Monday, June 30, 2008

Defragging Our Minds

We all (or at least Windows people) know that it's necessary to defrag our hard disks every once in a while. Fragmented hard drives run much slower---I've had some that are so fragmented they barely get work done. You can hear the little sucker whirring away, seems like there is a lot going on, but in the end the system slows down to getting very little done.

I'm in my office, frustrated that my computer has slowed down so much, our computer guy told me to defrag the drive. As the computer is doing it's thing, it struck me that people are a lot like computer hard drives. Sometimes we get too many things going on---driven by too many interruptions. We get so many things going on, we eventually get to the point where we get no work done. We are so fragmented, that while there is activity, there is virtually no output.

Every once in a while we need to defrag our minds. We need to examine what we are doing, how interruptions drive our behavior and the impact on what we accomplish. We're constantly connected, always on, and multitasking. There's lots of activity but are we really accomplishing things.

Defragging our minds is tough, but there are some simple things to start:

1. Reduce your dependency on email, messaging, mobile phones, twitter and other technologies that reinforce interruptions.
2. Empty your in box. Even if you can't reduce your dependency on email, at least empty your inbox--it's amazing what that accomplishes.
3. Identify your 2 highest priority tasks and schedule time to complete them (or move them significantly forward).
4. Consider going some place where people can't find you (another part of the building, your local library, some place where you can think and work without distraction).
5. Schedule time to catch up on your reading---both business and recreational reading. It clears your mind, gives you a different perspective and broadens your views.
6. Schedule some exercise or meditation time. Refreshing your body refreshes your mind.

It's a start, the most important thing is to keep it up, otherwise, it's amazing how quickly you get fragmented and lose your effectiveness.

Now, I only have to think about that other thing my computer guy told me------memory leaks.

Distracted: The Erosion of Attention And The Coming Dark Age

As a person who constantly rails against the levels of multitasking most of us have fallen victim to, I was intrigued by a new book: Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age by Maggie Jackson.

I have just had the opportunity to quickly skim it, and think it is an important book to read. It seems well researched, presenting data on the impact of multitasking and our inability to focus. It projects a dire future---I'm not sure I quite buy into that---but will re-read.

Technology has provided us wonderful means of staying in touch. It provides us access to oceans of information. We all have wonderful tools.

However, in leveraging these tools, it seems we may have lost sight of what they are supposed to help us do. They should help us get more done----yet because of our inability to focus, our willingness to succumb constantly to interruptions, we seem to get less done. They are to help us make better decisions, yet it seems that we have less wisdom or knowledge.

In our fast moving, bullet point focused worlds, it will be hard to sit down and read this book, but it is worth the time----and the reflection.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Only The Paraonoid Survive

I've always loved this book by Andy Grove of Intel. Just seeing the title on the bookshelf in my office has often caused me to reflect on things, take my blinders off, and build contingencies.

I just read an article in Fortune on "(Bill) Gates' Golden Rules." One really struck me: Institutionalize Paranoia. Ray Ozzie is quoted, "Bill and Steve created what I guess I'd characterize as a culture of crisis. There's always someone who's going to take the company down. It's mythical, but at any given point in time, there might be two or three big competitive things that the company is juggling. It's something people here are used to, and it's accretive in terms of making things more resilient over time."

The notion of an institutionalized culture of crisis making people and organizations more resilient is very powerful. We have seen too many organizations/people become complacent. Many complacent in their success. Others just satisfied to muddle along. Others oblivious or blaming others.

As I reflect, most of the high performance organizations I have been involved in have a healthy sense of paranoia or crisis. It seems to keep the creativity high, the energy and activity levels high and drive performance.

As with anything, anything taken to excess can be destructive. There are many examples of taking the notion of paranoia too far. Those that don't like the concept of institutionalized crisis will pull out those examples to refute the idea. Many will undoubtedly use Microsoft itself as a prime example of things gone wild.

With all that taken into consideration, I will generally side with the Paranoid.

