Archive for the ‘Management & Strategy’ Category
Sometimes things are so simple, but we either try to make them more complicated than they need to be or can’t see with the clarity we’d like to. I was reminded of this at a recent lunch with a mentor of mine when I asked the obvious question; “what are your keys to success?”
My friend is a retired senior executive who had sustained success in multiple businesses across his long career at a global F100 company. He drove results while being highly respected by everyone as near as I can tell. I’d point out that results and respect are not always correlated, by my friend was able to do it without leaving a trail of bodies. Read the rest of this entry »
A key challenge we face as professionals and leaders is how to assess performance of both ourselves and our teams. We can’t be everywhere all the time to observe and as hard as I try I can’t really watch myself objectively. There isn’t an “eye in the sky” observing us and our teams to allow clear evidence for performance. So how can we get close to “objective” assessment? I don’t have any perfect answers, but here are a few ideas.
This idea crystallized for me a few weeks ago when Shannon Sharpe (retired NFL tight end, now CBS analyst) said something on the NFL pre game show that struck me. He was referring to a former coach who used to say “I see better than I hear.” He went on to explain his coach’s observation that we say a lot of stuff, but what we do is more telling. In the NFL they say “film doesn’t lie”. You can tell me all you want to about how well you did, but how did the play/game actually go? NFL games have the full field view and you can see everything everyone did. No hiding. Read the rest of this entry »
I recently returned from a gathering of colleagues who run MBA programs. As I was jotting down notes and discussing insights gathered with my team, it occurred to me how glad I was that we have occasional opportunities to get outside our “bubble” and hear what others are doing. It reinforced the importance of challenging your thinking and creating space to allow exposure some external ideas.
So what can exiting the bubble briefly do for you? Read the rest of this entry »
Recently we talked about the importance of writing down your perception of any problem you are trying to solve. This time, I’ll focus on taking that problem and building out an analytical framework.
When I teach this material in my Critical Thinking class, I emphasize the efficiency and clarity you gain from a structured approach to problem solving. If writing the problem down (and gaining buy-in) is the first step, then defining (and refining) an approach is the second.
So why should I care about building an “Approach”?
Last time I emphasized the importance of defining “what is the problem/where are we going” by defining your problem and showing it to others to test and refine that definition. It’s critical, but not sufficient. Read the rest of this entry »
Well you’re not alone.
I have taught “critical thinking” methods for years now to undergraduate, graduate and experienced professional audiences. The vast majority consistently fail to use a coherent and consistent method of problem solving.
I’m going to focus a few posts this term on some of the core tools and techniques I teach to help individuals and teams be more disciplined in their thought process. If you really engage them you’ll be more efficient and effective as a professional.
The first we’ll call “Problem Definition”. I mean this comprehensively. The core of the exercise is writing down the one sentence question or description of the problem as you see it. But to do that we’ll talk about other aspects of the problem to think through and document to ensure that we’re not missing “knowable” things from the start. Read the rest of this entry »
One of the joys of my job and life is the number of smart folks I get to be around. I gain a ton from their collective wisdom. I picked up a gem this week from friend Chris Kopka. He passed on one of his colleagues’ distilled views of what it takes to make sales consistently.
It goes like this, “Conviction sells, Emotion buys, Logic pays for it.”
Perfect. It immediately struck me as exactly right and neatly sums up years of sales and marketing experience and it’s a bit Yoda-like in brevity (“No try, only do”).
In my experience, to drive through to a final decision you really need all three working at the same time. Like a three legged stool. Read the rest of this entry »
So often what is emphasized in school and management/professional training focuses on analytical clarity, technical skills and how to be “persuasive” in the context of presenting and telling your story clearly (and even this last part doesn’t get enough attention).
These are all valuable skills, worthy of developing. But if you want to consistently be successful in getting buy-in to your efforts, they aren’t enough.
You need to effectively manage relationships with relevant “stakeholders” if you expect consistently good outcomes.
A stakeholder is anyone who can affect or is affected by the decision you are trying to reach. So if you are trying to re-organize a business unit, stakeholders might include customers, staff, management, corporate officers etc.
Why should I care?
It’s simple. Do want to get things done? Here are few practical reasons why you need to bring people into your process (as appropriate). Read the rest of this entry »
- Human behavior is often “non-economic”. We’re driven by personal motivations more than economic ones in many cases. Often to the extent that pay incentives are counter-productive.
