Tag Archives: managing

Wanting And Needing

If you hang around the candy aisle of the supermarket long enough, I can pretty much guarantee you that you’ll hear some kid yell at their parent that they “need it” with a large bag of candy in their hand. At that moment, I think the kid believes it. Hopefully, the parent explains the difference between “needing” and “wanting”. Hopefully, that’s something you can recognize in your business life too.

A need is something you must have to survive. As humans, water, food, and shelter are about the extent of those needs (I put clothing and warmth under the shelter heading). As a business, the fundamental need is to make a profit. Without that, no business can survive over the long term. In order to make those profits, you need money coming in, which means you also need customers who will pay you for your product or service. As with any need, once we have satisfied it we can move on to the “want.” You want customers who are happy so they stick around. You want customers who are pleasant so you can interact with them without drama. You need to have people working with you who are loyal and knowledgeable so they support your customers. You want them to stick around for the long term at a reasonable cost to the business.

The hard part for me when I began consulting was that I think I probably spent too much effort helping clients get the wants and not enough time focused on the needs. Rookie mistake, one I don’t make now. I’m not surprised when a client and I get into the need/want discussion and there is a bit of a disconnect. With early-stage companies especially, you have to get the needs shored up.

I try to focus on telling clients what they need to hear, which is not necessarily what they want to hear (see what I did there?). I did the same when I was part of a larger organization, sometimes to my detriment, I’ll admit. I did learn that the people who can hear things that are true but sometimes unpleasant are the ones with whom you want to work. They have learned that the bag of candy is a want, but those wants might not be affordable or necessary. They might even be detrimental. Make sense?

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Filed under Consulting, Thinking Aloud

Finding The Black Swan

Many centuries ago, people were convinced that there were no such things as black swans. That thinking is so old, in fact, that there are references to it in Roman literature. That thinking was disproven around 1700 when a group of explorers sighted some black swans in Australia.

Since then, the term “black swan” is used to refer to something that, as Wikipedia states:

comes as a surprise, has a major effect, and is often inappropriately rationalized after the fact with the benefit of hindsight.

If you’re in business, I’m sure you’re familiar with black swans even if you’ve never called them by that name. My team often used the Monty Python quote that “NO-body expects the Spanish Inquisition!” when something surprising would happen.

I don’t think of Black Swans as negatives, necessarily. In fact, it’s exactly the sort of rare bird we should be seeking in business on many levels. For example, you’ve read many times in this space about the need to understand your customer. If you’re approaching them with an open mind, what you might find can be surprising. You might find, say, that your ad that’s aspirational in nature might have the exact opposite effect on your audience – it reminds them of what they don’t have and makes them mad.

Where I find Black Swans particularly useful is in negotiating. It’s critical to understand the needs and wants of the person with whom you’re negotiating and to get on the same side of the desk as they are, meaning you’re not in an adversarial position. In the process of doing that discovery, you often find a Black Swan – something you didn’t know about them or about something that’s part of their bottom line for the negotiation. Every party in a negotiation has a bottom line – things they can’t or won’t give up – while other things are far more fungible. Unless and until you can understand what those things are, you’re wasting time. If you find a Black Swan in the process, it’s important that you incorporate it unless it crosses your bottom line.

Part of finding the Black Swan is keeping an open mind, whether it’s in negotiating or in reading data or even in a brainstorming session. Be open to possibilities even if they don’t match your current understanding of the world. The Black Seans are out there – find them!

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Conducting

Did you play in your school’s band or orchestra? Maybe you sang in the chorus? I did all of those as well as in the school’s jazz band. If you did, you came face to face with a conductor. For those of you unfamiliar with how a conductor operates, I’ll spend a few words on the topic. For those of you already familiar, please keep reading because those hours spent under their baton can tell you a lot about business.

Whether you played in an ensemble or just listened, you’ve seen a conductor at work. Their right hand, usually the one holding the baton, keeps time. Their left hand, the far more expressive one, serves many purposes; among them cueing various instruments, helping the musicians understand the dynamic you want to project or the phrasing you’re after.

One of my childhood memories is of seeing Leonard Bernstein conducting the NY Philharmonic. He conducted the orchestra in a way that was a cross between dancing as a listener and working hard as a musician. There is no doubt, if you watch old videos of him, what he is trying the get from his musicians. That’s not true of all conductors.

What you probably never thought of is how anticipatory conducting really is. It begins in rehearsal, where the conductor will often stop and explain what he or she is after. The musicians are learning what each gesture means and they get a sense of the speed and phrasing the conductor wants. It’s assumed the musicians already know the notes and heaven help the musician who causes the conductor to stop and demand the musician play a phrase the conductor heard as wrong. It also means the conductor is a few beats ahead of his musicians so he can cue them, hopefully in a way that also tells them how he wants the upcoming music played.