Finally, I remember someone telling me, just because you are paranoid, doesn't mean something isn't out to get you!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Ultimate Question --- Finding Your Sweet Spot

The Harvard Management Update is recycling an interesting article entitled "Find Your Sweet Spot." It's a quick read and refresher around Fred Reichheld's work in "The Ultimate Question." I am such a fan of this approach to segmenting customers, that I wanted to provide the link to the article. It's a good reminder to a great practice.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

To AT&T Wireless: I apologize for not being the ideal customer, I'll try to do better!

My mobile phone died. I did the logical thing, I called AT&T Wireless (my vendor of about 15 years) to get a new phone. Below is just part of my experiences:

Dave: My phone broke, I'd like to order a new one, can you help me.
Agent 1: I'd be delighted to help......your account indicates you are eligible for an upgrade by extending your contract for 2 years.
Dave: OK, I'd like to get the Nokia XXX in Black.
Agent 1: Nice choice. I can get you a brand new one in Black. After your mail-in rebate, it will be free! Should I place that order?
Dave: Yes, that would be great, how soon can I get the phone?
Agent 1: I'm sorry, I just noticed that your account is handled by a different group. I'd be glad to transfer you to that group, they can take the order and send you the new phone. Here is the information you need to give them...... I'll transfer now, if it is OK.
Agent 2 (Heavy Indian Accent): How can I help you?
Dave: I was talking to another agent about ordering a new phone, they said your department handled my account. Can you help me?
Agent 2 (Heavy Indian Accent): I would be glad to help you.... Let me look at your account.... You are eligible for an upgrade.... What phone would you like?
Dave: I would like the Nokia XXX in Black.
Agent 2 (Heavy Indian Accent): I can get you a refurbished version of that phone in Black, after rebates it will be free.
Dave: No, I want a new one, the other agent said I could get a new Nokia XXX in Black.
Agent 2 (Heavy Indian Accent): I can get you a new phone for $20, but I cannot get it to you in Black, we have no inventory.
Dave: I'm confused, the previous agent was said it would be free and she had plenty of inventory in Black. Why can't I get a new Nokia XXX in Black? For free---after rebates?
Agent 2 (Heavy Indian Accent): I can get you a re-furbished Nokia XXX in Black for free.
Dave: No you don't understand, I want a new Nokia XXX in Black and I was told it would be free after rebates.
Agent 2 (Heavy Indian Accent): I am trying to help you. I can get you a new Nokia XXX, but not in Black and it will cost you $20 after rebates. The new Nokia XXX's in Black are available for free to new customers opening new 2 year contracts.
Dave (getting a little angry): Wait a minute, let me understand. If I were a brand new customer, I could get a new Nokia XXX in Black for free?
Agent 2 (Heavy Indian Accent): Yes, but for you, I can only sell you a new Nokia XXX in a different color for $20----after you extend your current contract for another 2 years.
Dave (hovering between anger and sarcasm): Let me understand, I have been a customer of yours for 15 years, I am extending my contract for 2 years, and I can't get the same deal that a brand new customer getting a 2 year contract can get?
Agent 2 (Heavy Indian Accent): Yes, that is correct. Which phone would you like to order?
Dave (past anger, heavy on sarcasm): I don't understand this, apparently new customers are more valuable than current customers.
Agent 2 (Heavy Indian Accent): I am trying to help you.....
Dave (heavy on sarcasm): Tell you what, I am currently not under a contract. I'd like to cancel my current account and open a new account, transferring my current number to the new account and getting a brand new Nokia XXX for free--after rebates.
Agent 2 (Heavy Indian Accent): I don't understand..... You can't cancel your account..... I am trying to help you.....
Dave: You are helping me. You have told me that new customers get a better deal than old customers---doing the exactly the same thing. You have told me that new customers are more important than customers who have been loyal to you for 15 years. I got it...... Now I'd like to cancel my account and open a new one.
Agent 2 (Heavy Indian Accent): That doesn't make sense, you need to keep your old account. You don't understand, I am trying to help you.....
Dave (about ready to blow up): Can you give me a new Nokia XXX in Black for free after rebates and through extending my current account/contract 2 years?
Agent 2 (Heavy Indian Accent): No, I can give you a refurbished Black Nokia XXX for free with the contract extension. The new Black Nokia XXX's are reserved for new customers, I can't even sell that to you. But I am trying to help you......
Dave (very heavy sarcasm): I now understand, you have been very helpful. You have told me new customers are much more important than current (15 year) customers. I get it...... Do you have the number for Verizon...... I'm opening a brand new account with them.

