Tag Archives: management

Considering The Optics

The President fired the Director of the FBI yesterday. Even though such a thing had only happened once before (when the FBI Director was accused of using funds for personal stuff), it is well within the rights of the President to do so. In fact, the head of the FBI, like US Attorneys and White House staff, serve at the pleasure of the President (which always brings to mind this scene from The West Wing in which the staff pledges loyalty to the President using exactly that phrase).

No, I’m not (finally) wading into politics, but there is a tremendous business point to be taken from yesterday’s action. The FBI is investigating if and how the President’s campaign was (is?) tied to Russia. Firing the man who is heading an investigation into your campaign is bad optics, especially when you do so on the day when subpoenas go out. It’s also bad optics to give as a reason something for which you praised that same person a few months earlier.

Bad optics is a phrase typically used in politics which describes when politicians fret about the public perception of a decision more than the substance of the decision itself. It has little to do with right and wrong and a lot to do with the perception of right or wrong. We’ve seen a few cases of this in business very recently:

  • United Airlines kicked doctor off a plane and he was beaten up when he refused to go. Were they within their rights to involuntarily bump a passenger? Yes. But the optics, both in front of other passengers and, since everyone has a camera, the rest of the world are horrible.
  • When public schools refuse to give a hot lunch to a child or give them a cheese sandwich instead of what the other kids have because the kid’s family can’t afford to pay, are they within their rights? Yes, but the optics…
  • When a business asks workers to train their (foreign) replacements, they’re helping their bottom line but killing their reputation because the optics are so bad.

One thing we all need to do as part of our decision-making process is to consider the optics. How will this appear, regardless of the right and wrong? It does little good to be in the right when you seem to be very wrong. You with me?

 

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints, Huh?

Writers And Editors

I frequently collaborate with other consultants on both projects and proposals. While our skill sets often overlap in some areas, generally we bring different things to the project. One thing I’ve noticed about the process is that some of us are writers and some of us are editors and I think it’s important for any business to have a mix of both. Here is why.

Writers create things. Those of us who think we can write (and I hope 2,000+ blog posts show you that I can!) are right-brain oriented, in my opinion. We see things or hear things and are moved to put our own spin on them. When it comes to business, we can look at or listen to a situation and ideas begin to germinate. In my case, it’s often analyzing the situation at hand and synthesizing a plan based on situations from the past. Sometimes a totally new concept emerges and I write it up as fast as I can because ideas are butterflies – they are beautiful but fleeting.

Editors, on the other hand, seem to be more left-brained. They can take a writer’s ramblings, see the central idea, and make it better. How? By asking questions raised by the writing and demanding answers. They can add structure. Since the ideas are not their own, they have neither a vested interest in protecting anything written nor any insight into what’s being communicated if it isn’t on the page. I think while we need t be passionate about our creations in business we also have to understand that our ideas need to be understood by our audience. Editors make that happen.

As a writer, I’m happy to be edited because a great editor can make me look better than I am. Writers make connections between things and editors make those connections more clear. To a certain extent, writers “do” and editors “help”. And to be clear, I don’t think one is necessarily one or the other. I like to think of myself as a writer who can edit. On these collaborations I referenced, I will frequently put out the first draft for the team but once that’s out there, everyone becomes an editor, refining the proposal or project until it sings.

So where on the spectrum do you fall – more a writer or an editor? Do you have both or your team?

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Filed under Thinking Aloud

The Right Fielder

There’s an old song by Peter, Paul, and Mary that contains a few lines that were 100% true when I was a kid:

‘Cause the fastest, the strongest, played shortstop and first
The last ones they picked were the worst
I never needed to ask, it was sealed,
I just took up my place in right field.

The kid whose fielding skills were weakest ended up playing right. The thinking was that most batters, if they got it out of the infield, would have to pull the ball and nearly everyone seemed to hit right-handed. Ergo, the right fielder would not have a chance either to make a play or to make an error.