What does this have to do with business? A lot. I always looked at my role as being similar to an orchestra leader. My job was to bring coherence to a large, diverse group of executives who played very different roles. I kept time with one hand, meaning that I set goals for the entire group and established how we’d get there. With the other hand, I let individual elements within the group know when to speak up. Most importantly, we rehearsed. No, I didn’t have my group do things just for the sake of doing them. I did, however, ask them a lot of questions to make sure they knew the music and that when it came time for them to be front and center they would shine. I was careful to be clear about what I wanted and about what I meant when I asked for something. I was also a few beats ahead at all times.

Watch some of the great conductors. Bernstein, Loren Maazel, Seiji Ozawa, and others. There are some great business lessons there, don’t you think?

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Filed under Music, Thinking Aloud

The World Cup Of Business

The biggest sporting event on the planet began its final phase last week. Soccer’s World Cup, which began its qualifying process over three years ago, is down to the final 32 teams and will crown a champion over the next month.

I’ve been very lucky in my life to attend almost every big sporting event at one time or another but nothing compares to this tournament. For those of you less familiar with the world football scene, The World Cup is national teams playing one another. Football (it’s only called soccer here in the U.S.) is by far the sport played everywhere and it incites passion like no other. What’s most interesting about this is that most of the world football leagues are very international in composition. A club might have half its players from the “home” country but an equal number who play for a different national team.

Take, for example, the Spain/Portugal match of the other day. Cristiano Ronaldo is Portugal’s star and is beloved there but he plays for Real Madrid in the Spanish League (La Liga) and is equally beloved there. Some of the players on the Spanish team are his club teammates but they were tasked with stopping him the other day.

What does any of this have to do with your business? If you’ve ever worked in a medium to a large company you’ve probably seen the internecine warfare that often develops between departments. The sales department might be fighting with finance, marketing might not have any love for research, and legal often has nasty things to say about everyone. I liken it to a national league. All the clubs (departments) live in one country (business) but they are extremely competitive and want to be seen as the winners. There has to come a time, however, when the rivalries take a back seat to the “national” interest, in this case, The World Cup; in the case of a business, maybe it’s when other businesses or marketplace circumstances (countries) are on the attack and the entire enterprise is threatened.

Part of managing in an environment where the departments are extremely competitive is keeping the mindset nationally-focused and not club-focused. You need to let your team know that undermining another area serves no common purpose. It’s dangerous and unproductive. Set a World Cup mentality and then try to inspire the same sort of national fervor that the tournament does. You with me?

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No Applause, Please

There is a solitaire game that I play on my phone. When you “win”, you get a round of applause most of the time. Sometimes, you don’t. There is just silence, probably because you didn’t solve the hand quickly enough. In a weird way, the lack of applause feels as if you’ve not won if that makes any sense.

That, in microcosm, is a very dangerous thing, both in business and in life. Expecting applause for work well done creates expectations that are infrequently met, and that leads to all sorts of bad places. Anger, frustration, and jealousy all begin to rear their ugly heads as some members of the team begin to compare the applause they receive with that others receive. It may not be literal applause but everything from mentions in a staff meeting to promotions to raises all count.

I’m not against giving applause – far from it. I’ve worked for bosses who made it clear that almost no applause would be forthcoming because they believed that employees were fungible. When applause was given, either literally or figuratively, it generally went to the higher-ups and not to the folks who really were responsible for the good work. As managers and teammates, we need to do what we can to support those who deserve recognition (I’m not in favor of “participation awards” for everyone, though). What I do approach with caution is the expectation we have that we’re going to receive some figurative love when it’s warranted.

Doing what you do for the applause creates false expectations. It makes us buy into a belief system that may not be our own. For example, you may not care about making a lot of money but when you see others doing so who do less or inferior work, you may wonder why you’re not getting rich too. People get “rich” in all sorts of ways. Teachers, ministers, first-responders and many others generally aren’t well-paid nor do they get much applause on a daily basis. Most of the folks I know who work in those professions have adjusted their thinking to take satisfaction in their own accomplishments and not in others’ recognition of those things. They spend their lives doing good work and not seeking applause. How about you?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Reality checks

Why Is Right So Hard?

A long post today – please bear with me. I’m sure you have heard about the cancellation of Roseanne after the show’s namesake sent out a racist tweet. There was about a two-hour delay from when the tweet went public until ABC pulled the plug on the program. During that time, I wondered if ABC and parent company Disney would do the right thing. They did and it’s a great example to any of us in business about something that I’m passionate about.

