by so many — the Internet has changed everything!

Years ago selling groceries was much like selling anything else. It was about relationships. You walked into a store and were met by the grocer who then took you around the place and helped fill your basket. He was a consultant as much as a grocer. “Mable, this syrup here is made from some mighty fine ingredients…” and the fact that it might be 15 cents higher disappears. And, there was probably only one or two other syrups to choose from. Then came the revolution. Folks started shopping BY THEMSELVES. Shelves had the selections lined up right against each other. Decision making was largely relegated to outside the store via branding and advertising. The “grocer” now just checked you out at the cash register.

Sound familiar? About 10 years ago, you could see the barrier to entry starting to fall rapidly in the software market. Infrastructures and frameworks took dev times from years to months.  eStores made buying simple and brought every product known to man into one tidy search results screen. Then the “try before you buy” model kicked in, and just like that, the “traditional” role of the sales rep disappeared.

Software is getting much, much harder to “sell.” It has to be “pulled” by the customer in many respects, not “pushed” from the vendor. And, nowadays, even large, complicated software systems once thought too large to be touched are falling prey to the same problems due to SaaS and (soon to be very popular) Cloud computing. Software sales reps are still vital to the equation, but in my opinion, their job is now harder than ever. The best ones will become consultants as much as sales reps, or they will gravitate to selling “services,” which for now at least, still maintains the characteristics of relationship selling.

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