Tag Archives: managing

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 Reality checks, Helpful Hints

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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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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Well Aren’t You Special

I came across a quote in a report that prompted a thought about one thing I think has gone wrong in many of our businesses. Actually, it’s less about the businesses themselves and more about those of us who operate them. The study was GroupM’s annual “State Of Digital” report which I always find very informative. The quote is this:

In a statement, GroupM global CEO Kelly Clark listed automation and talent as the “big themes in advertising’s current revolution.” “One of the downsides of specialization is the increase in specialists who know more and more about less and less,” Clark said in the statement.

That’s a big problem in my eyes, and it’s not limited to the ad business.  Let me explain why, both from a personal and a professional point of view. First the personal. It’s great if you become the “go to” person on a very narrow subject. You may know a particular operating system inside and out or you may be the country’s leading subject matter expert on something else. That’s fantastic as long as nothing changes. What happens when it does? You just might have to start over if your particular, narrow skill set is no longer in demand. If you do one thing very well but no one needs that one thing, then what?

From a business perspective, having a team of specialists who can’t crossover is equally bad. Their siloed skills make cross-functional conversation difficult if not impossible. You want a team that has flexibility. Putting aside the ability to cover for other team members during vacations or peak demand periods in some area, having people with a broader knowledge base makes for a better product. Having multiple people weigh in who can consider the big picture and not just a slice of things makes for coherent, complete, well thought out solutions.

It’s incumbent on each of us to grow our skill set. In my practice, I’m called upon to provide thinking on everything from strategy to analytics to SEO to sales. Each of those is an area of specialization for some people and I know I might not be as well-versed in each of them as some of those specialists. What I do have, however, is a broad perspective (to go along with my broad experience) that lets me guide my clients. I have very deep knowledge in some areas and shallower in others. Not specializing makes me special!

If you’re not learning, if you’re not widening your range of knowledge beyond your specialty, then you’re probably setting yourself up to be less resilient when the need arises. That’s not good business thinking, is it?

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DIY Failure

What do you do when you’ve done almost everything right and yet your business is failing? It’s not a hypothetical question and the answers I’ve come up with kind of scare me a little. Let’s see what you think.

The town from which I moved has fewer and fewer “mom and pop” stores. Most of them have been replaced by national chains. Main Street used to be unique, interesting retailers. Now it’s basically an outdoor copy of most malls with chain store after chain store packed in next door to one another. I still read the local news from the town in which I lived for 35 years and I was saddened to see that another one has bitten the dust. Let me explain why it raised some questions in my mind.

It was a local hardware store run by a family who is well-known in the town. As one local blogger wrote, “They’ve been the go-to place for gardening supplies in spring, rakes in the fall, paint and keys and pest control and light bulbs and a lot more whenever we need it.” It wasn’t huge but as local places go it had a fair amount of inventory and I suspect that it could satisfy the Do It Yourself needs of most folks. Therein lies the problem. The owner put it well, citing irreversible challenges, including online sales competition and the loss of skilled DIYers to a keypad culture.

Guilty as charged, sir. Much of the time I just have Amazon deliver what I know I’ll need in a day or two. Of course, in my old town, fewer and fewer people actually even do things themselves, preferring to call someone. When I changed out my first toilet fill valve here in my new place, I did think to myself that I probably would have called a plumber and paid for an hour of his or her time to do a 10-minute job – 40 if you count the time it took to run to Walmart to get the part.

This family did everything right. They were never too busy to help you understand how to do a repair or improvement job as they made sure you had the right materials and tools. They personalized everything, something the online world is still learning to do. Did you pay a little more (and it really was a little)? Yes, but you also were 100% sure you had what you needed. The market has changed, however, and competing with Home Depot or Lowes or Amazon (for the smaller number of people in town who still did things themselves) became impossible.

What would I have advised them? More in-store classes, a better online presence establishing themselves as local, available experts, maybe get a kid to deliver. Yes, the big guys do some of that too, but having the local, familiar edge could make a difference. I’m not sure any of that would have worked, but I also know that most retail is still brick and mortar, not online. I do think that competing with online as well as with giant home improvement centers, however, is too much. The benefits of technology are generally good, but in this case, tech has disrupted the local ecosystem, much as introducing a non-native predator to solve one problem can cause many others. Any local grocery stores in your town? Not in mine. Auto repair, restaurants, clothing stores, heck, even car dealers are all heading down this same path. Could your business be as well? What can you do NOW?

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Filed under Thinking Aloud, What's Going On

A.I. Aye Yi Yi

One of the hottest topics in business these days is artificial intelligence. One can hardly pick up a business publication of any sort and not trip over an algorithm. AI is being used to do everything from writing articles to running chatbots to protecting against fraud. There is one problem with AI, though, and that’s our topic today. 

You’ve probably encountered something that’s the product of AI. A fair number of game summaries one finds in the sports pages (physical or digital) are, in fact, written by machines. Same with many company summaries in the financial section. The main problem with these pieces is that they’re great at populating a template with all the facts and not so great at figuring out the “why.” You might also have used an online chat function to get some customer service support. More often then not, that’s AI at work as well. But that’s not the business problem I want to discuss.

The problem with most of the AI solutions I read about is that they’re all geared toward helping a business but they’re not focused at all on helping the customer. If you’ve ever wandered into an AI-driven customer support phone line you know what I mean. Get outside of what the algorithm can handle and your blood pressure is sure to soar. While the bot on the other end knows all about you if you’re able to identify yourself in the way the AI is designed (frequent shopper number, etc.), if you don’t know what phone number was used to create the account or you’re a frequent shopper without a frequent shopper ID (some folks don’t live being tracked, you know), it’s hard to get support. Humans are still better at solving many non-standard requests.

I get that sharing all your data – what you read, what you watch, where you go, what you eat, etc. – can help a company give you better recommendations. The problem is that many of the companies use that as a pretext to sell you products you might not really need. Can any of us really know how the data was used to create a recommendation? When a fitness app tells us we’re having sleep issues because our data says so and says we need to buy a new mattress, can we trust that or is it an affiliate deal that brings the fitness app a commission? Maybe we just ought not to have that nightcap instead if we want to sleep better?

I think the use of AI in some areas is fantastic. Fraud protection, for example. It’s easy for AI to spot something that’s out of place in your credit card use and send you an alert. That’s customer-centric. Using a bot to cut costs while providing a lesser experience isn’t and that’s my issue with much of the AI work that’s going on now. What’s your take?

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Filed under Reality checks, What's Going On, Thinking Aloud