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Consensus & The Marine Corps

8 May

Commenting on a great Forbes Blog from a couple of weeks ago “Consensus – Team Building’s Silent Killer”; then another from Vistage that I dredged up from January comparing business to the Marine Corps.  Connecting the dots….

I remember being surprised by a quote from William H. Cosby, EdD, not because it didn’t resonate with me (it did), but because it didn’t sound like something ‘comedian Bill Cosby’ would say:

I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.

This rings true (like a bell clapper upside the head) for this ‘middle child’.  I was the third child of six in a loud and boisterous Italian-American family.  I learned early on that getting along sometimes meant keeping my thoughts to myself (you’ll notice I didn’t say “keeping my mouth shut”, not much danger of that).   However, with everyone talking at once, even if I HADN’T kept my thoughts to myself, no one might have noticed.

As I joined the work force and moved into management, I had two choices.  Be the loud, table-pounding type of leader (and risk alienation) or be a ‘consensus’ guy (and risk looking weak and indecisive).  Well I chose the later, and wound up with a reputation of ‘going with the flow’.  But that’s a good thing, right?  Nobody gets hurt, right?  So, it was interesting to read:

Teambuilding is not about equality at all – it has nothing to do with consensus. Rather team building is about alignment of vision with expectations, ensuring team members clearly understand their roles, and making sure they have the right resources to perform said duties with exacting precision.

Wow, us consensus guys missed the boat!   It’s not all about getting along, singing Kumbaya around the campfire and all that.  It’s about Shared Purpose, Roles, Responsibilities and Accountability.  Leadership is not a popularity contest, it’s much more difficult than that.  It’s a fine line tight rope walk between authority and popularity, where the answer can’t be the parental fallback “Because I SAID so”, but neither can it be “Whatever YOU think”….

The second connection was a Vistage blog entitled, “This is NOT the Marine Corps! In Business, It IS Okay to Leave Someone Behind”. It got me to thinking about a tumultuous time I lived through, the CAD/CAM contraction of the 1990s.

In about 1988, Prime Computer acquired the company I was working for, Computervision Corporation.  Regardless of how anyone on either side of the Prime/CV divide felt, looking back, I believe one of the reasons that the combination ultimately failed was that management was loath to lay people off.  The savings from the elimination of redundant functions never really materialized.  I know this sounds cold hearted, but there is NO ONE of the group laid off from Prime/CV that did not move on to other gainful employment.

Are there people in your organization that are ‘OK’, that you have decided to ‘accept as is’?  Of course there are!  I’ve never seen an organization of solid superstars, top to bottom.  The Vistage blog talks of three distinct groups:

In most companies, employees fall into three groups.  Core Employees, comprising about 20 percent of the workforce, are dedicated to giving everything to do their jobs well.  … . Temporary Employees—people who haven’t figured out yet whether they want to be a Core Employee or not—account for about 60 percent of the workforce. … The Others—the remaining 20 percent of the workforce—who have made a career out of mediocrity by doing just enough to not get fired but not nearly enough to help move your business forward.

A leaders job is to help transition as many ‘Temporary’ into ‘Core’ as possible, and ease out the ‘Others’.  So, how do you differentiate between a ‘Temporary’ and an ‘Other?  This brings me to my other favorite quote; author unknown:

If this was easy, ANYONE could do it…

– RTR

Not Just Your Boss

4 Apr

I found an interesting blog via LinkedIn (from monster.com) entitled ” Nine Things Never to Say to Your Boss“.  When I looked at the list, most of them struck me as things you shouldn’t say to ANYONE if you want to be successful in a professional environment.   Item#s 1, 4 and 9 are specifically ‘boss related’, but let’s look at the other six:

2. “That just isn’t possible.”

What a helpful comment!  Let’s all stand around and admire the problem.  Look!  It’s SO BIG!  It’s SO INSURMOUNTABLE!!  Come on, people, there is always something that can be done.  Don’t you just love working with people who have a problem for every solution?

3. “I can’t stand working with ____.”

I can’t state this any better than the referenced blog did:  “Complaining about a coworker’s personality usually reflects more poorly on you than on the coworker.”

5. “But I emailed you about that last week.”

Email is easy, email is effortless.  Email is not, however, two-way communication.  Often, it’s not even good one-way communication!   Walk down the hall and talk to the person.  If you’re not co-located, pick up the phone.  THEN send an email documenting what you talked about.  Don’t rely on one or the other.  Do both….

6. “It’s not my fault.” 

Not my fault, not my problem.  Doesn’t cut it.  Getting the job done is the key to professional success, not skillfully avoiding blame.

7. “I don’t know.” 

“If your boss asks you a question you can’t answer, the correct response is not “I don’t know.” It’s “I’ll find out right away.”   Couldn’t agree more, but this it not just your boss.  Do you think being viewed as the ‘go to guy(gal)’ is a good thing?  It sure is.  Being the ‘go to guy’ doesn’t mean that you have an answer for everything, it means you are willing to find an answer.  Those are the people that excel in a professional environment.  What kind of value do you add by saying ‘I don’t know”?