In fairness to AT&T all the wireless service providers are equally bad-----or arrogant. I fully understand the concept of "subsidized" phones and the need to open/extend contract business. I also understand the concept of churn and the economic consequences of churn to the vendors. Yet the service providers' policies actually encourage churn and reinforce customers moving from provider to provider in a regular 2 year migration.

It's a shame, there are much better ways to do things---both in serving the customers and in driving profitability.

More Tuned In

I received a thoughtful reply to my review of Tuned In from Craig Stull. It takes courage to reply to an negative review. Below are Craig's comments and my response.

"Hi Dave,

I just read your review of our book and I would like to thank your for carefully reading the book and taking the time to review it. Although you seemed a little apologetic about some of your comments, we understand where you are coming from. We intentionally wrote the book to address senior levels of management so we focused on “what” needed to be done as opposed to “how.” We have been teaching the “how” for 15 years and realize that, just for the technology industry, it takes over five days of lecture and workshops to drill down into that level.

We considered a deeper level of detail but felt that the book would join the legions of other academic books. We wanted a book that was approachable, practical, and, of course, pragmatic! We wanted to create a book that was a quick read but could convey the concepts of what we evangelize. Details on how to execute the six steps will have to come later through various forms of deliverables.

Again, thanks for taking the time to review Tuned In.

All the best,

Craig Stull
Pragmatic Marketing, Inc."

My response:

"Craig: Thank you for your note! I appreciate you taking the time and having the courage to respond. I will update my review to reflect your comments.

Just my view----I work with the top executives of global 500 companies on a daily basis. Most of the executives I work with have been very successful, are bright, and intellectually grasp the issues. The core issues you raise in Tuned In have been in the literature for years. Few executives I work with are not already aware of the what (though some reminders help.) They struggle with the how. They struggle with inspiring their people in executing the how. I believe there is a space somewhere between your coverage, an academic tome, and 5 days of lecture that can provide greater value to these execs.

I have seen some evidence, even through short papers, on focused topics (e.g. “going beyond the interview to discover customer needs before they are aware of the need”) to have an impact and resonate with executives.

Knowing your work, I had hoped you would address that space.

Thanks for taking the time to write. My best wishes to you and your colleagues for the success of your book. I hope you write a sequel on the how---that’s one I can get behind. Regards, Dave"

Monday, June 23, 2008

Tuned In --- Almost Tuned Out

I have mixed feelings writing about "Tuned In" by Craig Stull, Phil Myers, and David Scott. I had extremely high expectations of the book---I have such respect for the work they have done. I read their blog, listened to webinars, and waited eagerly for my copy. They recently sent be a proof version, which I read the first evening I received it.

Unfortunately, the book is very disappointing. They have an outstanding, though not original, set of premises, but their coverage is superficial. As one review stated, they seem to focus more on "sound bites" than on substantive exploration of the points they make.

They start by talking about "Tuned In" companies and leaders, seeking to understand their customer's problems, creating products/services that "resonate." Not a novel concept -- they use the term resonate, another famous consultant uses "Wow," and there are countless other terms used in the literature. But that's acceptable, everyone has their own terminology they want to leverage.

They further go on to discuss the concepts being easy to understand, but the challenge comes in the execution--this is where organizations fail to be "Tuned In." I am expecting the rest of the book to focus in some level of detail about how to execute the principles. This is where the book falls far short of my expectations.

