Saturday, August 30, 2008

Letting Form Triumph Over Substance

John Gardner book, EXCELLENCE, published in 1961 is an inspirational book. One line in the book has always stuck with me:

"Do not let form triumph over substance."

It's a constant reminder to me, and refocuses me, particularly when I get caught into motions and activity.

I sometimes get discouraged, I see so much effort going into form: Saying the right words, writing the proper letter/email, having the right action plan/project plan, doing the right meetings, having the right appearance. On the surface, everything is polished, professional, things look fantastic.

Dig a little bit, and you find nothing behind it. People move from meeting to meeting, forgetting the action plans and commitments they have made. They move from conversation to conversation, crisis to crisis. They have meetings and conversations about things that haven't been done, agree to do those things, then have more meetings and conversations about why those things weren't done.

In the end, it's all been done in the right form, there's been a lot of activity that we can point to proudly, but nothing is accomplished.

We all get caught up in this behavior, it is seductive, easy to succumb to. I look at myself and see all the things where I have done and said the right, astute, insightful things, but not stepped up to the follow through and creating real meaning and substance behind this. In the end, it's just lip service.

I need to constantly remind myself to do a little less, talk a little less, meet a little less, but execute and create real substance and meaning in those things that I do

Friday, August 29, 2008

Why Manager's Don't Do People Management

I'm a great fan of Wally Bock's Three Star Leadership Blog. This week, he posted a great article entitled "Why Managers Don't Do People Management."

Coincidentally, I have been reading several articles and market reports about the tremendous growth in the "Coaching" business. These with Wally's article lead to some real concerns.

In our experience, managers are not spending the right amount of time in "people management," that is coaching, mentoring, developing, and managing performance. Wally cites a study that would indicate 58% of the people responding would believe that managers are not devoting sufficient time to people management.

Wally points out some reasons: They don't think it's their job, they don't have the tools they need, they won't deal with the uncomfortable parts. I think these are important.

The rise of the "Coaching" business show that organizations are "outsourcing" significant parts of their people management responsibilities to people outside the organization.

All of this is disturbing. As a consultant and coach, I believe that outside professionals can provide tremendous value in complementing management in developing their people and organizations. Coaches and consultants can never displace management, or relieve them of their people management responsibilities. Doing this robs the manager the opportunity to develop their own capabilities as leaders and to, in fact lead the organization. It robs the subordinate the opportunity to get the direction, coaching, mentoring most important to their growth and contribution to the organization. Finally, it erodes the strength and potential of the entire organization.

Too many years ago, when I was promoted into my first management job at IBM, I learned some lessons that have stuck with me to this day and form the core of my beliefs about effective management. Part of the reason I was promoted was that I was a great individual contributor--I produced result, met my goals, achieved my numbers.

In my first day as a new manager, I was told that my job had changed. My contributions as an individual weren't the most important things in my new role. My success as a manager was entirely dependent on my ability to get things done through my people. This was not commanding or directing people to execute tasks, but this was done through coaching, mentoring, and developing people to contribute the most they possibly could. It involved getting them to be both efficient and effective in performing their jobs. It meant removing obstacles and barriers that impacted them. Finally, it meant managing performance to the highest levels possible.

It's is an unfortunate comment on the "state of the organization" that 58% of the respondents to a major survey do not believe managers are doing this. It is disappointing to see inappropriate use of outsiders to absolve management of this responsibility----we're good, but we have to be used properly and not as a substitute for strong people management.

Top executive and leaders need to set the example. They need to refocus their efforts on being effective and powerful people managers. They need to set the example. Top managers need to set the expectation, measure and reward the performance of all managers in their organization based on their people management.

One thing I learned in IBM was that I could occasionally be forgiven for missing a goal or not making my numbers. However, the fastest way to lose my job was to be a bad people manager. The reason was simple, the power of effectively developing and leading your people produces results that are far greater than an individual contributor!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Saving The Lives Of Malnourished Children

I believe in and support the work of Doctors Without Borders. Today, I received an email, asking to support their winning a $1.5 Million grant from American Express.

The process is easy and doesn't cost you anything other than your time and a vote. Follow the link:
Saving The Lives Of Malnourished Children. Follow the instructions and vote for their project!

I started this blog on making a difference. Most of the time, I focus on business issues. This is a simple way that each of us can have a profound impact on the lives of children around the world. Please take this chance to make a difference.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Developing And Maintaining A Sense Of Urgency

Thanks to the Leadership Now Blog for their post on developing and maintaining a sense of urgency. It gives me another soapbox!

A sense of urgency is critical to executing any strategy. However, it is important to note that a sense of urgency is different from activity. In John Kotter's A Sense Of Urgency, he describes much of what is done under the name of speed, urgency, or activity is actually a false urgency which is "unproductive flurry of behavior built on a platform of anxiety and anger."

