Tag Archives: business

Chief Energy Officer…Commenting on Tony Schwartz

18 Apr

Has anyone in leadership ever said to you, “Oh, it’s nothing to worry about” and your instant response was to worry about it?  Welcome to the club!   That’s why Tony Schwartz‘ latest blog over at the Harvard Business Review caught my eye: “Embracing What’s Wrong to Get to What’s Right”.  In it, Tony talks of how fast growing, entrepreneurial organizations are rife with stress and overload.

I’ve seen it as well, and I applaud Tony’s approach.  One of my early stumbles here was directly related to me not taking this approach.  Tony’s five key points

1. Because human beings have a strong “negativity bias,” we pay more attention to our bad feelings than to our good ones.

I am as Pollyanna as they come.  I’ve always been puzzled by the folks that would say “If you can keep your head at times like these, perhaps you don’t understand the situation”.   Some have accused me of not caring, taking things too lightly, joking at inappropriate times.  I’m sure it’s a defense mechanism on my part.   When it comes to problems, my initial reaction may be negative, but I push past it quickly, leaving puzzled friends, family and coworkers in my wake.

I’ve always considered it an asset, not letting things get to me, keeping a positive attitude.  I’ve begun to realize that this only helps me, it doesn’t necessarily help anyone I interact with…  especially when whatever it was that was bothering me does come back to the surface (where did THAT come from?)

2. Negative emotions do feed on themselves, but the solution — especially for a leader — is not to squelch or downplay them.

Here is the key skill.  This is something that they don’t teach you in MBA school (and certainly not in engineering school).  If you can shine a big spotlight on the negative emotions they will eventually wither and die.  Try to bury them?  Not a good idea, they just continue to grow and get stronger, manifest themselves in different ways.

3. Since we all feel negative emotions at times, especially under high demand, it’s important to provide forums at work in which they can be shared openly and without fear.

The key words here? openly and without fear.   If there is any fear of  ‘retribution’ the openly part ain’t ever gonna happen.  The thing that I struggle with is, how long can I bite my tongue when the bitch session goes on endlessly.  The example that Tony used in his blog is so elegant, and it worked so well.  It reminds me of watching the Food Network, or DIY.  Boy that souffle (or cabinet) looks so easy to make.  How come when I do it, it tastes/looks like crap?

4. Because emotions are so contagious, all leaders are effectively Chief Energy Officers.

When I think of the best leaders I’ve met, this is the key element.  I recall meeting George Bush (the first one) when he was VP.  There was an aura, an energy that the TV cameras missed.   He was always portrayed as a somewhat weak character (think of the Dana Carvey impressions).   His presence/energy t took me by surprise (at that time in my life, I was not what you’d call a Reaganite).  There was a quality there that was unmistakable.  The same can be said for many other leaders that I have had the pleasure of interacting with.   It’s something I admire, I have a LONG way to go…

5. The highest skill — whatever your role — is the willingness to embrace opposite feelings without choosing up sides. 

I do like the word choice here.  There is a technique that is taught in the Dale Carnegie Sales Advantage training class for ‘smoking out objections’.  While the end goal is to work through sales objections, at the basic level the idea is to allow people the space, and the grace, to voice their objections.  You are taught to listen, to question, to dive deep into the detail of the situation without agreeing or disagreeing.   If you can master this, I believe the rest is easy,  we all just want to be heard.

The final step is to allow the team to turn the emotion positive.

I’ve really enjoyed the new set of advertisements that GE has put out, where their employees go plane-side/track-side to see their jet engines/locomotives in action.  People cheer, there’s an occasional tear wiped away.

Back in the dark ages, as a fresh-out-of-school engineer, I witnessed this first hand.  My employer, Pratt & Whitney Aircraft, was celebrating their 50th anniversary.  The flew in an example of nearly every type of aircraft equipped with PWA engines for a weekend celebration.  Not much work was done the week before and the day after, as we all stood at the edge of the airfield and watch vintage and not-so vintage aircraft arrive and leave.

On the Monday after the show, a group of us stood in awe as an F16 pilot kicked in the afterburner of his F100 equipped fighter jet directly in front of us.  The sound was deafening.  He stood that jet up on its tail like a rocket ship a flew straight up into the stratosphere until he was completely out of sight.   It was a sight none of us would ever forget.  There WERE lumps in the throat.  There WERE tears of pride.  Office morale was unbelievable for the next few weeks.

THIS IS NOT PHONY.  People crave an emotional connection to their career.  If you can’t take time, put the emotion aside, and honestly say, “what I do here really matters”, then perhaps you are in the wrong place.