The authors never dive deeply into the issues, giving insight on how they or Tuned In organizations have addressed the issues. For example, they state you have to understand your customers' problems--both stated and unstated--suggesting interviews to discover this. Correctly, they state it is difficult in an interview to understand unstated problems, but fail to go in depth into how you might discover these.

As another example, they state that greatest opportunities are not likely to lie with your current customers, but with potential customers. A chart in the book shows roughly 70% of the opportunity lies with these potential customers (how they came up with that chart is not supported). To cap it all off, their discussion of the importance of potential customers is 8 sentences long -- through the rest of the book they remind you to talk to these, but never assess in depth. Where is the substantive discussion of this premise? Where are the results of the 1000's of people they claimed to have interviewed?

I could go on with countless examples of lost opportunities to provide real substance, useful to all business leaders. My intent, however, is not to bash the book.

I feel terrible about this review--perhaps my expectations were too high---but a lot of the PR around this book set expectations very high. I have tried to find some redeeming value to the book, wanting to help in some way, but am honestly struggling. Some possibilities:
  • The concepts are interesting, though not novel. However, I find it interesting to see different people's take on the issues. I always learn something.

  • The examples are interesting--very superficial, but it is interesting to hear how companies apply some of these principles.

  • Because the treatment is superficial, it is a very fast read--so you don't have to invest a whole lot of time. The most useful thing is the summary at the end of each chapter.

  • You can get the key points of the book by reading the stuff available at the web site and in related materials. You may want to consider that alternative.

  • It's only $18.45 at Amazon. If you aren't in a hurry, wait a few months, I'm sure a lot of used copies will come available.
If the authors happen to see this, my apologies. My expectations, based on my respect for your work may have been too high. I know you labored hard on the book. I know there is a lot more substance you could have presented---substance that could be very meaningful to all readers--I wish you had taken the time to present it.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

What We Can Learn From Piranha (or at least the myth of the Piranha)

Virtually every major animal has been used as a metaphor in explaining success in business. We have Elephants, Eagles, Leopards, Bulls and Bears, Lions, and Tigers- Oh My! We have Purple Cows, Monkey Business, Black Swans, Swimming With Sharks, and Top Dogs. Blue Oceans encompass lots of animals! I have even heard sales people referred to as Snakes.

It seems the little Piranha has been under appreciated in business. I'd like to advocate the study of this fish and applying it's success principles to business. For example:

Much has been said about "Eating the Elephant." You can't eat the elephant in a few bites. It strikes me the Piranha is terribly efficient. They take lots of little bites---but they do so incessantly, and furiously. In a short time, taking lots of little bites, rather than a few large ones, they devour something huge. Maybe if we executed our strategies by taking lots of little bites or little steps, but executed them furiously we can accomplish very big goals.

Piranha are most effective in working in teams. Working by themselves, they can't eat very much--though a single bite can be very painful. In fact research indicates some vulnerability, particularly to larger predators. Working in teams or "shoals," they are tremendously effective. As mentioned before, they can devour large objects very quickly. Working in teams, they can also defend themselves against large predators. It seems as though there is a business lesson or two that can be derived from this.

There are problems--Piranha have been reported to eat their mates and children---I'm having trouble drawing a positive business analogy from this---I'll think about it a little.

I'll be thinking about this---I know business needs just one more animal metaphor!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Eleven Characteristics Of Critical Thinkers

Several days ago, commented on the topic of "Why Managers Don't Think Deeply." Apparently, based on responses I received, there is some interest in this topic. I thought it would be worthwhile to share some characteristics of critical thinkers.
  1. Have a passion for clarity, precision, accuracy, relevance, consistency, logical-ness, completeness, and fairness.
  2. Are sensitive to ways in which critical thinking can be skewed by egocentrism, wishful thinking, biases, and ignorance.
  3. Are intellectually honest with themselves, acknowledging their limitations and lack of knowledge.
  4. Listen open-mindedly to opposing points of view, welcoming criticisms of beliefs and assumptions.
  5. Base their views on facts and evidence rather than on self interest.
  6. Are aware of biases and preconceptions that shape they way they perceive the world.
  7. Think independently and are not afraid to disagree with the group opinion.
  8. Are able to get to the heart of an issue or problem without being distracted by details.
  9. Have the courage to consider ideas that may challenge their own position or beliefs.
  10. Love truth and are curious about a wide range of issues.
  11. Have the intellectual honesty to pursue insights or truths, despite obstacles or difficulties.