8. “But we’ve always done it this way.” 

Yep, and if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.  Innovation not replication!

Do I feel that these are important rules to live by, absolutely!  Have I broken one or more of these along the way?  You betcha.

– RTR


Reverse Mentors: Influence vs. Mutual Benefit

29 Mar

How I blog…  I see something that intrigues me, makes me laugh, makes me think…

I ran across a post a few days ago that spoke of ‘Reverse Mentoring’, how us old folk can learn from the current generation.  I put it aside for a ‘future’ blog, then this morning, I saw an blog from the Harvard Business Review that brought this topic back to life.  The blog, entitled “When Your Influence is Ineffective“, spoke of the 5 methods of influence Rationalizing, Asserting, Negotiating, Inspiring and Bridging.  What I found most enlightening was not the blog itself, but the comments.

 I would refrain from using the word influence. One should never try to influence, change or manipulate others for own benefit. One should rather work for mutual benefit –Sai Dattathrani

If we can just step back for a moment and observe our desire to influence someone, recognize its source, and then fit it into the larger picture of our work and our relationships, we’ll be able to be more fully present in our interactions. Instead of mindlessly launching into a habitual influence strategy, we’ll loosen our sense of compulsiveness around influencing others. We’ll be able to better tolerate situations where we don’t influence anyone, and paradoxically, end up in more situations where we influence people without even trying. – Kartik Subbarao

… but the latest comment is the one that really caught my eye.

..based on Kartik and Sai’s response , do we need to question  our pervasive use of the word influence when discussing leadership with people from different cultures? – notmd

That is where the light went on and the two blogs ‘collided’.  Is this really a question of cultures, or is it a question of generations?

I ask those of you that are parents, have you ever resorted to “Because I SAID SO” (asserting)?  In today’s world, that’s not any more effective in the workplace than the home.  Just because you have authority doesn’t mean you have agreement.  Nothing is more demotivating than “The management team got together and decided….”

I struggle regularly at my new job with this question: “Is my team agreeing with my assessment because they truly agree, or because I’m the ‘boss’?”

Going back to generations and the parenting analogy:

As my children have grown to become adults, I find myself relying on their opinion more and more.  The world changes so quickly, it is their world now.  Reverse mentoring has extraordinary value.

My closing thought?

Influence goes both ways.  A good leader is one who recognizes and welcomes the influence of others and then leads by example, not by edict.  That’s my goal.

– RTR

You’re Going to Get Punched in the Face

26 Mar

Can I write a blog based on the alleged entrepreneurial wisdom of Mike Tyson?  Sure I can!

The title comes from a quote attributed to the former heavyweight champion of the world,  “Everybody has a plan, until they get punched in the face.”  The origin of the quote was actually from another former champion, Joe Louis, who said:

Every fighter’s got a plan until they get hit

That’s what differentiates “entrepreneurs” from “managers”.  Managers manage.  They plan.  They build structure.  They strive for comfort.  Many “can’t take a punch”.  They use language like, “those are the rules”, “that’s how we do things here”. I believe that’s why many large companies have difficulty maneuvering.  It takes a different mindset.

Entrepreneurs KNOW they’re going to get punched in the face.  So what?  It’s just a punch in the face.  No big deal.

…. but what if you get knocked down?   You get back up.

…. but what if you get knocked out?  You start again.

Does that mean entrepreneurs are fearless?  I don’t think so, I think it’s that their drive, their belief, is bigger than their fear.

The first entrepreneur I ever met was my late uncle, Bill Ricci.  He never went to college (that was reserved for the oldest son in this 1st generation Italian-American family, Bill was #2).  Bill was a self-taught engineer, an idea guy with seemingly unlimited energy.  My mother tells the story of when he had mortgaged everything he owned and things he didn’t own (my grandmother’s house), to get through the tough times.  In all the years I knew him,  I never saw any sign of worry, concern.  He was emotional, yes.  Boisterous. Full of life. Angered easily, laughed easily, but I never saw any sense of uncertainty.  You were never in doubt on where Bill Ricci stood on a topic.

Cambridge Tool & Mfg, now part of Pace Industries, was started by Uncle Bill in 1945.  It was an incredibly successful company, mostly because Uncle Bill knew it would be.

That’s what it’s all about.

– RTR

Commenting on Team Building

20 Mar

While I have managed a team at various times during my career, my most recent assignment was more of an individual contributor role, and, I’ve not had to ‘inherit’ a team in quite a while.  With this in mind, I found this blog over at Harvard Business Review to be very interesting.

The blog was called “The Hard Science of Teamwork” reported by Alex ‘Sandy’ Pentland.  The author is the Director of MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory and the MIT Media Lab Entrepreneurship Program.   The ‘Hard Science’ in the title refered to the use of ‘sociometric badges’ to mathematically measure communication.  The blog stated with points related to the ‘new science of building great teams’.