Kotter describes a true sense of urgency as being externally focused and expressed in daily behaviors that move relentlessly to the target, ever alert to changing conditions and weeding out superfluous activity.

A true sense of urgency requires thoughtfulness, focus and disciplined execution. Often, it requires one take time to think and review. Often it takes patience and discipline to follow through to see what results are produced and to take corrective action. Finally it takes courage. So much of the meaningless activity we encounter produces a facade of moving forward, but when you look behind it, nothing is happening and no results are produced.

The blog is worth reading and I've put Kotter's book on my reading list.

Sell Using Value Propositions

In past posts and writing, I've taken a pretty strong stance on how the concept of value propositions has been misused. Too much of the time, organizations treat it as the static, silver bullet that causes customers to buy.

I have argued that value is in the eye of the buyer and to truly present value, sales and marketing professionals need to understand their what their customers value and address those needs specifically. Value is personal, each individual involved in the buying decision is different and the job of sales professionals is to determine and present value for each of those people.

In the latest issue of Business Solutions Magazine, Chris Loringer has written an outstanding sidebar article on "Sell Using Value Propositions." It should be required reading!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Was There Life Before 7/24 Connectivity?

Today's New York Times has an interesting essay by Ben Stein entitle, Connected, But Hermetically Sealed. It is nice commentary about how we use technology to seal ourselves off from the real world.

Mobile phones, PDA's Ipod's, all great technologies that contribute to the quality of our lives also serve to diminish the quality of our lives by isolating us.

Imagine, sitting with a group of people, none talking to each other, but all engaged in text messaging as vigorously as possible.

Yesterday, on a bike ride, I passed someone saying "Hello" as I passed. They didn't hear me or respond, because they were listening to their Ipod.

All of us are guilty, I find myself hiding behind my (de)vices. After all, it's so much easier to bury yourself in email, messaging, playing a game, or listening to music than to be engaged. Rather than observing what's going on around us, rather than talking to friends, colleagues, and, god forbid, strangers, we can hide behind the technology. Without these (de)vices, I have to actually pay attention to something or someone else. I have to listen, I have to hear a different point of view, I have to learn.

It strikes me a ironic, these devices intended to enhance communications instead isolate us. We deal with only the familiar and turn a blind eye to the new.

These devices, which can improve our productivity, are actually diminishing the quality of our experience. Instant accessibility supposedly helps us be more reachable for urgent things, enable us to respond faster. When I reflect on the emails, text messages, and phone calls to my mobile, as far back as I can recall, there was nothing that couldn't wait a few hours. In fact there are many things that would have been better off by waiting a few hours.

I have often thought back to pre-historic times---when we didn't have mobile phones, PDA's etc. How did we deal with "urgency?" I have been engaged with top executives in major businesses worldwide. As I reflect back, business and the quality of decisions these executives made did not seem to suffer from delays of a few hours. In some ways, one might argue that many issues which are urgent at one moment, are no longer important 30 minutes later. The built in buffer of waiting a few hours to get back, actually made numerous issues become non issues and disappear.

Many organizations are recognizing these issues. they set limits on sending and receiving emails. They limit use of Blackberry, phones and other (de)vices. We don't need an organization to help us with that, each of us can take action.
  1. Set your own time limits to email.
  2. Let calls to your mobile phone roll into voicemail---don't interrupt what you are doing to answer it.
  3. Let text messages queue up, look at them periodically, but not instantaneously.
  4. Take some joy in looking around, watching what is going on around you, engage in the real world.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Stop Wishful Thinking ---- Focus On Executing Your Strategies And Business Plans!

Over the course of a year, I meet with dozens of companies and hundreds of professionals. In the course of most of our discussions, people are concerned about their business strategies and plans. These "strategy" discussions are wide ranging--- they can be about an overall business or organization's strategy and direction, it can be about developing and launching new products, about partnerships/alliances, about sales and routes to market, or about a specific sales strategy, or a strategy for personal growth.

Regardless of the specific "strategic" issue, the discussions are always exciting. There is a lot of creativity, openness in assessing alternatives, enthusiasm in developing an approach, and then we finish, we're ready to execute. This is where things come to a grinding halt. There may be some false starts, but nothing happens. The momentum of day to day activities may overwhelm us and we fail to move forward doing what we planned to do.

It's clear, execution is what counts. If we don't execute our plans or strategies we will never achieve the goals we established. We feel guilty that we aren't achieving our goals. We hold meetings to find out what is wrong. We invest time in developing new plans and strategies ----- without ever testing the original strategies. In the end, all our strategic and business planning becomes nothing more than wishful thinking.