(I have adapted these from a lecture given by Zaid Ali Alsagoff of Unitar.)

Colin Powell Lessons On Leadershiip

I just ran across this on Slideshare. It's a bit dated, but still interesting and a good reminder on leadership.
A presentation given by former Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell regarding leadership and victory in business and life.

SlideShare Link

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Quiet Time--Break Away From Email, Phones, Blackberry's

Interesting article in today's New York Times: Lost In E-Mail, Tech Firm Face Self-Made Beast. The article examines efforts by many companies to understand the impact of constant interruptions on productivity.

Companies are finding tremendous results in forcing people to stop distractions for a period of time each day, devoting that time to thinking or getting real work done (such a concept!). The article cited a Basex study which placed the impact in lost productivity in the U.S. due to distractions at more than $650 billion annually!

Take the time to read the article.

Better yet, everyday, try to take at least one hour off---don't check email, don't answer the phone (landline or mobile), don't use your Blackberry, don't surf the web, don't sit in a meeting. Use the time to think, prioritize, or get some real work done. You'll be amazed at what you accomplish.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Why Don't Managers Think Deeply

Today, the Harvard Business Review Working Knowledge Newsletter and Art Petty On Management had complementary articles on Why Don't Managers Think Deeply? It's a fascinating topic that should concern all leaders. Both are worth reading, and, dare I say, thinking about.

I'd like to add some of my own opinions about why manager's don't think deeply:
  • People confuse form with substance: Brilliant presentations, PowerPoint's, or "hot programs" may be attractive and create a lot of interest, but many have no depth beyond the bullet point on the chart. People haven't really thought about what the strategy and the most effective means of execution. People don't get into deep discussions about the issues or alternatives.
  • Activity trumps results and effectiveness: We. particularly American business professionals, have a bias to activity. We see nothing wrong with Ready, Fire, Aim. The activity is often unfocused, aimless, and ineffective. We are often to busy with our activities to take the time to think.
  • Activity can be mistaken for accountability: "Busy people must be doing important things and producing good results." In reality, busy people may be busy people, but "busyness" does not necessarily mean a lot is being accomplished. The greatest sin made in the name of "busyness" is multitasking--we simultaneously sit in a meeting, process our emails, text message on our phones, and think about what we want to do on the weekend. This keeps us from focusing on what we must do.
  • Thinking---at least results focused thinking-- forces us to make choices. It forces us to commit to a course of action and to execute it. Many people are afraid to commit to a course of action. It is better to react or do nothing than it is to commit to something and to be held accountable.
  • Thinking deeply is messy hard work. It is difficult to reduce it to a bullet point. It is demanding and takes time---but time spent thinking doesn't look like activity. The results aren't pretty and can sometimes be complicated to present and get others to support.
  • Thinking deeply requires the ability to integrate and synthesize. Some people just aren't good at this--but it is critical for leaders.
  • Thinking deeply isn't rewarded in a lot of organizations. It's hard to measure, consequently hard to reward. Thinking takes away from "busyness." it's easier to measure and reward activities.
  • Thinking deeply may be threatening to senior executives. Senior executives who don't take the time or have difficulty thinking deeply about issues will, justifiably, feel threatened by subordinates that take the time to think before acting.

And I could go on, but enough for now. I would be remiss though, if I didn't look at some of the downsides of thinking deeply. I have encountered people in business who are deep thinkers, yet who cannot translate the results of their thinking into meaningful action.