– RTR

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It’s What You Do NEXT That Counts …

6 Apr

Bill Lee over at the Harvard Business Review blog presented another angle on the value of customer referrals.  It got me thinking…

The blog is entitled “The Things Customers Can Do Better Than You”.  The title threw me off a bit, but the real meaning behind the blog is that there is no substitute for customer referrals.  This is an opportunity and a challenge to businesses, B2B and B2C.

Bill’s points:

  • Customers know more about each other than you know about them. 
  • Customers are more credible than you are.
  • Customers are more persuasive than you are.
  • Customers often understand buyer needs better than you do.
  • Prospects in your market would rather affiliate with their peers (your customers) than with you.

These are all good points as far as why referral business is important.  However, from the supplier side,  there is a bigger issue at play here…

In the B2C world, I don’t need to even leave my own home to see the effect of existing customers on prospective new customers.  When my wife buys something online, the FIRST thing she does is look at customer comments.  I used to wonder why, but now I always do the same.

I’m in the market for a VCR/DVD recorder to take some old family movies and preserve them.  In the past, I would look for a name brand I recognized and a decent price.  Not any more!  I checked out reviews of several models from reputable electronics companies, and found numerous complaints about product quality.  I am reconsidering buying any VCR/DVD combo.

We belong to Angie’s List.  Through that service, we have been introduced to excellent local painters, landscapers, etc.  Word of mouth has now been automated!

This creates an enormous challenge for suppliers.  I’m not saying you can’t make a mistake, everyone does.  The issue is that each mistake is now in the spotlight.  It’s what you do NEXT that counts.  The key to success is HOW YOU REACT.  What do you do to make it right, and how quickly do you do it?

There is a local tire store in Milford, OH that I use religiously.  Do they have the best price?  They’re competitive, I wouldn’t say best.  Do they advertise heavily? Not like some of their competitors.  So why do I go there?

They screwed up.  About 5-6 years ago, I had a problem with their service and it was clear that they were at least partly to blame.  They had been a little ‘over-zealous’ in tightening the lug nuts on my wheels, so much so, that neither I, nor my two teenaged sons, nor the guy from AAA could remove one of the lug nuts when I had a flat (luckily, at home).

What did they do next?

They stepped up, fixed the problem (which was a costly fix, involving many hours of labor and a new alloy wheel by the time they were done) and they did not charge me a cent.  I had no proof that they over-tightened the lugs.  It had been months since I purchased the tires.  No matter, it was a problem with a product/service I purchased from them and they made it right with no questions asked.

They earned my loyalty.  Since that incident, I have been back to them on several occasions, probably have spent $3,000 – $5,000.  When anyone asks me for a recommendation for a tire store, I happily re-tell this story.

The funny thing is, the shoe (tire?) is on the other foot now.  In my new position, I AM the customer service guy…   In the software  business, an industry not known for being great at customer service.

It’s my organization that is in the spotlight.   Here’s the thing;  I know that we will not be perfect, I know that we will make the occasional mistake…

… but in those cases, it’s what we do NEXT that counts!  That’s where we excel.

– 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

All Business Is The Same, It Just Looks Different

22 Mar

Chairman of La Rosa’s Pizza, T. D. Hughes, is fond of saying, “All Business Is The Same, It Just Looks Different”.  Well, I’m here to tell you as I begin day 4 at Vinimaya, when you talk about small, entrepreneurial software companies, it doesn’t look different either!

Examples:

Next man in:

This phrase is typically heard in a sports context (or military, I suppose).  When someone ‘goes down’, the next man (woman) in picks up the task and runs with it.  No one needs to ask, no one waits for permission.  It just gets done.  With one Client Service Manager stuck in business travel purgatory, another stepped in to solve a pressing customer issue.   The new guy (yours truly)  didn’t have to do anything, in fact, I didn’t even know it happened until after the problem was solved.

We’re overworked AND driven:

In my initial interviews with my team, there were comments that I more or less expected, walking into a role that had been largely vacant for 3-4 months.  People needed to vent, but even through the turmoil and frustration, nothing gets in the way of doing the right thing for the customer.  There is no one RIP here (‘Retired In Place”).

Diplomacy:

There is always a delicate balance between doing what’s right for the customer, and doing the customer’s job for them, especially with a product that is such a key element of the customer’s procurement infrastructure.  The level of diplomacy required is significant.  Seeing this diplomacy at work is great, I’ve seen some examples already that would make Dale Carnegie smile.

Not Enough Time for Quandrant II:

The self help ‘bible’ of the 1990’s “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” talks to the value of ‘Quadrant II activities‘, the activities that are important, but not urgent.  The speed and urgency of everything that goes on in the small entrepreneurial software company environment tends to drive quadrant II activities back into the shadows.  I believe my job is to help facilitate a proper balance.

Well, that’s enough for now, nearly a week in and still lovin’ it.

– 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