Right fielder position on a baseball diamond

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What does this have to do with business? I suspect that some of us look at our teams and mentally assign one or more of our team members to right field. Rather than demanding that every player meets the high standards needed to play any position, we stick them in a place where we hope nothing important get hits their way. Needless to say, this precipitates an entire series of problems.

First, the rest of the team knows who the weaklings are and can’t understand why they’re still on the team. After all, when the team wins a championship, everyone gets a ring, including the player who was more of a liability than an asset. That breeds resentment.

Second, the weak players are often held to a different standard. There is a lack of accountability since they aren’t as skilled. That’s a huge mistake as well. A team has one set of standards, not different standards for each person. If your business unit is to function as a team, it must be one and not just a collection of individuals.

There are going to be balls hit to right field, wherever right field might lie on your particular field of play. As managers, our job is to be sure that there are no weak spots anywhere and that each member of the team is on the same page, communicating clearly and backing one another up. That’s how we win, right?

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints

Clear Headed

I’ve been MIA from this space for a few days (hopefully you’ve noticed). I caught some kind of a bug and it pretty much laid me out for a few days. Body aches, a little congestion, and a foggy brain. I had zero energy and just wanted to sleep. More importantly, I couldn’t really focus my thinking on anything.

This may come as a shock to you but I do put a fair amount of what I hope is clear-headed thought into the screed. While I might have been able to force myself to spend a lot of extra time to write something, I thought it a better course of (in)action just to give it a rest. I’m a big believer in doing nothing when one’s head is foggy and let me explain why.

“Foggy” to me just doesn’t mean the state I’ve been in over the last few days. Foggy is when things are unclear at all. It may be because you’re distracted or it may be because the information you need to make a decision is incomplete, unclear, or inadequate. Jason Day, for example, withdrew from a golf tournament a couple of weeks ago because he was distracted by the fact that his mom was having surgery (she’s fine) and he couldn’t focus. Rather than making bad decisions on the course, he made a great one and left it.

Each of us needs to think along the same lines. Sure, sometimes fuzzy logic is called for because we can’t get enough information. In and of itself, that’s a clear-headed decision you make. Oftentimes, however, anything from a cold to a hangover to a family matter to office politics can reduce or eliminate your ability to focus. Those are the times when we need more time because I don’t concur that a bad decision is always better than no decision.

What do you think?

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints, What's Going On

It All Comes Out In The Wash

I’m not quite sure what to make of our Foodie Friday Fun topic this week. It’s a piece I saw that discusses how someone invented a bag that you can use to cook dinner in your washing machine. Not, it’s not from The Onion. Apparently, the person who invented it was moved by a piece he saw about homeless people using the laundromat as a sanctuary of sorts. There, the homeless get water, clean up, do laundry, charge devices, etc. He wanted to add cooking to the list.

한국어: 유럽향 드럼세탁기 (모델명_F1047TD)

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The thinking behind this is that a washing machine is like a sous vide like environment in that it’s a water bath. The problem is that it really isn’t. An immersion circulator holds the sous vide bath at a constant temperature for any period of time required to cook the food. I did steak in mine last night holding the food for one hour at 126 degrees. A typical washing machine uses water that’s somewhere around 110 degrees, nowhere near hot enough to cook anything beyond very rare, if at all. The time a load of laundry is fully immersed in the hot water isn’t long enough either.

Putting aside the obvious problems, what I like about this is that it demonstrates outside of the box thinking. People cook on their car engines (mmmm – is that cylinder head in the potatoes?) and bake their lasagna in a dishwasher. Grilled cheese using your clothes iron? Why not! How often have you sat down to solve a problem and immediately discounted some of the more bizarre solutions out of hand? That’s something that happens a lot in group brainstorming sessions. My feeling is that no idea is terrible and no idea is great until they’ve been thought through and explored. In the case of the sous video laundry bags, I’d probably not have kept going, but the fact that they now exist has me asking myself are there any other purposes for which the technology can be used?