- He poses three key elements to creating “drive”. Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose.
- Freedom (with responsibility) can be powerful. Atlassian allows everyone a “free day” each month to do whatever they want and report out at a social event on Friday. The result is a flowering of creativity because people are working on what motivates them. Many of the company’s more meaningful innovations have come from this process. It reminds me of 3M’s 15% policy.
I encourage you to take a look if you are interested in behavior, incentives or organizational dynamics relating to autonomy and innovation.
“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”
It made me think of Deep Throat in All the President’s Men when he tells Bob Woodward to “Follow the money.”
One of the things I’ve learned in my career is that when I can’t understand why somebody is doing something that seems nonsensical, understanding the flow of money typically brings clarity. Read the rest of this entry »
Here’s one that ticked me off (mildly) recently. In an article (Businessweek June 17, 2010 ”The Other U.S. Energy Crisis: Lack of R&D” ) about chronic US under-spending on energy research, the author is trying to make appoint in support of their position that the US is chronically underinvested.
They had the following graph:
Professor moment: Why might I ask myself – “is this a fair picture of the data?”
I think some (or many) people might look at that chart and say “holy cr$%&p, we spend 35% of what Japan does, and less than China, our emerging global competitor. What are we thinking???”
But does this paint a fair picture of the story, even just within the constraints of the example provided? Well, relative vs. absolute comparisons matter when you’re talking about spending.
Do you feel differently about the picture when you look at this chart?
|Public energy research, development and deployment spending as a share of GDP
2007 $ BB
Well that sure looks different. On this one I feel slightly vexed that we can’t beat the Japanese, but am hardly quaking about several other countries that seemed troubling above.
Where did these numbers come from? I went to Wikipedia and looked up 2007 GDP for each country and multiplied it by the % from the BW chart. Here’s their chart turned into a table with a little more context.
|Spending as % of GDP (2007)||2007 GDP
|Total Govt Energy Spend
This wasn’t hard and didn’t take long. In my opinion it shows a much more realistic picture. Percentages don’t buy R&D. Dollars (or Yuan, Euros etc.) do. Take South Korea. In Businessweek’s chart, they appear to invest twice what we do. Really they invest at twice the RATE we do, but off a MUCH SMALLER base. On absolute spend, the US spends 7x as much as Korea. In this case, size matters.
Don’t get me wrong, the numbers above trouble me as an American, but don’t quite paint the same crisis picture. (And they are further challenged by huge spending cited in another article in the same issue).
This kind of sloppy data usage bugs me. It’s a sign of at least two potential root causes:
1 – Laziness/poor sense of numbers.
Much has been written about American’s generally poor understanding of numbers. (One of my favorites and a book I assign undergraduates is Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and It’s Consequences.) I’m sure this is part of the story, but in this case it’s a reporter for a prominent business magazine writing for executives. Bad math isn’t the issue (I don’t think).
I think it’s laziness. We all get busy, we haven’t necessarily had teachers or mentors really push us to be “correct” and dig deeper. We’ve seen so much bad, we forget or don’t know what good looks like. In the end we lose sight of taking the extra time to dig deeper.
2 – Trying to deceive
I want to note, I am NOT talking about making up data. I’m talking about DISTORTING actual data (simply lying is another matter).
This one is simpler. I want to make a case and I am going to show the numbers in a way that supports my position and diminishes opponents, regardless of the fairness of the representation. I see this happen for “good” reasons (e.g. I need to convince people to do the right thing by creating a burning platform) and for less kind reasons (e.g. I want to win this deal to make more $).
This is not just a news or political phenomenon. I see it in business on a weekly basis. Either new students aren’t getting data they are looking at (because they are learning) or someone is trying to dress up their pitch to win investment money. Whatever. It goes on everywhere.
In this case, I can’t tell which it is and to the reader it doesn’t much matter what the intent is. Just beware the impact.
What I do know is that if you want to be successful in a business career, you better develop a sense of the scale and direction of the numbers you deal with on a daily basis. This helps develop intuition about “hinky” numbers.
So my challenge to you: dig deeper. Don’t settle for crappy data poorly constructed, either from yourself or others. Always be skeptical (and bring a calculator).
Tell me about bad data you’ve seen.