Deep thinking must be accompanied my meaningful---thoughtful action. Without this it is never tested and the results are never produced.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Meetings, Meetings, Meetings!?#?!!%&*

"A person's stature in business is measured by the number of meetings on their agenda!" Sometimes I actually believe people think this is true. I see too many people participating in too many meetings---that accomplish absolutely nothing!

The problem is worse in today's "always available" global business environment. People are always on, conference calls, and other "meetings" consume our lives. I recently did an informal audit of a number of clients and found many scheduling meetings from 5:00AM through midnight! I also found, that during this 19 hour period, many were in meetings for as many as 12 hours during that time.

The meeting is not an end--it is a means. Increasingly, I believe meetings should be the last alternative we choose to get things done.

I was struck today by Fred Wilson's A VC Blog. He outlines some guidelines to managing "Unproductive" Meetings. They included (with very liberal interpretation by me):
  • Limit the length of time up front--keep it short.
  • Have a hard stop that you enforce.
  • Set an agenda at the start of the meeting. Here I disagree with Fred a little. I think the agenda should be set and distributed before a meeting. If I possibly have the option, I do not attend meetings where an agenda has not be pre-distributed.
  • Don't say yes to every request that is made.
  • Do it right in the meeting, if you can: Here Fred is referring to quick emails or phone calls. We all know that "to-dos" don't get done. Those that can be accomplished by emails or calls, I do immediately.
  • Ask the person who called the meeting to follow up: Have them send the notes with what is being requested or has been committed. If they don't, then it can't be important.
I'd add some other rules that help me:
  • All meetings should be held in rooms without chairs.
  • Never-never-never order coffee or other refreshments for a meeting. Consider not allowing refreshments---even water brought into a meeting. People's thirst of caffeine addictions will keep meetings short.
  • Any presentations should be distributed as position papers beforehand. People should be required to review these before hand so that you can use the meeting time to get things done. Lou Gerstner used a variation of this technique very effectively at IBM. If a participant has not reviewed the materials before the meeting, then they don't get to speak.
  • If decisions are to be made, make sure these are clearly identified in the agenda.
  • Decide what the meeting is about and keep it focused on that one thing. Is it an informational meeting? Is it a decision-making meeting? It can't be both.
  • No multitasking involved--if you are at the meeting, be In The Meeting! No email, except at the end to do follow ups. No phones except at the end, No blackberry's or anything else. If those are more important, don't waste your time and those of others in the meeting.
  • Calculate a cost to each meeting, make sure there is a positive ROI to meetings. For consultants, time is money--I am very sensitive about my time. Assess the investment in time (on a fully burdened cost basis) that each person is making in the meeting. Is the time justifiable?

The most important thing is block large portions of your time for yourself. You need time to think about what you are doing. You need time to to the work. You need time to plan.

Having A Bad Day?

Interesting post in The Positivity Blog. All of us have bad days, we feel off or unproductive. Shaking off whatever causes the bad day is difficult. The blog offers several points to help, I have reordered them and put my own twist on them:

Work out: Working out helps me clear my mind, getting off whatever is bothering or frustrating me. I am always refreshed and productive after I've worked out. Beyond the health benefits, working out helps me focus and be more effective. I encourage every professional to take a few minutes in their day to work out in some way.
Give value: This startled me, but when I got to thinking about it and my own personal experience, it made a huge amount of sense. Too often, when we have a bad day, we get consumed by ourselves--typically, this lead me further down. Giving value, finding a way to make a difference for someone else, breaks me out of this cycle. It stops me from thinking about myself and gets me to thinking about others and other things. It doesn't have to be a "big" thing. It could be a phone call, and email, taking the time to listen to someone.