You know we don’t do politics here. This isn’t political – it’s all business, people. Let’s look at this from a business perspective and let me explain why I’m so proud to be an ABC alumnus today.

First, the business background. This piece from Variety explains the issues ABC has had for years on Tuesday nights. In Roseanne, they finally had not only a hit program but a show around which they could build a solid night of programming. While they had not reaped a huge financial windfall from the show (it was a midseason replacement), they were poised to use it in the negotiations for ad time during the upcoming season. The way things work is that if you want to buy a hit you generally have to buy other programming too to get the best pricing. In other words, the loss is more about what might have been rather than existing dollars. Still, it is a financial hit.

Which leads me to the point about which I’m passionate. ABC made a decision to do the right thing no matter the financial cost or how disruptive it may be to their business. I’m sure they also looked to the potential cost to the Disney brand if they were to give tacit approval to what Roseanne tweeted by doing nothing. They looked to the long-term and to take action in accordance with their own principles and not the easy road. While there is never a good time for something like this to take place, this is probably about the worst possible time, given that the upfront selling season is beginning and ABC just announced their schedule, which will now have to be remade, two weeks ago.

Why is it so hard for companies to do the right thing? A heck of a lot don’t. Insurance companies who spend more effort finding ways to deny claims than to pay them.  Oil companies who fund fake studies to promote climate change denial rather than working to find clean energy. Food and tobacco companies that know about the problems with their products but who fight efforts to make the public aware. Those are just a few examples and I’m sure you can think of many more.

Contrast ABC’s quick, decisive action with other media companies who protected bad behavior by big-time talent. It didn’t require multiple meetings or in-depth analysis. The right course of action was obvious. I’d argue it was as well in other recent cases where the company failed to do the right thing. Equifax knew they had a hacking problem months before they told the public. In that time, executives may have sold $1.8 Billion in shares. Someone at Wells Fargo must have come up with the plan to charge half a million consumers for insurance they didn’t need. Why didn’t someone say “oh hell no” and fire the person on the spot? Even Apple failed to do the right thing by not telling customers it was slowing down their phones even though customers asked.

Any of these things could have been prevented if the businesspeople involved had acted honorably. By that, I mean in a way that would stand up to public scrutiny when measured against ethical and moral standards. Someone knew, someone could have nipped it in the bud, and someone could have used it as a teaching moment to explain why doing the right thing is important.

I know not everyone shares exactly the same standards, but I do believe that placing customers’ needs about profits, thinking long-term, and behaving as if the customer were your Mom or Dad rather than a “mark” is better than maximizing revenue. Shareholder value comes from long-term customers with high lifetime values and a sterling reputation. You get those by opting to do the right thing.

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Filed under Reality checks, Consulting, What's Going On

Dealing With An Intolerance

Happy Foodie Friday! It’s an especially good one as we head into Memorial Day Weekend, the unofficial start of Summer and the grilling season for many of you. I have a friend who will be a lot more circumspect about what she is grilling this weekend because she found out the other day that she has a bunch of food intolerances. What are they and what do they have to do with business?

Food intolerances are different from food allergies. You’re not going to die from the former while you just might from the latter. Instead, your symptoms develop over time as you keep eating things for which you have an intolerance. Maybe you get headaches or stomach aches. Maybe you retain fluids. Maybe you develop a cough that won’t go away or hives or a runny nose. All can be symptoms of a food intolerance.

They’re caused by several things, one of which can be a chemical – caffeine, amines, salicylate – which occur naturally but to which your body is sensitive. The ones you hear about most often are gluten intolerance and lactose intolerance but there are as many intolerances as there are foods, it seems. Fortunately, it’s not difficult to live with a food intolerance as long as you’re willing to adjust your diet and avoid things that you’ve identified as problematic. It’s less easy to fix an intolerance in business.

I’m sure that every manager has a story or two of employees who can’t get along. I certainly do. It can be a huge problem for a business, especially if the employees are managers themselves. There are a lot of reasons why two adults can’t tolerate one another. One feels the other isn’t pulling his or her weight. One gossips. There is a perceived inequity in titles or salary or responsibility. I’ve run into each of those along with the most basic reason for a business intolerance: they just don’t like one another due to some perceived slight that was never corrected.

You cannot let this situation fester, and the key to fixing it is to identify the real problem. Telling them to “grow up” won’t fix anything nor will telling them to “work it out.” You need to speak with the parties involved individually and together and you must follow up your discussions with action. You can’t have a chat and assume the matter is solved. Like a food intolerance that won’t kill you, two employees who can’t tolerate one another won’t destroy a business but they can make things pretty miserable. Also as with food, identifying the source of the problem and following it up with action and monitoring is how you make the problem go away.

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Filed under Consulting, food, Helpful Hints