There has been a lot of good stuff written on execution. I don't want to repeat that here. I've been thinking a lot about how to move forward --- I've seen too many organizations on the edge of greatness, but unable to take the step.

Here are a few ideas about what may hold us back --- and how we might move forward.
  1. We expect perfection and are afraid that execution may show we are wrong. We have to stop thinking about developing perfect strategies. Plans give us a road map to our goals, but we have to adjust those, based on our experience in execution.
  2. Embrace failure and mistakes. They just help us know whether we are on target or not. They provide real world feedback that enables us to adjust our plans and goals.
  3. Write it down. Write down your first few steps or actions. Set clear goals and metrics. Writing it down does two things. First, there is something about writing it down that makes something more real. I'm sure there are lots of studies about this phenomenon, but writing something down makes the plan concrete. Second, when we execute the actions, we get to check it off on our list. The act of checking or crossing something off, gives us a tremendous sense of accomplishment.
  4. The first step is always the most difficult. Don't focus on the entire action plan, it can be overwhelming. Focus on the first step. Once you get past this point, somehow the next steps seem to come easier. When I assess failure in business strategies, very often it's because the organization never got started, they never took the first step. As a corollary, anticipation is always worse, Nike has the right idea, "Just Do It."
  5. Share the results with your team. Good or bad, you've learned something, now the team has something to work with in continuing to move forward.
  6. Don't over think things, keep it simple. Business schools, consultants, guru's, and all sorts of experts thrive complexity. It keeps us gainfully employed. However, over thinking things and making them too complex keeps us from taking action. Over thinking also starts us on that destructive path of second guessing ourselves.
  7. Don't take yourself too seriously, have fun. Somehow we take ourselves very seriously in executing business plans. When you focus on executing each step, even for the biggest plans, there is little that you can do that is not recoverable or fixable. Laugh when you make an error, have fun as you learn and correct the plan/strategy. Keep it fresh, keep it light.
  8. Execute your plan and give it a chance to succeed or fail. Every plan I have ever seen has obstacles. Don't abandon your strategy at the first obstacle -- worse yet, don't abandon your plan before you start. At the risk of being repetitive, we learn, we adjust, we move forward.

Remember, without taking action, all our planning and strategizing are just wishful thinking.

There are lots of resources out there in planning and execution. A couple of recent blog posts provide some additional hints on execution. Harvard Management Update's "Execute Your Strategy Without Killing It," and The Glue's "Top 10 Reasons Strategies Fail To Be Executed" are worth reading.

Friday, August 15, 2008

When Fad Things Happen To Good Concepts

You already know I am a fan of Wally Bock's Three Star Leadership blog. Today, he had an interesting post entitled "When Fad Things Happen To Good Concepts." It's a good post and worth reading.

However, I'd like to get on my soapbox on management fads. Everyday, it seems there is a new management fad or trend. These fads will certainly save anyone's business, giving them the silver bullets to outstanding performance. As P.T. Barnum said, "There's a sucker born every minute."

Unfortunately, in trying to find out where the fault lies for management by fad, I have to point the finger to my own profession. Too many consultants publish a book, offering new insights, but are mostly recycled and updated ideas that come from solid, well established management research or writing from years ago. Usually, the greatest contribution these "new management" approaches have is boosting the consultant's speaking and services fees. They often burden people adopting the ideas with a new jargon, but little new or innovative.

Don't get me wrong, often there is value in reading these books. An old idea, presented in a slightly different light can stimulate us to think. At the same time, let's not throw out the sound principles from years ago, looking for the new magic elixir.

Most effective business leaders I know focus on basics. As Wally mentions in his post, these basics don't change much from year to year or decade to decade.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Making A Difference -- A Personal Plea For Support

For the past three years, I have been actively engaged in raising money to help conquer Multiple Sclerosis. Over the past few years, I have participated in the Southern California MS150---a 150 mile bike ride down the Pacific Coast. I have raised close to $7000 in the past.

On October 11-12, I will be riding in my third event. This year, I am trying to surpass what I raised last year. My goal is to raise $4,500.

This event is an important. The money raised from this event will fund continuing research to discover the cause and cure for multiple sclerosis. Equally important, it will help pay for a multitude of support services, critical to those whose lives has been touched by MS.

I'd like your help in making a difference in the lives of the people and families dealing with MS. Would you please make a contribution. Clicking on the link below, takes you to the website where you can make a donation.

For online donations, go to the link:

Even better, find a local MS event and participate yourself---a walk, run, bike ride. Put together a team and start raising money to fight this disease.

Thanks to all of you for reading this. Special thanks to those who help by contributing or by participating in their own local events.