Our data show that great teams:

  • Communicate frequently. In a typical project team a dozen or so communication exchanges per working hour may turn out to be optimum; but more or less than that and team performance can decline.
  • Talk and listen in equal measure, equally among members. Lower performing teams have dominant members, teams within teams, and members who talk or listen but don’t do both.
  • Engage in frequent informal communication. The best teams spend about half their time communicating outside of formal meetings or as “asides” during team meetings, and increasing opportunities for informal communication tends to increase team performance.
  • Explore for ideas and information outside the group. The best teams periodically connect with many different outside sources and bring what they learn back to the team.

An interesting point made by Mr. Pentland was that content of communication (the ‘what‘) did not matter as much as they way that communication took place (the ‘how‘).  This makes sense to me.   Material presented in dull monotone will not have the effect as the same material present with passion.

One learning from this blog that did suprise me was Pentland’s assertion that communication (charisma?) can be taught:

In our work we’ve found that these patterns of communication are highly trainable, and that personality traits we usually chalk up to the “it” factor — personal charisma, for example — are actually teachable skills.

This bears watching.  In my new role, an effective team will be key to our continued success, and communication will be a very important factor.

More to come….

– RTR

Hard… Right… Turn…

15 Mar

This one is personal and introspective. It’s life change time, or as my Army officer son would say, a ‘Significant Emotional Event’.

I have just taken a hard right turn.

TURN:

After 16 years at CIMx Software, 30 years in manufacturing application software, and a lifetime involved in manufacturing, as of March 19, I will be the newly minted VP of Client Success at  Vinimaya.  Vinimaya is a provider of a cloud-based software for turning corporate procurement into an experience more like B2C purchasing (a la Amazon), rather than buyers having to become ERP experts or worse, become someone who’s entire job is fighting their way through endless supplier catalogs, websites, etc.

Yes, my friends, this is about as far from PLM/MES as one can get.  It excites me.  A whole new world.  On the one hand, helping clients succeed with vendor supplied software is pretty much a market agnostic endeavor.  As CIMx’ mentor, T D Hughes, would say, “All business is the same, it just looks different”.  On the other hand, the nuances and peculiarities of e-Procurement are something I will have to pick up, and quickly.

RIGHT:

Is this the right decision?  Only time will tell.  I can say that it feels right.  As former Secretary of State, Colin Powell, stated:

“If you have 40 to 70 percent of the information, you probably have what you need. Take a chance, do something. Go with your gut instinct. Because if you wait for all of the information (to make a decision) you might miss (out).”

That’s where I am.  I’ve turned over more than a few stones since the Vinimaya opportunity came my way, and everything I’ve learned (more than 40%, less than 70%), tells me this is where I ought to be.

HARD:

Is this a hard decision?  Wow.  How do you walk away from a company that you help start?  A company that you help grow from those scary but exciting first days in 1996 to a company that survives and thrives while watching competitors get acquired or go out of business?  Not to mention the camaraderie, the close family atmosphere, the friendships that span decades?   THAT, my friends, is the hard part.

But I have done it.  I have taken that hard right turn.

Never fear, PLM bloggers.  Though I have a new career, I will still be writing about software.  Do not worry, Real Time Rick is here to stay.

OH NO…  I just referred to myself in the THIRD PERSON.

I apologize, it will never happen again! 😉

-RTR

The Brutality of Search

17 Jan

I have to thank Oleg Shilovitsky for the title.  In a comment in Jim Brown’s blog “A Maturity Model for Product Data Accessiblity?”, Oleg stated:

Think about differences between Google and Facebook. FB provides an additional angle of data access for individuals by trying to reduce “noise effect” created by brutality of search. 

The term set my head spinning.  I told Oleg I would use it (steal it)!

Two events, one historical, one personal, came to mind:

In 1948, Thomas E. Dewey and Harry S. Truman were locked in a battle to become President of the United States.  Truman was elected, and the most famous photograph of the campaign shows an elated Truman holding up a copy of the Chicago Tribune, with the headline “DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN”.  The trusty pollsters working for the Trib did a telephone canvas and determined that Dewey would win by a landslide.   Truman was elected, predominantly we assume, by people who had no telephones…

In 1960, my baby sister was born.  As she moved from infant to toddler, we noticed that she wasn’t speaking (In a loud Italian family with 6 kids, that could be easy to miss).   After conferring with family doctors, my parents loaded us in the car and we drove down to Baltimore to visit a world renown expert in Aphasia at Johns Hopkins.  He thoroughly tested Cathy, and diagnosed Aphasia.  He pronounced that she could hear, but not speak.  My parents enrolled Cathy in a school that specialized in this condition. 

We found out later that Cathy was hearing-impaired.  She was bright and precocious, and seemed to ‘anticipate’ what the expert was looking for at Johns Hopkins.  I believe this was not difficult, because he already KNEW what he was looking for.  He was looking for Aphasia!

The moral of the story? 

You will find what you are looking for.  Not necessarily the truth.

-RTR