Ever used a microwave oven? It was a mistake, the by-product of radar research. Played with a Slinky? Another mistake. So were potato chips, chocolate chip cookies, and penicillin. While you may have some great ideas that turn out to be not so great, how can they be repurposed? Maybe the bad stuff will come out in the wash, leaving you with something brilliant?

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Filed under Consulting, food, Thinking Aloud

Getting Elected Isn’t The Win

The big news at the end of last week had to do with the withdrawal of a bill that would have changed the laws regarding health insurance in this country. If you’ve been here in the screed before you know that we don’t do politics, so I’m going to refrain from any commentary for or against what happened. There is, however, a pretty good business (and life) lesson to be taken from Friday’s activities.

One thing you heard over and over was that the folks who wanted to change the existing law had 7 years to come up with a plan that would be better. It took them 7 years to control both Congress and The White House, thereby assuring that their plan would become law, assuming, of course, that it was palatable to the members of their party. It wasn’t, and so it hasn’t (become law, that is).

What can we learn from this? That it’s easier to win an election than it is to find the consensus you need to run the government. Winning is easy; governing is hard. The same thinking applies to managing a business. Becoming a manager is easy; managing the business is hard.

I met with a potential client last week who had recently been promoted into his job. He’s a smart, young highly motivated guy. In the course of our conversation, he mentioned that he was having some trouble adjusting to his new role and was finding it difficult to get things done as quickly and efficiently as he wanted. I told him that I had suffered from the same thing 35 years ago when I was handed my first department to run. Getting the job was a lot easier than doing the job.

What does that mean for you? If you’re looking for that next promotion, you might want to focus on the challenges of preparing to do the actual work rather than the challenges of getting a promotion. Trust me: the powers that be will appreciate your focus on execution and that will increase the chances of that promotion.

If you’re running your own business, a focus on execution is a good thing as well. Satisfied customers are more important that finding lots of new ones. There are tons of studies that show that using resources to keep existing customers happy is more profitable that spending resources on finding new customers (it costs 5x more to find a new customer than to retain one!).

Getting elected or promoted to a position isn’t really the win. Getting stuff done, whether it’s in your cubicle or on the floor of Congress, is the real test, don’t you think?

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Filed under Reality checks, Helpful Hints

Sampuru

This Foodie Friday, the topic is sampuru. No, you probably don’t call anything by that name but you’ve seen it. It’s the fake food you often see in the lobby or window of Japanese restaurants. Great sampuru is incredibly realistic and can negate the need even to look at a menu. Like many seemingly simple things (such as making the rice for sushi), sampuru artists require years of training.

Typically for this space, as I was thinking about sampuru, a business thought came to me. Fake, plastic food has its business counterpart although they’re not called sampuru. I call them empty suits, but I’m not sure we should limit the term to people.

Your typical empty suit, like great fake food, gives the appearance of being real and nourishing. The reality is that they look great but can be toxic if ingested. In fact, I think they’re easier to spot than great sampuru. Ask an empty suit for an opinion and it will either be the same as either the boss’s or of whomever in the room they’re trying to please if they have an opinion at all. You see, empty suits rarely have enough knowledge about a topic to give a well-reasoned opinion about anything. They may rattle off a number of industry buzzwords but if you try to dissect what it is they’re saying it becomes obvious that, as Gertrude Stein said about Oakland, there’s no there there.

Oddly enough, I think entire businesses can be sampuru. Coincidentally, I ate at a Japanese restaurant the other evening that I would call an empty suit. It looked fine – a sushi bar, teppanyaki tables, etc., but the food was nondescript, the service was lackadaisical, and the teppan chef I saw was just barely going through the motions. It was a sampuru – a plastic model of a business that looked like the real thing but wasn’t even close to being it.

We need to make sure our businesses don’t fall into the trap of being sampuru – of looking like we’re fresh and flourishing when, in fact, we’re dead and toxic. As executives, we need to stay informed and not be afraid to offer our own opinions about things. We’ll be wrong sometimes but by being true to ourselves maybe we’ll also advance the conversation to new, more profitable ground. You with me?

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Filed under food, Thinking Aloud