Try something new: I'd add Do Something Different. If you keep doing the same thing, more often than not, it produces the same result. If that is the cause for your bad day, how will doing it more change things?
Ask the right questions: Questions like "Why did this happen to me," keep you mired in the situation. Questions like "What is awesome about this situation," "Is this really important in the long run," and others help you get a different perspective.
Get enough sleep: I might add---take a nap. Typically, we have bad days when we are tired. You tend to have a better day when you are fresh.
Eat: I'm not sure about this one, but the variation I believe is drink water! Hydration counts!
Just do it: Do what you really want to do.

Some interesting things to think about!

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Top 11 Thing I Learned......

In doing some research on a project, I have run across a great blog, Product Management Tips By Gopal Shenoy.

One of his posts from close to a year ago was entitled: "Top 11 things I learnt at Solidworks in the last 11 years!" It is a good post, I have included the major bullet items below, but read his blog, you will get a fuller appreciation for the 11 important points.
  • Hiring is the most important thing you will do at work and always hire people smarter than you.
  • A manager’s success is all about making his/her reports successful in what they do.
  • You cannot move up in the company unless you train your replacement.
  • It is all about “relationships” and not “products."
  • Only viewpoint that matters is that of the customer.
  • There is a big difference between products that customers will “buy” vs. products customers “like.”
  • Be “market driven” and not be “marketing driven.”
  • Have technical and business arguments with colleagues as long as none of it turns personal.
  • Have meetings before the meeting.
  • Trying and failing is a lot better than failing to try.
  • Execution is the key to being successful.

Advice With Scars On It....

....needs to be listened to!

This is a very nice post on Michael Wade's

  1. If something doesn't feel right, don't pretend that it is right.
  2. Be wary of wit at the expense of others. It has a habit of turning sour.
  3. There are times when one of the smartest things you can do is to lose an argument.
  4. One of the most dangerous moments in a meeting is when everyone agrees.
  5. There are no little slights.
  6. Don't set higher standards for your secretary than you do for your chief executive officer.
  7. There are people who are wrong at the top of their voice.
  8. Predators may be beautiful but they are still predators.
  9. It can be easier to take a group from the bottom to the top than to keep a group at the top.
  10. If you have no competition you'd be wise to invent some.
  11. Whenever you are being given too much detail, rest assured that it is being used as a cloak.
  12. Look, and keep looking, for new ways of looking.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Execution Is More Than A Bullet In PowerPoint

If it's in a PowerPoint presentation, then it must be true. If it's a strategy or action point, then count on it being executed!

As ridiculous as those statements sound, I work with many people and organizations whose behavior would indicate they believe it to be true. Too often, it seems the PowerPoint presentation is an end in itself. Months later, in reviews, when I ask, what's been done on an action item, I get blank stares.

Strategy development and execution is tough. All of us know that it cannot be reduced to a series of bullet points. To be effective, it requires a deep dive---it requires a focus on details. Understanding everything that must be done to execute the strategy, demands that executes focus their efforts and those of their team at a very detailed level. It requires an investment in time and knowing there are no shortcuts or silver bullets.

Next time you develop PowerPoint, or have someone present it to you, try the following:

1. Drill down several levels to understand specifically what is being done, by whom, and what the target dates are. Take notes, put them in your follow up file.

2. When the target dates come due, follow up to see that they are done.

3. In update or status meetings, start with the previous meeting's PowerPoint's (literally) and ask the status of what has been done. Don't let people off the hook. Once you have done this, move onto the new updates. (Besides producing results, there is another derivative benefit. If you do this consistently, the presentations will get much shorter and more focused.)

4. In every strategy review, take one key element and take the time to drill down understanding the details of execution at the level of the people responsible for executing the strategy. Walk through the process step by step. Drill into the thinking of the people presenting. Make sure there is real substance to the strategy, not just bullet points on a chart. Walk through the process, look for the holes, look at it from several point of view--your customers', competitors', others.

You may be wondering: Why is he writing about something like this, isn't this just natural? Sure it's natural, but we don't do it. We lose ourselves in accepting bullets on PowerPoint as the end in itself.

Do you agree? I'd be interested in your views.